Participation, participation, participation!

Conference: People-Driven City 2019
27th of September, in Dipoli Aalto University, Otaniemi Espoo

In the end of September, I had an opportunity to participate in an interesting conference, People-Driven City 2019. It was the main conference of Lähiöfest – festival of neighborhoods and this was the second time the conference has been arranged. Conference gathers together actors from different sectors of society – for example cities, companies, NGO’s – to discuss current urban topics. The purpose of the conference is to emphasize the local perspective and participation of local actors in urban planning and in solving different kind of urban challenges. Themes of this year’s conference were sustainability, participation, learning and democracy.

As a Service Design student with an interest in Economic Geography, I was very eager to hear how and with what kind of methods people are enabled to participate in urban planning and innovation processes. From this point of view the following presentations of the conference were in specific interest to me: Päivi Sutinen from City of Espoo, Amin Khosravi from urbz and Kristian Koreman from ZUS.

City as a Service

As an opening for the day, Päivi Sutinen, Services Development Director in the City of Espoo, gave an introduction about how to enable different actors to participate in the development and innovation processes of the city. From this perspective, Espoo is an interesting case because for many years it has invested into people-driven innovation and has also been awarded for its accomplishments. Last year, the city of Espoo won the international Intelligent Community Awards 2018 for ‘humanizing data’, which refers to the use of data for people-oriented service development. In addition, just recently on September 2019, Espoo was chosen as one of the top six cities in the European Capital of Innovation (iCapital) Awards contest organised by the European Commission.

From a perspective of Service Design student, this opening presentation offered an interesting introduction to how a city applies Service-dominant logic (explained more thoroughly in Lusch & Vargo 2014) in practice. Presentation introduced many concrete examples how Espoo accelerates City as a Service development locally: for example, Data, AI, Software & technology, platforms, networks, Living Labs, Experiments, Tools and methods and Financial resources. Based on Service-dominant logic, Espoo wants to enable co-creation in innovation, as presented in a video ‘The Zero Friction City – Dynamics of Innovation Ecosystems’.

Participation is a process

Amin Khosravi, urban strategist, presented the framework for participation of urbz in his presentation “How do we create truly participatory planning processes?”. Urbz is an international company which works with issues related to urban development and planning and is specialized in participatory planning and design.

For Urbz ‘residents are experts of their neighborhoods’ – and this was also the basis of Khosravi’s presentation. He emphasized the importance of locality and human scale in urban planning and sees participatory planning as a good opportunity to gain deep understanding of cities.

For me, the main takeaway from Khosravi’s presentation was that participation is a continuous process. In fact, the first step in a participatory process is “recognition” – which means that in the beginning of the participatory planning process, one must explore the current situation and everything that already exists, because the participatory process is already going on, it happens all the time among people. And, on the other hand, the last step in the participatory planning process is “participatory governance” – which means that the participation actually continues after the planning process, for example by activating neighborhoods in the matter.

From Instant Urbanism to Permanent Temporality

Kristian Koreman is an Architect and a Founder of ZUS (Zones Urbaines Sensibles), which is a design office that works with projects related to architecture, urban planning and landscape design. He gave an inspiring presentation, which offered interesting perspectives especially from Design Thinking point of view: a holistic, human-scale approach and an experimental and participatory method to urban planning.

The main theme in Koreman’s presentation was that traditionally the perspective in urban planning and architecture tends to be too narrow, there is too much ‘top-down’ planning which takes poorly into account the human perspective. Thus, too often the results of this kind of planning, which is called Instant Urbanism are buildings and infrastructures that do not serve people’s needs in real life: too big infrastructures and too big offices that no one uses. Instead, more holistic and human-scale approach is preferred, which is called Permanent Temporality, which seems to have a lot in common with Design Thinking. This approach always starts from city’s existing forms and takes into account the whole context and city’s evolutionary character. Koreman summarized this idea simply: “keep the local, add the global later”. Also, Permanent Temporality includes experimental and participatory method of working: “plan, test, adapt”. In short, this means observing people’s behavior in the city, doing experiments based on that and then observing the reactions to the experiments and modifying it according to the feedback.

Koreman presented interesting cases from Rotterdam where ZUS has initiated or been a part of projects that have created a new image for Rotterdam: for example Luchtsingel, which is a 400-meter-long pedestrian bridge connecting different districts in the centre of Rotterdam and it is the world’s first crowdfunded piece of public infrastructure; and Schieblock, the old and vacant office building in Rotterdam which was transformed into a vital “city laboratory”.

Based on this conference I am happy to notice the increasing importance of human centricity in urban planning and development. It seems to me, that in addition to the old mantra of important things in Economic Geography, “location, location, location”, we are nowadays also able to acknowledge the importance of “participation, participation, participation”.

Author: Erika Niemi-Vanala

REFERENCES:
Lusch, R. F. & Vargo, S. L. 2014. Service-dominant logic: Premises, perspectives, possibilities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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