Participatory Planning by Ramiro Aznar Ballarín

Introduction Disenchantment with democratic politics has never been more pronounced (Bellamy, 2008). Citizens speak of growing disillusionment with government, based on concerns about corruption, lack of responsiveness to the necessities of the poor and absence of a sense of connection with elected representatives (Gaventa, 2002). In contrast, in the last decades there has been a clear shift toward the so called ‘politics of inclusion’ ( oseland, 2000), in which R community participation is one of their major expressions. Citizen participation, a ccording to Arnstein (1969: 216), is “the redistribution of power that enables the have-not citizens, presently excluded from the political and economic processes, to be deliberately in the future”. In urban politics and spatial planning, there has also been a clear change of paradigm from the classical traditions based on economic, physical and policy analysis to a more collaborative planning (Healey, 1997). In this regard, Davidoff and Gans, for instance, saw planning as a tool which citizens could use in demanding a more democratic pluralistic polity from the clutches of dominant elites (Davidoff, 1965; Gans, 1969; both saw in Healey, 1997). More importantly, as Lyons and colleagues (1991) pointed out, participation development should be understood as “an end in itself” instead of just “a mean to”. In this regard, Cornwall and Gaventa (2001) suggest that citizen participation is an on-going process developed within both physical places and conceptual spaces. The latter indeed are interfaces between citizens and the state and serve as intermediaries who can enhance responsibility as well as responsiveness on all sides. In addition, they state that each space is itself socially and politically located, and therefore, carries ‘tracks and traces’ of previous socioeconomic, political and environmental relationships, resources and knowledge. Using this interesting metaphor, it is possible to create a virtual landscape (Figure 1) made by highly multi-tiered layers and shaped by a wide variety of external and internal forces. It is clear that the first stratum of the landscape to take into account is the local environment. In fact, this layer is seen as primordial substrate which can represent values and opportunities for human use but also has certain limitations and even prohibitions to certain of these uses (McHarg, 1992). Another different stratum of the landscape can be the flows of 1

knowledge. Namely, information as well as misinformation is a source of power in the planning process (Forester, 1982). In this respect, understanding the gaps and focuses of information is viewed as crucial in order to disentangle how relations of power work to structure the planning process. In addition to knowledge, others two cartographies based on gender and age issues can be added to our model. On the one hand, women, many critics argue, are those most likely to lose out in apparently “participatory planning” ( ayoux, 1995; Cornwall, 2003). Young M people, on the other, are rarely consulted too during urban planning processes, despite the fact that they are highly affected by such decisions because they are the most frequent users of public space (Dennis, 2006). More and more dimensions can be incorporated to our landscape, but maybe the last mantle which would cover the whole scene of participation is the daily life decisions which the residents of the city make (José Aznar, personal communication). Finally, it is important to highlight that these layers are not isolated, and on the contrary, they are highly connected.

Figure 1 Wright’s (1992) adaptive landscape made by organisms’ performance in relation to their genetic pool. In this particular metaphorical territory, evolution is understood as local hill climbing; in fact as participation is traditionally understood –Arnstein’s ladder, for instance– (source:

The final space of participation resulted from the spatial and temporal interaction between layers is, therefore, a manifold with hyperdimensional peaks and valleys. Participation


processes can be understood in two different ways, on the one hand, the traditional approach may picture participation as local hill climbing (Arnstein, 1969; Smyth, 2001 saw in Steinmann et al., 2004). Therefore, a sustainable community could only be achieved at the top of the nearest peak, where the economic, environmental and social dimensions are in balance (Campbell, 1996). In the present work, on the other hand, participation development is understood as the opposite dynamic, namely, downhill sliding rather than hill climbing. Consequently, herein participation is more focused on the processes than on the results. What is more, it is understood as an open dynamic process of a people adapting to, while simultaneously changing, their landscape over time (Durack, 2001; Neuman, 2005). The participatory landscape outlined above is dotted with tensions and obstacles, but also with opportunities and challenges (Amin et al., 2000). In this respect, planners can play the role of community guides through this complicated path. Further, i order to success, they should n consider that context and planning practices are socially constituted together (Healey, 1997) and, what is more, no spaces for participation are neutral, but are shaped by the power relations which both enter and surround them (Cornwall & Gaventa, 2001). In this context, in the first section of this work will be discussed the possibilities of Participatory Geographical Information Systems (PGIS) approach to construct and understand the numerous layers and networks of our participatory landscape. PGIS, in fact, could be used both to explore a particular collaborative space and the medium of its expression ( allen, T 2000). While in the second, two real examples of public engagement based on the idea of participat ory planning as an open dynamic process are described. First, the “Favela-Bairro” project of Río de Janeiro (Brasil) is described. This development which aims to provide the necessary conditions that would enable favelas (slums or squatter settlements) to be seen as neighborhoods of the city (Riley et al., 2001), has carried out for the last 20 years and it is a good example because of its strong community engagement component. The second study case is based on the “Tree City” project designed by Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau for the Downsview Park in Toronto (Canada). The importance of this example relies on the implementation of its indeterminate planning strategy which attempts to adapt the park within the physical and social fabric through both ecological succession and participatory processes (


Participatory Geographical Information Systems (PGIS) Peng (2001) states that to ensure meaningful participation of the public in the planning and decision-making process, good communication channels and tools should be provided. In regard to the latter, participation applications such as online surveys, online discussion forums, and computer supported decision-making tools offer new opportunities for the citizen involvement ( Krek, 2005). Among them, it has demonstrated that Geographical Information Systems (GIS) has a truly interesting potential for engaging communities in participatory planning (Dennis, 2006). In fact, in the last years, as planning has become more complex and increasingly dependent on information and communication technology instruments, the application of GIS within planning practice has increased because of the tremendous growth in accessible and affordable geodata and the shift of its nature from being primarily technologydriven to being more user-driven (Geertman, 1999 saw in Geertman, 2002).

Figure 2 An example of how a resident can draw her housing preferences within a particular environment. In this particular case the layers of the landscape are composed by six layers which range from streams and water bodies to outbreaks of West Nile virus (Source:


One of the most interesting initiatives in Participatory GIS (PGIS) is defined as BottomUp GIS (BUGIS). In this approach, residents learn to manipulate GIS data to express their views about planning issues, neighborhood meaning and future preferences (Tallen, 2000). BUGIS, thus, can be used by participants as a spatial language tool based on local knowledge and residents perceptions (Figure 2). As noted by Jane Jacobs, neighborhoods are really difficult to define, even for their residents, “you never realize how complicated a neighborhood within a big city is until you try to explain it” (1961: 540). In this regard, Elwood (2006a) found five different types of spatial narratives about neighborhoods, conditions and capacities (needs, asset, injustice, accomplishment and reinterpretation narratives) in the GIS-based maps designed by two community organizations in a development project in Chicago. The interaction of these geographies can create a particular participatory potential surface wherein can be detect spaces of opportunity as well as spaces of need or deficit (Amin et al., 2000). In addition to identify neighborhood potentials and problems, PGIS can make the discussion between planners, authorities and residents contextual, more realistic and with technically supported (AlKodmany, 1999). For this reason, it may eventually legitimize individual or community expressions and proposals (Tallen, 2000). Nevertheless, the benefits of using GIS in participatory processes must be also tempered with a clear understanding of its intrinsic limits, drawbacks, and biases. Firstly, GIS cannot be made to substitute for the wide array of ways in which residents express their views about their environment (Tallen, 2000). In fact, PGIS should be complemented with more traditional ways of participation as well as new mechanisms of public engagement such as artists’ freehand sketching or computer-based photo-manipulation (Al-Kodmany, 1999). Secondly, it is known that there are some financial, temporal and technical barriers that can impede access to use of GIS (Elwood, 2006b). Concretely, GIS technology needs high quality of computer equipment and also time and willingness to understand how the software works. In this respect, for most citizens the personal benefit of getting involved in planning activities and learning how to use a PGIS application is usually little and the costs of participation is rather high (Krek, 2005). Finally, and more importantly, it is been stated that PGIS can both empower and marginalize ( rodnig & Mayer-Schonberger, 2000 saw in McCall, 2003). In fact, McCall B (2003) points out that information accrues to those already with most resources, thus further


accumulating their power. Moreover, he states that the ‘value-neutral’ of GIS applications is a myth, and thus, it all depends on what it is being used for, and on who is controlling it. In fact, planning is thus a social process through which ways of thinking, ways of valuing and ways of acting are actively constructed by all the participants (Healey, 1997). Consequently, GIS planners and facilitators which take part in participatory processes should recognize that they should participate wisely rather than irresponsibly.


Study Cases: Favela-Bairro and Tree City Favela-Bairro The favelas of Rio de Janeiro have been part of the city’s landscape for over a century. They are recognized as one of the most visible manifestations of urban poverty and as a symbol of the inequalities between the rich and the poor (Riley et al., 2001). These “hand-made cities” (Magalhães, 2002 saw in Andreatta, 2005) were built based on several factors such as excellent location on the city morros (hills) and proximity to public transport stations, jobs, and local business (Andreatta, 2005). The nature of the relationship between the formal city and favelas have changed from initial indifference, to rejection, to a more sympathetic and tolerant attitude (Soares & Soares, 2005).

Figure 3 Favela de Manghinos before (left) and after (right) the works of Favela Bairro (source:

In this context, the Favela-Bairro project (Figure 3) launched in 1994 by the Municipal Government of Rio de Janeiro with the financial support of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has attempted to integrate favelas socially and physically into the urban fabric


(Peter, 2007). Some of the measures undertaken were provision of water supply and sewers, regulation of lands, and the stabilization of hill slopes. Nevertheless, it has been said that the most important factor of the project relies on the citizen involvement (Conde & Magalhães, 2004; Andreatta, 2005). Furthermore, the program was most successful were community organization was strongest, where active leaders were politically aware and therefore more independent in relation to the government (Conde & Magalhães, 2004). In this sense, however, the programme does not fulfill its potential to act as a catalyst for broader processes of democratization which are essential to ensure long-term substantive poverty reduction (Riley et al., 2001). For the purpose of this essay, it is important to highlight the developments carried out by the architect Jorge Mario Jáuregui. According to Montaner (2008), Jáuregui with the collaboration of other architects and social scientists, has designed a complex participatory and open system which allows them to locate and understand each particular favela, thus discovering its potentials, namely, both its needs and deficits a its opportunities. He has nd compared the Jáuregui’s system with the natural behavior of a “rhizome” in which each specific project growth (as a “fruitbody”) in relation to the environmental, social and physical context. Respecting the environmental characteristics, nature and culture of each area was indeed the motor that enabled Favela-Bairro to become as a democratic undertaking of far-reaching social importance (Conde & Magalhães, 2004). In addition to Brazil, similar programs of neighborhood regeneration based on proximity can be found in Chile ( and other South-American countries.

Tree City Rem Koolhas and Bruce Mau’s Tree City proposal for the Downsview Park in Toronto can be the most direct expression of indeterminate planning ( Durack, 2001). In fact, they won the international competition with a strategy, not a design. This was based on using trees, the park’s primary urban component, as the catalyst of urbanization. In their own words, “landscape elements will be planted incrementally over time as funding permits, gradually building up the


park’s mass into a flexible patchwork of clusters separated by open undesignated areas” (

Figure 4 Computer-based visualization of the William Baker Neighbourhood within the Downsview Park (source:

In these undesignated areas were the focus of the Parc Downsview Park Inc.'s (PDP's) development plan in which five sustainable neighborhoods ( Figure 4) were designed by the work of both professionals and public consultation ( Moreover,

Koolhaas and Mau proposed that the park could be financially sustained through an evolving cycle of implantation and speculation ( As a result, it has been established that the park must be self-financing (no government funds or tax-payer dollars are attributed to the support of the park), therefore, although most of the lands will remain under the ownership of PDP, one third of the lands are contemplated to be sold or leased to appropriate partners in order to sustain the park ( It will probably take several years before we can evaluate the wisdom of this proposition, but in terms of participatory urban development, accepting indeterminacy and choice could be better than settling an immutable outcome. Another example of indeterminate planning based on processes rather than a fixed design can be found in two projects of a young group of Spanish architects called “Cómo crear historias” (“How to create stories”, On the one hand, “La


reversible huerta lúdica” (“The reversible leisure garden”) is an interesting story in which the restoration of a public space is carried out by a constant feedback of the participants of workshops which are hold within the own building! “5 Km de agua enredada” (“5 Km of entangled water”), on the other, is a two-fold symbiotic organism between professionals and residents as well as the building and water.


Conclusions In this work it has been suggested a participatory landscape as a space of possibilities as well as challenges. Its surface is dotted with peaks and valleys, but also with small holes and ridges. In this regard, every irregularity represents a potential for participatory processes. Concretely, citizen engagement in planning development herein is envisioned as a process of adapting to rather than avoiding or climbing these multidimensional obstacles. In this sense, Participatory GIS (PGIS) could be the tool and the medium with which citizen can walk their own territories. On the one hand, PGIS as a spatial language can use local knowledge and residents’ perception to sketch a surface imbedded with specific and operational potential. On the other hand, there are some barriers, drawbacks and important biases that is crucial to tackle. In fact, PGIS is a powerful tool which can empower some social groups, but at the same time, marginalize some others. In this context, the on-going participatory processes can be illustrated, for example, by the rhizomatic nature of the work of J.M. Jáuregui in the Favela-Bairro development, wherein each favela project grows according to its local culture, and physical and natural environment. Further, sometimes it will be impossible to foresee how the social, economic and environmental milieu will evolve, and hence, the wisest solution can be found in an indeterminate open-ended planning as Koolhaas and Mau’s proposal for the Downsview Park. Finally, urban planners, and especially GIS professionals, can play a role of intermediaries or facilitators between authorities, community organizations and citizens in order to explore the complexities of their collaborative spaces, a therefore, generating different nd spatial narratives according to their perceptions, aspirations and needs. As a result, as noted by Rem Koolhaas (1994), it will be possible to “irrigate” their landscapes with potential, thus maximizing the inherited opportunities and creating new ones for the future generations.


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