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Shaping successful places in diverse communities through collaborative planning and placemaking

By March 27, 2018No Comments

Mit gemeinsamer Stadtplanung das Zusammenleben in Vielfalt gestalten

by Dr Ulrike Spohn


Politicians decide on a project. Experts design the proposals. A committee suggests modifications. Then a compromise is negotiated. Finally, the project is implemented – and then it turns out: the citizens wanted something completely different (and simpler) if only they’d been asked!

Architect Charles Campion knows well this problem in the design process. As an expert in participatory urban planning and placemaking, he helps people and local communities around the world to design the places that meet their actual needs and enhance the quality of life for all. I have met him to learn more about this practice of Collaborative Placemaking — and how it can help make co-existence in cultural diversity a positive thing.

Collaborative Placemaking brings people together

The mantra of Collaborative Placemaking is: “Cities and towns are not just about buildings – they are also about people”. This means that the public space of cities is understood above all as a living space, a social space that people can take ownership of and shape. Therefore, the method involves citizens from the beginning to understand their needs and aspirations. At the same time, Collaborative Placemaking creates a space for encounter and exchange within the framework of participatory workshops, also known as Charrettes. The goal of creating common living space brings together people who previously may had little to do with one another in everyday life. The design of public spaces using Collaborative Placemaking shapes human relationships, as Charles emphasizes: “It’s all about making connections.” In this way, cultural barriers and fear of contact can be reduced. People at a Charrette have experience of their public realm that, regardless of cultural differences, they can share. Together they can shape the design and use for the benefit of all.

The participation of all requires intercultural competence

But how can the needs of all residents be taken into account when designing/redesigning urban spaces, and not just those of a specific group? Publicly organised participation processes can sometimes be dominated by long-established citizens, often from the middle class. So how do you reach people who, because of their involvement in other social or cultural groups, have reservations about such processes or to whom the information might not even get through?

Here, Charles points to two main factors: First, the professional planning team must actively address the different target groups, seek out, inform, and encourage participation in places that are familiar and important to them. This includes, for example, visiting and appraising the site which is to be replanned. Second, the professional team may include members who share and understand the culture and language of the target group. This helps to build trust and facilitate understanding.

Design with a sense for cultural sensibilities

Charles also told me about his experiences in his international projects. These show that the reorganisation of a space can have a positive effect on people’s coexistence if the specific cultural conditions of the place are taken into account during the process. As part of the planning process, care must be taken to ensure that significant religious or cultural places remain untouched: “These are places not to develop but to respect,” explains Charles.

While redesigning Crumlin Road in Belfast, the design team faced what was still a tense relationship between Catholics and Protestants against the historical background of the Northern Ireland conflict. Here, during the collaborative planning process, representatives from both sides of the community divide were able to agree on much in terms of shared living space, such as the redesign of historic buildings and retail uses. In order to create a place where the people who use it every day really feel comfortable, a sense of cultural symbolism and identity is required.

Note on the text: This is a translation from the German original posted by Dr Ulrike Spohn on the blog of Bertelsmann Stiftung, following a talk Charles Campion gave at their location on 8th March 2018. Bertelsmann Stiftung is an organisation setup to investigate how we live together in diversity and how this can be shaped to ensure successful communities thrive.

The original text can be read here



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