Participation, co-creation, citizens’ initiative, conversations with the city. We’re all becoming increasingly aware that “city making” is something you do together. Not as a municipality or developer stuck on your own island but actively, with the “inhabitants of an area”: residents, organisations and businesses. They feel involved and want to participate. Soon, participation will no longer be a choice, but a necessity. Which means that the question is no longer if, but how the participation process is to be shaped.
Campaign for Cyclefan010.
Source of inspiration
Participation can be a source of inspiration and generate incredible ideas. A constructive atmosphere and open, positive communication are essential to release the energy that a place holds. Participation is a flywheel that, once you have it spinning, can generate a lot of momentum. For example, within a month in Almere, we collected more than 220 workable ideas for a new urban park through holding consultation evenings. In Rotterdam, we decided to do it differently. Instead, with the help of a pop-up park we asked and tested what the expectations and wishes were for a city park. In Gouda, 5 years before the celebrations to mark the city’s 750th birthday, we deployed different strategies to engage local people, like collecting stories of the city in the Goudse Geheimen project. By coming up with inventive ways to involve all stakeholders at an early stage, you are able to build a strong and enthusiastic fanbase of ambassadors.
When it comes to participation, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy. Every place, every challenge, and every group of stakeholders is unique. Our process approach is structured so that we can customize each process, make it result-oriented, based on research and years of experience. This means that we can design a participation trajectory in such a way that it is a perfect fit with the experience of the communities we want to engage with. Together with our client (and most important stakeholders) we start by establishing a shared ambition. This acts as our reference point, and guides our participation trajectory.
Local connectedness as a key to success
We work throughout The Netherlands and understand the value of local expertise and the local network. That’s why we work with ‘local heroes’: colleagues based in the area we are working in, who help us who help us reach the people and connect us with the right networks. We also look further than the ‘usual suspects’: we want to hear new ideas. By involving all stakeholders in a positive way, we take a lot of work away from the hands of our clients, but also give them a platform and a voice.
Place branding as a starting point for participation trajectories
We see attractive places as strong brands. Which is why BRAND The Urban Agency focuses on place branding. We believe that developing an (environmental) vision starts by understanding and applying the DNA of an area or place. To identify this DNA, we developed our own place-branding model, which involves all stakeholders from step one. In turn, this resulted in the Urban Canvas, an inspiring document that—literally—contains the area’s identity on a sheet of paper the size of an A3. The Urban Canvas is a smart and easy tool to start drawing up a clear, widely supported vision for the environment.