ENGAGING TO HARNESS COMMUNITY CREATIVITY FOR SUSTAINABLE URBAN PLANNING
Keywords:engaging, community, sustainability, complexity, planning, creativity, democracy
The paper reflects on different approaches to public participation in the highly complex field of urban planning. It is based on research, personal experience, case studies and theories. Engagement principles are discussed and recommendations made for harnessing community creativity to achieve sustainable planning outcomes for current and future generations.
This exploration is triggered by several factors, primarily: a realization of the shortcomings of current approaches to urban planning to create healthy, integrated, liveable and sustainable communities; increased pressure by those citizens whose lives are affected by planning outcomes to influence planning decisions; and the concurrent increased focus by the Australian government, across all three tiers, on engaging citizens.
These factors in turn are to a major extent driven by the effect of technological advances on communications, which is increasing communities’ access to information, fueling the social media revolution and providing ever-increasing potential options to include more voices.
Approaches to urban planning and their outcomes are affected by key issues of democracy and participation in public policy making at local and regional level, the role of the private sector and the balance of markets, government and civil society.
The political system focus on short-term benefits (Hoggett), a containerized approach by government, and a heavy reliance on the market to deliver government policy, results in much urban planning failing to recognize ‘the relationship between our choices now and their consequences tomorrow’ (Integrated Design Commission) particularly in terms of sustainability.
Increasingly, governments, planners, architects and communities are realizing that ‘Sustainable communities cannot be designed using the same methods that produced unsustainable ones’ (Condon). Also, gradually, the focus is changing from seeking solutions to identifying problems and understanding how everything inter-connects (IDC).
Urban developments can take decades to plan and deliver, and therefore need a flexible, holistic approach to respond to changing conditions, multiple stakeholders and ‘the multiple layers and components of social systems’ (Sarkissian et al). There also is no one way in which to plan and design the urban landscape and no one way in which to engage.
At the heart of both planning and engagement needs to be creativity, ‘using methods that honour people’s individual and collective knowledge about their lives and their environments’ (Sarkissian & Hurford).
In identifying creativity as the key to a better future, McIntyre-Mills argues that ‘policy and practice needs to consider social, economic and environmental implications for all life’ (McIntyre-Mills) the challenges of which ‘are unprecedented’ (McIntyre-Mills) and she asks ‘Can we design systems and technologies that sustain a future environment, or will we design systems that destroy our future?’ (McIntyre-Mills).
This raises the question of whose creativity can and should be harnessed, and how. It is neither a task for government alone, nor for experts across the public and private sectors, to determine how communities and individuals should live. Recognising this, the Premier of South Australia said that community engagement is central to urban renewal projects.
Analysis of the engagement approaches all emphasise that we citizens ‘are the dots and we are the interconnections. They are one. We make or break the connections’ (McIntyre Mills & de Vries). Engagement also needs to be guided by principles to determine both the process and the outcomes and to be ‘as open and transparent as possible’ (Cook).
McIntyre-Mills recommends development of ‘a cycle including discursive democracy, deliberation on areas of concern – such as the multiple and complex issues associated with urban planning – based on structural dialogue and then voting on decisions’ (McIntyre-Mills & de Vries). The recommended mix of approaches to public participation in urban planning explored here can contribute towards achieving that objective.