Build the City: for the People, with the People

December 5, 2016, 5:30 pm

By Tsveta Andreeva, European Cultural Foundation

Including citizens and communities in decision-making creates wider support for implementing legislation, providing out-of-the-box solutions and strengthening democratic legitimacy. Culture contributes to this by engaging and inspiring people, challenging stereotypes and catalysing the social revitalisation of urban commons. This is essential for building more equitable and sustainable future for our diverse communities. In 2016, ECF engaged in a mapping exercise of best-practices that culminated in the publication of a Magazine compiling 26 civil-public partnerships based on principles of the commons. Based on the analysis of these cases we can now present evidence of how to build a city for the people, with the people.

Lessons learned that can be implemented locally

  • Start by creating civil-public partnerships
    Civil-public partnerships have created a bigger impact and provided better solutions on housing, sustainable use of land, urban poverty and more, as civil initiatives have a wealth of experience tackling urban issues. POGON & Ursus Social Museum
  • Create community ownership through genuine participation
    To ensure fluid communication, discuss challenges openly and create solutions together, citizens and communities need to be involved from the start. A community needs to feel ownership of the solutions, offering strong participative input and output. Pick your (City) Fruit, Têtes de L’Art
  • Make culture a key asset in urban planning
    Art and cultural events help to raise awareness of reclaiming public space. People’s Park, Subtopia, Leeuwarden – Fryslân 2018
  • Make sustainability core
    Sustainability is at the core of many participatory governance practices. Mehr als Wohnen, INURDECO, Nicosia Pop-Up Festival
  • Use open source strategies and varied tools
    It is important to help residents participate in building a strategy for their own cities, using online and offline participatory tools. R-Urban, Liverpool Air Project, People’s Park, INURDECO
  • Launch collective hubs, a platform or citizen working groups
    The organisation of citizen working groups helps to make projects sustainable. Urban challenges such as climate change and housing prices can be managed at the level of individual communities. Transition Towns, La Borda, Participatory Energy Transition
  • Change mindsets – having a good story to tell makes a big difference
    Changing mindsets is perhaps the most challenging goal. La Borda, Transition Towns Totnes, Pick your (City) Fruit.
  • Evaluate and measure impact
    SynAthina for example included an evaluation mechanism for the activities with the highest impact that will support upgrading and modernising local governance. As a result, new civic practices are incorporated and regulations have been updated.

 From practice to policy – the EU Urban Agenda

We recommend three Areas of Action:

  1. Co-created cities are resilient cities: a new vision of good governance
    Good urban governance and better regulation[1] requires more than stakeholder consultations or impact assessments – it needs a new vision of governance. In the 21st century, good governance is synonymous with co-created cities where urban planning can no longer be top-down oriented. Bologna, Madrid, Athens, Ghent and Dortmund have already discovered that creating a new institutional and economic system based on the model of civil collaboration was the only way to maintain a good quality of life. They include a collaborative form of government whereby public administration governs together with citizens. The principles of civil collaboration and horizontal subsidiarity demand that all levels of government should enable collective action for the common good and find ways to share their powers and cooperate with citizens who are willing to exercise their constitutional rights. Basically governments need to trust their citizens – acting as an enabler.
  2. Social innovation as a basis for better EU funding
    To ensure better access to and use of European funds, the practices in this publication offer some good examples of social innovation. By highlighting the role of civil society, social innovation deals with collaborative action, legitimacy and critical public sphere. The concept of social innovation can be seen as two-sided. From a market-oriented perspective, social entrepreneurs are the key drivers and managers of social innovation. From a socially-oriented side, civil society organisations are driven by public action and working for an economy based on solidarity.[2] In the 21st century, funding support should focus on the engagement of citizens and an inclusive, collaborative and circular economy. The genuine participation of citizens and communities in decision making, including budgeting, enhances the probability of success in running a city.
  3. Better knowledge exchange: stimulating the sharing of urban commons practices
    Scaling up and better knowledge exchange across Europe could be established in various different ways – for example, by developing a charter that includes clear principles and protocols to create and support a common network. This charter could also be used to create opportunities for new projects and emerging hubs in other cities. An online space could be fed by a network of users from across Europe, and could therefore be widely shared and easily exchanged.


Read the full Build the City Magazine, European Cultural Foundation, Amsterdam 2016

Editors Marjolein Cremer & Nicola Mullenger


[1] Better regulation is about designing EU policies and laws so that they achieve their objectives at minimum cost.
[2] Klein J.L., Laville J.L., Moulaert F., L’innovation sociale, Eres éditions, 2014
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