Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Vänersborg goes participatory

Participatory methods, i.e be a part of a process, sharing ideas, involvment of 'public', when consulting new housing areas has been done successfully but is not something to ordinary processes. Consultation is in an early stage within the municipality, later with a building company and artitechts and, it is first when a plan is finished, when people can come and have a say.

Examples from Germany's so-called Baugroupen, shows very clear, that a large group of people together can plan a housing area. The Baugroupen, which are created in consultation with an architect, is a participatory way to plan an area. Bauroupen are normally around 10 households, discussing their issues, conserns and needs.

Methods to share information to a group of people when they are not involved in the future living, and before a plan is finished is extremly rare. But this happened in Vänersborg, Sweden, spring 2009 when nearby households to an area under planning were involved in the planning process. This was also done with specifically participatory methods, to understand the case from everyone's perspective, to whittle down the expected conflict..

Case; The forest next to the suburb of Mariedal in Vänersborg, Sweden, has a pine tree plantage now high enough to clearcut. Same forest has a housebuilding plan accepted early as 1929, were the area should house 40 more villas. Some of the residents knew this, some didn't. But these plans where now at the architects drawing table- because it's time efficient  to build houses in the same time as the forest is cleared. A case ready for a conflict, so SLU (the Swedish Agricultural University) set a dialouge with residents in the area to mediate between the Planning Committee and the one's living and using the forest (knowing later; as a playground for kids at the nearby school and kindergarten, as a walkingarea for dogs etc). 200 letters were send out to the neighbourhood close to the forest, welcoming everyone to listen to new plans but moreover, to have a say about it.

 A closeby area with new villas, residents saying: isn't that large enough?
Leave our forest alone!

Conserned neigbours came to a participatory meeting to discuss the forest where a new housing area were planned before the plan was a plan. The first meeting led to another where participants were invited to walk around the forest to give another perspective to the municipality, the second meeting followed, now with the starting point of "if the forest has to be a new housing, how would it look like". Participatory methods for this were done with small  groups sitting with models of houses which could be moved over a map. The participants wrote lists on what they thought was very important in the area if it was built. Everything was documented as notes. A doctorate candidate used some of the material to her dissertation.

So what happened after? Now august 2011, they do not even know what to do there. Residents in the nearby area wonder if they have their forest or new neighbours. They lack information and the project is placed on ice.

Important note: meetings in this way should only be organized if they are needed. Participatory meetings are for learning and action.. A follow-up after things like this is necessary if starting a process like this.

From Participatory methods toolkit; A practitioner’s manual;

The general steps in developing and implementing public participatory methods constitute the following:
1. Recruit a project team.
2. Define the purpose and goals of the strategy.
3. Determine the scope and focus of a public involvement process.
4. Understand the legislative, legal, jurisdictional and social context for the issue and any decision(s) to be made.
5. Determine who should be involved and why.
6. Understand the time frame and process for decisions.
7. Design the plan (choosing one or multiple methods).
8. Assemble the funding.
9. Set adequate timelines and other resources required to make the process work.
10. Recruit participants.
11. Promote the event.
12. Implement the plan.
13. Evaluate the process and results.
14. Produce and disseminate final report.

Vänersborg's participatory methods were stuck at number 13. So much work for nothing.

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