October 24: “Engagements with Participatory Planning”

“Engagements with Participatory Planning: Women’s Safety Audits, Rescue Geographies, and Creating ‘Creative Cities’”


• Pollock & Sharp (2012) Real participation or the tyranny of participatory practice? Public art and community involvement in the regeneration of the Raploch, Scotland, Urban Studies, pp. 1-17
• Jones & Evans (2012) Rescue Geography: Place making, affect and regeneration, Urban Studies, 49, pp. 2315–2330
• Review WICI (2010) Together for Women’s Safety
• Lozner (2004) Diffusion of local regulatory innovations: The San Francisco CEDAW ordinance, Columbia Law Review, 104, pp. 768-800

Cover image, Assets to Action. CCAP report by Wendy Pedersen & Jean Swanson.

For those who would like to write a Reading Response for Oct 24, here are four questions that you may consider to prompt your writing:

  1. How do these texts illustrate the concept of ‘urban regeneration’?
  2. Imagine these authors having a conversation with one another on the theme of participatory engagement. What overall picture of participatory engagement might emerge from that conversation?
  3. Jones & Evans develop the idea of ‘rescue geography’ as a way to engage local communities in urban redevelopment. (You can see more examples of this project here: http://www.rescuegeography.org.uk/) Rescue geography revisits (and builds upon) concepts that we’ve already discussed: in particular, what it means to have an embodied sense of place and how perceptual memory is relevant to our understanding of place. Consider your own experience with urban change (e.g., changes to your neighbourhood; development projects that have been undertaken or are ongoing; etc.) Is there a place where you might employ (or might have employed) rescue geography to inform urban development? For example, is there a place you feel attached to that is undergoing – or has recently undergone – rapid change? How might you deploy rescue geography to influence the changes that are taking place (or have taken place)?
  4. How might women’s safety audits and a rescue geography model be used together in the service of transforming places in the city?

Lecture overview.

This week, we revisit some now-common themes for us: participatory urbanism, “active” citizenship, and critical engagements with institutionalizing human rights initiatives (in the CEDAW case) and community participation in both governance and urban development. These texts speak to how and where “the rubber meets the road” – or fails to meet the road – in terms of community engagement. They prompt us to ask how community engagement and participatory urbanism can be conducted in meaningful ways that effect long-term policy changes and community empowerment.

We will address this question and the many thought-provoking questions that students posed (see below) in four “acts”, if you will.

Demolition of much of St. Paul’s (Minnesota) Frogtown neighbourhood as a result of construction of Interstate 94 near 6th St. downtown, 1960. (Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society)

In the first act, we will talk history: where did the impetus for participatory governance come from, anyway? One answer to this question can be gleaned from the momentum generated in the mid/late 20th century by laws meant to decrease the sense of alienation from government, coupled with civil actions that were conducted in response to state-directed development projects. The siting of highways in urban areas, for example, caused tremendous upheaval and encouraged social activism within and beyond the affected neighbourhoods. (Keep in mind that this kind of social activism is not necessarily progressive. It also becomes evident during NIMBY-ist attempts to resist efforts toward social integration, such as the development of social housing in high income neighbourhoods.)

In the second act, we will talk current context: we will look specifically at the rise of urban entrepreneurial policy and the drive for cities to be “creative”. We will have a visiting speaker via skype, thanks to the (hopefully functional) wonders of technology. Our guest will be Heather McLean, who recently finished a PhD at York University and specialises in creativity in policy and planning. She will talk about critiques of the creative city thesis and initiatives that have emerged from artist collectives and artist-run centres, such as Mammalian Diving Reflex and Don Blanche. If you have a chance to look at these links in advance of class, please do.

Acts three and four will be student-directed, through facilitation and the pre-meeting questions. We will apply conversations about rescue geographies and “real” participatory planning to the SFU campus, Vancouver, Lower Mainland contexts.

2 thoughts on “October 24: “Engagements with Participatory Planning”

  1. The article by Pollack and Sharp discusses several of the reasons why members of a poor community may feel disenfranchised by efforts to include their opinions in community regeneration projects. Can you think of any examples of this here in the Lower Mainland? What about specifically within Vancouver’s Downtown East Side?

  2. Pre-meeting Qs from students for the Oct 24 class meeting

    *Overarching questions*
    As we saw with ‘gender mainstreaming,’ the top-down initiatives to create transformative social change embodied a number of contradictions that are relevant to the discussion of ‘participatory engagement’ as well. Issues of funding dictating priorities, accountability, lack of continuity on projects, co-optation of words such an ’empowerment’ and ‘community,’ and tokenism within an unaltered status-quo. Is it a fundamental contradiction that community initiatives are proliferated by top-down agencies of the state that sustain pervasive structural relations of inequality?

    Can feasible solutions to the issues that come to bear on participatory engagement be workable within the logic of neoliberalism and mass consumerism? Conversely, are there certain contexts and/or organizations in which participation could be productive of alternative spaces or disrupt existing power relations? For instance, Pollock & Sharpe (2011) recognize contestation and conflict as an appropriate relation of community. Are they implying that conflict might engender processes of social change and open up space for the contestation of power relations? (really, are they? I don’t know! This is all conjecture). If this is what they are alluding to, how does this happen? What conflictual processes might engender resistance?

    *On Jones & Evans, “Rescue Geography: Place making, affect and regeneration”*
    Reading the Jones &Evans article, I was very much relating to what it was that they were describing the community regeneration of Berlin’s Kreuzberg district to Walley in Surrey. It becomes quite apparent the kind of improvements the city has done, (creating beautiful apartment buildings, adding a university campus, etc.), in order to change the reputation of Walley from a drug infested district to a modern fashionable way of living. My question lies in wondering whether this district will indeed change into this “ideal” city that is being pushed forth; or will it always be considered an “unsafe” area to be in?

    Jones and Evans discuss how “rescue geography” can help articulate and promote the “place associations” of residents, thus helping to create more “authentic regeneration schemes” (p.1). How might processes of regeneration as strategies to disperse spatialized poverty threaten “embodied” and “affective connections” of the current residents of urban cities? How might this apply to Vancouver? What are some place-making strategies used by residents of Vancouver in maintaining affective connections to their communities?”

    In the Jones & Evans article they speak extensively about rescue geography and that use it has in seeing the emotional attachments people have for particular space and places. Do you feel if walking interviews had been done of Gas Town before the beginning of the gentrification of the area that they could have better designed a place for the people in the area? Do you think that rescue geography can prevent gentrification and turn spaces into places for the people of that area?

    *On Lozner, “Diffusion of local regulatory innovations: The San Francisco CEDAW ordinance”*
    Lozner (2004) argues that in order for the CEDAW ordinance to be applicable and successful in other cities, we need to take into account local and specific contexts.
    • What are some considerations that must be taken into account when using participatory problem solving in other cities?
    • What do you think needs to be accounted for, in terms Vancouver’s specific social contexts, in order to make initiatives like CEDAW successful in the Lower Mainland?
    As well, what are some of the benefits and downfalls to participatory problem solving?

    *On Pollack & Sharp, “Real participation or the tyranny of participatory practice? Public art and community involvement in the regeneration of the Raploch, Scotland”*
    Is the Real Participation or tyranny of practice another form of participatory action similar to WICI? Is the Real participation of tyranny or part of practice considering gender in their visions? or should they be? I understand that getting the community involved equally with government is seen as the first step but this is the problem with current space and surroundings. They were not viewed through a gender lens when they were developed therefore they lack in areas relating to gender.

    In the conclusion, the authors state that: “‘Creative Spaces’ shows that participatory public art processes can be a means to activate and empower citizens, often on their own terms […]” – however, they then mention that: “Encouraging communities to fight for ‘imagined futures’ can be a dangerous strategy against the reality of the everyday” (p. 3075). Do you think that the negatives outweigh the positives in this context, or do the positives outweigh the negatives? For if a project that a community had envisioned did not go through in their favour, does that mean that their efforts were a complete waste, or did they still achieve a certain degree of success (i.e. they engaged in dialogue with one another, began to think more critically about their surroundings, etc.)?

    Pollock and Sharp contend “that participation has become a new ‘tyranny’ that, despite its claims, is little more than tokenism” (2012, p. 1). Do you believe that participatory planning is a valid avenue for community members to identify and voice their sense of place? Or do you believe the pervasive rhetoric that suggests participatory planning is merely an idea planted by larger stakeholders to give the illusion they are listening? One example in Vancouver where community participation and input has been asked for is in the revitalization of downtown Woodward’s. Do you think the large stakeholders of Woodward’s regeneration value this community involvement? Do you think they prioritize participatory planning and is it successful?

    Pollock and Sharp stated that “Integral to this were claims that engaging communities in artistic practices would engender cohesion, tackle exclusion and result in better place-making”, regardless of the lack of evidence for this statement Do you agree or disagree? If you agree with the author would you be willing to provide evidence from your past experience with community involvement?

    In Pollock’s article, the idea of active citizenship through community participation is analyzed and problematized. The main pitfall of many community development projects, according to Pollock, is the fact that institutions often dictate the community’s involvement in the project, rather than the more desirable reverse effect (par.20). However, I think that the entire premise of the article goes against this very statement, in that the “push towards active citizenship rather than passive representational democracy” (par.2) seems to be institutionalized rather than a grassroots movement. In my experience, representational democracy has been portrayed as “active” – we are always encouraged to get out and “exercise” our democratic right to voting. It seems that the rhetoric has simply been changed to encourage people’s participation in the institutions. How can a community development project ever be successful, then, if we are still deferring to the government to define terms like “active”, “community”, and “participation”? Furthermore, have we even reached a point where participation is open enough to truly be “active”? Or do people see discussion of larger community development as irrelevant in their limited, oppressed, independent lives, like many people felt with the “Community Spaces” project? Perhaps we should be looking to the people (i.e. grassroots movements) to dictate what is important to “community” and “development”, rather than referring to another institutionally produced ideology.

    *On “Community Vision for Change in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside” (not required)*
    In this publication its vision includes to put people first and welcome all who advocate for affordable low-income housing and respect our vibrant community values as well to ensure low-income people have affordable homes and access to resources to meet our needs. However I felt that the article was exclusive and not welcoming of students (when not all but some of students are low-income). Having a SFU Woodwards nearby I see the how some students might use the Carnegie cafeteria after all they are on a student budget. This article wants to remember its community members and students are a part of this community. Why does there need to be a tug of war over affordable housing? This should be an indication of the importance to have and keep affordable housing because the implications could lead to displace local resident that are most vulnerable.

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