Improving the diversity of civic participation in urban planning – challenges & opportunities

As many of you know, inclusion and participation are issues close to my heart. Today, I want to briefly examine these topics as they relate to participation in urban planning processes.

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Inclusion and diversity are real challenges for civic participation processes. Again and again, we hear about how these structures are primarily used by demographics which are already socially and politically dominant – national natives, well-educated, middle class citizens, white men, double-income households, heterosexual married couples, etc.

Today’s post asks:

What are the main challenges to increasing diversity in these processes and what are some possibilities for addressing them?

First of all, we should identify which groups are typically underrepresented in planning processes and other participatory formats. Typically, single women, the elderly, migrants, and youths are groups which use the urban space to a much larger degree than they get involved in the planning and design behind it. Typical barriers to participation include a lack of knowledge about the official structures surrounding these processes or the expectation that they will be “work” or very long and involved. In addition, some harder-to-reach groups may not respond well to an if-we-offer-it-they-will-come approach. Outreach work, including adapting methods to different user groups, can go a long way to improve inclusion and diversity in civic participation.

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Different formats, including ones which look for users in situ, can also aid improving the representativeness of the voices considered in participatory planning processes. Administrative offices need to present the information in as non-technical a way as possible (including using simplified language) in order to reach a wide variety of users.

Incorporating these aspects (outreach work, new formats (including digital formats), participation on location, simplified language, transparency of the effort needed, etc.) into existing participatory formats can make a new wealth of ideas and needs available to city administrations, improve the acceptance and suitability of urban planning changes, and significantly improve the daily lives of a wider range of urban residents.

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