How can we strengthen municipal development cooperation in context of Socially Just Urban Development and capacity for participatory?
Social cohesion is one of the most important issues for each community. While there are lot of differences between the municipalities world-wide, we often share a lot of common challenges and exchange of good practices is one of the ways how to promote the best achievements we have. Although social cohesion as a term can be very abstract, one of the topics that municipalities can relate to very easily is urban planning, especially creation of public spaces. Different practices around the globe could be easily adjusted and duplicated in different contexts, while the goal we share is common: we aim to create inclusive, resilient, and just communities with equal chances for all.
Creating conditions for a better life for all citizens in municipalities and towns including attractive public spaces for all – what can Urban Planers do for that?
The principal task of urban planners, while designing urban plans, is to create conditions for better life of all citizens. The task is never easy, especially because the needs and interests of different groups of society may differ and planners need to assess these needs and articulate them, to define just solutions that would fit to most people’s expectations. The scale of the plans may differ: when we design the strategic plans (e.g. General urban plan for the whole urban settlement), we are supposed to formulate strategic goals, which are sometimes hard to explain to general public. When we are designing in smaller scales (plans of detailed regulation), then it is easier to communicate with people – everyone can easily identify with the street she/he lives in, or with the local park. That means that the tools for communication have to be adjusted according to the type of plan we are preparing.
What are the Experiences from Serbian cities in creating public spaces through active participation of citizens?
Participation principles are embedded in the legal framework for urban planning in our country. Local administrations in Serbia have already gained a lot of experiences in implementation of participatory techniques in urban planning processes. Some of these efforts in creation of inclusive public spaces with active engagement of local communities were presented at the World Urban Forum in Katowice, Poland, this June. Cities of Kruševac, Niš and Belgrade presented 11 different initiatives of creation of public spaces of different scales and sizes, starting from small courtyards in Niš to large Line park in Belgrade which will spread over 4,5km to replace former rail tracks in the heart of the old city with new green areas, bike lanes and pedestrian lanes. These 11 spaces were all devoted to promotion of 11th goal of sustainable development, which refers to safe and inclusive cities. These projects demonstrate the willingness of our cities to learn and to share experiences (both good and not so good experiences) with other cities, on importance of inclusive planning. Our organisation, the association of local self-governments, also tries to promote all of these efforts, as we are aware of importance of participatory approach in local governance in general.
Your Department supports Serbian municipalities to upgrade substandard settlements inhabitated by Roma minority. Could you describe your engagement?
Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities has implemented an EU funded project “EU support to Roma inclusion”, which lasted 4 years and had several components, one of them being related to improvement of living conditions of Roma minority in Serbian municipalities. We supported design process of 11 urban plans in municipalities in Serbia, which cover substandard, unplanned settlements mostly inhabited by Roma population. Apart from designing of urban plans, we also provided legal advisory support to households which wanted to formalize legal status of their homes. Finally, technical assistance helped producing technical designs for the missing communal infrastructure in 12 municipalities.
The main challenge for us was to organize the design of urban plans for informal settlements, as we insisted on participatory approach in designing of these plans. We had to cope with different challenges: how to include citizens of these settlements in urban design processes, as we are dealing with marginalized, socially highly vulnerable group? At the beginning, urban planners were not very keen about the participation, too, as they saw their role as mainly technical. But the results were impressive: over 30 workshops and public debates were held with over 1000 persons present. Planners have worked on field asking citizens for their inputs. In some cases, consensus on future status of land was reached even before the plan was finished. Local self-government was actively participating. As a result, we have now legal base for formalisation of status for several hundred of houses, while large number of local officials were trained to resolve complicated legal issues related to land tenure.
Are there any experiences which are relevant for German cities?
Our main findings from this project are that each community could be included in the planning process if the right communication tool is used. I believe that we share similar challenges when it comes to participatory planning – local officials often lack time and funds to implement participatory activities. But with the right support and with adequate planning, good results could be achieved. If we offer planning solutions that are in line with the expectations of majority of the citizens, we can avoid future disputes when the realisation of projects begins.
What can be done to strengthen the role of local administrations in the process of drafting urban and spatial plans?
In Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities, we strongly believe that local administrations have the most important role in leading the urban planning process. Although the process of drafting of plans is often delegated to professionals (private or public companies or institutes), the primary role of municipal authorities should be maintained. This mainly stands for management of public participation process. Municipal administration has to communicate main objectives of future plans with the general public. Additionally, their role is to ensure that no one is excluded from the process – minority groups, people with disabilities, women, elderly, and other groups have top be included in adequate way in order to ensure that social cohesion is achieved in urban planning. Our organisation organizes range of capacity building opportunities for local officials and professionals who are willing to strengthen their knowledge and practice in these areas.