Mapping “what might be…” – leveraging web-based geoparticipation to involve residents in urban planning

2 min read

Hard work (almost always) pays off (in the very end). As most researchers will know, it is just not that clear during the process πŸ˜…πŸ€πŸ˜―πŸ™„πŸ˜­πŸ˜€πŸ˜±πŸ₯Ά β†’ 😎. This post presents some high-level insight from the paper, and a few hand-picked emojis to boot.

Thanks to the relentless efforts and dedication of my stellar research colleagues, a cutting-edge paper that faced many pushbacks from academic reviewers finally saw the light last autumn 🌧🌦 β›…πŸŒž . The insight shared in the paper remains highly valid for all those interested in all things participatory mapping, geoparticipation and Public Participation GIS. And indeed in community engagement, more broadly speaking. The paper is particularly suitable for urban planners, urban developers, community activists, Civic Tech start-ups, planners-in-the-making (i.e. students), and researchers in academia, government and beyond.

Using the IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation, we assessed 25 map-based survey projects used in urban planning for a wide range of projects, from parks and recreation and masterplanning to transport planning. Our respondents were urban planning professionals, mainly in local government. For a brief recap the Spectrum runs as follows:

πŸ’¨ << inform ↔ consult ↔ involve ↔ collaborate ↔ empower >> πŸ’«

We infer that geoparticipation sits most neatly within the range between consultation, involvement and collaboration, as defined on the IAP2 Spectrum. Using map-based surveys solely for one-way communication or promotional purposes, would arguably be a waste of both time ⏳ and taxpayers’ money πŸ’Έ. Likewise, one would be hard-pressed to sell the promise of ‘giving power to the people’ 🎠through online surveys or participatory planning workshops alone. As deceiving as it sounds, there is no one-way ticket to direct democracy in participatory town planning.

The most promising, effective and indeed powerful uses of the technology rather seems to reside in working with residents πŸ’ͺ, rather than just ‘for’ or ‘on behalf of’ them πŸ±β€πŸ. As both the academic and community literature clearly remind us, urban expertise is not the preserve of domain experts or civil servants. At the same, the beauty of such terms as ’empowerment’ or ‘involvement’ lies in the eye of mapper. How impactful does it really get? Because the scale and impact of urban planning projects tend to be so diffuse, it always seems to be a tautology to say that ‘only time will tell’ πŸ›Έ. But that also depends on how far one is able to look both back and forward in time to see the change and impact.

Public involvement in urban planning lies at the core of delivering more sustainable and resilient places and spaces that can truly stand the test of time and climate change. This insight remains most topical as local communities worldwide seek to ‘build back greener’ following COP26 πŸ”₯🌊 . The net zero transition is first and foremost a collective and collaborative endeavour.

The journal paper is open access and available for everyone to read. Along with other cutting-edge papers on the topic, it will help push the conversation on public participation toward more progressive forms of community-oriented map-based surveys. Systematic benchmarking could also help.

‘Empowerment’ lies not only in the ballot or delegated decisional power; it can also be powerfully leveraged by actively involving residents in the placemaking processes that influence them directly πŸš€.

Asking residents to map “what might be…” could become there to see, right in your city. Picture credits: What might be… – the fourth arch on East Market Street by M J Richardson is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

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