Participatory urbanism: new learning-scapes in contemporary cities

Serafina Amoroso


Participatory urbanism is the compelling, though controversial, link between individual citizens and urban planning and design. A participatory urbanism should be intended as a pedagogical project that needs a cross-disciplinary approach and aims at contrasting corporate-led urbanism, towards a more democratic management of public spaces. Participation, involvement in the process of place-making, alterity, heterogeneity are the key words of a dialogical approach to urban planning and design that can be located somewhere between a bottom-up and a top-down strategy, between participatory design and the legal requirements of a regeneration project.

Educated architects and urban planners, but also groups and associations of citizens, have to face new challenges induced by the current crisis, the behavioral changes resulting from the use of new technologies and the changing requirements of the labour market. A participatory city is a learning-scape and an educating environment that makes room for expression and creativity, arising sense of responsibility. A participatory city is not a passive victim of the crisis, but a productive agent of change that prompts its users, inhabitants, associations etc. to support each other in order to enhance identification, awareness, preservation of place identity, involvement. Small scale interventions and micro-urban actions that exploit the gaps in regulations may not challenge property values and the speculative manipulation of urban realm, but are capable of editing and activating urban spaces that are perceived as edges and boundaries, thus influencing the emotions, the behaviors and the psychological well-being of users and inhabitants. Cooperative, bottom-up initiatives that retrofit this kind of spaces make them happier. Creativity and participation are something more complex than just a consultation or a passive experience of emotions in a moment of leisure; they rather attempt to involve and engage people in the production process. Participatory urbanism is not only an incorporation of consultative processes into official protocols, which is the reductive form in which these approaches and procedures have been very often absorbed by planning policies in Western Europe. Participatory urbanism means that planning and decision-making grant accessible and equal opportunities for everyone. A participatory city must share its (experimental) experiences in new forms of urban governance with other cities in order to test, redirect and improve its innovative approaches. Such tools as workshop, conferences, internships, exchanges, databases are especially important to disseminate best practices and increase awareness and public participation about the importance and the inherent values of inclusive urban governance.

This paper provides some examples of best practices, innovative approaches and paradigm shifts, which will be rigorously evaluated and analyzed in order to point out their level of criticality (such as, for example, the possible legitimization of public withdrawal from the public realm that sometimes reinforces social inequality and could be seen as an expression of “anti-statism”) and their strong points (including, for instance, creativity, generosity, experimentation, playfulness).

Amoroso, S. “Participatory urbanism: new learning-scapes in contemporary cities.” MONU 23 (2015): 102-107. ISSN 1860-3211

  • Privacy Policy
  • Cookie Policy