The Bartlett Development Planning Unit
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    Participatory planning and climate compatible development

    By Vanesa Castan- Broto, on 4 February 2016

    The book ‘Participatory Planning for Climate Compatible Development’ advances a key argument about the need to involve urban citizens in local action for climate adaptation. The book present the insights from a CDKN-funded project called Public-Private-People Partnerships for Climate Compatible Development (2011-2013), which brought together policy makers, academics and activists from Mozambique with a group of ‘pracademics’ (or practice-oriented academics) based in the UK.

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    The project started by bringing together two fundamental concerns. First, we perceived that much of the response to climate change, both for mitigation and adaptation, related to the management of infrastructure at the local level. Here, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that in the absence of capacity and resources for coordinate action at the national or local level, a myriad of actors from small business to community organisations can play a role in delivering sustainability outcomes at the local level. Hence, we focused on the notion of partnerships as a means to build capacity through the collaboration between different types of institutions. We challenged the notion of public-private partnership as the only way in which effective partnerships happen, focusing instead on the variety of cross-sectoral partnerships that may improve service delivery at the local level.[1]

    Second, we believe that creating long-lasting partnerships required a process of institutional development whereby sectors of the city whose voice may not always be heard could be incorporated in thinking about the future of their neighbourhood and the city as a whole. Participatory planning was conceptualised here as a means to develop such institutions, to establish a process of dialogue from the bottom up. Our insights suggest that, in an urban context, participatory planning not only does not pose an obstacle for effective climate action, but also may be the most effective means to deliver it.

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    Deliberative planning methods are appropriate to develop a democratic culture of partnership-making, which recognises the human rights of urban populations and how they perceive their life could be improved. Participatory methods are also efficient and fast means to find out what is the best way to improve the adaptation of communities that suffer the impacts of climate change. In that sense, this book reports on our own experience including: the need to tie climate change knowledge to personal experiences of extreme events such as flooding; the practical difficulties that we encountered to deliver participatory planning as a sequence of events; and the aspiration that participatory planning could lead to broader changes though a process of partnership building.

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    Our objective was to deliver an optimistic and forward-looking account of how to engage with communities for climate compatible development in a matter that makes a difference to their lives. The book also exposes, however, the limitations of a one-off engagement project to create lasting, transformative change. In this sense, we see this book as the beginning of a long engagement with the communities of Maputo, their aspirations, and the multiple possibilities to create a better city in the context of climate change.

    [1]For a critical discussion see: Castán Broto V, Macucule DA, Boyd E, et al. (2015) Building Collaborative Partnerships for Climate Change Action in Maputo, Mozambique. Environment and Planning A 47: 571-587.

    Spaces of Peace: A participatory process worth studying

    By Laura Pinzon Cardona, on 29 May 2015

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    From my experience, living and working in Colombia and witnessing the struggles found in processes for upgrading poor zones in the city, I often wonder how can small organisations propose and deliver urban projects seeking for social and cultural transformation, without getting lost in the highly bureaucratic processes for funding and building permissions.

    I want to share in this post some points about a participatory methodology, initially used in Venezuela in July 2014 that points to interesting directions for achieving more comprehensive, and time sustainable, results for urban interventions in low income areas.

    Having said this, it is important to highlight that the experience in Venezuela needs to be studied critically, in order to understand local factors that made it successful and wondering whether it could be a methodology than can be easily replicated elsewhere.

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    Spaces of Peace (Espacios de Paz) is the name given to this participatory methodology, and that was precisely the main purpose, to create places of truce in conflictive neighbourhoods with violent histories, through the transformation of empty buildings, and urban voids, into communal spaces for the practice of different activities related to cultural and recreational practices in the community.

    This initiative was lead by the Presidential Commission of the Movement for Peace and Life (Comisión Presidencial del Movimiento por la Paz y la Vida) and coordinated by the architecture firm PICO Estudio. Eleven social architecture collectives – both national and international – were invited to participate in the project, and to take part in five parallel participatory workshops across the country. The workshops lasted 6 weeks, which included one week for preparation, and five for design and construction.

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    This may sound straightforward for someone unfamiliar with managing and delivering urban proposals in low-income communities in South America. But the fact is that it is an outstanding accomplishment. The project achieved five good-quality results in parallel, in just six weeks, while remaining participatory throughout. In my experience, it can take about 6 weeks just to have the permissions ready for a small urban intervention, and that would only involve two or three actors – not the seven who came together for this project.

    There are a few details that piqued my interest in learning more about this methodology, which I believe these could be strategic decisions that explain the apparent success of implementation of this approach. The first detail I want to highlight is that local women managed resources for each project, including both food and money to pay for construction materials brought to the site.

    In doing so the role of actors in the project is balanced: the community all of a sudden receives these architecture collectives to guide the workshop, design and construction – even if they are from the same country, they are still somehow alien to local contexts. But at the same time it is the community itself, represented by their women, who are the ones in charge of managing the process in the best way possible to make the ideas feasible.

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    Production teams were in charge of all logistical details covering a wide range of tasks related to the preparation and implementation of workshops, including transportation, hosting, food, hiring and delivering of construction materials. Besides a small quota of voluntary students and some specialised craftsmen, men and women from the communities did most of the labour, being hired and paid for their time

    One final detail I want to highlight is that cultural and social activation started in parallel with the project being built. With the support of local and national networks of foundations, artists and collectives with social purposes, many different activities were planned and realised in the communities during the workshops. This called the interest of the community and gave a chance to more people to participate.

    I am part of one of the international collectives invited to be part of this exercise, Habitat sin Fronteras. Although I could not be there during the workshops I followed it from my home in Colombia, through the experiences of a colleague, and in August last year I had the chance to visit one of the projects in Caracas. In this project an existing two-story building was renovated, in a very crowded corner in Petare, a traditionally conflictive poor neighborhood.

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    Inside the new building there are spaces designated for dancing and yoga, a music-recording studio, and an Internet room with a few computers. The roof terrace was reinforced and properly adapted for a single basketball court with space for stands and plants. During my visit I could see all these spaces were used intensely by local people, still being supported by some art and cultural collectives that participated during the construction exercise.

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    Looking at the impact generated by Spaces of Peace, it is hard not to think this should be done more often and in many more countries. However, specific local conditions such as political will, levels of coordination among institutions, strong funding management and production capacity from the project leaders, and community cooperation are, among others, some factors to study locally before replicating this particular exercise.

    Nowadays, Spaces of Peace 2015 is being implemented in Venezuela, and also in Mexico at a smaller scale on a project-by-project basis. I will share some of their experiences in future posts.

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    Laura Pinzon is an architect and completed the MSc Building and Urban Design in Development at the DPU in 2012. She currently works as a consultant with Habitat sin Fronteras, a non-profit foundation, and is also manager and creative director of a communication company called 101 Media Solutions, developing communicative strategies to support development processes in Colombia, where she currently lives.

    How can local innovation respond to climate change in cities?

    By Nick Anim, on 31 March 2015

    In the final DPU Breakfast Talk of the term Vanesa Castán Broto was in conversation with Étienne von Bertrab about the role of local responses to Climate Change in urban areas.

    ‘Channeling’ two recent articles by George Monbiot, Étienne opened the discussion by suggesting that: (a) dealing with Climate Change requires the same legislative courage as was necessary to save the ozone layer, and (b), in the absent presence of the required legislation to address Climate Change, the only real spaces of hope and innovation are at the local level.

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    In Dar es Salaam water is distributed by private vendors using 10 litre jerry-cans in the absence of formal infrastructure. Local entrepreneurial responses may increasing be required to respond to water scarcity.

    He posed four opening questions to Vanesa:

    1. What have you been doing recently in relation to climate change?
    2. What do you think is the significance of this work?
    3. As an expert, is there a risk of being too close to the formal governance institutions, such as the Conference of Parties, when they have proven time and time again to be achieving very little and when counter summits, such as the People’s Summit, are emerging?
    4. What is the role of theory building in times of urgency?

    Socio-technical innovation is taking place in cites

    Drawing from her vast experience in the field, as well as some key lessons and conclusions from her recent book An Urban Politics of Climate Change, Vanesa began by pointing out that most socio-technical experiments and innovations take place in cities. Technical experiments such as capturing energy from the water mains, and social innovations such as Transition Towns were used to highlight this point in the context of urban transitions for climate change.

    In reference to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, Vanesa highlighted the fact that there were technical alternatives available at the time, which facilitated the relative expediency of its implementation.

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    Vanesa responds to Etienne’s questions at the DPU Breakfast event

    Participatory planning for climate change?

    A key topic in the discussion was the subject of participatory planning, and perhaps more specifically, participation for Climate Change planning. Climate change is framed almost universally as a global problem; therefore the challenges of addressing its governance have conventionally been approached from the top-down.

    The oft-held presumption that national states/governments are best placed to represent the interests of cities in addressing Climate Change is, it was argued, misguided. Vested interests, as highlighted by a recent Oxfam report, have a disproportionate influence in the corridors of power.

    What is the role of social movements?

    Within the political milieu, what then, it must be asked, is the role of social movements? Can they lobby effectively to counter the prevalence of the vested interests’ lobby groups? How can citizens’ and communities’ voices be amplified, heard and understood in the ‘attention marketspace’ of planning strategies for Climate Change?

    Reflecting on her recent work with informal settlements in Maputo, Mozambique, as part of the Public Private People Partnerships for Climate Compatible Development (4PCCD) project, Vanesa argued that the key to participatory Climate Change planning is developing a network of partnerships between civil society groups, municipalities, and businesses.

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    Residents living in peripheral areas in water-scarce cities, such as Lima in Peru [pictured] are already facing serious challenges due to climate change

    Community-based solutions rely on open channels of communication

    Within this context, local facilitators are key to building good partnerships that can recognise and access the diversity of voices that constitute any given community. The success of the project in Maputo highlighted the fact that community-based practical actions can work best if the necessary channels of communication are developed and maintained with the different stakeholders from government, business and civil society.

    The participatory planning approach had a clear impact in terms of facilitating community organisation, and strengthening their representation through the establishment of a Climate Planning Committee (CPC) – whose expertise and legitimacy has been acknowledged in joint learning events with stakeholders and policy-makers in Maputo.

    Are academics too close to formal governance institutions?

    In terms of ‘being too close to the formal governance institutions’, it is important as a practitioner, to recognise the institutional milieu within which a project is situated, and in that context, it is equally important to work with, and not against politics

    Academia and its inherent practices of theory-building play an important role in planning and development. Although in many instances theories may take time to filter through to the grassroots, iterative processes between academic theories and field practice can ensure that new knowledge can be brought to illiterate communities for example.

    Whilst this DPU Breakfast Talk facilitated the discussion about local responses to Climate Change, we should see it as just the beginning of an open and continuous dialogue to which we can all contribute, and through which we can all learn.


    Nick Anim is a PhD candidate at the DPU. He completed an MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development at the DPU in 2013. His PhD research looks at Transition Cities as a mean of  exploring the viability and potential of community-based initiatives in a transition to a low-carbon sustainable economy.