Jarkko Bamberg
PhD Student,
Department of Regional Studies,
University of Tampere, Finland

Experimenting New Participation Practices – Case of Nurmi-Sorila

A new kind of citizen participation tool was developed in order to aid the urban planning in the city of Tampere, Finland. This tool for participation is a web-based application which was used in summer and autumn 2005 in the planning process of Nurmi-Sorila, an area which should accommodate around 15 000 people in the future. In this paper I will discuss how and with what purpose the participation tool was used in the planning process. 

The aim of the study is to identify the potentials of the internet for participative practices in urban planning. The question rises from challenges of our contemporary society. In several planning processes the participation practices developed by public administration and government have not been successful enough to fulfill the needs of citizens. In some cases this has led people to find and develop their own tools and practices for participation. It can be argued that the traditional political system has lost its credibility and the most important political processes happen elsewhere. This means that the town planning decisions are made in dynamic and interactive processes, not in a statical system of decision making. Thus it is better to speak of governance instead of government. We can also say that the environment is politicised when different actors and intress groups bring out their views. urban planning not only handle problems that needs to be solved, but in the processes of town planning actors give symbolic meanings to the environment. I use the notion of politics of the environment to describe the struggles in which the symbolic meanings are defined in public debate. Traditionally, the powerful actors in these political struggles, such as public government and planners, represent themselves as experts. Their views are based in scientific knowledge, from which the environment is seen from a distant viewpoint, 'objectivily'. The views of the citizens are more often based on their own lived and experienced environment. These differentiating views create different starting points for what kind of meanings and values are given to the environment. If scientific knowledge is not seen as only possible starting point for discussion, expertise has to be re-defined to include the views that are based on different kind(s) of knowledge(s).

The internet offers some new possibilities for citizen participation. The possibilities are contingent on three specific features of the internet. First, the internet allows conceptual ideas to be framed in concrete and pictorial terms: abstract concepts can be attached to objects in environments that the public is familiar with. Spatial and visual representations of different elements of the environment, such as maps, photographs and diagrams, offer this possibility. Second, the interactive communication infrastructure of the internet has potentials for new kinds of 'public spaces' which both "experts" and "citizens" can share together. Third, arguments and statements collected through the internet are automatically stored into an 'archive' which is easily available at any moment. This is a crucial difference with for instance letters to the editor type of newspaper commentary. In the paper I will look at these three aspects through the case of Nurmi-Sorila.

The politicisation of the environment and the dynamical processes of governance mean that participation has to be contextual. Actors have different views of the relevant scale on which the planning and environment should be discussed, which makes context defining problematic. There is not any one big solution for participation, but practices has to be suited for each case separately. This case study strongly supports this view, and further stresses that the critical question of participation in the future is how adaptable planning processes will be to different approaches and types of knowledge.

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