Is democracy enough?

Dialogue, citizen participation and empowerment are all buzz words nowadays. But why is it important, is democracy not enough? Different forms of dialogue with citizens enhance the democratic processes and are important from both a societal and an individual perspective. But is there something more to it? Mistra Urban Futures has several projects and activities regarding dialogue and citizen participation that bring new knowledge to this area.

Democracy at risk?

Ever since Aristotle it has been regarded as positive for both the individual and society for citizens to be involved. But there are also critical voices pointing to the risk that representative democracy can be eliminated if some groups of residents get the opportunity to participate and others don’t. Other challenges include not just informing and listening to citizens but actually involving them in the decision making. As a research area is hard to map as there are no control groups, no variables that can be compared between different studies as all planning processes are different.

The citizens are the experts

“Listen to the citizens stories; they are the experts when it comes to their neighborhood. They have the ability to see the whole picture; something that the municipality does not always manage to do”, says Lisa Bomble, a PhD student at Chalmers University of Technology and project leader for Formative Evaluation Gråbo. An American researcher states that the single most effective action a planner can take to get better and more implemented decision is to invite more people to participate in the planning process as early as possible.

One step further

At Mistra Urban Futures we are working with dialogue and citizen participation in many different projects and activities. In Kisumu, Kenya the Ecotourism project include a dialogue with the citizens on how different sites could be developed and the citizens will be involved in the actual work of developing the sites. By this, local capacity is created and employment is enhanced as ecotourism becomes an alternative livelihood. In Sweden a mapping has been conducted building on the work and experience of the Delegation for Sustainable Cities and a network for dialogue, Stadsbyggnadsdialogen. In Greater Manchester the platform has been working with community development trusts and community researchers to explore sustainable stories from the grassroots. This culminated in a Sustainable Stories exhibition where members of the public were able to exchange views on how to make their city-region fair, green and dense.

Powerful tool

If used correctly dialogues and citizen participation can be a powerful tool for developing sustainable cities. As we are developing cities not for the sake of having more buildings or streets but for the people living in the cities, their opinion and input is vital. It is a complex subject and more knowledge is needed. That is why it is an important part of Mistra Urban Futures’ knowledge production projects and a part of the puzzle to develop Fair, Green and Dense cities.

Projects and activities at Mistra Urban Futures