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Friday, October 28, 2011

Citizen Participation is Like Urban Renewal

This is a response to a reader who uses the tern “urban design for all” to mean citizen, or public, participation. 

            Public participation, or “urban design for all”, has turned city planners into facilitators /administrators and architects into supplicants. Urban renewal failed because solutions were dictated based on opinion without knowledge. Citizen participation has failed for the same reason; but failure is disguised by popular participation that dilutes blame; considers experience knowledge; and mistakes issues for problems. 

            A problem must be defined before a solution can be found. A public grievance is a symptom, but is rarely the problem. The responsibility of leadership is to ask questions and conduct research to define problems; but admitting a problem can be political poison, so it is tempted to dance with the issues and ignore the problem. 

            Issues distract us from problems. This is typical because problems are abstract and issues are real, but medicine has already taught us that reacting to symptoms does not produce a cure. The urban public does not define problems. It lives with symptoms and will never produce cures, but it may ratify one when explanations justify change. If I use the phrase, “medicine for all”, the contrast with “urban design for all” may help to explain where we are and where medicine has been. 

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