How might we leverage technology to foster participation of young citizens in urban planning processes?

Exploring technological means of engaging citizens in urban planning processes by raising awareness of urban change and providing opportunities for participation through contextual experiences.

The Challenge

In order to involve city-users in local planning processes, there has been a recent shift away from traditional, analog practices toward the use of technological means. However, the current implementation of digital tool is still either unsuitable or cumbersome for many people. The efforts of the municipalities to integrate especially young people in such processes, who so far represent an absolute minority, still remain an unresolved challenge.

How might we create digital tools to encourage young city-users to participate in the shaping of their neighbourhoods?

The Approach

In this project I explore technological possibilities in order to create a participation culture on the go and therefore offer a more flexible opportunity to participate in planning processes. I develop a framework based on the concept of contextual experiences to see whether mobile devices can serve as a gateway to more accessable participatory methods and raise awareness of urban change.

The goal of this project is to explore ways to engage young city-user in participatory planning processes.

Immersing myself in the topic: Early readings

At the very beginning of my process, I found myself reading books, blogs, and articles to gain a broad understanding of urban planning and to learn about traditional and current participatory planning methodologies, urban planning, and its feminist approaches.

A glimpse at my reading list for my this project.

Getting a holistic overview: Interviewing experts and city-users

During the early stages of my research, I focused on expert interviews. I was able to interview 14 experts, including Urban Planners, Architects, Politicians, Design Researchers, and others, in order to gain a better understanding of the urban planning process and how city-users are now integrated into it. Following that, I conducted interviews with several citizens in order to have a better understanding of their views on their city and urban development.

Early interview with a design researcher in Berlin.
Current process of urban planning in the cities I interviewed the experts, which reflects the process of Germany and Sweden.

City-user workshops

I held four workshops with people from various professions, and cities to gain a wide grasp of the city-user perspective, their wishes, frustrations, and motivation when it comes to urban planning and trust in municipalities. Therefore, I used methods such as Future Scenario Building and Emotional Mapping to help me gain relevant insights.

Building future scenarios
Emotional journey mapping
Brainstorming about wishes and ideal engagement in planning processes.

Surveys as an opportunity to reach a broader group of people

I created two surveys in order to reach a larger audience. I was able to get a lot of quick and relevant information this way. This allowed me to make contacts and learn more about urban activists and small organizations involved in participatory planning, which was very helpful in further investigating my project.

Walking across the city is how most people become aware of urban change.

Experimental approach to gain insights about city-user in Umeå

I was experimenting with different methods to gather insights from city-users during my process. I began with a really low-fi approach, placing posters throughout the city and asked, "What do people wish for in this space?"

Most posters got ripped off. I also count that as sort of an insight. A criticism of myself: I wrote the posters only in English, which is not very accessible for many people.

Ideation workshop

I did a brainwalk workshop with my classmates after summarizing all key findings in order to get some early concept ideas on paper. This session was quite beneficial in that it allowed me to see early concepts from different perspectives.

Putting ideas down on paper

My favorite tools are a pen and paper. Before going digital, I like to do a lot of sketching.

This project is currently in progress. More to come soon ✌