I have always been impressed with the substantial body of public participation (P2) knowledge and experience that resides in the urban planning profession. This will be my third year chairing the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) Core Values Awards, and each year IAP2 has received high quality urban planning projects from around the world. It got me thinking that public participation practitioners in any sector have lots to learn from their colleagues in urban planning.
For the past two years, IAP2 has given awards and had a number of first runners-up for urban planning projects. In 2010 IAP2 presented the Organization of the Year Award to The Center for Communities by Design (American Institute of Architects) for their entry, Building the Designer Democracy Movement. I was struck by the fact that the Centre has been working since 1967 to create a participatory culture within the profession and amongst its membership, and a set of values that acknowledges the importance of public participation in the design of the built environment.
The Town of Scarborough, North Yorkshire, England was the 2009 Project of Year winner for their Urban Renaissance program. Over a period of six years and through an active public participation the town created a regional development authority, reinvigorated its waterfront, and saw the investment of $40 million of public funds and private sector contributions of over $400 million. New businesses and jobs were created through this urban renewal process, and many existing jobs were protected. For its efforts, the town also won the European Union Award as “Europe’s Most Enterprising Place 2009.” I had the opportunity to visit Scarborough in 2010 to see first hand the transformation.
Over the past few years judging the IAP2 Awards I have learned about many other high-caliber urban planning projects that incorporate meaningful and impressive public participation components in addition to these winning entries. In 2009 there were seven entries to the awards program related to urban planning, and 14 urban planning related entries in 2010. (Read about all the IAP2 award entries in the annual State of the Practice Report.) These few projects we hear about through the IAP2 awards represent only the tiniest fraction of the participatory urban planning projects that are happening globally. Millions of citizens everywhere are involving themselves in local planning and decision-making through these projects and others just like them, and they are experiencing leading edge public participation principles and practices via urban planning.
In my own work involving the public and patients in improving health care, I draw upon participatory design and experience-based design which have their roots in urban planning P2 among others. Over the years I have learned to pay attention to the public participation work going on in towns and cities, including my own, and to the urban planners who are behind what’s happening. Chances are I’ll learn something new.