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Which way to the future? This was the question asked by the 4th Informed Cities Forum that was held in Rotterdam from 26th-27th of March. Over 150 participants from 22 European countries were exploring new ways of bridging the gaps between civil servants, scientists and citizens.
Although this event is a long while ago, the aim of bringing together unlike people and trying to make them understand each other is a reoccuring topic of my year it seems. My observations from March still resonate in me when I visit current events. So I decided to post this one despite the delay.
In my last Blog post about the 4th Informed Cities Forum in Rotterdam I was focusing on the exposure therapy aspect that I saw in the conference. Exposing unlike change makers to each other to gain innovative insights and new perspectives. Now I want to write more about the different ways presented at the forum on how to go about building new bridges together from there.
New bricks for new bridges
Because for this new opening between different parts of society mostly acting in different contexts, it needs new tools. Because although many participants and a lot of people agree on the necessity to talk and work with each other, many on all sides hesitate or lack the right methods for establishing a good connection between one another.
Because where unlike actors coming from structurally, methodically and socially different (work) spaces meet, worlds clash and the need for a translation between these different cultures becomes necessary.
Strolling through the halls of the forum, where the walls were pinned with quotes and listening to the inspiring talks during the two days, a few key building materials where mentioned several times.
Essential ingredients for binding people and bridging the gaps seem to be:
- Communication – “Deep Listing is the key.” Gorka Espiau from The Young Foundation
- Participation – “Cities have the capacity of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everyone.” Jane Jacobs
- Tolerance – “Give space for experiments and failure.” Gorka Espiau
- Transparency - “Open your mind, open your data.” Quote from a partner in the MUSIC project
- Trust – “Let go, we don’t have to know everything that is going on.” Ugo Guarnacci
Some of the many frontrunners in the forum shared their ways of bringing people from within and outside their organization together. I was inspired by the following five speakers and their bridge building skills.
Shane Waring from Beta Projects from the Dublin City Council, Ireland wants to establish a process through which experimental urban mini-projects, which would overlap with different departments within the council, can be initialized and realized by civil servants and citizens. Through this he also wants to interconnect the different departments within the city council better and further mutual understanding and workflow between the Dublin administration and citizens. Beta Projects nurtures transparency, direct communication through social media and embeddeb feedback loops and trust about the goodwill of the involved parties.
Elena Mozgovaya from Next Network in Hamburg, Germany held an inspiring presentation about a professionally organized civil participation process in Bremen aiming for a fruitful exchange between citizens and city council on eye level. The Next Network has tried and tested a methodology of urbanistic crowdsourcing in Germany and internationally. This enables communication, participation and transparency in urban planning processes.
Gorka Espiau from The Young Foundation, UK argues that real participation starts with deep listening and a common vision, not with a given idea of a single person or institution. He also says that we need administrative space and freedom for experiments, so that projects are also allowed to fail. Because failure is also a lesson. He promotes new ways of communication, tolerance and trust.
Charlot Schans from Pakhuis de Zwijger, The Netherlands brings together local initiatives, artists, scientists and politicians into a common space, the Parkhuis de Zwijger. Through networking they are linking themselves to other European hubs like themselves. They create an on- and offline network of city makers in the European Union to share knowledge and practices of social innovation and transition in urban development. They connect and display private initiatives taken up by citizens and urban professionals, which aim to enhance the livability of cities. They also study the interaction between the actors and their institutional context.
Alexandros Fillipidis from Iliosporoi, Greece connects grassroot initiatives around the topics of Degrowth, human rights, self resilience, community actions etc. in Greece on the platform Iliosporoi. This way initiatives can know about each other, share information faster and organize better. The unity in diversity helps to create a lobby and momentum for the shared common interests of ecology, freedom and self-governance. Iliosporoi enhances cross-communication, participation and a feeling of belonging to something greater than oneself.
Despite all the good vibes and good will the challenges we are facing are multidimensional and – from my perspective – daunting even without having to translate to different people’s mindsets continuously.
Questions I am asking myself while the different bubbles move closer together are:
- How do we want to maintain the speed of transition or even accelerating it while the need for inclusion and thus translation grows steadily?
- How does that affect our idea of democracy?
- How much can be really done without touching or talking about main systemic conditions like the money, market or power structure systems?
- How and how fast can we implement more systemic and interconnected ways of thinking, living and working together?
- As there will hardly be one solution or administration fits all I ask myself, where this increasing complexity will lead to? More parallelism? More regionalism? More information? Less regulation?
We are building bridges with unknown destination, envisioning the other side as we build. We are trying to make it a solid building with workers from all walks of life, in 22 different languages and among myriad mindsets. We live in interesting times.
A travel guide for sustainable urban transition, developed through the input in the forum can be found here: Informed Cities travel guide into the future