THE RITUAL OF PARTICIPATION – THE THRILL OF BREAKING OUT IN PROTEST. CAN PARTICIPATION BE SMART?

Smart technologies do not just change the infrastructure of cities, but also the lifestyles experienced within them. In the modern era, the “automobile-dependent city” is characterised by the relationship between public and private spaces, the connections and/or disconnections between functions, the pace of events, the perceptions of the city and participation in urban life. The digital city will bring with it similarly fundamental changes to urban life, as well as creating new challenges in terms of adaptation, participation and conceptualisation. The cities’ reinvention depends on their citizens’ participation, acceptance and involvement. Smart cities need smart citizens.
 
The lecture will explore on three current trends in civic participation and evaluate them from the perspective of the smart city concept:
• Citizen participation is becoming an increasingly integral part of community decision-making processes. Methodologically complex and time-consuming participation procedures are utilised in an attempt to introduce objectivity to emotionally charged conflicts. Responsibility for decisions is outsourced away from elected representatives and administrative bodies to participatory arenas: citizens’ forums, workshops, working groups composed of professionals and laypersons with relevant specialist knowledge, referendums. Citizens are integrated into complex decision-making processes requiring the careful consideration of alternatives.
 
Participation is becoming an instrument of local politics which is employed systematically, and as far as possible pre-emptively, in order to increase the chances of compromises being reached.
• At the same time there are spontaneous civil protests which detract from the systematic nature and rationality of planning processes. Resistance often only emerges after the conclusion of decision-making processes, when the opportunity for official civic participation is no longer available. The angry, protesting citizens do not comply with the rationality of the participation process. The outbreaks of protest are unsystematic and unpredictable in terms of their timing, themes and triggering events. Protests can be sparked by apparently futile causes. The dynamics of such protests are difficult to foresee. It is sometimes possible to ensure involvement in official participation processes retrospectively, or to “invent” a participation procedure suitable for the situation. However, the initially limited concerns of citizen groups can also develop into issues which fundamentally question communal life and for which compromises cannot be easily found.
 
The third trend in participation is the communities of responsibility. These communities unite the desire for concrete changes to living conditions with the enthusiasm for shaping one’s own living environment, beyond existing rules and routines. These are fundamental topics that can best be located and addressed at a local level. The starting point is constituted by issues affecting quality of life which are best tackled in clearly defined projects with other like-minded individuals who share a common goal, namely the ability to shape their own living circumstances. Themes may revolve around childcare, communal design and use of public space, local informal bartering arrangements and reciprocal help, mobility programmes or communal gardens. Local initiatives are in many cases well connected at a national and international level.

Hermann Voesgen

Having studied for a Diplom degree in social sciences in Göttingen and Oldenburg, Hermann Voesgen (born 1951) worked on several research projects at Oldenburg University. He completed his PhD in 1986 with a dissertation on the history of needs theories. Between 1989 and 1993 he led a pilot project centered on novel approaches to rural cultural work in Germany’s East Frisia region. Since 1995, Herman Voesgen has been Professor of theory and practice for project management in the Culture Management programme at Fachhochschule Potsdam (University of Applied Science); his work in project management has involved cooperation with renowned national and international players in the culture sector. From 2001 to 2010 he was head of the Culture Management programme and Vice Dean of the Architecture and Urban Design Faculty; he assumed presidency of the European Network of Cultural Administration Training Centres (ENCATC) from June 2005 to June 2007. In this role he organised discussions on the development of international programmes within the context of the Bologna Accords. In his research, Hermann Voesgen is currently focusing on the consequences of climate change for culture. Further specialisations include role concepts for cultural managers and hybrid processes between art and management. In connection with this he is preparing the 2013 Annual Conference of the Fachverband Kulturmanagement (Cultural Management Association) together with the Culture Management study programme. www.fh-potsdam.de / www.kulturarbeit.org

 

 

Mr Voesgen, what are your hopes for the conference?

I hope for effective interdisciplinary exchange; that we don’t just debate the different issues in isolation from each other. We are used to only considering our own field. We only get involved where we know what we’re doing, and don’t bother with anything else. We shouldn’t use the conference as a shopping mall where one only visits the shops one already knows. I hope instead that we browse a little more. Take for example two movements, “Transition Towns” and “Smart Cities”, which are very hot topics at the moment: “Transition Towns” comes from a very small town called Totnes in Devon, southern England. It is evident even from the pictures on the website that these are people of varying ages, with very different professional backgrounds, who are sitting down together in a very traditional manner and thinking about how they can change and improve their part of town. They work a lot with paper, writing everything down on post-it notes and the like. And on the other hand there are the folks from “Smart City”. There are mostly men; in the case of “Transition Cities” there are more women – they are the majority in fact. Very intriguing. Many of the women can also be described as being middle-aged. But with “Smart City” concepts it is about 80 percent men, and most of them are dressed in black and share a common sense of cool styling. They deal with technology and how one can change urban life using technologies. The starting point is technology which belongs to the city. But “Transition Towns”? That is concerned with their lifestyle, and what they wish to change in their district and their lifestyle. Yet both have the same starting point: that something very fundamental to our lifestyle must and will change. In terms of both their approach and their lifestyle, the movements are very different. If these two groups would connect with and complement each other rather than maintaining parallel yet separate trajectories due to their differing milieus … that would be fantastic! And this is also necessary: it is what defines a visionary city – people from totally different backgrounds coming together. Not necessarily joined up completely, just uniting selectively and working on something together. That’s the kind of thing I wish for the conference.