Future Fest: a design concept for deliberative engagement in the urban planning process

Christopher Pearsell-Ross

systems oriented design
systems
design
democracy
deliberative democracy
urban planning
participation
giga-mapping

This paper presents the research and analysis process, and results (the Future Fest concept) of a school project in the 2016 Systems Oriented Design course at the Oslo School of Architecture and design, as well as some critical reflections. Taught by Birger Sevaldson and Linda Blaasvær, the course focused on the theme of democracy, and partnered with Tønsberg municipality in Norway.

The research process and design proposal from this course are built on 4 conceptual models: the Three Horizons Model, as presented by Curry and Hodgson; the Pace Layers model, as developed my Stuart Brand; the Ladder of Citizen Participation, created by Sherry R. Arnstein; and a model of deliberative democracy proposed by the author.

The Three Horizons Model, developed by Curry and Hodgson in their paper Seeing in Multiple Horizons: Connecting Futures to Strategy, connects systems and futures studies. It outlines an approach to futures studies built upon outlining 3 separate horizons: the present; the desired future; and an intermediate or transitionary stage. This method allows for divergent possibilities and takes into consideration different speeds of change within a system.

Stuart Brand’s Pace Layers model, developed from architectural practice, is a concept that outlines different layers within a given object of study (be it a building, a company or the whole world), each with different speeds of change. The model allows for analysis of change within a given system across multiple, interrelated time scales.

Arnstein, in her paper A Ladder of Citizen Participation, develops a foundational theory model of participation as an 8-runged ladder, moving from non-participation at the bottom, through tokenism in the middle, up to citizen power at the top. Her model highlights the diverse range of participatory practices and establishes a normative hierarchy for practitioners working in the public realm.

The author also presents a self-generated model of deliberative democracy, breaking down elements of a healthy, functioning democracy into four categories: formal structures, such as legislative assemblies; institutions, such as human rights and a free press; situations, such as high voter turnout, economic stability, and diverse political debate; and principles or ideals, such as consent, equity and self-determination. These four categories can be seen as blocks stacked on top of one another, reaching to the height of a healthy democracy. If the tower is unbalanced, democracy can be seen as unstable. This model helps to locate design projects and interventions within a range of interrelated systems within the broad concept of democracy.

These conceptual models were used to create a research agenda and theoretical framework for problem definition and concept generation, focused on deliberative democracy and participation in the urban planning process. Working with Tønsberg municipality as a context, a week long site visit was conducted, with interviews and meetings with various stakeholders the municipal government, including city planners.

Giga-mapping was then used as a tool to develop an understanding of the complex system of participation in urban planning, and a zip analysis was implemented to identify key areas for further research and potential intervention and innovation. Building on this systemic understanding, a series of semi-structured stakeholder interviews was conducted. These interviews helped to identify 5 key priorities for any design intervention: communication, trust, knowledge, capacity, and accountability/efficiency.

With these key priorities identified as conceptual goals for a design process, ideation and concept generation began. Through sketching and modelling, a series of 34 potential design concepts were developed and then analyzed in a matrix, weighing variables such as systemic impact, synergies, thresholds, the 5 key priorities, and time frames. The Future Fest concept emerged as a clear front-runner, having low thresholds to implementation and high levels of potential systemic impact.

Future Fest is envisioned as a collaborative, open-platform festival bringing together members of the public with cultural, institutional and municipal partners to reconceptualize the culture of participation around the built environment and municipal planning process. By applying the 4 conceptual frameworks as lenses to the learnings from the site visits and interviews, the culture of participation itself was identified as the critical locus for a design intervention. Cities are already hotbeds of activity and engagement – just not necessarily in the formal processes of civic consultation.

By moving the fences, as it were, to include a broader range of participatory activities, led by a broader range of individuals and groups, the Future Fest concept hopes to normalize participation and engagement with the urban planning process. By situating the formal processes of participation (many of which are mandated by law) within a vibrant, diverse and open community context, it is hoped that a stronger culture of participation and engagement can be cultivated, broadening civic engagement, and at the same time diversifying the kinds of activities and inputs that are valued by the public service and political leadership.

Posted: Oct-2017

RSD 10 Call for Papers

RSD10 offers a platform for discussing ongoing work with peers and presents the state-of-the-art in the systemic design field. This year there are two paper tracks: short papers for ongoing work, and long papers for finished work.

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