May 28, 2019

Spatial planning and urban management the voice of citizens

Katarzyna Marchocka by

by Michał Kliś, Senior Manager at PwC and Hacking Carrots Mentor

Dialogue between citizens and local authorities is particularly important for modern communities, whose representatives are increasingly aware of the problems of the contemporary world. City residents in developed countries want to influence the space around them and shape their surroundings to meet their expectations. Many people engage in activities for the local communities, but often there are no appropriate channels to express their opinions.

New technologies facilitate dialogue

Conventional methods, such as public consultation, while still effective, are troublesome from a perspective of the contemporary urban lifestyle: people need to come somewhere at a certain time, and perhaps do a lot of reading beforehand. Consequently, only some citizens take part in the consultation process. This situation could be addressed by making use of new technologies, which definitely facilitate communication between citizens and local authorities.

Many cities around the world have decided to implement platforms that mobilize local communities. Such solutions are mutually beneficial. Citizens have a sense of influence over their surroundings and a sense of belonging to the local community, while representatives of administrative authorities gain access to a direct communication channel. Owing to that, they are able not only to quickly identify the problems and needs of their citizens, but also to collect ideas and respond to the identified challenges. Listening to local communities helps legitimize the decisions made by authorities and builds extra support before the next local elections.

The most basic example of a solution that mobilizes local communities is applications in which citizens can report issues occurring in urban areas, such as damaged infrastructure or acts of vandalism. Such applications were launched by Warsaw (Aplikacja 19115) and Gdańsk (Mapa Porządku). Aside from the reports, you can also check the air parameters in every district or pinpoint locations to plant trees or install benches.

PwC currently supports the preparation of EXPO Horticultural, an international exhibition which will take place in Łódź in 2024. This major event requires listening to the voice of citizens, people living in the region and other environments. In order to effectively prepare this event for the benefit of citizens and visitors alike (a few million visitors are expected in total), a range of participatory activities are already carried out as part of the Exhibition Feasibility Study, which include inspirational sessions, study walks, or online surveys where everyone can submit their ideas about the design of the exhibition.

Visualisations of the future

Another channel that promotes public participation is websites, which visualize the concepts of urban designers using 3D modelling. They are powered by GIS (geographic information system) and Lidar (laser scanning) technologies, and they are capable of showing how a site is going to look like when the local master plan is executed. Some portals allow citizens to comment on specific concepts and put forward their own solutions. Examples of 3D visualisation websites include the map portals of Helsinki, Boston, or Melbourne. PwC Polska was engaged in several projects involving the development of master plans for such cities as Tbilisi, Georgia or Wałbrzych, Poland, where final deliverables included 3D models of the project area.

Some cities implement projects in which interested citizens can contribute to the vision of urban space. Examples include the Block by Block programme, where citizens create visions for a selected area using the Minecraft game. The cities participating in the programme include Nairobi, Kathmandu or Mexico City.

Due to technological development, there are more and more tools to support communication with citizens and mobilization of citizens in the context of the spatial planning process. For a few years, the ESRI company has been developing its City Engine platform, which supports planners in their work and enables a scenario analysis of planning concepts, while Bentley Systems offers the City Planner platform, which is equipped with similar functionalities.

More and more open data

Such solutions are increasingly common on the market. On the other hand, authorities make much more data available than they used to a few years ago. The data can be used as input for spatial planning platforms and help make more informed planning decisions. For example, the Head Office of Geodesy and Cartography has recently made available a set of 3D models of buildings for download for the entire area of Poland, and the international community continues to feed the environmental database of  OpenStreetMap on an ongoing basis.

More data can be made publicly available in the near future, which is very important for the development of new technologies. In January 2019, the European Union reached an agreement on the new principles of provision of public sector data and information. The respective directive is pending approval by the Council of the EU. Its outcomes will include the creation of a high-quality data catalogue that will be updated on an ongoing basis.

We may expect that the number of tools supporting communication between citizens and authorities will grow, as there is a clear need for them, and technology offers more and more possibilities. The only restrictions to development are the creativity and vision of their authors.

Michał Kliś, Senior Manager at PwC

PwC is the technical partner for the Hacking Carrots project organised by Geek Girls Carrots. One of its features is a hackathon on the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs). PwC provides technical assistance for Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities. We encourage you to take up the challenge in the area of citizen participation in spatial planning and municipal management.

The hackathon, scheduled for 7 to 9 June 2019, is expected to produce a tool that will engage citizens in the decision-making process and allow them to tell what urban space should look like. There is a need for an end-to-end solution to overcome the barriers of civic involvement and digital exclusion. The tool should be engaging, intuitive; it should possibly contain gamification features and facilitate the search of new solutions.

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