A person showing their bicep

Meaningful participation is empowering


Sustainable and just cities offer all people the opportunity to deliberate on and co-create plans and policies. The historic lack of platform and unequal power given to some groups in decision making are actively addressed. Participation is not just a buzzword with a standard set of expected steps or outcomes. Rather, it is an evolving process that empowers people to shape their cities in ways that respond to their needs and aspirations. By governing through meaningful participation, outcomes are more inclusive and effective, and are genuinely supported by the public.

Related keys: #Power  #Diversity  #CivilSociety 

Involving people in shaping their neighbourhoods and cities comes in many forms. Community gardens allow locals to physically engage in sustainable food practices together. Transition towns and Experimentation labs centre on the idea that the capacities held in communities are a powerful source of innovation and change. Citizen science allows non-scientists to take part in scientific research, and the concept of co-learning and knowledge brokerage entails congregating different groups to exchange knowledge on complex urban challenges. Finally, re-distributing decision-making power through approaches like Participatory budgeting is one example of a Governance and participation process that considers individuals’ priorities in a serious, structured way. 

This key is supported by the governance arrangement, “Commit to a meaningful participation process”. Based on input from the UrbanA Community and the study of many urban initiatives, this governance arrangement describes how participation can be an integral part of collective action towards just and sustainable cities. It outlines important considerations for both municipality-led and community-led initiatives. For example, working continuously towards building trust on both sides -- on the side of community groups, and on the side of local administrations -- is a key element for meaningful (and sustained) engagement and dialogue. Municipalities partnering with trusted community organizations or local “social connectors” can build a foundation for future engagement, especially for those who speak different languages, those with little or no educational background and even young children. Check out a short explanatory video, here.

This key is crucial to addressing limited citizen participation in urban planning (see video here). This driver of injustice refers to the limited involvement of citizens in decision making around the design, implementation and/or evaluation of urban sustainability-oriented interventions. Giving increased consideration of citizens’ needs and providing opportunities to actively shape initiatives can improve procedural and representational justice in urban sustainability governance. 

This key is also a remedy to a lack of effective knowledge brokerage and stewardship opportunities (see video here). This refers to useful information and know-how around sustainable urban interventions not being shared effectively or equally among social groups, sectors or disciplines. Ensuring access to this information in inclusive knowledge-sharing formats could give marginalised groups in particular more opportunities to take part in and benefit from urban sustainability initiatives. 

  • “To develop shared visions, purpose, and strategies that enable projects and policy, we need to bring the whole city system into ‘the room’: including voices of residents, managers, business, and civil society”(M.Hamilton).
  • “By being included in decisions that affect them, participants own them and consequently solutions are more meaningful and more effectively implemented” (A. Esen).

Inspirational example

Participative governance mechanism, Istanbul

The Istanbul Municipality has established the Istanbul Planning Agency in 2020 in order to facilitate participative governance mechanisms towards the city's vision of a “green, just and creative city." 

The platform allows locals to join working groups on various themes such as social life, environment, etc. The agency also acts as a facilitating body for several workshops around specific themes and interest groups, such as children-friendly cities and gender-based challenges in the context of Istanbul’s social fabric

See more here and here

A man wearing blue short diving in daylight

Avenues for action

You might be wondering, what everyday actions can I take to put all this theory into practice? Take a look at the avenues for action, below, for some practical guidance.

Get inspired!

Planning documents on the table


This is recommended related external content and can be viewed by clicking on it. By clicking you consent to the display of external content. This enables personal data to be transmitted to third-party platforms.

Read more about our privacy policy.

Bike hanging on a pole


This is recommended related external content and can be viewed by clicking on it. By clicking you consent to the display of external content. This enables personal data to be transmitted to third-party platforms.

Read more about our privacy policy.

We are using cookies, learn more on our data protection page.