The Danish model of participatory revitalization

Can public spaces be revitalized by involving the local community? Read an example

The aim of the text is to present the model of participatory revitalization called bottom up.
The term revitalization in relation to the city and its socio-spatial structure is defined as a complex process of turning degraded areas away from the state of emergency (Act of revitalization 9.10.2015). Its aim is to undertake integrated activities to improve the social life in public spaces. All stakeholders i.e. inhabitants, local authorities, businesses, social organizations should be involved in the process. According to the European Union’ s paradigm to make the development of urban areas sustainable, the changes of space should involve representatives of different sectors (Lorens, 2010). In this context, social change means addressing the social and economic problems of communities on top of reconstructing or renewing buildings. Community involvement and solving social and economic problems of communities are also part of the revitalization.

This approach requires active participation of inhabitants. They are the subjects and the participants of change. It also enables local authorities to understand the expectations of citizens (Pietraszko-Furmanek, 1996). On the other hand, citizens’ understanding and acceptance of barriers and restrictions of revitalization can also be strengthened. In this way the process can be important for mutual understanding.

In post-communist societies, the level of activity and social engagement is still low, and this is why it is important to learn from good practices such as the Danish model of participation. While the Danish model was regulated by law in the 70s, a similar act was promoted in Poland in 2015 (Act of revitalization 9.10.2015). Not only are the local authorities in Denmark expected, but they are also forced to cooperate with citizens on public space changes (Olsen, Pelt, 2015).

In Poland most of the revitalization processes were (and still are) undertaken top down. The authorities are the decision-makers. This approach has more disadvantages than advantages. The disadvantages, such as the long time needed for the process and the problem with conflicts in communities should be taken into consideration (Olsen, Pelt, 2015). In spite of the problems, the methodology of bottom up can be inspiring, based on including local communities in the processes of changing public spaces. First, a process of wide diagnosis of needs and potentials is needed. Many factors should be taken into consideration (culture, social aspects, business, environment etc.).

However, bottom up is not always started and maintained by inhabitants. Local authorities or leaders can start the process and invite citizens to participate. The necessary tools are social consultations, debates, workshops, research interviews during walks (called walk and talk), the list of objects in the space. These can be important for collecting information and finding consensus. The architects are important social actors, but their role is not to impose ideas, but to listen and to get inspired by inhabitants’ needs and expectations. The architect is also a person who facilitates the process of developing inhabitants’ ideas. In Denmark the facilitators were the employers of „MOVE arkitektur”, a small architectural firm. However, all other participants were architects interested in maintaining social changes in communities.
The bottom up process can be divided into seven stages:

      • introduction (presenting the situation);
      • working in groups on new ideas (the most creative but not very realistic stage);
      • discussing the ideas;
      • choosing the best solutions;
      • working in teams and looking for the ways of implementing the ideas;
      • evaluating previous results
      • indicating persons responsible for implementation of the project.

The MOVE team worked out a model of participating revitalization. They use the 4D cycle (Cooperrider, Whitney, 2005) adapted to the revitalization processes. This cycle entails four stages of carrying out changes: Discovery, Dream, Design, Do. The „Discovery” helps to know better the inhabitants, the place and potentials and barriers of future changes. „Dreaming” is the stage when inhabitants can openly create new ideas. The side product of this is that inhabitants get to know each other better. The „Design” stage is based on architectural simplified projects taking into consideartion the results of social dialogue. The „Do” phase is putting the project into practice (division of labour and responsibilities, controlling a budget etc.) (Fratczak-Mueller, 2016).

The Danish experience shows that it is very important to involve the people who on a daily basis are connected to the places and to the community (caretakers, managers, cleaners) as particularly important. Their involvement at every stage guarantees the right way of preparing realization and maintaining the project. It is important to emphasize that the participatory model has its advantages and disadvantages as well. The main barriers are: a) the time extension, b) raising the financial costs and the crisis of trust in the situation when the implementation of the project is difficult.

Some of the advantages most frequently mentioned are: a) the inhabitants become more conscious and responsible stakeholders, b) strengthening communication between citizens and local authorities, c) help in creating a coherent vision of changes, d) helping to obtain social consensus about the changes, e) optimizing the solutions and adjusting them to social needs.

The essence of the approach is the involvement of community in the process of revitalization, which makes citizens see the adopted solutions as their own while the architects and officials take care of the maintenance of the results.

Cooperrider DL Whitney D, A Positive Revolution in Change: Appreciative Inquiry, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2005: 5-6.
Fratczak-Mueller J., Bottom up – dunski model rewitalizacji partycypacyjnej [Bottom-up — the Danish model of participative revitalizationî, in: Rewitalizacja. Podejscie partycypacyjne [The participative approach], D Bazun, M Kwiatkowski eds., Warszawa: Oficyna Wydawnicza 2016: 71-85.
Lorens P, Rewitalizacja miast. Planowanie i realizacja [Urban revitalization. Planning and implementation], Gdansk: Politechnika Gdanska, Wydzial Architektury 2010.
Olsen Ch, Pelt H, Proces fundamentem dunskiego planowania [The process as the basis of Danish palanning], in: Bottom up! Place, People, Project, K Bondyra, A Gancewska eds., Poznan-Esbjerg: AMB Solutions and Move arkitektur 2015: 3-45.
Pietraszko-Furmanek I, Partycypacja spoleczna w srodowiskach lokalnych [Public participation in local communities], in: Subsydiarnosc [Subsidies], D Milczarek ed., Warszawa: Dom Wydawniczy Elipsa 1996: 65-66.Ustawa o rewitalizacji 9.10.2015 – Act of revitalization, Warszawa.

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