Editorial: Realizing Participation - People, Plans & Places 2

About this issue

Issue number
Volume 45 – Number 2


This is the second part of a double issue (45.1 & 45.2) of Built Environment on ‘People, Plans & Places’, marking 50 years since the publication of Arnstein’s eponymous ladder of power (Arnstein, 1969).

This is the second part of a double issue (45.1 & 45.2) of Built Environment on ‘People, Plans & Places’, marking 50 years since the publication of Arnstein’s eponymous ladder of power (Arnstein, 1969). As discussed in the issue, it is also around a half century since the Skeffington Report (Brownill and Inch, 2019) and Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons (Ciaffi, this issue). The issue draws together contributions from authors working in diverse governance contexts across the globe, all concerned with participation of the public in planning and place-making.
While the first issue, entitled ‘Outlooks on Participating’, was more focused on current perspectives on the theory and practice of participation, the second looks to the future. This issue, entitled ‘Realizing Participation’, examines how to deliver on the promise of empowerment. It reasserts the critical value of public participation in democracy (Bouche-Florin, 2019), and underscores the need to get beyond current orthodoxies and one-dimensional approaches to engagement. 
The research presented here offers lessons on how to open up planning and place-making, looking across a range of participatory techniques. Some articles examine newer forms of participation, such as engagement through crowd funding, administrative ‘pacts’ and interactive digital displays; others review the potential of more established tools, including engagement with spatial strategy-making, facilitated design charrettes, and neighbourhood plans. 
Taken as a collection, these contributions argue for agility in future planning and place-making. The research demonstrates how citizen involvement can help improve urban and rural development, because it is a rich source of agency, energy and knowledge about environments. But it also suggests adaptations are needed for this, including more reflective engagement practices, creative state-citizen partnerships, supportive pedagogy, and new ways of thinking about place.
Frediani and Cociña’s study broadens thinking about participation by reframing it as planning. They offer a synthesis of empirical insights from citizen engagement work across the ‘global south’ and demonstrate that such activities are in themselves making and reforming cities. These instances of participation have clearly helped to deal with the limits of planning and empowered some communities. More importantly they offer a new mode of planning, where original forms of knowledge and responsive practices are brought to bear.
Ciaffi’s work also re-evaluates how participation might be seen, and offers a ‘new top rung’ for Arnstein’s ladder. Her article presents data on an innovative form of partnership, which has recently burgeoned in Italy with thousands of ‘pacts of collaboration’ for collective ownership and management of common goods. These initiatives are modelled on the Bologna regulations, and demonstrate how creative use of regulations to support connections between citizen and state can help to breathe life into public interest projects.
Talen’s review article, drawing on a wealth of work mainly focused on North America, tackles head on the inevitable tension between tangible plans and open processes. She argues for an approach that can integrate both aspects. Looking back on neighbourhood plans and neighbourhood planning, she unpacks the narratives of ‘authenticity’ associated with New Urbanism and demonstrates the need for new thinking in the search for socially beneficial place-making. 
Husam and Cooper consider the role of facilitators in community-based, design-led interventions, more commonly known in the UK and US as charrettes. Their extensive review of the literature demonstrates high expectations of facilitators alongside strong critiques of poor practice. They pull together the implications for ‘facilitation standards’ and argue for a better articulation of how these might be achieved. In response they offer an agenda for research that could lead to a guide for enablers of participatory urban design.
Baltazar et al. present the case of Ituita, an interactive media cascade employed in the Brazilian municipality of Congonhas. Their study engages with the potential for socio-spatial transformation, where democratic voices and relationships are built through citizen participation in urban change. They review the uses of technology and the learning structures behind it, asking how devices might in future stimulate deeper forms of citizenship and the additional pedagogy that would be required.
In my paper in this issue, I review the socio-spatial learning that takes place in public dialogue, and demonstrate the ways that notions of scale are constructed and politicized. The study of spatial planning dialogues across more rural parts of the English Midlands demonstrates fluid and expanding scales in rationalities around ‘shared interest’. This challenges the idea of ‘authenticity’ in rigid and small scales of place-making, and calls for more flexibility in how publics are engaged in strategic decision-making.
Gullino et al. examine the patterns of relationships between civic activism and government agency in civic crowdfunding campaigns. Drawing on a London case study they demonstrate the shifting nature of the interface between civic and statutory actors. Their reflections on changes over time highlight the fragility of projects where initial enthusiasm is sorely tested. These insights prove critical in understanding how to support active citizenship for the long term.


  • Arnstein, S. (1969) A ladder of citizen participation. Journal of the American Institute of Planners, 35(4), pp. 216–224.
  • Bouche-Florin, L.-E. (2019) Charter of Participatory Democracy: a call for action towards a balanced democratic system. Built Environment, 45(1), pp. 112–119.
  • Brownill, S. and Inch, A. (2019) Framing people and planning: 50 years of debate. Built Environment, 45(1), pp. 7–25.
  • Hardin, R. (1968) The tragedy of the commons. Science, 162, pp. 1243–1248.
  • Skeffington (1969) People and Planning: Report of the Skeffington Committee on Public Participation in Planning. London: HMSO.