The City Council of Esplugues (ES) follows a permanent policy of citizen participation. Municipal activity is open to citizens, based on the principles of transparency and shared responsibility. Citizens are invited to participate in the joint project of building the city. There are several spaces for such participation. Among them are the Children's Council and the Public Youth Audience. The first is a forum for fifth- and sixth-grade pupils in public schools. Here, children have the possibility to learn, reflect, discuss and agree on proposals related to their environment. The Public Youth Audience enables students in the fourth grade to take part in educational debates and make proposals for the transformation of the city. Both forums take into account a work plan developed in collaboration with schools and institutes, contributing to the young participants’ education, values and attitudes to citizen participation.
Until recently, cities were built through the eyes of adults. With the new mechanisms of participation it is intended that the construction of the city be adapted and enriched through the participation of young people and children, who live in and enjoy it.
The results of the interventions of both groups (children and youth) as well as the proposals derived from the participation actions, which are transformed into municipal actions, are considered as solutions whenever possible and feasible. That is why a series of municipal actions have been carried out after the different participatory processes developed by the Children's Council and the Public Youth Audience.
By the Children's Council:
• Rights of minors;
• Recovery of traditional games;
• Party of park;
• Design of a park;
• 50th anniversary celebration “Esplugues City”;
• Proposals to encourage reading for all citizens;
• Design of kindergartens, “The garden of the senses”.
By the Public Youth Audience:
• Study on healthy habits;
• Times and spaces for leisure;
• Attitudes and values of entrepreneurship among young people;
• Development of the Local Youth Plan;
• Design of a campaign against sexist violence;
• Actions, proposals to combat harassment/bullying;
• Encouraging values and attitudes towards participation, association and voluntariness.
Regarding the wider integrated approach, the initiative is aligned with several of the United Nations’ sustainable development objectives. The activities carried out by Children's Council and Public Youth Audience mainly contribute to ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels, relating to Goal 16 (promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provision of access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels).
In addition, promoting children and youth participation makes the city more inclusive (Goal 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable). Also, the experience of being part of these participation bodies represents a form of high-value non-formal education (Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning).
In terms of integrated urban development, the initiative falls within the scope of governance, mainly related to areas such as city management, social innovation, youth, and above all participation. Related to the vertical integration between the different stakeholders involved in the initiative, this is mainly between the political and educational fields, so it is frequent that both the mayor herself and some councillors interact directly with children and young people.
Both the Children's Council and the Public Youth Audience are initiatives whose conception and development of activities necessarily contemplate the participatory approach. On the other hand, Esplugues Local Youth Plan 2014-2017 is based on three main axes: promotion of emancipation, fostering participation (including the Children's Council and the Public Youth Audience) and promotion of leisure and culture. In addition, for the definition of this plan an intense participatory process has been developed in which children and young people have played a fundamental role. Thus, different working sessions were developed using the participatory bodies that make up this good practice, and other workshops were held in local schools. The result of all this was the elaboration of a participatory diagnosis contemplated in the same plan, as well as the definition of a series of proposals of action that were sent to the government team of the City Council of Esplugues. The concrete results of this participatory process can be consulted here (in Catalan).
Most of the participatory experiences of young people and children have focused on the civic, pedagogical and educational sphere, perhaps due to the weight of this specific competency in the Municipal Action Plan (through activities such as “Making an Educating City” or “Building Citizenship”). It has also made progress in the implementation of specific urban and cultural projects. Concrete projects have been promoted, such as the construction of a children's playground. The participation workshops have identified as a weakness:
• The lack of participatory culture among the citizens since there is usually a low interest to attend the meetings. It is proposed to increase the dissemination of participation systems to attract citizens.
Highlights identified include:
• The diversity of channels made available to citizens to participate in the decision-making processes on the issues that concern them and affect them. They are channels open to all citizens and do not discriminate against any person who wants to be part of it;
• Citizens see their proposals reflected in the performance and municipal management.
Every city has children and young people. They could be the foundation for effective development at the local level, and if engaged they will improve many of the structural development challenges that the cities face today, including enhancing the cohesiveness of families and communities, reducing health risks and advancing livelihood opportunities. They are the bridge between effective development policy and valuable practical action on the ground.
Across many European cities, different organisations are practicing different ways of engaging children and youth through participatory activities, and the experience accumulated from Esplugues would be useful both for those cities that have already begun to work in this direction, as for those that have not yet done so but are determined to do it. Children have value as members of European society and adults can learn from and with them.
In summary, there are three main reasons why this good practice may be of interest to other European cities. Based on citizenship, young people have citizen’s rights and responsibilities. Based on pragmatism, it’s acknowledged that participation leads to better decisions. And based on vision, European cities have to recognise the mutual, life-enhancing benefits that come with engaging children and young people as equals.