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  • Green mobility; urban planning

    With regard to mobility, it appears that the population, both in the Municipality of Santa Maria da Feira Portugal and in the region of Entre Douro e Vouga, has medium and low rates. Individual transport represents most of the solutions used, which implies less use of collective public transport.

    The organization of the transport system, both in the municipality and at the national level, was supported by policies that favored individual transport in recent years, characterized by a cycle of public investments aimed at expanding the road network. Simultaneously, society has changed and car ownership has become democratized, having set up a model of social differentiation, which has declined the use of public transport.

    Mobility management, in the broadest sense, is today more difficult due to the complexity of mobility, which public transport must respond to, performing two structuring functions: on the one hand, providing “basic” mobility to the entire population and, on the other hand, constitute a real alternative to the use of the private car, with a view to reducing its negative impacts.

    In Santa Maria da Feira, reality tells us that a large part of the population resides in urban areas and a significant percentage remains in rural areas.

    Modern society recognizes the need for equity in access to public transport and, therefore, strongly contributes to social inclusion. In Santa Maria da Feira, the lack of quality public transport limits mobility and limits the population's access to different daily activities and their initiatives, constituting a factor of exclusion. There are some groups of the population that are more vulnerable to situations of social exclusion, such as rural populations, from small towns or peri-urban areas, people with reduced mobility or people who need public transport outside peak periods, namely at night.


    Strategy for the Municipality

    In view of the above, it is necessary to outline strategies in order to consequently reduce dependence on individual road transport and promote decarbonization. So it is necessary:

    • conciliation between the public transport service and the rational use of the car;

    • promotion of integrated mobility strategies that make it possible to enhance the use of collective transport;

    • adapt the transport system to the mobility needs of populations, making the transport system more sustainable:

    1. exploration of a complementary service to the regular (traditional) public transport service, that is, a challenge related to the implementation of innovative solutions that allow responding to the mobility needs of the population in places and times when demand is lower, through flexible public transport (FPT) services. This is services with variable itineraries, stops and schedules. A type of service format that solves the mobility of rural, low-density, isolated and dispersed areas and that guarantees a transport service in peri-urban areas, where population density does not justify the implementation of a public transport offer, complementing the existing network and folding over the regular public transport network. In both situations, the difficulties in responding to travel needs stem from the existence of low demand. Finally, FPT solutions, although adapted to the different specifics of demand, should not be seen as isolated solutions, but as an integral part of the transport system, ensuring a systemic and integrated offer of “combined mobility”.

    2. Exploration of an active mobility service, using soft modes and/or clean vehicles, as mobility solutions between:

    • the cities (3) of Santa Maria da Feira Municipality (Santa Maria da Feira, Lourosa, Fiães),
    • between equipment,
    • between central areas of higher density and

    between specific areas that do not generate a demand that justifies a classic transport service (such as the connection between the city centre of Santa Maria da Feira and Europarque).

    Maria Meneses
    Town Council of Santa Maria da Feira
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  • ActiveCitizens

    Lead Partner : Agen - France
    • Hradec Kralove - Czech Republic
    • Dinslaken - Germany
    • Saint-Quentin - France
    • Bistrița - Romania
    • Cento - Italy
    • Santa Maria da Feira - Portugal
    • Tartu Vald - Estonia


    City of Agen (FR)


    ActiveCitizens - The different levels of citizen participation


    • Kick-off Active Citizens Network, Study Visits Adventure & Baseline Study
    • Validation of Phase 2, Communication Plan, Phase 2 Journey & Integrated Action Plan Roadmap
    • Analyse of problems, Visions, First series of experiments (Small Scale Actions), Mid Term Reflection, State of Action Report & Integrated Action Plan Draft
    • Reprogramming Network, Last rounds of Small Scale Actions, Final Integrated Action Plan, dissemination & Closure of the Active Citizens Project

    Final products

    Integrated Action Plans

    Listen and co-create with citizens - Integrated Action Plan Santa Maria da Feira
    Listen and co-create with citizens

    Santa Maria da Feira hosts multiple inspiring practices of citizen participation but also multi-stakeholder collaboration. Read more here !


    Santa Maria da Feira - Portugal
    Integrated Action Plan Hradec Kralove

    Read more here ! 

    Hradec Kralove - Czech Republic

    Read more here !


    Read more here !

    Agen - France
    Bistriţa Integrated Action Plan

    Read more here !

    Bistrita - Romania
    Saint-Quentin Integrated Action Plan

    Read more here !

    Saint-Quentin, France

    Read more here 


    Read more here 



    Useful links

    Digital Free Version of the Game  Citizen participation? Hell No !!  Just follow the link

    Video presentation of Active Citizens here

    First Small Scale Action in Agen - Video : Improvement works on Chopin Square

    Small Scale Action in Agen - Video : Choice of Voluntary Drop off Points

    Small Scale Action in Agen - Video : Market of ideas

    Small Scale Action in Agen - Video : Videomaton developement works on Place Fallieres

    Small Scale Action in Agen - Video : Citizenship Project with High School

    Small Scale Action in Agen - Video : Reduilding a Schoolyard with Pupil's ideas

    Small Scale Action in Agen - Video : Videomaton In Palissy High School

    Last Transnational Meeting in Lead Partner City of Agen - Video : Lead Partner and Lead Expert interviews

    The aim of ActiveCitizens is to rethink the place of the citizen in the local governance by finding a balance between representative democracy and participatory democracy. Led by the City of Agen (France), this Action Planning Network of European small and medium-sized cities, with the same expectations and the similar challenges, will take into account, to do this, new digital tools while integrating the issue of citizens away or not comfortable with digital tools.

    Citizen's participation in small and medium EU cities
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  • 23 Action Planning Networks ready for Phase 2!

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    On 7 May, URBACT's Monitoring Committee has officially approved all Action Planning Networks to proceed to Phase 2.



    The main objective of Action Planning Networks is to bring together between 7 and 10 cities across Europe to exchange their experience in a particular thematic urban development challenge and to share their ideas about possible solutions, during a period of over 2 years. The Phase 1 (from late June 2019 to February 2020) focused on the development of baseline studies, city profiles and the production of the Application Form for Phase 2.

    Following the Monitoring Committee's approval of the networks, cities are now ready to focus on the exchange and learning activities using a range of learning tools and approaches in line with the URBACT Method. Every partner city will consolidate an URBACT Local Group, which will co-design Integrated Action Plans for future implementation. The Phase 2 also presents a novelty for the projects, from now on cities are encouraged to undertake pilot actions (Small Scale Actions), to experiment with new ideas for projects gained from other network exchanges and in line with the cities’ network topic.

    As a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, the URBACT Secretariat will follow up with a series of adapted activities to support these networks and their partners, including the delivery of trainings using online formats and a 3 months extension of the network life-cycle, meaning that projects will run until August 2022. Thus, networks will respect the following calendar:


    • Activation Stage (May - December 2020): putting together an Integrated Action Plan roadmap
    • Planning Actions (December 2020 - December 2021): drafting the Integrated Action Plan
    • Planning Implementation (December 2021 - June 2022): finalising the Integrated Action Plan
    • Integrated Action Plans Finale (June - August 2022): sharing knowledge


    You can find all approved networks in the table below, the Lead Partner city is indicated is bold. To find out more about each one of the projects, check the network's webpages.
    Congratulations to the 23 approved projects!





    Research, technological development and innovation


    Leiria (PT)
    - Longford (IE)
    - Madrid (ES)
    - Mechelen (BE)
    - Michalovce (SK)
    - Parma (IT)
    - Pella (EL)
    - Unione della Romagna Faentina (IT)
    - Szabolcs 05 Regional Development Association of Municipalities (HU)

    Security and safety are two common goods and fundamental components of European democracy. This network intends to analyse strategies and concepts of urban design and planning, which could contribute to prevent segregation and anti-social behaviour. Additionally, this network wishes to co-create an integrated approach towards urban security focusing on improving citizens’ quality of life and the city’s smart, sustainable and inclusive growth towards a good living environment.

    Find your Greatness

    Alba Iulia (RO)
    - Bragança (PT)
    - Candelaria (ES)
    - Perugia (IT)
    - Wroclaw (PL)
    - Võru (EE)
    - Limerick (IE)
    - Budafok-Tétény 22nd district of Budapest (HU)

    The challenge is to build on the cities' opportunities. The partners of the project need to identify locally a strength, which was built as a sustainable mechanism generating urban development. The goal of this network is to explore and enhance the potential of the city, combining strategic marketing approach with innovative smart city tools.

    Access to and use of ICT

    (previously DI4C)

    Messina (IT)
    - Botosani (RO)
    - Oulu (FI)
    - Portalegre (PT)
    - Roquetas de Mar (ES)
    - Saint- Quentin (FR)
    - Trikala (EL)
    - Ventspils Digital Centre (LV)

    This network aims to set up an acceleration mechanism to enable cities to catch up the digitalisation opportunities in hard & soft infrastructure. Remove all the obstacles encountered by mid-sized cities in their digital journey: lack of strategic & global vision lack of technical and engineering capacities difficulties in incorporating the digital innovation. Municipalities need to guaranty the uptake of digital innovation by the local stakeholders: citizen and entrepreneurs.


    Fundão (PT)
    - Dodoni (EL)
    - Jelgava (LV)
    - Nevers Agglomeration (FR)
    - Razlog (BG)
    - Ånge (SE)
    - Kežmarok (SK)
    - Åbo Akademi University (FI)

    The objective is to encourage the creation of a network of European cities committed to the design of digitalization plans based on Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to increase the quality of life in small and medium sized EU cities, guiding us through a new age of digital transformation.

    Competitiveness of SMEs


    Amarante (PT)
    - Balbriggan (IE)
    - Pori (FI)
    - Pärnu (EE)
    - Grosseto (IT)
    - Gabrovo (BG)
    - Heerlen (NL)
    - Kočevje (SI)
    - Medina del Campo

    - Saldus (LV)

    This network aim to produce 10 different and unique robust economic development strategies, targeting their own genuine niches, and generating urban innovation ecosystems. City partners will focus on deepening the understanding of their own local economic strengths and establish strategic methods to revitalise their economy, adapt their city to the next economy and to future economic changes, establishing methodological bases for generate resilient cities.

    Tourism Friendly Cities

    Genoa (IT)
    - Braga (PT)
    - Rovaniemi (FI)
    - Venice (IT)
    - Utrecht (NL)
    - Krakow (PL)
    - Cáceres (ES)
    - Druskininkai (LT)
    - Dún Laoghaire Rathdown (IE)
    - Dubrovnik Development Agency (HR)

    This network aims to explore how tourism can be sustainable in medium-sized cities, reducing the negative impact on neighbourhoods and areas interested by different types of tourism to reach this ambitious aim, the project will create integrated and inclusive strategies which can keep a balance between the needs of the local community, in terms of quality of life and of services available, and the promotion of sustainable urban development at environmental, social and economic level.

    Low carbon economy in all sectors

    Urb-En Pact

    Clermont Auvergne Metropole (FR)
    - Bialystok Association of the Functional Area (PL)
    - CIM Alto Minho (PT)
    - Rouen Normandie Metropole (FR)
    - Elefsina (EL)
    - Galati (RO)
    - Palma di Montechiaro (IT)
    - Tampere EcoFellows (FI)

    Local authorities embrace the ambitious goal to become a zero-net energy territory within the next 30 years. Thus, the aim is to define the local action plans to become zero-net (ZNE) territory by producing and delivering local, renewable and regulated sources of energy by the implementation of an energy loop which gathers all the stakeholders of this circular economy, especially the consumers included in this fair trade business in and around the metropolitan area.

    Zero Carbon Cities
    (previously ZCC)

    Manchester (UK)
    - Bistrita (RO)
    - Zadar (HR)
    - Modena (IT)
    - Frankfurt am Main (DE)
    - Tartu (EE)
    - Vilvoorde (BE)

    The network will support capacity building of cities to establish science-based carbon reduction targets and their Sustainable Energy Action Plans (SEAPs) aligned to Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Working with 7cities to adopt different approaches to carbon budgeting and science-based targets, the network will undertake a programme of capacity building in order to support their local activities and integrated action plan and influence Covenant of Mayors' signatory cities.

    Environmental protection and resource efficiency


    Barcelona Metropolitan Area (ES)
    - Porto Metropolitan Area (PT)
    - Krakow Metropole Association (PL)
    - Paris Metropolitan Area (FR)
    - Gdansk-Gdynia-Sopot Metropolitan Area (PL)
    - Amsterdam Region (NL)
    - Transport for Greater Manchester (UK)
    - Thessaloniki Major Development Agency (EL)

    The overall goal is to rethink, transform and integrate mobility infrastructure aiming at reconnecting people, neighbourhoods, cities and natural spaces. The project will develop planning strategies, processes, instruments and partnerships, fostering public transport and active mobility, reducing externalities and unlocking opportunities of urban regeneration with the objectives of structuring the territory, and achieving a more sustainable, equitable and attractive metropolis.


    Utrecht (NL)
    - Riga (LV)
    - Oeste CIM (PT)
    - Copenhagen (DK)
    - Granada (ES)
    - Munich (DE)
    - Kavala (EL)
    - Prato (IT)
    - Nigrad (SI)

    URGE (circUlaR buildinG citiEs) aims to design integrated urban policies on circularity in the building sector – a major consumer of raw materials – as there is a gap in knowledge on this topic. The result is an in-depth understanding of this theme and a first plan for a tailor-made methodology that allows the circular dimension to be widely integrated in the large construction tasks the URGE partnership is facing. URGE thus accelerates the transition towards a circular economy.

    Healthy Cities

    Vic (ES)
    - Anyksciai (LT)
    - Bradford (UK)
    - Alphen aan den Rijn (NL)
    - Falerna (IT)
    - Farkadona (EL)
    - Loulé (PT)
    - Pärnu (EE)
    - Malta Planning Authority (MT)

    This network aims to deepen the relationship between health and the urban environment, planning actions that focus on improving the population’s health, while developing a rigorous health impact assessment methodology around it. Urban Planning can become a health generator on many grounds, and this network of cities reflects the multiplicity of possible approaches to tackle the issue: green areas, mobility, social cohesion or promotion of sports are some examples.


    Mula (ES)
    - Belene (BG)
    - Cesena (IT)
    - Malbork (PL)
    - Roskilde (DK)
    - Heraklion (EL)
    - Šibenik (HR)
    - Ukmergè (LT)


    The ultimate goal is to represent a moment of change, improving the urban environment of cities involved, developing heritage-led urban regeneration. It will enhance the potential of heritage in small and medium cities developing strategies for economic and social cohesion, inclusion and sustainable urban development. This network fosters the transnational exchange of experiences to test an innovative policy framework, combining a sound integrated approach with a real transformation purpose.


    Resourceful Cities
    (previously UrbReC)

    The Hague (NL)
    - Bucharest 3rd district (RO)
    - Ciudad Real (ES)
    - Mechelen (BE)
    - Cáceres (ES)
    - Patras (EL)
    - Oslo (NO)
    - Opole (PL)
    - Vila Nova Famalicão (PT)
    - Zagreb (HR)


    This network seeks to develop the next generation of urban resource centers to promote the positive economic, environmental and social impacts for the circular economy. They facilitate waste prevention, reuse, repair and recycling. The centers also work as connection points for citizens, new businesses, researchers and the public sector to co-create new ways to close resource loops at the local level.

    (previously Rurban Food)

    Coimbra Region (PT)
    - Alba Iulia (RO)
    - Córdoba (ES)
    - Larissa (EL)
    - Szécsény (HU)
    - Bassa Romagna Union (IT)
    - Tartu Tartumaa Arendusselts (EE)
    - BSC Kranj and Gorenjska (SI)

    Recent experience suggests that it is necessary to promote a transition towards regional food systems. This network encourage the creation of a network of European cities committed to the design of food plans that extend from the urban and periurban areas through a corridor that facilitates urban-rural re-connection. This approach enhances production and consumption environments founded on a base of economic, social and environmental sustainability, integrated into development policies.


    Hegyvidék 12th district of Budapest (HU)
    - Espoo (FI)
    - Limerick (IE)
    - Messina (IT)
    - Breda (NL)
    - Poznań (PL)
    - Santa Pola (ES)
    - Suceava (RO)
    - Tartu (EE)

    As a response to the various health risks related to rapid urbanization and the densification of cities, this network project promotes health-responsive planning and management of urban green infrastructure with an overall aim to bring health and wellbeing benefits for citizens across Europe. The network applies a holistic approach that addresses the main functions provided by urban green infrastructure that deliver health and social benefits.

    Sustainable transport


    Bielefeld (DE)
    - Arad (RO)
    - Badalona (ES)
    - Nazaré (PT)
    - Turku (FI)
    - Guía de Isora (ES)
    - Panevèžys (LT)
    - Saint-Germain-en-Laye (FR)
    - Sérres (EL)
    - Valga (EE)

    This network improves quantity and quality of attractive public spaces in urban areas. For this, it tackles the main public space use being transportation in 3 aspects: improving user experience and adding space to pedestrian networks and (semi) pedestrianised places, upscaling intermodal hubs to urban centres of mixed use as well as reducing and optimising parking in public space. The project takes a user-centric approach by users assessing and creating future use and design of public space.

    Thriving Streets

    Parma (IT)
    - Antwerp (BE)
    - Igoumenitsa (EL)
    - Klaipèda (LT)
    - Nova Gorica (SI)
    - Oradea (RO)
    - Santo Tirso (PT)
    - Radom (PL)
    - Southwark London Borough (UK)
    - Debrecen Economic Development Centre (HU)

    This is a network that addresses the bottlenecks in sustainable urban mobility. The project will focus on the economic and social benefits of sustainable mobility, rather than on the widely demonstrated environmental effects. The network argues that working with local amenities and social networks at neighbourhood level could unlock the hidden demand for active mobility in cities, and thus act as enabler of behaviour change towards more resilient and liveable neighbourhoods.

    Employment protection and resource efficiency


    Heerlen (NL)
    - Aarhus (DK)
    - Baia Mare (RO)
    - Fundão (PT)
    - Kecskemét (HU)
    - Pordenone (IT)
    - Zaragoza (ES)
    - Võru Development Centre (EE)

    This network aims to explore how social impact bonds can be used to improve public service delivery in areas such as employment, ageing, and immigration. Often, the delivery of services is hindered by fragmented and siloed agencies and budgets, financial and political shorttermism, and an aversion to risk and difficulty creating change. The social impact bond is a promising model that ameliorates these issues by increasing collaboration, prevention, and innovation.

    Social inclusion and poverty


    Ghent (BE)
    - Braga (PT)
    - Glasgow (UK)
    - Thessaloniki (EL)
    - Liège (BE)
    - Odense (DK)
    - Poznań (PL)
    - Toulouse Metropole (FR)
    - Timisoara Department of Social Assistance (RO)

    This project aims to eradicate homelessness through innovative housing solutions at city level. It will exchange knowledge on how to gather accurate data and make the conceptual shift from the symptomatic management to the actual ending of homelessness, with Housing First and Housing Led as guidance model. This network will guide the partner cities towards integrated local action plans linked to the long-term strategic goal of Functional Zero (no structural homelessness).


    Agen (FR)
    - Bistrita (RO)
    - Cento (IT)
    - Dinslaken (DE)
    - Hradec Králové (CZ)
    - Santa Maria da Feira (PT)
    - Saint-Quentin (FR)
    - Tartu (EE)

    The aim of this network is to rethink the place of the citizens in the local governance by finding a balance between representative democracy and participatory democracy. This network of European small and medium-sized cities, with the same expectations and similar challenges, will notably take into account, to do this, new digital tools while integrating the issue of citizens away or not comfortable with digital tools.


    Amsterdam (NL)
    - Dublin (IE)
    - Lisbon (PT)
    - Riga (LV)
    - Sofia (BG)
    - Tallinn (EE)
    - Vilnius (LT)
    - London Greater Authority (UK)

    This network addresses the importance of inclusive cultural policies. A challenge all cities in this project face is that culture does not enrich or empower all people equally. We need to gain a better understanding of our communities in order to engage all citizens in our cities. We have identified four topics to work on that will enable us to gain that understanding and support us in reaching all population groups in the participating cities from the west, east and south of Europe.


    Umeå (SE)
    - Frankfurt am Main (DE)
    - Panevèžys (LT)
    - Trikala (EL)
    - La Rochelle (FR)
    - Barcelona Activa SA (ES)
    - Celje JZ Socio (SI)

    Creating conditions for gender equality through a holistic understanding of how gender inequality is created in the specific place. This network creates an exchange on challenges faced by cities with an understanding of gender inequality that is globally understood but locally contextualised.

    Education, skills and lifelong learning


    Milan (IT)
    - Bratislava (SK)
    - Budaörs (HU)
    - Guimarães (PT)
    - Molina de Segura (ES)
    - Nantes Metropole (FR)
    - Rijeka (HR)
    - Kekava (LV)
    - Sofia (BG)
    -Vratsa (BG)

    Through intensive capacity building of local actors, the network will increase collaboration among municipalities, businesses and the civic society in order to promote sustainable, inclusive & innovative urban change. The project aims at increasing the role and added value of companies’ CSR activities at local level, towards urban regeneration and social innovation, with a special emphasis on education, in order to better address emerging and unmet local needs.




    Interested in finding more about the approved networks and what they will do? Watch the URBACT Method video and check out the Action Planning Network's infographic!

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  • Do we need participatory democracy to save democracy?

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    Everyone acknowledges today that democracies around the world are increasingly challenged. The number of issues they have to face – and have difficulties to respond to (social justice, economic stability, climate change, etc.) – put our democracies at risk. On top of that, a growing number of people feel that they are not listened to or taken into consideration by policymakers. Citizens claim a right to have a say in public decisions, choices, and policies that are made.


    At city level, local governments are not at rest either and face the same situation as national governments and appear quite unequipped to respond to the claim of citizens. Yet, they realise they have to better collaborate and involve citizens in decision-making processes and in the local governance of the city in general. Amongst those conscious cities, 8 small and medium-sized cities of Europe have decided to embark on the audacious journey of participatory democracy.

    These 8 cities have gathered together in order to set up a network called Active Citizens. These cities all range in between 35 000 and 95 000 inhabitants. They are from all over Europe, -south, west, and east. From Portugal (Santa Maria da Feira) to France (Agen and Saint Quentin), Italy (Cento) to Germany (Dinslaken), Czech Republic (Hradec Králové), Romania (Bistrita), and Estonia (Tartu). These 8 cities have different experiences with participatory approaches, some having already engaged with participatory methods, while others are more at the beginning of the journey. However, they all have in common this shared feeling that they need to go further, and that they can do so, by joining together and learning from one another.

    The ambition of the Active Citizens’ network of cities is quite clear: how to better involve citizens in the local governance of our cities? ‘But why would you do that?’ one could ask. Well, because, ‘we believe that by involving citizens into the local governance, we can build better policies, services, and cities as a whole. More efficient. More pertinent. More relevant. More adapted.’

    ‘But why would we need to involve citizens in the governance? We already have elected officials for that! It’s the whole principle of representative democracy!’


    Yes. In principle. Elected officials are elected to represent citizens and ‘govern in their name’. And they do. But in many cases, they don’t represent ‘enough’ of the people. And even if they did, does this prevent them to compose with citizens during their whole mandate, for every decision? Cities acknowledge today that integrating a certain level of citizen participation (in some cases) to the decision-making process could be – not only – useful, but actually necessary. 

    Citizen participation? Hell no!


    Clearly, not everyone in city administrations (but also in national governments) is convinced of the added-value of citizen participation to governance. Reasons of NOT doing citizen participation are plenty. In order to identify them, we developed, within Active Citizens, a card game called ‘Citizen participation? Hell no!’. This game is composed of 42 reasons of NOT doing citizen participation. The cities of the network were asked to pick the ones they most often hear within their own administrations, by their colleagues (either civil servants or elected officials). Some of the reasons include: “citizen participation slows down every process or project’, ‘citizen participation is useless because citizens are not experts!”, “it’s too complicated to work with citizens”, “citizens are better at complaining, than at finding solutions”, “citizens have no interest in public actions & matters”, “no need for citizen participation, we already work with NGOs, unions and associations of consumers”, “with citizens, conversations always remain superficial and without depth”.

    Yes. There is still a long way to go in order to deconstruct these many ‘reasons’…

    But... ‘what is it you want?’


    There are many objectives which could motivate a city to engage in a network such as Active Citizens. The 8 cities of the network were therefore asked to express what were their motivations… and here is a little selection of the most common desires they have picked:

    • We want to develop a culture of participation and a sense of active citizenship.
    • We want to rebuild trust between citizens and the city administration.
    • We want citizens to co-create solutions (ideas, plans, agendas, actions) with us, city administration.
    • We want to facilitate the dialogue between elected officials and citizens.
    • We want to collect citizensʼ opinions and views on public matters or actions.
    • We want citizens to take an active part in urban planning projects and decisions.

    This set of motivations highlight the richness and diversity of objectives (but also challenges) that the cities wish to tackle through citizen participation: from trust to dialogue, from consultation to co-creation, from concrete projects to public agenda, and more.

    ‘When you start doing citizen participation, you realize there are so many things you are not satisfied with, as a city administration’


    For the cities who have already a bit of experience with forms of citizen participation, all of them are not 100% satisfied with how things are. ‘First, It’s always the same people who show up’. That’s the so-called ‘usual suspects’. And, most often, they are all retired. ‘This is not satisfactory, as a public administration’. Indeed, cities want citizens to be as diverse as possible, as representative as possible (of all the inhabitants and potential voices). ‘Citizens tend to only speak up for their personal interest, not necessarily the common good’, yet it is the role of a public authority to ensure that public policies and services shall be for the common good. ‘In the neighbourhood councils, we decided that the citizens would be elected by the inhabitants but we realise that, once elected, they don’t all necessarily consult the citizens afterward’. Even though the idea was to give power to citizens, we end up having just a new layer of not-functioning-so-well ‘representative democracy’, at the micro-level of a neighbourhood, instead of a city one. Of course, all the cities are experimenting, testing, piloting, exploring and learning from their experiments, what works well, what works not so well, what does not work, then revise, change, redesign their ways of doing. And citizens contribute to it (requesting particular trainings, suggesting changes, etc.). Both sides have to learn how to collaborate better, as it is not a natural thing for any of them.

    There is hope, there is urgency, there is pressure


    Participatory democracy is a trendy topic. No doubt. The number of articles, news, papers, books, case studies, of participatory democracy are multiplying like never before in the last decade. At the same time, toolkits, guidelines, toolboxes, and handbooks of all kind are also multiplying and meant to support cities in the adoption of participatory approaches in their governance. Yet, the trendy nature of the topic is not without risk. Indeed, as the topic becomes ‘a nice thing to do and have’, some cities tend to apply participatory approaches either in bad ways (tools, methods, formats) or for the bad reasons (fake motives, hidden agenda) leading to what could be called ‘fake public participation’. And this can have disastrous effects on democracy. Indeed, the number of active citizens willing to take part, to a certain degree, to public decision making processes, are not – let’s be honest – millions (yet). So doing ‘fake public participation’ can convince the most willing citizens that participation processes are just smoke and mirrors. Disappointing, once again. And lowering a bit more the citizens’ trust in politics, and, by extension, the democratic model. But there is hope, because citizens are present and willing to take part, and city administrations (like the ones of Active Citizens) are also more and more inclined to go towards a more participatory democracy and want to do it right, meaning with honesty, transparency, attention, care and empathy.

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