Including citizens in the planning and design of public spaces: Successes and Challenges in Colima, Mexico

By Michael Vieira

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In Mexico, the Institute of Planning for the Municipality of Colima or el Instituto de Planeación para el Municipio de Colima (IPCo), recognizes the value and strength of the citizen with regard to sustainable approaches in urban development. In 2010, with the support of Sustainable Cities International (SCI), IPCo initiated a participatory process whereby citizens played – and continue to play – a key role in the planning and design of public spaces, specifically of parks and gardens.

Participatory planning

The fundamental belief that underlies IPCo’s participatory process is that the citizen is an essential element of sustainable urban planning. That is, if public spaces – particularly parks and gardens – are to thrive both in the short-term and long-term, IPCo asserts that the public ought to be part of the design process. Furthermore, IPCo believes that in order to create a sustainable space the citizen must be able to connect with it and appropriate it, so that a long-lasting relationship is built between the space and the citizen.

Community members from the neighbourhood of Miradores de la Cumbre validating community-based design plans.

Huertas del Cura Park

IPCo’s first application of the participatory process was in Huertas del Cura park in 2010. Two years later, the park continues to thrive with activity and because the community was part of the park’s design process, neighbours feel connected and responsible for the well-being of the space, taking it upon themselves to care for the park.

Huertas del Cura park’s community mural project in 2010.

Currently, SCI intern Michael Vieira is in the process of collecting data from Huertas del Cura park via community surveys in an attempt to monitor and evaluate the long-term effects of the participatory process, two years after its inauguration in April 2010.

Replication of the participatory process in other spaces

Since 2010, the process has been applied in seven more spaces, albeit with various modifications as new and unexpected challenges have arisen.

In recent months, IPCo’s participatory process team as well as SCI interns Sarah-Maude Guindon and Michael Vieira have been addressing some of these challenges, namely: 1) how can IPCo move the participatory process along so that a park and/or garden reaches timely completion (i.e. is constructed), and 2) how can IPCo help foster long-term community appropriation of newly constructed parks and gardens?

Sometimes, projects are delayed or halted in the context of Colima because of financial constraints. When these delays are coupled with inadequate communication between institutional actors and the public, the institutional-citizen relationship becomes damaged and appropriation declines.

Communication strategy developed

As a result, IPCo and SCI interns have developed a strategy that combats institutional-citizen miscommunication. By creating follow-up committees comprised of all involved institutional actors as well as elected representatives from the neighbourhoods where the projects are taking place, IPCo is able to create a platform where:

  • Communication between all involved parties is strengthened and maintained
  • Project-related information is shared and disseminated
  • The project’s status and advancement is discussed to ensure that the project is completed as soon as possible
  • Community members’ concerns are heard and addressed

SCI intern Sarah-Maude Guindon (left-front) meets with officials from the municipal Department of Planning and the Department of Citizen Attention and Participation to explain the follow-up process.

Funding challenges

Of course, while these follow-up committees may be able to address the problems associated with communication and information sharing, the financial factor mentioned above is an ongoing concern.

Fortunately, tools are currently being built into the participatory process in an effort to tackle the funding issue. Newly created community surveys and public space observations have been applied in two communities and are providing valuable qualitative and quantitative data, which can be used to encourage funding in some of Colima’s most marginalized neighbourhoods.

For example, preliminary analysis of the surveys and observations from Miradores Lineal Park shows that public safety and security perceptions are low, while perceived incidents of insecurity are high. Nevertheless, nearly all surveyed community members still use the space frequently (more than three times a week).

SCI intern Michael Vieira (left) and IPCo Economist Blanca Ballesteros Uribe (right) survey community members from the neighbourhood of Miradores de la Cumbre.

The value of these surveys and observations is that the information it holds can be presented to the municipal, state, or federal government, the private sector, and/or international organizations as a means of illustrating the need for secured funding in some of Colima’s most marginalized neighbourhoods.

Although the participatory process is still being adjusted and continues to face new challenges, it is clear that IPCo (via community outreach, workshops, activities, and public opinion surveys) is serious about the vital role of the citizen within the framework of sustainable urban development.

 

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About sustainablecitiesnetwork

Sustainable Cities International is a registered not-for-profit organization based in Vancouver, Canada. Operating since 1993, the mission of Sustainable Cities is to catalyze action on urban sustainability with cities around the world. We work by connecting and mobilizing people through the process of co-creating. We facilitate a thriving, international network of cities that act as urban laboratories: adopting, testing and improving on innovations. Ideas are accelerated through sharing of experience and cities are making transformational change a reality
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