#CKX6: On Shared City Making

Cities are the economic and innovation centres in our country. More than 80% of Canadians live in cities. Migration nationally and internationally often happens to cities, not countries, as people vote with their feet. And yet, cities are stretched to be able to provide a fertile environment for people and places to reach their individual and collective potential.

 

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Much is being said on what characteristics make a city livable, vibrant, or resilient. But livable cities don’t happen by accident. A city is the range and multitude of decisions and actions taken by its people to make themselves and their neighbours happier, healthier, smarter and safer.

Imagine what would happen if we began to see our city as a commons where neighbourhoods and communities awaken and enhance a sense of aliveness that recognizes people’s needs and identity as well as the health of the eco-systems supporting the individual and the collective. By doing so, we discover that people are the city and the vibrancy of the commons gives rise to all of us learning, connecting, creating, prototyping, inventing, and making together by whole-heartedly engaging our minds and our hearts in taking action.

Here are six ingredients to making a vibrant and resilient city, together.

1. Busting Silos & Sharing Power

The complexity of issues facing cities requires us to break down the silos between departments, organizations, sectors, governments, civil society, and citizens. The interconnectedness of issues requires shared responsibility. This shared responsibility requires greater trust and connectivity between all the actors. And perhaps the most revolutionary shift that’s required is for the national government to entrust cities with more revenue and powers to assure health and happiness for everyone.

 

2. Citizens as Co-producers not Clients or Consumers

Citizen perspectives are required in shaping our future. Too often policy and programs are developed for citizens by “experts”. These policies and programs may have served us well in the past, but in a fast paced global environment where migration and knowledge are key drivers, we need to tap into diverse, representative groups of citizens to co-create timely and sustainable solutions. A city is it’s people and thus we need to think about citizen-centred democracy. It doesn’t mean governments don’t play an important role, it just means they aren’t the central focus.

 

3. A Responsive Capable Citizenry

Too often we hear that people don’t care, are lazy, and have great apathy about government. That’s just not true. People may feel disconnected from government and power (both formal and personal), but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. Lack of knowledge, lack of confidence about issues and process, past negative experience with participation, and physical and financial barriers are just some of the challenges to participating. Thus, if we want citizens to act for the public good, we need to support them in understanding their role and responsibility as citizens in everyday actions and critical moments such as consultations and elections. More importantly, we need to provide opportunities for successful participation that builds a culture of belonging, impact, responsibility, and ownership.

 

4. Public Institutions Embrace Citizen Participation

The thought of engaging with citizens often provokes much fear: the same people always show up; anger and blame will fuel the conversation; results will be inadequate; costs are high; and creating an expectation to deliver and/or promise on outcomes. Most public institutions refer to the Spectrum of Participation, a conceptual framework for community consultation, especially in government.

 

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Citizens want to know what they are being engaged for, how their participation will make a difference, and when can they expect feedback on next steps. Moving towards higher levels of participation takes time and money, but the outcomes would be more sustainable and supported by the community. Building a culture of learning and listening (both informally and formally) and developing internal institutional capacity to engage would revolutionize and revitalize engagement to the 21st century.

A project that has recently captured our attention is the Wyndham City Listening Post.

 

5. Failing is an Option!

Innovation requires failing, iteration, and prototyping. If we are to innovate for our cities so that we live our collective potential, we need to accept that together, government, not-for profit, and businesses will fail. Failure is certainly gaining acceptance, but more so in business, less so in not-for-profit, and rarely in government. To create policies and programs that allow people and places to thrive in cities, we need to embrace governments and not-for-profits to take risk with public funds.

 

6. Citizen Spaces

We need to be human together. Cities need to create spaces where people connect to make sense together. There are several different processes used to develop shared spaces: human-centred design, participatory development, lean start-ups, systems thinking etc. All of these invoke a unique perspective, but in the end, they all value the need for diverse perspectives and experiences to come together to learn, appreciate, understand, have empathy, and move towards possibility. A citizen space could be a community commons where citizens have the tools and resources to create together or it could be spaces created by institutions and professionals to ensure that the heart and mind shifts that are required for generative thinking and systemic change can happen.

A livable, vibrant and resilient city is an invitation for people from all walks of life to engage, connect, and make a shared future together. When a city moves closer to reaching its full potential, it’s people come closer to reaching theirs. The two are inseparable because a city is its people.

 

Curated by the CKX Team and awesome contributors-at-large (Read: YOU), #CKX6 is a recurring series that shares six great resources, tools or insights on a particular topic, trend or issue related to our shared pursuit of social change. Think of it as a super-charged social change must read/watch/share/steal list! This #CKX6 on shared city making comes from our friend Manjit Basi with Citizens Academy.

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