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Reclaiming the urban space for a sustainable future

IPoP: institute for spatial policies. What sounds like an interstellar matter is in fact very much down to Earth. While accessible space in cities is becoming scarce - because of privatisation, gentrification, revitalisation and commercialisation - physical possibilities for citizens to shape their urban surroundings also shrink. How do we make sure locals can be involved in participative decision-making processes? A guided tour to a more sustainable urban future with Petra Očkerl.
by Advocate Europe on Jan. 9, 2019
Walking to school

Walking bus in Novo Mesto. Photo by Bostjan Pucelj


What is actually IPoP?

IPoP is a non-governmental, consulting and research organisation in the field of sustainable spatial and urban development. We focus on participatory processes, urban regeneration, sustainable mobility, and new spatial practices.

The main values of IPoP are equality, sustainability, collaboration, quality of life and vitality. We strive to inspire others, be relevant, induce change and to develop new solutions.


Can you describe the relationships of IPoP with the local community, institutions and corporations or business sectors?

Our main target group are communities, either self-governing local communities as we understand municipalities in Slovenia or local communities as groups of people who are either self-organised or informal, but related to a location.

As IPoP is coordinating the national network of NGOs active in the field of spatial and urban development our main partners are NGOs. But we also collaborate with consultancies and businesses in the spatial planning sector. Public institutions, such as ministries, universities and research institutions, are either partners or clients.


What kind of challenges/obstacles do you encounter as a City Maker?

Considering the broad network of similar organisations and local actors we have contact with in Slovenia, the main challenges we all encounter are on the one hand financial sustainability and lack of qualified and motivated staff. On the other hand, a great challenge is access to decision-making processes as well as acknowledgement of organisations of this kind as relevant actors and knowledge carriers.

As in all other fields, NGOs active in the field of spatial and urban planning are continuously under pressure to ensure stable funds and maintain jobs. Due to the financial challenges and instability it is also hard to attract and keep competent and enthusiastic people in the organisation.

For years, we have been actively promoting public participation in the field of spatial and urban development and although it is obligatory in most of the processes, the progress of actual participation is very slow in practice. There are still important decisions made by either the cities and municipalities or the national authorities that do not involve citizens or do it only to meet the formal criteria. Not only that participation processes are not being properly carried out, those who lead them often do not consider NGOs and independent actors as valuable sources of information and stakeholders who can or should be consulted on certain issues. Although we are – in contrast to the general public – professionally engaged to contribute to public discussions and policies, we are very often excluded from decision-making and consultation processes.

 


Vodnikova Garage Sale

Garage sale on the Vudnikova street in Ljubljana. Photo credit: IPoP


Can you give us some examples of IPoP's work on the ground?

Sure! One of the main focuses of IPoP is public participation in the fields of urban plannning and urban development. We have observed that Slovenian municipalities often face negative public reactions when introducing innovative measures or changing public space and traffic arrangements with approaches that are not common in Slovenia. Due to the negative response, many of their efforts are abandoned and new arrangements are often repelled for old regulations.

Negative responses are most often the result of the lack of public involvement in decision-making processes. Many municipalities do not have the knowledge and experience to use tools for public participation. Often, they also worry that involvement of the public will delay or even prevent the implementation of measures, and therefore avoid involvement of citizens that goes beyond legal requirements.

A good example of this is parking policy. Cities everywhere are taking on measures to reduce car traffic and promote sustainable mobility. These usually include improved public transport options as well as different types of measures that support walking and cycling, and restrict cars from some parts of the city. However, these alone have often proven unsuccessful if not accompanied by a strong parking policy.

As restrictive parking policies are not always popular with mayors and city councils as they may provoke opposition from local communities and media, urban mobility experts are looking at ways to deliver new parking policies with citizen support.


"Negative responses [to innovative measures or changing public spaces] are most often the result of the lack of public involvement in decision-making processes.(...) Early involvement of the public is a very useful and long-term investment, since it improves the quality of the solutions, changes the public perceptions of the solution, and has a positive impact on the trust in local administration."


IPoP has therefore with the support of partners developed a methodology combining public participation and hard data in order to introduce new parking policies smoothly.

The method combines the parking beat survey to obtain hard data on parking patterns with a participation process. Using the parking beat survey, a number of parking places is observed on a given day (or several days) and each parking place is checked periodically in terms of occupancy. Further on, the data is presented in a visually appealing and easy-to-understand way at public discussions where the possible scenarios are discussed with citizens.

The case of Idrija shows that the method is fairly successful as the policy plan was well accepted by the local community and the new parking policy has been unanimously confirmed by the municipal council. 

Because experience shows that early involvement of the public is a very useful and long-term investment, since it improves the quality of the solutions, changes the public perceptions of the solution, and has a positive impact on the trust in local administration.



Janes walk Slovenia

Jane's Walk Slovenia. Photo by Luka Vidic.


Another field of action of IPoP is walking. IPoP has been organising Jane’s Walks and supporting other organisers in Slovenia since 2011. Jane’s Walk is a movement of free, citizen-led walking tours inspired by Jane Jacobs. The walks get people to tell stories about their communities, explore their cities, and connect with neighbours.

Together with local partners, IPoP has managed to initiate about 150 walks thus far in different towns and cities across Slovenia, engaging almost 3000 interested walkers and making important contributions towards an acknowledgement of the benefits of everyday utility walking. The walks aim to raise awareness about the importance of walking for daily errands and the role of the citizen in spatial planning as well as to promote local community building. The discussions during the walks result in recommendations for spatial improvements.


“Green cities encourage walking as the main form of sustainable mobility, because they contribute to the quality of the physical and social environment and has also positive effects on the economy and health. Walking is the most accessible way of moving around the city, a good impact on the business pulse to development of marketing and service activities in the village, particularly on the state of the environment. This well proven by the revival of the city center of Ljubljana with a gradual restriction of vehicular traffic.” (IPoP-Institute for Spatial Policies)

 

In Slovenia, as well as in many other countries, children are often brought to school by car, van or bus, although the distance they have to travel is rather short and they could easily walk or cycle. Through the networking of municipalities, primary schools, parents and children, getting to school with “pešbus” (pedibus or walking bus) and “bicivlak” (bike train) has been set up. The activities have been expanding fast; in spring 2018 children from 23 schools around Slovenia were participating in walking bus and bike train. Lately the programme is oriented in three directions: educating the school coordinators and spreading the network of participating schools, promoting independent active travel to school with older schoolkids and collaborative planning of safe school routes.

Another field of activity of Ipop is placemaking, which is the process of revitalization of public spaces. In order to do so, IPoP has been collaborating with various initiatives, lately with the Initiative Let’s revitalise Vodnikova (Iniciativa Oživimo Vodnikovo).

Vodnikova cesta is one of the most interesting of Ljubljana's arterial roads with a special character. It is surrounded by various urban and cultural patterns that reflect the various historical periods in the development of this part of the city. The traffic arrangement of the road, mainly originating from the second half of the 20th century, imposes a luxurious road profile with wide car lanes, which in many segments leads to conflicts with the built structure and subordinates pedestrians and cyclists as well as urban greenery. The prevailing automotive character of the road is in an increasingly pronounced contrast with the transformation of the city of Ljubljana into a greener and sustainable city.

This has been pointed out in the past years by the initiative Oživimo Vodnikovo that linked, with the professional support of IPoP, the individual proposals of the citizens with formal institutions of local self-government and city administration. At the same time the initiative organised numerous public events – two street festivals, three Jane's Walks, a workshop with residents, a garage sale – to raise the awareness of the problem and connect the local community and other actors along the road.

The initiative managed to establish a fruitful collaboration with the City of Ljubljana and the city quarter and will hopefully collaborate in the further development of Vodnikova into a modern and vital street.

What are IPoP's planned activities for 2019?

Our main points of focus for the next future are public participation, walking, parking policy, urban policy and placemaking. We want to strengthen our international activities and collaborate with cities and communities at the European and international level.

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This article was initially published on the platform cities in transition and was written by Melisa Argañaraz. It was amended and updated by the Advocate Europe team and Petra Očkerl.