In my dissertation project at the Faculty of Architecture at RWTH Aachen University, I am using two case studies to investigate the substantive impact of consultative public participation on political decisions and the implications for sustainable development. My object of investigation is planning for the sustainable mobility transition, since on the one hand it is important and urgent for sustainable development and on the other hand it directly affects people’s everyday lives and thus often leads to resistance.
A socio-ecological shift in transport requires profound changes in public space that affect the daily lives of users. This redistribution of road space and change in conditions of use is primarily carried out through spatial planning on the part of the public sector, in which the public is also increasingly involved. This is usually associated (implicitly or explicitly) with the public having an influence on the content of the planning; however, the actual effect has hardly been researched.
I am investigating the mechanisms through which the substantive impact of public participation comes about or is prevented, and which factors influence these mechanisms. I am interested in the conditions under which these substantive effects contribute to integrated transport planning, measured both in terms of democratic theory and substantive criteria.
Two municipal transport transition projects in Hamburg serve as case studies, in which the public can participate or has participated through consultation offers and other forms of participation: the redesign of the Elbchaussee in Hamburg and the low-car design of the Ottensen neighbourhood in Hamburg. The processes differ, among other things, in their framework conditions, spatial scale, tasks and participation offerings. For the detailed reconstruction and analysis of these processes, I mainly rely on data from qualitative interviews, document and media analyses, supplemented by results of quantitative population and participant surveys.
Expected results are theses on public participation in the context of the mobility transition. These deal with the mechanisms and factors that influence policy impact and come about through a detailed analysis of the individual case studies, a targeted comparison of the two case studies with each other and the embedding of the empirical results in the state of research as well as other results from the project. These theses are intended to contribute to the discussion on the role of the public in the context of a socio-ecological transformation.
In this presentation at the AESOP (Assosiation of European Schools of Planning) annual Congress in 2022, Laura Mark, Katharina Huseljić and Tobias Escher introduced a framework of distributive socio-spatial justice and the way consultation procedures can contribute, before evaluating the case study Elbchaussee in Hamburg regarding socio-spatial justice, using qualitative and quantitative results.
Our current transport system exhibits significant socio-spatial injustices as it has both major negative environmental effects and structurally disadvantages certain socio-economic groups. Planning processes increasingly include elements of public participation, often linked to the hope of better understanding and integrating different mobility needs into the planning process. However, so far there is little knowledge on whether public participation results indeed in more socio-spatial justice.
To approach this question, we focus on socio-spatial justice as distributive justice and investigate how well consultative planning procedures do actually lead to measures that both contribute to sustainability (i.e. reduce or redistribute negative external effects) and cater for the needs of disadvantaged groups (e.g. those with low income or education, women and disabled people). To this end, we have investigated in detail the case study of the reconstruction of the Elbchaussee, a representative main road of citywide importance in the district of Altona in Hamburg, Germany. We are drawing on both qualitative and quantitative data including expert interviews and public surveys.
We first show that the process did result in planning measures that contribute slightly to ecological sustainability. Second, in particular through improving the situation for pedestrians and cyclists as well as the quality of stay, the measures should contribute to more justice for some groups but this is recognized only by non-male groups. Beyond this there are no effects for people with low income, low education, those with mobility restrictions or with particular mobility needs often associated with these groups. Overall, we conclude that the consultative planning process provides only a small contribution to socio-spatial justice and we discuss potential explanations.
The consultative planning process as a whole resulted in measures that contribute slightly to socio-spatial justice, since they support the transition to more sustainable mobility and will benefit some disadvantages groups, though both to a limited degree.
We find that the consultation procedure had no significant influence on the policy. In terms of socio-spatial justice, no positive effects can be traced back to the consultation procedure. Notably, those that participated in the consultation did indeed report less satisfaction with the measures.
We trace those limited contributions back to some general features of consultation and the current planning system, but also find that in the case study the scope of possible influence was very limited due to external restrictions and power imbalances.
We are working on a publication for a peer-reviewed journal. The publication will be linked here as soon as it is published.
Evolving our ideas in exchange with the research community in sustainable transport is essential for us – to view challenges from a new angle, get some inspiration and possibly identify some synergies. That´s why we are part of the Urban Change Maker group, a diverse group of PhD and Post-Doc researchers from all over the world that work on issues of sustainable transformation in cities. Focus is on research that enables a sustainable transition in practice, mainly on governance and stakeholder constellations as well as social justice.
The research group is affiliated with the Wuppertal Institute and the TU Berlin as well as various other research institutions and universities.
On March 6th, we met for a creative workshop to identify possible synergies and joint research topics. The workshop started with the researchers introducing their research interests, already starting discussions on possible synergies. This was further continued and concrete paper ideas were discussed, as well as possible topics for Master´s thesis at the affiliated universities.
For our research group, a possible synergy could be comparing our German cases with similar cases of public participation in one of the partner cities and elaborate differences and similarities. The initiated exchange will continue over the following years, in the form of regular workshops and a yearly summer school for the whole group, and more intense exchange for the work on joint research and paper topics. This exchange will help us to discuss and place the topic in a broader thematic and geographical context.