Nurturing Trust in Community-Driven Regeneration: Continuity amidst Institutional Uncertainty

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This scenario has been developed on the basis of a real world case.

Carnisse picture.jpg

Imagine a city where residents of moderate means can fully enjoy the neighborhood where they are living and collectively engage in community projects that strengthen social relations and improve urban infrastructure.

Which actors can effectively initiate such an intervention?

In this case, persistent social problems related to health, living conditions, and education are likely to have been identified early on by local residents, social workers, and municipal actors (Q9a). But what can be done to address poverty and inequity? A response may be initiated by civil society organizations. Especially those already engaged in local community projects and who are familiar with the context may call on municipal support to address these issues (Q10). These actors should avoid adopting a deficit-oriented portrayal of the neighborhood, instead applying an asset-based approach to reflect how the residents may see themselves (Q23b). Consequently, an urban regeneration project may be conceptualized by the civil society organizations and supported by the municipality. Good cooperation and a common interest between these two bodies would be crucial (Q13).

What do community-driven participatory processes look like? What role does a municipality play in such an intervention?

The project is especially likely to be facilitated if it aligns with municipal orientations. Indeed, to counter decreasing public subsidies for social intervention, local public authorities tend to rely on the engagement of local dwellers to conduct urban regeneration projects (Q17 & Q18). In such a set up, great freedom is likely to be granted by the municipality to local project proponents, which could allow for experimental and innovative participatory methods (Q15). These may include workshops enabling residents to collectively envision a desired neighborhood, reflect and discuss on options, and learn about self-organization (Q30). These active participatory methods may prove to be far more inclusive than the more abstract, municipality-driven participatory planning processes of earlier projects (Q16). Within these deliberative settings, citizens could be invited to engage in hands-on activities, such as planning a community center, a shared garden, or other inclusive projects.

What happens in the face of institutional uncertainty?

Such an innovative intervention might face obstacles as it emerges. Changes in institutional and political settings, for instance budget cuts or the dismantling of previous social welfare structures may generate ambiguity and insecurity about project development. In this context, a major obstacle to the durability of a governance intervention would be shifting municipal actors. If city representatives change frequently over the course of a project, community leaders and residents could lose faith in any meaningful partnerships with or dependence on the municipality for support. Even well-meaning government actors could change their thinking about citizen-driven regeneration projects, but such "enlightened" civil servants would remain fragmented without changing their broader institutional fabric. As previous regeneration projects implemented without regard of the local community may have undermined the residents’ trust in such interventions, shifting municipal actors could generate additional suspicion about the effective outcomes of participatory methods (Q23b).

How can community leaders respond to these obstacles? How might this affect the success of their intervention?

To keep out of institutional turbulences, project proponents could decide to operate relatively autonomously, at risk of loosening relationships with institutional actors. Trust and meaningful connections can be fostered between project proponents and community members if proponents have a good understanding of its local history, context, and dynamics (Q24). When successfully developed, such an intervention should enhance community building, empower citizens, and establish new relationships based on cooperation and mutual trust between citizens, community organizations, and public actors (Q25). Defunded projects or lost support due to weakened relationships with governmental representatives could be taken up by citizens, for example in the case of building community gardens. However, even successful, autonomous, community-led projects could lack durability in the face of future institutional fluctuations, and any relationships that were built during the course of the project could erode after a project is over. This threatens the long-term sustainability of such a governance intervention.

What are the implications for this scenario?

After these governance arrangements are successfully developed and experimented by the project stakeholders, models could be adapted in other neighborhoods. Eventually, this may be the basis for a new participatory and inclusive approach to local urban governance (Q31).

How could this reality be created in your city? What obstacles would have to be overcome?

Do you want to learn more about this scenario?

This scenario is inspired by the intervention, Regeneration of a deprived neighborhood in Rotterdam . It was facilitated by an Urban Resilience Lab in the neighborhood of Carnisse, who engaged with residents, municipal actors, and professionals to collectively address the social problems in the neighborhood. To learn more about how this intervention addressed the project obstacles, see Q24 in the detailed description. Learn more about the Carnisse Resilience Lab at their website:

This scenario relates to some ‘’’enabling governance arrangements’’’:

  • Create a comprehensive vision of change: In workshops organized by local organizations, residents were invited to develop a shared vision of the district redevelopment and establish an agenda for transformative and experimental actions e.g. create a community center, a shared garden etc.
  • Make space for adaptation and experimentation: Project proponents (mostly local organizations) had an overall vision of the project development but it was not set in stone. The idea was to translate an existing methodology about transition management and to make it custom fit to the local context. For instance, the creation of a community center was not planned in advance and was envisioned and initiated by local stakeholders.
  • Commit to a meaningful participation process: To make the project more inclusive, project proponents developed two types of participation methods and invited residents to engage in a more deliberative one (e.g. visioning the district) and more practical one (e.g. developing activities in the community center and community garden).

This scenario fits under the approach:

It addresses some drivers of injustice:

What do you think about this scenario? Was it helpful to you? Do you find our approach problematic? Send us an email to Philipp Spaeth.