How can we open up participatory planning processes in neighbourhoods that are densifying  and create ‘public places’ to talk about values?

In order to preserve the open space in a suburbanized region as Flanders (Belgium), densification is one of the ways to go. But densification means that the existing living environment transforms and has an influence on liveability. This creates tensions between different collectives of policy makers and citizens as they imagine other futures for the neighbourhood. In my research, I engage in the participatory planning processes in two neighbourhoods that are densifying: the neighbourhood mobility plan in the Heilig-Hart neighbourhood in Hasselt (case 1) and the neighbourhood spatial plan of Zwijnaarde, Pleispark and Schilderwijk in Ghent (case 2). These are new planning instruments that are being developed throughout the process which gives us the opportunity to experiment with ways to make the value trade-offs between the different collectives explicit and co-create a future for the neighbourhood. Therefore, we create ‘public places’ in the two processes by implementing moments of evaluation related to spatial experiences. Biesta (2014) defines such ‘public places’ as locations where the experiment of democracy can be enacted and where something can be learned from this enactment and what makes these places public is the extent to make value trade-offs possible.

I will discuss how these ‘public places’ differ in the two cases and how this approach takes the participatory process  one step further and not only involves the citizens and stakeholders to implement local knowledge in a co-creation process but also politicises the decision making process (case 1) and the planning process (case 2).