Expert article
Edit 11 April 2022
by Birgit Georgi UIA Expert

City safari and Map of opportunities – testing new co-creation forms in Breda

Creating a Map of opportunities
Creating a Map of opportunities. Image: João Cortesão
Breda is on the way to re-open its first pilot section of the broader river Mark projects, in which the city will bring back the old river Mark in the middle of the city centre; the GreenQuays project is taking shape. As it will change substantially the life in the neighbourhood, citizens engagement is highly important. How can that go beyond simply informing or consulting residents and achieve real co-creation? GreenQuays is testing a couple of new approaches.
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Breda has already established a culture of citizen participation a long time ago and has gained broad experience with different approaches and tools. The project GreenQuays does not just benefit from this favourable situation but is itself an output of citizens engagement. In earlier public events to re-open the quays of the river Mark, citizens have voiced that they wish to have a much greener design than the one proposed by the municipality (see also: Finding the right design for nature-inclusive quays). However, as the river underneath flows in the densely built-up city centre, this undertaking won’t be easy to implement given the limited space. Nevertheless, this residents’ request led the municipality to rethink the options and to develop innovative ideas with the GreenQuays project, which is the pilot stretch for the broader revitalisation and daylighting of the river Mark (see also: Enabling nature to take over – green quay walls in Breda).

Hence, Breda was well on its way to design the area with its citizens when the COVID 19 crisis kicked in and hampered the participation and co-creation activities. The team sized the chances and switched to online tools, but although it tried hard to include interactive elements, these events have been more an information activity than real co-creation. At least, citizens have been kept in the loop. 

With slowly withdrawing COVID 19 restrictions, smaller face to face interactions became possible again. Unfortunately, at that point the detailed design process of the GreenQuays had already been finished. Thanks to the earlier participation and the online communication, the design has indeed become greener. And there is more to do. GreenQuays is “just” a stretch of 175m of the new river Mark and its positive impacts on citizens life will only unfold if it is embedded in the broader activities of daylighting the river and in Breda’s journey to become a city in the park as part of the city's environmental vision for 2040. Hence, the project team is in full speed to engage the citizens. How can they grab best their ideas?

In autumn 2021, the project developed the idea of a City safari (Stadssafari).  As a two-way communication, experts together with residents explored the opportunities to integrate more green in the surrounding area in 200m distance of the GreenQuays. The team has invited residents and other stakeholders of the neighborhood in various ways: by door letter, a call on social media, and people, who have previously participated in similar participation activities of GreenQuays and other projects in Breda, have been approached by e-mail or personally. About 15 people - 4 residents and 3 local architects from the area, 1 education-related person, 2 representatives from housing corporations, and 5 - walked a course and stopped at different places, where they based on citizens' experiences and perception and expert's knowledge checked and discussed the options to boost green in the city. Ties made in earlier on- and offline activities, treating the lay persons respectfully, and the experts' willingness to learn created an atmosphere of trust and better mutual understanding, thus, levering a higher creative potential than if experts would have worked on the topic in isolation. 

 Map with places visited at the City safari
Places visited at the City safari

 

The walk and discussions on site have provided tangible experience and enabled the project team to learn new perspective, get aware of residents’ challenges and private initiatives and integrate local knowledge. The residents themselves have felt they were taken seriously, and their experience valued. At the same time, they gained new knowledge and insights from the experts, like options to manage rainwater with urban green. 

 

Impressions from the City safari – opportunities and hidden assests. I
Impressions from the City safari – opportunities and hidden assests. Images: Ton van Beek


 

Following the safari, a first version of the Map of opportunities has been developed. This has been the starting point for two co-creation workshops with 21 participants including inhabitants from the neighbourhood (7), a housing corporation, the GDD (local health service), a project developer and additional staff from the municipality of Breda. It was organised by the partner BLASt. At first, experts provided information to the participants - the partners from Wageningen University shared information on climate change impacts and climate-adaptive design options to tackle these, the partners from the Waterboard Brabantse Delta explained rainwater management and from Natuurplein biodiversity needs and nature-inclusive design options. Participants split into three groups discussing the problems and opportunities related to biodiversity, climate and water. After a first round of exchanging views and ideas, the participants moved to the next topic and then, the third topic to complete and discuss the ideas of the previous group(s). Thus, all participants contributed to all three topics .

Co-creating a Map of opportunities.
Co-creating a Map of opportunities. Images: João Cortesão


The discussions have been lively and fruitful. The input from citizens, which are/will be the actual users of the space, provides specific perspectives, local knowledge, and has thus revealed new insights for the experts. It has generated new ideas such as hidden opportunities in courtyards, large roofs on a parking and the shopping centre or in a street, where the sewer had to be replaced anyway. Citizens placed stickers on the Map of opportunities to indicate, where they see problems and what could be the solutions. “It was interesting to see, where everyone maps challenges and solutions.” says Ton van Beek, the organiser from BLASt.
This map will now further underpin green development around GreenQuays and the River Mark.  

Map of opportunities (Link)
Link to the Map of opportunities 

The workshops have further raised the awareness and knowledge of citizens on the discussed topics and potential solutions. They can also apply this knowledge in their own backyards enabling more nature-inclusiveness and climate-resilience, thus adding to the efforts of the municipality to make Breda a city in a park. For GreenQuays, the activities have brought new insights on local knowledge but also on ways to collaborate well with citizens. The approach will be refined, i.e., in an additional workshop that should focus even more on co-creation in designing places rather than information and experience sharing is considered. In addition, Breda can explore the options to make participation broader and more inclusive so all population groups – children, younger people, parents, elderly etc. – can engage and set their stake. The map can be further developed, and teams can be created for designing and implementing action in specific areas. 

Joining the forces of citizens and the municipality and taking citizens’ perspectives and knowledge seriously can create much better and more effective solutions. The feeling of ownership will ensure high useability of the spaces and sustainable solutions. At the same time, the experience made here can serve as a blueprint and support co-creation processes at other places of the city and elsewhere. To capture these lessons learned, the partners of GreenQuays develop a participation guide for urban policy-makers and planners tacking up the specific challenges of co-creating nature-inclusive and climate-resilient urban spaces.  Its publication is planned for September 2022 on the GreenQuays website

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