Humanising urban environments: why urban renewal projects need local communities’ interventions

Without question, local communities play a pivotal role in urban renewal. Moreover, there is a discernible impact arising from a community-engagement approach to contemporary city-building, where support for social capital is prioritized. In her recent article, Andrea Quadrado Mussi contemplates the importance of empowering local communities to develop urban interventions – interventions that work to improve the quality of life of inhabitants and disrupt exclusive dependence on public power. 

Mussi features, as exemplar, the revival of the Capitão Jovino Square, Brazil. An eight year planning, design and urban management project in the making, Capitão Jovino Square  “boosted” crucial changes in the neighbourhood’s dynamic. She shows how the project mobilised residents and local stakeholders to work together to breathe new life into the Square as a community-friendly public space supporting cultural and commercial neighbourhood life, with, since 2015, gastronomical events such as Night Picnics and the Artesana Food fair. Through methodologies like surveys of user satisfaction and behavioural mapping, the revitalization project involved neighbourhood residents, local nongovernmental organization AAPST (Association of Friends of Santa Teresinha Square), higher education institute Faculdade Meridional (IMED), and the City of Passo Fundo.

In the changing city, strengthening community engagement and empowering local communities remains crucial to creating a humanised urban environment reflective of the needs and qualities of its people, suggests Musi. Reviewing a decade-long journey of partnerships, evaluation, and collaborative design, she highlights the potential of a bottom-up approach to urban change through collaboration networks built on community participation. Utilising collaborative design, the project mobilised communities where their opinion contributed to greater community involvement in outcomes.

From the outset, the Capitão Jovino Square project drew on local testimonies, historic images and news items to revive the cultural memory of the Square. The interviewees recalled the Square as a vibrant and significant community space for the Rodrigues neighbourhood (and, obversely, pointed up its decline). Online and offline surveys of residents revealed community perceptions and priority improvements in the space and surroundings. Respondents identified the following priority improvements: public lighting, public restrooms, garbage bins, and surveillance cameras.

The AAPST and community collaborated with City Hall to address these priority areas in the redevelopment design, followed by a fundraising campaign. Post-intervention evaluations were conducted after a period of three and five years. The first assessment surveyed users with semi-structured interviews and objective questions. The latter applied behavioral mapping to understand how the community used the Square. The author confirms that the revived Square continues to bring an array of community and commercial benefits to the Rodrigues neighbourhood and the City, and may see further developments.

When viewed as an open and complex system, the city is made of interconnected cells which invariably influence each other. Interventions must take this constant, evolving change and diversity into account; for, when a neighbourhood is transformed by local action, the changes have far reaching effects for communities who inhabit them.

Andréa Quadrado Mussi is professor of architecture and urbanism at IMED, Passo Fundo, Brazil.

Andrea Quadrado Mussi, ‘Contemporary urban planning: the importance and consequences of citizen participation in the processes and decisions about urban space’, INTERAÇÕES, Campo Grande, MS, v. 19, n. 4, p. 699-712, out./dez. 2018. 

Photo: paulosilas90/flickr

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