It is simple, really: People tend to be happier when they feel involved in the decisions that affect their lives. The more power is taken away, the more powerless and estranged from our surroundings we feel.
A city does not want a population of estranged and powerless individuals. Besides from being generally unhappy, such individuals do not show great initiative. They do not open new shops or cafés. They do not found new start-up businesses. They do not set up cultural events. Nor do they participate in many.
As the cities of the 21st century are being so dramatically transformed, it is easy to be left feeling a bit powerless. Like greater forces are reshaping one’s world without one being able to play any part in it.
This is why the clever city, the ambitious city, seeks to involve its citizens in how the physical frames are evolving — and should evolve. An entire population cannot be urban designers, but simply feeling well-informed goes a long way in also feeling involved and establishing a connectedness with one’s city.
Add two-way communication and the option to contribute with ideas and suggestions, and you are well on your way to becoming an engaged city. The city people live in needs to feel like a shared project.
Engagement through closeness and narrative
UBLA’s approach is to first understand the culture of a given city. People are more alike than we often think, but cultural differences play a part. What are the typical, existing aspirations for people of the city? What is their current relationship with the city? How is their understanding of their city?
What is a staple in all contexts, however, is that we communicate to city-dwellers in a plain and visual language that emphasises consequences over anything else.
How could this change my life?
Simultaneously, we work to construct a clear narrative of the city. People understand things, and develop relationships with things, through stories.
Bringing the perception of the city close to people’s lives, and articulating the city itself by letting it evolve through a past, present and possible futures, is the key to engaging the people of a city.
And engaging citizens in the reshaping of their surroundings will foster enterprise and an urban dynamism that will benefit the entire city.
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Wish to become an engaged city? Stimulate interest and pride through publishing a print or digital media and create a city narrative. The cost is low — the impact extremely high.
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