Planning beyond the familiar patterns

1.10.2021 - 13:48

What would Kuopio look like if everyone got to have their way in city planning? The result might be a confused mixture of structures and services with little logic or consistency. City planning is a challenging field where almost every decision is a compromise.

Planning is more than just drawing lines with a ruler; a great deal of communication with various parties and stakeholders are involved.

Sometimes inhabitants may feel the planning is done behind closed doors without any consultation with the affected locals, even as the planners themselves may hope the inhabitants were even more active.

– We want to bring the planning process out into the light where inhabitants can see it; what is being done at various stages and at which points should the inhabitants be active to keep the planning as efficient as possible, thus saving costs and time, says Heli Laurinen, head of master planning with the City of Kuopio.

– One issue has been the lack of generally shared understanding of the city planning process. Therefore, we want to make the process easily approachable and understandable. That way people will know when is time for them to be heard in city planning. This is also a way to cut down on the number of complaints and challenges at the later stages of the process, which should make everything about city planning go smoother, says Laurinen.

It is very important to listen to inhabitants, particularly those resident in the neighbourhoods in question, because the purpose of planning is to meet the city’s and its inhabitants’ needs and to reconcile their hopes and requirements. The right time to influence the process and to make one’s voice and points of view heard is while the planning is ongoing.

– Inhabitants are a crucial resource. They embody a massive amount of knowledge of the area, and we very much hope to make that knowledge available to the planner as well, says Laurinen.

However, the plans will not come about through a straw poll of the inhabitants alone:

– Of course we have to let the inhabitants know that city planning is always about compromise. We simply cannot make everything happen, but we have to be able to discuss priorities and look for solutions, says Laurinen.

In Kuopio, Savilahti is being built into a veritable residents’ neighbourhood. Inhabitants have been encouraged to make their voices heard using technological means. In practice, this means inhabitants have the opportunity to pin their own comments into a 3D map of the neighbourhood online. This also helps the city planners, as they receive a real-time collection of resident wishes, making e.g. public town hall events run smoother as no one needs to manually jot down the comments.

– Since the comments are available right on the map, the planner can look at the location data and immediately figure out what location the comment concerns, says Laurinen.

– Of course, one issue is that not everyone uses online services. And so, we are currently working in a so-called hybrid fashion: trying to take inhabitant wishes into account through all the traditional channels, but also trying to open up digital pathways for comments.

Laurinen says one example of inhabitant-centred methods are the town hall events that took place at the Puijonlaakso shopping centre while the hub of the Puijonlaakso neighbourhood was being planned. At that time, the planner holding the event was accompanied by an assistant, who received the comments from inhabitants and logged location data for them.

Therefore, all inhabitant opinions will continue to be heard, even if not submitted online, but Laurinen hopes more and more people will take the opportunity to make their voice heard through the digital channel:

– We want to make online commenting and influencing accessible to an increasing number of people. We want to show that it’s easy to make your voice heard online, and to make the work of all parties easier through making all information available and visible in one place.

Services from people to people

When carrying out city and services planning, inhabitant opinions are key, but Kuopio is also working to enable closer collaboration and open dialogue between different organizations through the DigiPAVe project.

This is a project intended to create common methods of operation and data processing to enable human-centred, dynamic service network design. Apart from Kuopio, the Cities of Helsinki and Turku are also part of the project.

– Simply put, our goal is to enable schools and daycare centres be better planned out in the correct locations at the correct times, in order to better meet customer demand, says project manager Katja Penttinen.

– Through this project, we are working to improve communication between people working in different service areas. In that way, for example, city planners can be better informed if a neighbourhood is going to contain a school or a daycare centre. Conversely, early childhood education planners will be able to have better advance knowledge of how many children they may expect to enrol from a new neighbourhood, says Penttinen.

Currently, the DigiPAVe project is mainly directed at city personnel and elected representatives, but according to Penttinen, DigiPAVe can be made use of in other contexts as well, such as the planning of Savilahti:

– When the results of the project are collated from the inhabitants, the same information can be plugged into the service network design system as well. Both of these have to do with human-centric planning.

City planning and service design, among others, have made use of coaching from the IDK (Human-Centred Digital Municipality) project. The coaches have helped the civil servants go over segments of their processes that could make use of various electronic services to allow inhabitants a greater share of decision-making. Penttinen and Laurinen say the coaching was useful and interesting, as during the sessions they have been able to share and hear views among a variety of experts in different fields, helping them see their own work in a different light.

– The best part of this coaching has been to be able to sit down and discuss with different teams. That makes for a feeling that we are, genuinely, working together to develop our operations and services and cross-comparing our points of development. This also helps make much better use of resources. Hearing from experts in other fields, such as the fire and rescue department, also helps open up new points of view on the work we do. That way, we never get stuck in our familiar pattern, says Laurinen.

The Human-Centred Digital Municipality (IDK) project (1.1.2020-31.12.2022) is funded by the European Social Fund, the South Savo Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, the City of Kuopio, and the Savonia University of Applied Sciences.

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