(January 2010) Finding the meaning of urban and regional planning: old and new paradigms of community participation.

Finding the meaning of urban and regional planning: 
old and new paradigms of community participation.

Community participation enters the urban design process for orienting the discipline towards an approach committed to enhance the democratic development of each region (Campbell & Fainstein, 1996). In this regards, Local Governments are offered many approaches in which public participation assumes a key role. But even if concepts like "bottom-up approach, urban identity and community participation" have become basics prerequisites for any action on the territory, we are assisting too often to an inaccurate use of such terms; for this reason a clarification of the "premises" of this “new paradigm” is required and necessary.

During the last decades, in fact, planning theories (Kropotkin, 1902; Geddes, 1925; Mumford, 1936; Jacobs, 1961; Hall & Ward, 1998; Hall, 2002) have reflected on the relationship between community participation and the meanings and scopes of urban and regional planning: plans should not just address communities values and decision making; they also should be “enough opened” in order to let individuals free to make their choices in the interest of the community. During the 1950s and the 1960s (Mazzoleni, 1995), an Italian planner, Carlo Doglio, focused his research on community participation in order to reach an alternative to current planning policies based on external and distant models and to find out how planning could address his attention on this delicate topic. The “Utopia” of Doglio (1963) saw planning as a means for educating communities in order to give them the ways for both improving their individual skills and developing local community actions. It’s a vision that pursues a society composed by self-organized communities that should interact with central authorities in order to accomplish a meaningful form of citizenship.

Through a theoretical approach, this research aims to investigate how planning could effectively co-ordinate and direct communities vision and initiatives by attaining to planning codes and tools, and how plans could take into account the pursuit of this objective. As a consequence, the investigation involves as well the role of planners, who should be able to recognize all the different form by which communities affirm themselves and develop their lives (Focillon, 1972). At the same time, the knowledge relevant to urban and regional planning does not simply derive from the recognition of spatial developments. It involves a continuous reflection and research (Rittle & Webber, 1973; Shön, 1983) and it requires the engagement of communities, which are indispensable in providing meaning and purpose to individual lives and at the same time are source of collective solutions to planning problems (Etzioni, 2000; Mazza 2009). But how Communities can effectively find a permanent and active role into planning processes and policies?