Planning, Platforms and Participation: Fields of Public Participation in Urban Transformation

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Susan MOORE, University College London, United Kingdom
Scott RODGERS, Birkbeck, University of London, United Kingdom
Andrea BALLATORE, Birkbeck, University of London, United Kingdom
Public participation is one of the more well-worn contentious issues for the professionalized fields of urban planning and regeneration. Recent years have seen keen interest in how near-future digital technologies – for example, immersive interfaces, crowd sourcing, big data analytics, or environmental sensors – might improve planners’ understanding of and engagement with their publics. Arguably less well understood, however, are the ways in which generic, commercial social media platforms such as Facebook, are already producing an unprecedented archive of commentaries, debates and anxieties around urban transformation. Other forms of mediated public engagement around urban change, such as local journalism, have existed in the past. But social media platforms appear to create a distinct form of networked, always-on, asynchronous participation that is largely autonomous from the consultative exercises designed by professional planners. The obvious contemporary significance of such platforms, at least for some communities, raises interesting questions about the encounter, and possibly competition, between the ‘participation’ fostered by the professional field of urban planning and the spaces of such commercial platforms. In this paper, we explore these questions via a case study of an ambitious yet divisive cycling infrastructure scheme led by the London Borough of Waltham Forest, dubbed ‘Mini Holland’. We consider the differences and relationships of three prominent digital platforms through which the publics convened around the scheme: Twitter, notable for the way cycling campaigners and local politicians coalesced in support of the scheme; Facebook in which some of the most divisive contributions occurred, often exhibiting recursive and memetic forms of humour, personification, vilification, trolling and, occasionally, earnest and considered dialogues; and finally Commonplace, a platform produced by London-based developers, specifically designed for urban regeneration consultations, and used by the Council to collect geotagged commentary and emotional metrics related to the scheme.