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Participation is not ornamental

Joaquim Brugué
General Director of Participació Ciutadana Generalitat de Catalunya

Public participation is fashionable, but it is not just fashion. It is a requirement imposed on us by a more and more complex and sophisticated society. Today, matters such as the integration of immigrants, climate change and economic development, to name just three examples, have ceased to be strictly sectorial themes and have become multifaceted realities. There are no professionals on integration, climate change or development capable of telling us, as technocrats, what has to be done. It must be recognised, on the other hand, that these are matters which call for the participation of professionals and very diverse social agents.

The challenges facing this more complex society, therefore, escape from the offices which until now served to make them manageable and overflow into other ambits, requiring various viewpoints. This is the idea of the fluid society to which the Polish sociologist Zigmunt Bauman refers. Reality slips through our fingers, is more and more multifaceted and, consequently, also demands different responses. And this is where participation comes in, understood as the sum of views of the same reality. A sum of views which, through dialogue, enables the problems to be removed from enclosed offices and brought out into the street, to be tackled by all of us.

This need for participation -understood as dialogue and a balance between the varying views- is particularly visible in the case of planning policies, undoubtedly through their growing complexity and sophistication. We can illustrate this with a simple example: not long ago, building a road could be a problem simply of engineering, while today it is also a problem of territorial balance, economic progress, quality of life in the neighbourhood and environmental respect. What before could be resolved from a single perspective, today calls for a dialogue between various perspectives. This is, we repeat, participation; and from this is why it is an unavoidable necessity.

A landscape policy is also a particularly clear case of complexity and sophistication. It is evident that the landscape is not seen as the same, depending on who is looking at it and where from. There is no expert who can define for us what a landscape is, its quality and what has to be done to maintain it or improve it. Landscape is something that we construct and appreciate from different viewpoints, using different values and applying criteria which do not necessarily coincide. One cannot, therefore, design a landscape policy without incorporating participation into it.

The work which is being done in preparing the landscape catalogues has faced this challenge. We are looking at a new policy and, as such, it claims not only new contents, but also new forms. The catalogues are an innovative and creative policy which incorporates dialogue, from the participative identification of the landscape units themselves to the joint definition of their attributes, qualities, values and possibilities of preservation or transformation. Therefore participation is not an ornamental device decorating the catalogues, but an essential part of them. Participation is indispensable in defining both the reality on which it is wished to act and the strategies of action. The work which is being done in this terrain will show that we have moved into the 21st century, a century in which we have to do new things (for example, formulate landscape policies) and in which we have to do them differently (for example, with participation).

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