In the last 5 years Říčany has been described as an almost ideal place to live. This is due to its repeated ranking at the top of a quality of life list that compares 206 municipalities in the Czech Republic. However, the people of Říčany are not resting on their laurels and continue to work on the development of the town.
One of the key tools for long-term planning and management of the urban environment is the Strategic Urban Development Plan. It includes clear objectives and strategies for the development of infrastructure, the environment, social and economic areas, and other important factors affecting the quality of life of residents. And because decisions are best made with citizens, the development of the strategic plan relies on a robust participatory process that engages the general public and key city stakeholders throughout the process. The City has now developed a first draft of priorities for the City’s future direction, based on public input communicated early in the process through a series of public meetings and a questionnaire. However, before proceeding to finalize the strategy, it decided to check with citizens that it is indeed in line with the needs and wishes of the majority of the public and that no important issue is left out. We therefore organized an open-air participatory meeting in Masaryk Square at the beginning of June, which was friendly and suitable for families with children.
The weather was great and the turnout was large. The opportunity to participate was taken up by citizens who came to the square specifically for this event, but also by random passers-by who are not indifferent to the future development of their residence city. Within a few hours, people of different ages, “newcomers”, parents on parental leave, economically active and retired people came. People at different life stages emphasized different themes. What they all had in common was that they were at home in Říčany.
There were nine boards that defined the basic themes and within them one could see a narrower focus on specific tasks. Citizens had an opportunity to vote for specific tasks using stickers to decide which had the highest priority in their eyes. A flipchart and markers were provided to record their ideas in case they did not find theirs in the predefined themes. Mayor David Michalička was personally present on site throughout the event. He was certainly not the only one from the city leadership who came to support the citizens in defining the direction of the development of Říčany in the coming years. At the same time, he and his colleagues from the city leadership were ready not only for pleasant conversations, but also for confrontational discussions.
Meanwhile, the Participation Factory team actively addressed passers-by, explained the meaning of the event, and motivated them to express their opinions. We helped with reading where eyes were not serving so well and where writing was difficult. We also explained ambiguities and entertained the children. For them, a game was prepared right on the boards with a possible reward at the end. This gave the parents an opportunity to read everything in peace and make decisions for the sake of their childrens’ future as well. Many took this opportunity to address their opinions and specific ideas to the city management directly on the project cards.
What does anyone gain from this? Participatory meetings with citizens provide important information and feedback to the city leadership. It strengthens the sense of community belonging, and it also engages citizens by giving them a voice and being informed about what is happening in their city. This increases the transparency, legitimacy and effectiveness of the decision-making process, and helps to create a vibrant and cohesive urban environment.
See you next time. Maybe in your city. If you are interested in learning more about participation opportunities, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org