Urban participatory planning
impacts on their position within the economic hierarchy.
Putting urban poverty in context: Where do the urban poor fit in the institutional
Many of the community level tools listed in the first section of this paper are useful for providing
a snapshot of the make-up of a particular community as perceived by those who live there.
However, as noted above, urban environments tend to be much more heterogeneous, and often
involve a far more complex network of relationships. Thus existing participatory approaches that
try to build consensus within communities may be more problematic in urban areas and may
potentially serve to strengthen and mask power relations, rather than address underlying
inequalities. Instead, some have argued that a more appropriate approach is one that sees
participation as an evolving process which recognises differences, seeks to engage different
actors at different moments, and allows for both conflict and consensus within this process:
“In a context of inequality, every citizen must also be empowered to participate, and that entails
treating them differently both because their power resources are unequal and because, without
adopting a misplaced essentialism, they often have different needs. The process should provide
resources and opportunities to engage at every stage and to put new issues on the agenda.”
(Silver, H et al, 2010:472), This should include processes to engage members of the population
who do not normally participate (women, youths and other marginalised members of the
population) either through their perceived role within society, or restrictions imposed on them by
other members of society. In urban environments it becomes increasingly important to
understand the wider dynamics of power relations both internal and external to the community.
A number of tools are now emerging which aim to help practitioners to visualise the interplay of
power relations at the macro-level of society in relation to the different actors, institutions and
networks that operate and have influence over the social and economic powers that shape urban
environments. Often these tools or approaches have been developed from tools that seek to place
the marginalised actors within the institutional web (see for example Caren Levy’s web of
institutionalisation (1996)), and are also often based on a systems theory approach that
recognises the fluctuating dynamics of the urban institutional context (for example the use of
Outcome Mapping is increasing in popularity as a more dynamic approach to monitoring and
evaluation of projects (Earl et al 2001)).
Architecture Sans Frontiers – UK outlining some of the issues affecting a slum
5community in Nairobi, Kenya
Credit: ASF-UK, Change by Design Workshop, 2011 (Report forthcoming)