Posted January 4th 2012 at 10:45 pm by
in Featured Contributor

A Conversation with Chiara Camponeschi

Camponeschi speaking at the Tactical Urbanism Salon in NYC
How did you develop your Enabling City theory?

The starting point for articulating my vision of an ‘enabling city’ was my frustration with the privatization of participation and the corporate misuse of words like “inspiration” and “impact” (words that I take very seriously) for social marketing purposes. I felt like that kind of discourse did not reflect what was actually happening away from shopping malls and TV talk shows, and I wanted to examine the tangled relationship between social change and local resilience through practical examples of what I now refer to as ‘place-based creative problem-solving.’

Through my research, I became interested in bringing conversations about sustainability to the city and community level, so I set out to document how place-based initiatives can empower local groups to become decision-makers over their own environments. I then added a third level of analysis by linking my work to the ‘open governance’ movement, not just because of the new technologies it embraces, but also because I firmly believe in the need to create a shared language around the mutually reinforcing role that participatory governance and grassroots social innovation play in the quest for urban sustainability and livability.

Why do you blog?

I blog because I am passionate about uncovering, supporting and amplifying the reach of collaborative initiatives that have the potential to turn cities into vibrant social change hubs. As I write in The Enabling City, cities are currently facing massive challenges. How they decide to respond to them – and who they decide to involve – will influence the future of the planet in permanent ways. I believe that in order to be truly “livable, inclusive and resilient” cities will need to facilitate a transition to ‘enabling’ frameworks for enhanced participation, social experimentation, and responsive governance.

Blogging is an avenue to spark a conversation about the potential of our everyday experiences in contributing to larger decision-making processes, to spur cities to embrace this new leadership role, and a platform to grow networks of best practices (and access to inspiration) that others can learn from. At the heart of why I blog is the question: “If cities aren’t enabling, then what are they?” that I think is particularly pertinent in an age of growing urbanization and environmental degradation.

Where do you think urban planning is falling short in terms of utilizing new technologies?

Planners have been slowly adopting new forms of communication to reach out to those who already cultivate an active interest in urbanism, but I find that outside of this special interest group, urban issues still fail to resonate with the majority of city-dwellers. This disconnect is a tremendous opportunity for planners to turn to ‘non-experts’ and find ways to explain in more immediate ways why our cities’ transportation plans, energy provision, and sustainable policies matter. As I see with my own work, there are many people out there who are interested in issues that affect the quality of urban life (such as food production or resource-sharing, for example) but who might not see the larger connection to urbanism because they have come to recognize the planning process as too nebulous or out of their reach. At the same time, they may already be active in their community and making important contributions to it.

Planners now have the opportunity to leverage interactive technologies (as well as the old-fashioned pen and paper) to stimulate an ongoing dialogue with diverse audiences, making the planning process itself more creative and relevant to the larger community.

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