Developing new knowledge for smart urban regions of the future

Published on February 2, 2016

How do new bottom-up initiatives of citizens and alliances of citizens and the community connect with the strategic planning of cities on topics such as accessibility, urban vitality or sustainability? The Land Use Planning group has just scored a major success with the R-LINK project in the SURF program of NWO in seeking solutions to smart urban regions of the future.

The new project ‘Redressing Long-term societal challenges through space for Incremental urban development, small-scale and bottom-up initiatives to produce New Knowledge for vital and inclusive urban regions’ (R-LINK) has been awarded close to €1,5 million in funding and €0,5 million in co-financing from institutional and private partners. Wageningen University is the lead partner in this 5-year project with Leonie Janssen-Jansen as project leader.

The R-LINK project aims to find smart solutions to address economic, social and environmental challenges through spatial transformations via Community-Linked Incremental Urban Developments (CLIUDs). CLIUDs evolve around the concept of 'linking social capital' with an emphasis on the capacity of citizens and community to engage with those in power. It remains unclear how these increasingly popular new initiatives and alliances connect with long-term social and spatial issues of accessibility, urban vitality, inclusiveness, sustainability and economic competitiveness. In fact, discrepancies exist between CLIUDs and the necessary level of scale, time frame and governance for resolving strategic urban challenges. Transformations through CLIUDs affect and contest conventional urban development and governance models, thus requiring new action perspectives for civil servants and other practitioners in urban development. R-LINK proposes to bridge the gap between the practice of large-scale, strategic urban ambitions and policies and that of the new alliances (government, market or citizen initiated) for CLIUDs.

The first WUR-subproject “Envisioning strategic planning in a short-term world”, focuses on innovation in strategic planning and CLIUDs. The central topic in this is to understand how so-called bottom up and self-organizing initiatives, which often have a small spatial scale and sometimes a shorter time-horizon than traditional planning interventions, could connect to a perspective encompassing strategic planning. The subproject will develop advanced governance arrangements for strategic planning and contributes to sustainability and equity in cities. The city regions of Amsterdam and Groningen will be used as case studies in the Netherlands. This subproject will also use Portland, OR and London as reference cases.

The second WUR-subproject “Social innovation and learning for co-creating CLIUDs”, will investigate how social learning and innovations occurs and affect implementation of CLIUDs in current planning processes. Theoretically, CLIUDs represent a transition towards governance-beyond-the-state, where actors seek an uneasy détente between ‘transferring responsibilities downwards’ and activating ‘active subjects’. In practice, actors (government, market and citizen) need to adapt their practices and navigate conflicting values to achieve the desired societal change. There is therefore a continuous search for how to facilitate and stimulate these varied initiatives with unfamiliar, non-traditional collaborators in a pragmatic and legitimised process of co-creation. This mutually crucial relationship between social innovation and learning leading to societal change is hardly explored within planning.