The transport revolution needs active participation
In order to make urban spaces more climate-neutral in terms of transport and to improve people’s health, major changes are needed that will directly affect many citizens in the way they get around in their daily lives. In contrast to the developments aimed at pro-car towns and cities, citizens should be able to get actively involved in shaping this process of change. The transport revolution affects everyone!
For more than half a century, German towns and cities underwent substantial changes to accommodate the growing number of cars. The result was wider and wider streets, new bypasses and tangential roads, along with parking spaces on almost every street and in large squares. These huge modifications of public space happened at a time when the advantages of automobile traffic were over-emphasised while the disadvantages were played down. Information about the health, socio-ecological and economic costs and risks caused by traffic were concealed or information about them was difficult for the public to obtain. Environmental damage didn’t seem to exist. What’s more, this was also the era when citizen participation was a term that only applied to the election of the local council.
A lot’s changed since then. According to the results of representative surveys conducted as part of the public Copernicus project Ariadne, in which more than 6,800 people across Germany are surveyed annually, seven out of ten people would like to be more involved in local decisions on the transport revolution (cf. Wolf et al., 2021). This is encouraging, as citizens who get involved also end up taking more responsibility for their decisions and identify more with the topics or projects in question. In planning and building processes, this notion is also referred to as ‘ownership’. This can demonstrably contribute to the success of projects such as the transport revolution at local level (cf. Lachapelle, 2008; Grausam and Bernögger, 2017). Citizens want to get involved.
Local policymakers and administrators need to involve and consult the public at an early stage, providing ample opportunities to obtain information, engage in discussions, and share experiences. On the one hand, this can take place within the framework of legally regulated procedures, such as citizens’ referendums or exercising the right to comment on planning and building projects. On the other hand, informal modes of participation also play an important role, such as public planning workshops, citizens’ councils or street parliaments. Formal and informal participation should also be combined (cf. Böhm, 2015). However, participation in any of these forms should only take place if there is scope to openly discuss and, where possible, take on board any ensuing recommendations. In other words, participation must not be misinterpreted as a means of gaining acceptance (cf. Dienel et al., 2014).
By the same token, citizens also need to assert their right to a greater say in the transport revolution and take the initiative themselves when politicians and administrators leave those affected out in the cold or fail to act. This is when it becomes essential for citizens to exert bottom-up public pressure on the decision-makers with their own demands and proposals. This can be achieved through a variety of actions in the public sphere, but also through petitions and citizens’ initiatives.