Participatory experimentation on a Climate Street

New research finds participatory experimentation promising, but there are limitations that should be considered to make the most of it.

As cities set themselves ambitious goals for carbon neutrality and sustainability, they approach citizens and companies to join the efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Several cities in Europe have initiated neighbourhood-level projects for citizen participation, experimentation, and coproduction, e.g. Cologne, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Fredriksberg. These so-called “Climate-Streets” or “Climate-Quarters” have aimed not only at sustainability but equally at the attractiveness and liveliness of specific streets or neighbourhoods.

Helsinki and Vantaa joined their forces in the Climate-Street project and set up two test areas for low carbon emissions and adaptation to a changing climate. In the project, which concluded in 2017, residents, city organizations, real estate owners and businesses tested new resource-efficient, low carbon services and products and a reference area for both businesses and the city.

Johannes Klein, Antti Seppälä and Sirkku Juhola (back then researchers at Aalto University) accompanied the project as participant observers, provided feedback to the project team and analysed how this new culture of experimentation takes roots in cities and how it can contribute to these overarching goals.

Our analysis shows that the timelines between planning procedures and experiments are very disconnected. Within the project lifetime, it is impossible to trace scaling-up effects and lasting transformation. Also, existing rules and physical urban space can be very inert. Neither of it can be easily changed without affecting the other. When it comes to engaging stakeholders, it is important to understand that not everybody can afford to fail. If livelihood or business is at stake, a failing experiment is not an option.

You can read the full paper in the article “Participatory experimentation on a Climate Street” in Environmental Policy and Governance.