The doctoral dissertations of the former Helsinki University of Technology (TKK) and Aalto University Schools of Technology (CHEM, ELEC, ENG, SCI) published in electronic format are available in the electronic publications archive of Aalto University - Aaltodoc.

Influencial Residents. Interaction and Local Knowledge Challenging Urban Planning and Design

Aija Staffans

Dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Science in Technology to be presented with due permission of the Department of Architecture for public examination and debate in Auditorium E at Helsinki University of Technology (Espoo, Finland) on the 27th of February, 2004, at 12 o'clock noon.

Dissertation in PDF format (ISBN 951-22-7024-2)   [4274 KB]
Dissertation is also available in print (ISBN 951-22-6962-7)

Note: The language of the dissertation is Finnish.


The purpose of the research is to recognise the factors that influence the conflicts evoked by residents' participation. The formal participation and interaction is organised in urban planning within the zoning process, but in practice, urban planning is influenced at least as much by different networks and the media that are outside the formal planning. This study examines the ways in which citizens can influence the planning process in an ever changing environment of formal and informal praxis. The conflicts are deconstructed through three questions: what is meant by the inhabitants' perspective in urban planning, how does the inhabitants' influencing take place in practice, and does the praxis of urban planning support the interaction and the so called shared expertise?

The theoretical framework of the study is based on the concepts of planning and organisational theories. The key concept emerging from the theory of communicative planning is local knowledge and how it relates to urban planning as an institution. The interest of organisational theory in the construction of knowledge and the meeting of people in different kinds of networks has helped to analyse the conditions for knowledge creation in the planning process.

The study approaches the research problem both theoretically and empirically. The residents' influencing of planning is connected to knowledge creation by describing, what urban planning knowledge from the perspective of the residents is like, how it can be influenced, how the residents produce knowledge themselves, and how they apply know how. The empirical material of the study has been gathered by taking part in the work of two citizen groups in Helsinki, during three years. Both groups have been active participants in urban planning; one of them in small-scale urban issues, the other in general planning issues. The study examines urban planning through the work and experiences of these two groups, and analyses through them the praxis of urban planning and the opportunities for residents to be active in urban matters.

The residents in the study make through their activities visible several normative conceptions that prevail in urban planning, such as the comprehensiveness and innovativeness of planning, the possibilities of participation, and the objectivity of knowledge. Today, the praxis of urban planning does not sufficiently support the interaction between the citizens' local, place-based urban knowledge and that of planning expertise. The inhabitants' views remain as separate appendices to the planning documents. The inhabitants of the study began to transform their local views into explicit planning knowledge. During this process, they turned into professional "advocates of everyday life" whose influence was based on solid expertise. This expertise developed through the complex communicative networks and information flows that the inhabitants had created and nurtured. Influencing meant a strategic ability to compete in the production of knowledge according to context, either proactively or reactively in relation to the institutional preparatory process. This professional activity dashes against the normative assumption of institutional participation according to which the residents should have layman's role in the planning process, thus causing conflicts.

The study concludes with reflections over the opportunity to create structures within institutional urban planning which enhance interaction and dissemination of knowledge. The study brings forth as best practices the local and internet forums that functioned as mediating structures in the case studies. These forums support openness and trust, but they have limited opportunities to produce new solutions for discussion. Therefore, different innovative groups and development networks are necessary for interactive urban planning. The residents could function as the transmitters of local knowledge in the expert networks. The implementation of the latter requires, however, that the institution of urban planning accepts a broader and more dynamic view of expertise.

Keywords: urban planning, interaction, inhabitant participation, communicative planning theory, knowledge construction, local knowledge, planning knowledge, expertise, transmitting network

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© 2004 Helsinki University of Technology

Last update 2011-05-26