01 December 2022, 09:56
Power for the Community: Why Reconstruction is Impossible Without the Participation of Residents

Russian occupiers continue to destroy Ukrainian cities. Dozens of communities suffered serious destruction. Mariupol, Volnovakha, Rubizhne, and Lyman were destroyed. A long process of rebuilding is ahead. Where should new housing be built? What kind of housing should it be? Which objects should be financed as a priority? It is difficult to answer these questions without understanding the needs of people.

In this article, we discuss why it is important for city authorities to engage the public and what principles should be complied with in decision-making.

What are the benefits of engaging residents for the authorities?

  • First, the city authorities get a broader picture of the situation, values, and points of view of different social groups. Accordingly, their decisions become more justified and consistent because they consider the interests of different parties. The principle of engagement was also enshrined at the conference in Lugano. The Civil Society Manifesto states that Ukrainians must be engaged in the decision-making process regarding their future at all levels. Any decision-making should be transparent and participatory. It should be considered and adopted with due regard to the long-term consequences for the community. It is important for the community to signal the need to increase its influence on decision-making. Up to 12% of Ukrainians already consider this to be one of the country’s most important goals for the next 10 years.
  • Secondly, it shows that the authorities care about the main asset of the community — the people. Co-creation between the government and the community is an additional incentive to develop a comfortable and inclusive environment where people are at the center. And increasing opportunities to participate in community life increases the sense of influence on its future.
  • Finally, engagement also means raising general awareness of the work of self-government bodies and understanding the limits of their capabilities and responsibilities in addressing various urban issues.

Experience of Ukrainian cities

At present, the most urgent are cases of joint work of the authorities and the public on the issues of reconstruction and derussification.

For example, Mykolaiv is currently developing a new master plan for the city. Foreign architects have developed an extensive survey of the city's transportation system, housing conditions, infrastructure, and other important aspects of recovery. International experts emphasize the importance of engaging residents in the reconstruction process. 

“It is necessary to give space for creativity and self-expression of both professionals and people. The city should be collective and inclusive. Everyone should take part in it. The top-down system is no longer relevant and holds back many creative ideas,” said Wijnand Galema, a historian at the Rotterdam Academy of Architecture.

At the same time, according to a study by the Transparent Cities program, in 63% of cases, city councils engage citizens in the renaming process. In the capital, for the choice of new street names, large-scale voting was arranged in the application “Kyiv Digital.”  Odesa residents were invited to a conference with government officials before voting for the fate of the monument to Catherine II. About 1,000 people who registered were able to offer their options on how to deal with the monument to the russian empress. There are cases when the engagement of residents significantly changed the results — in Kamianske, for example, a second vote was launched because the previously agreed names were controversial.

Residents can also be engaged in the more efficient development of transport infrastructure. In Lviv, an anonymous survey on the quality of passenger transportation was launched to do this. During the war, due to the increase in fuel prices and staff shortages, public transportation has been operating at a lower level. Therefore, the city authorities decided to engage residents to determine challenges and stabilize transportation. The received data are planned to be used to determine the priority directions of work.

“The purpose of transport reform in Lviv is to create a route network that will allow us to cover our territorial community as much as possible. We strive to do this most efficiently, considering the available resources (vehicles, financial capabilities) and development prospects,” says Orest Oleskiv, Head of the Transport Division of the Department of Urban Mobility and Street Infrastructure of Lviv City Council.

Participatory budget is another effective way to change the city through the interaction of the authorities and the community. This is a process that allows every resident to create their own or vote for existing projects. If the required number of votes is obtained, the projects are implemented at the expense of the city budget. 

In 2021, 197 Ukrainian communities planned to implement almost 2,500 projects. Most of them are the creation of social infrastructure and children's leisure facilities. However, due to the war and related costs, some cities have suspended funding for participatory budgets.

International principles of public participation in the recovery process  

Much of Ukraine's infrastructure was built during the Soviet era and has not received sufficient investment for modernization. As a result, most buildings are not energy efficient, comfortable, or inclusive, and require significant improvements. Therefore, the principle of build back better involves a comprehensive consideration of the best European practices of energy efficiency and sustainable development. 

Today, Ukrainian communities have a real opportunity to influence the restoration of their settlements and offer their vision of reconstruction. Among other things, attention should be paid to the consideration of citizens’ opinions when restoring territories. The principle of focusing on the needs declares the undeniable need to engage the public in these processes. This approach helps to create a sense of participation and ensure the sustainability of the recovery.

Innovative approaches are essential to ensure the participation of the entire local community in recovery and revitalization. Community needs cannot be determined through a top-down approach, and any attempts of this type can result in expenses that are not related to the real needs of people. It means that they are unlikely to provide sustainable results.

We should plan the recovery in such a way as to synchronize processes with the community and regional development programs. It allows considering available resources and attracting people, and thus support further economic stabilization of the community.

It is important consider the principle of transparency and good governance. Transparency and accountability are not the only things that help communities develop in peacetime. These are factors that help to overcome crises more effectively.

However, a single declaration of principles by local authorities is not enough. The engagement of residents is one of the key stages of rebuilding Ukraine. It is worth listening to people's opinions and developing solutions together with the community. And the Ukrainians need to be proactive, take the initiative, and help officials see more. And not to be afraid to take responsibility in co-decision-making.

There are cases where citizens have contributed to the reconstruction process or influenced the way a city would look. For example, it was the residents of Warsaw who returned to a destroyed city and convinced the authorities that the city needed to be revived. At the same time, Londoners took an active part in discussing the reconstruction plans, thus ensuring a plurality of opinions and views. 

Residents also play an important role in preserving historical heritage. Residents of Dresden rescued surviving artifacts and even stones, which were then used to restore some of the buildings.

Only together can we create capable and comfortable Ukrainian cities.