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La Borda

Created on 04-06-2022 | Updated on 08-06-2022

La Borda is a housing cooperative located in the neighbourhood of La Bordeta–Sants, a working-class neighbourhood of Barcelona with a long cooperative tradition. The plot is part of the former industrial site of Can Batlló and was the outcome of a neighbourhood movement to recuperate the area and empower its social fabric. It is an important experiment that emerged from local grassroots initiatives, to provide decent, non-speculative and long-term affordable housing, as well as, to create a more sustainable way of living, minimizing the environmental impact and the energy demands. Through a participatory process, the group worked together with local organisations, architects, and professionals to rethink what it means to dwell, questioning the individualisation of living, and suggesting more communitarian forms. By promoting reciprocal relations and equality, they produced new forms of coexistence, social bonds and self-organization. This model aspires in creating a scalable alternative in the field of public housing, by articulating a model of accessible housing for people with lower income. The property is characterised as social housing, as the group managed to achieve an agreement with the municipality, which owns the plot, for a leasehold for 75 years. The legal framework under which the cooperative secures the long-term affordability is called “grant of use”, prioritizing the use-value instead of the exchange value, thus avoiding speculation. The project has gained international recognition by winning several awards during the last years, as a result of the innovative process, it followed, emerging from a social movement, and arriving at providing affordable and cooperative housing with sustainable considerations. 

Architect(s)
Lacol cooperativa

Location
Barcelona, Spain

Project (year)
2012-present

Construction (year)
2017-2018

Housing type
cooperative houisng

Urban context
part of an old industrial site

Construction system
first floor with concrete and the next six with CLT

Selected option
New building Built

Description

The neighborhood movement

The cooperative housing model in Spain played a particular role during the 1960s-1970s when people in search of affordable housing explored cooperative schemes extensively (Quaderns, 2014). After the economic recession of 2008 and the burst of the real estate bubble, people started questioning many generally accepted notions of identity, collectively and of social and cultural needs (Baraona Pohl, 2017). At that moment, many social movements emerged as a reaction, such as the "Platform for Mortgage Victims" (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca, known as PAH).

An important experiment inspired by these movements was La Borda, located in the neighborhood of Sants, at a plot that forms part of Can Batlló, a former industrial site built in the late nineteenth century. The project occurred as a reaction from a neighborhood movement to a process of urban renewal which the residents felt that was going against their interests and needs, causing distraction and fear of the loss of the local identity. This was the reason the neighborhood movement ‘Recuperem Can Batllo’ took the initiative to occupy the site, demonstrating the importance of the local communities’ opinions in the processes of urban development. The case of La Borda manifests how urban movements can achieve greater control in the process of recuperation and regeneration of an existing urban area to imagine and build spaces that reflect their values and needs (Avilla-Royo et al., 2021).

Active participation

The project started in 2012 as a result of informal meetings, with an initial core of 15 people, consisting of actors who were already active in the neighborhood, including members of the architectural cooperative "Lacol", members of the labour cooperative "La Ciutat invisible", members of the association "Sostre Civic" and people from different association movements in the area. After a long process of public participation and negotiation with the municipality of Barcelona, an agreement was signed in 2014, and the group opened to new members, arriving from 15 to 45. After another two years of work, the construction started in 2017 and the first residents entered in 2018.

The word participation often appears as a buzzword, as it is being co-opted to refer to processes of consultation or manipulation of the participants to legitimise decisions, thus ending up as an empty signifier. By identifying the hierarchies entailed in such processes, we can recognize higher levels of participation, based on horizontality, reciprocity, and mutual respect where participants not only have equal access in forming a decision but are also able to take control and self-manage the whole process. This was the case of La Borda, a project that followed a democratic participation process, self-development, and self-management. Another important element was the transdisciplinary way in which the group collaborated with architects, environmental engineers, local organisations, and professionals from the social economy sector with whom they were sharing the same ideals and values.

According to Avilla-Royo et al. (2021) greater involvement and agency of dwellers throughout the lifetime of a project is a key characteristic of the cooperative housing movement in Barcelona. In that way, the group collectively discussed, imagined, and developed the housing environment that best covered their needs in typological, material, economic or managerial terms. The group of forty-five people was divided into different working committees to discuss the diverse topics that were part of the housing scheme: architecture, cohabitation, economic model, legal policies, communication, and internal management. These committees formed the basis for a decision-making assembly. The committees would adapt throughout the process as new needs would arise, for example, the “architectural” committee that was responsible for the building development, was converted into a “maintenance and self-building” committee once the building was inhabited. Apart from the specific committees, the general assembly was also taking place, where all the subgroups will present and discuss their work. All adult members had to be part of one committee and meet every two weeks. The members’ involvement in the co-creation and management of the cooperative significantly reduced the costs and helped in creating the social cohesion needed for such a project to succeed.

The legal model

The tenure model that is being used is under the term "cession of use" or "grant of use", which refers to the right of the tenants to occupy a housing unit without having ownership of the property. The examples of the Andel model from Denmark (Cooperativa de Cesión de Uso, 2018; Estado de La Vivienda Cooperativa En  Cesión de Uso En Cataluña, 2021)and the FUCVAM model from Uruguay (FUCVAM – Cooperativas de Vivienda Por Ayuda Mutua, n.d.) are the two key references that were studied for the development of a similar model adapted in the Spanish context. At the same time, previous cooperative projects in Catalonia were studied as references, such as Cal Cases (Cal Cases, 2020).

The leasehold with Barcelona's City Council leased the plot to the cooperative for 75 years with the obligation of an annual fee. After this period the property will return to the municipality, or a new agreement should be signed. As the project is constructed on public land and is classified as “State-Subsidized Housing” (HPO), all the members had to comply with social housing requirements, such as having a maximum monthly income and not owning property. Also, since it is characterised as HPO there is a celling to the monthly fee to be charged for the use of the housing unit, thus keeping the housing accessible to groups with lower economic power. This makes this scheme a way to provide social housing with the active participation of the community, keeping the property public in the long term. The cooperative model of “cession of use” means that all residents are members of the cooperative, which owns the building. Being members means that they are the ones to make decisions about how it operates, including legal, legislative, and economic issues as well as issues concerning the infrastructure. The fact that the members are not owners offers protection and provides for non-speculative development, as sub-letting or transfer of use is not possible. In the case that someone decides to leave, the apartment returns to the cooperative which then decides on the new resident. This is a model that promotes long-term affordability as it prevents housing from being privatized using a condominium scheme.

The building

The cooperative group together with architects and the rest of the team, and after a series of workshops and discussions, concluded on the needs of the dwellers and on the distribution of the private and communal spaces. A general strategy was to remove area -and functions- from the private apartments and create bigger community spaces that could be enjoyed by everyone. Thus, out of the 2950 m2 of the total built environment, 280 m2 are devoted to communal spaces (10% of the total built area). They are placed around the central courtyard and include a community kitchen and dining room, a multipurpose room, a laundry room, a co-working space, a guests’ room, shared terraces, a small community garden, storage rooms, and bicycle parking. The private apartments are 28 with three typologies (40,50 and 76 m2), covering the needs of different households, such as single adults, adult cohabitation, families, or single parents with kids. The grid upon which the apartments are based as well as the modular structure offers flexibility for future modification of the size of the apartments.

In relation to the structure, the objective was to create an environmentally sustainable solution and minimize the embedded carbon. For that, the foundation was created as close to the surface as possible, using suspended flooring a meter above the ground to aid with the insulation. Also, the structure of cross-laminated timber (CLT) was used after the ground floor, which was made of concrete, and for the next six floors, having the advantage of being lightweight and low-carbon. The CLT was used for both the flooring and the foundation. In relation to the materials, there was an emphasis on the optimization of the building solutions, by using less quantity for the same purpose, using recycled and recyclable materials, and reusing waste (Cooperativa d’habitatges La Borda, 2020)Also, the cooperative used industrialized elements and applied waste management, separation, and monitoring. According to interviews from the architectural cooperative (Lacol arquitectura cooperativa, 2020), an important element for minimizing the construction cost was the substitute of the underground parking, which was mandatory from the local legislation when you exceed a certain number of housing units, with overground parking for bicycles. La Borda was the first development that succeeded not only in being exempted from this legal obligation but also in convincing the municipality of Barcelona to change the legal framework so that new cooperative or social housing developments can obtain an “A” energy ranking without having to construct underground parking.

Energy performance

In terms of energy consumption, the project aimed in reducing the energy demand by prioritizing passive strategies. This was pursued with the bioclimatic design of the building with the covered courtyard as an element that plays a central role, as it offers cross ventilation during the warm months and acts as a greenhouse during the cold months. Another passive strategy was enhanced insulation which exceeds the proposed regulation level. The climate comfort proposal occurred as a result of surveys with the future tenants. According to the first data that was gathered from the Arkenova monitoring system and with support from the Barcelona energy office, the total average energy consumption of electricity, DHW, and heating per m² of homes in La Borda is 20.25 kWh / m², which is a reduction of 68% compared to a block of similar characteristics in the Mediterranean area, which is 62.61 kWh / m² (Com de Sostenible Realment És La Borda?, 2020). Finally, renewable energy is being used with the recent installation of solar panels.

Scalability

According to (Cabré & Andrés, 2018), the initiative was a result of three contextual factors. First and foremost, La Borda appeared in response to the housing crisis that was especially acute in Barcelona. Secondly, at that time there was a momentum when social economy was being promoted and a cooperative movement in relation to affordable housing emerged. Finally, the moment coincided with a strong neighbourhood movement related to the urban renewal of the industrial site of Can Batllo. La Borda, being a bottom-up, self-initiated project is not only a housing cooperative case but also an example of social innovation that has multiple objectives apart from the main which is the provision of affordable housing.

The novel way that the group invented for addressing the housing crisis in Barcelona, being the first one to use this kind of leasehold in Spain has a particular value of social innovation. The process that was followed was innovative as the group had to co-create the project, including the co-design and self-construction, negotiate with the municipality the cession of land, and develop the financial models for the project. The project is aiming in integrating with the neighbourhood and not creating a niche project, opening possibilities for scaling up and diffusion, as for example with the committee for public sharing that organizes open days and lectures. In the end, by fostering the community’s understanding of housing issues, urban governance, and by seeking sustainable solutions, learning to resolve conflicts, negotiate and self-manage as well as developing mutual support networks and peer learning, these types of projects appear as outcomes but also as drivers of social transformation.

Alignment with project research areas

The project is relevant to all three research areas of Re-dwell as it follows an innovative approach in relation to each of the categories: 1) Design, planning, and building, 2) Community participation and 3) Policy and Financing. In relation to the first category “Design, planning and building”, one of the group's objectives was to promote a sustainable building model. The construction was designed in order to have a low environmental impact and to promote energy efficiency. The dwellers were involved in the decision-making of the building's energy performance, by evaluating their actions and living patterns. The building is understood as a totality made up of interrelated dwellings and households which demonstrates the importance of a more holistic vision, encompassing issues of social, environmental, and economic sustainability.

In relation to the second category "Community participation", the project followed a strong participatory process througout all the phases, from the initiation, to the research, the decisions concerning the legal model, the co-design of the building up to the final construction and the management and maintenance. The members that initiated the project used open assemblies as spaces for participation where the neighbors and local organisations could meet, exchange information, and make decisions. Also, the project fosters a community-oriented type of living, with common spaces, shared facilities, and a common schedule for distributing everyday activities. The collectivisation of facilities and services integrates social values, such as mutual support,  by sharing the tasks of childcare, preparation of common meals, gardening, cleaning of the common areas, and laundry equally among the residents. 

Finally, in relation to the third category "Policy and Financing", the project developed an innovative housing scheme for the provision of affordable housing, bringing legislative change and pushing for new policies. The "grant of use" model separates the use-value from the exchange value of the property, preventing speculation and advocating for different types of ownership that can be long-term secure and affordable. After La Borda, the municipality of Barcelona aimed in applying the same model to seven other plots, and thus started to extrapolate the experiment. The funding model that was developed manifests an innovative approach as well. As there are many barriers and downgrades in obtaining funding from the mainstream banking system, the group found financing from the credit cooperative Coop57. However, as the credit cooperative was only able to lend a limited amount, the remaining cost was covered from alternative sources of funding, such as participatory bonds and voluntary contributions to the so-called ‘social capital fund’, the share capital fund of the cooperative.

Alignment with SDGs

Out of the 17 sustainable development goals (UN, 2020) the case study of La Borda seems to be aligned foremost with the following ones:

 

GOAL 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

target: 3.4 By 2030, reduce by one-third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being

It has been manifested that there is a link between living in decent housing conditions and mental health and well-being. Intergenerational and communitarian housing schemes offer mutual support to its members, facilitating their everyday lives. 

 

GOAL 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

target: 5.1 End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere

target: 5.5 Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life

La Borda is contributing to achieving this goal by recognising the unpaid voluntary work by gender in housing and aiming in redistributing and collectivizing everyday household activities, such as childcare, cooking, laundry etc. In that way household activities traditionally carried out by women are becoming visible, many of them are taking place outside of the private space, are shared among all residents and are used as instances to socialise.

 

GOAL 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

target: 7.2 By 2030, increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix

target: 7.3 By 2030, double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency

One of the goals of La Borda was to follow a sustainable development model, prioritizing renewable energy sources, thus minimizing carbon emissions.

To pursue a more energy-efficient solution in the housing sector La Borda cooperative initially was aiming in retrofitting an existing vacant building that was in the area of Can Batllo. This plan was abandoned as it required more time for its realization and at that point, there was a need for quicker solutions. However, the idea of rehabilitating existing stock is still part of the agenda of the cooperative for future housing units.

Moreover, energy efficiency was a key concept for the development of the project, highlighting its environmental, social and economic impact. This was achieved, firstly, by lowering the demand for energy consumption through passive strategies (the use of the covered courtyard as a micro-climate element, enhanced insulation etc) and afterward by combining renewable energy resources, such as solar panels, with non-renewable ones.

The choice of the materials also considered their carbon footprint, prioritizing natural and low energy materials such as wood, and also recycled and recyclable ones.

 

Goal 10: Reduced inequality within and among countries

target: 10.2 Empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status

La Borda had as a principle to give equal chances of accessing the cooperative to a variety of different people with different needs that didn’t necessarily fit in the traditional housing typologies which often are centered around the nuclear family structure.  This was manifested in two ways, first by creating different typologies of housing units that can accommodate the needs of different configurations of households. Furthermore, a flexible modular structure offers the opportunity for future modification, if the needs of the inhabitants change or if the number of people changes.

Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable

target: 11.1 By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums

La Borda is aiming in achieving the abovementioned characteristics: provide access to affordable, adequate and secure housing with basic services through the active participation of the community. A way to evaluate the success of this goal could be to measure the proportion of households that left inadequate/ poorly served housing by moving into the housing cooperative.

 

Goal 12.  Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

target: 12.1: Implement the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns, all countries taking action, with developed countries and capabilities of developing countries.

La Borda is following this goal as sustainable design practices and low-emission materials were used. A way to measure this could be to see the rate of reduced energy consumption from non-renewable sources.

 

Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

target 16.7: Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels

La Borda was a social experiment that achieved the promotion and legitimization of a novel framework of housing provision and the revision of municipal policies concerning the obligations for the building's permission. 

References

Avilla-Royo, R., Jacoby, S., & Bilbao, I. (2021). The building as a home: Housing cooperatives in Barcelona. Buildings, 11(4). https://doi.org/10.3390/BUILDINGS11040137

Baraona Pohl, E. (2017). Cooperative Housing as a Means More Than an End. Together! The New Architecture of the Collective, 344–348.

Cabré, E., & Andrés, A. (2018). La Borda: a case study on the implementation of cooperative housing in Catalonia. International Journal of Housing Policy, 18(3), 412–432. https://doi.org/10.1080/19491247.2017.1331591

Cal Cases. (2020). Masqueunacasa. http://masqueunacasa.org/es/experiencias/cal-cases

Com de sostenible realment és la Borda? (2020). http://www.lacol.coop/actualitat/sostenible-realment-borda/

Cooperativa de cesión de uso. (2018). Masqueunacasa. http://masqueunacasa.org/es/habitapedia/propuestas/cooperativa-de-cesion-de-uso

Cooperativa d’habitatges La Borda. (2020). La Borda – Housing to build community. http://www.laborda.coop/en/

Estado de la vivienda cooperativa en  cesión de uso en Cataluña. (2021).

FUCVAM – Cooperativas de Vivienda por Ayuda Mutua. (n.d.). Retrieved March 20, 2022, from https://www.fucvam.org.uy/

Lacol arquitectura cooperativa. (2020). La Borda: visita arquitectònica. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQYTrgeT7jY&ab_channel=Lacolarquitecturacooperativa

Quaderns. (2014, April). Una conversa amb Martí Anson i Manel Brullet. 1967-1969, Una Cooperativa. http://quaderns.coac.net/2014/03/anson-brullet/

UN. (2020). THE 17 GOALS | Sustainable Development. https://sdgs.un.org/goals

Related vocabulary

Affordability

Co-creation

Community empowerment

Participatory approaches

Social sustainability

Area: Design, planning and building

Affordability is defined as the state of being cheap enough for people to be able to buy (Combley, 2011). Applied to housing, affordability, housing unaffordability and the mounting housing affordability crisis, are concepts that have come to the fore, especially in the contexts of free-market economies and housing systems led by private initiatives, due to the spiralling house prices that residents of major urban agglomerations across the world have experienced in recent years (Galster & Ok Lee, 2021). Notwithstanding, the seeming simplicity of the concept, the definition of housing affordability can vary depending on the context and approach to the issue, rendering its applicability in practice difficult. Likewise, its measurement implies a multidimensional and multi-disciplinary lens (Haffner & Hulse, 2021). One definition widely referred to of housing affordability is the one provided by Maclennan and Williams (1990, p.9): “‘Affordability’ is concerned with securing some given standard of housing (or different standards) at a price or a rent which does not impose, in the eyes of some third party (usually government) an unreasonable burden on household incomes”. Hence, the maximum expenditure a household should pay for housing is no more than 30% of its income (Paris, 2006). Otherwise, housing is deemed unaffordable. This measure of affordability reduces a complex issue to a simple calculation of the rent-to-income ratio or house-price-to-income ratio. In reality, a plethora of variables can affect affordability and should be considered when assessing it holistically, especially when judging what is acceptable or not in the context of specific individual and societal norms (see Haffner & Hulse, 2021; Hancock, 1993). Other approaches to measure housing affordability consider how much ‘non-housing’ expenditures are unattended after paying for housing. Whether this residual income is not sufficient to adequately cover other household’s needs, then there is an affordability problem (Stone, 2006). These approaches also distinguish between “purchase affordability” (the ability to borrow funds to purchase a house) and “repayment affordability” (the ability to afford housing finance repayments) (Bieri, 2014). Furthermore, housing production and, ultimately affordability, rely upon demand and supply factors that affect both the developers and home buyers. On the supply side, aspects such as the cost of land, high construction costs, stiff land-use regulations, and zoning codes have a crucial role in determining the ultimate price of housing (Paris, 2006). Likewise, on the policy side, insufficient government subsidies and lengthy approval processes may deter smaller developers from embarking on new projects. On the other hand, the demand for affordable housing keeps increasing alongside the prices, which remain high, as a consequence of the, sometimes deliberate incapacity of the construction  sector to meet the consumers' needs (Halligan, 2021). Similarly, the difficulty of decreasing household expenditures while increasing incomes exacerbates the unaffordability of housing (Anacker, 2019). In the end, as more recent scholarship has pointed out (see Haffner & Hulse, 2021; Mulliner & Maliene, 2014), the issue of housing affordability has complex implications that go beyond the purely economic or financial ones. The authors argue that it has a direct impact on the quality of life and well-being of the affected and their relationship with the city, and thus, it requires a multidimensional assessment. Urban and spatial inequalities in the access to city services and resources, gentrification, segregation, fuel and commuting poverty, and suburbanisation are amongst its most notorious consequences. Brysch and Czischke, for example, found through a comparative analysis of 16 collaborative housing projects in Europe that affordability was increased by “strategic design decisions and self-organised activities aiming to reduce building costs” (2021, p.18). This demonstrates that there is a great potential for design and urban planning tools and mechanisms to contribute to the generation of innovative solutions to enable housing affordability considering all the dimensions involved, i.e., spatial, urban, social and economic. Examples range from public-private partnerships, new materials and building techniques, alternative housing schemes and tenure models (e.g., cohousing, housing cooperatives, Community Land Trusts, ‘Baugruppen’), to efficient interior design, (e.g., flexible design, design by layers[1]). Considering affordability from a design point of view can activate different levers to catalyse and bring forward housing solutions for cities; and stakeholders such as socially engaged real estate developers, policymakers, and municipal authorities have a decisive stake in creating an adequate environment for fostering, producing and delivering sustainable and affordable housing.   [1] (see Brand, 1995; Schneider & Till, 2007)

Created on 03-06-2022

Author: L.Ricaurte (ESR15)

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Area: Community participation

In a broader sense, co-creation means the joint effort of bringing something new to fruition through acts of collective creativity (Sanders & Stappers, 2008) which can be manifested in both tangible (making something together) or intangible (learning something together) outcomes (Puerari et al., 2018). Recently, the concepts of co-creation or co- production have been applied to describe the processes of participation in urban planning and design. Both terms place particular emphasis on the partnerships formed between citizens and the public sector, in which a high level of citizen involvement is pivotal. Participation has been defined through its different levels of citizen involvement, ranging from non-participation to greater degrees of citizen control (Arnstein, 1969) indicating the different levels of influence a participant can have on a participatory process. From the perspective of urban planning, citizen participation is beginning to be described as co-creation when citizens’ roles become more prominent, presenting aspects of self-organisation, increased commitment and a sense of ownership of the process (Puerari et al., 2018). Recent research is exploring new methods of urban planning in which citizens, the municipality and private organisations co-create new planning rules (Bisschops & Beunen, 2019). However, co-creation along with co-production and participation, often used interchangeably, have become popular catchphrases and are considered as processes which are of virtue in themselves. Furthermore, while there is substantial research on these processes, the research conducted on the outcomes of enhanced participation remains rather limited (Voorberg et al., 2015). This highlights the ambiguity in terms of interpretation; is co-creation a methodology, a set of tools to enhance and drive a process, or a goal in itself? (Puerari et al., 2018). There have often been cases where participation, co-creation and co-production have been used decoratively, as a form of justification and validation of decisions already made (Armeni, 2016). In the provision of public spaces, co-creation/co-production may specifically involve housing (Brandsen & Helderman, 2012; Chatterton, 2016) and placemaking: “placemaking in public space implies engaging in the practice of urban planning and design beyond an expert culture. Such collaboration can be described as co-creation.” (Eggertsen Teder, 2019, p.290). As in participation, co-creation requires the sharing of decision-making powers, the creation of  joint knowledge and the assignation of abilities between communities, while urban professionals and local authorities should draw attention to the active involvement of community members. Furthermore, co-creation does not take place in a vacuum, but always occurs within socio- spatial contexts. This points to the objective of co-creation as a tool to influence locally relevant policy through innovation that is “place-based”. To conclude, co-creation can be perceived as a process that is both transdisciplinary in its application, and as a tool for achieving transdisciplinarity on a broader scale through a systematic integration in existing standard practices in urban planning, housing design and architecture. Despite the persisting ambiguity in its definition, co-creation processes can provide more inclusive platforms for revisiting and informing formal and informal knowledge on sustainable and affordable housing.

Created on 16-02-2022

Author: A.Panagidis (ESR8), E.Roussou (ESR9)

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Area: Community participation

Community empowerment appears in the literature of participatory action research (Minkler, 2004), participatory planning (Jo & Nabatchi, 2018), and community development (Luttrell et al., 2009) as a key element of participatory practices, understanding it as a process that enables communities to take control of their lives and their environments (Rappaport, 2008; Zimmerman, 2000). Many argue that community participation becomes meaningless if it does not lead to, or pass through community empowerment. As the term is being used in diverse and ubiquitous ways, it runs the risk of ending up as an empty definition and a catch-all phrase (McLaughlin, 2015). It is therefore important to specify the perspective through which we will view the term and clarify the nuances.  Since its origins, empowerment has been used in two different ways. Firstly, top-down as the power that had been ‘granted’ by a higher authority, such as the state or a religious institution, and secondly, bottom-up, as a process by which groups or individuals come to develop the capacity to act and acquire power. Examples of the latter can be found in social groups such as feminists working in nongovernmental organizations throughout the global south in the 1970s, who found a way to address social issues and inequalities that enabled social transformation based on women’s self-organization (Biewener & Bacqué, 2015). The term was gradually appropriated by welfare, neoliberal, and social-neoliberal agendas whose priority was individual agency and choice. In neoliberal rationality, empowerment is related to efficiency, economic growth, business productivity, and individual rational choice to maximize profit in a competitive market economy. In social liberalism agendas, empowerment is understood as ‘effective agency’, where ‘agency’ is not an inherent attribute, but something that needs to be constructed through ‘consciousness-raising’ (McLaughlin, 2016). A broader definition sees empowerment as a social action process through which individuals, communities, and organizations take control of their lives in the context of changing the social and political environment to improve equity and quality of life (Rappaport, 2008; Zimmerman, 2000). Rowlands (1997), refers to four types of empowerment: power over, as the ability to influence and coerce; power to, to organize and change existing hierarchies; power with, as the power from the collective action and power within, as the power from the individual consciousness. Using this classification, Biewener & Bacqué (2015), adopting a feminist approach, understand empowerment as a multilevel construct with three interrelated dimensions: 1) an internal, psychological one, where ‘power within’ and ‘power to’ are developed, 2) an organizational, where ‘power with’ and ‘power over’ are strengthened and 3) a social or political level, where institutional and structural change is made possible through collective action. Thus, community empowerment links the individual level, which involves self-determination, growth of individual awareness, and self-esteem, to the collective level, relating critical consciousness and capacity building with the structural level, where collective engagement and transformative social action take place. This view of empowerment, which considers its goals and processes, has a social dimension that is lacking in other approaches that prioritize individual empowerment. Aside from the feminist movements, the philosophy and practices of community empowerment have been greatly influenced by the work of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator and an advocate on critical pedagogy. Freire proposed a dialogic problem-solving process based on equality and mutual respect between students and teachers; that engaged them in a process of iterative listening-discussing-acting. Through structured dialogue, group participants shared their experiences, discussed common problems, and looked for root causes and the connections among “problems behind the problems as symptoms” (Freire, 1970). The term conscientization, that Freire proposed, refers to the consciousness that arises through the involvement of people in the social analysis of conditions and their role in changing them. This awareness enables groups to be reflexive and open spaces, to enact change or to understand those limited situations that may deter change (Barndt, 1989). Empowerment can be understood as both a process and an outcome (Jo & Nabatchi, 2018). As a process, it refers to “the development and implementation of mechanisms to enable individuals or groups to gain control, develop skills and test knowledge”(Harrison & Waite, 2015) and it entails the creation of new subjects who have developed a critical consciousness and the formation of groups with a ‘collective agency’ ‚ or ‘social collective identity’ (Biewener & Bacqué, 2015). Empowerment as an outcome refers to “an affective state in which the individual or group feels that they have increased control, greater understanding and are involved and active” (Harrison & Waite, 2015). This can lead to a transformation of the social conditions by challenging the structures and institutionalized forms that reproduce inequalities. The values and the significance of community empowerment can be further applied in the participatory and community-based approaches of the housing sector. Examples of such approaches in the housing provision are the housing cooperatives, and self-developed and self-managed housing groups. Housing cooperatives aim at promoting co-creation to engage future residents, professionals, and non-profit organizations in all the stages of a housing project: problem-framing, designing, developing, cohabiting, managing, and maintaining. Such organisational models stress the importance and pave the way for community empowerment by uniting individuals with similar interests and ideals, enabling them to have housing that responds to their needs, preferences, and values. The participation of the residents aims to strengthen their sense of ownership of the process, the democratic decision-making and management, and the social collective identity, making community empowerment an integral characteristic of cooperative housing initiatives. With this social perspective, residents can gain individual and collective benefits while contributing to fairer and more sustainable urban development on a larger scale (Viskovic Rojs et al., 2020).

Created on 03-06-2022

Author: Z.Tzika (ESR10)

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Area: Community participation

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, participation is “the act of taking part in an activity or event”. Likewise, it can also mean “the fact of sharing or the act of receiving or having a part of something.” It derives from old French participacion which in turn comes from late Latin participationem, which means “partaking” (Harper, 2000).  References to participation can be found in many fields, including social sciences, economics, politics, and culture. It is often related to the idea of citizenship and its different representations in society. Hence, it could be explained as an umbrella concept, in which several others can be encompassed, including methodologies, philosophical discourses, and tools. Despite the complexity in providing a holistic definition, the intrinsic relation between participation and power is widely recognised. Its ultimate objective is to empower those involved in the process (Nikkhah & Redzuan, 2009). An early application of participatory approaches was the Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) which exerted a significant influence in developing new discourses and practices of urban settings (Chambers, 1994; Friedmann, 1994). In the late 1970s increasing attention was paid to the concept by scholars, and several associated principles and terminologies evolved, such as the participation in design and planning with the Scandinavian approach of cooperative design (Bφdker et al., 1995; Gregory, 2003). Participation in design or participatory design is a process and strategy that entails all stakeholders (e.g. partners, citizens, and end-users) partaking in the design process. It is a democratic process for design based on the assumption that users should be involved in the designs they will go on to use (Bannon & Ehn, 2012; Cipan, 2019; Sanoff, 2000, 2006, 2007). Likewise, participatory planning is an alternative paradigm that emerged in response to the rationalistic and centralized – top-down – approaches. Participatory planning aims to integrate the technical expertise with the preferences and knowledge of community members (e.g., citizens, non-governmental organizations, and social movements) directly and centrally in the planning and development processes, producing outcomes that respond to the community's needs (Lane, 2005). Understanding participation through the roles of participants is a vital concept. The work of Sherry Arnstein’s (1969) Ladder of Citizen Participation has long been the cornerstone to understand participation from the perspective of the redistribution of power between the haves and the have-nots. Her most influential typological categorisation work yet distinguishes eight degrees of participation as seen in Figure 1: manipulation, therapy, placation, consultation, informing, citizen control, delegated power and partnership. Applied to a participatory planning context, this classification refers to the range of influence that participants can have in the decision-making process. In this case, no-participation is defined as designers deciding based upon assumptions of the users’ needs and full-participation refers to users defining the quality criteria themselves (Geddes et al., 2019). A more recent classification framework that also grounds the conceptual approach to the design practice and its complex reality has been developed by Archon Fung (2006) upon three key dimensions: who participates; how participants communicate with one another and make decisions together, and how discussions are linked with policy or public action. This three-dimensional approach which Fung describes as a democracy cube (Figure 2), constitutes a more analytic space where any mechanism of participation can be located. Such frameworks of thinking allow for more creative interpretations of the interrelations between participants, participation tools (including immersive digital tools) and contemporary approaches to policymaking. Aligned with Arnstein’s views when describing the lower rungs of the ladder (i.e., nonparticipation and tokenism), other authors have highlighted the perils of incorporating participatory processes as part of pre-defined agendas, as box-ticking exercises, or for political manipulation. By turning to eye-catching epithets to describe it (Participation: The New Tyranny? by Cooke & Kothari, 2001; or The Nightmare of Participation by Miessen, 2010), these authors attempt to raise awareness on the overuse of the term participation and the possible disempowering effects that can bring upon the participating communities, such as frustration and lack of trust. Examples that must exhort practitioners to reassess their role and focus on eliminating rather than reinforcing inequalities (Cooke & Kothari, 2001).

Created on 17-02-2022

Author: M.Alsaeed (ESR5), L.Ricaurte (ESR15), A.Pappa (ESR13)

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Area: Community participation

From the three pillars of sustainable development, economic, environmental and social, the latter  involving social equity and the sustainability of communities, has  been especially neglected. Ongoing problems caused by conflicting economic, environmental and social goals with regard to the processes of urbanisation continue. underpinning economic growth that contradict principles of environmental and social justice (Boström, 2012; Cuthill, 2010; Winston, 2009). Research on sustainable development highlights the need for further investigation of social sustainability (Murphy, 2012; Vallance et al., 2011). Social sustainability has been interpreted as an umbrella term encompassing many other related concepts; “social equity and justice, social capital, social cohesion, social exclusion, environmental justice, quality of life, and urban liveability” (Shirazi & Keivani, 2019, p. 4). A vast number of studies have been dedicated to defining social sustainability by developing theoretical frameworks and indicators particularly relevant to urban development and housing discourse (Cuthill, 2010; Dempsey et al., 2011; Murphy, 2012; Woodcraft, 2012). However, with a lack of consensus on the way of utilising these frameworks in a practical way, especially when applied to planning, social sustainability has remained difficult to evaluate or measure. Consequently, planning experts, housing providers and inhabitants alike understand social sustainability as a normative concept, according to established social norms, and less as an opportunity to critically examine existing institutions. Vallance et al (2011) provide three categories to analyse social sustainability, development, bridge and maintenance sustainability: (a) social development improves conditions of poverty and inequity, from the provision of basic needs to the redistribution of power to influence existing development paradigms; (b) the conditions necessary to bridge social with ecological sustainability, overcoming currently disconnected social and ecological concerns; and (c) the social practices, cultural preferences as well as the environments which are maintained over time. Maintenance social sustainability particularly deals with how people interpret what is to be maintained and includes “new housing developments, the layout of streets, open spaces, residential densities, the location of services, an awareness of habitual movements in place, and how they connect with housing cultures, preferences, practices and values, particularly those for low-density, suburban lifestyles” (Vallance et al., 2011, p. 345). Therefore, the notion of maintenance is especially important in defining social sustainability by directly investigating the established institutions, or “sets of norms” that constitute the social practices and rules, that in turn, affect responsibilities for planning urban spaces. A conceptual framework that appears frequently in social sustainability literature is that of Dempsey et al. (2011)⁠ following Bramley et al. (2009), defining social sustainability according to the variables of social equity and sustainability of community and their relationship to urban form, significantly at the local scale of the neighbourhood. In terms of the built environment, social equity (used interchangeably with social justice) is understood as the accessibility and equal opportunities to frequently used services, facilities, decent and affordable housing, and good public transport. In this description of local, as opposed to regional services, proximity and accessibility are important. Equitable access to such local services effectively connects housing to key aspects of everyday life and to the wider urban infrastructures that support it. Sustainability of community is associated with the abilities of society to develop networks of collective organisation and action and is dependent on social interaction. The associated term social capital has also been used extensively to describe social norms and networks that can be witnessed particularly at the community level to facilitate collective action (Woolcock, 2001, p. 70). They might include a diversity of issues such as resident interaction, reciprocity, cooperation and trust expressed by common exchanges between residents, civic engagement, lower crime rates and other positive neighbourhood qualities that are dependent on sharing a commitment to place (Foster, 2006; Putnam, 1995; Temkin & Rohe, 1998). In fact, “the heightened sense of ownership and belonging to a locale” is considered to encourage the development of social relations (Hamiduddin & Adelfio, 2019, p. 188). However, the gap between theoretical discussions about social sustainability and their practical application has continued. For example, the emphasis of social sustainability as a target outcome rather than as a process has been prioritised in technocratic approaches to planning new housing developments and to measuring their success by factors which are tangible and easier to count and audit. Private housing developers that deal with urban regeneration make bold claims to social sustainability yet profound questions are raised regarding the effects of gentrification (Dixon, 2019). Accordingly, the attempted methods of public participation as planning tools for integrating the ‘social’ have been found to be less effective - their potential being undercut due to the reality that decision-making power has remained at the top (Eizenberg & Jabareen, 2017). Therefore, social sustainability is not a fixed concept, it is contingent on the interdependence of the procedural aspects (how to achieve social sustainability) and substantive aspects (what are the outcomes of social sustainability goals) (Boström, 2012). From this point of view, social sustainability reveals its process-oriented nature and the need to establish processes of practicing social sustainability that begin with the participation of citizens in decision-making processes in producing equitable (i.e. socially sustainable) development. As a dimension of sustainable development that is harder to quantify than the economic or environmental aspects, the operationalisation of social sustainability goals into spatial, actionable principles has remained a burgeoning area of research. In such research, methods for enhancing citizen participation are a particularly important concern in order to engage and empower people with “non-expert” knowledge to collaborate with academic researchers.

Created on 03-06-2022

Author: A.Panagidis (ESR8)

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Community participation in the provision of affordable and sustainable housing | discussing inclusion/exclusion

Posted on 05-04-2022

The third RE-DWELL network-wide activity took place in Budapest, at the Centre for Social Sciences. Each one of the network activities falls under a specific thematic, indicating where the focus of each of our common activities would be. The first two - the Lisbon workshop and the Nicosia summer school-, were revolving around the area of ‘design, planning, and building’ while the next two - Budapest's workshop and the upcoming Valencia summer school- will focus on ‘community participation’.   Community participation in housing provision is pursued by communities eager to build housing that fits their needs, values, and desires. This can manifest itself in material terms, understanding housing as a physical space that should meet economic demands, long-term affordability, or spatial configurations that address the needs of their dwellers. Parallelly, through the active participation of the communities, broader concepts are also being addressed, such as environmental and social sustainability. The entanglement of those two concepts has to be defined by each community, encompassing their habits, practices, and modes of living and having as a final aim their individual and collective wellbeing.   We participated in a roundtable about “Community participation in the provision of affordable and sustainable housing” with experts from the field, Jenny Pickerill, professor of environmental geography and head of the department of geography at the University of Sheffield, and Richard Lang, professor of social enterprise and innovative regions at Bertha von Suttner University in Austria. The discussion revolved around cooperative housing in  UK and Austria. Both countries are considered to be at the forefront in the provision of cooperative housing in Europe. However, they are different contexts of study, in terms of socio-cultural, political, and legal frameworks. Austria appears to have a more supportive institutional environment compared to the UK, coming from a long tradition of accommodating different groups, such as immigrants, into the cooperative housing schemes.   A central issue within this field is the question of the inclusion of cooperative housing schemes and their institutionalisation. Are these models accessible for people with fewer resources (economic, social, cultural) or are they reproducing the existing power configurations (economic and social status), silencing inequalities, and excluding certain social groups? To arrive at conclusions, it is important to understand how cooperative housing emerges in different contexts, which are the objectives and motivations behind it? Who ends up living in these places? and most importantly, do they finally provide an affordable alternative to housing for the local population of a specific area?   We encounter two broad categories for the creation of cooperative housing; the first refers to self-initiated groups that make decisions based on consensus, adopting often self-built approaches. The initial group could either have a ‘closed’ composition, maintaining its homogeneity, or reach out to the local population for joining the cooperative. However, a recurring question is: does anyone have the same right to access these groups of housing co-creation? Another question is if different groups receive the same recognition, institutional support, and security regarding their housing conditions, or if when entering the institutional framework certain groups are being favoured at the expense of others.   The second category refers to the promotion of cooperative housing that is being intermediated by organisations, such as housing or non-profit associations. These foster and facilitate communities to actively participate in forming and self-managing their housing. The intermediate organisations facilitate the processes by supporting the groups in diverse ways, such as finding potential members, providing legal and managerial support, etc. Thus, understanding whose voices are been heard each time in both trajectories of cooperative housing provision is a way to assess how inclusive they are.   Typically, members of the cooperative groups often appear to have a certain social, cultural, and economic status; groups of white, well-educated people with social capital and skills. Many groups struggle with that as they are socially conscious and want to reconfigure the power dynamics and inequalities in accessing housing. However, as the challenges of social justice are more complex to address, many cooperative projects end up focusing on environmental goals that are easier to meet than the social and economic inequalities. Therefore, it is important to realize: Who is excluded from cooperative housing processes? Who has been excluded intentionally or unintentionally?   The term reflexivity was often mentioned in the discussion, referring to collective practices of self-reflection about the participants' positionalities, authorities, verbalisation skills, experience, and values. As people often come with different resources in the process of co-creating cooperative housing, a way to take this into account is to create various levels of participation, making it less demanding for people that do not have the same time or economic capacity. In this way, the collaboration factor would be present, being aware of the importance of redistributing knowledge and resources.

Author: Z.Tzika (ESR10)

Workshops, Reflections

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