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Towards an Exemplary Participatory Local Democracy; Nilüfer Citizen’s “Republic"
AWARD
City/Region : Nilüfer , Turkey

Nilüfer’s advance towards an exemplary and participatory local government has progressed in three mutually supporting actions: The establishment of “Nilüfer Neighborhood Committees-NC”; the establishment of the "Nilüfer Innovation Center-NIC”; and, the founding of the "Nilüfer Energy Cooperative-EC". These three endeavors represent Transformative Actions that aim to secure a "livable and inclusive" city, which has been the highest singular vision of the municipality. NCs act as the foundation stone of grassroot, citizen democracy and decision making; NIC as the organisational hub of social innovation; and, EC as the harbinger of the future energy democracy based on local, renewable energy.         

Agendas addressed
DecarbonisationClimate changeSocial inclusion and integration
Local economies and employment
Pathways followed
  • Ensure equal access to municipal services
  • Involve citizens through participatory implementation
  • Encourage local private and civic engagement
  • Promote social innovation supporting inclusion
  • Nurture a sharing economy
  • Capitalise on local economy and production
  • Create and close local value chains
  • Apply innovative financing approaches
  • Implement sustainable procurement principles
  • Wisely select and apply smart technologies
  • Accelerate sustainability and innovation through public procurement
  • Guarantee equal access to information & digital services
  • Prepare policies for socio-cultural changes due to innovation
Context
Nilufer Innovation Center Launch

Nilüfer, established in 1987, is one of the seven district municipalities of Bursa, which is the 4th largest city in Turkey, located in the southeast of the Marmara Sea. With a population of just over 400,000, Nilüfer is also one of the fastest urbanising districts, of not only Bursa, but also Turkey. It has grown ten-fold in population and six-fold in area since 1987. Up to ~ 5% population growth and runaway urban sprawl, quite typical of high-carbon urban growth dynamics in Turkey, exerts extraordinary pressure on basic local government services and operation. In turn, stretching capacity and ability for equitable and just local administration as well as encroaching on urban natural and agricultural endowments, critical for sustainable urban futures. The imperative to merge a vision of fair and equitable local economic development with climate-friendly, low-carbon resilient urban growth is number one priority.    

In Action
Neighbourhood_Committee_Parks Demonstration

Neighborhood Committees-NC (www.niluferkentkonseyi.org/komiteler):  Local Agenda 21, an instrument from the Rio Earth Conference in 1992, was brought into city councils by Law in Turkey in 2005. Despite their positive impact, councils were not able to reach the ordinary citizen and the unorganised sections of society. To further advance grassroot participation and to reach disadvantaged segments of society, Nilüfer NCs were planned and strategically defined in advance, but had their first election in 2014. Their initiation and rules of participation such as quotas ensured the representation of women, youth, disabled citizens and LGTBI in these NCs. NCs have a clear mandate to:

  • Ensure increased and effective participation of women in urban life and focus on gender issues in decision making processes;
  • Protect cultural-historical heritage;
  • Protect and expand urban rights and the awareness of them;
  • Develop necessary local participation infrastructure and facilities for citizens;
  • Prioritise and attach particular importance to policies that aim to create equal opportunities for LGTBI, elderly people, youth, children and disabled people.

The NC members (elected via 1/3 women, 1/3 youth, 1/5 disabled persons and 1/5 LGTBI quotas) represent their neighbourhoods in the Nilüfer City Council. As the neighbourhood "head man/woman" is a direct representative of the central administration in Turkey, the NCs have created an unprecedented example of grassroot participation in local affairs.    

The Nilüfer Innovation Center-NIC (www.niluferinovasyonmerkezi.com)(www.twitter.com/nilovasyon): Established within Nilüfer Municipality in 2016 and supported by its consultative and Nilovasyon groups composed of city stakeholders, has the following agenda:

  • Develop international collaborative projects;
  • Increase awareness and participation of Nilüfer citizens in social innovation;
  • Increase visibility of social innovation;
  • Form effective collaboration with stakeholders;
  • Increase organisational innovation capacity and performance through benchmarking with Innovation Centers, Living Labs and others;
  • Develop innovation-focused policy and strategy in local government;
  • Learn and adapt novel methods through hands-on implementation of innovative activities;
  • Develop a model for the organisational innovation system;
  • Promote recognition of innovative activities at the international level;
  • Monitor models, theories and technologies on smart urbanism, smart living concepts;
  • Observe best practices around the world;
  • Develop innovative digital empowerment and entrepreneurship projects with urban stakeholders, furthering open social innovation;

Energy Cooperative-EC, the third synergistic action by Nilüfer Municipality, aims to democratise the energy supply architecture via the creation of citizen-owned renewable energy co-operatives, establishing the foundations for a low-carbon energy future that is directly controlled by citizens.

Results

Across 64 neighborhoods in Nilüfer, 1328 NC members are now representing their neighborhoods, with a strong presence of women and youth.  NCs carried out 980 meetings and registered 238 proposals in 2014, of which ~ 45% were adopted. Significant changes to the asphalting and paving as well as the park extension plans by the municipality were effected. NCs have been active in the formulation of the 2015-2019 Strategic Plan of the Municipality.

NIC has already created a surge in participatory social innovation in Nilüfer, with a 33% rise in implemented innovative service projects and a ~3% rise in citizen satisfaction in just one year after its creation. NIC has doubled applications to international collaborative projects. The digital entrepreneurship and digital inclusion platforms that are presently being created by NIC will provide training and educational resources for low skilled adults to advance their digital competencies, thus enhancing their employability, and will additionally create an easy to use interface for all citizens wishing to register complaints and suggestions. The organisational innovation system is expected to enhance innovation capacity in local governments and the public sector. Seven events were organised with youth, NGOs, Neighbourhood Committees and employees to increase innovation awareness from August 2016 in NIC. 230 participants joined these activities.

EC was founded in 2016 with ~1000 members, in the highly contentious legislative environment of energy co-operatives in Turkey with every step full of obstacles. Despite the barriers, Nilüfer energy co-operative is now the first of its kind in Turkey for municipalities, and paves the way to grassroot energy democracy. Nilüfer EC has plans to increase membership and advance with investments in rooftop PV and urban wind turbines for decarbonisation of the energy supply of the city, gradually disengaging from the heavily fossil fuel dependent national grid.

Impact

The three Transformative Actions by Nilüfer described above have, and will continue to have, significant sociocultural and economic impacts. The culture of grassroot participation in local affairs demonstrated by Nilüfer, in the highly centralised political culture of Turkey, has already created revolutionary reverberations. The impact of NCs on local sustainable living via direct involvement of citizens in pavement, bike routes and park extension plans by the local government shows that increasing public space, not only in physical terms but also in "how to live one's life" terms, will be in the sight of the NCs. Encouraged by positive feedback from NCs, participatory planning has also recently been tested on the ground by the municipality in the Konaklı Neighbourhood. The NIC, as the hub of social-innovation, is also a perfect "move to match" by the municipality, allowing for this grassroot movement to be increasingly visible and effective in the organisation of daily sociocultural and economic life in the city. The critical moment will be provided by the merging of citizens empowerment with the flowering of local economic creative activity, which is planned to be triggered by smart entrepreneurial culture and niches (via NIC digital platforms) and the consciousness in the public of transforming the energy supply architecture, at once the most visible, immovable and constant feature of modern life, through its huge generation-transmission-distribution infrastructures and remote/removed local association with local citizens. Small-scale, co-operatively owned renewable energy generation and use, replacing the centrally-owned corporate energy sector, is the single most spectacular example of the emancipatory modern movement for economic justice that has proven itself radically in many regions around the world. The present modest beginnings in Nilüfer, via the formation of the energy cooperative, raises hopes for a truly participative, cooperative economy.     

Challenges and lessons learned

Current polarised politics are not amenable to the development of sustainable alternatives to administrative rule dominant in Turkey. Nevertheless, Nilüfer is already a best-practice Municipality in Turkey, regarding participatory local governance, with strong support from other municipalities. Legislative barriers needed to be handled and solved as they entail national legislative modifications. Many legal obstacles are to appear on the course. Significant financial difficulties and lack of funds also are important given the fact that enormous pressure is exerted via physical growth rates in Nilüfer and the accompanying demand on basic services.  

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