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Urban DNA
City/Region : Murcia City Hall , Spain

Urban DNA: the next step in integrated and participative urban regeneration & revitalisation, applied in neighbourhoods that have not fully deteriorated yet, but are at risk of worsening and show signs of decline (e.g. degentrification, identity-loss, declining quality of life, insecurity, lesser desirability, physical deterioration, migration problems, etc. and problems associated to “old” neighbourhoods.
The cornerstone of the project being a full scale citizen participation process on many levels through the three phases of identification, agitation and projection/evaluation, using tools like “Urban acupuncture” & “City Labs” to co-create better neighbourhoods for our citizens and increase their overall quality of life.

 

Agendas addressed
Greenfield land and natural spaceWater resources and air qualityPublic space
Social inclusion and integrationLocal economies and employment
Pathways followed
  • Involve citizens through participatory implementation
  • Encourage local private and civic engagement
  • Prepare policies for socio-cultural changes due to innovation
Context
Murcia City Hall

A lack of identity (as a neighbourhood, historical centre and origin of Murcia) directly impacted citizens, declining overall quality of life (e.g.) sense of insecurity, area desirability, physical deterioration, migratory influxes, etc. cramped/narrow streets, tall/old buildings, few green spaces, plazas, playgrounds, parking, etc. all these factors greatly affected the liveability and were directly leading to degentrification and decline, which after 10-15 years would require massive and costly intervention.


Decline in traditional residents, 6,77% population decline during the last 5 years, and an influx of immigrant citizens (unofficially as they are unregistered), student occupation (temporal residents, for example studying at university) remaining the same, and middle-class citizens moving to the suburbs is creating a territorial unbalance.
The goal was to directly improve the quality of life of the citizens in the district, through specific tangible actions, and with their direct input. Funding as little as possible (no structural nor large construction plans).

In Action
Murcia City Hall

Urban-DNA:  integrated and participative urban regeneration in 3 stages; analysis, citizen participation process, intervention and evaluation

First a Full scale Citizen Participation Process on many levels, the most important aspect being direct engagement:
The project was included in Murcia's Integrated Sustainable Urban Development Strategy 2020, highly involving the City’s Social Council (an advisory organ with representatives of all sectors of society, collectives of professionals, citizen clusters, etc.

A multidisciplinary work-group facilitating input, coordination, etc. was created. It is comprised of the two universities, local observatory, Murcia City Social Council, and engaging (municipal) experts, independent professionals.

Municipal services were required to comply (events, meetings, information, expertise, etc.), but acceptance of the initiative, positive input and cooperation by Municipal employees was much higher than “just doing their job” indicating real implication.

We shifted the focus from the citizen needing to go to a municipal service, to municipal services coming to the citizen and talking about their neighbourhood, 100% citizen-centered, as the extensive communication campaign, calling for citizen participation explaining the process, key dates and activities, etc. demonstrate.

Online and offline participation for neighbours to give their proposals, ideas and opinions online, also through social media and a wide array of communication channels, including:

  • 5 groups for Urban Mapping, specific work-groups (children, families, elderly citizens, etc.); A “walk” through the neighbourhood where collectives identify specific problems, needs and requirements were mapped out on a neighbourhood plan with the help of architects and municipal experts. E.g. families with children wanted a crossing and more police presence, disabled people wanted more wheel-chair ramps in certain streets, etc.
  • 12 Engaged stakeholder groups; associations, interest groups, sub-communities. E.g. women’s association, local commerce, parochial platform, seniors centre, etc.
  • 9 “Agoras”
  • 4 topic based forums for discussion and debate (two sessions each), organised in the neighbourhood where the neighbours directly discussed issues with council members and municipal experts
  • >400 Configurations in the citizen engagement games “Urban City Players” where neighbours get to design parts of the urban environment and the “empate” game.
  • Then our “agitation phase”; a 10 day full-scale physical intervention which focuses on the implementation of most determined actions including City Labs, sustainable practices for strengthening community ties, Urban acupuncture, small interventions modifying the neighbourhood, implementing improvements and correcting "mistakes" accumulated over time.
Results
Murcia City Hall

We consider Urban DNA to be a shock-and-awe strategy to revitalise and agitate (shake-up) the neighbourhood, and the outcome of the pilot amply exceeded expectations.

The intervention took place in 10 days, afterwards there was a cultural programme with events and activities to which thousands attended.

A key result was the auto-management of the neighbourhood opening (new) public spaces towards the citizens of the district and facilitating them with the tools and experience necessary to manage these areas.

Citizens participated actively and for themselves, not the city, to initiate change and improve their surroundings, filling the streets with participation and engagement.

>1600 citizens involved directly in the participation process
>3000 suggestions (physical and online)
>900 citizens in forums, discussions and agoras
>150 citizens actively participating during the intervention days
>800 attendees to meetings, presentations and openings
>500 municipal interventions
>450 municipal employees directly involved (front and back office)
>150 citizen attendees in 5 workshops
>400 participants in the developed games
4 new associations created
3 historical routes to recover local identity (one for deaf people >60 attendees)
2 squares completely remodelled
Transformation of 1 area into an arts district
1 open-air-museum
1 new park with an urban orchard, plants, area for traditional games and a space for open air exhibitions
A significant increase in passers-by and activities organised in the district and
1 more liveable neighbourhood

Also new (vegetarian/vegan) restaurants and pop-up shops/stores in the neighbourhood, reaffirming the alternative and artistic style and identity.

The global impact of the joint actions in 10 days is greater than many spare actions carried out throughout a year, leading to a positive influx and visual impact in the neighbourhood. And at this time the process is being repeated in two more neighbourhoods (following slight improvements (addressed in “challenges”).

Impact

Unfortunately it is too soon to be able to study the impact on local commerce, job creation, influxes of new inhabitants, increase in general wealth distribution, etc, because they have to be studied over time, so far the process shows a halt in, or even remission of, de-gentrification, as illustrated through the monitoring of the key indicators that indicated the neighbourhood was first vulnerable.

We empowered citizens to change their neighbourhood, to want to improve and maintain it, identifying problems and solutions, which the city applied, and they now care more about what happens in their surroundings, and will tolerate littering, damaging etc., far less.

After the intervention Miguel, a neighbour said "I am proud to live in this neighbourhood, I love to live in Santa Eulalia, because it is like a town within a city."

As such, Urban DNA is a good practice of the URBACT Interactive Cities Network, has been praised and adopted by the URBELAC network, and was a semi-finalist in the Bloomberg Philanthropies “Engaged Cities Award”.

Throughout the entire process communication was a key component, publicising the participation process, documenting and sharing the experiences, the 10 days of agitation and intervention, the results, the evaluation, the process, etc. with a special focus on outward communication (other cities, countries…), to share the results, models and good practice.

Also there was an enormous amount of face-time between citizens, civil servants, politicians, experts, collectives, etc. reaching high levels of engagement citizens and city government, debating and helping citizens reach conclusions and solutions, empowering their needs and having the process revolve around them, likewise citizens got to “peek in the kitchen” and understand how local government works, and how not every problem is solved so easily, generating respect and understanding for local government and the people that work there. Achieving horizontal as well as vertical integration.

Challenges and lessons learned
Murcia City Hall

The project has also been a process of learning by doing and there are evidently also upgrades and improvements that can be made to the project itself and its execution, e.g. the coordination between the concessionary companies and municipal services involved in the execution of the project encountered problems, which led to practical issues, which we solved by intensifying coordination efforts.
The main reason for being able to coordinate all municipal services was our Mayor, who personally oversaw his council members, alongside the previously mentioned multidisciplinary work-group that facilitating input, coordination, oversight, hands-on evaluation and pressured the “municipal machinery” into functioning like clockwork.

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Contact

ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability
European Secretariat

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79098 Freiburg
Germany

Tel.: +49 (0) 761 – 368 92 0
Fax: +49 (0) 761 – 368 92 19

E-mail: info@sustainablecities.eu
Website: www.sustainablecities.eu

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