Public participation and the placemaking approach are receiving continuously increasing attention and are therefore likely to become, in a near future, the norm of shaping our cities. They are instruments of local democracy, enabling citizens to stake a claim and exercise their influence on the city, repositioning them from recipients to active participants in this shaping. Research has shown that these democratic processes are the best way to ensure better physical environments, while also bringing social development. However, this attempt to shift from government to governance by power redistribution can at times pose a challenge to democracy, by repeating existing power relations between participating actors. If representation is not done right and communities are not equally engaged, the social benefits are at stake and issues of inclusion and exclusion arise. The need for assessment in this field is therefore highly relevant, but little progress has been done in developing measurable evaluation tools.
This article is based on action research, following as a case study the process of co-designing Klostergata56, a small, underutilized public space in the Norwegian city of Trondheim. It presents a new framework of evaluating a participatory process, applied to the project to investigate its level of inclusion.
Results of the study showed that the process had significant limitations to being inclusive to the expense of marginalized groups, due to unequal participation of stakeholders and differences in levels of nurtured social capital and civic trust. The challenges highlighted by the research make it possible to identify lessons for further processes to be more inclusive. Until such challenges are addressed, participatory placemaking will continue to be a trial-and-error process, therefore bound to repeat, at least to some extent, the inequality patterns present in a society.
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