Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Civic Initiatives in Urban Development: Self-Governance versus Self-Organisation in Planning Practice

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Civic Initiatives in Urban Development: Self-Governance versus Self-Organisation in Planning Practice

Article excerpt

Introduction: confusion in understanding civic initiatives as self-organisation

In response to the decline of the welfare state in Western Europe, there has been an increasing emphasis on civic initiatives related to community building and urban development (Mayer, 2003; Newman, 2011; Van de Wijdeven, 2012; Moulaert et al., 2014). These initiatives involve the active engagement of citizens and non-governmental actors in local decision-making on urban development. They also include citizens taking responsibility for steering and participating in projects, services and activities at, for example, the level of neighbourhoods, villages or cities. A review of the literature reveals a variety of ways in which these initiatives are conceptualised, for example, as 'bottom-up development' (Miazzo and Kee, 2014), 'grassroots initiatives' (Newman et al., 2008) or 'tactical urbanism' (Lydon and Garcia, 2014). The concept of self-organisation is increasingly used to frame and analyse these civic initiatives and their underlying development processes (e.g. Tidball and Krasny, 2007; Boonstra and Boelens, 2011; Huygen et al., 2012; van Meerkerk et al., 2012; Frantzeskaki et al., 2013; Nederhand et al., 2014). In general, these studies emphasise the bottom-up nature of civic initiatives and their functioning in relative independence from governments. However, in the emerging debate on urban self-organisation, several understandings of the concept co-exist, each having specific implications for the analysis of civic initiatives and the design of planning strategies that accommodate these initiatives. This paper aims to contribute to a more profound understanding of these differences. It examines the pertinence and limitations of applying the concept of self-organisation from a complexity perspective by confronting it with an understanding of self-organisation that resonates with forms of self-governance.

Self-organisation is a long-standing concept. It can be related back to Adam Smith's 'invisible hand' and even further back to Aristotle's phrase 'the whole is more than the sum of the parts' (compare Anderson, 2002). Modern understandings of the concept have been developed in a variety of disciplines over recent decades. Self-organisation has been applied and debated in fields including chemistry (Nicolis and Prigogine, 1977), biology (Maturana and Varela, 1980), sociology (Luhmann, 1990), cognitive psychology (Dalenoort, 1995) and more recently also spatial planning (Portugali, 1999; Batty, 2005; Boonstra and Boelens, 2011).

One way of defining and looking at processes of self-organisation is through a complexity sciences lens (e.g. Kauffman, 1995; Cilliers, 1998; Heylighen, 2008). Complexity sciences comprise research on the evolution of phenomena, rejecting the Newtonian conception of the world based on reductionism, determinism and predictability (Cilliers, 1998; Wolfram, 2002; Heylighen, 2008). Instead, they portray a reality that evolves more or less autonomously, non-linearly and spontaneously as a consequence of the interconnectedness and changeable nature of underlying processes (Rauws, 2015). Self-organisation in complexity sciences includes the spontaneous formation of patterns or structures at a global level out of the interactions between agents at the local level (Heylighen, 2008). Hence, the 'self ' in a complexity-inspired understanding of self-organisation refers to the 'unplanned' emergence of organisation 'by itself ' or 'spontaneously'.

In the context of urban development, this implies the absence of a collective ambition amongst actors collectively to realise a particular urban transformation. Instead, the emergence of new spatial configurations is mainly driven by actors' actions that are based on individual ambitions. Therefore, this type of self-organisation covers the emergence of urban developments out of uncoordinated and relatively independent actions (e.g. transformation of a shop into a bar or café) by multiple actors (e. …

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