The Project

“Mapping Values: Co-constructing understandings of the good city in pursuit of new models of urban governance

Our Mission

Current thinking suggests that once vaccinations successfully roll out, ‘post-pandemic’ cities will come back to life. By contrast, our proposition is that the resilient city is pandemic-ready, not simply post-pandemic. We will combine citizen science mapping and participatory design methods to gather and explore the values people ascribe to being in urban public space. We will focus on two value indexes: health and inclusivity. By combining ‘public participatory GIS’, phone mapping apps, facilitated walks, and oral histories, we will produce a rounded dataset for one case study area. We will analyse these findings with cross-tabs for gender, age, and material circumstances. Workshops will be held throughout, with a final policy translation event, aiming to produce new knowledge that impacts local co-governance policies. This project will explore whether better urban governance is achievable with a better understanding of how people perceive ‘good’ places within their immediate urban tissue.

Our Funding

The project is funded by the British Academy Sandpit 2021 process. It is running for one year as a pilot.

Full Project Description:

“Mapping Values” proposes to chart public perceptions of social value around health and inclusivity in urban, particularly public, spaces, and to translate those perceptions into participatory policy-making in one case study area. The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed various social and spatial inequalities, transformed how people use and relate to urban public spaces, and highlighted the important role of cities in reimagining the organisation of such spaces. According to a 2020 OECD report on Tackling Coronavirus: Cities Policy Responses, recovering from the pandemic and building resilient cities require innovative approaches to engage citizens in urban planning in order to both ensure inclusive processes and to identify viable, place-specific solutions. This project will make a novel contribution to this agenda by exploring, through interdisciplinary research, whether and how better urban governance is achievable with a better understanding of how people perceive ‘good’ places. In doing so, we will also make an original contribution to understanding what a good city is by connecting values associated with human wellbeing in the city to the values embedded in policymaking, using participatory design as infrastructure to support the inclusive governance of urban space.   

The project brings together an interdisciplinary team with expertise in participatory design and urban planning, political theory, governance and public leadership, youth and cultural studies, human geography and citizen science, and histories of poverty. The project collects data in three different ways and deploys three interdisciplinary methods. Phase one scopes the project, identifies a partner local council, and secures participants. Phase two invites a large number of participants to use a ‘spraycan GIS’ map to ‘airbursh’ their values onto regions and places. Phase three conducts oral history interviews to produce a denser set of sources highlighting changing values of place over time, in memory, and set against markers of age, gender, community, and mobility/stability, and then compares this qualitative evidence to the ‘airbrushing’ dataset. This phase also runs co-creation workshops and ‘facilitated walks’ bringing together community members and policy-makers around the specified research area. Walking methods are well established in participatory approaches (e.g. participatory design, ethnography, urban planning, participatory rural appraisal) as they enable the researchers to access natural settings, and establish initial trust and rapport. Facilitated walks invite community members and policy-makers to record place-related affective values, and to visualise the differential of mental models from residents’ and policy-makers’ mental images/maps. This will be achieved by combining participatory activities, supported with What3Words (free geolocation app which renders place data as human readable) and related digital software, and with collective creativity. Camera photography can be added to What3Words squares to further personalise these individual psychogeographies. The workshops will also enable facilitated conversations between community members and policy-makers to share experiences and build trust and rapport between them. Phase four translates the datasets from previous phases into policy, using participatory design to gear community-led insights towards inclusive governance, e.g. public space protection orders, planning permissions, and formal/informal use cases for public urban spaces.

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