Before participation, some education please

All kinds of collaborative websites and apps have been recently released to get us excited about engaging in our cities. Democracy, in its interactive and social web form, is looking pretty cool.

But before this “engagement” can happen, comprehensible and comprehensive information needs to be made available on the issues at hand. Yes, anyone can be an expert when it comes to their neighbourhood, but how can this expertise fit into the larger urban planning structures? What is urban planning and all of its components? How do community-based planning initiatives apply and fit into these formal processes and their guiding documents?

Governmental and legal jargon simultaneously elicits yawns, and “yikes”. Montréal, like most cities, is a big complicated machine, living inside the province’s larger bureaucracy and legal framework for urban planning. Reading urban planning-related documents is an effort and a skill in itself.  After this, there is the hard task  of convincing people that their participation is important enough for them to take time out of their non-work lives, in the hopes of contributing to some positive change.

The challenge lies in making learning about our city  enjoyable, interesting and relevant, so that meaningful engagement can be incited and encouraged. Although many nonprofits around Montréal devote their time to finding creative ways to include and accompany communities in planning initiatives, few have the in-house resources to develop educational tools on urban planning.

And so, with fun at its core, our Montréal urban planning education project started. Informally founded in 2011, Bricolage urbain became our post-graduation project to solve this learning gap. Bricolage urbain is a collective of planners, artists, designers and educators whose mission is to create educational tools and organize activities that explain how our city works. From the get-go, we were inspired by NYC’s formidable Center for Urban Pedagogy (to view an example of their type of work, see their What is Zoning? tookit  and guidebook).

Working with Montréal’s independent public consultation body, the Office de consultation publique de Montréal, we devised a bilingual poster-pamphlet explaining Special Planning Programs (known in French as Programmes particuliers d’urbanisme – PPU), and have made it available online in French and English. This planning device is frequently used by the city to plan neighbourhoods “in transition”, made (in)famous by the Griffintown and Quartier des spectacles plans.

We are hoping that this type of learning tool is included in more Montréal and Canadian urban planning education efforts. If our governments are speaking the pro-public participation talk, their popular education efforts would greatly benefit from also being amped up. Becoming informed is the starting point to an effective public engagement process and the first step towards (we hope)  empowerment.

This post originally appeared on the website.