Can Urban Planning, Participation and ICT Co-Exist?: Developing a Curriculum and an Interactive Virtual Reality Tool for Agia Varvara, Athens, Greece

Can Urban Planning, Participation and ICT Co-Exist?: Developing a Curriculum and an Interactive Virtual Reality Tool for Agia Varvara, Athens, Greece

Vassilis Bourdakis (University of Thessaly, Greece) and Alex Deffner (University of Thessaly, Greece)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-929-3.ch014

Abstract

One of the recent main problems in urban planning is to find ways in order to employ practical, very broad and commonly used theoretical principles such as participation. An additional issue is the exploitation of the possibilities of new technologies. The process of developing a flexible three-part (common core, public and planners) curriculum in the case of Agia Varvara (Athens, Greece) in the framework of the Leonardo project PICT (2002-2005) showed that ICT (Information Communication Technologies) can help in participation, mainly because it constitutes a relatively simple method of recording the views of both the public and the planners in a variety of subjects (both ‘open’ and ‘closed’).
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Introduction

One of the recent main problems in urban planning is to find ways in order to employ practical, very broad and commonly used theoretical principles such as participation. An additional issue is the exploitation of the possibilities of new technologies. In relation to the latter, one important aspect is the transformations of urban forms, urban processes and the perceptions of urban life though the technological advances (Fernández-Maldonado, 2004). However, this chapter focuses on the role of new technologies in public participation in planning.

The data are provided by the PICT (Planning Inclusion of Clients through e-training) project which was a three-year (2002-2005) pilot project co-funded by the Leonardo da Vinci Programme of the European Commission. The project was inspired by the on-going debate about the relationship of people with their cities launched by the initial Charter of Athens (which took place in 1933, see Le Corbusier, 1943/1987) and re-defined by the New Charter of Athens adopted by European Council of Town Planners (ECTP) (1998/2003); and responded also to viewpoint that the involvement of communities in public decisions builds social capital and strengthens the civil society. The continuing debate on the participation of the public in official decisions is reflected on European policy, as expressed in the European Spatial Development Plan (European Commission, 1999), Local Agenda 21 and the Sustainable Development Framework of Gothenburg. Consequently, it has been widely accepted, at least in principle, in the European Union, that urban planning is part of the sustainable development process and as such requires consensus building through the engagement of citizens (PICT, 2006).

The paper focuses on the curriculum developed for the Municipality of Agia Varvara in Athens, Greece. It has a population of approximately 30000 people with a multicultural identity and high unemployment rates. The developed curriculum consists of three parts: a common ‘core’ part that is shared by both planners and the public, and two distinct parts: one addressing the public and the other the planners. Each part consists of several modules, to cater for different learning levels, abilities and interests. The structure is flexible and the whole idea was to have a curriculum with a scientific, and not a ‘journalistic’ curriculum basis that could, at the same time, be simple but not simplistic.

The main objective of the paper is to demonstrate if one of the main issues of urban governance, public participation in planning, can be helped through the use of ICT at the level of the community.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Urban Governance: Governance refers to the process of local government in a city and to the ways in which a local society manages its collective interests.

VR (Virtual Reality): Technology enabling the user to interact with a non-real synthetic/simulated environment via appropriate computer-user interfaces. The original term was coined in 1989 by Jaron Lanier. Different levels of “immersiveness” are accepted, ranging from desktop VR to fully immersive body suit solutions.

Public Participation in Urban Planning: The process that can enhance the ability of the public to play a significant role in policy-making and can benefit the planners from better information about public preferences and residents’ concerns.

ICT (Information Communication Technologies): Computer based technologies (mainly software) that facilitate the production, processing and communication of information

Community Planning: Planning focusing on community and aiming to develop a sense for integrated local development.

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