Big cities usually have the budgets and brainpower to set up and implement impressive, large-scale participation projects. And smaller municipalities and communes typically harbor a stronger sense of community, helping them facilitate two-way dialogue. So, where do midsize cities fit in when it comes to community engagement?
As it turns out, this in-between position is by no means an unfavorable one. Whether the aim is to improve infrastructure, stimulate wellbeing and artistic expression, or strengthen communities, midsize cities hold the potential to channel their strength in numbers while preserving a sense of proximity between residents and elected representatives. As such, midsize cities across the globe have adopted community engagement as a valuable tool to tap into their collective intelligence and transform their shared spaces for the better.
Carlisle, PA (🇺🇸) focuses on play & public recreation
In the redevelopment process of the Fairground Avenue Linear Park, Carlisle Borough, PA (~19,236 inhabitants) launched two new projects to convert the area into an enjoyable and accessible leisure hub for everyone, including young people.
- The first initiative was the construction of a designated skate spot. Here, skateboarders and roller skaters will be able to brave banks, rails, and ledges to their heart’s content. Through a survey, the city consulted the community on the features to include and materials to use. The input collected will inform the finalized design.
- Second, the Borough plans to develop a general recreational area for the community to come together and relax. The administration put a handful of ideas—including an inclusive playground, outdoor fitness equipment, and an interactive walking path—up to a vote. Community members were also encouraged to share their own ideas for the area.
Bourgoin-Jallieu (🇫🇷) goes green
Bourgoin-Jallieu (~29,423 inhabitants), a commune in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in France, uses its community engagement platform to facilitate several sustainability initiatives. After a project about an urban garden on the local Place des Marettes was completed, the commune is currently running other projects to make its streets and neighborhoods greener and healthier:
- As a result of a successful citizen initiative, the commune has installed 3 collective composting sites that are entirely co-managed and maintained by volunteer residents and the municipality. Composting organic waste can reduce the volume of waste by 30%, and so the commune has recently decided to add 2 more sites. The platform enables community members to share ideas and volunteer.
- Between 2016 and 2018, the commune installed nearly 300 bicycle racks. This reduced the risk of bike theft and encouraged residents to commute in a healthy, eco-friendly way. Now it’s time to add more, and the commune has decided to consult residents on the exact locations. On an interactive map, community members can view the existing sites and pin new ideas.
Stirling (🇬🇧) invests in the community’s wellbeing, education, and creativity
The Scottish city of Stirling (~48,440 inhabitants) is currently facilitating a variety of projects on its community engagement platform. While some of these center on climate and sustainability, others focus specifically on improving the community’s general wellbeing.
- Stirling is consulting the community on a proposal to increase the number of spots in specialist secondary schools. This would allow them to support more students with Complex Additional Support Needs (ASN), including Autism Spectrum Disorder. The council drafted a proposal exploring 3 potential routes: providing additional ASN classes at regular schools, building a new specialized school, or looking for extra spots outside of the Council. Community members could weigh in via a survey and a series of public meetings.
- Also, Stirling Council decided to make young people’s mental health a top priority, launching a survey for parents and caretakers to gauge how to provide more support. Any parent or caretaker of a 5-18-year-old could weigh in. Based on the input of the survey, the council set up a mental health transformation group. This group is tasked with turning ideas into action.
- A tad more lighthearted, but valuable nonetheless. Stirling’s poet laureate Laura Fyfe launched a survey to ask community members about their connection to poetry and the written word. Based on the collected responses, the council is currently planning to provide more spoken word events, poetry groups, and writing workshops.
Linz (🇦🇹) embraces the digital revolution
For the Austrian city of Linz (~193,814 inhabitants), digitalization and tech literacy are at the top of the agenda. The projects on the platform are mainly intended to strengthen people’s digital skills and prepare the city for a sustainable, inclusive, and accessible digital future.
- With ‘Digital Linz’, the city launched a future-oriented ideation project. Community members were asked to share ideas, suggestions, and opinions on everything from AI, digital services and new working methods to the future of education and research. This input was compiled in the ‘Digital Linz’-program, which is currently being implemented.
- While everyone needs to have access to digital skills, Linz pays special attention to educating young children. They’ve set up a series of workshops in schools and care centers to promote digital skills in a playful way and familiarize kids with digital devices. Community members were encouraged to share experiences or ask questions directly on the platform.
Ghent (🇧🇪) builds bridges—both literally and metaphorically
Ghent (~469,466 inhabitants), a city in the Belgian province of East-Flanders, has mainly used its platform to facilitate a large-scale participatory budget for the city’s different neighborhoods. Improving neighborhoods is at the top of the agenda in Ghent, and that involves both improving infrastructure and bringing people closer together, too.
- The city involves residents in developing solutions for several areas and neighborhoods, each of which has a unique character and ditto set of challenges. While the initiatives for the Muide Meulestede neighborhood center mostly around adding green spaces, the focus in Oostakker-Noord lies on transforming the harbor.
- With ‘Young and Old in Ghent’ (‘Jong en Oud in Gent’), the city launched a competition to support initiatives that strengthen intergenerational relationships within the community. Three winners will receive a prize of respectively 750, 500, and 250 euro to bring young and old together.
- While Ghent is all about transformation, its rich fabric of stories and anecdotes must remain intact. With ‘Ghent Raconteurs’, the city has launched its very own storytelling platform to collect and honor remarkable stories, experiences, personalities, and anecdotes. Community members can add their stories in different ways, from writing it out in full-length text to uploading photos, videos, or audio.
Read our case study on Ghent.
Utrecht (🇳🇱) transforms its outside spaces
The Dutch city of Utrecht (~551,879 inhabitants) has made it its mission to involve the community in the optimization of outside spaces. The community engagement platform serves as a centralized hub where community members can weigh in on several projects aiming to increase the city’s general safety and livability.
- Deep underneath the surface of the Waterwinpark, drinking water is extracted for thousands of families in the area. But only few people are aware of the park’s unique role in the city. Utrecht invited 3 local artists to develop a creative plan to clarify and honor the park’s link with water. Community members could then vote and comment on the 3 designs.
- Utrecht also strives to make its outside spaces more accessible and enjoyable for young people. The city, therefore, consulted the community on the placement of picnic tables. Based on the collected input, which also expressed a need for extra space for younger kids, the city added a basketball and football court to the plans. Community members were then asked to cast their vote and share their opinion on the 2 designs.