Communications by design? Intersections of creative citizenship, community media and participatory design

Alevizou, Giota; Alexiou, Katerina; Greene, Catherine and Ramster, Gail (2013). Communications by design? Intersections of creative citizenship, community media and participatory design. In: Communication and the City: Voices, Spaces, Media, 14-15 Jun 2013, Leeds, UK.



Urban theory has undergone a veritable normative turn, registered in debates – and in prescriptive practices in architectural planning, collectively known as community-led, co- or participatory design. Such debates, and practices, are centred on issues around democratisation and the right of citizens to participate in, and collaborate over, the design of their built or physical environment and public services and to creatively contribute to social capital, economic sustainability and cultural well-being of neighbourhoods and local businesses. Responding to such turns, the centrality of media, and social media tools, is evident in localism policies across Europe, with the case of New Localism Bill in the UK proposing a new planning policy framework, promising to bring about reforms that will decentralise local governance, put forward grass-roots participation, and fuel the potential of digital creativity and economy.

The question then is, what is the definition and value of community-led design, as this is understood and represented by different communities through the use of media and via mediated creativity and civic engagement. Drawing on focus groups with a variety of participants from London-based community projects, interviews with architecture professionals and content analysis of selected public media outputs, a number of insights will be presented: a) Social media and the internet present new tendencies towards way-finding, information sharing, as well as communication, visibility and communal story-telling and self-representation. Likewise, face-to-face interaction, private communication and ‘small- media’ (see Sreberny and Mohammadi, 1994; e.g. posters, leaflets, pamphlets, etc) are vital for raising awareness or advocacy, and, for mobilising volunteer support and further engagement, promoting thus the need for an analogue and digital mix in community media; b) Participatory or community-led design projects surface a renewed impulse for the ‘articulation’ and mediation of issues, values and tensions that may represent the make-up of local communities in cities. Participatory design may indeed present some coherent narrative to fuel activism, to facilitate creativity and peer support among locally based communities of interest, to enhance cultural value and shared memory, but also to bring people together with a shared sense of purpose and mutual benefit surrounding public spaces and services. Nonetheless, numerous tensions prevail, pertaining the development, governance and sustainability of communities and projects, civic engagement and effective social action, as well as media and participatory literacies.

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