Towards place-making in urban planning through participatory action research
Strydom, Wessel Johannes
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Space is different from place, as space becomes place when endowed with meaning and values. Space is therefore not a neutral backdrop for people’s lives, but intertwined with their daily lives. Before attempting to create place, the particular space first has to be understood. Place-making (transformation from space to place) refers to the empowering process during which inhabitants of a setting tend to represent, renovate and upgrade their physical surroundings. This process includes the views and opinions of direct site users in terms of decision-making. This participatory process relates to an open, accountable process during which individuals and groups can exchange views and influence decision-making processes. In previous bureaucratic, top-down planning practices (‘Blueprint’ planning theory) the involvement of participants within decision making was limited. Therefore, a communicative turn towards a ‘bottom-up’ process was needed, including affected role-players by communicating and negotiating any developmental decisions. Planning is an important change agent in addressing social and economic inequality by means of inclusive planning processes, especially in South Africa with its recent transition to democracy and post-apartheid reconstruction aims. There is currently an emphasis on the need to examine particular ways in which practices of participation in development play out in concrete situations. Participatory Action Research (PAR) is a research method that proactively aims to develop equal distribution of power in terms of decision making by embracing values such as empowerment, social justice and equity, collaborative relationships, mutual learning and respect towards diverse opinions. Constant reflection and self-reflection within a participatory informed study is used to benefit the decision making process to create change. Change implies the promotion of the physical and positive social transformation. This research describes how PAR is used as a method in the place-making process to create change in a community that had previously been subjected to forced removals. The research context includes an existing open space (previously utilised as a dumping site) in Ikageng, Potchefstroom, South Africa, and surrounding land owners who interact with the site daily. A qualitative research approach was appropriate in this case as the research was carried out in a natural context where no extraneous influences occur and the research focused on obtaining in-depth understanding of a process rather than focusing on presenting evidence in quantifiable terms. While the planning procedure followed included numerous phases - Focus group 1, Focus group 2, Collaborative Design Workshop and Focus group3 (see Annexure B for Focus group questions) - the primary aim of this dissertation is to explore the process of place-making in planning by using PAR. Secondary aims include: (i) the understanding of the concept of place-making, (ii) giving an overview of theoretical paradigms in planning, (iii) to develop guidelines for using PAR in a planning process, and (iv) to develop planning guidelines for the process of place-making. Findings reveal that experienced change can be described as threefold. Levels of change included: (i) the physical level (Transforming the space physically (beautification and upgrade)), (ii) the social level (Transforming the community socially), and (iii) the psychological level (Transforming the community psychologically). During the experiencing of change, PAR values were unlocked progressively by the place-making process, which included empowerment, collaborative relationships and mutual learning. In later stages of the research, the PAR values of respect towards diversity and social justice and equity were revealed. Based on the above, the study offers planning recommendations by means of the development of guidelines for a place-making process. These guidelines (as informed by PAR), refer to (i) Phase 1 - Gaining community entrance, (ii) Phase 2 - Conceptualising the space, (iii) Phase 3 - Establishing partnerships, (iv) Phase 4 - Transforming space to place, (v) Phase 5 - Implementation and, (vi) Phase 6 - Monitoring/Reflection. When following these recommended guidelines with regard to a place-making process, research challenges should be taken into consideration. These challenges relate to the time-consuming nature of place-making, as well as the necessary flexibility regarding the context of the research. Furthermore, financial resources should be seen as important when attempting to transform space into place. Therefore, these planning recommendations should be seen as a guideline and not a fixed master-plan.