Rubbish, pollution, increasing traffic and uncontrolled population growth – these most pressing problems people are facing all over the world. Especially in highly urbanised areas. How could we deal with them? (see also EcoPals –Plastic Roads and Sustainable Development).
In Seoul (Korea) and Australia, these challenges are being addressed in different ways. Here through innovation and Public Participation, there through civic engagement. Both have led to more constructive and sustainable solutions and made regions more liveable. Both help to make smart cities a reality.
It has shown that it is better to involve those who are most affected – us, the citizens.
Seoul – Public Participation and Innovation for Sustainable Change
With about 25 million people, Seoul is one of the worlds largest megacities. Its residents are familiar with typical urban problems caused by pollution, traffic, limited availability of affordable housing and almost uncontrolled population growth.
Mayor, Park Won-Soon, knew that a top-down strategy to address these problems was not the right answer. Previous attempts to develop solutions through citizen committees failed as they were found to be only supplementary advisory – citizen engagement was limited.
The heart and soul of a city are its citizens.
With the aim of making a sustainable smart city, the new governance and decision-making policy promised a more active role – the city’s citizens were to be directly involved in cooperative policymaking.
Since 2012, the newly established Seoul Innovation Bureau, located directly in the mayor’s office, should steer the cooperative collaboration with citizens. By establishing online and offline channels people should discuss current and important political issues to participate in solving problems:
- A hot wire between administration and population in the form of citizens’ groups working at different levels of the city administration
- New meeting spaces for citizens discussions and lectures, exhibitions and projects.
- An interactive online platform with forums for policy and opinion expression, complaint and project proposal systems and electronic voting facilities
- Regular hold Innovation competitions to find new intelligent solutions to Seoul’s problems.
All these channels should carry ideas directly from the communities into the political decision-making process.
The city of Seoul has recognised the importance of a citizen-led strategy for the successful development and implementation of smart city solutions. Citizen innovators – or ‘smartivists’ -, play an increasingly important role in creating change.
But how do you ensure that people use these channels and participate?
Three cornerstones of PP empowerment
First, it was important to teach citizens how to participate. A school was set up to enable citizens in discussion-based educational programmes to engage with their city, develop innovative solutions to their problems and formulate the desired outcomes.
The newly established Seoul Digital Foundation catered to the less privileged or otherwise excluded minorities by providing access and technology. This included educational programmes and user courses.
Everyone should have the opportunity to be heard and participate.
Another important factor is transparency. It also means free access to information and data. That’s why two platforms should give people the opportunity to find out about things that are important to them: first, public access to government information and services, and second, public access to relevant data collections.
Transparency in administration leads to trust between the people and their government and promotes public participation and engagement.
Last but not least, public-private partnerships should be facilitated. Recognising that previous citizen participation was limited by its confinement to the lowest levels of government, the new policy allows for active participation of citizens and businesses at various levels to foster a more cooperative public-private climate.
At the municipal level, projects could then be proposed by citizens to the citizen-led Partnership Governance Committee for discussion with the municipality in the Community Innovation Plan. The project can then become part of the public budget. The entire development cycle is carried out in cooperation between the citizens and the municipality.
In 2017, 35 citizen-initiated projects were included in the city’s budget.
Local municipalities adopted this concept and use it with local projects in mind. So far, one in a hundred has been involved in some form of community engagement and public participation. The people of Seoul are convinced that this way of doing politics is a great added value:
Citizens do not just contribute resources; they are also seen as the main driver of government innovation and change.
Clean Up Australia – Civic Engagement to make your Neighbourhood liveable
As a keen sailor, Ian Kiernan was shocked and disgusted by the pollution and litter he constantly encountered in the world’s oceans. He took matters into his own hands and with the support of friends organised a community effort, Clean Up Sydney Harbour in 1989. More than 40,000 volunteers collected about 5,000 tonnes of rubbish in one day.
This simple idea ignited enthusiasm and desire in the local community to get involved and make a difference.
And if a capital city can be mobilised to action, surely the whole nation can too! And so, in 1989, Clean Up Australia Day was born.
After initial scepticism, policymakers also recognised the immense benefits to cities, people and the environment. And this was long before there were discussions on climate and waste crisis in many parts of the world.
Since then, a Clean Up Australia day has taken place every year. In addition, there are numerous regional and local initiatives that regularly tackle the litter problem throughout the year.
Citizens’ groups have even been formed to take turns every day of the week to help clean up their communities. And they do it voluntarily.
Clean Up Australia Ltd.
Alongside these local initiatives, the Day Action soon grew into a non-profit organisation that works with communities, governments and businesses to provide practical solutions that help us all live more sustainably every day of the year. The focus is as much on preventing litter from entering the environment as it is on removing what has already accumulated. To this end, Clean Up Australia Ltd. publishes The Rubbish Report every year.
Pressure on governments
As people and initiatives took on the rubbish problem, the focus of action grew. People no longer just collected rubbish but began to sort it into recyclable materials. At the same time, the pressure on politicians to enact appropriate laws for the reduction and recycling of packaging as well as a deposit system grew.
The success in Australia inspired the founders of Clean Up Australia Ltd. to believe that such an action could also be possible worldwide. In 1994, with the support of the United Nations, Clean Up the World was founded. The international campaign shall encourage communities to clean up, fix and preserve their environment.
Since then, a Clean Up the World weekend has been held every year on the third weekend of September. By 2007, the event had attracted more than 35 million people from over 120 countries to volunteer. Today, there are offshoots of this movement all over the world.
What do these examples show us?
These two successful concepts show what people can achieve in terms of sustainable change when they tackle challenges together. They show how important public participation and civic engagement are in finding the right approaches to comprehensive solutions. And it shows what we as a whole really need today to make our world a better place – the opportunity to participate, an awareness of pressing problems, the willingness to cooperate and, above all, courage.