How to use art and social design in the Environmental Act –

Participation will be an important pillar of the Environment and Planning Act. How do you organize it as a political decision-maker or initiator? The knowledge and implementation organization Kunstloc Brabant states that artists and designers can play an important role in this. To this end, she shares four principles and six examples.

Art and design provide new forms for conducting a conversation and visualizing perspectives. Especially when it comes to hot topics that play a role in the housing environment, such as housing status holders or setting up wind turbines, new forms of dialogue are needed to reach solutions. Visualization and discussion of a potential future development stimulates the imagination of stakeholders. This provides space for conversation. You can only desire something if you can see it in front of you.

Environmental law and participation

The new Environment and Planning Act brings together, simplifies and modernizes the current tangle of physical development laws and makes the rules more transparent. The law provides a coherent approach to the physical living environment, room for local adaptation and better and faster decision-making. Participation and stakeholder management are important pillars in the Environment and Planning Act. This means that you actively involve stakeholders in plans that you want to implement in their physical environment. Collaboration with residents, entrepreneurs, social organizations and authorities is mandatory throughout the process from idea to evaluation.

But how do you organize the conversation in a creative, active way and thus ensure participation? Below you will find four principles and six examples of the use of art in the design of participation in the Environment and Planning Act based on the experience and knowledge we have gained in Brabant recently.

Four principles

1. Customization

Each task requires customization. The makers’ strength is precisely that they do not use standard recipes, but approach each situation in a unique way. Makers are good at dealing with uncertainty or unseen things. They do not go for pressure cooker solutions, but take time and attention. They are trained in developing concepts that go out of the box. This allows them to initiate the conversation at every step of the process in a way that appeals to the imagination.

There are different degrees of participation, from information to decision making. Carefully consider in advance what you are aiming for and what suits the situation at each step of the process. It provides clarity.

2. Looking for usual and especially unusual suspects

As a politician or initiator, you want everyone to be heard who gets involved in the consequences of decisions. This will give you a better idea of ​​all the consequences, but also of possible alternative solutions. This way, you can make better decisions that can count on more support.

So see who and what parties are stakeholders, and involve them. In addition to residents, you need to think about entrepreneurs, neighborhood organizations, governments, and social organizations. Also look at what is already happening or being organized in resident initiatives and pull into it.

But maybe – beyond this usual suspects – that unusual suspects more importantly. Artists and designers are always looking for it. They also give voice to the landscape, the river, the green woodpecker or the bat. They often do so in a very surprising way that makes the conversation with usual suspects opens up, connects opposites and takes the conversation to another level.

Involve the artist from the very beginning

The makers have a nose for the question behind the question. They are trained to look at problems from all sides and to examine them before choosing a direction towards a solution. They are not distracted by problems or issues that are clearly visible or are the first to be mentioned. It is often consequences or expressions of ‘bigger’ problems and underlying issues that play a role.

The artist or social designer can also play a connecting role in the discussion or design process with the people and organizations involved in the issue and contribute to a solution. By organizing the process in a different way, developing working methods and appealing to the imagination, people (and therefore also politicians and initiators) are freed from their daily practice. This allows you to develop more support and commitment.

4. Corresponding process

Often the goal of participation is to “turn heads in the same direction”, and the goal is to avoid a Polish parliament. But involvement is stimulated by creating connections between people who do not automatically seek out each other. People learn to empathize with each other, and then new insights grow. In a ‘social design’ approach, you create space together to give these different opinions a place in the process – and to visualize them, sometimes literally. This gives synergy to the different perspectives and therefore has an added value.

Six examples for inspiration

Good starting points, but how to do it? The committee below shows how decision makers can encourage participation around issues in the physical living environment. Not all examples are directly related to the Environment and Planning Act. These are examples where art and / or social design are used in a participation process.

1: The city’s hottest spot

In the project ‘Hottest Place in town’, the theater maker Heleen van Doremalen started a conversation with an igloo in the Fellenoord district (Breda) about how their neighborhood can cool off. However, the conversation was not only about the heat of the sun, but also about the warm temperament of the inhabitants. This project is an initiative of the Zet Foundation and part of the pilot project ‘Inclusive area development Fellenoord’ to see how the Fellenoord district can benefit from the adjacent area development. Due to these special meetings, there is more knowledge of residents and surroundings. Residents better realize that they can contribute ideas and talk.

2: Boxtel within the bridges

In Boxtel, the municipality, together with Kunstloc, has developed the experimental civic participation process for the new Centervision ‘Boxtel within the Bridges’. The artists Lobke Meekes and Matthijs Bosman disturbed and gave distant perspectives. For example, Matthijs made a radio report in the future where a journalist reports on a cruise through Boxtel in 2024 for the VPRO program Watersteden. It gave the citizens and entrepreneurs involved a look at the bigger picture and saw opportunities instead of impossibilities.

3: Bureau Pees – Something with Farmers

With the performance Something with Farmers, Bureau Pees provides insight into agriculture in a theatrical way. The performance – with both professional actors and leisure actors from the villages where it plays – brings farmers, citizens and villagers into talk about the landscape, but also about our food and climate consequences.

4: The children’s voice

The Sustainable Polder between Us and’s-Hertogenbosch is an area where sustainable energy production is planned. Two school classes will visit this area for three days, supervised by Gerda van Puijenbroek (Stichting De Buitenschool), artist Judith Rosema, students from King Willem I College and the teachers. The children are personally challenged to relate to the area and to the production of sustainable energy. How do children view the topic of energy? What is their role in shaping their future living environment? How can we set their imagination in motion and make their voices audible?

5: Camping Kafka

Nowhere in the world are there so many holiday parks as in the Netherlands. Previously, they were intended as recreational areas for families. Holiday homes, mobile homes and holiday bungalows are increasingly inhabited by homeless or displaced citizens who get lost in a forest of rules. Camping Kafka, a project of the Academy for Imaging, shows how our community works and leads in open work sessions for alternatives with camping residents, professionals, policy makers and festival goers.

6: Fort Seaside Buoy

Several problems arose in the Fort Zeekant district of Bergen op Zoom. Due to the impending demolition and new construction, there was no longer a clear identity. In short: the people had lost their history. This was the starting point for the project with the social design collective Studio 1: 1, commissioned by the housing association Stadlander.

Front page: ‘Something with Farmers’ by Bureau Pees (source: kunstlocbrabant)

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