In our series of short articles, we highlight how EUROCITIES members across Europe are engaging with their citizens.
Nantes is located on the Loire, the longest river in France. For centuries, the city was a major shipbuilding centre, had high concentrations of heavy industry, and was a key player in global maritime trade. However, following the disappearance of these traditional industries in the 1970s, people turned their back on the river. Interest in the Loire revived in the last 25 years through culture, greening, and the creative industries. In 2014, Johanna Rolland, the new mayor, and her 23 fellow mayors in the metropolitan council agreed to open a new chapter in the history of the river, and to redefine its role and place in territorial development. They decided to create a common vision through a ‘great debate’ that involves a broad range of stakeholders - citizens, institutions, associations, economic, and ‘green’ actors.
Between October 2014 and May 2015, the stakeholders were invited to work on four issues related to the Loire:
- uses and practices (festive and leisure activities, natural and cultural heritage, walking and cycling)
- economic and green space (new activities, biodiversity, ecological aspects)
- mobility and crossing (bridges, road tunnel)
- attractiveness and urban quality: new opportunities for urban projects
Over these eight months, an independent commission (five civil society representatives and three politicians) conducted ‘the great debate’, ensuring the effectiveness of the co-construction process and its transparency.
Different forms of participation were proposed in order to collect diverse point of views, mainly through a dedicated website, but also through face-to-face interviews. A total of 40,000 people took part in this debate, which generated 791 written contributions, 116 books, four stakeholder meetings, 14 expert auditions, and a citizens’ day based on the ‘worldwide view’ method (simultaneous participation of 261 citizens in five cities, who worked on the four issues and elaborated proposals).
These views were then shared with and analysed by the independent commission. The metropolitan council is committed to following up on the commission’s 30 recommendations.
The ‘great debate’ has proved to be a powerful strategic tool to encourage dialogue with and among citizens. Through their active involvement in shaping the future of their own urban environment, the citizens of Nantes have proved the power of open and participatory governance.
The results are manifold, including:
- a common vision shared by many more people thanks to a deliberation model, an upstream concept which guarantees the quality of the debate
- an opportunity to inject new energy into the future
- new places of exchange between stakeholders who usually never work together
- thirty practical commitments for the future
- follow-up by a dedicated commission
- more transversal way of working for technicians
- new way for institutions and politicians to make public decisions by listening to and integrating civil society 's expertise
On 7 March, EUROCITIES will host a mayors summit in Brussels, where European mayors together with European and national leaders will address rising populism and Euroscepticism, and will discuss further ways to engage citizens in a positive political process.
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