Waarom de wijk niet werkt - Een verkennend onderzoek naar de visie op schaalniveau en place attachment binnen het gemeentelijke participatiebeleid
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Citizen participation has been a highly debated topic in the past years. Organized society has changed through globalisation and the rise of information- and communication technologies. Traditional institutions and governments seem to lose ground, because citizens start to lose trust in the representative democracy. This is what Castells (1996) calls ‘the crisis of democracy’ inside the so-called network society. In their search to regain legitimacy, (local) governments promote active citizenship and increasingly implement citizen participation (Yetano et al., 2009). Another visible trend is the growing focus on locality. Municipalities in the Netherlands have partly decentralized their power to the level of the neighbourhood. The so-called neighbourhood focus (wijkgerichte werken) is implemented in most of the Dutch cities with the goal to enhance citizen participation. However, already in 1977, the Chinese geographer Tuan thought that the concept of a neighbourhood is too abstract for citizens to feel connected with it. In more recent research on place attachment, Hidalgo and Hernandez (2001) and later Lewicka (2010) found that citizens indeed feel less attached to their neighbourhood, then to the spatial level of their street or city. It is therefore questionable whether the focus on neighbourhoods for the promotion of citizen participation is effective. This research aims to explore the different opinions on citizen participation and the role of spatial scale. By means of a qualitative study an answer is given to the following research question: Which motives and opinions play a role within Dutch municipalities when deciding on the spatial scale of citizen participation projects? Within two Dutch cities, namely; Eindhoven and Utrecht, 14 semi-structured interviews were held with civil servants working in the field of citizen participation. They were asked about their views on the topic, but also about their experiences with participation projects on different spatial levels. They confirmed the idea of Tuan that most neighbourhoods are too big and too abstract for citizens to become attached with. Place attachment was found to be the highest on the level of the street and is lower on the higher spatial levels. Attendance at citizen participation projects is therefore also found to be highest on the street or block level and mostly lower on higher levels. Still, participation projects are implemented in all spatial levels. Moreover, it was reported that scale also has influence on certain other aspects of citizen participation. Civil servants are advised to give citizens less influence in participation projects that are implemented in the higher levels of the spatial scale. Issues on the street level are most of the time uncomplicated, this makes it easier to give citizens a considerable amount of influence. On the neighbourhood or city level, more stakeholders are involved which makes it harder to give citizens a high degree of influence. Still, the respondents think that the neighbourhood focused way of working is profitable for citizen participation. The most prominent reason being the presence of neighbourhood coordinators; special civil servants that work in the neighbourhood. The neighbourhood is not necessarily the spatial level where policies or participation projects are implemented. Rather, the neighbourhood focus is a flexible way of working, oriented towards the demands of citizens. Overall, spatial scale is found to be an important factor in explaining citizen participation, even though it receives almost no attention in local policies. Civil servants are not provided with clear instructions on how to cope with spatial scale and participation. They have to rely on their knowledge and experience. More knowledge and better monitoring on citizen participation in Dutch cities would help to give municipalities more guidance in implementing citizen participation on the right spatial scale.