We are happy to share that Tessy Britton will be a McConnell Cities for People Fellow this fall. Tessy is the Founding Chief Executive of Participatory City Foundation. As part of her fellowship, she will spend a month with us to support groups who are interested in adapting this initiative in Canada. Jayne Engle is on the Global Advisory of Participatory City and wrote this foreword to the report of its Every One Every Day initiative.

We are living in an era in which massive global challenges such as structural inequality and environmental degradation are becoming clearer and more complex to address. Just two weeks ago, the global scientific authority on climate change (IPCC) warned that we must make “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” to avoid catastrophic effects of climate change. Many of the societal institutions and systems that we have built are no longer fit for purpose. If we are to rise to the challenges, we need new models for a ‘Great Transition’ that can shift culture for the long term.

Participatory City provides a refreshing narrative and a tangible manifestation of what transition can look like, at the scale of the neighbourhood. It represents a model that can connect with similar movements of change, scale across neighbourhoods, and be adapted to cities anywhere. Simply put, it provides an inspiration for us to re-imagine how we live and work together in the future.

Participatory City’s aspiration to collectively build a culture of ‘neighbourhoods made by everyone, for everyone’ with a person-centric, systemic approach embeds philosophies of the right to the city and the right to human flourishing, and it provides a way to see and build the city as a commons — in other words as a set of shared resources for the benefit of all.

Credits: Participatory City Foundation

So then, why isn’t there more of this already? As with any audacious initiative that challenges existing paradigms, the barriers are multiple — from funding to regulatory restrictions to political time horizons. The obstacles underline the need for funding models that support social research and development for large-scale social change prototyping in live contexts. Given the emphasis on whole systems rather than working on problems one at a time or with targeted population groups, it takes longer to develop evaluation tools and measure progress.

The ambition to build a ‘large-scale, fully inclusive Participation Ecosystem’ requires innovation not only in what is done, but in how the work is organized. Any one organization or even sector cannot achieve enough on its own. The approach of Participatory City to build an ecosystem of multisectoral actors and local residents bolstered by a supporting platform provides a new civic infrastructure that can strengthen a collective sense of the city as a commons.

Participatory City represents a microcosm at the neighbourhood scale of a world we need to build. And the good news is that, as this compelling report from year one in Barking and Dagenham demonstrates, it is within our reach.

About Jayne Engle:

Jayne leads on city initiatives at the McConnell Foundation, and her background is in urban policy and planning, community development and participatory research. She is passionate about bridging innovative community action on the ground with policy and systems change, particularly in ways that foster freedom and flourishing of people. She holds a PhD in Urban Planning, Policy and Design from McGill University, where she is an Adjunct Professor. She lives in Montreal with her two kids. Share your thoughts with Jayne via Twitter: @JayneEngle