Context for Participatory Planning

Since the 1980s, public participation has been legally acknowledged in various parliamentary Acts in Finland. The incremental steps of laws revise led to the Land use and planning Act which improved on the process of informing local people of decisions on land use planning (1990) and then highlighted the two-way communication and collaboration between residents and officials (1999). Since 2000 the existing Land use and building Act has been amended several times while in 2013 the Act was completely overhauled. This Act emphasises the role of participation, collaboration and transparency in planning practices throughout the process (MRL 132/1999, 1999). It aims to ensure the involvement and interaction of all relevant participants in the preparation of plans guaranteeing also the quality of the planning outcome (ibid., also see Kahila-Tani, 2015). For example, in section 63, it requires drawing up a Participation and Assessment Scheme when a plan is being drawn up. The scheme should cover participation and interaction procedures and assessment of the plan’s impact. However, by merely requiring publicizing planning proposal and Participation and Assessment Scheme, this Act, together with the Land Use and Building Decree, ensures a minimal “informing” level of public engagement in the land use planning process.

The existing planning systems in the Anglo-American, central European and Nordic societal contexts share some similarities but differ significantly e.g., in the way in which public participation possibilities have been strengthened. In Finland the local government is responsible for most basic services like social and health services, as well as the educational, cultural, environmental, and technical infrastructure (including planning) services (Bäcklund & Mäntysalo, 2010). This Nordic welfare state model however also creates challenges for the implementation of participatory planning because of the strong municipal self-government which is presumed to exist for its citizens and their well-being (e.g. Haveri, 2006). This weakens the need for a strong civil society to emerge while the lay people are often simply used to the way representative democracy has traditionally functioned (see Kahila-Tani, 2015).

Despite the limitation of laws and planning system stated above, many municipalities in Finland have progressive and advanced public participation practices. Public participation has been enhanced through Internet-based participation channels (Bäcklund & Mäntysalo, 2010). Planning processes are more transparent due to the online planning forums and online planning information system. Information distribution has been systematized (ibid.). E-services not only provide direct channels for participation, also provide services like day care reservation to facilitate participation for busy households. Many cities, large and small, have their public participation strategy. For example, the city of Lahti has developed a continuously ongoing participatory master plan process (Mäntysalo et al., 2019) based on a dataset that contains more than 200 layers of data including geospatial data providing by citizens. Lahti’s practice has far exceeded the requirements by Land Use and Building Acts and has proved that public participation can support a more efficient and more sustainable planning process.

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