Context for Participatory Planning

Latvia embraced participatory planning in the 1990s after its independence from the Soviet Union. In 1994, Latvia’s first regulations (Regulation No.194 Territorial Planning Regulations) specifically addressing national, regional, municipal, and local level spatial planning was adopted. Before the launch of the Development Planning System Law in 2009, the legislation concerning spatial planning was revised with a regular frequency. This law was merged into the Spatial Dvelopment Planning Law in 2001 (small amendments in 2014), which sets out requirements for public participation in spatial planning. Nowadays, planning and participation procedures are determined in Latvia by “Spatial development planning law” (2002, revised in 2011) (Prilenska, 2020).

Despite of the frequent changes in legislation, only little changes in the requirements for public engagement in urban planning was made (Akmentiņa, 2020). Compared to Estonia, which is also a post-socialist country that learnt from the other European countries for its early legislation, Latvia has relatively less detailed planning laws. These laws are complemented by the regulations issued by the Cabinet of Ministers (Regulations No.711 in 2012, revised and reissued as Reg. No.628 in 2015). The less-detailed level of the laws is believed for aiming at flexible strategies responding to the diversity of local conditions (Prilanske et al., 2020), as in the transition from socialism to liberalism since 1991, Latvia Government delegated the responsibility of urban planning to municipalities (Akmentiņa, 2020). Therefore, these national level laws only set the minimum requirements for public engagement. These minimum requirements mostly include public display of planning documents and public hearing. As online platforms were introduced since 2004, planning information dissemination and availability are also included in the public engagement requirements (ibid.)

Government-led public participation has been developed since the 1990s. In addition to the required public display and public hearing, other approaches such as public discussions, seminars, online forum-like websites, questionnaires, etc., were adopted. Utilizations of these approaches helped the public participation in planning processes to reach the “inform” and “consult” level of engagement. Throughout Latvia’s 30-year development of public participation, active citizens and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) also rose. Civic organisations such as Environmental Protection Club (VAK; Vides aizsardzības klubs), Coalition for Protection of Nature and Culture Heritage (KDKMA; Koalīcija dabas un kultūras mantojuma aizsardzībai) initiated petitions and litigations against specific projects or approval of laws. During the more recent years, more place-based (neighbourhood) organisations appeared, that turn bottom-up participation activities from opposition towards collaboration. These neighbourhood organisations tend to focus on several types of activities, e.g., preservation of cultural heritage, environmental protection, and participation in urban planning (Treija & Bratuškins, 2017), and play an important role in motivating citizens and strengthening local identity (ibid.). Governmental authorities, e.g., the city of Riga, have launched funding programmes and participatory budgeting programmes to support these bottom-up, place-based activities (Koroļova & Treija, 2019).

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