Public Design Governance
Kim Sang-ah, Researcher, Public Design Research Lab, Hongik University
Last month, a “Consultative Group of Residents for Publilc Design” was established by Seongdong-gu District Office. It was the nation’s first consultative body in design that engaged residents and consisted of eight residents, four expert members, two design experts and one public officer. Through the consultative group, the district was able to quickly collect residents’ opinions about relevant projects including the one related to public design and combined experts’ advice thereby setting a direction for design. It was designed to become a channel to communicate with the residents.
In today’s multifaceted and complex modern society, existing design process that produces an outcome by utilizing intuitive ideas of only few designers has often turned out to be insufficient to meet the needs of the citizens. In response, this has shed a light on the need to come up with an innovative method to engage citizens, cooperate with stakeholders and experts for higher level of self-reliance and sustainability. The word “public” in public design means an unspecified number of the general public and together, which incorporates a value of engaging various players and cooperating in the process to create a design intended for everyone. The strategy that is being used to realize the afore-mentioned value of public design is a governance taking a perspective of “various methods for problem-solving.”
Governance evolves on its own according to change in the mode of social adjustment as pursued in each era and therefore it is hard to define it in a single concept. The term was originated from “Kubernetes”, a Greek word for helmsman in the 1960s and used as a political term to describe a steering role of governments. Then, with the advancement in democracy and civil society, the term expanded to the concept of “meta governance” which is about combining various theories of adjustment modes and cooperation methodologies to address and manage social problems. That is, from a meta governance perspective, it is interpreted in a wider sense to mean “Mode of adjustment in social-problem solving process” going beyond cooperative governance and engagement. In public design which needs to enhance publicness and peoples’ satisfaction level by addressing diversified needs and problems of a society in the public domain, this concept of governance is a very important implementation strategy. In this regard, I would like to explore some cases where different forms of governance are at play in public design and discuss their implications.
Creating synergy through participation and cooperation, a case of Kalasatama in Helsinki
A design process that engages different players who cooperate creates a bigger effect. Governance is applied not only to a decision-making process but also across the overall design process to engage citizens who are direct users of the design outcome, experts in each area and partner companies.
In Helsinki, a capital city of Finland, there is an area called Kalasatama which means “fish port”. Kalasatama which is a part of an industrial city called Sörnäinen became an iconic port city for over a century since railways and ports started to be built in that area from the 19th century, a period of industrialization. However, as other ports started to be built in its surrounding areas, Kalasatama was put in a drastic decline and eventually stopped all of its port operations in 2008. People stopped coming to visit and there was no vitality in a city, and Kalasatama needed a solution to tackle this problem. Helsinki decided to build a smart city in Kalasatama to address population concentration and environmental problems in the city center. Helsinki which declared to achieve zero carbon emission by 2035 adopted a Living Lab system in Kalasatama in 2013 and started to build an eco-friendly smart city by conducting various urban experiments and engaging its residents. “Smart Kalasatama Project” in Helsinki has been considered the most successful case of smart city in Europe for almost 10 years since its kickoff, and it is creating a sustainable city with its residents through public design governance.
‘Piloting smart and sustainable solutions’
Helsinki Smart City District built together with stakeholders including residents, companies, public officials, etc. [Source]
Kalasatama features something that is much more notable than the conventional smart city facilities such as mobility and smart bus stops that boasts advanced technologies. “Nopeat Kokeilut”, an agile pilot program is one of them. This program that means “a quick test” is a process that allows a municipal government to test actual services by local SMES by connecting them to the urban infrastructure. The key in this process is the active engagement of not only the residents but also the central and local governments, universities, etc. and to reflect their user feedback in testing smart technologies. Participating residents are highly engaged in testing the facility as they are the direct users, and their feedback can help companies build better and more refined facility. Forum Virium Helsinki which was formed to operate this process in a more systemic manner, is running this test in other parts of Helsinki in addition to Kalasatama. Also, Pocket Book for Agile Piloting, a guideline that introduces actual practices is available to help the city, companies, and residents to cooperate better and solve problems more flexibly as well as to allow anyone to practice the method easily. “Kalasatama Innovator’s Club” that consists of stakeholders including residents, companies, scholars, public officials, etc. is a network group that conducts this type of test, and the group leads communities to gather and exchange opinions. Through these efforts, various stakeholders form communities in different parts of the city, and create and maintain smart resources needed for the region. The seamless engagement of residents’ and stakeholders, and cooperation leading to benefit the public shows how a governance, through engagement and cooperation can yield positive outcomes.
The Pocket Book for Agile Piloting
Seongdaegol Energy Self-Sufficiency Village, a case that strengthened competency through expertise
The case of Kalasatama shows how different stakeholders cooperate by exchanging opinions through a network. In another case, inhabitants build their skills and competencies to enhance sustainability in order to realize values promoted by a region. In such a case, residents attend educational consulting or stakeholders attend workshops to define problems, find solutions and implement a method such as incubating.
There is a village that is achieving energy self-sufficiency in a self-reliant manner in a crisis of climate change. Seongdagol in Sangdo 3, 4-dong in Dongjak-gu district has been carrying out energy transition movement under the leadership of local civil groups and residents for more than 10 years since 2012. In 2010, people living in Seongdaegol built a local library. By the time activities of local community started to vitalize through the library, residents came to hear the tragic news of Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011 and started to think about environment and energy problems. After that, the residents started energy transition movement through culture and education with the support and cooperation of an environment group. From 2012 to 2014, the village took part in “Seoul Energy Self-Sufficiency Village Project” and conducted village school wintering using renewable energy and appropriate technology. In addition, an “Energy Cooperative Maeul.Salim” consisting of five groups in the village was formed and “Energy Supermarket” that promotes energy transition was craeted both offline and online. Park JungMoon (2017), Whitepaper about the activity of Seongdaegol Energy Self-sufficiency Village, Energy and Climate Policy Institute & Fund group of Seoul National University College of Science and Technology Press.
Since 2014, the cooperative has been conducting energy efficiency improvement project, an education program and a living lab experiment named “A course to nurture instructors abouot climate change & energy” and “Energy Living Lab Project” respectively. Residents gather in a small library and learn ways to improve energy efficiency and conduct meaningful activities to improve energy production and efficiency by promoting a “Solar power generation cooperative.” Also, in “Energy Transition Movement” an initiative to save energy started in 2012 under the lead of Seongdaegol saving plant, the community, as an energy assessor provides a free energy diagnosis service for housings and operates “Energy clinic” in cooperation of the environment division of the office of Dongjak-gu district. When it comes to energy transition education, the village provided various education programs and workshops on environment and energy, starting with Our Village Green Academy in 2011. Residents attend train the trainer session and create “A visiting energy class” to provide energy education at local schools. Design in the city used to simply focus on benefiting the users. In contrast, Seongdaegol Energy Self-sufficiency Village holds a huge value as it utilizes the governance process where residents have genuine interest in the environment and energy and build their relevant competencies to create a new regional identity and evolve in a self-reliant manner.
Meanwhile Space, ensuring sustainability and solvency through granting the rights for temporary-use
There are increasing cases of leasing or utilizing properties in a region for public or regional use through governance process. Like Commons where a region’s tangible and intangible properties are under co-ownership or co-management to increase their economic value, citizens operate properties by granting the rights to use them temporarily and create additional profits.
Meanwhile is a solution developed in the U.K. which is designed to allow temporary use of vacant buildings or idle sites to create social and economic profits. It was an idea from the Department of Communities & Local Government, a public body in the U.K., to prevent the slumization of idle spaces that are generated in quite a large quantity during the period of construction, permission, and sales. The DCLG enacted an Act to rent an idle space in 2009 and expanded the scope of Meanwhile Project. Under the guideline of local Meanwhile project, social or non-profit organizations were allowed to use an idle space during a short time until the landlords find occupants. “Meanwhile Project” that utilizes idle spaces under the public or private ownership as a garden, a pop-up store or a space for entrepreneurship is gaining a traction as a solution to vitalize a local society and promote co-growth. is gaining a traction as a solution to vitalize a local society and promote co-growth.
“Railway Arches Project in Loughborough Junction”
Loughborough Junction in Lambeth saw empty spaces increase especially in the city center area since 2008, and officials started to think how to utilize those neglected and vacant spaces under railways. The vacancies under railways added to a burden of management costs and the responsible railway authority, decided to team up with “Meanwhile Space”. “Meanwhile Space” selected a total of 19 spaces through two rounds of selection processes and rented them for residents’ workshops or for businesses. Through the process of transferring and developing local properties to the private sector, the railway authority who had an ownership of railway was able to not only realize social values for the community but also save tax incurred from empty spaces. As in this case, allowing public spaces or properties to be used by private sector can help to vitalize local projects in culture, arts, etc. “Meanwhile Project” is a governance case where public properties are utilized as spaces for people in the local community through a platform and therefore shows how a neglected space can be successfully utilized to create economic profits while serving the needs of people in the community.
Bon voyage with public design governance guide
The forms of governance seen through cases that created synergy through participation and cooperation, enchanced competency using expertise and ensured sustainability through granting the rights for temporary use cases are different in how they play out, but they are similar in terms of proactively engaging inhabitants to address problems facing the public domain and realize community values that residents of the community want to achieve.
“Citizens' opinions regarding public design shall be actively gathered, and diverse ways for citizens to participate in the decision-making process shall be prepared. <Article 10-4, Public Design Promotion Act>”
The Act on public design specifies preparing “diverse ways” including citizens’ participation and cooperation in design process. These ways can utilize public design governance as a tool in terms of promoting social problem adjustment that has combined various modes of adjustment and methodologies of cooperation. A public design governance that is well functioning in our society will help any citizen to steer the wheel of governance and navigate through to find values that are essential in our community. I expect that the process of solving various problems in the local community using public design governance will gain more understanding among citizens’ and sense of pride in the community.
Public Design Research Lab, Hongik University (2019), A study of governance model to promote public design (P.D.G.12),
Lee MyungSuk (2017), Governance syndrome, Sungkyunkwan University Press
Yang ChulSeung (Aug. 23, 2021), Kalasatama in Helsinki, a smart city for people, Hananweb, www.hananweb.co.kr
Park JungMoon (2017), Whitepaper about the activity of Seongdaegol Energy Self-sufficiency Village, Energy and Climate Policy Institute & Fund group of Seoul National University College of Science and Technology Press
Kim Sang-hee (2019), Meanwhile Project in the U.K.: An urban planning of making a short-term use of vacant spaces, Architecture& Urban Space VOL. 32
Back Jin-ah (Nov. 21, 2022), “’Asking the design direction’...Seongdong-gu District establishes a Consultative Group of Residents for Publilc Design”, Seongdong Journal