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Lessons learned



NeighbourWoods for Better Cities. Approaches and tools for public involvement.


Cecil Konijnendijk, Danish Centre for Forest, Landscape and Planning, University of Copenhagen, Frederiksberg (Denmark)

Jasper Schipperijn, Danish Centre for Forest, Landscape and Planning, University of Copenhagen, Frederiksberg (Denmark)


Background document providing these lessons learned:

Cecil Konijnendijk, Jasper Schipperijn, NeighbourWoods for Better Cities. Tools for developing multifunctional community woodlands in Europe, Danish Centre for Forest, Landscape and Planning, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Frederiksberg, Denmark



Applied Participatory Approaches:

  • Community planning and management


How to develop NeighbourWoods?

A woodland at urban people’s doorstep, providing multiple goods and services to the local community, could be called a NeighbourWood. NeighbourWoods come in many sizes and shapes. They can be small woods inside the city boundaries used for daily recreation. But they can also take the shape of large-scale peri-urban landscapes, where woodlands are part of a landscape mosaic.

For a wooded area to become a real NeighbourWood, it has to become an integral part of the local community. Woods and woodlands can only develop into, or remain as NeighbourWoods when the proper planning, design, and management are undertaken in close cooperation with local communities.

Public involvement can take many forms, occurring at very different levels. Involvement starts with consultation, where the local community is asked to give their opinion about visions and plans prepared by experts. It can take the shape of full participation where experts and the community jointly develop these documents, starting from the major objectives. In some cases it can even extend to transferring decision-making responsibility and management tasks to the local community.

This article aims to highlight the lessons learned on the development of NeighbourWoods through socially-inclusive planning, design and management. Specifically, it focuses on the approaches and tools implemented to promote the effective involvement of the different segments of local communities in NeighbourWoods planning, design and management. It presents experiences from an international project supported by the European Commission which evaluated and developed approaches and tools to assist NeighbourWood planners, designers, and managers. The latter are not only foresters, nor are they only professionals. Those who decide upon the future of NeighbourWoods are the very local communities that these woodlands serve.


Whom to involve?

Not only the different authorities, such as the city administration, the regional government, or the state forest service are party to developing a NeighbourWood vision. There are a number of private actors that come into play. Of course the public at large and different interest groups, such as nature conservation and recreation associations, farmers and other land owners should be involved, but actively involving the private sector, such as local businesses, waterworks and utility companies, can assist with generating much needed funding and support for NeighbourWood development and management.


Involving the public: lessons learned

Starting with good information - Informing relevant audiences about the local NeighbourWood, the benefits it provides, the challenges it is facing, the options for possible management and so forth is an important first step. Many methods of informing and raising awareness are available. The local media, represented by local newspapers, radio, or television, often provides an important plat- form. NeighbourWood managers can benefit from having good relationships with the local media. By regular contacts, letters to the editor, or weekly columns they can make sure that positive news about the wood gets out.

The Internet has become another important medium. In the case of establishment of a new NeighbourWood near the Belgian city of Ghent , a special Internet site provided an important means of informing relevant audiences. The Parkbos Ghent site (www.parkbos.be, in Dutch only), managed by a special project team, has aimed to provide actual and accurate information about establishment of the woodland, raise awareness, and provide opportunities for feedback. Experiences from Ghent show that the Internet is a powerful medium, through which different groups can be reached.

The response rate of users was rather low, however; not much feedback on the project was provided through the website as compared to other means of communication. A website therefore should not be used as the only means of information. Indeed, there is some evidence from the UK that decision-makers rarely access the web for information. Websites are immensely useful however, and a successful NeighbourWood web site should be attractive, regularly updated, and thus requires significant resources.

Organising a NeighbourWood Day - Other ways of raising interest and awareness are amply available. A successful tool has proven to be the organisation of a special NeighbourWood Day, during which various activities are organised.

A park event was organised at Ayazmo Park in Stara Zagora , Bulgaria , as part of the development of a vision. The objectives of the event were to draw attention to the park and its problems and opportunities, to promote the ongoing vision process, and to gather issues and ideas in a broad sense. Many different people participated in activities such as guided walks, activities for children, and the painting of park facilities. People could write their suggestions for improving the park and glue these to a special idea tree. The events could also be used for handing out questionnaires, such as »how are we doing«-questionnaires to find out how people feel about present woodland management. Of course the success of this type of event is highly dependent on the weather, a good organisation, effective announcing through the media, and so forth.

In the Terzolle Valley near Florence , Italy , and in Ghent , existing summer events were used to promote the development of visions for the respective NeighbourWoods in the area. Using existing events can limit the amount of resources and organisation to be provided by the green or forest department. Moreover, they will probably attract more people.

Walking in the NeighbourWood - Guided walks with citizens, hosted by the forest managers, provide an excellent pportunity for awareness raising, as well as direct interaction. Facing real situations, preferences and suggestions can be discussed.

In the case of the Terzolle Valley , groups of visitors were guided to different forest types, and asked to give preference scores. This was followed up by discussions in which reasons for scoring were explored. Discussions out in the woods have been rewarding to both managers and visitors alike. This activity can be rather time consuming, however, as groups should be kept rather small for mutual satisfaction. If one has the ambition to obtain a broad overview of citizen preferences, this tool might not be the most efficient. Woodland walks do not limit themselves to guided walks with visitors. Experts and connoisseurs could also be brought to the forest, as we have seen. Local managers and connoisseurs could be asked about the special spots, which has proven to be very informative for those trying to get a deep insight into the characteristics of the NeighbourWood.

Storytelling - Storytelling is as ancient as humanity, and stories are still an excellent means of communicating. With regards to NeighbourWoods, people could be asked to tell their personal stories about the local wood, in writing or in person, and perhaps even in front of a camera. Stories could help in incorporating local and traditional knowledge about the wood.

In Stara Zagora , some of the local people’s stories were used to compile a special story calendar. The calendar was sent to inhabitants of the city and can help to enforce links between the local wood and people’s daily lives. Moreover, stories can assist with enhancing links between the generations, as grandmother’s special memories of the wood may be rather similar to those of the grandson. Alternative ways of storytelling include asking children to write or draw about the NeighbourWood.

Public meetings - Public meetings represent moments and places of communication and exchange among actors. Knowledge from a technical/scientific level can be compared and criticised from the perspective of the specific knowledge of people living and acting in the area (consultation meetings). Exactly who issues invitations to the meeting is very important; people might decide not to show up if the meeting is not organised by a generally respected organisation. It is also important to decide whom to invite. The agenda should ideally be set together with stakeholders. At the end of the meeting, the main conclusions should be clearly summarised, for example by an independent facilitator. A report of the meeting should be sent to the participants, as well as those others invited, as soon as possible. Reports should capture the richness of the debate, and show participants that their inputs have been taken seriously.

User boards and Friends of the NeighbourWood - Public meetings could be more formalised, and for example take the shape of "user boards". In Denmark , for example, user boards have been established for all of the country’s forest districts (at regional level). These boards are mainly used as advisory councils, informing the woodland managers about what lives among the main interest groups. In the case of real NeighbourWoods, however, these regional boards will not suffice, as many issues will be very local. Having local boards means that participants will often have a real feeling of ownership and feel strongly about local issues.

Like with public meetings at large, there are several drawbacks to consider. The location and timing of the meeting need to be carefully considered, as most people will participate in their free time. The role and authority of the meeting need to be clearly defined to avoid disappointment. In some cases, a group of strongly involved citizens could decide to establish a Friends of NeighbourWoods X. This association could act as a watchdog, but also be a very powerful ally for woodland managers, for example in the political process. As with connoisseurs, however, care sometimes has to be taken in establishing whether friend groups remain representative of their community, or whether they evolve into self-interest groups.

Involving different parts of the public - Different types of users and other citizens will require their own public involvement approaches. Special groups to consider include, among others, children and young people, the elderly, the socially deprived, and ethnic minorities.

In Stara Zagora , a youth round table was organised as part of the visioning process. Young people were treated as experts about the local woodland park. The round table was aimed at fostering awareness among youths, often a difficult group to get involved with NeighbourWoods. Moreover, the event meant to encourage participation and obtain insight in the specific needs, preferences and ideas of youths. Children were involved in woodland management in the case of the Filborna NeighbourWood in the Swedish town of Helsingborg . Groups of schoolchildren of different ages were given actual management responsibility, and asked to shape the woodland to their own liking. The aim was, among others, to explore the qualities and contributions that children and teenagers can give to the development of NeighbourWoods.

Professional managers had the opportunity to discuss management with the children. For the youngest children, an introductory fairytale provided a historical context of being a brave saviour and defender of nature. Children were not only asked to actually transform parts of the young woodland, but also to communicate their ideas and preferences through writing and drawing.

Feedback and evaluation - When people have been involved in NeighbourWood planning, design, and management, they have a right to get feedback on what has happened with their ideas. Moreover, it is important to evaluate with them how the involvement process worked.

A thorough evaluation of public participation in urban woodland planning has for example been carried out in Helsinki , Finland , by the local university. Experience has shown, for instance, the need to adapt the mixture of public involvement tools to the specific NeighbourWood situation, and to be flexible.


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