Dialog und Raum : Multilaterale Kommunikation in Planungsprozessen öffentlicher Räume

  • Dialogue and space : Multilateral communication in planning processes of public spaces

Fugmann, Friederike; Selle, Klaus (Thesis advisor); Wachten, Kunibert (Thesis advisor)

Aachen (2018, 2019)
Dissertation / PhD Thesis

Dissertation, Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen, 2018


Various groups participate in the development of urban spaces: the decisions and actions of administrations, neighbors, local retailers, politicians, associations, investors and many others influence the image of our cities. However, a dichotomous point of view (‘the municipality’ on the one side and ‘the citizens’ on the other side) persists both in research and practice. This perspective is no longer suitable to describe the reality of communicative diversity: when urban spaces are being developed, we find various negotiations, discussions, conversations, political debates and civic participations, which so far have neither been systematically recorded nor described. Communication is the main interest of this work for it is an important instrument to deal with the interrelations between these groups. Such ‘multilateral communication’ refers to much more than mere civic participation. It includes all individual actions that serve intermediation in planning processes, even the conversations that take place without the participation of the public. The present research shows that especially these closed meetings have a great influence on the planning processes and their topics. Public space is the structure of our cities. It fulfills various ecological, economic, political and social functions for society. In public space the requirements and interests of different groups overlap; managing and mediating these interests in the context of planning processes of public spaces requires a high degree of communication. Such overlapping of private interests and public concerns make planning processes of public spaces an appropriate subject for analyzing multilateral communication. Six (re)design processes of public spaces are at the center of this work. The systematic description and analysis results in new insights on multilateral communication and closes the research gap described above. This work is closely linked to a research project (‘multi|kom’) that was conducted at the Chair of Planning Theory, RWTH Aachen university, from 2015-2018. It engages multilateral communication in processes of urban development. The six processes are elucidated by employing five aspects to interrogate the entire spectrum of participants: ‘content’ (of planning and communication),’actors’, ‘communication design’, ‘framework conditions’ and ‘goals and motives’ across the entire spectrum of participants. Furthermore, this dissertation is especially focused on analyzing the roles of local stakeholders in these processes. This refers to non-municipal actors such as adjacent residents, traders, institutions or even investors. Potential sources of conflict between them and other groups of participants as well as strategies for reconciliation will be sought - the extent to which their acting influences the events will be investigated.The six case studies are processes for (re-)designing public spaces in Germany which employed multilateral communication and which are still being implemented or which were completed within the last five years. An extended research was made on each project and its communicative events by investigating the local press, city websites and council information systems. While city councils are often eager to document civic participation in design processes, hardly any statements can be made on bilateral negotiations and other non-public communication. In order to gather information about them, a total of 32 multi-perspective interviews form an invaluable source for the present research. In the first part of the dissertation, the current state of research on the topics of multilateral communication and public space is presented, while its motivation, questioning and methodology are explained subsequently. The description of the six case studies forms the second, empirical part. In the concluding third part, a cross-analysis of the case studies is conducted considering seven research questions, which were mentioned at the beginning, as well as a brief summary of the most important results. As the cross-evaluation of the case studies shows, local stakeholders influenced all processes, even if public authorities were in charge of the project management. The debates were dominated by the question of ‘transport’, regardless whether streets or squares were the subject of redesign. From the point of view of many stakeholders, parking spaces and their maintenance or elimination are of particular importance. The investigations revealed that the responsible authorities carry out many of the communicative activities in order to increase the acceptance of redesign and planning processes. Stakeholders, however, are involved in the processes in order to inform themselves about developments in their (personal or economic) environment and to assert their own interests. One of the most frequent causes of conflicts is the drop in sales among merchants during the construction phase. Furthermore, often the process of communication and implementation (e.g. from application to approval of funding) is tedious, which often causes a lack of understanding amongst non-municipal actors. Designated people in charge on all sides as well as ongoing information and advertising concepts for the construction phase proved to be helpful in many cases. A positive attitude in the local press also plays an important role when it comes to the public’s acceptance of planning processes and its attention to necessary measures. Overall, it is very important that administrative actors are aware of public and private interests and of those groups which are affected by resulting transformations.Stakeholders appear in different roles and thus influence the processes and design of spaces. Especially when it comes to maintaining parking spots in the business environment of local retailers, they rigorously claim their interest in them - without owning direct rights to these spaces. These influences are usually not publicly documented, which can be problematic if municipal decision-making is driven by singular stakeholders. Multilateral communication in the redesign of public spaces is already common practice; it can be found in various planning tasks and in very diverse starting situations. Since the communicative processes and their effects, possibilities of conflict avoidance and the dimension of influence of non-municipal actors on the processes are essentially unexplored, this dissertation delivers an important contribution to the understanding of the management of interrelations through communication and responds to the lack of research described above. The involvement of various groups in the design of urban spaces is without alternatives - so it is all the more important to deal with the different interests and concerns. A deliberate and conscious design of interdependencies through communication thus represents an opportunity for the design of high-quality and accepted public spaces.


  • Chair of Planning Theory and Urban Development [212110]