Engaging citizens for a climate-resilient Dordrecht
How do you make a neighbourhood that is both resilient to a future climate and suits the needs and wishes of its inhabitants? This is what researchers from Utrecht University have been exploring in Dordrecht - an old Dutch city perched on a river island.
Dordrecht’s rich history is intertwined in its relationship with water. It is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands - built in the midst of peat swamps on an island at a crossroad of five rivers and not far from the sea. This makes it extremely vulnerable to a changing climate.
Utrecht University researchers are working in Dordrecht’s Vogelbuurt neighbourhood. As part of the CoCliServ project and with support of Utrecht University's Water, Climate & Future Deltas Hub, they have been engaging in dialogue with local organizations and residents to co-develop climate services based on the needs of the local community.
Climate services were developed originally by national meteorological departments (like the Met Office in the UK or KNMI in the Netherlands) as a way to make their in-house knowledge useful and readily available to society. They include information about the climate, but also wider tools and services such as climate impact atlases, mapping tools, or news services.
CoCliServ is designing climate services rooted in local contexts
Moving from matters of fact to matters of concern
This top-down approach is dependent on the data available to each meteorological department, which may not serve the needs of individual communities. CoCliServ, which stands for Codevelopment of Climate Services for Action, is challenging this by designing climate services rooted in local contexts: what knowledge, tools and services do we need to achieve local visions of the future and to identify and avoid potential "bumps in the road"? Are those services already there, or can we develop them together?
“It’s not about dryly communicating about their neighbourhood and how it’s affected by weather, climate and water,” says project leader Arjan Wardekker. “It’s about moving from matters of fact to matters of concern”. So how do they do this?
Collecting stories of change
First the researchers collected local "stories of change". They interviewed local residents and organisations about their experiences with weather and water in the city. What changes do they see? And what are their concerns, ambitions and goals for a future Vogelbuurt? Next, the data was clustered into three narratives. Based on these narratives, designers created simple illustrations representing three future streets in the neighbourhood.
A participatory workshop on visions for a future Vogelbuurt
But these streets were still rather empty. At a workshop, local residents, organisations and policy makers enhanced the illustrations to make a more fully formed vision of a future Vogelbuurt. They were provided with a variety of material and inspiration: trees, people, animals, play parks and cut outs from newspapers and magazines to cut and paste onto the street illustrations. “This was a good moment for residents, policy makers and experts to exchange knowledge, visions and ideas” explains researcher Mandy van den Ende.
Concrete steps for achieving change
These changes will not happen by themselves. So what measures are needed to reach each future Vogelbuurt street? Participants came up with concrete measures for each desired change. By arranging these measures on a timeline, they could work backwards from each desired future to show a clear pathway of change.
“Traditional backcasting creates a linear pathways from the future back to the present,” explains Wardekker. “But the future rarely unfolds in a linear way. Along the way things can go wrong, or there are instances where you can make use of new opportunities that present themselves. And there can always be surprises. This is why we are developing a method that can take this into account”.
The future rarely unfolds in a linear way. Along the way things can go wrong, or there are instances where you can make use of new opportunities that present themselves. And there can always be surprises. This is why we are developing a method that can take this into account.
Strong need for trust-building between citizens and local governments
“The workshop has provided useful insights on how to organize climate risk management that is meaningful to local citizens,” says van den Ende. “It has also shown that for collective adaptation efforts to be successful, there is a strong need for trust-building between citizens and local governments.”
Based on the visions for the future, a final workshop will focus on designing climate services tailor made to the local Vogelbuurt context.
Utrecht University researchers will develop a scenario toolkit on how to better engage citizens in designing and building climate resilient cities
Development of a scenario tool-kit for climate risk management that is meaningful to local citizens
Once the workshops have come to an end, the Utrecht University researchers will draw on their experiences to develop a scenario toolkit on how to better engage citizens in designing and building climate resilient cities. This toolkit will provide insights on how citizen input can feed into policy processes in a meaningful way, so that citizens are really engaged instead of just consulted or informed.
For the Vogelbuurt residents it is clear: “Future challenges like climate change cannot be solved by one actor alone. There is always a need for collaboration between governments, citizens, civil organizations and scientists.”
This process is a collaboration between Utrecht University, KNMI, Climate Adaptation Services, Studio Lakmoes, and the Municipality of Dordrecht.