The importance of community voices in the future of cities

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  • According to the 2030 Agenda, governance should engage multiple levels, multiple agents, and be both integrated and integrating.
  • Cities have become crucial hubs for social and economic development.

The physical appearance of our surroundings is changing for various reasons, including the transformation of the construction industry and urbanism. Major cities are undertaking processes of urban transformation with a view to making them more human. According to figures from the UN, currently more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and this figure is set to reach 66% by 2050.

In today’s expansionist context, one thing is certain: citizens expect to be involved in decision-making and to have a say about the direction in which our cities are heading. The time has come to evaluate and prioritise what we need over the coming years: decide on how the places we inhabit should look and be, which infrastructures they should have and which urban furniture is essential.  The development of ‘cities of the future’ requires harmony with the natural environment, biodiversity and the use of technology to make them ‘smart cities’, but also planning that offers solutions to social problems and which focus on the well-being of their inhabitants. These spaces where millions of people live side by side must be built based on the opinions and public decisions of their citizens.

The idea of giving a voice to citizens to engage them in designing their surroundings is gaining ground.  What happens in cities affects us directly, both positively and negatively. For this reason, community engagement is a key element in building cities adapted to the needs of the present and the future. Involving residents in decision-making about aspects that interest them can allow us to enjoy cities that are friendlier, more sustainable and adapted.


In fact, the 2030 Agenda  promotes a multi-level and multi-actor approach to ensure inclusive participation in the definition, monitoring and evaluation of different policies. This approach tackles all levels of government responsibility and competence, guaranteeing the participation of all stakeholders involved. Furthermore, it seeks to integrate and tackle all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), recognising that they are interconnected and complementary to one another. It also fosters an inclusive vision that goes beyond conventional barriers between different areas of study, skills and sectors, promoting a complete and efficient approach towards sustainable and fair development.

Community collaboration in urban decision-making ensures more efficient public interventions, since these will be tailored to the needs and demands of those who are going to live in the environments they are acting on. It also allows a degree of diversity not previously contemplated to be integrated into public decisions.

Jane Jacobs, urban designer and advocate for community engagement in urban design, is a powerful voice when we talk about the importance of involving the community in city planning. For Jacobs, the very essence of a community lies in diversity and in organic interaction between its inhabitants and their surroundings. Her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities highlights that citizens possess intimate knowledge of a city’s neighbourhoods and districts, and this knowledge must be valued and harnessed in the urban decision-making process. In this regard, community involvement not only guarantees greater efficiency of public interventions by aligning with the real needs of the community, it also enriches urban life by integrating diverse perspectives and experiences that otherwise might be overlooked in traditional public decision-making.

participación ciudadana

It is fundamental to adopt a renewed perspective, which requires a broader vision.  In fact, this process of broadening horizons is already under way. For example, the community engagement platform Decide Madrid, promoted by Madrid City Council, was created to evaluate different citizen dialogue initiatives, create participatory municipal budgets and allow citizens to present their projects and proposals.

Another example of the call to engage residents is the configuration of Madrid Nuevo Norte, which has various initiatives open through which the community can become involved and  participate. This is the first large-scale urban planning action to use systematised community engagement.

Because community engagement in urban planning projects is not simply an option; it’s a necessity in the construction of cities. It involves engaging citizens in decision-making that will directly impact the configuration and development of their communities. Opening up spaces for citizens to become actively involved in urban planning promotes a sense of belonging and responsibility towards the environment in which they live. Furthermore, this participation assures that urban policies and projects are more relevant and effective, since they are informed by the experiences and knowledge of those who know their own realities best.

18 March 2024


Madrid Nuevo Norte

18 March 2024

for Madrid Nuevo Norte