When citizens organize their own participatory processes: Reflections from Ciudad Viva, Bellavista and Ciclistas Unidos de Chile


20th century, citizen “revolts” against urban highway projects have
influenced thinking about public transport (Toronto, Vancouver, New York), governance (Portland), and cycling (The Netherlands) to this day. Less is
known, however, about how these emerge in developing countries, and what they
can tell us about citizens’ role in innovation to achieve more sustainable
living, governance and ecological systems.

Using a complexity-based approach, this presentation explores the
lessons in the story of a social movement that emerged in opposition to Chile’s
first major highway concession, in Santiago (1997), challenging and changing
urban planning paradigms. In 2000, the anti-highway campaign founded a citizen
institution, Living City (Ciudad Viva). Twelve years later, it has become a
prize-winning, citizen-led planning institution.

Participatory methods are increasingly recognized as important to
community development, health and urban planning. Nonetheless, a rich
literature notes the limitations of many of the procedures currently used.

Is improving participation just a matter of “getting the process right”,
or does it require re-formulation of our frameworks as part of changing power distribution, recognizing the
importance of self-generation as it applies to civil society organizations, and
democratization as an ongoing force rather than a “steady state” societies

Opting for re-formulating our frameworks is more difficult and has
far-reaching implications for planning. Specifically, it requires acting
consistently with the premise that the local is the centre of change in human
living systems. To ffectively 
address the challenges of climate change, loss of biodiversity, the
social determinants of health, the
“obesity epidemic” and other issues, the answers lie in city neighbourhoods and
human settlements.

Only when we develop adequate responses at the local level will we be in
a position to implement regional, national and global measures that can ensure
humanity’s survival with dignity and social justice in the 21st century.

Lake Sagaris
is a writer, community activist and urbanist, now completing doctoral work at
University of Toronto. She moved to Chile more than 30 years ago and worked for
20 years, covering the movement for democracy against the Pinochet regime for
the London Times, Toronto Globe and Mail, Miami Herald, CBC, CTV and other
media. In the 1990s, with a return to elected government, she became active in
neighbourhood issues. As an elected leader of the Bellavista neighbourhood association,
she was one of a group of 25 grassroots market and neighbourhood associations
that founded Living City, in 2000. She holds a Master’s of Science in Planning
and Community Development (University of Toronto 2006) and is currently
completing a PhD in Urban Planning and Community Development.

Her research focuses on how citizen participation in urban transport and
other planning processes is essential to deepening democracy and achieving more
sustainable systems for living. This has also led her to examine issues of governance
as they relate to participation, self-generated citizen organizations, and
tools and spaces for building the citizen learning necessary for effective,
robust organizations. She has also worked intensively on cycling-inclusive transport
planning and participatory strategies to build citizen support and demand for
more sustainable transport systems.