Student potential involved in brownfield regeneration processes

During the second week of October, urban planners and experts active in Baltic Urban Lab project gathered in the Latvian capital Riga’s Mūkusala area – one of the four Baltic Urban Lab pilot sites. Students from Riga Technical University, University of Latvia as well as Riga International School of Economics and Business Administration were also present since a student competition has been organized to find a development concept for Mūkusala (read the press release here).

How collaboration with the university students can help brownfield regeneration?

In Baltic Urban Lab, we encourage the cities to test and develop integrated urban planning concepts based on the Public-Private-People Partnership (4Ps) approaches. 4Ps are part of the general transition where the importance of actors outside the public planning authorities is constantly increasing in planning. The concept of 4Ps has arisen partly to respond to criticism of public-private partnerships for not sufficiently including the citizens and other actors to increase transparency and democratic accountability, and more effectively to include citizen knowledge and to create environments and services that better respond to citizen needs.

As part of the 4Ps, collaboration with the students can act as a great way of identifying the needs of the local community where the brownfield site regeneration takes place. Usually, it would be just the public planning institutions and private developers/ architects who would be involved in the planning processes yet by involving the community early on in the planning processes – especially in vision creation – could lessen the possibility of later conflicts of interest. Why? Well, democratic and participatory methods make the municipality more transparent and trustworthy and co-creation ignites a sense of belonging to a community/area.

Cross-disciplinary student teams to solve complex brownfield challenges 

From the experiences of the four Baltic Urban Lab partner cities – Turku, Norrköping, Riga and Tallinn – planning contests and other ideation competitions have been a great method to collect ideas for urban development. The cities indicated the importance of clear methodology and thinking the concept of the student planning competition through in order to get the best outcomes. Clear aims and instructions are thus important and something to keep in mind. Developing brownfield land offers many different challenges – from land use to health risks due to contaminated soil. As the challenge of developing a brownfield site is complex in itself, the City of Riga considered using a cross-disciplinary student team with knowledge from different disciplines to generate new and fresh solutions seems to be an option to try out during planning competition for the Mūkusala Territory in Riga. The teams add extra value since they can provide different perspectives and solutions to urban planning challenges – e.g. more ecological or economically feasible solutions for soil remediation.

During the Baltic Urban Lab Joint City Pilot Review Day in Riga, urban planners from Tallinn emphasized how the process of involving students in planning is a rather long-term commitment, but it will be only more productive when executed in this manner. Short assignments are often not useful for the planners nor the developers since they lack more in-depth perspective and the solutions might not be aligned with city strategies and the assignment instructions.

Possibilities are endless and the cooperation will definitely be beneficial for both the students and the urban planners – the city gets a possibility to see things from a fresh perspective and the student in turn, get some real experience of working with urban planning problems. As a tool for co-creation, student competitions are a great way of achieving better cooperation and getting more interesting and adaptable results that otherwise might not cross experts’ mind.

Read more about Baltic Urban Lab at www.balticurbanlab.eu.