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Citizen participation for sustainable transport: the case of “Living City” in Santiago, Chile (1997–2012)


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Twentieth 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 transport systems. This case study examines a social movement that emerged in opposition to the country’s first major highway concession, in Santiago, Chile (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.

Although the role of citizen participation in improving transport systems has become increasingly recognized in recent years, it still tends to be rather ritualistic. This experience offers insight into how strategic approaches to participation can reinforce the role of self-organizing civil society organizations in introducing innovation into existing systems. Findings suggest that traditional large movements, which are mainly useful for one-way communication of information, require support from small groups able to deliberate in a transformative sense, with more attention paid to how new consensuses can be transmitted through the relational networks of those involved. Moreover, this experience suggests that thinking about citizens as planners in their own right, rather than as mere participants at specific points in a planning process, opens the way to more effective strategies for innovating in transport, to address the social, environmental, and other challenges humanity faces today.

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