Active Citizens in Urban Green Space

Many local authorities struggle with budget cuts and scarce resources for green space management. This is the reason that policy makers and public officials often tend to look somewhat hopefully at citizens and their activities regarding green space. Expectations are high in many countries, whether we talk about ‘localism’ in the UK, ‘participation society’ in the Netherlands, or look at the policy documents of the European Union. Citizens are expected to be active citizens that take responsibility for their personal living environment.

Many bottom-up initiatives considering urban green space show that citizens can indeed be active citizens – they have proven to be knowledgeable and capable of managing varying types of green space. As research experiences across Europe show, efforts by citizens can lead to positive outcomes and are sometimes celebrated as a success by authorities. However, my own research findings suggest that the majority of citizen green space initiatives are relatively small-scale compared to ‘traditional’ management. Our bias to focus on successes and good practices tends to overlook other examples where citizens are less successful.

In this time of budget cuts, we should reflect on expectations placed on citizens. Cutting budgets for green spaces and simply expecting citizens to take over will usually not work. Although citizens can certainly contribute to the management of public green spaces in urban settings, there is a danger of ‘instrumentalizing’ citizens – expecting them to achieve policy objectives of authorities. Citizens are not always interested in being involved in green space management, nor always equipped to implement it, and they might have different objectives than the authorities.

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