Building the foundations of collaboration: From housing development to community renewal

State houses in Aranui, such as this multi-unit building, were designed without consultation and with reduced cost in mind. The dwellings caused widespread dissatisfaction because of the lack of privacy and limited private outdoor spaces. They were monotonous and the proximity of several multi-unit buildings promoted territorial gang wars and created safety issues for other residents. Some have been replaced, some still remain, and they remain unpopular. Photo: Zohreh Karaminejad, Lincoln University.

Collaborative governance and planning are usually seen as an improvement on technocratic “top-down” approaches, but they can be criticized for exacerbating power imbalances, failing to be inclusive and/or impartial, and for ignoring historical conflict. A team of Building Better Researchers Drs Zohreh Karaminejad, Suzanne Vallance, and Roy Montgomery from Lincoln University investigated how strong foundations for collaborative housing-renewal may be built to address these concerns and facilitate broader community-renewal ambitions.

The research was based on case studies of housing renewal projects in communities described as “deprived” – one in Aranui, an eastern suburb of Christchurch, New Zealand, and the other in Abouzar, Tehran, Iran. The researchers found the informal but foundational phases – where credibility, trust, relationships, community capability, and an appropriate mandate were built – were critical in mitigating contextual and historical factors that had often led to marginalisation during subsequent, but more formal negotiations.

In practical terms, this means allowing for adequate time and resource budgets, and employing officials who have not just technical aptitude but an appropriate attitude of open-mindedness.

“Many of the problems that arise during the formal collaboration stage can be attributed to insufficient groundwork. Foundational activities shouldn’t be seen as informal and, as a result, optional. They fundamentally shape formal processes of collaboration and can be used to address tensions between participative and representative democracy,” says Suzanne.

“At the end of it all, housing projects shouldn’t be viewed primarily as technical or engineering achievements, rather, they are socio-political aspirations that require a strong foundation if the broader intent of renewal is to be achieved. A useful analogy can be drawn to the physical construction and the socio-political context within which it sits. Whether physical or socio-political, the foundations should be built before the house itself.

Suzanne says that while collaboration with communities on housing projects can be intensely problematic and resource hungry, it can be used to mitigate power imbalances exacerbated by different actors’ capacity and capability, status, and resources; and address issues around inclusiveness, impartiality, and historical conflict.

The benefits of building strong foundations can also be enduring. In the New Zealand case study, for example, earlier collaboration led to the formation of the Aranui Community Trust whose members, post-quake, were able to respond effectively to the community’s needs and actively participate in longer-term recovery. The research concludes that although collaboration with communities can be difficult, attending to the socio-political foundations can yield a significant return on investment.

Read the research

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Date posted: 31 March 2021