A culture of citizen participation in urban development has emerged since the mid-20th century. However, many forms of participation are characterised by information and appeasement. City dwellers are rarely involved in actually shaping fundamental decisions. Nevertheless, the active and sustainable “co-government” of the city is an important factor in increasing self-efficacy – especially in economically less potent milieus. This includes having an influence on a government level and appropriating the immediate living environment through involvement in neighbourhood initiatives and associations that increase participation and at the same time reduce social isolation and anonymity.
How we live in the cities can be shaped and is not the result of an inevitable urbanisation dynamic. Whether housing is affordable, whether cities disintegrate into affluent and precarious urban neighbourhoods, whether street noise and air pollution are accepted, whether thoroughfares dissect cities or urban mobility is forced to become subordinate to the primacy of private car traffic can be influenced by cities and urban societies. The improvement of urban living conditions and the contribution of cities to global transformation in favour of sustainability go hand in hand. Cities are integrated into a hierarchy of government levels and responsibilities. They are often exposed to financial constraints and uncontrolled dynamics that limit their controllability.
There is a demand to strengthen and mobilise urban societies. These must be placed in a position to effectively assert their interests. In the course of digitalisation, it is often assumed that participation processes could be made more transparent, faster and cheaper and would therefore be implemented in larger numbers. This is linked to the hope that transformation processes can be planned and implemented in the long term according to the needs of citizens. In Germany, the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) has focused special attention on this issue and, in its advisory capacity, has developed a normative compass for conserving natural resources. Its main objectives are to adhere to universal guidelines for global warming, land use, biological diversity and to maintain and expand “uniqueness” – understood as the sociocultural and spatial diversity of cities and urban society.
From a neurourbanistic perspective, the political, administrative, economic and cultural participation of city dwellers is a prerequisite for experiencing self-efficacy and appropriating urban living space. Experiencing self-efficacy is a key element of mental resilience and contributes to mental and physical health – despite internal and external stress factors. Urban planning can promote the well-being of the population by influencing participation and appropriation processes at the government and design level. Although the effort and costs for elements of “co-governance” are higher, these additional expenditures can be offset by the preventive effect on stress-related mental illnesses among the urban population.
The basic prerequisite for a city is to align urban decision-making and design processes close to and with the people. Administrative and government processes in local and regional administrations should therefore be geared to the development of self-effective action.