The first Dresdner Debatte (Dresden debate) involved an open, online public dialogue between residents, politicians, and urban planners on the Neumarkt reconstruction of historical streets and facades. It aimed to open contact between citizens and government to improve transparency.
Problems and Purpose
The Dresdner Debatte (Dresden debate) was introduced as a new forum for an open public dialogue between citizens, politicians, and urban planners, dealing with present or controversial aspects of urban development. The Dresdner Debatte is based on two overlapping options for participation: online dialogue via an internet platform and direct dialogue in a temporary information container on the development site. In order to secure an open and independent forum, the external actor Zebralog moderated the dialog. They also documented and evaluated the participation process in order to extract clear conclusions, for implementation in future development.
The first Dresdner Debatte was installed in the city center, in the area around the well-known Neumarkt square, where there was ongoing reconstruction of historical streets, squares and well-documented historical facades. The first Debatte was held under an air of controversy since the Neumarkt area's redevelopment was highly divisive, being closely related to issues of cultural heritage, identities, and lifestyles. The objective of the Dresdner Debatte was to gain more direct suggestions, comments, and ideas for future development, but also to establish more direct contact between citizens, government, and administration in the process of developing and altering action concepts. Another important aspect was to bring the participants' opinions and suggestions together with knowledge of experts and professionals within a transparent decision process.
Background History and Context
Dresden’s heritage of severe destruction as a result of the Second World War coupled with the experience of two undemocratic regimes from 1933 until 1989 is still closely related to the cities' physical realities. In this way, every debate concerning urban development in Dresden also tends to establish references to this given background. As well, the citizens of Dresden share a strong common tradition of engagement in urban development and public space design. Still the channels for individuals, groups, and organizations to communicate their suggestions and arguments were repeatedly criticized as insufficient or outdated.
The first Dresdner Debatte was initiated in the city center, in the area around the well-known square, Neumarkt. At this site, an ongoing reconstruction of historical streets, squares and well-documented historical facades is taking place. This development is also one of the most discussed ones in Dresden, thereby closely related to issues of cultural heritage, contemporary construction and architectural design as well as identities and lifestyles, which might explain the controversial background of the first Dresdner Debatte. The reconstruction of the Neumarkt area has in recent years already drawn great attention to the “new” historic city centre of Dresden with an increasing number of visitors and tourists as a result. As a consequence, the cultural and commercial offers in the area sometimes tend to be strongly oriented towards visitors and less towards the local citizens.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The project was conceived by the local administration as having three major phases after conception: participation, evaluation, and implementation. The decision was made to have the initiative organized and overseen by Zebralog and Sally Below in order to secure independence and objectivity towards local government and citizens.
During the conception phase, a project team was formed within the administration and in collaboration with Zebralog in order to work out content, designs, information and public relations strategies.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
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Methods and Tools Used
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What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Following the conception phase headed by the local administrative project team, Zebralog and Sally Below, the main phase of public participation began. Taking the form of a moderated debate, the event ran from June 8th to July 8th.
The process began by asking participants a singe question: How might the Neumarkt square become a place for Dresden's citizens?
By gathering and documenting comments and suggestions from citizens related to different aspects like housing, cultural and commercial offerings, architecture and urban planning, leisurely activities and so on, the participants' contributions could be documented for the following evaluation. In the online dialogue, participants also had the opportunity to comment on other participants' contributions and through the moderation by Zebralog, conflicts could be solved and additional information provided. In the information container, participants had the opportunity to debate directly with representatives of the city administration and other participants and also turn in their suggestions, comments and statements on available feedback cards. The web-platform also included easy understandable information and pdf-downloads on urban planning and architecture. Furthermore, the web site and the feed back cards also included a short survey based on two simple questions:
- I often go to the Neumarkt square because...
- I seldom go to the Neumarkt square because...
This survey run additionally over Twitter, thereby further widening the scope of the survey.
Within the evaluation process, all documented participant statements were sorted in overlapping theme aspects by Zebralog. In this way, single statements and suggestions are independently extracted from the dialogue's complexity. This process makes it possible to sum up the dialog in well-defined results, which can be transparently implemented in the weighting of options within upcoming decision processes.
As of this article's writing, the implementation phase had not yet started. It was projected to begin with a public event in the city hall on the 22nd of September 2010. Here, the debate process and its results will be presented and the suggested implementation strategies initiated. This public event is expected to enhance transparency and will also generate broader citizen attention through communication in media based on the scope of the event.
The Dresdner Debatte is planned to continue as a integrated element for participation and dialogue on other sites in Dresden, where urban transformation results in a need for new action concepts or where interest conflicts are expected.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The impact up to this article's writing refers to the basic political willingness and the decision to make way for Dresdener Debatte as a new option for citizens and non-governmental organizations to gain a more direct influence on Dresden’s urban development. This ambition is also an important issue for the mayor of Dresden, Helma Oroz as she invited the citizens to take part in the Dresdner Debatte and also personally met up with citizens in the information container on Neumarkt. As a result, the realization of the Dresdner Debate already established new channels of communication between administration and public as well as new working processes within the administration itself.
This must be judged as important steps towards an enhanced dialogue between government and citizens which might strengthen public engagement and thus, a sustainable and vital democracy. The final implementation of the first Dresdner Debatte did not yet start, but results are being currently evaluated and prepared for implementation in decision-making processes. The goal is to integrate the results in a transparent way, showing how realization of development plans and policy documents are influenced by the results of the Debate.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Specific Effort Made to Include Disadvantaged Groups
The concept with parallel options to participate — online and in the information container — was to secure that citizens not used to using the internet should still be able to take part. This was also important as internet usage often requires good reading and writing skills. Additionally, there was a concept for receiving handicapped participants in the info container.
Specific Effort Made to Strengthen Democratic Capacities
This was one important aspect of the moderation, dealing with questions about weighting different standpoints in order to find compromises or consensus solutions or how to deal with the opinion of a majority versus the opinion of minorities.
Zebralog - Experts in eParticipation
Official Website [German]
Project on Zebralog.de [German]
City of Dresden Urban Development & Environment webpage [German]
The original version of this case study first appeared on Vitalizing Democracy in 2010 and was a contestant for the 2011 Reinhard Mohn Prize. It was originally submitted by Christina Rucker.