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Direct Democracy in Decision Making for Mega-Projects: A New Culture of “Governance in Partnership”?

Keywords: direct democracy , participative planning , governance in partnership , urban mega-projects , rail transport infrastructure , urban development

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Abstract:

Decision making for urban and transport infrastructure mega-projects has been increasingly contested in the recent past. Citizens obviously do not see themselves well enough represented through the elected politicians. Regular information and participation fora do not seem to offer satisfactory co-decision opportunities for increasingly critical citizens. The paper analyses the theoretical background of the current planning crisis and suggests more radical forms of citizens’ involvement: The hypothesis suggests that instruments for direct democratic decision making can open up new pathways to support the break-through of the citizens’ will. The paper analyses an interesting case study where two referenda around the same issue closely followed each other: Firstly, a top-down initiated referendum with a tendentious formulation of the question and with strong single-sided media support and, secondly, a referendum initiated by a citizens’ petition. Even though the citizens’ initiative managed to win the referendum, invalidating the previous decisions, a new challenge lies in the lacking motivation of political leaders to implement it. Finally, the case study helps to formulate some proposals for improvement of direct democratic instruments. The main lesson that can be learned from the case study, however, is that our societies are in desperate need for a new “culture of governance in partnership” with the people, the stakeholders and the affected neighbouring societies. Political decision making and planning needs more transparent, fair and honest communication, exchange and mutual respect and learning. Such culture would make societies more liveable and, at the same time, resilient against any sort of crisis.

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