The idea of citizen participation is as old as the practice of democracy in ancient Greece. With increase in population, increase in populated area, representatives of the people were entrusted to make decisions and choices critical for the overall development of the region.
With rising needs and increasing complexity while dealing with a very diverse society, citizen participation naturally became essential to ensure the success of the planning process.
Habitat design, encompassing urban planning and design, is ultimately for the betterment of the quality of life of the population. A developing nation like India, where diversity of population is the strength and the challenge, citizen participation becomes all the more necessary to address the needs and concerns of all sections of the society. The idea of citizen participation is not only to understand the challenges faced by the population, but also to educate them the logic behind the decision taken by the authorities. A single elected representative might not effectively represent all sections of the society and at the same time may not be able to effectively communicate the reasoning behind the planning decisions, and hence it becomes more relevant to induct citizen participation into the planning process. By gaining the approval of the end users in the initial stages of the process, implementation can be more effective and smoother. At the same instance, facts or issues overlooked by the authorities for lack of end-user information can be brought to their attention, and be addressed accordingly.
In a diverse and populated nation like India, implementing citizen participation is challenging. Ensuring involvement of all sections of the society, especially the urban poor and other marginalized sections, require time and resources which is rarely available. Drafting of master plan itself is in some instances outsourced to private companies, for example, the Revised Master Plan 2015 (RMP 2015) for the Bangalore Metropolitan Area. Involvement of private sector and especially foreign companies in the planning process warrant active public participation to ensure equitable distribution of resources and opportunity for development for all segments of the society.
Theories of planning and design are universally accepted, but the application varies with respect to regional context, especially the socio-economic conditions. The nature of interaction of users with and within the public spaces especially are dictated by socio cultural norms of the society. In such a context, citizen participation becomes an equally relevant step when compared to the already existing processes of planning.
Even though it is much needed, and advocated for, the legal nuances in support of citizen participation require an overhaul to ensure increased effectiveness of the process. The marginalized sections of the society are yet to be educated in the necessity of the process, and effective citizen participation remain a challenge to date. Limited resources are also an obstacle to overcome to include participation in all stages of urban planning. Though effective in small scale projects, it has yet to evolve into the master planning process of a region for the population to reap the benefits of the practice.