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Publication Date

August 2022

Abstract

Our future is now more uncertain than ever due to myriad environmental problems that require communal responses. In order to build resilient communities and increase the effectiveness of planned changes to built environments, it is crucial to involve local communities throughout decision-making processes. However, in Romania, the traditions of top-down governance, inherited from its communist period, still hold sway among elected leaders - and, in some cases, its citizens. This is problematic because scholars have argued that top-down approaches to environment-related projects are more likely to fail than bottom-up initiatives that are more inclusive of community interests. This begs the question: How can we more meaningfully involve and empower citizens in Romania and similar places? To help address that question, I examined the quality of the formal participation infrastructure in the community of Targoviste, a post-industrial, mid-sized town in southern Romania. Through Photovoice methodology, 22 individuals who felt an emotional connection with Targoviste shared their experience with the town’s participation infrastructure and how historical traditions and post-communist legacies have limited their ability to be meaningfully involved in local authorities’ decision-making. The results show that formal public participation in Targoviste is shallow and that there is limited cooperation between local authorities and citizens. Key issues included: consultations announced shortly before they were due to conclude, dysfunctional websites, and unhelpful publicity materials. Rather than encouraging the diverse voices of Targoviste’s citizens to participate, the country’s authorities appeared to restrict public deliberations and consultations in important ways. This included excluding marginalized social groups, ignoring some active community members, and introducing barriers to participation in settings where public input should be of great import. While the authorities frequently employed a rhetoric of sharing power with the public, its participatory processes were more akin to empty rituals. Nevertheless, both the findings of this work and recent bottom-up initiatives have shown that an active community exists and is interested in bridging gaps with local officials to ensure better place-related development.

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