Citizens' jury on short path city

26. March 2023

In Lisbon in March and April 2023, a citizens' jury dealt with the topic of the "15-minute city". 50 randomly selected citizens have formulated proposals on this.

The 15-minute city is a concept developed by the French-Colombian urban studies professor Carlos Moreno, according to which the inhabitants of a city should have schools, hospitals, shops, green spaces, leisure and culture in the immediate vicinity. To achieve this, all these facilities and also one's own workplace should be within 15 minutes walking or cycling distance.

More quality of life

This concept aims to combat the use of cars and other environmentally harmful means of transport and to improve air quality. But the local economy and service providers should also benefit. This should bring more quality of life for all.

In his concept, Moreno describes places that he believes will be used more effectively: Schoolyards that serve as parks after school hours or cinemas that are cafés during the day. Digitalisation could be used to work from home or in co-working spaces and thus shorten or even avoid the commute.

"A city where people want to live"

Cities have an important role to play in the fight against climate change, as "polluting activities and carbon-intensive lifestyles" are concentrated in them. In addition, economic inequality in cities leads to social exclusion. "It is about creating a city where people want to live," Moreno said.

During the Citizens' Jury, participants were divided into five thematic groups: Leisure, Mobility, Trade and Services, Health and Education. There, they discussed with administrative staff under professional moderation and developed recommendations together.

Recommendations on five topics

To strengthen the recreational value of the neighbourhoods, abandoned facilities such as music pavilions, shops, prisons and military buildings should be reused for community events. There should be free admission to all municipal recreational and cultural facilities. For central state institutions, the jury participants would like to see season tickets offered. A "garden guard" is to be responsible for monitoring and ensuring compliance with the rules in the green spaces.

In the area of transport, the jury members suggest improving public transport and offering more trips, especially at night. In addition, public transport should be linked with other means of transport such as cycling. Buses and trains should become more accessible for people with limited mobility. The use and parking of bicycles and scooters is to be better monitored and compulsory insurance introduced for the use of these vehicles.

Demand forecasting for trade and services

On the issue of trade and services, one proposal is to map the existing trade and services in the city and to create a demand forecast based on a survey of citizens. Based on this survey, a plan will be developed to promote the opening of shops and services. Vacant or abandoned urban properties should be offered to commercial and service businesses at affordable prices.

To promote the health of residents, there should be an awareness campaign on urban hygiene (animal droppings, rubbish, waste near biotopes, etc.). Health centres are to be renovated and their signage improved. Parking spaces near them should no longer be charged and access by public transport should be improved. Mental health is to be promoted, for example, through counselling, self-help groups, special support for mothers/fathers, artistic projects and sex education.

More housing for teachers and students

The education situation is to be improved by, among other things, creating more housing for teachers and university students by using vacant buildings and community property near schools and universities for this purpose. People who provide accommodation for teachers and students should enjoy tax benefits. The city should also build a network of places (libraries, parishes, etc.) where knowledge exchange meetings (music, dance, literature, cooking...) are promoted in an intercultural and intergenerational way. The culture pass, which has so far been offered to all people up to 23 and over 65, is to be offered to all residents.

For Mayor Carlos Moedas, the citizens' jury is "like a return to the origins of democracy". "More than 2400 years ago, the Greeks already did it this way: they drew lots for an assembly of citizens who made the decisions in the city," the mayor said. The people knew better than the politicians what they wanted and what they needed in their city.

Activating people's knowledge

Citizen participation is the first pillar of a city plan that aims to create "alternative mechanisms of democratic participation that are able to activate people's knowledge".

Unlike the first citizens' jury on climate action in 2022, there were no experts at this mini public to inform the participants. The citizens themselves were to be the experts with their everyday knowledge. The jury members could address their questions directly to city administration employees.

20,000 invitations sent out

The content of the sessions covered topics such as mobility and accessibility, safety, public space, green areas, culture, education, trade, health and sports. While the first day was devoted to analysing the situation, the second day on 1 April was devoted to developing solutions to problems.

To put together the citizens' jury, the city sent out 20,000 invitations to randomly selected residents of the Portuguese capital. From the applications received, an assembly was put together that was a reflection of the population in terms of gender, age, nationality, district, profession and education. All people who lived, studied or worked in Lisbon and were at least 16 years old at that time could participate.

Participants accompany implementation

The implementation of the citizens' jury recommendations works a little differently than in other randomly selected bodies. Participants have chosen a group of "ambassadors" from among themselves, who are invited by the city to work together to help implement the suggestions of thr jury members.

The city already convened a citizens' jury on climate change in May 2022. Mayor Moedas takes positive stock of this first process and the results it achieved. "But of course we want to do even more, to improve from time to time. We are only at the beginning of the journey," says Moedas.

Read more: Citizens' Jury „15 Minute City“