Why We Shouldn't Fear Public Discussions

WorkshopsPublic space07 November 2023
07 November 2023

Though participation - involving citizens in the design process - is not a new concept, Ukrainian architects still rarely utilize it. Kotsiuba Studio has been successfully incorporating people into project development since 2016. Studio founder Maksym Kotsiuba and designer Yuriy Granovsky share their experiences and explain why projects should be created with people, not just for them.

Some architects imagine public discussions of their projects as a room full of people shouting at each other. While participation is more than just public discussion, such events are what architects fear the most. However, with proper planning, the risks can be significantly reduced.


Initially, it's advisable to invite a moderator experienced in public discussions to help plan and conduct them. Kotsiuba Studio collaborates with Yuriy Granovsky, a facilitator in citizen participation in design. His task is to simplify the process of working with people. "Citizens should be involved in the project as early as possible," he believes. "People want to participate and see quality changes in the city. If given tools for creativity and collaboration from the beginning, they will happily join." However, Granovsky notes that fear of public discussions is sometimes justified: "When architects and clients present their project as a gift to people, expecting mere support, it won't succeed."

To prepare for public discussions properly, the landscape architect's attitude is crucial: they should see the meeting as a project aid. A single expert or studio cannot consider everything, so there's always a chance they might overlook something. People will certainly point out what that is.

"It's important to arrange public discussion at the right project stage when conceptual decisions are made, but details are not," says Maksym Kotsiuba. "This is an opportunity to tell people about general plans and use their help on specific things."

A large part of preparing for a general meeting is audience formation. Besides inviting all interested via social media and the media, it's important to think about which groups are crucial and invite them personally. These could be transportation engineers if the project involves changes in road traffic, small business owners near the future building, people with disabilities, or any other citizens and organizations directly affected by the project.


At the start, it's necessary to explain to the audience how everything will proceed. People generally have little trust in city authorities, and they come to such discussions with objections and remarks. It should be stated that criticism is expected - this will reassure listeners.

A public discussion usually consists of a project presentation and discussion, followed by a workshop. During the presentation, the architect must justify all their decisions. This helps those who perceive the landscape architect as someone driven by fantasy or vanity to understand that this is not the case.

It's essential to discuss controversial points. For example, in Chernivtsi's main square, a project of Kotsiuba Studio requires replacing linden trees. The community generally reacts negatively to tree removal, so the designers explained their decision during discussions: the lindens are old, planted by the occupying Romanian authorities, they prevent modern communication installation, and the project plans to plant more trees than currently exist. Without addressing this issue, conflict would have been inevitable.

After the presentation, it's crucial to allow enough time for questions from the audience. Listen, understand, and record - this is the recipe for a successful discussion with citizens. Even if someone is shouting, it's worth listening and trying to find the constructive in their words, thank them for noticing, and write it on the board.

Being Honest. If there's no answer to a question from the audience, but the question is valid, admit it: "We didn't consider this, great that you brought it up, we'll address it." This indicates that the meeting was fruitful and lets the audience know they are heard.

After the discussion, a workshop can be conducted. Its main goal is to gather constructive feedback on the project. People are asked to discuss risks: instead of giving negative comments, they're encouraged to think about what could go wrong. This allows participants to accept the project and think about it. They are then asked to find opportunities - the same as positives, but the person thinks about what the project will bring specifically for them. Also, it's important to assign homework - things that architects should continue working on, and perhaps workshop participants will want to help physically or with connections or knowledge.

If community participation is properly planned, a circle of project friends can be formed - people who will help defend the decisions in the future.

Solving Problems

Pretending that a public discussion is just a polite tea party would be dishonest. Of course, where there are many people, there are conflicts. Participants in a public discussion may express opposite opinions. For example, someone may want a children's playground, while another prefers not to see any children at all. In such a situation, it's important to explain that the decision is based on data: if there are no playgrounds nearby and there is a need for one, then the project will find a place for it. If there are already playgrounds for children nearby, then such a structure can be dispensed with. Kotsiuba advises explaining that if we want to ignore the needs of some people, we must be prepared that tomorrow our needs will be ignored as well.

Public discussions may end with a complete misunderstanding between locals and designers. "But even this is a result that shows that something went wrong, and it's important to detect it as early as possible," notes Kotsiuba.

However, a constructive discussion is not guaranteed. "Public discussions can fail," Granovsky says. "Even if you are well-prepared, there are professional disruptors of hearings who are paid to disrupt the event, and there's nothing you can do about it."

Making Conclusions

After all the emotions from the public discussions of the project have settled, it's possible to analyze their usefulness. Usually, after the event, you better understand future users and their needs, and therefore, you have the opportunity to improve the project.

At the discussions and workshop regarding the square in Chernivtsi, it turned out that there were too many questions about transport. In the project, the square becomes pedestrian, changing the city's transport scheme. People were worried about whether this would lead to traffic jams and where the stops would be. It also turned out that the project did not take into account that excursion buses come to the square. So the authors conducted another workshop, involving transportation engineers, and developed design solutions for the streets adjacent to the square. Without public discussions, there was a risk of paying insufficient attention to this issue.

At the same meeting, it became clear that citizens are very concerned about the old benches with lion's paws and transparency in the reconstruction process - to better control it, they suggested hanging webcams.

As a result of participation, people themselves become responsible for ensuring that the project satisfies them. "Magical things can happen," says Yuriy Granovsky. "In Makariv, where I am involved in creating a park, we hold a photo exhibition at the site of the project implementation with residents. Now people themselves are planning the next photo exhibitions, even a film club. Such participatory projects build a civil society and a strong community."

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