Participatory Utopian Sketching

Törnroth, S., Day, J., Fürst, M. F., & Mander, S. (2022). Participatory utopian sketching: A methodological framework for collaborative citizen (re)imagination of urban spatial futures. Futures, 139:102938.

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Explorations of emerging urban spatial futures increasingly depend on the empathetic interweaving of broad political ideals with grounded democratic involvement. The collaborative planning paradigm (CP) and participatory action research (PAR) have thus gained traction globally, since they centralise meaningful involvement of those with lived experiences of the local environment. Building upon this, we argue that ‘utopia’ can offer an alternative paradigm that enhances citizen engagement, by refocusing urban design and planning explorations away from a problem-based orientation to a values-based one. Through a four-stage collaborative framework: 1. Experiencing the Space, 2. Sketching of Utopias, 3. Sharing of Utopias, and 4. Collaborative Analysis, participatory utopian sketching offers the possibility for richer and wider citizen engagement in urban development processes. The novelty of the framework is its tenets of collaboration, citizen inclusivity, playful experimentation, and iterative reflective activity. Its flexibility also allows for multiple real-world applications in the making of urban spatial futures. We demonstrate the methodological framework of participatory utopian sketching using an empirical pilot study examining the spatial imagination of solar panel futures within a neighbourhood located in Luleå, the provincial capital of Northern Sweden. Thereafter, we provide elucidations on the framework’s opportunities and challenges in wider urban design and planning discourse.