Citizen participation and urban development in Japan and Germany: Issues and problems

Carolin Funck, Tsutomu Kawada, Yoshimichi Yui

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


From government to governance: the rise of civil society The idea of government in democratic societies is closely connected to the concept of a representative democracy. However, limitations of this concept have become visible and the necessity to shift from government to governance has been emphasised since the 1990s. Governance has been defined as a move beyond the traditional mode of democratic rule (Evans et al. 2005: 33), or, more detailed, ‘a process of participation which depends on networks of engagement, which attempts to embrace diversity in contemporary society, which promotes greater responsiveness to service users and, in so doing, seeks to reshape accountability relationships’ (Lovan et al. 2004: 8). The rather simple system of elections that transfer decision rights from the individual to a representative authority is replaced by complex processes-like engagement, responsiveness, consultation and accountability. Civil society has been used as a term to describe this far more complex system. Civil society is ‘the social space in which individuals are able to engage in a range of activities through informal association’ (Lovan et al. 2004: 8). In another definition, Friedmann and Douglas (1998: 2) describe civil society as ‘that part of social life which lies beyond the immediate reach of the state and which must exist for a democracy state to flower’. However, it is not only the space between the state and the economy, where citizens can engage and associate themselves freely; the actions taken within this space should be influencing the structures of government and also business. In the case of urban development and urban planning, civil society thus ‘is a collective actor in the construction of our cities and regions, in search of a good life’ (Friedmann 1998: 21). In accordance with the rise of concepts like governance and civil society, the paradigm of urban planning has also changed ‘from technical skills and regulatory powers to advocacy of the disempowered or at least a process of finding common ground’ (Friedmann and Douglas 1998: 3). These somewhat idealistic definitions leave some questions unanswered. Even Friedmann (quoted in Abu-Lughod 1998: 237), a well-known advocate of civil society, distinguishes between the different roles of civil society, a social maintenance role and a role as a generator of social movements. In the role of social maintenance, civil society ends up filling the gap between organised government and free markets. As it takes over low profit functions in welfare, education, maintenance of public space and other areas that so far had been covered by the state, the first question is whether civil society functions mainly as an ally in the withdrawal of the state from public policy. The second question concerns the processes of governance. Certainly, in urban planning as in other sections of public policy, procedures to guarantee a certain degree of citizen participation and of accountability have been introduced. However, is participation only a set of procedures or does it also include any specific content? Finally, as civil society includes a range of different actors with conflicting interests, the question remains: who is civil society? The system of a representative democracy had given one solution to the problem of how to translate the interests of citizens into public policy. If, as mentioned above, civil society in the context of urban planning aims for a good life, who then defines what a good life is? Who defines the public good? These questions will form the background for an analysis of recent changes in citizen participation in the urban planning system of Japan and Germany. Rather than concentrating on the system of planning itself, the multiple realities of citizen participation in the construction of urban space were examined using examples from major urban centres and peripheral towns.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUrban Spaces in Japan
Subtitle of host publicationCultural and Social Perspectives
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781136318849
ISBN (Print)9780415695459
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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