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Collaborative planning for retrofitting suburbs: Transdisciplinarity and intersubjectivity in action


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This paper presents the transdisciplinary research program undertaken by the Interdisciplinary Research Group on Suburbs or GIRBa (Groupe interdisciplinaire de recherche sur les banlieues, in French), as well as the collaborative planning process put forward to orient the future of Quebec City’s first ring suburbs. The first section presents the research problem and its context. The next section discusses the concepts of transdisciplinary and intersubjectivity at the very basis of the group’s work and orientations. The last section describes the content of the ongoing transdisciplinary research and action program and reports on the in-progress collaborative planning process.
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Futures 36 (2004) 471–486
Collaborative planning for retrofitting suburbs:
transdisciplinarity and intersubjectivity
in action
Carole Despre
, Nicole Brais, Sergio Avellan
Groupe interdisciplinaire de recherche sur les banlieues (GIRBa), E
cole d’architecture,
Laval, Que
bec, Canada
This paper presents the transdisciplinary research program undertaken by the Inter-
disciplinary Research Group on Suburbs or GIRBa (Groupe interdisciplinaire de recherche
sur les banlieues, in French), as well as the collaborative planning process put forward to ori-
ent the future of Quebec City’s first ring suburbs. The first section presents the research
problem and its context. The next section discusses the concepts of transdisciplinary and
intersubjectivity at the very basis of the group’s work and orientations. The last section
describes the content of the ongoing transdisciplinary research and action program and
reports on the in-progress collaborative planning process.
# 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction
This paper presents the transdisciplinary research program undertaken by the
Interdisciplinary Research Group on Suburbs or GIRBa (Groupe interdisciplinaire
de recherche sur les banlieues, in French), as well as the collaborative planning
strategy adopted by GIRBa and its partners to orient the redevelopment of Quebec
City’s first ring suburbs. Section 1 summarizes the aging process that these postwar
suburbs are undergoing, as well as the relevance, from a sustainable development
perspective, to favor their redevelopment over urban sprawl. It also points out the
recent municipal amalgamation of Quebec City and its suburban municipalities
and the favorable context it gave GIRBa to share its transdisciplinary knowledge
Corresponding author. Tel.: +1-418-6562131 poste/extension 3707; fax: +1-418-6562785.
E-mail address: (C. Despre
0016-3287/$ - see front matter # 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
base with relevant authorities and suggest a collaborative planning strategy to ori-
ent the future of these suburbs. Finally, it justifies why and how the redevelopment
of postwar suburbs called for a transdiciplinary and collaborative strategy. Section
2 discusses the theoretical backgrounds of this approach to research, planning and
design, defining what is new with transdisciplinarity research and how communi-
cative rationality and intersubjectivity are contributing to it. Section 3 describes
GIRBa’s research program and how the group has been operating for the last five
years, and the ongoing collaborative planning strategy developed to produce inter-
subjective knowledge.
1.1. Research problem and context
Quebec City’s first ring suburbs are aging, both physically and socially. Located
within a 12 km radius from the parliament administrative district, they were built
between 1950 and 1975 (Fig. 1). Several districts have already lost 10% of their
population. The infrastructures of most streets have to be redone, including sewer
and water systems, pavement and lighting. The school buildings are deteriorating
and several would be scarcely populated if not for numerous children bussed in
everyday from other neighborhoods at high costs. Public ice rinks, swimming pools
and park equipments need to be upgraded. Furthermore, because of the low den-
sity, public transportation is difficult to operate.
Car-oriented lifestyles and functional zoning have produced distinct specialized
residential, commercial and industrial areas. Most public collective spaces are
vaguely defined. Shopping malls and big-box retailing are commonly used to the
extent where it is difficult for neighborhood services to survive. Streets are char-
acterized by the absence of sidewalks. While single-family houses—over 50 percent
of the housing stock—were generally well maintained by their owners, most rental
apartment buildings need to be renovated. With the gentrification of inner-city
Fig. 1. Typical single-family bungalows in Quebec City’s first ring suburbs.
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s et al. / Futures 36 (2004) 471–486472
neighborhoods, poverty has made its way through these originally middle-class
suburbs. Nuclear families represent just over 30 percent of all households who
resemble more and more those found in inner-city neighborhoods in terms of
people living alone, couples without children and single-parent families. In absolute
numbers, there are as many elders and immigrants in postwar suburbs compared
to inner-city neighborhoods. Homeowners have or are reaching retirement: a fair
percentage can expect to lose their drivers’ license in the future and to suffer a lack
of autonomy and mobility.
The demographic growth of Quebec City’s metropolitan area is predicted to be
slow for the next five years, and to stagnate and decrease from 2011 on. Despite of
that, urban sprawl is continuing with its attached ecological, social and economic
costs. Younger households and second homebuyers prefer third or fourth ring new
residential developments to older suburbs. It is in this context that GIRBa has
been working, in the last five years, at a research and action program aiming at
valuing postwar suburbs and setting up the basis of a revitalization program that
would preserve the perception of their low-density while favoring soft and strategic
densification, as well as their quiet and green character, in the way of retaining cur-
rent residents and attracting new ones in search of the ideal suburb [1].
In 2001, the provincial government announced the forthcoming amalgamation of
suburban municipalities to Quebec City. The amalgamation was made effective
January 1st 2002. The new city is now divided in arrondissements or boroughs, four
of them covering most of the territory of first ring suburbs. Although planning,
design and heritage work services have been centralized in the new city, each bor-
ough has an office composed of one general manager and three department heads
in planning, community relations, as well as parks and recreation. Since the amal-
gamation, different authorities in the provincial, regional, metropolitan and
municipal governments have been given the mandate to specify their planning
orientations for their respective territory; 2004 is their horizon. This context pro-
vided GIRBa with a unique opportunity to share its transdisciplinary knowledge of
these neighborhoods with governmental authorities and orient their future.
1.2. A call for transdisciplinary and collaborative strategy
At the time the municipal amalgamation was announced, GIRBa had been
studying these suburbs for almost five years through empirical research, action
research, as well as concrete design and policy proposals (our team and work is
presented in section 3.1). Aware of the opportunity to inform and influence several
government authorities on the future of first ring suburbs, GIRBa designed a colla-
borative strategy aiming at elaborating a revitalization strategy for these suburbs.
Why favor a collaborative and transdisciplinary planning process to inform the
future of postwar suburbs?
We submitted our process as part of a broader research proposal to the Fond Que
cois de
Recherche sur la Socie
et la Culture (FQRSC) and were granted the money which allowed us to
implement it.
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s et al. / Futures 36 (2004) 471–486
First, revitalizing existing suburbs calls for a higher citizen involvement than
what is required when dealing with new developments. Indeed, first ring suburbs
have been inhabited for 40–50 years by a majority of homeowners. These residents
are attached to their neighborhood and house for specific reasons, namely the ones
that made them choose a suburban community in the first place: low-density hous-
ing, quietness and greenery. Residents who chose these suburbs in the last ten to 15
years appreciate the same qualities as older dwellers but also value the central
location of their neighborhood, the easy commute and access to highways, and the
proximity of commercial facilities. The knowledge that these residents have of their
neighborhood is important; they are the ‘‘specialists of everyday life’’ (spe
du quotidien, in French). Moreover, to avoid having to deal with NIMBY reactions
(Not-In-My-Back-Yard) to any revitalization proposals, it is mandatory to work
with residents’ uses and meanings of the neighborhoods. It is essential to survey
and consult residents, elected officials and community organizers, to name just a
few. Second, putting together a revitalization program that accounts for the prio-
rities in policy development of several levels of governance necessitates involving
key representatives of all concerned governmental agencies. Fig. 2 illustrates some
of the multiple policy implications of revitalizing postwar suburbs.
2. Theoretical background
What theoretical underpinnings have guided the transdisciplinary and collabora-
tive approach put forward to inform and orient the future of Quebec City’s first
ring suburbs? Two basic concepts permeate our work: transdisciplinarity and inter-
Fig. 2. Policy implications of retrofitting Quebec City’s first ring suburbs.
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2.1. What is new with transdisciplinarity?
In what ways is transdisciplinary research different from multi- or inter-
disciplinary research since they all aim at embracing the complexity of social and
historical reality, beyond the expertise of a given discipline?
It has become increasingly evident to many scholars that the historical making
and functioning of disciplinary segmentation should not be confused with the com-
mon social, spatial, politico-economical and historical reality to be observed [2].
Indeed, disciplinary segmentation appears as the outcome of the process of know-
ing about reality which, to operate, needs to reduce it to formal objects, that is, to
define analytical dimensions. In other words, it is the outcome of a methodological
reduction of reality. The sociology of knowledge and Foucault’s archeology of
knowledge remind us that disciplines are the outcome of social and epistemological
determinations and that they are socially produced across institutionalization and
‘‘professionalization’’ processes [3]. In this respect, scientific and academic worlds
are dealing with the tension between specialization, on the one hand, and com-
plexity of the reality to be understood, on the other hand.
Interdisciplinarity came forth as the answer to the fragmentation of knowledge
into disciplines. The research object being always more complex than its disciplin-
ary representation, researchers then co-construct their research object across sev-
eral disciplines. Most interdisciplinary research fits the following characteristics: 1)
the object construction goes beyond a single disciplinary framework; 2) concepts
from various disciplines are combined and partially translated in the research
scheme; 3) methods are borrowed from various disciplines; 4) researchers with
complementary disciplinary profiles are involved. This being said, on a pragmatic
level, the research program might very well be confined within one discipline, or be
split between two or more disciplines in almost autonomously sub-research.
What is new then with transdisciplinary? The latin prefix trans-, somehow
answers the question. While interdisciplinary research concerns several disciplines,
transdisciplinary research implies crossing the boundaries between disciplines.It
defines a mediation space between them. Our own experience of the inter- and
transdisciplinarity suggests that the latter activates a mutation process within the
disciplines involved, as comprehension of the research problem intensifies. If the
research methods are borrowed from multiple disciplines and the disciplinary com-
petencies of team members used to their best advantages, the definition of the
research strategy and the on-going interpretation process are truly transdisci-
plinary. Researchers are looking for convergent interpretative schemes, for shared
explanatory models based on concepts and theories that will hold together across
multiple disciplinary filters. The mediation space in trandisciplinary research
includes the following: 1) definition of complex research objects and problems; 2)
definition of epistemological positions; 3) selection of operational concepts; 4) elab-
oration of the research strategy; 5) combination of research methods; and 6) con-
struction of interpretative theoretical frameworks. On a day-to-day basis,
transdisciplinary research requires a different way of conducting research. It
namely calls for close and constant collaboration among co-researchers, at all steps
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of the research program, which translates inevitably into generous mediation time
and space. This is undoubtedly easier to realize when geographical distance among
co-researchers is not at stake.
This is an important consideration because transdis-
ciplinary research is hardly possible when researchers meet once a month or
exchange e-mails or telephone calls once in a while.
Transdisciplinary research is frequently associated to pragmatic or solution-
oriented research. Although pressing social, economic, ecological problems of all
natures are often at stake in transdisciplinarity research programs, we would like
to argue that it is not a mandatory dimension of the transdisciplinary process. This
search for readily applicable knowledge and its impact on the constitution of
research team composition and programs rather refer to a post-rationalist
approach to knowledge-building, where aesthetic, instrumental and ethical knowl-
edge are considered as valuable as scientific knowledge to inform a problem.
Indeed, finding a pragmatic solution to a problem, rather than scientifically
describing and interpreting it, involves some elements of uncertainty and con-
textuality which traditional scientific knowledge alone cannot inform. The activity
of design, for instance, is about predicting what the reality will be and how it will
function. Confronting, assembling and putting to work all these different types of
knowledge together brings us to the concept of intersubjectivity.
2.2. Communicative rationality and intersubjectivity
In his theory of communicative action,Ju
rgen Habermas [4], advocates a new way
of looking and of building rational knowledge. According to Habermas, our west-
ern societies have given too much importance to scientifically produced rational
knowledge. In agreement with transdisciplinarity, he criticizes the facts that all
scientific domains are subdivided into specialized fields in which experts have little
contact with others disciplines, and that most exchanges and discussions about a
research object are done among experts working within the same theoretical, and
often methodological, backgrounds.
Beyond this acknowledgement, the author contests the fact that scientific knowl-
edge is considered nowadays as the only valid rational knowledge. He proposes to
include instrumental, ethical and aesthetic knowledge as well. Instrumental knowl-
edge refers to pragmatic knowledge, the knowledge of how to go about things.
Experienced professionals, technicians or workers are generally the main channel
for this knowledge. Ethical knowledge, rather, corresponds to customs, beliefs,
values and past experiences which bring people to determine what is wrong and
what is right on a specific issue. Citizens, elected officials are key sources for this
type of knowledge. Aesthetic knowledge comprises images, and refers to aesthetic
experiences, tastes, preferences and feelings that help define what is beautiful and
what is ugly. Although experts can express their ethical and aesthetic position,
non-experts are as skilful to do the same because they too experience everyday life
Although one can hope that the new information technology will make it easier in the future.
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in ethical and aesthetic ways. For Habermas, cognitive rationality or scientific
knowledge alone cannot explain everything. In a post-rationalist manner, he pro-
poses that the four types of knowledge be considered science (Fig. 3).
Habermas suggests giving higher importance to interaction and communication
between people holding different types of knowledge. He posits that rational
knowledge comes out not only of ‘‘what we know’’ but also of ‘‘how we communi-
cate’’ it. For him, each explicit and aimed linguistic expression said by a person is
full of knowledge and, starting from there, it can be criticized by an interlocutor.
Capable of argumentation, stakeholders enter a process of negotiation, confronting
different types of knowledge through a series of encounters. During the process, a
fifth type of knowledge progressively emerges, which is more than the sum of the
four others, a kind of hybrid product resulting from ‘‘making sense together’’ [5],
[6]. The process by which spokesperson for different types of knowledge learn to
listen and understand each other is called intersubjectivity.
Activating intersubjectivity is not only a question of bringing people together
and coordinating their verbalizations. It involves a difficult mediation process and
a ceaseless effort of mutual understanding between different stakeholders for learn-
ing and acting [7]. Stakeholders must express their interests or views. In return,
these will be discussed and criticized by other participants. Participants should
meet many times to forget whom they are representing or talking for, and concen-
trate on the best understanding of the issues at stake. Progressively, shared mean-
ings, diagnoses, and objectives emerge where individual interests and views are seen
in different perspectives. If the process is conducted correctly, a series of consensus
and agreements on the problem should be reached. What is at work is ‘‘communi-
cative rationality’’ rather than simply ‘‘cognitive rationality’’ [8].
For planners, urban designers and architects, this implies changing the way pro-
jects are thought of and reviewing the methods and tools usually used. Among oth-
ers, this implies: 1) involving all stakeholders at the beginning of the process; 2)
Fig. 3. Intersubjectivity at work in collaborative planning.
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producing clear, equitable and complete reports, minutes and drawings to inform
the stakeholders during the process; and 3) organizing the elaboration of a project
along a chain of encounters [9].
3. Research and action program for retrofitting suburbs
In this last section, the theoretical concepts discussed above are made explicit
with the work of the Interdisciplinary Research Group on Suburbs (GIRBa). Over
the years, the team has developed and made operational a research and action pro-
gram integrating, at its very basis, the concepts of transdisciplinarity and inter-
subjectivity. Transdisciplinarity has been at the heart of GIRBa’s orientation since
1997, their approach slowly moving away from interdisciplinarity to transdiscipli-
narity. Section 3.1 describes the research and design program. As for the concept
of intersubjectivity, it is only recently that the group formerly integrated it to its
work, even though communicative rationality was already operating in the group’s
weekly meetings. Section 3.2 exposes the collaborative planning strategy put
together to orient the future of Quebec City’s first ring suburbs, calling upon
‘‘guardians’’ of scientific, instrumental, ethical and aesthetic knowledge and
explicitly building upon Habermas’ concepts of communicative rationality and
3.1. Transdisciplinary research and design
Over the last five years, GIRBa has been conducting research on Quebec’s sub-
urbs around three main lines, as shown on Fig. 4. The first axis gathers the work
on suburbs’ morphogenesis, urban morphology and architectural typologies. The
second one focuses on residents’ uses and meanings of dwellings, neighborhoods
and broader metropolitan area. The third main line deals with policies, regulations,
Fig. 4. Research lines of GIRBa on Quebec City’s first ring suburbs.
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ideologies, as well as planning theories and practices. The program consists of an
iterative process between scientific, action and design research. The architectural
and urban proposals emerging from this process are rarely considered as definite
since they lead to new theoretical reflections that can, in turn, modify them.
Finally, the transdisciplinary nature of the research process is part of the group’s
interests. The research outcomes were recently published in La banlieue revisite
e [1].
Such premises call for: 1) team members with various but complementary com-
petencies, 2) an original research process, and 3) a specific research agenda. The
research team is composed of about 12 researchers in the fields of architecture,
urban design, planning, sociology, geography, history of architecture, social work,
environmental psychology and computer sciences. The team includes one professor
of sociology and two of architecture, as well as one or two postdoctorate candi-
dates, one or two doctoral candidates, several Masters’ students in sociology,
urban design and architecture, as well as numerous undergraduates in architecture.
If all members show an interest for retrofitting postwar suburbs, the co-directors
share the conviction that knowledge about people-environment relations is essen-
tial to support design and planning. In the last few years, GIRBa has become an
incubator for transdisciplinarity research, for graduate and undergraduate thesis
and studio projects, and well as a training center that initiates future social scien-
tists, architects and planners to collaborative planning and design.
The team meets on a weekly basis. Each member first reports on the evolution of
his or her work, without consideration for status or experience, and the group is
invited to react. Discussion follows on various items according to the state of
advancement of in-progress projects. Literature reviews, data collection or analysis,
coding or interpretation schemes can be discussed. Technical problems, the Web
site, as well as forthcoming publications, conferences, design and research grant
applications or collaborative activities may be touched upon. Without reserving
time and space for regular meetings, the team’s cohesion and the construction of
transdisciplinary knowledge would be hard to achieve.
Through discussions, mem-
bers get acquainted and familiar with various disciplinary theoretical perspectives
and analytical concepts, learn to master the jargons (or to avoid it when possible),
setting the basis for intersubjectivity. Through these exchanges emerges a type of
knowledge that is richer than the sum of individual disciplinary knowledge.
Replacement of students to be graduated and presentation of new team members are cyclically on
the agenda. One should not underestimate the importance of this renewal process for maintaining the
team’s cohesion, especially in an academic context.
The qualitative coding scheme developed in Fall 1999, after several lengthy meetings, is an example
of transdisciplinarity at work. Our first gatherings allowed, with much humor, for a series of stereotyped
perceptions of professionals to be unveiled: sociologists about psychologists, psychologists about archi-
tects, etc. The team also had to find a common language. Indeed, words as simple as ‘‘social’’, ‘‘environ-
ment’’, ‘‘project’’, ‘‘practices’’, ‘‘representations’’ or ‘‘design’’, to name just a few, did not mean the same
to all members depending of their disciplinary training. Once the respective contributions of all the
involved disciplines were understood, the group started working together creatively, with more interest,
efficiency and pleasure.
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The research program is also characterized by an iterative process, favoring a
constant back-and-forth between scientific research, action research and design
research. The presence of researchers in architecture, urban design and planning,
whose training is characterized by the development of abilities for solving multi-
dimensional problems through design hypotheses, may account for the combi-
nation of action research and design research. These team members may have a
natural tendency to integrate or translate scientific findings into design objectives,
criteria and proposals and, on the opposite, to nurture the research program with
reflections asking for more scientific research, and so on. Research contracts with
various government offices also contribute in feeding the team with pragmatic
research questions and favor action research and design as part of the research
program. The research problems, objectives and strategies are in constant redefini-
tion, taking advantage of an action-retroaction process.
3.2. A collaborative planning process
Over the years, GIRBa built up its credibility with a network of collaborators
from various government agencies. In a timely manner, the municipal amalga-
mation was announced at a point when the group was confident in its expertise
and ready to share it. Because the amalgamation called for important municipal
and regional restructurations, as well as for the unification and revision of various
existing planning schemes impacting postwar suburbs, it offered GIRBa a favor-
able context to propose and launch a collaborative strategy where scientific, aesthe-
tical, ethical and instrumental knowledge would be put to contribution.
Prior to launching the process and asking key partners for collaboration, GIRBa
proceeded with what Scheekloth and Shibley [10] and So
m [6] call a visi-
bility phase. The aim was to raise public awareness about the future of first ring
suburbs. Publicity for GIRBa’s collective book Suburbia Revisited [1] was favor-
Members of GIRBa staff were asked by Quebec City’s main newspaper to
write three editorials on postwar suburbs and were interviewed by other news-
papers, radio and television reporters. GIRBa’s website also provided useful infor-
mation. Simultaneously, a panel of key government actors from the city and
various concerned ministries was informed about our work and were consulted by
the group to measure interest for a collaborative planning process. Collaboration
offers were frequent which allowed for key collaborators to be identified. Although
the process was drafted in Summer 2002, during the visibility phase, it was
officially launched in September 2002.
The financing of a transdisciplinary research program does not fit the disciplinary criteria typically
used by granting agencies to evaluate proposals because it deviates from the established and accepted
parameters of academic disciplinary research. For this reason, GIRBa counts both on disciplinary grant
proposals to finance scientific research, and on partners to finance design research and action research
through contracts.
Which was purposely written in accessible language, using as little specialized vocabulary as possible.
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The proposed collaborative planning process consists of an 18 month procedure
involving key actors at three levels of political governance and intervention:
Macro, Meso and Micro. The Macro level corresponds to the decision-makers and
planners involved at the regional, metropolitan and municipal levels and whose
decisions could impact the future of first ring suburbs.
The Meso level is the bor-
ough scale. It comprises the Borough Office directors, local elected officials, as well
as Local Development Centers, School Boards and Local Centers for Community
Services representatives.
The Micro level refers to neighborhood and community
organizations, to the population at large, as well as specific subgroups (Fig. 5).
The process comprises three main overlapping phases. The first one, the diag-
nosis phase, aims at reaching a shared understanding of the challenges involved in
the future of Quebec City’s first ring suburbs. The second phase collectively defines
general orientations and objectives for retrofitting this portion of Quebec City’s ter-
ritory, as well as ideas of design, policies and programs to implement actions. The
last phase consists of elaborating, through an intensive participatory design ses-
sion, a redevelopment plan and strategy that reaches consensus. Each phase puts to
contribution scientific research, instrumental, ethical and aesthetic knowledge
through a series of encounters and workshops. These meetings give all actors
involved not only the opportunity to identify and define together the problems and
needs of these suburbs, but also to develop a network of contacts and influences.
tropolitaine de Que
bec, Re
seau de transport de la Capitale, Comite
sur les orientations du gouvernement pour le sche
ma d’ame
nagement de la Communaute
de Que
bec, Service de l’ame
nagement du territoire de la Ville de Que
bec, Socie
d’habitation du Que
bec, Ministe
re des Affaires municipales et de la Me
tropole, Commission de la capitale nationale de
Commission scolaire, Centre local de services communautaires, Centre local de de
Fig. 5. Scales of governance and collaborators involved in the collaborative process.
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The Diagnosis phase was conducted during Fall 2002.
At the Macro scale, GIRBa coordinated a series of four one-day colloquium and
workshops (once a month) during which were identified the stakes and challenges
involved in planning the future of first ring suburbs, from the point of view of the
different authorities and competencies represented.
Each gathering consisted of a
half day of presentations from GIRBa and other involved partners (on relevant
census data analyses, quantitative and qualitative surveys, focus group reports,
etc.) to trace the most complete portrait of first ring suburbs, in both their physical
and social dimensions. It was followed by a half-day workshop in subgroups, dis-
cussing and annotating maps of the new city and of the four concerned suburban
boroughs. This process favored a back-and-forth process between design proposals
and more theoretical reflections, as well as an in-depth knowledge of the concerned
At the Meso scale, GIRBa met each borough council separately, along with the
School Boards, Local Centers for Community Services and Local Centers for
Development—all together whenever possible—for a half day. The discussions
allowed to identify the main stakes and challenges in each borough. A map was
used to point specific buildings, streets or neighborhoods during the discussion. A
one-day Boroughs’ Colloquium, where key actors of each borough presented their
own diagnosis and discussed with Macro and other borough representatives, com-
pleted the diagnosis phase at the Meso scale. It also allowed for a better under-
standing of the interfaces between different territorial scales.
At the Micro scale, the diagnosis phase should have involved key residents in the
collaborative process to respect the theoretical underpinnings behind the collabora-
tive process. However, the difficulty of identifying and mobilizing various com-
munity groups (elderly, teenagers, etc.) made it impossible given the time frame we
had. With the exception of a leader from a suburban African association who was
involved as a key actor from the start, as well as one focus group with single-
mothers, GIRBa’s extensive survey databases were used to integrate residents’ con-
cerns for various aspects of their environments through presentations during the
diagnosis phase.
At the end of the first phase, a consolidated report of all Fall meetings (includ-
ing orders of the day, minutes and Powerpoint presentations) was put together in a
358 page document and handed out to all participants, in preparation of the next
collaborative phase [11].
The next phase was conducted during Spring 2003. It aimed at defining, in a
consensual manner, general orientations as well as specific objectives and design or
performance criteria to orient the future of first ring suburbs. For this purpose, a
series of four one-day workshops was planned to bring Macro and Meso repre-
sentatives together (at the rate of one meeting a month). For the first session,
GIRBa presented a preliminary list of orientations and objectives issued from the
Diagnosis phase to initiate the discussion. Following this, five thematic discussion
Each meeting gathered between 30 and 50 people, including GIRBa’s members.
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groups took place to examine specific categories of stakes and challenges:
Sociodemographic, Ecological, Functional, Financial/Economic and Cultural/Patri-
monial. Each group reported on their work during a plenary session, leading to
comments and discussion. The next workshops alternately focused on each of
the four involved boroughs.
Simultaneously, at the Micro level, associations or volunteers (immigrants,
senior citizens and teenagers) were met by members of GIRBa, in groups of five to
ten people. Beyond organizing the focus groups, GIRBa was responsible for sum-
marizing the diagnosis established collectively at the Meso and Macro levels, as
well as for identifying citizens from the represented groups who could act as key
actors in the next phase of the collaborative process. An interactive Web site was
launched in Summer 2003 to inform and survey a fair segment of the population,
namely young families with children who show a high rate of Internet connection.
An Internet survey was included to test the relevance of some of the issues, design
or policy proposals discussed by Macro and Meso actors. The focus group reports,
as well as the results of the Internet survey were analyzed during Summer 2003 and
presented during Phase II final workshop, in September 2003, to make a final
revision of the orientations, objectives and solutions for action and design. A
second consolidated report was handed out to all participants during that session.
Phase III of the collaborative planning process corresponds to the Elaboration
Phase or Design Charrette. Over two or three days, key actors identified at the
Macro, Meso and Micro levels will attempt to collectively and consensually elabor-
ate a redevelopment plan for Quebec City’s first ring suburbs. This step is planned
for mid-fall 2003. Key experts and actors, identified by GIRBa during Phases I and
II, will elaborate concrete urban proposals, with clear indications on the actions to
take. At the moment of writing this paper, it is not clear if GIRBa will act as the
voices of numerous citizens for reporting their concerns and suggestions. Several
concerns and difficulties have first to be resolved: 1) it could be difficult for several
citizens to be available for two or three consecutive days; 2) because they would
enter the process in Phase III, some residents might be in an asymmetrical power
relation with some Macro and Meso actors; 3) there might be simply too many
categories of residents to get involved for such a large project. We hope to invite as
many interested and/or visionary citizens as possible.
Following this activity, GIRBa will prepare a final report based on the recom-
mendations and proposals defined in Phase III. All individuals and groups
involved at all levels will be given a copy of the report and will have the possibility
to use it to orient the future of first ring suburbs, in their claims, designs or
actions. The final report is planned to be distributed in March 2004. GIRBa’s own
Web site will also be used to disseminate the final results. Fig. 6 summarizes the
one-and-a-half-year process.
3.3. Assessment of mid-term achievements
Bringing together actors with various expertise and work profiles at the Macro
and Meso levels has, so far, been so far rich and fruitful. Most people are showing
483C. Despre
s et al. / Futures 36 (2004) 471–486
enthusiasm and are happy to come back to the next meeting. Actors have learned
to know each other and to forget the authority they are representing. The process
is enriched not only by the contribution of the various participants but from their
co-presence, producing a unique and distinct knowledge. More than halfway
through the process, some factors that contributed in making this collaborative
planning process possible and productive can be identified.
First, it is obvious that the post-amalgamation context and the multiple planning
exercises required from several government instances at the regional, metropolitan,
municipal levels made it easier for GIRBa to convince the different authorities to
allow the participation of key representatives in the proposed collaborative plan-
ning process. In other words, there was a favorable context. Second, the publi-
cation of Suburbia Revisited, summarizing five years of transdisciplinary research
and design on postwar suburbs, was timely and contributed to our credibility. Fur-
thermore, our status as an academic research entity, neither working for the
government nor for the citizens, placed us in a comfortable position to propose
and orchestrate a collaborative planning strategy. Also, different visions for the
new city between the central administration and the suburban municipalities
remain important and make GIRBa if not a neutral ally, an interesting mediator.
Finally, we are financed by our own research funds, independent from any parti-
cular interest group.
Second, the creation of the new city gave way to a round of musical chairs
among municipal employees (fonction publique municipale, in French). It also
Fig. 6. Phases of the collaborative process developed by GIRBa to define orientations, objectives and
proposals for the redevelopment of Quebec City’ first ring suburbs.
C. Despre
s et al. / Futures 36 (2004) 471–486484
impacted several organizations namely the four local development centers which
were amalgamated. Our collaborative process allowed professionals from munici-
pal, health, local economic development, as well as professionals assigned to new
functions to exchange about the reality of their (often new) territory of action. In
this respect, these meetings acted not only as a mediation space between tenants of
different types of knowledge but also as a meeting and training space for newly
assigned professionals. Even within a single ministry or borough, participants said
they rarely have the opportunity to discuss with colleagues of other divisions.
Last but not least, GIRBa operates in a most transparent manner, favoring the
circulation of information. Indeed, each meeting leads to a detailed report. When
completed and accepted by all participants, it is made available to all partners at
the Macro, Meso or Micro levels, allowing to record and share the reflection as it
moves toward a progressively shared understanding. Although this procedure is
certainly made easier with the help of electronic mailing and Internet, one should
not underestimate the energy required by such a diffusion process: 1) the minutes
are written by at least two members of GIRBa for cross-examination; 2) each
report is completed and sent to partners for corrections and approvals; 3) the cor-
rections are integrated and the final version sent to participants. All documents
produced through the collaborative process are available to the public on GIRBa’s
Web site.
4. Conclusion
The case study reported in this paper illustrates how transdisciplinarity and
intersubjectivity have been integrated into an academic research program and col-
laborative planning strategy aiming at informing the future of postwar suburbs. At
the moment of writing these lines, the collaborative planning process is still on its
way and will be completed in December 2003. In this respect, the final conclusions
are yet to come. This being said, GIRBa’s work has been rich and fruitful so far.
The combination of transdisciplinary research program and collaborative planning
strategy both produced thorough knowledge, in a post-rationalist manner.
Together, they have allowed for a better understanding of the complexity of sub-
urban settings, of the challenges facing them and, most of all, of avenues for
action. We are currently undertaking a new set of academic research whose pur-
poses were uncovered through the process. Finally, GIRBa’s work exemplifies how
universities can play a critical and essential role in training professionals and
researchers to work together providing beyond their specific disciplinary compe-
The reflections presented in this paper are the outcome of transdisciplinary and
intersubjective work among GIRBa members. More specifically, the authors would
like to thank Genevie
ve Vachon, Andre
e Fortin, Thierry Ramadier, Nik Luka,
485C. Despre
s et al. / Futures 36 (2004) 471–486
Alexandra Daris, Daniel Lacroix, Se
bastien Lord, Dominique Morin, Me
dard, Martin Bussie
res, Caroline Cloutier, Mireille Campagna, Luc-Fre
Gilbert, Vickie Desjardins and David Paradis who all contributed in bringing these
ideas to maturity. In addition, they would like to thank all the participants who
took part in the collaborative process described above.
[1] A. Fortin, C. Despre
s, G. Vachon (Eds.), La banlieue revisite
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[2] J.-M. Berthelot (Ed.), Presentation, Sociologie et Socie
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[3] J. Duchastel, D. Laberge, La recherche comme espace de me
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[4] J. Habermas, The
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[5] J. Forester, The Deliberative Practitioner: Encouraging Participatory Planning Processes, MIT
Press, Cambridge, 1999.
[6] O. Soderstrom, Traduire l’usage, in: O. Soderstrom, et al. (Eds.), Pratiques et projects. Analyser les
pratiques sociales et concevoir le project architectural et urbain, Payot, Lausanne, 2000.
[7] P. Healey, Collaborative Planning, McMillan Press, Houndmills, United Kingdom, 1997.
[8] S.S. Fainstein, New directions in planning theory, Urban Affairs Review 35 (4) (2000) 451–478.
[9] J.E. Innes, Planning through consensus building: A new view of the comprehensive planning ideal,
Journal of the American Planning Association 62 (4) (1996) 460–472.
[10] L.H. Scheekloth, R.G. Shibley, Placemaking: The Art and Practice of Building Communities, John
Wiley and Sons, New York, 1995.
[11] GIRBa (Ed.), Volet Participatif—Automne 2002 et Hiver 2003: Recueil de Comptes Rendus et de
sentations, E
cole d’architecture, Universite
Laval, Que
bec, Canada.
C. Despre
s et al. / Futures 36 (2004) 471–486486
... • Firstly, it addresses research practices that, in addition to the scope of the disciplines involved, transgresses disciplinary approaches by adopting new methods and research designs that are better suited to create a common understanding of complex situations and issues and to develop practical solutions to resolve these issues based on instrumental, scientific, ethical and aesthetic knowledge (Despres, Brais, & Avellan, 2004;Mittelstraß, 1992Mittelstraß, , 2018Thompson Klein, 2015: 11). • Secondly, transdisciplinary research relies on an intensive exchange between diverse knowledge producers and knowledge recipients across all phases of the research process (Krohn, Grunwald, & Ukowitz, 2017;Nowotny, 2000;Scholz & Steiner, 2015). ...
... This crude dualism has given rise to a multitude of competing and complementing concepts that all relate to the theoretical roots of addressing complex real-world problems by means of knowledge integration and common good orientation. It is not possible to cover all of these approaches in detail here (see systematic reviews in Bernstein, 2015;Despres et al., 2004;Lang et al., 2012;Max-Neef, 2005;McGregor, 2017;Thompson Klein, 2010Von Wehrden, Guimarães, & Bina, 2019). However, to provide a better understanding for my own proposal of integrating three major components of research concepts to constitute a modular approach to transdisciplinarity, I will present a brief outline of five concepts (mainly related to sustainability transformations) that are particularly relevant for my argumentation. ...
... Such processes require more than scientific knowledge. It is precisely a characteristic of transdisciplinary approaches to integrate knowledge from different sources and areas of experience (Despres et al., 2004;Lang et al., 2012;Pohl et al., 2010;Scholz, 2017). In this respect, most scholars devoted to transdisciplinary research agree with the proposition of integration that is crucial for my concept of transdisciplinarity. ...
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A symbolic image of the need for integrating the curiosity-driven (brown), goal-oriented (green), and catalytic (yellow) research concepts into the continuous process of transformational policymaking (grey).
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... Such processes require more than scientific knowledge. It is precisely a characteristic of transdisciplinary approaches to integrate knowledge from different sources and areas of experience (Despres et al., 2004;Lang et al., 2012;Pohl et al., 2010;Scholz, 2017). In this respect, most scholars devoted to transdisciplinary research agree with the proposition of integration that is crucial for my concept of transdisciplinarity. ...
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... Next, at the practical level, important aspects include a shared ECE theoretical framework, as well as a clear mind-map of what it means to practice in a transdisciplinary team, strong leadership, and good school structures supporting collaboration and shared understandings within the team. Finally, at the staff training level, it is important that team members are motivated to learn about their own as well as others' disciplines, with the ability to clearly understand the underlying implications, the capacity to become reflective, and the willingness to establish and keep a strong collaborative teamwork spirit within the transdisciplinary team [36]. ...
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... Lawrence and Després (2004) discuss some key questions about the natural and human-made environment, at whatever geographical scale; need to be understood by innovative concepts and methods. This stems from the fact that the capacity of human societies to deal with environmental questions (such as climate change, health, land-use, forestry management, renewable and nonrenewable resources, housing, poverty and urban planning) are insufficient even though many professionals are convinced that they have the "right answers". ...
Aim International Journal of Social Sciences and Education Research is a double peer-reviewed online journal which publishes original research papers, Review and theoretical manuscripts. This journal provides immediate open access to its content, on the principle that making research freely available to the public supports a greater global exchange of knowledge. To ensure that information, practices, problems and suggestions regarding education, training and social sciences are presented, discussed and delivered to the parties on a scientific, academic and theoretical basis. Scope Articles in the field of education and social sciences are featured in the IJSSER. The articles take into account the criteria of being based on research, contributing to the field, revealing practical problems, and examining new and different developments. In order for research, review and review articles to be published in IJSSER, they must not have been previously published in another publication or accepted for publication. In the papers presented at scientific meetings such as symposiums or congresses, the name, place and date of the scientific meeting should be specified. The name of the organization that provides support in studies supported by a research institution or organization; name of the project, date (if any), number and number should be mentioned.
... A transdisciplinary pedagogy is an approach that uses many disciplines and the grounded, local knowledge and needs of those in a particular social setting to approach a problem (Balsiger 2004;Després, Brais and Avellan 2004). Balsiger (2004, 407) states that transdisciplinarity is an approach to understanding the world with a strong orientation towards societal/environmental problems. ...
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Citizen participation in such complex issues as the quality of the environment, neighborhood housing, urban design, and economic development often brings with it suspicion of government, anger between stakeholders, and power plays by many—as well as appeals to rational argument. Deliberative planning practice in these contexts takes political vision and pragmatic skill. Working from the accounts of practitioners in urban and rural settings, North and South, John Forester shows how skillful deliberative practices can facilitate practical and timely participatory planning processes. In so doing, he provides a window onto the wider world of democratic governance, participation, and practical decisionmaking. Integrating interpretation and theoretical insight with diverse accounts of practice, Forester draws on political science, law, philosophy, literature, and planning to explore the challenges and possibilities of deliberative practice.
Thirty years ago, Alan Altshuler, in a devastating critique that has never been effectively answered, challenged the legitimacy of comprehensive planning and of planners' expertise. He called on the field to reinforce its theoretical arsenal. This article takes up his challenge, contending that not only have practices now arisen that make comprehensive planning possible, but also political and social theory has evolved to provide its intellectual grounding. The article argues that consensus building with stakeholders offers a model for planning that responds to each of Altshuler's critiques. Consensus building is shown to be founded on assumptions about the nature of knowledge, about the organization of interests, and about the nature of the public interest that differ from those Altshuler applied. Evidence is taken from eight in-depth case studies of consensus building over growth and environmental issues in California, and from a study of the New Jersey state planning process. The article concludes with a discussion of how consensus building may be used for local comprehensive planning.
Volet Participatif-Automne
  • Girba
GIRBa (Ed.), Volet Participatif—Automne 2002 et Hiver 2003: Recueil de Comptes Rendus et de Pré, E ´ cole d'architecture, Université Laval, Qué, Canada. C. Despré et al. / Futures 36 (2004) 471–486
Placemaking: The Art and Practice of Building Communities
  • L H Scheekloth
  • R G Shibley
L.H. Scheekloth, R.G. Shibley, Placemaking: The Art and Practice of Building Communities, John Wiley and Sons, New York, 1995.