A Citizen Assembly for sustainable urban development
The Hungarian city of Szeged faces various challenges stemming from its geographical features, notably being intersected by two rivers. The impact of climate change, characterised by increased droughts and water scarcity, has further intensified urban heat island issues, particularly in the city center and publicly used green urban areas. Projections indicate that Szeged and its surrounding Hungarian region will remain particularly vulnerable to drought, desertification, low rainfall, and rising temperatures, especially during the summer months.
Complicating matters, the vulnerability of water resources in the region is heightened due to the interconnectedness with the Tisza River, which depends on the cooperation of neighbouring countries. The protection of urban green areas is crucial for combating climate change. Although the city of Szeged is relatively compact, the outskirts, mainly garden city-like annexed settlements, expand the city’s territory.
These agriculture-based local communities lack a connection to the city’s central heating system, which is fueled by geothermal energy, and have limited access to the gas pipe system. Consequently, fossil fuels and, in some cases, waste are burned to heat households, resulting in air pollution and the degradation of air quality for the city. Given these challenges, the primary objective of this project is to stimulate public discourse on the associated risks, facilitating a transparent discussion of the issues.
The overarching goal of the Szeged pilot project is the establishment of a Citizen Assembly, enabling ordinary citizens to collaboratively determine the most suitable courses of action and work collectively to formulate recommendations in three areas: transportation, urban green areas and urban heat islands, and the relationship between energy and waste. The pilot project aims to establish a public campaign process based on the ideas provided by the participants of the Citizen Assembly.
- Country: Hungary
- Administrative level: Local
- Local Partner: University of Szeged
- Topic: Energy, Climate, Transportation
- Main Objectives: Establish a Citizen Assembly to engage residents in finding solutions to address issues such as transportation, waste management, the utilisation of waste as an energy source, and the management of urban heat islands through the development of urban green spaces
- Pilot website: kozossegigyules.eu
The four topics identified by the Szeged Territorial Planning Platform (TCCD)
Between July and September 2023, the Szeged Territorial Planning Platform (TCCD) convened to identify key topics for the Szeged Citizen Assembly. Comprising 15 knowledgeable civilians, urban company delegates, and association representatives, the TCCD narrowed down over 30 issues to four main topics: transportation, waste management (including waste-to-energy burning), urban heat islands management through green spaces, all discussed under the umbrella of public awareness.
The TCCD’s decision and rationale for the pilot discussions are as follows:
1. Knowledge Gap in Sustainable Energy and Green Transition: Addressing a lack of public awareness about the “energy transition,” the Citizen Assembly should aim to collectively propose solutions to bridge the knowledge gap regarding sustainable energy and green initiatives.
2. Urban Heat Islands and Energy Relationship: Focusing on the impact of urban heat islands caused by high building density, the Assembly should aim to propose solutions to mitigate the effects on energy consumption and alleviate long-term temperature increases in the city.
3. Heating and Waste Management Relationship: Targeting issues related to winter waste incineration and air pollution, the Assembly should seek to identify problems, survey affected areas, and collaboratively develop solutions related to waste, heating, and their interconnection.
4. Conflicts in Public Transportation in Szeged: With a surge in private car use leading to conflicts among commuters, the Assembly’s goal should be to uncover sources of conflict and propose solutions for more rational transportation planning, encouraging greener commuting options in Szeged.
Unpacking the Szeged’s Citizen Assembly
The first-ever Szeged Citizen Assembly, held on January 12-13, 2024, was a collaboration between the Szeged Municipality (Szeged MJV) and Enrawell Consulting Ltd., part of the PHOENIX project. This initiative seeks to integrate public opinions into decision-making across Europe.
The assembly, attended by over 50 participants, focused on transportation, waste management, and urban heat islands under the theme of public awareness. The event utilised an online platform developed by OneSource for secret voting, ensuring equal opportunities with one vote per person for each topic.
Created by four randomly created groups (Red, Green, Blue and Yellow), notable outcomes included:
1- Transportation: The method used for transportation was the Future Scenarios Tool. Participants identified main problems and envisioned a positive future for Szeged in 10 years. Not surprisingly, the construction of a third bridge was a prominent development direction. The four teams took different approaches: the Blue team that discussed this issue emphasised the connecting role of the Tisza River. The Yellow and Red teams suggested regional traffic restrictions or car-free zones, while the Green team proposed a new and free Park-and-Ride (P+R) system. Additional results involved bicycle infrastructure development, railway crossings, tram network extension, smart solutions for passenger information, free public transport for everyone, a taxi on the Tisza River, education on transport culture at schools, and motivation systems for downtown firms to encourage bike use.
Unpacking the Szeged’s Citizen Assembly
2- Urban Green Spaces: The development of urban green spaces was approached from four perspectives using the Ecosystem Toolkit, developed in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Florence. Participants chose “green functions” for an under-utilised public space in Szeged and played “action cards” for various green investments. Four areas, including the main square of Petőfi-telep, were planned. Innovative solutions were proposed for the renovation of Jókai utca and Mars tér. The most popular investment proposal, based on secret votes, was the Witch’s Alley or Witch’s Grove, transforming Witch Island into a nature-oriented space.
3- Waste Management: In the final stage, the Social Mapping Tool addressed waste management in Szeged. Participants identified local hotspots, proposed unique solutions, and suggested public awareness campaigns. A campaign to reduce waste burning, supported by artistic creations and comics, was highlighted. Art competitions involving children aimed to strengthen recycling culture. Despite acute issues with dog waste, participants reached a consensus on granting greater authority to public space supervision and strategically placing waste containers.