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Citizen Empowerment in the Dutch neighbourhood approach (working title)

Open Panel

Abstract

In 2007 a program was started by the national government of The Netherlands in order to revitalize the 40 most deprived neighbourhoods of the country. In order to achieve this, the municipalities in which one or more of these areas are located were ordered to come up with a plan to improve the liveability of the areas. The main focus of the program is to give residents not only a voice but also an active role in this process. This is believed to be the key to success The specific focus on improving citizen involvement, not only in the writing but also in the implementation and execution of the neighbourhood-plans –especially in those troubled areas - begs the question whether citizens are equipped and able to participate. The program seems to focus on ‘empowering citizens’ but fails to explain what exactly is meant by that. Empowerment as a concept has a long history within different disciplines. Citizen empowerment however differs greatly from say, client empowerment in health care, employee empowerment in organisations or women empowerment in African countries. This paper focuses on citizen empowerment in the context of urban neighbourhoods. Making use of the work of Alsop, Bertelsen and Holland (2006) and the CLEAR model (Lowndes, Pratchett & Stoker, 2006), it first develops an analytical framework for citizen empowerment and then uses this framework to find out which aspects of citizen empowerment are predominant in the program for the 40 neighbourhoods. By doing so it not only shows what is actually meant by ‘empowerment’ by policymakers, but it also shows which aspects of citizen empowerment thus far lack attention in the program. A program that is this dependent on the activation of citizens needs to embrace the full concept of citizen empowerment, thus linking policy and politics more and more to the everyday life of the citizen.