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Consensus building: Examples from Munich, Barcelona and Vancouver

A case study that explores consensus-based transport planning and overcoming antagonism in Vancouver, Munich and Barcelona.
© RMIT Europe and EIT Urban Mobility

The following case study explores consensus-based transport planning and overcoming antagonism in Vancouver, Munich and Barcelona.

Vancouver (Canada)

Vancouver (BC, Canada), is the heart of an urban agglomeration of 2.31 million people (2011) which, despite being a relatively new city (around 140 years of settlement), is considerably denser than many New World and some northern European cities. This is associated with the city’s constrained location between mountains and coastlines, and a proactive regulatory regime on the use of land. For the past five decades, Canada’s third largest metropolitan area has been known as a regional and global model city of effective urban planning with strong sustainability overtones.

Successful metropolitan growth management includes urban intensification, the integration of expanding public transit infrastructure with the urban fabric, people-friendly and environmentally adapted urban design outcomes, and participatory and inclusive culture of decision making.

Grant (2009) retraces the ‘consensus culture’ that enabled these outcomes for Vancouver to an ‘experiential’ style of planning, with citizens’ expectations about how they experience the urban environment placed before the partisan opinions of experts or the particular interests of powerful stakeholders. Yet she warns that this journey remains highly specific to Vancouver’s unique circumstances and may not be easily transferable to other locations:

‘While imitation may be a sincere form of flattery, in planning it risks creating new forms of conformity or locally inappropriate options.’
(Grant, 2009, p368)

Munich (Germany)

In Munich (Bavaria, Germany), concern about the divisive potential of transport policy decisions among competing stakeholders led to a concerted effort at consensus-finding as part of a deliberative process known as the ‘Inzell-Initiative’ since the mid-1990s, involving government agencies, transport industry players and community groups.
This process of ‘collaborative stakeholder dialogue’ attempts to defuse policy conflicts before they become politically confrontational. It is guided by a charter that contains statements favouring priority for public transport, the imperative of a transit-oriented urban structure and the quest to intelligently manage and control private transport, particularly in central and residential areas. It thus draws on and consolidates a pro-public transport policy direction that had already evolved over several decades prior to this particular initiative.
‘Participants that represent the full diversity of interdependent organised interests in the issue at stake engage in collaborative dialogue to find a consensus on the way forward. In doing so, stakeholders engage in a joint learning process where they develop a shared understanding of each others’ values, interests and knowledge.’
(Baumann and White, 2015, p30)

Barcelona (Spain)

In Barcelona (Catalonia, Spain), a multi-stakeholder accord on policy directions for urban transport comparable to Munich’s process had been achieved in the late 1990s (Barcelona Mobility Pact). The relative consensus allowed the city to create a strong policy and institutional framework built around sustainable transport in the 2000s and 2010s, and embark on a citywide transformation of surface transport and neighbourhood design.

This long term-strategy, known as the superblock (superilles/supermanzanas) model, seeks to return car-dominated spaces to active transport and community uses by fundamentally reorganising both the traffic hierarchy of the road network and the surface bus system (Scudellari et al, 2020).

Ample use is made of the tool of ‘tactical urbanism’, using low-cost, temporary methods like paint and street furniture to trial and error alternative street layouts in a dialogue with the community before more costly and permanent structural changes are made (see also Bertolini, 2020).


  • Baumann C, White S (2015) Collaborative stakeholder dialogue: A catalyst for better transport policy choices. International Journal for Sustainable Transportation, Vol 9, pp 30-38,
  • Bertolini L (2020) From ‘streets for traffic’ to ‘streets for people’: Can street experiments transform urban mobility? Transport Reviews, Vol 40, No 6, pp 734-753,
  • Grant J L (2009) Experiential planning: A practitioner’s account of Vancouver’s success. Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol 75, No 3, pp 358-370,
  • Scudellari J, Staricco L, Vitale Brovarone E (2020) Implementing the supermanzana approach in Barcelona. Critical issues at local and urban level. Journal of Urban Design, Vol 25, No 6, pp 675-696,

Web resources

Let’s move on to the next step and take a look at some regional planning and one of the best transportation stories from Vancouver.

© RMIT Europe and EIT Urban Mobility
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