Facing environmental conflicts: insights from participatory co-design and co-production in institutional ecological transition initiatives.


  • Cassandra Fontana Università di Firenze
  • Maddalena Rossi Università di Firenze
  • Iacopo Zetti Università di Firenze
  • Andrea Testi Università di Firenze
  • Elena Tarsi Università di Firenze




The imperative to address conflicts, contradictions, and agonistic alternatives in shaping urban spaces aligns seamlessly with the challenges encountered in implementing the ecological transition. In 2019, through the European Green Deal, the European Union formalized its commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. While the objectives of this strategy are clearly defined, the challenges lie in the intricate implementation methods. A significant hurdle pertains to the imperative of engaging citizens in decision-making processes, integrating them into a systemic transformation. Environmental issues, by their nature, span multiple scales, making them complex to define and interpret. This complexity often results in confusion, inertia, and, most significantly, conflicts. From this standpoint, active citizen participation in the co-creation of policies for ecological transition becomes an absolute prerequisite for both their success and the success of the various institutional projects interconnected with them.

Based on these principles, the PHOENIX project was initiated in 2021. The project, acronymically named "Participation in Holistic Environmental/Ecological Innovation," received funding from the European Commission under the research priority associated with the European Green Deal (EGD) within the H2020 Program. Its primary aim is to advance scientific inquiry about participatory processes and democratic innovations focused on environmental issues.

Following the description of the characteristics and research horizons of the PHOENIX project, the paper proceeds to detail the efforts conducted by the Department of Architecture at the University of Florence, a project partner, within it. It elaborates on their work, which involves experimentation with participatory practices designed to contribute to the ecological transition process in the city of Bologna, identified as the project’s pilot territory. The described experience is interpreted paying particular attention to the ways in which environmental conflicts and tensions can be faced thanks to the principle of participatory processes co-design and co-production between civil society and public institutions.

The PHOENIX project, operating within Bologna’s framework of ecological transition policies (including the 2030 Climate Mission and Citizen Assembly on Climate), grapples with challenges and tensions, particularly in relation to significant infrastructural projects. These challenges offer valuable insights into emerging contentious issues in urban development. Through its experimental governance initiatives, the project introduces novel patterns of interaction, contributing to a better understanding of the role conflicts and contradictions play in urban planning techniques and public policy instruments.