From Polis Blog:
One of the major issues in Moscow’s public space is a lack of communication. Citizens can’t discuss what they really want in the city — there’s no platform for discussion. The promo video of the game ‘Crowdsourced Moscow 2012′ is based on the results of Strelka-graduate Andrei Goncharov’s research — a megasimulator in which the city is controlled by a balance of interests of different groups: residents, developers, architects, bureaucrats, businessmen, environmentalists. Solutions, for example on the construction of parking at Pushkin Square, or the demolition of the Peter I statue on Bolotny Island, are determined together.
Similar ideas have captured my interest over the past three years. This began during a walk through Cascadilla Park (above), a beautiful residential street that winds down a hill beside an urban gorge. It was built in the early 20th century based on Progressive Era ideas of civic engagement for improving cities beset by the effects of industrialization. I was inspired to find ways of supporting this kind of civic engagement today. During my search, Rob Holmes of Mammoth recommended a blog post by Brian Davis of Faslanyc.
Brian was working as a landscape architect and reading about Landscape Urbanism and Networked Ecologies, bodies of theory that encourage designers to consider the human and nonhuman networks through which urban ecosystems change, in order to optimize them for ecological well-being. Brian found these ideas compelling but often abstract, massive and top-down. He thought of a “lo-fi” approach based on similar ecological interventions at smaller scales, with grassroots origins and distributed funding via websites like PayPal.
I had been reading Urban Political Ecology and Right to the City literature, which proposes solutions to social and environmental problems based on political mobilization. It is also compelling and often abstract. I was interested in generating momentum through small-scale, experimental, technology-enabled projects that could eventually lead to larger initiatives.
Brian and I admired the participatory, incremental approaches to design and activism practiced by Christopher Alexander and Jane Jacobs. We were inspired by open source programming, in which developers work together on computer applications through a continuous process of innovation and reuse in different contexts. We saw this as a promising approach to urban development and governance, made possible via the Internet.
We began researching organizations currently using open source approaches to political mobilization, design collaboration and fundraising. While there are many examples, we focused on three: OpenPlans, the Open Architecture Network and IOBY (In Our Backyard). This resulted in a brief article that was published in Volume 23 of the Berkeley Planning Journal (it can also be found in HTML and PDF formats). Here is the abstract:
As global ecological problems pose increasing risk to human wellbeing, design and planning can play important roles in developing solutions. However, there is a need for alternatives to centralized, hierarchical, inflexible and exclusionary approaches that have contributed to problems in the past. We propose an ‘open source’ practice, which links participatory development with networked planning and design, fostering collaboration between government, business, nonprofits and individual citizens in addressing ecological problems at the local level.
OpenPlans is an influential nonprofit that applies open source programming to improve service provision in cities and advance projects like bike lanes and public plazas in abandoned lots (see Open Source Cities for details). OpenPlans was instrumental in persuading the Bloomberg administration in New York City to close portions of Times Square to traffic. We selected it as an example of network technology applied to political mobilization.
To read more, click here.