As part of our series looking at the future of cities, PSFK reached out to experts to get their take on key trends we’ve identified that are currently affecting urban environments. John Geraci is the founder of DIYCity, a site where people from all over the world think about, talk about, and ultimately build tools for making their cities work better with web technologies. He spoke with PSFK.com about how crowd planned solutions are lowering the barriers to participation and empowering citizens to design their own communities.
Why is it important that citizens play an integral part in planning their cities?
A city’s residents are the only ones who really get the problems and challenges of cities at the first person level. They’re ‘the man on the ground’, the forward ops. If you have cities being planned and run without residents’ first-person input, you end up with cities designed by planners that look great as a picture on a placemat but that don’t necessarily work well for individuals.
And that was fine before the Internet came along – maybe it was the best we could do. Now luckily we’ve got all of these tools for collaboration that allow us to add that ‘man (or woman) on the ground’ voice into the mix. So there’s no excuse not to do it.
How do you see the trend of crowd planning developing over time?
Well something that projects like Neighborland are going to have to grapple with in order to really be impacting is how to sustain themselves. Who is going to pay for it day in and day out, for the next ten years? That’s going to have a big impact over how this trend plays out, because we’ve seen so many examples now of sites like this with great intentions, which ultimately fade away because there isn’t enough money to pay for them and the creators run themselves ragged trying to keep it going.
Maybe this kind of site plus crowdfunding, is the magic combination to create a lasting service for communities.
The other challenge for these kinds of sites/ideas is how to get and sustain critical mass and visibility when you’re operating at a local level. That’s something that every local community site has to grapple with, and it can be really daunting. Critical mass is hard enough to get at a global level – when you split that up into a bunch of little localities, it becomes downright grueling.
So those two things, sustainability plus visibility, will I think drive what emerges as a future model for these sorts of ideas. Whatever the model is, it will have to nail those two things in order to survive and have real impact.
A colleague of mine at faberNovel is working on a documentary on different communities’ efforts at collaboration for civic improvement, called Collaborative Cities. It’s sort of a real-time, evolving snapshot of all of these impulses. Great and definitely worth checking out here: http://collaborative-cities.com/
What advantages do crowd-led methods of urban planning have over more traditional practices?
I don’t see it as ‘crowd-led methods over traditional practices’, I see it as adding the crowd-led methods to the existing practices to make them more participatory while also lowering their costs. There is definitely huge potential for this to create new channels for discussion and information exchange, to influence how decisions and allocations get made, and to do this at scale. It’s still incredibly early in the development of these kinds of ideas, and it will evolve over time, in bits and pieces and with lots of failures along the way.
Generally speaking, does technology create more opportunities for civic engagement within cities?
Technology (web technology) definitely creates more opportunities for civic engagement. But it’s still an open question as to what the best way to harness that is and make it lasting. Ideally you want to have a great feedback loop going between planners, city government, and residents. When you have that, the city becomes like a living body perfectly in tune with itself. And web technology has the potential to provide that better than anything else.
What three things would you include in your perfect city?
Okay I’m going to give you a totally honest answer here and it has nothing to do with tech:
1) Parks, trees and green spaces within easy walking distance of wherever you live. A river you could actually swim in would be great too, wouldn’t it?
2) Many places to run into friends and get into conversations with strangers. Social serendipity counts for so much in cities, IMO.
3) The best opportunities for interesting work in the world. No explanation needed.
Over the next 6 months, PSFK and a team of experts imagining the future of a city will be asking you what you envision as ‘My Ideal City’. Tweet us your ideas using the hashtag of the week and view all the submissions at the MyIdealCity site.