Why People Are The Most Valuable Urban Resource [Future of Cities]

Why People Are The Most Valuable Urban Resource [Future of Cities]

PSFK Labs looks at the power of citizens to raise the collective resources and benefits available to a city's entire population.

  • 20 october 2013

Regardless of where we choose to live or visit, it is often the people who reside there who give a place its true character and charm. This impact is only amplified in cities, where the collective knowledge and efforts of citizens can build communities and create real change. In our Future Of Cities report, PSFK Labs investigated the key trends and pressing issues that will play a role in shaping the evolution of urban environments over the next decade.

A major theme identified in the report is Citizen Sourced, which looks at the power of citizens to raise the collective resources and benefits available across communities, neighborhoods and entire cities. This theme consists of six key trends: Crowd Planned, Community Currency, Collaborative Economy, Social Pairing, Micro Financing and Shared Transport.


The Crowd Planned trend described in the Future Of Cities report highlights how participatory online platforms and visual tools are lowering the barriers to participation and empowering citizens to help design their own communities. These systems facilitate an open dialogue between city agencies and the people they serve, establishing a structured process for collaboration and encouraging a higher level of participation. By seeking input throughout the development process, these systems help ensure greater transparency and buy-in that ultimately results in an end solution that meets the actual needs of the population. For example, Textizen is a SMS platform for providing community feedback to urban planners and municipal decision makers regarding transportation, recreation, spending, quality of life improvements and more. To use the platform, cities ask questions on posters displayed in public places and then collect citizen feedback that is provided via text messages.

mexico barter

The next trend of Community Currency examines how a number of businesses and municipalities are experimenting with alternative forms of currency and exchange to encourage local spending. Whether creating a local currency or accepting less tangible payments such as good deeds as viable tender, these emerging payment systems hope to raise the collective prosperity of a population by placing greater importance on personal relationships rather than material assets. As an example of this, municipal organizations in both the cities of Jundiaí, Brazil and Mexico City, Mexico offer citizens fresh produce in exchange for recyclables. In Jundiaí, the city’s utilities department runs a program called Delícia de Reciclagem, where aluminum cans and plastic bottles are the only currency accepted in a publicly run vegetable garden.


Collaborative Economy is a trend that uncovers how new person-to-person commerce systems are enabling citizens to harness the potential of underused resources such as excess space and Wi-Fi bandwidth, transforming them into valuable services that can be traded with both neighbors and visitors. These platforms help generate extra wealth for enterprising individuals and reduce waste, while providing crucial and affordable infrastructure to underserved communities. For example, New York-based KeyWifi allows anybody who pays for Internet access to rent out their connection to those who need it for a nominal fee. By simply logging into the KeyWifi website, users with a connection can specify when exactly they aren’t using their Wi-Fi, how many people can log onto it and for how long.


Our trend Social Pairing looks at how new services are using a mix of social, location and demographic data to match people around similar interests, activities and needs, allowing for the creation of temporary connections in a way and at a speed that was previously not possible. These systems foster a feeling of community based around activities and geography and create opportunities for people to work together towards common business, social or civic-minded goals. For example, Fixperts is an online platform that connects designers with people who need help solving everyday problems. The idea behind the project is to match designers who have practical know-how with disabled people and the elderly who need assistance with specific challenges.

bd bacata 2

Next, Micro Financing looks at how a number of social platforms are creating new avenues for people who are seeking funding for their business or creative endeavors. These peer-to-peer models allow a community of like-minded individuals to contribute small amounts of money to the ideas and projects they’d like to see succeed, often with the promise of little or no financial return. These platforms serve as viable alternatives to traditional financial institutions, encouraging experimentation by lowering the barriers to participation and providing more opportunities for people to get their ventures off of the ground and into their communities. For example, BD Bacata is a crowdfunded skyscraper in Bogota, Columbia that has been funded by its city’s citizens. Thousands of ordinary Colombian citizens have invested their own money to be shareholders in what will be the tallest building in the country.


The final trend in the Citizen Sourced theme found in the Future Of Cities report is Shared Transport. This trend looks at the digital technologies that are connecting travelers around shared needs, enabling drivers to coordinate carpooling efforts during busy commuting times or individuals to rent their vehicles when not in use. By distributing the costs associated with transportation or ownership, these peer-to-peer exchanges not only save money, but also improve the overall community by removing excess cars off the road, limiting the amount of resources used, and connecting people around shared experiences. For example, San Francisco start-up Ridejoy is an online matchmaking service that connects drivers and passengers looking to share the cost of long-distance road trips.

In our Future Of Cities report, PSFK Labs examines the innovations and driving forces that will shape the urban environments of the future. To purchase the full report featuring fives themes, 28 trends and multiple examples of change, please visit the publishing page.


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