21st century cities: C is for Co-creation

Here’s my January series: the ABC’s of 21st Century Cities. In previous entries, I explored Artificial Intelligence  and Backward Futures. Today is Co-creation.

“People don’t want to consume passively; they’d rather participate in the development and creation of products meaningful to them.” Toffler

What is Co-creation?

Co-creation is so new to city applications that we have to cobble together multiple terms to frame it.

  •     According to Bernd Nurnberger  (@cocreatr), co-creating is “a capability and willingness of a team member to shift roles as driver or passenger, so that the team does reach shared targets.” Future co-creation emerges from open communities where interaction and improvements occur spontaneously.
  •     Collective intelligence   is defined as “the capacity of human communities to evolve towards higher order complexity and harmony, through… variation-feedback-selection, differentiation-integration-transformation, and competition-cooperation-coopetition.” Design charrettes and Gov2.0 such as Open Cities and CityCamps are formal community development efforts and employcrowdsourcing.
  •     Collective wisdom considers “multiple opinions and forms of intelligence. Wisdom in groups is demonstrated by insight, good sense, clarity, objectivity, and discernment rooted in deep caring and compassion.” We connect on political, social, and economic strategies and understand psychological, spiritual and cultural roots.

Co-creating and collective intelligence/wisdom are forming a hybrid movement, a calling to reclaim our participation in groups as positive, useful, healing, life affirming. We alter the way that we see the world in order to solve problems together.

Have you ever considered your city as a place that feeds your soul? And the souls of everyone? That is the mission of co-creation.

What is co-creation for cities?

Design professionals and planners have explored public participation methods for decades, without moving into co-creation.  Co-creation in cities is grounded in two fundamental theories, systems and anticipatory learning.

  •     From Draper Kaufman’s rules for complex adaptive systems: “Everything is connected to everything else. Real life is lived in complex world system where all subsystems overlap and affect each other. You can never do just one thing.”
  •     Anticipatory action learning begins with questioning and is open, inclusive, environmentally sensitive, dynamic, reflective, and occurs in real time. It aims at deep authentic understanding of issues and points of view and frequently leads to transformative change.
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How will it work?

Christopher Alexander calls emergent forms of design and construction the timeless way of building. “It is the process which brings order out of nothing but ourselves; it cannot be attained, but it will happen of its own accord, if we will only let it.” Designing a city can be like creating a story; then make a city that fits, not the other way around.

  •     Co-creation depends on new models based on networks, flows of ideas and resources, connections, places, and people. Furthermore, the process is emergent, generative, analytical, dynamic, and reflective.
  •     Co-creation blends human dimensions with technological innovation.
  •     Initially, you will play with virtual representations of cities in data-rich, learning, self-improving game-like virtual environments.
  •     Future co-making and co-constructing, as done in the past and in informal developments now, will be based on adaptive quality of life solutions and responsiveness to people’s needs and aspirations.

How can it happen?

According to Chris Anderson, when rival dance teams challenge each other via Youtube, “crowd accelerated innovation” creates “an upward spiral of invention.” The dancers form a global laboratory of continuous innovation and self-improvements.

Although city development is a long way from dance teams, can you see how the pattern works?  From a collective imagination, designs are grounded in place, drawn from and by the community and experts. As you design, you publish, and others build on it, constantly improving locally and virtually.

Several urban trends fuel this paradigm.

  •     New urbanism and transect patterns reshape urban patterns reduces gaps between buildings. The city assumes a more organic feel.
  •     Prefab and self-constructed cities take the movement one step further. Cory Doctorow illustrated this scenario in Makers.
  •     Automation, social technologies, resource limitations, prefabricated and self-constructing parts, and the huge collective global imagination will make formal processes obsolete.
  •     Cities need to attract people. We will comparison shop different cities and know the differences.
  •     We are more aware of the consequences of lifestyle choices in part due to sustainability debates and will insist in more responsive development.
  •     Some cities will continue to build in formal patterns and structures.

When co-creation creates better cities, makes designing cities better, developers, bankers, experts, and government officials will agree. Eventually traditional processes will be seen as too cumbersome and slow. We will clamor for a simpler way. Successful cities will employ all their resources to become exceedingly beautiful, responsive and charismatic including the killer app: co-creating.

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Lessons from slums

Informal developments or slums grow like herds of wildebeests racing across the landscape of Rio, New Delhi, and Lagos. A sanctioned construction site creates discontinuity. Then one informal dwelling begins, then another and another. Soon a mass of dwellings swarm across the terrain. And once there, they stay.

Dharavi slums in Mumbai have tightly woven patterns with frequent open social spaces.

  •     The community is vibrant, dynamic, interactive, and constantly tinkering with built environment.
  •     Like Venice centuries before, the density of the place creates its own emergent form that only its residents know.
  •     While the Mumbai slums are terribly dangerous examples of life safety and few formal rights, the architecture is feeds the community.

In contrast, public housing in LA does nothing to spark social life; you might say the same thing about traffic congestion, strip malls, and bland subdivisions. When we supply unhealthy boxes for people to live in, they lose their sense of worth and connectedness.

  •     The key to co-creation is weaving together resources of users and experts. We all constantly adapt and improve. No building is ever done.

“To use a building is to make it, by physical transformation or by inhabiting it in ways not previously imagined or by conceiving it anew.” Jonathon Hill

City stories and other radical acts of reclaiming place

Like the informal development in emerging markets, DIY/co-created cities reveal people’s concerns and their solutions. Daniel Pink calls this phenomenon “high concept, high touch.” In the modern, information era, people used their left brain, rational thinking. In the 21st century conceptual age, we tune into our right brain, creative ideas.

We need to put storytelling back into our cities.

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  • Underbelly Project, New York City artists took an abandoned subway and secretly created artwork on the surfaces. The installation was open for one night to a select few.
  • German Guerrilla Bench appears to be a transformer and opens into a bench.
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  •     Sydney Opera House Media Façade portrays the future of media installations. With a projector, you can add messages and images across the face of a building.
  •     Guerrilla Gardening in median strips and other unclaimed spaces beautifies forlorn streets.
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  •    Container City stacks shipping containers into a stunning mixed use village.
Would you want to co-create a neighborhood or district?

Is a co-created future one that you would welcome? On the one hand we just want our cities to work well for us, to live  in an area that is beautiful, healthy, and suits our lifestyle. Yet seeing a group of people around the world improve cities again and again. Having the city, designers, and developers working as partners would be thrilling. A constantly better place to live. When we see the city as a whole, we begin to understand deeply grounded interconnections. We stop wasteful development patterns and use limited resources including ourselves towards the greater good. Far from a Pollyanna approach, it’s survival. In our healthiest, most sustainable, life affirming forms, cities and people will be constellations of connections, linked through unanticipated discoveries.

Next article, D is for Disasters.

Images: VM Mountain Dwellings by BIG on ArchDaily; Give a Minute Chicago Civic Engagement Project on Sustainable Cities Collective. More reading: participation,co-creating.

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ABC’s of 21st century cities: January series

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As an architect, what intrigues me about the future is the fact that we are constantly imagining and shaping it. Other than our own brilliant new buildings (she says modestly), we usually think it will be a lot like today– only more. Architects are project-oriented. Space is our domain; we think in terms of a particular situation.

As a futurist, what intrigues me about the future is the fact that we can freely replace one future with another and fearlessly explore decades, even centuries, ahead. Futurists are large-pattern, context-oriented. Time is our domain; we think in terms of decades more than years.

I marry these two methods to try to understand where our cities are headed. This month, I offer you an alphabet of future cities, twenty-six slices that reveal, explore, and imagine what we might build and how we might live, work, and play in 2020, 2030, or 2050.

Sound like fun?

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Tech in the city

If you track urban development, you hear a lot of the same concepts. Walkable, livable, quality of life (QOL), redensify, green/LEED/BREEAM buildings, green cities, smart cities, smart growth, smart grid, new urbanism, mixed use, complete streets, car-free, bike highways, bus rapid transit (BRT), transit oriented design, transect zoning, multi-modal transportation. Rather than being “the future,” these ideas are happening in some cities today, so-called ‘used futures’.

  •     Our most advanced, high performing cities are technology-intense. In these gazelle cities, people believe innovation is part of their DNA. They aim to show the rest of the world how to build, more specifically, how to live. New transportation, environmental, and communication methods take root. Hi-tech companies and creative people flock to these Meccas.
  •     On the other end of the spectrum in African, Middle Eastern, and Southeast Asian cities, people wish for indoor plumbing, clean water, fresh air. The same enemies that London and New York conquered in the 1800s strangle the people of Lagos and New Delhi today but at a mind-boggling scale.
What happens is a massive urban divide. The greater our technological advances, the greater the gap. Somewhere, some city will still be fighting to supply basic services with primitive solutions while cities with the highest levels of tech reach further and further, stretching the extremes.

It’s not all about resources and technology.

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The urban divide occurs inside of countries too. Portland, Oregon began a green revolution in the late 1970s resulting in a dense, mixed use, transit oriented city. Dallas continues to bank on more highways and low density perimeter sprawl. The varied approaches reflect different priorities and offer radically different lifestyles. Over time, these bets will pay off or they will cost the cities and their residents dearly.

Paradoxically primitive sometimes works better than intensive technology. The current generation may be the first to employ just-right-tech or even un-tech. As a new form of intelligence, future gens will know when to switch off. Similarly for cities, high-rise, high-speed tech is not always the most livable, functional, beautiful, or viable response.

What will we do?

Urbanpop
In the next forty years, the world population is likely to grow by two billion people. Nearly all of those people will live in

the cities of emerging economies, half in slums and nearly all in poverty. In contrast, western countries are faced with aging infrastructure and older populations. America is expected to grow by as much as one hundred million people, one-third as immigrants.

It’s said that this is the century of urbanization. In 2007, for the first time in history, the majority of people live in cities. We built American cities according to what we knew in 1950, just as Europe built cities with technologies and lifestyles of prior centuries. Now we know more.

  •     Unlike any other time in history, cities and buildings are ready to be more than a roof and four walls. They can expand our quality of life or destroy it. Beyond shelter, buildings and cities can feed our spirits and replenish the environment. Or they can be a curse, a deathtrap, a monstrous albatross.
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26 significant, provocative, intriguing ideas

In ten, twenty, thirty years, how will you build, work or live differently? What will it mean to your children or to their children? Will your city, your neighborhood, your home feed your soul or anger you?

Imagine if you were suddenly transported to 1950. Would you support the Federal Highway Act? The Urban Renewal Act? Removal of trolleys and cable car systems? All of these decisions shaped how we live today. In hindsight, what would you do?

Standing in 2011, we have equally momentous choices. Maybe even bigger. January 1, let’s begin: A is for Artificial Intelligence.

Images: Urbanization on TriasWiki, Portland Street Cafe, Singapore kids, Urban Population chart.

Images of Future Cities: Courtesy of Makers by Cory Doctorow

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While reading Makers, you get caught up in the lives of Lester, Perry, Suzanne and the rest. There are villains and heroes, celebrations and catastrophes. Doctorow gives an addictive read; my thumb rapid-clicked the Kindle page button to move the words faster and faster.

While I was captivated by the story, that’s not my focus here. I’ll save the story for you to read – no spoiler alert required.

The wealth of new images in Makers lets us peer into one scenario for 21st c cities. In this future, we live on a whimsical, resource-limited planet that I might love but also fear, particularly as an architect.

What Can Makers Teach Us About Possible Futures?
Here’s nine intriguing images, all plausible enough, and a few that scare the bejeezies out of me.

  1. New Work. “Capitalism is eating itself.” In the “New Work” program, big corps fund small teams of inventors, build production and distribution systems, and reap profits for a few months till the copycats undercut prices. An entire product line evolves from bright idea to obsolete in 6-9 months.
  2. DIY Inventors. While the idea is not new, garage inventors play a far more significant role when innovation and production move at light speed. These 21st c mechanics twist left-behind appliances, toys, computers, ie, today’s consumer goods, into adaptive reuse products and environments.
  3. Dead Malls or Ghost Malls. Abandoned big box retail and indoor malls called dead malls and ghost malls become hotbeds for creative start-ups and shanty towns. In Makers, even shelter evolves from found objects.
  4. Shanty Towns. Homeless folks flock to former suburbs and build elaborate slums, rather than living crammed into urban doorways or under bridges. The construction style seems born from the squatters villages in Mumbai or Delhi, except apparently with better infrastructure and code compliance. Structures reach 3-4 floors and sport skywalks and whimsical shapes. Shops occupy first floors with residences and restaurants above. Children play in streets and community order is maintained through ad hoc leadership. Idyllic? Yup.
  5. Transportation. Crowded planes sound more like today’s bus travel experience, but otherwise seem unchanged. Corp jets sit idle and are cast off for parts. Fewer people have cars, taxis still exist, and walking 30 minutes to get lunch is normal. The main characters’ vehicle consists of two Smart Cars mashed together for more interior space.
  6. Cities and Architecture. Reused malls, poorly maintained public streets, crowded airports all sound feasible, although a bit frightening. It’s today’s cities only dirtier. New forms of architecture include the shanty towns described in quaint, organic terms. Coffin hotels sound a lot like Tokyo’s capsules. http://bit.ly/QYQKb
  7. Robots. As an early example in the book, Boogie Woogie Elmos are reprogrammed to drive a stripped down Smart Car. A synchronized Elmo-robot team operates pedals, wheel and gear shaft, and responds to voice commands. Other robots rearrange and construct theme parks in response to visitors’ feedback. If you like something, just rate it with your joystick, and it moves forward in the exhibit; hate it and its banished.
  8. 3D Printers and Scanners. This equipment produces anything from a doll to a car part to a door. Once programmed, 3D machines and robots do all the heavy lifting; really they are the Makers in this book. Seemingly, theme park exhibits transform completely for our satisfaction – and so I imagine, why not the real world? Sure to send quivers into any AEC pro.
  9. Goop. The raw material inserted in the 3D printer, referred to as a type of Silly Putty, becomes a high-tech commodity. 3D printers can be programmed to only accept certain types of goop, much like printer cartridges today. Free printers are loss-leaders while profit comes from selling goop. Goop can be made of recycled materials melted down and mixed with epoxy. The key ingredient for all products, whether assembled by robots or extruded from 3D printers, is junk.

What Do I Love and Fear About Makers’ World?
Innovation celebrated, freedom from big business, robots constantly building cool things, rides that reinvent instantaneously, handmade cities with lively communities – what a fantastic world!

OTOH grand gestures seem completely missing in action. No mention of beauty other than humans and some of the Disney experience. The rest sounds like Frankenstein cities, assembled from cast-offs and gerry-rigged to new uses.

Architects and engineers would be part of the design/build crew – making, remaking, and programming robots. The rapid-fire change means we would learn from failures faster, do it better tomorrow. That’s fantastic, actually.

Does Makers Include Architects, Engineers or Contractors?

As it is now, we fear our mistakes since a botched design can live for decades. Or as Frank Lloyd Wright said: we plant ivy.

Frankly, some lessons are not at all clear until a place is built and used. On every project, the designer says “drat!” about something, “aha!” about something else. We live and learn with regrets; find joy in happy accidents. But we rarely get to fix problems. A missed opportunity is just that; gone.

With assembled structures and swarms of construction robots, we could improve a space constantly. Need a bigger assembly space? send the bots. More doors or windows? Better shading devices? Fire up the 3D printer. Thinking on your feet and working with existing resources become a new form of modeling at full scale. Thrilling! Design/build as performance art.

I would truly welcome this world, even though the pressure to perform would be enormous. Imagine, nearly instant turn-around!! Lag-time would disappear.

Yet, I bet architects, engineers, and construction folks would be far less useful or common. The concept of citizen inventors extends to citizen architects and builders too.

Those Professions Formerly Known As…
In this low-scale, robot-constructed world, expertise may be nearly worthless in design and construction. Computer models would set design parameters for spans and fire codes, even for functional uses and types of experiences. Want quiet and peaceful, pick Option 21058; workspace for call centers, pick Option 84205.

Instead, in the Makers world, we survive by the worthiness of our ideas. Buildings are built and perhaps rebuilt or modified in a day. We design, hit the send button, and then boom, it’s built by robot swarms and 3D extractions.

Services are shortened to schematics and oversight. Explaining what is needed, and what is possible will be accompanied by robot-built models. Presentations might be daily events, so gear up communication skills.

While knowledge of the field is essential, with automated design and construction processes, the number of people working at each role could be substantially reduced. Innovators, synthesizers, folks who can think across platforms, communicate ideas, and know how things fit together would be at a premium. Production jobs in today’s world and folks that make it happen may be less essential.

Picture cities as anthills, emerging from a million small actions instead of grand schemes orchestrated by experts.

How Much of a Stretch?
I’ve taken Doctorow’s ideas and asked: what would this mean for entire cities? If we had this technology, these sensibilities and resources, how would we make buildings? Furthermore, what would it mean for those of us that love to make cities? I hope the author is tolerant of my stretch.

Imagining the future is the best way to shape it and the only way to prepare ourselves.

Makers presents a scenario that is far from an architect’s dream. It’s a tough environment for engineers, planners, and contractors as well. Even city leaders and developers would have to step aside for this tsunami of citizen action.

Just as content and media platforms have become free for publishing, if materials and real estate lose their economic clout, and design/build processes are automated, active users will create cities.

Would you choose to live in Makers world?

You can buy it here: http://bit.ly/5rw5gH
You can read more at http://craphound.com/makers/