We tend to think that a better-educated body of professionals will design better cities, but a closer look reveals that urbanism is always a collective experiment, requiring more than just field expertise. Can urban diagnosis, discussion, projection and intervention be unblackboxed and socially distributed? What would a city be like if it were built based on the encounters of groups and individuals, solving any conflicts when they emerge? Would the city profit from this type of horizontal discussion?
Andrés Jaque asks: Who is thinking the city?
Inteligencias Colectivas answers:
City planning–and thinking–is often understood as a process exclusive to the relevant authorities, professional workers, architects, planners, designers and construction companies. But many locations around the world still champion informal construction techniques, creating architecture that is planned and produced by unknown citizens. Here the inhabitants think about and improve their own environments. Though these communal social structures are outside of the mainstream, they have been lauded for their resourcefulness, low energy input and versatility.
Inteligencias Colectivas wants to combine architectural techniques and local know-how with present-day needs. Geared mainly toward amateur builders, users and local experts who are interested in their surroundings, these initiatives are meant to encourage and cultivate a new way of thinking about urban spaces and how to turn them into more human places.
We cannot understand the city as a place where users and expert planners remain separate. Each person has their own thoughts and feelings toward their city and plays an essential role in creating their own environment. Creating a human network that brings these many opinions together is essential in understanding and developing 21st century cities. Neighbors, professionals and institutions have much to learn from each other. Creating communication channels to bring these groups together would result in productive brainstorming and solutions.
There are many examples of micro-urban design—street furniture, community-managed public squares, urban orchards, street events—that give solutions to everyday problems. This abundance shows that people are experts on their own environments and that they will tend to appropriate the urban space in various ways. Knowing that this will happen, it is our duty then to plan an open and flexible city. Public squares, both physical and virtual, are fertile ground for this new urbanism. They are becoming places where agreements and conflicts are discussed, rather than hushed by outside–possibly government–forces.
Our interest is also focused on pairing city politics and the digital world, using the web to exchange data about urban projects, their political implications and the human faces behind them. We think active participation and team spirit are crucial skills, and we hope that these experiences will spark a symbiotic relationship among volunteers, users, public institutions, craftspeople and local experts. This way, everyone’s thoughts on the city can be heard, included and used to help cater our cities more to our needs.