For the last hundred of years we have been relying urban planning and architecture methods to build our cities. But as LOU Yongqi, Dean of Tongji University College of Design and Innovation reminds us, the state of the art artefacts we invent might not always work as planned in practice. Behind the infrastructures and building, we lost the vision of the city as an ecosystem.
在过去的一百年里，我们一直依靠城市计划和建筑方法来建造我们的城市。如同 同济大学设计创意学院院长LOU Yongqi提醒我们：我们发明的艺术品，实际情况可能不总是像计画中一样。在基础设施和建筑的背后，我们失去了城市作为生态系统的愿景。
Living in a bubble
As cities grew, for the sake of convenience and comfort we reduced their complexity and disconnected them from the global ecosystem.
The result of the disconnection led to an excessive use of natural resources, which are not in direct sight. As an example, our “light” and hyper connected cloud systems use data centers located outside the cities consume a huge amount of electricity and water. We are also using the lands inefficiently, the fragmentation into clusters of different services, different class of people…, created a phenomenon of desertification, leaving some urban area abandoned.
But most importantly this fragmentation is creating a loss of cohesion. Inhabitants communicate more and more through social media and can spend days without seeing another, this is what we call connected loneliness. They only interact in a small and reinsuring virtual ecosystem of like-minded people. As they lock themselves up into clusters they loose exposure to different cultures and opinions, and develop a fear of others fostering the far-right movements.
Redesigning cities through collaboration
At the end of the day cities are just like any other ecosystems: the richer the stronger. To become more resilient, we need to rethink our cities: regenerate the social fabric, improve the self-reliance and redesign the interactions with our global environment.
But this is not just about redesigning the infrastructures from “above” as urban planners and architects do; this is really about re-working them from the inside, in a participative way to make it inclusive and sustainable. The transformation requires collaboration between the citizens and the institutions in a step-by-step, Lean approach. Citizes shall be engaged into trial-and-error process to define what they really want and need.
Social innovation as a driver for collaboration
In many cities the change as already started through grassroots community initiatives that revitalize the ecosystem. Such as Nolo social district , in Milan, that drives inclusion though “street breakfasts” or the “Nurseries for the nurseries“ project, in Beijing, which teaches urban kids how to grow vegetables in their school. In UK the very successful project “London Borough” gathered 25 000 participants and created 100 new businesses in 5 years.
Most of those are small-scale initiatives of course but as they multiply they create a network of projects that have the power to shift the system. As John Thackara points out the focus should not anymore be on scaling-up but scaling-out.
Operating a system shift
The first step towards collaboration is of course connection, but “connecting humans is not as simple as building Lego structures, it takes time and trust”. In that sense it is necessary to create a favorable ecosystem for those initiatives to multiply. It can be done through online platform, gathering events or databases. Cities institutions shall also play a major role into making this happen. However they must pay attention to balance bottom-up and top-down interventions to ensure they favor the development of grassroots movements without stifling them. Great examples of successful collaborations between the civil society and the institutions can be found in EU with BIBMARK match making event in Ghent or AAA program in Bremen that optimizes the use of vacant spaces.
合作的第一步当然是连结，但“人与人之间的连结并不像乐高结构的简单，它需要时间和信任”。从这个意义上来说，建造一个有利的生态系统给这些初创做增加，是有必要的。这可以藉由线上平台，聚会活动或数据库来完成。城市机构也应该在实现目标的一方，发挥重要的作用。然而，他们要注意由上而下和由下而上的干预措施，以确保不会扼杀草根运动的发展。在欧盟可以找到绝佳的民间社会和机构的合作成功案例：在Ghent聚办的BIBMARK配对活动，或Bremen优化闲置空间的 AAA 计画。
Tomorrow, for this collaborative city regeneration movement to become mainstream, we will need to root it into a new value proposition: create healthier and better places to live. Beyond money and profit, people will reconnect around what is really essential and valuable: land, water, food and clean air.
I would like to address a special thanks to Francesca Valsecchi for inviting me to the DESIS / Tongji Design for Collaborative Cities conference which inspired me to write this article.
我要特别感谢Francesca Valsecchi邀请我参加DESIS（社会创新与可持续联盟）/ 同济的Design for Collaborative Cities conference（设计与协作型城市）会议，这激励我写下这篇文章。