3 Nov 2016

Citizens as Co-creators of Urban Infrastructure: From Capturing Data to Building Matter


Aarhus, London, Santandercitizens, Co-Creation

WikiHouse 4.0 installed in the Building Centre for London Design Festival image by Margaux Carron

Belen Palacios from the Future Cities Catapult blogs about co-creation.

Filmmaker, Adam Curtis, claimed “You think you are a consumer, but maybe you have been consumed.” If this makes you feel uncomfortable, you’ll be happy to hear that the rise of co-creation is empowering citizens to take an active part in improving our cities. A few examples follow, where citizens, as users and producers, have taken a big role in co-creating city infrastructure.

Democracia en Red with DemocracyOS have created an open source software platform, which informs citizens of congress bills and allows them to debate and vote on them. This platform can bring political decisions closer to citizens, enabling an inclusive scenario where politicians vote in Congress, representing the data submitted in the platform.

DemocracyOS platform by Democracia en Red

DemocracyOS platform by Democracia en Red

The Institute for advanced architecture of Catalonia founded Smart Citizen, highlighting environmental issues in order to improve quality of life in cities. This home-based crowdsensing kit captures environmental data, shares it in the platform and compares it across the city. With the collaboration of citizens, we are able to obtain data at neighbourhood levels.

Smart Citizen Kit specifications by Institute for advanced architecture of Catalonia

Smart Citizen Kit specifications by Institute for advanced architecture of Catalonia

The Smart Citizen Kit’s creators believe that “home-based crowdsensing tools have the potential to transform private households, which are usually seen as consumers of services only, into city infrastructure by becoming distributed monitoring stations producing public data and operated by citizens.” In this way, people who are usually considered consumers of services only, become a contributing part of city infrastructure. You can read more about deploying and engaging citizens in sensing technology in the conference paper Beyond boundaries.

Citizen Science Platform collects the data from Smart Citizen devices around the world. Image by Institute for advanced architecture of Catalonia

Citizen Science Platform collects the data from Smart Citizen devices around the world. Image by Institute for advanced architecture of Catalonia

The rise of low-cost sensing has encouraged a growth in crowdsensing initiatives, which compliment traditional activism, allowing citizens to become part of the solution. The Open Source Beehives project is a good example; with the collaboration of beekeepers, they have designed beehives that are connected to a sensor kit. Using the framework of the Smart Citizen platform enables beekeepers to monitor the health of the hive and support bee colonies in our cities.

The Barcelona Warré Beehive version 1.0 designed by Open Source Beehive

The Barcelona Warré Beehive version 1.0 designed by Open Source Beehive

While we would assume that co-creation is limited to crowdsourcing data and small scale infrastructure, in London there have been examples of citizen involvement in the housing market since the Segal Method was applied in the 1970s. Lewisham Council envisioned itself as an ‘enabler’ that facilitated ‘ordinary’ people (without previous construction knowledge) to self-build timber frame homes. The impact of blurring their roles between producers and consumers created a strong community feeling, which is rare to see nowadays in a large city.

The WikiHouse parts can be assembled by amateurs with screws, DIY tools and a mobile scaffolding. Image by WikiHouse Foundation

The WikiHouse parts can be assembled by amateurs with screws, DIY tools and a mobile scaffolding. Image by WikiHouse Foundation

Following this example, WikiHouse Foundation has taken the lead to democratise access to design knowledge and tools for building housing systems. A WikiHouse can be customised to fit needs and context, manufactured digitally (making it more precise for insulating and lowering its energetic impact) and built quickly by a small, amateur team. This knowledge, which is being developed by designers, engineers and citizens, is open for all to use.

WikiHouse 4.0 installed in the Building Centre for London Design Festival image by Margaux Carron

WikiHouse 4.0 installed in the Building Centre for London Design Festival image by Margaux Carron

Through these collaborations, citizens are empowered to take an active role in society:

  • Making them aware of their surroundings
  • Enhancing trust and inclusion
  • Enabling positive activism
  • Giving them the tools to generate an impact in their communities

In parallel, ‘co-creating’ produces better, more efficient and inclusive infrastructure. With this in mind, co-creation underpins all of OrganiCity’s values, in order to create a ‘service for experimentation’ with urban data. While our cities face a digital transition, OrganiCity is exploring how citizens can become more empowered to experiment with urban data.


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