Research project

Research group

This research is a PhD project of Sergei Zhilin in Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands and part of the PhD program Engineering Social Technologies for a Responsible Digital Future. 

The lead of the program is Prof. Dirk Helbing (ETH Zurich and Delft University of Technology, initiator of the FuturICT and Nervousnet projects).

Supervisors of the PhD project are Prof. Martin de Jong and Prof. Bram Klievink (Delft University of Technology).

Contact e-mail: s.zhilin@tudelft.nl

Problem statement

Nowadays, more than 50% of the world’s population lives in cities, and this will increase by 1.5 times in 30 years. We may say that life in urbanized areas is predominated throughout humankind. These indicators are not just numbers that show the mechanical increase of population in the cities. Urban development (i.e. social, economic, cultural and physical development of cities) plays the crucial role in producing economic growth, culture, and innovations. (UN, 2007, 2016b). Citizen participation in urban design is increasingly becoming accepted by city officials and experts (Desouza & Bhagwatwar, 2014; Levy et al., 2015; Poplin, 2012). At the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) world leaders drafted the New Urban Agenda – a vision of global urban development. One of the most noticeable goals declared there is on empowering all individuals and communities while enabling their full and meaningful participation towards resilient, sustainable, and innovative cities to foster prosperity and quality of life for all (UN, 2016a).

At the same time, as Saskia Sassen (2015) provocatively queried, “who owns the city?”, in an era of corporate control of urban space when “corporate buying of whole pieces of cities”, which transforms the “small and/or public” into the “large and private” in many cities. This global trend in urban development is reshaping cities in a manner of “city-as-a-company” works fine within the traditional paradigm of city management. In this paradigm, local governments regulate open access urban resources, such as streets, empty plots, and public parks in the top-down fashion of prohibitions and restrictions (Harvey, 2011; Sassen, 2015).

However, urban space is a highly contested space, and contestations over the right to be involved in urban development are at the heart of many grassroots movements (Foster, 2012; Parker & Johansson, 2011). In recent years, a lot of such movements for reshaping cities has emerged. Some of them perform their actions as a protest against a current order of the city claiming “the right to the city”, for example against street advertisement or a lack of public spaces. (Douglas, 2014; Iveson, 2013). Some movements demand the right for the co-creation and use of urban spaces by citizens in a bottom-up manner, in contrast with the currently dominated top-down approach in urban design. Such demands have been conceptualized in the recently developed term ‘urban commons’ (Bradley, 2015; Chatterton, 2016; Foster, 2012).

There are already projects where citizens have been involved in the process of urban design co-production along with other stakeholders: urban innovators, experts, municipality officials. However, these projects still rarely initiated by local communities; often they emerge as showcases tailored, initiated and facilitated by local government or architectural studios (Pagano, 2013; Petrescu, Petcou, & Baibarac, 2016). Community-driven projects are still rare because their development is a long-lasting, complex process involving expert knowledge from various disciplines that depend on every specific project, such as urban design, social science, ecology, engineering. Communities that have similar projects often reinvent solutions because they have no effective mechanisms for the co-production and sharing of design knowledge.


The problem

Communities that aim urban transformation (re)design project blueprints due to the absence of effective mechanisms of collaborative creation and sharing of urban design solutions.


The proposed research searches to address this problem by designing a digital tool which will help to design urban project’s blueprints collaboratively. Such tools provide success of communities working in a collaborative way, namely open source communities i.e. groups of geographically distributed volunteers collectively working on the production of knowledge commons (O’mahony & Ferraro, 2007; van Wendel de Joode et al., 2003). The open source principles that allow decentralized collaboration was initially dedicated to software development but is being successfully adapted for emerging technologies (i.e. additive manufacturing), and in prosperous industries (i.e. hardware, knowledge). Sassen (2011) claims that although the open source model is not about cities, it is nevertheless possible to adapt it for urban development as it is in essence about technologyShe writes: “I see in Open Source a DNA that resonates strongly with how people make the city theirs or urbanize what might be an individual initiative. And yet, it stays so far away from the city. I think that it will require making. We need to push this urbanizing of technologies to strengthen horizontal practices and initiatives.” (ibid)

Following to the problem described in this introduction, the main objective of the research is to adopt principles of open source for the co-production of urban design blueprints by designing an ICT-platform. Finally, the main research question which this research project aims to answer is formulated as follows.


Main research question

How to adopt open source principles for the co-production of urban design knowledge for community-driven urban transformation projects by designing an online platform?


 

Research details in Wikischool