Redesigning unequal cities

Redesigning Istanbul

“If we want our cities to do more than simply expand haphazardly to accept their new residents, it’s time to start planning.”

This dead-on statement starts a recent article from Fast Company. The article focuses on ways to apply design to make cities more welcoming and workable, as more and more of the world’s population becomes urban.

The article notes two ends of the city design spectrum. One is the top-down, official planning process. This process can muster large amounts of labor and capital to make a difference, but only when it can muster the political will to apply marketing principles like market research, design and distribution to solving problems for the city’s clients–its citizens.

At the other end of the spectrum is what the articles calls “citizens hacking solutions.” This process can be nimble and very responsive to local needs, but has difficulty reaching a large enough scale to make a true difference across a large city, let alone many cities.

Maybe these two ends of the spectrum could meet in the middle by applying some of the principles for governing the commons. Commons governance applies to shared resources that are managed by layered, communal structures. We normally think of commons being natural resources such as forests, watersheds, and fisheries. Expanding the concept of commons to include urban resources such as housing or open spaces could yield the large-scale, sustainable change that cities need but struggle to fund and implement.

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