“The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization. The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.”
—The Right to the City, David Harvey
Urbanism is the mirror, in which different aspects of society and layers of information are reflected. Cities first developed to support basic human activities, but gradually transformed into a complex, constantly changing live laboratoratories. This rapid evolution led us to conceive and experience physical space differently than in the past. Additionally, real-time connectivity, ubiquity, unlimited access to large flows of information and knowledge, have also altered the way we relate to and work with each other. Despite those rapid social and technological changes, however, city planning processes worldwide remain dull, bureaucratic and insensitive to how humans experience the city.
There is a pressing need for a paradigm shift in city management and city planning. In today’s connected world, urban design can no longer be addressed from a singular perspective, but should result from an open and multilayered network of creative designers, technical experts, citizens and stakeholders.
Our success, either personal or societal, depends today more than ever upon the ability to quickly deal with and adapt to increasingly complex situations, which are characteristic of our times. This is the framework in which designers operate today. New contexts require new ways of working. We have to rethink and redefine the tools we use; shift from traditional closed and fixed structures into open and flexible networked configurations. As professional and disciplinary boundaries are blurring, we need to explore the new role of the designer as an activator, mediator and curator of social processes in a networked reality. Above all, we must develop and test design tools that allow the citizen to be an active participant of the process, instead of a passive consumer, recipient of a finished product.
Contemporary public space projects should address both the digital and the physical layer of a place. The two are becoming increasingly interconnected and dependent on each other. Designers should awaken to the opportunities emerging from their interaction and develop new ways of working that challenge the existing professional conventions.
Network design is an innovative methodology that updates traditional public participation processes. It enables network thinking by connecting the local community with the international digital community and by facilitating a rich discussion about the future of a place. The aim of the network design methodology is to raise awareness and spark interest in urban issues, promote a healthy debate and encourage public engagement within the community. The atmosphere of urban awareness, facilitated by a hyper-connected communication system, results in the network effect—a spontaneous emergence of fresh and creative ideas from the sea of information, once a critical mass of connections/interactions is formed.
Dream Your City
Dream Your City is an application of the network design methodology which transforms of an urban space and activates a networked community that supports it and cares for it at every stage of the design process and after it’s materialization. Ecosistema Urbano recently used Dream Your City in Norway to redesign Stortorget, the main town square of Hamar.
To implement the network design philosophy in the context of Stortorget, Ecosistema Urbano developed five ‘tools’ which together formed the Dreamhamar project. These tools were used for grouping different stakeholders around a common cause, either local–community related or global–theme related, academic, etc.—using the web as a free, open and reachable platform. Implementing a varied and active set of networks allowed Dreamhamar to widen the project’s input and output, laying the foundations for a great number of opportunities, but also allowing exchange within the project and between its activities.
Urban Actions Lightweight, ephemeral events and installations on the public space, conceived to create expectation and call citizens to action on Stortorget, and as a way of experiencing possible uses and solutions for the future square. They represented the most direct, visible and local dimension of the project.
Physical Lab The Bazaar Building, a small historical building in the square, was reconverted into Ecosistema Urbano’s pop up office and Dreamhamar’s ‘cultural basecamp,’ a place where regular office work, on-site workshops, lectures and exhibitions took place. It aimed to maximize interaction within the local scope of the project.
An online platform containing blog-like entries, static information pages, an internal social network and the Dreamhamar mobile app. It was used to host the online workshops, publish weekly broadcasts, and provide regular updates about the project. This digital space or ‘lab,’ also conceived mainly for peer-to-peer interaction, focused on the global reach of Dreamhamar.
Academic Network International universities, as well as local schools were invited to participate in Dreamhamar by drawing up, transmitting and modeling ideas for a new square that would fulfill the expectations of the youngest citizens. The Academic Network had both a local and global dimension, and was mainly oriented at ideas and design as an opportunity for learning by doing, allowing over fifteen hundred students and faculty from various local schools and international institutions to become part of the design process.
Urban Design Dreamhamar was presented together with a ‘preliminary design,’ a feasibility study which provided participants with a variety of tools and references to use in the workshops, and a base for discussion. After the network design process, relevant ideas and issues were merged back into a new urban project for Stortorget.