Creating the Open City
Web 2.0 is the network as platform, spanning all connected devices; Web 2.0 applications are those that make the most of the intrinsic advantages of that platform: delivering software as a continually-updated service that gets better the more people use it, consuming and remixing data from multiple sources, including individual users, while providing their own data and services in a form that allows remixing by others, creating network effects through an “architecture of participation,” and going beyond the page metaphor of Web 1.0 to deliver rich user experiences.
– Tim O’Reilly
To the popular press “hacker” means someone who breaks into computers. Among programmers it means a good programmer. But the two meanings are connected. To programmers, “hackers” connotes mastery in the most literal sense: someone who can make a computer do what he wants-whether the computer wants to or not.
– Paul Graham, Hackers & Painters
Welcome to the Open Cities blog on CCE. My name is David Eaves and I’ve been writing, speaking, and thinking about open, citizen engagement and public policy for a number of years. Most recently, I worked to help push forward the City of Vancouver motion that requires the city to share more data, adopt open standards, and treat open source and proprietary software equally.
Cities have always been platforms – geographic and legal platforms upon which people collaborate to create enterprises, exchange ideas, educate themselves, celebrate their culture, start families, found communities, and raise children. Today the power of information technology is extending this platform, granting us new ways to collaborate and be creative. As Clay Shirky notes in Here Comes Everybody, this new (dis)order is powerful. For the meaning and operation of cities, it will be transformative.
How transformative? The change created by information technology is driving what will perhaps be seen as the greatest citizen-led renewal of urban spaces in our history. Indeed, I believe it may even be creating a new type of city, one whose governance models, economies and notions of citizenship are still emerging, but different from their predecessors. These new cities are Open Cities: cities that, like the network of web 2.0, are architected for participation and so allow individuals to create self-organized solutions and allow governments to tap into the long-tail of public policy.
And just in the nick of time. To succeed in the 21st century, cities will have to simultaneously thrive in a global economy, adapt to climate change, integrate a tsunami of rural and/or foreign migrants, as well as deal with innumerable other challenges and opportunities. These issues go far beyond the capacity and scope of almost any government – not to mention the all-too-often under-resourced City Hall.
Open Cities address this capacity shortfall by drawing on the social capital of their citizens. Online, city dwellers are hacking the virtual manifestation of their city which, in turn, is giving them the power to shape the physical space. Google transit, DIYcity, Apps for Democracy are great urban hacks, they allow cities to work for citizens in ways that were previously impossible. And this is only the beginning.
Still more exciting, hacking is a positive sum game. The more people hack their city – not in the poorly misunderstood popular press meaning of breaking into computers but in (sometimes artful, sometimes amateur) way of making a system (read city) work for their benefit – the more useful data and services they create and remix. Ultimately, Open Cities will be increasingly vibrant and safe because they are hackable. This will allow their citizens to unleash their creativity, foster new services, find conveniences and efficiencies, notice safety problems, and build communities.
In short, the cities that harness the collective ingenuity, creativity, and energy of its citizenry will thrive. Those that don’t – those that remain closed – won’t. And this divide – open vs. closed – could become the new dividing line of our age. And it is through this lens that this blog will look at the challenges and opportunities facing cities, their citizens, and institutions. Let’s see who’s open, how they’re getting open, and what it will all mean.