Towards open source place-making

How to deliver a Big Society – a place that acts as a catalyst to and inspires grassroots local activism – in the most bureaucratic, statist and controlled public space of them all: the built environment? Here’s one answer: ‘open source’ place-making. This is an approach to urban development that centres on the making of an implementable ‘social action plan’ first – not a master plan – is inspired by the autonomy that many people want from their lives and seeks to create places through an unfolding process of interaction design first, architecture second.

Interesting approach to p2p urbanism, explained by David Barrie:


“In its most naked form, ‘open source’ place-making is about taking a development site, establishing a very basic planning framework for it, triggering population of the site and then through its unfolding occupation form a forward plan for its development.

In effect, run an alternative to the standard planning and development process, enable occupation of spaces and places that’s a physical equivalent of what’s known as digital swarming and free real estate developers from having to be generalissimos of a war-game to theatrical managers.

A second dimension to open source place-making is to innovate the management of a neighbourhood, prioritise opportunities for tenants to benefit from short leases, self-build and self-management of the way in which they relate to buildings; also support different terms of trade and promote internal markets in goods and services on a barter basis – perhaps even follow a model by which tenants provide services-in-kind to external grant funders of a site, in lieu of rent.

A third ingredient in ‘open source’ place-making is to prioritise commercial occupancies of sites that service residents and other tenants on a collaborative, shared-risk basis.

No problem reserving a place for a branch of Zara or Jamie Oliver’s Leatest Eating Experience but why not actively support the formation of co-operatives, mutuals and social enterprises on site, entities that tenants can direct, benefit from and that help build community?

There’s no need to fight shy of enabling this to happen at the centre of the consumer economy – see the new co-operative corner shop a group of us have recently founded in London, The People’s Supermarket.

On one level, ‘open source’ place-making is asking the development sector to open its mind up to a different way of thinking about design and site assembly: what tech people call interaction design.

Start to see physical space as a form of sovereign real estate – much like a web page – who’s personality unfolds through the involvement of users – and see activity on site as a sequence of what geeks call transient interrupts that develop, die or mutate in to profitable enterprises over time.

Create a development framework that is less command-and-control zoning and more a theme that enables an early idiomatic understanding of the space that over time, through public engagement and interaction, acquires a personality and resolute business case.

On another level, ‘open source’ place-making is a plea: to slim down bureaucracy, open up development to taking an equity stake in the customer and reflect the fact that in an internet economy, people are loyal to data and experience and ‘modal switch’ between platforms; what’s more, maximise opportunities to win a return on investment in certain markets or market-makers: such as social enterprise, independent retail, consumers who live in online, as well as offline spaces, and those who want autonomy.”

More information via this extended essay here.

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