Crowdsourced Placemaking is the act of taking a project or development traditionally performed by a developer or government entity and outsourcing it to a larger, committed community with shared values, in the form of an open call – resulting in a transformation of these places into ‘places of the soul’ that uplift us and connect us to one another.
To better understand crowdsourced placemaking, it helps to better understand what crowdsourcing is…
…and then what placemaking is…
…and answering frequently asked questions…
Has crowdsourcing been applied to placemaking before?
Absolutely. In Bristol, Connecticut, a thousand people are crowdsourcing a new 17-acre downtown for their city of 61,000 people. You can read more about it in the New York Times, or even in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Crowdsourcing. The same is happening in Nashua, New Hampshire, and both Hempstead and Huntington Station in Long Island, New York.
The closest historical example would be cohousing, though this typically isn’t done via an open call, applies to only one residential building at a time, and already has defined rules. The neighborhood of Vauban in Freiburg, Germany, is a car-free community of 5000 people that is a hybrid of cohousing and crowdsourcing. Customer communities for a restaurant and a coworking space were crowdsourced in the U.S. More and more communities are finding that if collaborative, forward-thinking public input is organized prior to designing the project, the greater the community support will be there in ensuring that the place will be successful and marketable. It’s about involving the people who will ultimately use and benefit from the place.
How are decisions involving the crowd made?
If the crowd is crowdfunding the project (providing the financing for development), decisions can be made democratically via direct vote. With projects where the crowd has no financial commitment upfront, decisions must ultimately be made by a sponsor that is financing the project, with appropriate government approvals of course. However, in crowdsourced placemaking, these decisions are guided through ongoing surveys, based on an agreement between the crowd, the financing sponsor, and when necessary or helpful, key public agencies. The crowd agrees to help ensure a market for the final product, and the financing sponsor agrees to provide the product that the market truly wants. In the simplest terms, if the crowd feels they aren’t being listened to enough, they won’t support the project. Thus, it is in the financing sponsor’s best interests to make decisions based on the survey results and any resulting community consensus. If there is no sponsor, the project remains conceptual until a sponsor is found.
Who can join the crowdsourced placemaking community?
Anyone, since crowdsourcing is by definition an open call. However, crowdsourcing is based on agreeing with a community with a shared vision and values, and it’s up to the financing sponsor to identify what those are at the very beginning. So, while technically anyone can join, the intention is to focus on those with a shared vision and values. This fosters a very positive atmosphere.
Why participate in the crowdsourced placemaking community?
To have a say in what gets built in your neighborhood, rather than accept whatever project organizers or developers decide to build there, which often follows their own best interests.
What happens if someone in the crowd becomes overly critical or negative?
This underscores the importance of defining a shared vision and values upfront, as people are much less likely to be negative of such a project. This is also why the more the project’s vision is triple-bottom-line (economically, socially, environmentally) oriented, the more shared values people will have with the project, and the less critical they will be. Once you build trust within your community, they will rise up and address the negativity on their own.
How long will the crowdsource placemaking community exist?
As long as the crowd wants. Programming of places can be crowdsourced indefinitely.
Where can I learn more about crowdsourced placemaking?
You can visit the official blog for crowdsourced placemaking at cooltownstudios.com