Tactical Startup DIY Urbanism
There it goes, all together. And I’m not playing conservative and trying to take the piss on all these concepts, just the other way round, it’s about time we try to take them back and not allow big agents to steal these concepts and convert them into another urban products selling jingle.
We read recently two interesting articles about what’s happening from a global perspective on the hopefully changing sphere of urban design. Both really interesting, well written and perfectly focused. We would just like to add some sparks of optimism and try to rescue some concepts that need to be taken care of. The first of them gives us a glance on these new movements that some powerful companies are doing to open a place fro themselves in the field of Urban Design.
The city is not a startup. It is not a market that needs to be disrupted in order to stimulate competition and growth. The city is not a platform that can be hacked. Despite the optimistic talk, it is an old language that is being spoken here: Startup Urbanism is gentrification by another name
I agree, partly. I agree totally with the doubtful favor these big companies opening a new field of work are doing to us. Of course. But this cannot mess us up. Concepts like Disruptive Design, Hacking the City or Open Design are valid. Let´s not allow them to rob us this too.
They, these big companies, are trying to take advantage of these bottom-up concepts to create private top-down urban planning. They learn fast. And they learned that when you use something trendy, even something initially dangerous, with the correct timing you can make it not only profitable, but also look friendly and close to the emerging rioting community. Some of the biggest companies in the world owe their success to their witty use of these upcoming new waves.
And here is where the concept startup needs to be revisited. In a closer, more friendly way, this is what in small and medium sized towns all around the world is happening. This is what the municipalities are doing with us, using popping up entrepreneurs like tools to create a network of top down “entrepreneurs-helping-hubs” in which the friends of the regime of each city work and the big companies fish, once all together and controlled. Mechanisms of control of blooming up youngsters.
Even if started with a good purpose, this amiable attractive nests for entrepreneurs are in a small scale what these big companies replicate in a city level and shape. You enter small controllable groups with enough help to go ahead if you are good to go on even if you were alone and always monitored by big companies (incredibly taking part of the same small entrepreneurs’ teams). With enough beautifully packed revolutionary and sustainable look you count as an item in the lists of the municipality to ask for new grants and helps from the European Community or wherever corresponds in each case.
These funds are managed by public (or private-public, better) agencies. Then, what was supposed to be a help for bottom-up entrepreneurs, ends up supporting the salaries of these agencies formed by more people that the young entrepreneurs themselves(!). The young brave guys will be provided with spaces that the municipalities will deal with, renting them cheap. These real estate assets help create a business themselves and have the good ideas, checkable and easy to find. Every success will be thanks to the promotors’ help. Every fail will be just a not properly managed story. Both will count as part of the statistics for supporting new businesses by the Municipality.
These companies playing the urban planners work the same way. Using this tendency to ask for a bottom-up approach in urban planning, they domesticate and weaken all the growing up concepts to create demonstrations of power under the nice looking cover of coolness. Under the appearance of new urbanism and freedom, they build absolutely controlled algorithms to control the natural growth of life. At least, they try to.
Startup Urbanism sounds, to be soft, fishy, but we are not going to stop hacking the city because they use the concept and empty it from it´s real sense. And yes, the city probably is a market that needs to be disrupted. We can make Open Design or just, with less ambition just live our lives with a refreshing wrong algorithm.
The second quote:
…Tactical Urbanism is an apparatus that has captured urban interventionist moments and subsumed and subordinated them into the Creative City mantra and the urban neoliberal development system more broadly
Again, I agree just partly. Just trying to be positive once more. Probably, we have to really learn from the tactics that hackers use. We need to get to the code, and not only work in a hippie happy-rainbow way doing these nice tiding ups of the corners of the city we love so much.
The code of Urbanism is Law, urban regulations. This code is written in a quite old language that allows few changes and creates glitches when trying to readapt it (it´s designed that way, to exactly fail when trying to be changed). This is the real problem of the usual urban planning we have in our cities. Society changes much much faster and unexpectedly than we build a city. We need procedures to access that code and create new mechanisms. Those paths, those new programs have to be created together in a serious way, there is huge work over there, but there are some very rough and general parameters than can be used as a basis to construct this new way to operate with urban planing and design:
Create a hierarchy of regulations, in time and bindingness. Even if we advocate for a “rizoma” of possibilities, we have to organize them in a proper structure to allow them grow. We plant the trees in the garden, but as we are taking care of the blooming up of our new green design, we will see that now, we are itching to change the strawberries all around. We need to have an easy way to do that without spoiling the correct general planning of our garden and without having to wait for the next generation of trees. This is the key of Open Design (on a physical design): we create a strong basis on which we can innovate, add and transform.
If we are talking about people, we are talking about governance. The only way to achieve a proper management of this not-binding planting of the smaller species in the garden (even the correction of the direction of growing of the main trees) is through a well structured, properly scaled, governance of the neighborhoods that create the city together. Everything ends up in the human side. It´s also the only way to prevent sly developers to disguise as open creative urban designers and take advantage of small communities.
And last, not so deep, but really important… please, don´t call Tactical Urbanism to manufacturing a nice recycled wood swing with our hippie friends or to dressing the street bollards with colorful wool dressings… that´s nice, of course, and a good exercise to create engaged communities, but let´s not give them easy weapons to distract us from our objective. If we are so naive, nothing will ever change.
An article by Juan Sadaba – director of nerei emotional intelligent