Background thinking

Welcome to Brickstarter! Here’s our evolving one-page overview of the project, but there our many precursors to this project that it builds upon. We’re talking hundreds of analogous case studies and projects, dozens of web services and apps, several books, many academic research papers, and a hearty stew of ongoing conversations. We’ll be discussing the most relevant of these here, but it might also be worth noting how the Brickstarter project builds on some long-standing interest from our project team members, as well as Sitra’s ongoing interests in how to enable better decision-making about sustainable development.

Drawing from the outbreak of constructive civic engagement that is Renew Newcastle, I summarised a basic idea for an ‘emergent urbanism’ a couple of years ago, at one point suggesting a platform accentuating positive contributions to urban development, rather than just complaints. This is pinned on the observation that cities and other settlements are wasteful in their use of space, leaving pockets of opportunity everywhere, yet these are too small to be picked up on the radar of planning departments. I mentioned Kickstarter was worth watching, in terms of platforms oriented towards contributions, but also that we need the guiding hand of professionals and institutions, getting away from the oppositional language of “top-down” and “bottom-up”. It was nice to re-read this quote from urbanist and architect Michael Sorkin:

“In a ABC Radio National interview, Michael Sorkin followed a question about Jacobs by describing this “oppositional culture [in which] one of the only ways that citizens can engage planning and other public processes is by their power to say no.” Sorkin continued, “There must be ways to activate a more positive relationship to planning the environment – rather than simply awaiting decisions by private owners or developers and simply responding to them with our powers to block projects, how much more beautiful it would be if the city were to more rigourously plan its own destiny?”

Bryan was working on similar themes, also building on the promise of Kickstarter, which was by then beginning to be realised big-time. Bryan asked:

“What would happen if you took the Kickstarter strategy and applied it to the city. How could we de-risk new shops, restaurants, cafes, services, institutions, and even government outposts by aggregating commitment in advance of capital investment? What would the Kickstarter of real estate look like and how might a similar demand-aggregator offer a productive counterpart to the dreaded “not in my back yard” syndrome? Is there a “please in my backyard” platform that could act as a spatial happiness engine, better empowering individuals to inflect their own corner of the city to meet their personal desires? Could a platform such as this translate land use and zoning decisions into terms that are more personable, assessable, and ultimately arguable? Would that make the city more or less democratic?

Here we see PIMBY emerging as well as YIMBY. We should also recognise WIMBY (Welcome in my Backyard), a pioneering Dutch project in Hooglivet, led by Crimson Architectural Historians and Felix Rottenberg. There are numerous variants on xIMBY kicking around. Get in touch if you know more!

Later still, I would then build on this idea of ‘a Kickstarter for development of shared spaces and resources’, dubbing it Brickstarter, which has become our working title

“A richer form of governance could be part-enabled by a collaborative, networked platform, but something attuned to shared physical space and shared responsibility—more Brickstarter than Kickstarter—but there’s more to it than software.”

That last line also suggests where Karoliina (hereafter known as Kali!) had been going, with our colleagues on Sitra’s Maamerkit (‘Landmarks’) programme. They were also getting interested in terms of how to turn NIMBY into YIMBY, particularly as regards bio-economy development. This would include looking at what we call the ‘dark matter’ of legislation, governance, permitting procedures, procurement, and so on. Maamerkit’s focus is Sitra’s – sustainable well-being – and draws the ideas behind Brickstarter into particularly fertile, productive territory, as sustainability requires the kind of complex, long-term, common pool, consensus building that is particularly challenging. It’s one thing for Kickstarter to generate a few thousand dollars for a short movie; it’s another to take the same principles and expect to generate a wind farm. Maamerkit’s (and Kali’s) expertise in this space will be particularly useful. It also bring a focus on rural environments which nicely balances the urban focus above. We aim to work in both, and so sketch out a system that has broader potential as a result.

All these threads have now converged in this project:

  • community decision-making;
  • new engagement tools;
  • long-term investment in sustainable infrastructure;
  • participation and representation;
  • prototyping as research, iteration as planning;
  • user-centred redesign of governance and legislation;
  • different relationships between citizens, businesses and governance;
  • potentially even prototypes of political systems.

We’ll be unpacking the project here, step-by-step, as we go. Please get in touch if you want to know more or discuss any aspect of the project with us.

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6 comments on ‘Background thinking’

  1. [...] Lange makes favorable mention of a more carefully designed platform called Brickstarter (with a fascinating post on reconstruction of a city in Chile) — and it’s a good comparison [...]

  2. [...] Lange makes favorable mention of a more carefully designed platform called Brickstarter (with a fascinating post on reconstruction of a city in Chile) — and it’s a good comparison [...]

  3. Glonim says:

    You guys may be interested in Open Source Ecology since it shares many of the urban and rural redesign goals Brick-starter has.


  4. marvin says:

    Hi, nice project. BrickStarter, could become huge.

    there is this architect how travels around the world with this local architecture idea doing projects. I can look it up if you like.

    how can we contribute to brickstarter. We just started an urban activism kind of project to share chicken (and eggs) with our neigbours) on an Amsterdam Rooftop of a building complex.



  5. Ray Richards says:

    I heard about you from James Wallman at Future Laboratory. It seems we have a similar objective albeit we approach things from a very different angle. Our objective is to help people do something different – lots of people do something different.

    Thinking something different changes nothing – but doing something different has a chance. We have a methodology that works and we want people like you to use it to achieve your objectives.

    Take a look at our website and if you see some synergy give me a shout on 07765 584976



  6. [...] as another group working in this area; here’s a loose kind of essay on how they conceive of crowdfunding civic projects and the attendant complications, which are legion. The sheer immensity of cities—and the fact that people (like me!) talk [...]

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