For Involved Urbanism

I’ve responded to a recent post entitled “Against Kickstarter Urbanism” by Alexandra Lange over at Design Observer and the response is included in full below. Before getting into that, however, I wanted to propose that “kickstarter urbanism” is not a thing, really. What Lange writes about is not a site enabling or creating a movement so much as it is evidence of a collective frustration on behalf of people who want to affect the world around them but no longer know how to. How do I add a bench in that place down the block that would be perfect for one? How do I nominate my region for a wind farm? How do I get a co-working space in my neighborhood? People increasingly desire to be involved in shaping the world around them, but the pathways to do so are obscure. The flares of urban/community activity on Kickstarter, the prevalence of popup projects around the world, and the general interest in crowd-funding & sourcing are all evidence of this. People want to be involved: but how?

Nice to see Brickstarter mentioned here as we’ve started the project to address some of the concerns that you bring up, Alexandra. Brickstarter is attempting to work through a set of inter-related issues: dark matter, collaboration, and shared value decision-making.

Dark Matter

There is often no obvious path for individuals or small groups to propose ideas about the world around them, particularly in the advanced economies of the developed world that have well defined regulatory and legal frameworks that are more or less adhered to. When someone does finally decide to muster up the gumption to propose a new park bench (for example) it tends to be unclear who they need to propose it to, who will fund it, who will OK it, and how these may be appealed or contested. That’s enough to quell the entrepreneurial spirit right there! Wouter Vanstiphout, from Crimson architectural historians in Rotterdam, calls this stuff the “dark matter” and it’s incredibly opaque to most of us.

One of the reasons it’s dark is because the kinds of things that people are interested in doing today are not necessarily the same things that our governance structures we established to support. This leaves many of the twists and turns that a project like the High Line must navigate to be discovered and muddled through. Much of the knowledge is tacit. From the outside it can be hard to distinguish why one project works and the next fails. And this is frustrating, not just for individuals for but us as a society. The reason we build cities (and societies!) is to do things together, so when the structures we established to keep it all humming along are not able keep up, it’s time to shine a flashlight into the dark matter.

Mind you, this sort of approach does not lend itself to quick results. In contrast to pop-ups, interventions, and other small-scale efforts, Brickstarter is interested in creating a safe place for the dark matter questions of permits, regulations, liability, financing, maintenance, and more to be sorted through together. Pop-ups are nice… until they pop-down. Personally, I think we owe it to ourselves to be more systematic than that.


During our ongoing research for Brickstarter, one of the things we’ve heard again and again from groups who successfully pull off projects (community or otherwise) is that they had to make it up as they went along. And part of this is making up, adjusting and recalibrating, the project team itself. We’re starting to learn some of the more general qualities of successful projects and will use these on Brickstarter to encourage participants who use the platform to embed that intelligence into their own work.

One important aspect of this is pitching. There are some comments above which are a touch derisive of the “glossy” video pitches on Kickstarter. I’d like to ask what’s wrong with being convincing? Bear in mind that convincing does not necessarily mean misleading or frivolous. Those are valid concerns, but separate from the effectiveness of a pitch.

The Gulick park example is a good one: how do I, as a private citizen, become convinced that the project team have the passion necessary to stick with the project through to the end? How do I even know who is behind it, since there are no names mentioned on the project page? How do I know that my money is being put to good use, since there’s no indication of the costs involved? Compared to the LowLine or +Pool, the Gulick park ping pong table proposal is miserable!

With Brickstarter we recognize that not everyone will have the same ability to put together a nice video (or have a friend do it), but we also strongly believe in the necessity of face to face meetings when dealing with community issues. When your platform is being used to create things in the built environment, there’s always a community who can come together. And so we don’t see a necessary divide between online and offline. Rather, the question is how an online platform may facilitate offline meetings and how representation of those offline meetings can easily find their way back into the online platform. This too is something that very good organizers do naturally (c.f. Obama campaign).

Shared value decision-making

Perhaps the hardest part of all of this is making it easier to debate ideas from a shared-value perspective: keeping in mind financial, ecological, and social capital as the source of both costs and income. At Sitra, our specific interests here are to encourage longer-term thinking which we think tends to enable decisions to more easily open up to ecological and social questions. Or put another way, we want Brickstarter to encourage people to see projects as investments in the future of the community, rather than short term costs. Our hypothesis is that the arduous and lengthy development process of, say, a wind farm is one that can maintain community interest/support if there is a strong project narrative. Again, this is something that the best organizers (and business people [and politicians]) are good at. With Brickstarter we’re looking at ways in which the platform encourages the ongoing construction of a project narrative.

These decisions happen within the project itself (should the park bench be on Main st. or Park st.?) but also external to the project when it comes to funding and permitting. We’re interested in these moments because they are where the project comes to life.

Having a good idea is important, of course, and there are sites like Neighborland which are doing good stuff to collect the desires of a community. With Brickstarter we’re primarily interested in what’s next. After you have a good idea, what’s the infrastructure that helps you bring it into the world?

Read the rest of the comments here.

Why do I blog this?

It’s great to see Brickstarter popping up on various sites now, and we’ll do our best to respond to those articles. But when we do that, the comments stay there and might get lost unless we replicate here. So we will! With that procedural bit out of the way, the real reason I blog this is because it prompted me to dig into why Kickstarter, et al are getting more and more play for urban projects, and why they’re still not quite right. In that sense, I think we really can read the use of these sites as an expression of a desire to have new ways to engage in a constructive dialog about the world around them—a desire for platforms like Brickstarter. The moral question of promotion that came up in this thread is an important one. We will come back to that in a subsequent post, though I did dip into it on the Helsinki Design Lab blog while discussing Germany’s move towards renewable energy and the role that a coherent narrative played in making that possible.



Posted by
Bryan Boyer

Conversation with Rodrigo Araya, Tironi Asociados, Chile

Constitución earthquake

Public discussion

On the phone to Alejandro Gutierrez the other day, talking citizen participation, he said I had to meet his Chilean colleague, Rodrigo Araya of Tironi Asociados. Rodrigo, and Tironi, were doing amongst the most interesting and effective citizen participation work around, apparently. A few weeks later, Rodrigo happened to be in northern Europe, so we reeled him in to Helsinki for a chat.

And it turned out to be one of the most inspiring conversations I’ve had for quite a while (and I think that also goes for the colleagues who joined us, Karoliina Luoto, Johanna Kirkinen and Karoliina Auvinen who work across open data and participation, Low2No and Brickstarter projects at Sitra, amongst other things.)

Karo, Johanna, Kali, Rodrigo

Tironi’s work has shifted from strategic communications to coordinating citizen participation strategies over the last decade. Crucially, it now includes actually facilitating participation, hands on. Our conversation focused on two cases, and two cities: the rebuilding of Constitución, after the devastating 2010 earthquake and tsunami, and a new masterplan for the city of Calama, in northern Chile.

In both cases, Tironi and partners have foregrounded citizen participation like no comparable urban project I’ve ever seen, or heard of.

Participation is often no more than a sop in urban planning and city politics generally. It’s a token gesture that is partly responsible for generating NIMBY responses, manifesting itself in the wrong kind of engagements (surveys, focus groups, votes) at the wrong times (at the beginning of projects, often pre-proposal, before it’s possible to have constructive discussion, or at the end, when all the decisions have already been made.) Tironi have flipped such projects on their head, organising the entire thing around participation. Although the work is in process—as it always is with cities, it has to be said—the results so far appear to be extraordinary.

Tironi’s work in this area started with the forestry business Arauco, who became interested in engagement as a result of trying to obtain a sustainable forestry certificate. According to Araya, this certification took the public perception of the business as one of the primary criteria, and meant Arauco started to gear up their strategy accordingly.

Then the earthquake hit. (Araya tends to cut the air with his hand whenever he says this.) As the significant employer in Constitución, and throughout the affected area, Arauco suddenly became involved in the reconstruction of the largely destroyed city, as did Tironi.

After the fall of the city, we can see a story involving incredible bravery, resolve, invention and commitment. The project set itself the target of a new masterplan in 90 days (to put this into perspective, I believe the City of Helsinki took over a decade to masterplan the much smaller, essentially empty, prospective neighbourhood of Jätkäsaari, where our Low2No project sits.)

This speed is unheard of in itself, but perhaps an understandable ambition given the circumstances. But then the project team raised the bar—or knocked the bar into space—by pivoting the entire masterplan process upon citizen participation, with co-design as the organising principle.

“I think that disasters like this offer an incredible opportunity to be able to grow sustainably and harmoniously.”
- a local fire officer, speaking in the documentary Mauchos

Participation was intense, engaged and focused on a small light building in the centre of the city, where public debates unfolded and teams worked furiously coordinate and interpret input from citizens.

Public debate

The project included significant funding from Arauco. This is interesting in itself, and in other contexts might cause a raised eyebrow, but here, with a relatively poor city government facing a crisis, it actually lead to an interesting balancing act between industry, citizens and government. Apparently, the funding did not mean that the project was controlled by Arauco, which is key. So, Arauco played producer/funder, but not director, according to Araya. Trust is key to such a productive working relationship; which makes one wonder whether the particular conditions here necessarily forged trust in a way that isn’t easily transferable.

That balance was partly enabled by placing citizens first, displacing the traditional asymmetry of power which usually sees politicians, corporate interest and experts in the box seat. It was sustained through constant, intensive engagement.

The role of experts

Araya placed particular emphasis on the issue of destabilising the position of experts. He discussed the theoretical work that he’d been studying, almost as if in leisure (particularly Bruno Latour and Michel Callon: see the latter’s essay Acting in an Uncertain World - top of the Brickstarter reading list, just ahead of Ostrom) and then that slash of the air again. “Then, the earthquake.”

Suddenly they had a reason to put that theory into practice, in particular drawing from the “hybrid forum” idea from Callon et al’s essay. From the MIT Press website:

“The authors of ‘Acting in an Uncertain World’ argue that political institutions must be expanded and improved to manage these controversies, to transform them into productive conversations, and to bring about “technical democracy.” They show how “hybrid forums”—in which experts, non-experts, ordinary citizens, and politicians come together—reveal the limits of traditional delegative democracies, in which decisions are made by quasi-professional politicians and techno-scientific information is the domain of specialists in laboratories. The division between professionals and laypeople, the authors claim, is simply outmoded.” [Acting in an Uncertain World, MIT Press]

This is fascinating (with some echoes of our HDL Studio model, albeit in a fundamentally different context, with far more emphasis on citizens) and we spent most of the afternoon discussing the implications of working with hybrid forums. The results have been extraordinary, with most of the city of Constitución apparently engaged in an intense, constructive public debate, effectively shaping the plan in real-time.

Citizen participation

Araya’s ‘social team’ led the process, with experts and others in a supporting role, shaping and reshaping their proposals in response to the debates. (The experts in this case included two great Chilean designers, who we’ve had the pleasure of working with: the aforementioned Gutierrez, who I worked with at Arup, and who led Arup’s successful bid for our Low2No project: and Alejandro Aravena of ELEMENTAL, who we worked with in the Helsinki Design Lab studios, and whose social housing solution is one of our core strategic design case studies. You can more of ELEMENTAL’s work for Constitución on their site.)

Rather than plod through the whole story here, I’ll point people at the film ‘Mauchos’, which documents the story of Constitución and the earthquake. ‘Mauchos’ can be seen in full below.

Moving as that is, the short ‘Making Of’ movie is perhaps more relevant here, as it describes and demonstrates the participation model a little more, and is more a documentary of the project. (Araya described how they were keen to document this project differently, using narrative format: a report would not have done. At the end of the ‘Making Of’, you’ll see the town gathering to watch the movie, their movie. This is incredibly moving, but also illustrates how the documentary was another instrumental component of the project, further helping bind the community together through the project.) The version at Vimeo is without subtitles. In case you don’t speak Spanish, I’ve uploaded a version with the English subtitles (Dear Mauchos producers; I hope that’s OK.)

If you want a quick hit, scroll forward to around the 4’10″ mark, you’ll get a sense of the participation, including the debates, the reshaping of the proposals, and the voting on proposals that took place. Leave it running, and you’ll see the inevitable tensions, conflicts. But also the sense of a city whose people were rowing in the same direction.

It would be instructive to compare the Constitución case with the rebuilding work in Christchurch, New Zealand, which also suffered a devastating earthquake relatively recently. Some ex-colleagues have been involved in this too, and I was aware of a ‘crowdsourced ideas’ forum which rapidly emerged from the disaster, with some promise. However, recent conversations have indicated that the momentum may have slowed there, amidst a lack of clarity as to the way forward (I hasten to add that I don’t know this to be the case; feel free to clarify below). What might we learn from each case? Did the web-based facilitation of Christchurch’s Share An Idea not have the necessary physical counterpoint, for instance? Are the two different cultures at play sufficiently different, despite the similarity of conditions? I’m not close enough to either to judge, but it would be a great comparative case study, across the two cities (note to self…)

The story of Tironi et al’s work in the city of Calama is very different, in that it is not forged in the same conditions of crisis, but nonetheless it is a test of the same principles, the same model. Here, the urgency is drawn from economic conditions and a desire for improvement, rather than natural disaster, as well as a series of previously promised and never-delivered masterplans. Now, apparently, there is genuine motivation to transform what Araya describes as a highly functional, mining-oriented rough sort of town. Again, the project has placed citizen participation at the forefront, and again, the “hybrid forum” methodology is being deployed.

We talked about how you might create focus without a crisis – one of Finland’s problems, as with many (over)developed nations, is that our crises are generally of the slow, creeping variety (climate change, ageing population, emerging social issues) rather than the focus-pull of natural disaster. So how do we create the sense of urgency? We will have to create and deploy meaningful constraints to ‘box in’ the problem, and so the participation.

Rodrigo, Johanna and Kali

Equally, we also talked about cultural issues, looking at the Latin facility with ‘discursive public spaces’ such as piazzas (Mike Davies talks about this in Magical Urbanism, in the context of a transforming Los Angeles), something also afforded by the Mediterranean climate. Perhaps also, generalising wildly, a highly social culture? How will this work in different cultures (assuming each place now has numerous cultures within it at any one time)?

As Karoliina A. pointed out, some concerns over participation here in Finland (and elsewhere, I must say) rest on the perception that it slows down the development process. It is an often slow process; yet this is partly because of the stop-start method with which it is implemented (diagnose, design, propose, consult, re-diagnose, re-design, re-propose, re-consult, appeal, court case, re-propose, lose financing and so on), over long periods, with major leakage of information, focus and commitment each time the project pauses. Again, this means equivalent projects take years. Constitución indicates that pulling participation into the process not only gets more buy-in, and so less likelihood of complaints and blockages, as you’re “building the right thing” in the first place, but also a far quicker process. Again, the conditions that drove Constitución to this position are not ideally replicable, but the findings might be.

So leaving aside these ‘facile’ differences, across both Constitución and Calama we can see some patterns to the participation work.

  • Build a physical focal point. In Constitución, a simple, light wooden structure (‘PRES Open House’) was rapidly built in what had been the centre of town, acting as the focal point for the participation. This was where the project happened; this was where people could gather, discuss, see the plans. (Subtly, the design of the structure pointed at a new kind of building for the town too, using timber.) This physical focal point seems fundamentally important.
  • Use every form of communication to draw people in. They used social media to get the word out in both cities, although the levels of internet connection in Chile mean that it’s not a viable strategy for mass communication. Hence the footage of the loudhailer on the top of a car driven around town. With no infrastructure, the teams had to rely on basic, more accessible forms of communication (Aravena talks of ‘designing via SMS’, though you also see CAD in use. All tools are used).
  • Focus through compression. Araya says the team tried to increase the level of participation by ramping up the intensity of the process, working with the tight time window, rather than against it. Although it’s a stretch, one of the things we appreciate about Kickstarter is the smart use of time limits, building a kind of auction-like sense of focus. Public projects are different, but time constraints can clearly be used beneficially, on this evidence.
  • Build a rhythm. Rodrigo noted that these meetings became almost like a “weekly liturgy” for the community. It helped keep the pace up, and provided a clear framework of engagement for people (both citizens and experts alike.)
  • The “hybrid forum”. This is the heart of the proposition. Again, drawn from Latour, Callon et al, but actually put into practice here. Balancing the interests, attitudes and different modes of experts, politicians, business big and small, and citizens will take highly skilful facilitation. But for this approach to work, the hybrid forum was key to deliberately unsettling the role of expert, or of destabilising accepted, unquestioned hierarchies, but in a ‘safe’, collaborative environment.
  • Place social in control. Related to the above. Putting the participation element at the ‘top of the pyramid’ was a clear statement of priorities. It directly addressed the default asymmetry of power, with which experts and policymakers have traditionally traded, often with poor results. It also provides a clear framework for a public-private partnerships in which private finance and public responsibility can be aligned. (There are significant implications here for the traditional positioning of representative democracy, of course. Not necessarily fatal ones, but they do suggest a serious recalibration of the roles, skills and responsibilities of policy-makers, politicians, designers and engineers, and so on.)
  • Start with a proposal. This also seems key. We also talk about the value of getting to ‘the sketch’ as quickly as possible; the project teams in Constitución also started with a proposal, to “avoid the eternal diagnosis” as Araya put it. This then enables the ‘experts’ to be in the role of listening and re-shaping a proposal from the start in response to citizens. (crucially, not defending; “push back, but not block”),
  • Confront things. Watch the video and observe the confrontations. It is vital, in terms of the community learning and engaging together, that issues are confronted head on, in public. Rodrigo relishes these situations; for the sheer passion – as it indicates things matter – but also because this is a form of healing and binding. (Araya’s Phd was actually conducted in the Balkans and concerned the fall of Milosevic and the various violent or awkward transitions at play there. He may have the right mindset for this game.)

There are dozens of other small points we can draw from these examples; it’s such rich terrain.

Karo and Rodrigo

We also talked about how to maintain this kind of participation. Having built a seemingly successful hybrid forum for collective decision-making in the town, it would be a shame to see the level of civic engagement and ownership subside completely, as – inevitably, hopefully – the crisis condition dissipates. Rodrigo noted that this was all work in progress, but the intriguing idea remains – how do you form a new kind of governance that retains this kind of participation? Accepting that the momentum must subside, how you ensure you have ongoing civic engagement in decision-making in this meaningful way? And how, given the fact that actual, physical change happens slowly – as a resident notes in the film, it will take over a decade for the parks to ‘grow back’ – how do you manage expectations, deal with arising issues, and put in place the next series of moves? How do we conceive of these new roles for policymakers, politicians, experts, businesses and citizens to create cultures of decision-making that are risk-taking and responsible, forward-looking and pragmatic, holistic and nimble?

These are obviously broader questions — in terms of platforms, frameworks, systems and cultures, and at the heart of “designs” for 21st century governance — but the transferable elements of these inspiring projects might well contain some of the seeds we’re all looking for.

More information on the various projects emerging at Constitución can be found here.

 Why do I blog this?

The emphasis on seeing participation as a way of getting things done, as opposed to a blockage to getting things done, drives the core of Brickstarter. Also fundamental is a more nuanced notion of governance, including multiple layers of connected decision-making—small pieces loosely joined—as opposed to a blunt idea of essentially two layers of state and municipality. There is a new form of democratic governance hinted at here, and we’re engaging with that dark matter. Equally, there are numerous details of the practice of participation here, such as starting with a sketch, the hybrid forum, the intensity of focus through time constraints, the emphasis on physical debate and space, and so on. Finally, though, this core idea of inverting the notion of engagement, orienting towards participation as the organising principle (“reversing the polarity“), is key to Brickstarter; that the involvement of citizens in everyday decision-making about their environment is likely to result in outcomes that are more inclusive, holistic, faster, scalable, and better, as they are decisions “owned” by the citizens. In other words, sustainable. Many thanks to Rodrigo for his time and insights.


Dan Hill

Posted by
Dan Hill

A curiosity of a couple of Greek city-states

“Democracy was a curiosity of a couple of Greek city-states where the decision-making polity could turn out in one place all together. It only became a generally workable system, at population-scale, after print. So my conclusion is that when communications tools lead to radical increases in the number of producers of media (not just the number of consumers, as radio and TV did), the result is more responsive government.”

From a live webchat with Clay Shirky, for The Guardian, earlier this evening.

Why do I blog this?

Interesting to note Clay positions the roots of democracy in a tightly-bounded geographical space—Brickstarter is testing this idea of how “communications tools” whose scale often ‘tends to global’ can also pull focus on a particular place, for a particular community. And in doing so, we potentially have a richer, more diverse, set of loosely-joined decision-making layers within a democratic system, rather than just the rather blunt ‘National’ and ‘Local’ (thoughts also triggered by a conversation with Timo Hämäläinen this morning.) So more engagement, yes, but at a greater variety of scales too.

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Dan Hill

Posted by
Dan Hill

Interview with +Pool

Screen Shot 2012-04-19 at 12.28.34 PM

Archie (middle) and Dong-Ping (right). Source: pluspool.org

On a sunny Manhattan morning I met Archie Lee Coates IV and Dong-Ping Wong to discuss +Pool, their attempt to crowdfund a public pool in the East River that we’ve previously discussed on this site.

Two years into the project, Archie and Dong-Ping are still energized by the work on a daily basis. Archie describes this particular mode of self-initiated project creation, promotion, and development as a kind of “unknown darkness” that they are exploring together. As the team negotiate with public officials, discuss business models, and wade through legal questions, they are learning as they go how to navigate the dark matter. Although the team are artists and architects, in conversation one would be forgiven for mistaking them for startup entrepreneurs.

Source: pluspool.org

Source: pluspool.org

I was keen to meet the +Pool team because it’s the first example of a capital project that we could find evidence of on Kickstarter. As Archie and Dong-Ping tell it, the +Pool would have been “almost impossible to imagine” without a platform like Kickstarter. After introducing the concept to the world during the summer of 2010, and the ensuing media buzz, the team was able to attract the attention and pro-bono effort of engineering giant Arup. This collaboration allowed them to complete a feasibility study, but getting through technical testing that required building mockups was beyond the limits of their ability to self-fund. The team also needed to offset their operating costs to be able to continue working on the project. That’s where the Kickstarter campaign came in.

The most visible result of the campaign is the $41,000 raised in 30 days, but the good will and expression of public support are also important outcomes. The team cite a new willingness from public officials and potential corporate sponsors to discuss the project after their Kickstarter deadline ended and the momentum of the public was visualized.

As testing progresses positively, further steps include making decisions about the business model and fundraising for the next big milestone, which will be the development of final design and engineering that is ready for municipal permitting. The team’s positive experiences with Kickstarter have been instrumental to getting them this far, but the work left to be done will require funding that is an order of magnitude greater than what they’ve already raised.

Depending on how the team decide to move forward, the project might begin to look and act more like a traditional nonprofit, or for that matter a profitable company. Regardless of the business model that they choose, it’s evident that the initial use of self-funding and Kickstarter allowed the team to bootstrap itself to a point of fragile but optimistic accomplishment, giving them access to a category of public and private entities that otherwise could have easily required months or years of continual effort through traditional business development and lobbying tactics. As we develop the Brickstarter platform we will need to address this ‘uncanny valley’ of funding that exists between the initial concept development and investment into the actual capital project. In the meantime, we’re happy to be able to learn from others, like the +Pool, who have waded into these waters first.

Here’s what we learned from the team:

  • Don’t start from scratch if you can help it: By the time the +Pool was posted to Kickstarter they had already launched the concept in public a year earlier and attracted support from media, citizens, and companies that offered pro-bono work to develop the ideas. This made the proposal more believable and enabled the team to be specific about what they needed to do as next steps and how much it would cost.
  • Video helps the pitch, but great video is better: To make the most effective pitch possible, the +Pool team invested a bit of their own money into a video describing the project. Unable to afford market rates for the video production, they offered a small percentage of the Kickstarter proceeds to the videographer, effectively giving away a stake in the campaign so that everyone’s interests were aligned towards producing the best video possible.
  • Timing matters: To capture the broadest support for the project, the team decided to delay their fundraising drive until summer time when the hot weather would more easily encourage people to be excited about a pool.
  • Managing public expectations: In all of their promotional material the team are very clear that the funds are going towards technical mockups. There’s still a long way to go between proving the idea will work and actually building the thing, so it’s important to share this information in an open and clear manner. Doing otherwise will risk damaging the initial goodwill towards the project.
  • Communications infrastructure is important: Beyond the fundraising, Kickstarter is also useful for communicating with the community of funders. The project page does not replace the need for a project website (and the +Pool has a great one) but its updates and mail features are functional and useful for staying in touch with funders. It remains an open question how long the attention span of funders will be.
  • Manage team expectations too: +Pool were in contact with Kickstarter before their campaign and this exchange was useful for the team to learn about what works and what doesn’t on the platform. Although this might have been possible only because the site was still young and not flooded with as many projects as it is today, it brings up the fact that there is an important and active role for the administrators of a platform not only for technical issues but also to establish and transmit the desired culture of the community.
  • Be in it for the long haul: a capital project is a big effort. The flurry of excitement afforded by a site like Kickstarter can be energizing, but it’s only the beginning of something that will probably last multiple years.

Why do I blog this?

Of the things that Brickstater will have to do, a big one is helping make space for teams to nurture ideas into proposals that are perceived as serious by funding sources and authorities. This will inevitably involve some mix of money, capabilities/services, and access to relevant groups (especially in city government) . +Pool’s thoughts are useful for their insight into the experience of a team who is trying to develop a project and how a platform can support that team as best as possible.



Posted by
Bryan Boyer

Conversation with Marcus Westbury (Renew Newcastle, Renew Australia etc.)

Renew Newcastle as diagram

Marcus Westbury started Renew Newcastle, which was one of the (many) starting points for Brickstarter – you can read more about it here, and here, and here, and here, and here.

We won’t go into it in detail here, save to say that it is an inspiring example of light-touch social infrastructure and governance, with purpose. It has the same kind of zero-cost, social-media-enabled organisation familiar to Ravintolapäivä and a thousand other community-led initiatives. Yet this smartly enables community-led regeneration of urban space, initially transforming Newcastle city centre, essentially via manipulating ‘dark matter’ rather than expensive, time-consuming and awkward urban planning-led capital projects. In this case the dark matter was not institutional, but commercial: a set of temporary licenses, rather than leases, that enabled occupation of long-empty spaces. Renew works as a form of broker of trust, collecting together previously disparate proposals and giving a sole contact point for land- and building-owners. As a replicable model, it has spread to other cities in Australia, and now enabled the ‘Renew Australia’ project.

“Renew Australia is a new national social enterprise designed to catalyse community renewal, economic development, the arts and creative industries across Australia. It works with communities and property owners to take otherwise empty shops, offices, commercial and public buildings and make them available to incubate short term use by artists, creative projects and community initiatives.”

I’ve known Marcus a few years now, and worked closely with him on The Edge in Brisbane, an extensive retrofit of an Arts Queensland building on the riverbank, creating a new “digital culture centre” for the state. There, we developed some of his ideas around ‘operating systems’ for buildings and spaces, working with metaphors of a space’s hardware (its built fabric), its software (what you can do with it), and the applications that can run on it (in Renew’s case, switching from an uninstalled department_store.app to installed photographers_studio.app, for example, on the same ‘hardware’.)

I took the opportunity of being in Melbourne recently to catch up with Marcus and talk about Renew, Brickstarter and more besides, at a coffee shop in Brunswick, Melbourne, where Renew Australia is based. Here are some of the key points from our conversation, trying to capture aspects of why Renew has been so successful:

  • Hold off the “yes/no” decision about a project and a space as long as possible. Leave it open, to enable it to be shaped. This is also a way of avoiding the easy polarisation of the argument; enabling it to be shaped, rather than rejected. Sometimes a project proposal isn’t right for one space, but a different one; or at a different time. Renew does reject projects but most of what isn’t done is defined by the practicalities. It tries to remain open ended about what it’s possible to do as opportunities evolve and spaces become available.
  • Work at the smallest scale. Try to avoid the complexity involved in either a) scale, or b) permanence.
  • Do things that can be undone. The easier to undo the better, in a way, as this – perhaps ironically – enables things to be done. Something permanent – and our example of wind turbines is permanent enough – is going to be difficult to get up because it’s not easy to undo. This will be considerably trickier at larger scale, or more permanence – a wind turbine for instance – though not impossible to frame those things in this light.
  • Avoid the ‘dark matter (not his phrase, but he recognises the idea). He noted that they’ve generated 80-ish projects but only managed one development application (DA). Projects that can avoid a DA can happen more easily, in other words. They’ve tried to engage formal planning processes and institutions a few times – once taking advantage of someone leaving state government, in order to find some better ways to shape proposals! Renew’s role is to help lobby for change, in terms of making processes and positions more user-centred, but it would direct too much energy away from enabling projects to focus on reshaping dark matter directly.
  • “The hack versus the rewrite” is how Marcus succinctly described this approach.
  • Work as ‘process shepherds’. They often work with project proponents to help them understand what processes they might be triggering. Then they can choose to re-shape and avoid them, or engage with the processes directly, helping the project phrase things appropriately. This will be particularly valuable, given how opaque and ‘un-user-centred’ institutional processes tend to be. They describe ‘what you need to know’. They look to “template and standardise” some of the core processes here.
  • Renew looks for things they don’t have to ask permission for. This means peering into the dark matter and looking for gaps; projects that don’t trigger formal processes. Not loopholes as such; just the spaces left by the institution. In this respect, the ‘shape’ of Renew is the inverse of the institutional space. It is both an informal interface (civic API) onto institutional processes and a form of shadow space working around it. (I hastily scribbled the diagram above, as we were talking.)
  • They sometimes use pro bono lawyers, engineers and other consultants to help with the process shepherding.
  • So this is both identifying the gaps but also managing them.
  • Recognise the particular ‘organic dynamics’ of projects, in comparison to the formal processes/positions of institutions. They work in the gap between the latter, but understand how projects happen.
  • In working with the low cost and low complexity, Renew helps to reduce the city to a scale you can do something about. Finding this optimum scale is key (thought: does that scale vary in different cities?). In Australia, the small scale is more capable of being transformed. Planning is seen to be about ‘big things’ (also, slow, cumbersome) and ‘big’ is about a form/scale of capital that shifts it beyond a community, in most cases.
  • Sees no reason why it wouldn’t work in rural/exurban environments as well as urban. Dynamics are different, but core issues are similar.

Many thanks to Marcus for his time! More to follow here, no doubt.

Why do I blog this?

Renew is one of the more inspiring precursors to Brickstarter, indicating how to use light-touch social media (and a smattering of free wi-fi) allied to an understanding of projects and communities, processes and institutions, in order to transform space, culture and commerce through community-led initiatives. Their work as ‘process shepherds’ indicates the needs of project proponents to navigate ‘dark matter’, including using pro bono expertise where necessary. It also indicates the value of a replicable model, based around a soft infrastructure of processes, approaches, culture and positions, predicated on understanding how projects happen – and how institutions can often inadvertently mitigate against this (and so actually working as a trusted broker in-between these positions). They also indicate the value in matching scale and complexity to opportunity, and how you can get things done through “the hack” rather than “the rewrite”.


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Dan Hill

Building with more than money

Last time we looked at the +Pool to begin dissecting what exactly crowdfunding is actually paying for when we see capital projects appearing on Kickstarter. In that case, the funding was directed at a feasibility study and mockup, but Spacehive is a site dedicated to crowdfunding capital investments—community centers, gardens, bits of infrastructure, etc. As they put it, Spacehive is a way to “transform where you live.”

Recently a community center in a village of four thousand people raised almost 800,000 pounds on the site. But they had two important sources of help.



Image source: Spacehive.com

The first was £772,000 already in the bank, according to the Guardian. Unlike Kickstarter, Spacehive allows projects to book donor contributions from outside the system and displays them prominently on the project page. This is an important thing to point out from a product design perspective, as it recognizes the specific nature of the kinds of community projects that Spacehive is built to handle. Gadgets and gizmos on one of the consumer oriented crowdfunding websites are unlikely candidates for public or charity monies, but community projects will often be eligible for this sort of support and there are positive effects to highlighting it.

According to the project’s page, Glyncoch Community Regeneration Ltd had raised 94% of their funding before launching the crowdfunding campaign to secure the last bits (nb 6% of £791k is £47k, so I’m not sure where the Guardian’s £28k figure came from). This follows a well-worn fundraising path: collect some big donations from institutions and then go to the community for the remainders.

It begs the question whether it would be possible to invert that model and use the crowdfunding as part of the due diligence process. Institutional funders often spend quite a lot of time vetting proposals, and anything that can lower these costs (in time and euros) frees up more money and manpower to flow through to the projects themselves. Perhaps this explains why NESTA, the British equivalent of Sitra, have funded Buzzbnk and Peoplefund.it. A well-conceived platform should lower the cost of both discovery and due diligence.

Executed without any online platforms, New York’s High Line managed to create a virtuous cycle of community and institutional funding that snowballed into successive waves of support, and eventually accomplishment, through the use of—and well-executed publicity around—key, tangible milestones such as studies, council resolutions, competitions, and exhibitions. Another group are now using Kickstarter to bootstrap the Low Line. We will watch closely to see if they are able to parlay an impressive response from the community into support from from institutions that is commensurate with the ambition and investment required by the project.

In this respect, Spacehive is missing a trick by not exposing the number of crowdfunders who have contributed to a project. A quick comparison of the information design of this page on Spacehive and this one on Kickstarter shows that the latter celebrates the number of funders, the total contributed, and the remaining time to get in on the project. You can almost feel the size of the crowd and how excited they are by glancing at these numbers. There’s a sense of scale and velocity. Spacehive is comparatively opaque, static.


Screenshots from Spacehive (left) and Kickstarter (right) highlighting how the two sites use metrics to demonstrate support.

And that’s unfortunate because the second thing that Glyncoch had going for them was the support of Stephen Fry and his 4 million Twitter followers. Again citing the Guardian, Fry publicized the project which led to a flood of support from as far away as New Zealand (where he lives). So here’s another way to escape the dilemma of the short tail that I mentioned in the +Pool post: get a celebrity on your side. Another classic fundraising technique, but an easy one to replicate.

When we think about how to take these ideas to scale, exceptional contributions such as a celebrity’s support on Twitter should be considered nice to have, but are not useful as the only path to success. In the absence of the celebrity attention, how do local projects build and maintain support? We suspect that one aspect is learning how to pitch—and having tools that teach and gently encourage good pitches.

Spacehive structures the project presentation by asking people to respond to a series of important prompts such as “what we’ll do,” why it’s a great idea,” and “how we’ll get it done”. They also ask proposals to display a breakdown of their budget, which is a useful bit of transparency (though unfortunately you cannot link to the page). It’s good for covering the basics, but it’s not quite honed into a pitch yet. More on this in a future post, as it will be something we need to dedicate attention to in the product design of Brickstarter.

It’s great to see that Spacehive enables people to contribute value to a project in multiple forms. One can donate money, but they can also volunteer time. This “shared value” approach is important, but again the visibility is missing. Could the volunteer hours be included somehow in the overall presentation of the site to give a feeling of the financial and social capital that has been motivated?

Why do I blog this?

As we develop Brickstarter we’re constantly balancing two things: the concept and the execution. We know that a perfect platform which is implemented poorly is not going to get used very much, so we want to learn the good and the bad of existing platforms. As we explore the variety of existing on and offline tools, methods, and processes that people are using to crowdsource, develop, and fund projects we are keen to observe the strategic objectives as well as the tiny little details that make it tick. So yes, we alternate between fuzzy issues like trust and dark matter on one hand, and the specifics of product and process design on the other. It will converge!

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Bryan Boyer

Pools are Expensive (thoughts about the long tail and crowdfunding)

As the interest in crowdfunding for local projects continues to grow, we’re digging into the nitty gritty of what this actually implies. What is really being funded and what’s the extent of the community participating?

The reality of a capital project such as a building or bit of infrastructure is that it’s not going to be very mobile, so it’s going to pull most of its funding from a relatively local area. Some cities have the luxury of considering the globe, to an extent, their ‘local area’ but these are exceptional. Yet communities are hungry for ways to get their initiatives off the ground, and this shows when looking at the roster of projects on Kickstarter and other, similar sites. How realistic is it outside of global hub cities?

The Renew Newcastle project (and now Renew Australia too) has been doing valuable work in unlocking dark matter to bring new life to disused sites. Others, such as NESTA’s Neighborhood Challenge, put the focus on new services and leave the community to self-organize the appropriate location.

At this point in time, Brickstarter is primarily concerned with activities that are location dependent. A wind turbine is either here or there, and where it gets installed will effect its productivity. The site chosen for a garden effects its popularity, where a bench gets installed determines its usefulness, and so forth. As we know all too well from NIMBYism, where can be a deciding factor—for good or bad.

Let’s examine an example to test the limits of current crowd-funding approaches for capital projects.


Source: +Pool Kickstarter page

The +Pool project was an early success on Kickstarter, utilizing for the first time (to the best of my knowledge) the site to raise money for a capital project. It’s an ingenious idea that is appealingly presented by a group of local designers and artists and the results of the funding campaign are testament to that. They asked for $25,000 on Kickstarter and received $41,647 and nearly 25,000 thumbs up on Facebook.


Source: +Pool Kickstarter page

What are those funders funding?

They were not funding a pool, but a test of part of the filtration system. In effect, a proof of concept that takes the feasibility study one step further. Before launching their Kickstarter campaign, the +Pool team was able to secure the help of global engineering firm Arup. With donated efforts over the course of five months, Arup produced a feasibility report for +Pool that ends on a positive note. As Craig Covil, Principal at Arup, notes in the video:

“Is it really going to happen? Yes of course it will happen, but we need to get behind it. We all need to get behind it… Technically, but also from the government side with permits and approvals.”

Whereas contributors to the Glif iPhone accessory, another popular Kickstarter project, were buying a definite thing, +Pool contributors are buying into a contingent thing, an idea that may not materialize in the end. A great idea but still just a potential project, with all of the fragility that entails.


Filtration system testing funded by Kickstarter backers. Source: +Pool Kickstarter page

This bears a bit of attention. The team are very forthright on their Kickstarter pitch video and all supporting documents, so I do not want to imply any attempt to mislead the public in their efforts. Rather, I’m dwelling on this because it gets to the significant scale of most capital projects. Funding a proof of concept for the +Pool may cost around $50,000, but building the pool itself could cost five million or more (nb: there does not seem to be an estimate for total cost yet).

Would a project with such localized appeal as a pool in Brooklyn, USA be able to attract interest from enough people that a modest donation from each would be able fund the project? And what happens when the project runs over budget, as many capital projects do? Are donors obligated to chip in for overages?

New York City is probably amongst a handful of places in the world where a local project could garner support from residents outside of the immediate area. In that sense, the specific location of the +Pool helps out and sure enough Berlin, Chicago, San Francisco, Amsterdam, and many other cities are represented on the backers list. Because of its connectivity, a place like NYC has a long tail to draw funding from. The crowd is more crowded, as it were.

What about a project in Pori, Finland with a population of 83,000? It’s a lovely place, but doesn’t have the connectivity or reach that a global hub does, nor the population. In that sense, crowd funding for a small or medium sized town is hindered by two factors: it’s relatively small population size and its lower level of global connectivity. The Long tail applies to media and ephemeral goods, such as the popularity of a musician, but it does not map so easily to physical sites. Tails in small towns never grow quite as long as those in big cities. Perhaps this explains NYC’s rodents!

Why do I blog this?

As we develop the Brickstarter concept we will have to be careful to avoid the current hype around crowdfunding. It’s powerful, but does have limits. This is the first in what will be a series of posts analyzing the use of crowdfunding and crowdsourcing websites, as well as offline tools to collect and realize the desires of a community.



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Dark matter

Fritz Zwicky

Physicist Fritz Zwicky coined the term “missing mass” for what we would now describe as dark matter.

The answer to unlocking a new experience, product or service is sometimes buried deep within organisational culture, regulatory or policy environment.

The Brickstarter project is predicated on explicitly recognising that this ‘dark matter’ is part of the design challenge. (This is part of a strategic design approach.)

We draw the term ‘dark matter’ from Dutch architectural historian and theorist Wouter Vanstiphout’s memorable phrase:

“If you really want to change the city, or want a real struggle, a real fight, then it would require re-engaging with things like public plan- ning for example, or re-engaging with government, or re-engaging with a large-scale institutionalised developers. I think that’s where the real struggles lie, that we re-engage with these structures and these institu- tions, this horribly complex ‘dark matter.’ That’s where it becomes really interesting.” (Vanstiphout, interview with Rory Hyde, 2010)

Wouter’s notion of dark matter suggests organisations, culture, and the structural relationships that bind them together as a form of material, almost. Usefully, it gives a name to something otherwise amorphous, nebulous yet fundamental.

Dark matter is a choice phrase. The concept is drawn from theoretical physics, wherein dark matter is believed to constitute approximately 83% of the matter in the universe, yet is virtually imperceptible. It neither emits nor scatters light, or other electromagnetic radiation. It is believed to be fundamentally important in the cosmos—we simply cannot be without it—and yet there is essentially no direct evidence of its existence, and little understanding of its nature.

The only way that dark matter can be perceived is by implication, through its effect on other things (essentially, its gravitational effects on more easily detectable matter.) With a product, service or artefact, the user is rarely aware of the organisational context that produced it, yet the outcome is directly affected by it. Dark matter is the substrate that produces. A particular BMW car is an outcome of the company’s corporate culture, the legislative frameworks it works within, business models it creates, the patent portfolio that protects, the wider cultural habits it senses and shapes, the trade relationships, logistics and supply networks that resource it, the particular design philosophies that underpin its performance and possibilities, the path dependencies in the history of northern Europe, and so on.

This is all dark matter; the car is the matter it produces.

Similarly, the city we experience is, to some extent, a product of a city council’s culture and behaviour, legislation and operational modes, its previous history and future strategy, and so on. The ability for a community to make their own decisions is supported or inhibited by this wider framework of ‘dark matter’, based on the municipality they happen to be situated within as well as the characteristics of the local culture.

Thus, the relationship between dark matter and more easily detectable matter is a useful metaphor for the relationship between communities, organisations and culture and the systems they produce. This “missing mass” of dark matter is the key to unlocking a better solution, a solution that sticks at the initial contact point, and then ripples out to produce systemic change.

It is organisational culture, policy environments, market mechanisms, legislation, finance models and other incentives, governance structures, tradition and habits, local culture and national identity, the habitats, situations and events that decisions are produced within. This may well be the core mass of the architecture of society, and if we want to shift the way society functions systemically, a facility with dark matter must be part of our toolkit.

Dark matter surrounds the various more easily perceptible outcomes that we might produce — the observable physical matter of a neighbourhood block, a street food cart, a mobile phone, a wind turbine. It is what enables these things to become systemic, to become normative. It is the material that absorbs or rejects wider change.

Without addressing dark matter – and without attempting to reshape it – we are simply producing interventions or installations that attempt to skirt around the system. This is a valid tactic, but not much of a strategy. A strategy would focus on delivering the intervention whilst also enabling the positive energy it creates to be easily drawn into the system, to shape it over time.

This is a balancing act, as too much time spent immersed in dark matter can lead to nothing being produced, and we believe that change is enabled through prototyping, through making, through demonstrating. Traditional consultancy tends to only deal with ‘dark matter’ exclusively, rather then synthetically produce an alternative or tangible iteration, and so its effects are limited as a result.

Brickstarter is trying to produce something tangible – a physical:digital system, based around real-life case studies – but the Brickstarter project also wants to engage with the dark matter around it, taking advantages of Sitra’s unique position as a public body, such that our prototyped cultures of decision-making might be positively absorbed into wider systems of governance, and so ripple out across Finnish society and beyond.

Again, a delicate balancing act.

Why do I blog this?

This project involves thinking about decision-making in a different way, and one way to approach this is to think about the vocabulary we use. A new vocabulary enables new conversations, and new opportunities for conversations. We believe frequent and intense dialogue is crucial to exploratory work like this; to mix metaphors, we have no map, and so we need to constantly take readings and calibrate our trajectories. Dark matter is a useful shorthand for all of the ‘stuff’ described above. Others might call this “organisational change”, or “transformation” work, but neither of these quite capture the essence of what we’re talking about, perhaps. We see it as important because many of the innovations in this area — genuine citizen participation, bottom-up planning, crowdsourced/funded ventures etc. — are positioned as alternatives to the formal systems of governance they sit within; they are couched as radical disruptions, with little attempt to connect constructively to governance systems. We hope to position our work in the fertile terrain between institutions, businesses and citizens, and engage properly with all of them. This means dark matter work as well as product development work.

(Parts of the text above are adapted from ‘Trojan Horses and Dark Matter: A strategic design vocabulary’, by Dan Hill, Strelka Press)


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Field trip: Högsåra, Finland

Högsåra wind turbines

If you look very very closely at the photo above, you’ll see a string of windmills on the horizon, set against the perfect blue sky. This is Högsåra, an island that forms a small part of the archipelago that stretches from Hanko to Turku in south-western Finland. There are thousands of islands punctuating this beautiful landscape – approx. 180,000 off the coast of Finland, apparently – and today we were sliding across the ice and snow on a couple of them: Kasnas and Rosala, and getting close to Högsåra.

Here’s how you get there and back:

The Brickstarter team (me, Bryan, Kali, and Nina the interpreter, who was translating between three languages simultaneously: English, Swedish and Finnish!) is here to better understand the local decision-making cultures and stories – to explore how these wind turbines got up, including the resistance to them as well as those in favour. But our focus isn’t wind power per se; we’re looking at this case as it helps frame the wider debates about how to transition Finland to a more sustainable ‘bio-economy’, as our colleagues in Sitra’s Maamerkit (‘Landmarks’) programme call it.

So we’re interested in how communities might balance the desires of individuals with the desires of the wider community, the role of authorities and institutions as well as communities and industry, how we might reorient elements of bureaucracy such that they are more ‘user-centred’, how to use the powerful enablers of new communications platforms, alllied to the increased appetite for local engagement in decision-making, and so on. All of these come to play in stories like Högsåra’s.

We’ve started talking to several of the key protoganists around thes community. While we were there, we interviewed a local journalist and a local politician, and later we spoke to one of the residents on Högsåra who helped drive the wind turbines project forward, as well as a political scientist at the University of Helsinki, who organises a regular forum for the archipelago’s residents as well as editing the community newspaper.

The communities here are largely Swedish-speaking. Traditionally a fishing community – as the journalist pointed out, this area has used wind as a resource for centuries – the polluted Baltic and changing employment patterns mean that the permanent residents here are moving into service industries, like tourism. It’s a lightly-populated area, dispersed across the islands, overlaid with a large transient population of Finns and others coming to stay in their cottages (mökki, in Finnish), traditionally in the summer months.

This last point is key, as opposition to the wind turbines can usually be located in the mökki-dwellers, whereas support for the turbines is strongest amongst the permanent residents. This is a particularly interesting wrinkle in this culture of decision-making, highlighting the delicate balances and compromises between individual and community, settlement and nature, transient and permanent, tradition and progress, economy and resilience.

We’ll be reporting more from Högsåra, and a similar (though also different) case at Hamina, in eastern Finland.

Why do I blog this?

Developments like wind farms, which can be contentious for some, place these decision-making cultures under a microscope. They necessitate long-term decisions, with short-term investment producing return later, and force a series of agreements about what a finite resource (in this case, land, or real estate) should be used for. It concerns qualitative issues, such as aesthetics and notions of ‘natural environment’, as well as quantitative. There are different cultures at play here, as Swedish-speaking communities within Finland. And these villages are also part of the proposed municipality amalgamation in Finland, which will also affect local cultures of decision-making.

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Field Trip: Hamina, Finland

Recently we traveled to Hamina to see their wind farm, and to find out how it got built.


Located 1.5 hours east of Helsinki, Hamina used to have two industries: a port and the paper mill but the later closed down in 2008. Luckily for them, the mill premises found a new tenant who values cheap energy and the location’s essentially limitless supply of cool Baltic water: Google purchased the property in 2009 and set up a data centre shortly thereafter.

Although the Google story is interesting, it’s not the core of why we went to Hamina. We were there to learn about the way that the city has successfully fostered green energy, both as an energy source and as an industry. Early indicators point to Hamina as a positive example of how a community de-industralizes itself with as little structural pain as possible.




Hamina, together with neighboring town Kotka, paid attention to larger structural changes in Finland’s economy and reacted decisively to find a new way forward. Google’s data centre was one positive outcome, and the other is WinWind who manufacture wind turbines. In parallel with these new developments in the local economy, Hamina’s municipally owned energy company courageously set up a modest wind farm.

We wanted to understand how this happened. How does a community make decisions about its future? Or in other terms: how do communities make shared decisions from a shared value perspective?

Shared decisions are those which are bigger than any one person. Things like building a new road or rail, cordoning off a nature reserve, or passing a law. And shared value is measured in financial as well as social and ecological capital. Although the term is borrowed most recently from Michael Porter, the basic concept is by now generic—you might even argue that figuring out shared value is the challenge which underlays all others at the moment.


Our trip to Hamina was the first bit of research into this. How did they get the idea to build a wind farm? And how did it get negotiated in real space, with real euros, real local politics, and real personal opinions? How did Hamina decide to open its port area to new industries? How did Hamina propose for itself a new future?

With this as our first field trip, some basic details floated to the top in our various conversations. During the planning process for the turbines the stakeholders had to negotiate between areas zoned for permanent residential use and those zoned for mökki (summer cottage) use. We learned that the areas which are reserved for summer cottages actually have stricter noise standards than those used year-round.

In the coming weeks and months we’ll be visiting other communities that have made—or failed to make—shared decisions as we try to better understand how we might help these processes flow more easily and productively.

Why do I blog this?

Often one of the habits in doing case study research is to focus on the decisive actions that were taken to deliver success—or that led to failure. But that’s only half the story. Just as important as the things that were done on purpose are all of the contextual and contingent factors that made a positive outcome more or less likely. In the cae of Hamina, for instance, the confluence of a deep port, empty industrial buildings, and well-timed regional strategy work positioned the city to act quickly when the Google opportunity came up. In other cases we’ll be keeping a close idea at what these cities, town, and regions can do to manufacture luck.


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