Note: This post is part of a series presenting the contents of our Brickstarter exhibition at the inaugural Istanbul Design Biennial, October 13-December 12th.
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Last year it was kicking off everywhere. Upheavals in Tahrir Square, Zuccotti Park, Croydon, Athens, Moscow, and elsewhere demonstrate that citizens are actively engaged in decision-making in their cities, whether institutions have formal channels for them or not.
But votes of no confidence do not always turn violent. More constructive urban activism is also on the upswing. Working below institutional radar, social media and crowdfunding can be used to build parts of the city, find new uses for old spaces, and develop urban services, all in new ways.
A crop of emerging platforms potentially enables the exploits of urban activists—today’s equivalents of the heroics that produced New York’s High Line, London’s Coin Street, or Renew Newcastle in Australia—to be shared, copied, translated and scaled. In doing so, they suggest a new kind of legible engagement in decision-making, even though this currently resides on the fringes, utilised only by a different 1%.
Yet do they exist simply because our municipal institutions are still in a 19th century mode, ill-equipped for 21st century conversations? Are city governments missing out on the available resources of a population that demands to be engaged with, not just served? Is it simply the outmoded practice of “consultation” itself that generates NIMBY responses? Will these new platforms necessarily enable a more sustainable, democratic decision-making, recreating the city as a public good?