From the very start, the response to Brickstarter has been incredible. We knew as soon as we started writing (and seeing your anxious inquiries about our launch date) that we had hit a nerve. The momentum behind crowdfunding in contemporary culture and the equally great frustration with the opacity of the way our cities evolve proved to be two ideas that resonate together.
As we’ve tried to underscore through successive updates to this website, Sitra is making a prototype but we are not building Brickstarter, and certainly not as a globally available service. Flowing from Sitra’s role in Finland, we are attempting to build just enough to prove the viability of the idea, and then let others take over. Brickstarter is a provocation.
We talk about it as if it already exists because we are sure that it will in a few years time through the efforts of Neighborland, IOBY, Joukkoenkeli, Kickstarter, and others who are nibbling on this problem from different angles. We’ve used the existing work on crowdfunding and crowdsourcing to highlight some of real challenges that will have to be addressed as these approaches are applied to the built environment.
Thirteen months into this effort we are at an inflection point. Shortly we will begin an experiment with the city of Kotka in eastern Finland. Simultaneously we will publish a book that summarizes our research and prototyping with Brickstarter. It should be available in May via this website as a free PDF as well as a physical copy, though we don’t know how distribution is going to work just yet. The book describes the role of technology and cultures of decision-making to enable YIMBY over NIMBY. We hope it to be useful to anyone who is building a platform to support shared decisions about shared spaces and/or anyone who considers themselves a civic entrepreneur.
More about the book as it develops, but the content is a mix of pieces from this website (updated, refined, revisited) and new essays. We’re lucky to have Rory Hyde as our editor. Here’s what it looks like right now:
We knew when we got into this that it was going to be a long play. Since we started this Brickstarter.org site we’ve had countless meetings with three cities in Finland, searching for a partner to take the ideas forward into action. Sitra has a specific proposal for how to prototype a new culture of decision-making, and we even have money to facilitate the experiment, but our unique value-add is the ability to work with government, so unless we’re able to realize that promise it doesn’t make sense for Sitra to risk stepping on the toes of market players already beginning to thrive in the crowdfunding/crowdsourcing space. We don’t want to build a platform to support just bottom-up developments anymore than we want to build one that works only top-down. Rather, Brickstarter has traced out the opportunity for an intermediary that sits between these two perspectives, and accomplishing that vision requires having a strong relationship with both sides.
Our discussions continue at the slow pace of municipal negotiations. This is the reality of working with cities today (again, we speak to the situation in Finland but your experiences may vary), and it is one of the reasons that we found so few platforms engaging directly with decision-making. Partly it’s a question of business model. The small offices working at the bleeding edge of technology are rarely able to dedicate enough time an attention to landing a municipal client. Meanwhile, cities are in many cases still struggling to find their footing when it comes to procurement of websites and services, often receiving suboptimal results from large (and expensive) consultancies.
IT consultancies are still providing the bulk of services here because, one imagines the logic going, websites involve information technology. While true, what we’ve see in the past decade is the nature of the web shift from being something additional to being core—from a nice to have to need to have. The web is no longer “technology” as such, it’s merely a channel of communication with its own norms, tropes, and culture. It also happens to be the default channel for many users in the global north. Whereas a decade ago we may have been happy to find our shopping, the food we eat, or the services that a city provides on the internet, today we expect them all to be there (and more).
As we’ve observed Helsinki and others attempt to use the web to source input from its citizens, we’ve seen the city struggle to get good results from its procurement process. Instead, forms like the one pictured here are the result. We can do better.
During the first half of this year Sitra will be working with the city of Kotka in eastern Finland to prototype some of the ideas that came out of Brickstarter. What we build is going to look much different than the prototype. In that sense, the work we’ve done is part of an iterative approach. The ideas have evolved, will continue to evolve, and so too will the expression of those ideas. The experiment in Kotka will involve technology, but it will also be a very human effort. Brickstarter has always been about decision-making, and that means spending time with decision-makers to help them make sense of the changes in society and technology. We will be helping Kotka’s leaders find ways to proactively create room for grassroots activity—for YIMBY.
Stay tuned for updates about our continued prototyping in Kotka and the forthcoming Brickstarter book.