The Resource of We

In 2008 I presented to the Congress for the New Urbanism’s NextGen conference. NextGen seeks to be at the vanguard of New Urbanists’ ideas and practices. In addition to providing a forum for new ideas, NextGen facilitated an open-source program which encouraged presenters to work with conference attendees to improve their ideas in small break-out groups.

At NextGen, I proposed a model for using open-source or Crowdsourced placemaking to make large master-planned communities more authentic. This tool would be a cost-effective counter-measure to the sameness that can result from a single builder or developer creating a large community out of whole cloth. Open-source planning would enable a diverse group to collaborate on a single project. In theory, residents of the community and others who would benefit from an innovative, inspiring, and exceptional neighborhood, would upload designs for plazas, parks, homes and buildings to a central idea bank where the developer could calibrate and build them. Well-designed communities attract a higher-than-average share of Creatives who would want to see their plans added to their community. Though my idea was well received, gaps in existing technologies made it unworkable. Fast-forward to 2012: the technology is available to allow for a collaborative platform of this scale. Where to start?

As proposed my open source planning platform would have enabled architects and builders to contribute existing designs to the group to be calibrated and built in their community. By sharing an  existing asset- a set of building plans, for example- the collaborator is providing something of real value to their community which can then be reused for the incremental cost of calibrating the design. By modifying that model slightly, I envisioned a platform that enables a diverse group to contribute successful social programs that would improve the eleven SA2020 vision areas. As with open-source planning, calibration of those programs would be a critical element to their success and sustainability. The scale of the model has changed, but so has the technology. Facebook recently reported that 483 million people used their site every day. Our ability to reach and harness the power of the crowd has never been greater, though we are still grappling with efficient ways to deploy the “resource of we”.

Social problems lend themselves to Crowdsourced solutions. We know that communities of disparate demographic and economic make-ups struggle with similar issues. Educational performance, transportation, and health and fitness levels are areas that virtually every US community is working to improve. We are all incentivized to find solutions to those problems by virtue of the fact that we are all paying for the programs and policies that perpetuate the status quo. Given the choice between funding success and failure, I choose success. There are places that are improving their performance on key quality of life issues. These are the bright spots that need to be replicated and calibrated en-masse across the country.

The Change Agents in Residence platform seeks to identify those bright spots and then systematically replicate and calibrate their successful programs here in our own neighborhoods. It is the act of replicating and calibrating that requires local understanding, involvement, and participation. An excellent example of the success of this replication and calibration system is the Smart Code. The Smart Code is an open source form-based planning code which is distributed by the nonprofit Center for Applied Transect Studies (CATS). Now in its ninth version, the Smart Code has been calibrated and adopted by over 100 municipalities nationwide. The code itself is excellent and free, what the communities pay for are the experts who work with local staff to calibrate and implement it.

There are plenty of bright spots out there and the technology now exists to identify and aggregate them on a national scale. What we need next is an entity, a funding plan, and a process for replicating and calibrating successful programs here in San Antonio. Eventually this program is going to need a staff and a home…anyone interested?


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