Designers, people and using technology to make places better

Technology enables us to explore and change the world like never before: We can wander the streets of Timbuktu on Google Streetview; start petitions to the government in a matter of minutes; provide loans to entrepreneurs in the developing world to help them become self sufficient.
Technology is also enabling us to create our own personalised worlds: We can ‘Procreate’ paintings on our tablets and print them onto canvases; design bespoke Nike Trainers delivered to our door; create representations of ourselves and 3D print them at Asda. We can even design and print your own house extension with WikiHouse.
But what about your own city? Can you impact upon the spaces you walk through everyday or influence the architects that design and dictate the view from your window? Can you turn where you live into a place you love and design your personality into your neighbourhood?
In the world of place making, the gap between users and designers is still vast. Consultation processes can be tokenistic and tick box exercises. Too often the first thing you know about a cherished building being demolished and replaced is when you hear the sound of the bulldozers.

When time and money allows good designers engage the community through design charettes and exhibitions. But public meetings can become chaotic and change can easily become the enemy. Residents who have the time and money fight to maintain the status quo, leaving little room for constructive conversation. The outputs become polarised — giant tower blocks appear from nowhere with only minimal consultation, while well conceived proposals for revitalised, mixed neighbourhoods are stopped in their tracks. 
In today’s world there must be a better way. If everyone can design their own pair of trainers, why can’t we all work together to create neighbourhoods that we can love and that work for everyone?
Technology might not be the answer to everything, but it can change the way we see and interact with the world and, as we have seen, it can help us all become designers.
During the next six months, on the side of my day job, I’ll be exploring how technology could close the gap between users and designers in place making. I’ll look at technology available now, things that are just around the corner and ideas that might take a little longer to realise.
I’m not going to solve the problem, but hopefully I’ll shed some light on the opportunities. Opportunities that might one day lead to real change in the design process. A design process that should result in better places to live, but too often fails.
Watch this space to find out more, and if you have your own ideas or experiences that you want to share, get in touch, and we’ll see what happens.

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