City Scale Prototyping

A Prototyping Facility for Many Cities

How did New York fall in love with pedestrian areas and bike routes?

Transforming New York City

Ask Janette Sadik-Khan, the Woman Built 400 Miles of Bike Lanes in New York City. From 2007 to 2013, she oversaw a dramatic transformation of New York City’s Department of Transportation organized with bikes in mind. She turned part of Times Square into a pedestrian oasis (one of 60 similar street plazas throughout the city) and many other things. She showed what a bit of paint and imagination can do to rediscover the value of the biggest asset of any city: its streets.

But more than that, she showed how large scale prototypes, tested for real, were more powerful than any computer model or data calculation to achieve a result. Improvisation, serendipity, co-creation have this tremendous power to bring people out in the open, and become part of the conversation.

What if we had a City Scale Prototyping Facility?

This capacity for regeneration is everywhere and there are lots of things that can be done everywhere, that do not cost much, and all they require is imagination. What if we can actually keep adding on this learning curve? What if we can get rid of plastics? get rid of most cars in city centres? and, free our rivers, lakes and seas from those pesky micro-plastics that wash off our polyester-fibre garments when we use the washing machine? What if we could create occupations and incomes in a better way?

Just like Janette Saddik-Khan rediscovered the ‘utility value’ of the streets and stores could step in to support the process — realizing that the public good is also at the root of creating the private benefit, so too employment and creativity are equally common-pool goods that are laying in plain sight, underutilized. People when they had a place and process to effectively connect and co-create would transform the city.

And the use of public space and capital by cars, parked 92% of the time (average across Europe). Imagine the trillions of unused capital that represents.

And consider the commons wasted when 95% of energy is gone in heat and moving cars, just 5% actually moves people or cargo.

And if the water in our pipes tasted well and were clean, would we use less single-use plastic bottles?

The reality is that every market we can think of is a common-pool good that results from a social agreement. Every behavior that creates a market, like the use of streets, can radically transform and augment our utility — both economic and environmental, practical and pleasure of our senses, our security, sense of freedom, justice, and engagement. The only differences between these common-pool spaces are that many are closely knit and weaved into more complex patterns. But nothing so difficult that a participative co-creation process could not handle.

A single city space for many purposes, would ideally reduce the risk, costs and difficulties when we see the need to try out many things as the same time. A logistically convenient place, with not so complex infrastructure, a diverse population, a good safe environment, attractive scaffolds, could easily be used by neighboring cities to experiment and leapfrog development stages. Just like New York is rapidly moving towards a high bicycle use, or Riga becoming one of the places with best Internet services in the world, we can envision what would happen if ten, twenty, fifty or hundreds of projects were taking place at once.


THE BEGINNING EVENT IS NOVEMBER 27–29, 2017 Stay tuned!

This is part six of the S2S Reactor’s eight-part series Toward Building the City of 2050 that we all want to Live in. This is now in full mode ahead. If you’d like to get all the parts published sent to your inbox, sign up for Beginnings.