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Democratizing Development -- Really?

Maya Brahmam's picture

This weekend I drove by a Popularise sign and wondered what it meant. I learned later that a local commercial real-estate investor, Dan Miller of WestMill Capital, has been using Popularise to encourage communities to share their ideas about possible development ideas. This is a great way for “grassroots” brainstorming on commercial development.

In an article in The Washington Post about this phenomenon, Dan Miller states, “Most people…don’t get a say in how their neighborhoods take shape. Popularise is one solution to … a "broken community engagement" process…In [Advisory Neighborhood Commission] meetings, you have a vocal minority that dominates…You can have a much broader discussion with thousands of people and have it be dynamic. Popularise is the 21st-century version of a community meeting.”

The results are pretty interesting: lots of ideas submitted by future customers or the business owners themselves, and a chance to shape the development of your city.

Emily Badger writes in an article for The Atlantic Cities, ”Whether or not the concept takes off will depend on what happens next….Popularise isn’t literally promising democratic elections. The concept with the most votes won’t necessarily take the space. But in theory, the business that does take root here will reflect the input of the neighborhood.

And in the wider world, it is worth noting the “Urban Prototyping” event going on in Singapore. Alvin Chong, writing for TODAYonline, notes, “Newton Circus aims to make Singapore a more sustainable place to live in through its UP Singapore programme, an experiment in ground-up innovation through the creative use of technology and data to improve the urban environment. It is the first of its kind in Asia,”

Newton Circus, in collaboration with Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, Re:Imagine Group, and the Singapore’s Economic Development Board, are organizing the Urban Prototyping or UP Festival to Singapore. These UP Festivals are new mechanism that allows citizens - working with government and the private sector to figure out creative ways to improve cities.

There are other groups engaged in this field as well, notably MIT Senseable City Laboratory. John Burn Murdoch recently posted on The Guardian about how MIT's Senseable City Lab partnered with French rail operators SNCF to map delays to high speed trains over the course of a week.

Worth keeping an eye on this trend to see what happens next.

Photo Credit: NataliaMoreno

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Submitted by Anonymous on
Democratizing local urban/neighborhood development planning sounds like it would unleash rampant NIMBYism. Existing communities already often do all they can to stop development of affordable housing, higher density housing, social services or store brands that target lower income people or people of ethnicities, or commercial or industrial facilities that people need, but would prefer to be located just a bit further away from them. Democratizing further would seem to encourage this, and would seem to strengthen the interests of current inhabitants over potential new inhabitants.

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