The Open City has Two Hearts


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Bernardo Gutierrez
Bernardo Gutierrez is a Spanish-Brazilian journalist, writer, researcher, and activist. He writes about techno-politics, free culture, networks and social movements. He directed Wikipraça project for São Paulo‘s City Hall, a process around territorial and digital participation. He is part of el Buen Conocer / FLOK Society team in Ecuador and the author of the techno-political research about Latin America of OXFAM. He currently works in the Participation City Lab of MediaLab Prado (Madrid ‘s City Hall). @bernardosampa

The Participa LAB
The Participa LAB is a project of MediaLab-Prado Collective Intelligence Laboratory for Democracy. The MediaLab-Prado Collective believes that the democratic cities of the future demand new technologies to enable us to undertake distributed forms of political action and collaborative decision-making. To this end, the collective invites people from all over the world to Madrid, to think together and develop new digital mechanisms that address challenges relating to democratic participation via the internet: collaborative filtering, deliberation and discussion, decision-making, offline-online flow, joint participation processes and strategies, collaborative drafting of legislation, etc. They call on hackers, activists, politicians, programmers, designers, and participation experts to create new digital prototypes that facilitate and open new paths to direct democratic participation via the internet. @participa_lab 

What makes this moment ripe for the “open source city”?

In this moment nation-states are weak. Capitalist super-organizations like Europe and US is a transnationalist movement of cities is a kind of, ok we don’t need the capitalist super-organizations like the US and the European Union. The most important thing is public space. In Europe there are cities helping refugees for example or the cities against major trade agreements. It’s transnational municipalism. It’s a kind of rebellion and this is just the beginning

What is the “open source city” and how can we build it?

The term “open source” comes from the free software movement. It means you can open any informatics source so anyone can reuse and adapt, so, in the free software movement, there’s a lot of collaboration. This is a great model for cities and the beginning of a huge citizen collaboration. If we speak about the open source city, all data produced in the city by citizens and by public power should be available to anyone in open formats.

To build it, we need an open source common imaginary of collaboration where citizens work in the public space and modify things. Urban planning should be open and have participation in every part of the process. All the licenses and plans of a park should be open. For example, if you build a bench we could have someone reuse the design, reapply it, and rebuild the bench.

You’ve said “The open, collaborative city has a double heart: digital and analog.” What does this mean?

“Our bodies are the hardware. Our processes are the software.” That’s from the 70s! It’s interesting in these years that networks and things happening in digital collaboration are going into open source territories–i.e. “let’s do it in the park.” The movement is more or less linked to free software but it’s also the hardware of people and things. We can’t separate digital and physical. There are people doing streaming of assemblies, hashtags on twitter, and on the contrary, there are people meeting in person. It’s important to foster both. You need both. Staying digital and never seeing another person, could work. But it works better when you put people together on the street.

Also, because there’s no solution to technology. How can we have a polyphony of territories and platforms on the internet and cellphones that transmit storytelling and empower the listening of different people? A lot of people think that if they create a platform then everything is perfect. But we shouldn’t just create more platforms. Maybe we should try to hear them, attract people to the commons.

How does “commons technology” translate to your vision of the “urban commons” ?

Commons technology, also known as digital commons, are the technologies that are open source or free license. The World Wide Web was born open source. The most famous examples are Wikipedia and Linux. The digital commons have a human rights frame by design. It is waging a war on mass surveillance. It also calls for transparency in public power with open data and budgets on the web.

Take, for example, the squares of the Occupy movement. Urban commons means people building things together. Another example is the organization 596 Acres in New York. They find empty lots owned by the City and get permission to organize communities to build gardens and play spaces in those lots.The commons are based on democratic participation. Commons should be linked to new platforms for participatory democracy like DemocracyOS. Cities are already using open source software among themselves sharing mistakes and lessons.

The “urban commons” would open up the city to its citizens. It’s a step from public space to “common space.” Most “public” space is no longer created by City Halls but rather by the private sector. Private spaces can also be common spaces if they can be used however we want to use them. So, calling for urban commons is a call to preserve and maintain streets and cities and parks as a place where we can do things, public and private.