“I’m an architect and I don’t build” Welcome to the urbanism of the future
Open source urbanism is a philosophy based on the urban design and housing proposal put forward by Barcelona en Comú. It’s objective is none other than to improve the city’s neighbourhoods by turning to citizen participation and the possibilities that new technologies afford.
The mayor Ada Colau’s party is not the first to espouse this philosophy. In cities like Seattle, Hamburg and Dublin, inhabitants already know what it means to put forward solutions to the problems in their neighbourhoods and to see them materialise.
But one doesn’t need to go that far afield to see the results of this new type of urbanism. For a couple of years now, in some places in Spain, town and city councils have chosen to have citizens participate in their urban regeneration plans. This participation goes beyond surveys asking about the colour that the façade of a public building is to be painted, or their opinion about a new fountain to be installed in the town square.
The town of Olot, in the province of Girona, and the Virgen de Begoña, neighbourhood in Madrid stand as examples of the implementation of this open source urbanism where improving a city or neighbourhood’s inhabitability does not merely involve asking people what they want, but building what people want with them.
Instead of being produced in the offices of a city council, this urban design stems from citizens’ proposals and initiatives. Citizens make their towns and cities vibrant.
Above all, this type of urbanism is free from the tethers of corruption and speculation driven by government authorities and financial interests responsible for a bubble that has left in its wake millions of empty housing units and public buildings, evictions, uncompleted or infra-utilised infrastructure, and vast areas of developable land awaiting new building that will probably never come.
In order for open source urbanism to prevail throughout, we as architects and urban planners must recognise our fault and change the way we envisage our profession. Architects are not just people who build majestic buildings while urban planners are mere technical experts.
In a country with millions of empty housing units and public buildings, we as architects and urban planners must change the objective of our profession. Rather than being builders, we are facilitators, agents who mediate between citizens and the administration, who develop road maps to put these jointly conceived projects into practice, who establish channels of communication serving to coordinate between the two and ensure these ideas materialise.
And the first ones to draw attention to the role of architects and urban planners in this new urban model must be Schools of Architecture, which for a long time have provided professional training utterly divorced from reality, focused exclusively on producing spectacular architecture.
As urban planners and architects, we are social agents in charge of improving citizens’ quality of life in their cities by equitably distributing the benefits brought about by urban strategies conceived by everyone and which also generate social and economic opportunities. As new professionals of the future, we need not necessarily build.