It's been two years since we kicked off DIYcity and started digging down on ideas around the notion of individuals participating in civic reinvention . And two years is a long time in the lifespan of ideas these days. So is the idea of the DIY city past its shelf date?
No. Just the opposite, in fact - it's more relevant now than it was two years ago. And it will be more relevant still in another year, and in another year after that. The future of the city is the DIY city, and we're coming up on that future quickly. It's that continually increasing relevance that is driving me back to post on DIYcity more, to think about this more, and to explore more.
Here are some data points that have come across my radar lately. I thought I would share them with you as a kick-off post to DIYcity, to point to where I think all of this is going:
Cities need reinvention now more than ever. More than they did two years ago, certainly. Consider these recent headlines:
A suburb of Atlanta shuts its entire bus system down, leaving residents without public transportation.
California's budget gap is now estimated at $26 billion, and the governor plans massive statewide cuts in order to balance it.
The city of Cairo decides it will build two entirely new megacities to deal with the overwhelming population in their city.
There are many other examples I could draw on here (e.g. the Greek economic melt down in spring), but these are the first that came to mind and they'll do. It's clear that society at all levels - local, regional, national - needs reinvention, rethinking, innovation, and this innovation needs to come from everywhere and everyone.
2) Signals that this distributed innovation is already starting to happen:
Luckily just as the need for all of this rethinking, experimentation, innovation is becoming so extreme, we're also beginning to see people respond and try to tackle these challenges on their own. Consider these data points, individually small, but emblematic of much bigger things at play:
Weeels, an app that lets me find rides to share with others near me in Brooklyn, saving money for all, saving resources, making the city more efficient. (Still has a way to go before it will succeed, IMO, but it is a great start).
Roadify, a group of entrepreneurs who took it upon themselves to create a distributed, user-driven bus tracking system in Brooklyn. (Will it succeed? I'm not sure, but it is part of a great experiment.)
Civic Commons is a collaboration between several organizations, working with cities, to create "an open civic stack".
These initiatives are fledgeling in nature, but I'm confident that within a few years they and others like them will lead to projects, enterprises, and organizations that would seem immense, complex and amazingly robust to us if we were to look at them today.
These are the beginnings of a real DIY city.
3) The Market:
Lastly, there is the question of market for civic reinvention. How big is it? Well, Booz Allen just recently announced that it is huge. $40 trillion over the next 25 years, in fact, to re-make cities everywhere.
So you've got the need, you've got the players, and you've got a gigantic market. You've got all the conditions in place for an amazing transformation to take place - and it will take place.
DIY cities aren't going away - rather we are undergoing a shift in how we think about cities, and everyone in the world is going to make that shift sooner or later. Some people (like those reading this) have already started to make the shift. Others, the vast majority of people, haven't, but they will soon.
And so now, it really is time for DIY cities to come into their own.
More on this next week...