Shareable City, Collective Intelligence, and Open Source Urbanism

A lecture by Domenico Di Siena

report by Stefano Serafini


Last May the 20th Domenico di Siena contributed the ISB online lectures with a speech about resilience, urban interventions, and glocal connection. He introduced the new urban models that are triggering processes of Collective Intelligence and of Open Source Urbanism, according to the experience of Urbano Humano Agency.

Urbano Humano Agency is a distributed agency – where the core of the agency is Domenico himself. He creates relationships between different people in order to work together on given tasks/projects, and to merge study and practice in urbanism.

The agency has a high, fluid “turnover”, as its members change according to the project they have to deal with. Nobody is hired, people rather share a network, and a professional goal until its achievement.
The concept of “adhocracy” (pretty fashion in Spain, nowadays) rules here. It means being able to self-organize according to the moment, without caring too much about future.

Whereas traditional work structures are meant to last and look for what the revenue people and relationships can produce in future, adhocracy rather cares about present situation only, and this is the spirit Domenico runs his “agency”. He says that this allows avoiding sick loops that are otherwise very frequent in horizontal networks, where there’s no hierarchy to hold exploitation of the weaker off.


1. Open Source Urbanism

One of the main subjects Domenico focuses on is Open Source Urbanism. This is not a new concept (Saskia Sassen, among other Authors, wrote largely about it), but it’s still very actual. An example of Open Source Urbanism instantiation is the experience of Campo de Cebada in Madrid who won the Golden Nica prize, section Digital Communities.

Like free software, an urban space shouldn’t be just a “thing” to be used, but a place that people can change. Persons stop being mere users, and become the protagonists of places’ identity by changing their own city.

The project won a digital prize because the use of new media is fundamental for building an urban space like that. Tech made the collective action behind the project possible, and made it more transparent. The space of Campo de Cebada is thus physical, but it has a digital background.

The project En bici por Madrid (“Biking in Madrid”) is another example. It started as a map developed and shared by local bikers, a relevant community in Madrid, who are used to bike for transport, not for sport. They shared the better bike routes in the city through a blog, according to their real experience.

Afterward the Medialab Prado came in to help, but most noticeably the very City Council contacted the community after a few months, and offered to print and distribute the map.

This is a brilliant example of a bottom-up activity that comes to be recognized and helped by the Administration.


2. Choosing vs. Building

It’s necessary to analyse the cultural divide between two imaginary constructs – “choosing” and “building”. Our society made us acquainted with the concept of “choosing”, and identified us as “choosers”. This is at the basis of the separation between producer and consumer, and brings in the attitudes of specialization, delegation, passivity, that in the end break society up in separated individuals. Even when walking through a park, we behave as passive consumers: we don’t bring value to the place we pass through, at most we are just receptive. In a way we delegate the society and its organization our share of building and changing it, because of this attitude to passivity.

Participation and collective intelligence are on the contrary tools for overcoming this unbalance. They contribute shifting from the producer/consumer dichotomy to the new model of “prosumer”.
In the digital environment this is already happening: we are “prosumers” when we consume and produce at the same time, e.g. when we play social media.

Think how this model could apply to urban environments – that’s Open Source Urbanism.


3. Local identity

Being a prosumer means to be part of the processes that build the local identity.

How much of Barcelona’s identity comes from people’s participation, and how much from the most powerful stakeholders who build and somehow impose consensus? People has become aware of the heteronomy of many choices about their own city, e.g. in the organization of tourism business; they understand that some global models are pushing and influencing their own life.

Domenico likes here to show a nice example about a traditional Southern Italy produce. A lady from the city of Bari released a video on the Internet to teach how to make traditional “orecchiette” pasta. When Domenico came to visit Bari, her street was the first place he wanted to visit. The lady has added value to the identity of Bari, a value that is partly global, partly local, i.e. “glocal”. Glocal means that the local identity grows up thanks and within the global reality of the Internet.

Due to this new dimension, the online reputation is relevant for places like it is for brands and people.


4. Multi-belonging

A diffuse concept in Spain, multi-belonging has a strong political consequence: it leads to rediscovering the meaning of citizenship. Multi-belonging goes beyond the old concept of political association or of political party. It exactly means that we become prosumers.

Many hierarchical structures and associations are losing the rigidity of their borders, because people start getting in touch with others beyond those borders, by “cross-belonging” to several structures or groups, often at the same time, and according to the given situation.

For example if I want to make a public garden better with a voluntary action, I can gather with people who belong to different political ideologies, or different social conditions, and that I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise. This is changing the local governance model. We are going more open beyond labels.


5. Back to reality

All these movements are heading towards returning back to the real world. Paradoxically, people who use the Internet are moving towards their own environment, and employ virtual connections to trigger real relationships.

As we know, the possibility of connecting several people at the same time can produce a “collective intelligence”, that is a really more complex and powerful emergence than the simple sum of the single connected intelligences. Internet is an example of that. Just because of such a connection, one can constantly change his mind according to what others think, and evolve faster.

What Domenico is interested in is the relationship between collective intelligence and locality. Why movements like those happening in Spain can pop up so efficiently? Domenico thinks that this is an emergent effect of collective intelligence, due to the use of social media in connection with locality.
In short, tech is used by people for knowing better their own environment and their neighbors.

There are several example in Italy, France, etc. of projects that employ Facebook to put the inhabitants of the same street in touch. This has  allowed people to build connections, social solidarity, and real stories. The founder of Socialstreet in Bologna told Domenico that thanks’ to his project, he can now rely on almost 50 people that he didn’t know before yet they were living next to him; and that they now help each other.


6. A glocal living

We can’t stress enough our nowadays constant possibility of getting in connection with the world and with the knowledge produced in the world, in real time.

This means, for example, that we can skip the limits of a closed community. Knowing diversity beyond the boundaries is a value that helps local communities. Vice versa, a local community can contribute its local value to the world in social, economic, and political terms.

Every urban change should thus bring in the question: how glocal this change is? The more glocal, the more effective the change.

Domenico took part in several projects focusing on glocal change, e.g. the transformation of Hamar square in Norway, together with Ecosistema Urbano.


7. Shareable City

Shareable City stems from Sharing Economy, as exemplified by social/biz phenomena like Blablacar  and Airbnb. These models work thanks to the share of information, products and services (e.g. a room or a car) allowed by the Internet. Urbano Humano Agency too works like this.

The cultural model of recent decades, started more or less with our grandparents’ generation, separated the activity devoted to bring money home from the one of spending money. Today we see that the two aspects are merging, e.g. when we give our house for rent through Airbnb and make money out of it, or when we enjoy the social benefits of using a co-working space. So, what if we think a city able to promote the prosumer model?

Citizens who become protagonist of the identity of the city can also become the designers and the builders of city’s structures. A city where houses and cars are shared could result in a touristic distribution of visitors through the whole town, not only where most of the hotels are located; perhaps no more big stations and heavy infrastructures for transportation would be needed, etc.

Of course we are just at the beginning of such a shift. We should start thinking about managing our urban future by implementing this change, and make use of self-organization and optimization of what is already there, rather than building structures up endlessly.

A final note is about the role of public administration. Domenico doesn’t think that public administration should be cut down. Shareable City is not about taking away PA’s responsibility, it’s rather about a more responsible and transparent cooperation between people and government.

Of course the risk is that the administration dismiss citizens’ initiatives or let people do whatever they like. On the contrary, the administration needs to be able to legitimize citizens’ contribution and help the process. It’s about a responsible balance, and this could avoid the danger of making use of generous volunteers in order to let them do what the government is supposed to do.


The lecture (in Italian) is available at