The Local Level –Imagining a different city
On the local level I take the city for example, focusing on the importance of citizenship and democratic participation, and how this must be built from the ground up. I also take into account the nature of 21st century cities, which are Southern, and the majority live in slums. I seek to imagine a city in my mind’s eye which makes me happy, which is feasible, and whose sustainability and high quality of life levels could be applied by employing current technology.
Re-thinking the City – A potential Vision for cities of the future
Human ingenuity must find a way to represent divine goodness in some of the ugliest parts of modern global civilisation, the over consumption and over use of resources. The cities of the future are going to be made from recycled appropriated detritus of the 21st century, and they will be as splendid and beautiful
What the future holds and which cities are we talking about?
While I want to sketch a utopian-realist vision of future cities, it is imperative for this vision that the cities we have in min are by their nature full of slums, badly managed, with a large number of poor people, a lack of security, health and education. This is the starting point that we need to think from, to begin imagining ways in which such a seemingly hopeless situation could be remedied and made utopic.
I believe the examples of Mazdar City, Copenhagen or that city in Korea are particularly interesting as models to be followed. These are vanity projects made within a neoliberal system, and have unlimited resources, small homogenous populations. These planned cities do not need to adapt to hardships, and therefore as policy models are not so useful to most of the residents on Spaceship earth, whose lived reality is encumbered by many restraints which such privileged cities are not worried by. Sure, some interesting ideas may come out of these experiences, but our general starting point, our fertile territory for change must be a city of the South.
These cities as starting points have advantages over richer cities from a sustainability perspective, because they are lower aggregate energy use. It is easier to reform slum cities than in the ‘developed world’ cities, where inefficient and high net energy usage has been built into the design of people’s homes and the city infrastructure, in addition its residents are used to their high net aggregate energy usage lifestyles, whereas slum dwellers use much less energy, so are in a way much more sustainable.
If slums could be re-conceptualised as models for sustainability, their architecture re-organised, their local citizens engaging with each other and with public space in a new way these communities could become models for the rest of the world. As neighbours work together and produce their own food, and green their communities, and do things to make themselves and each other happy, the people would be given back their humanity. It is entirely possible that even such cities could become sustainable and offer quality of life for all.
Higgledy Piggledy  cities:
These cities will not be planned with the wave of a hand from remote mandarins, these must be cities built ground up cohesive integrated and organic. These will not be the cities of huge swathes of concrete or grand public works. They are to be human cities, an appropriation of the ruins of the 20th century’s ‘development on steroids’ modernisation and resource use. Cities made up of communities working together and with each other.
Slum city innovation and the African example: The way that such cities communities appropriate waste, and the solutions that these people, living without material wealth is where we start our imaginary journey. It is with favela communities in mind where we need to think of architectonic and urban food production. It is the densely packed community life which we need to understand as the norm. I say this both from a practical perspective, but also from a sustainability perspective also. This ‘Global South’ is full of invention: the appropriation of mobile phone top up as a banking device, the Ethiopian kids given tablets who hacked the system, the use of biogas from poo as a fuel in Nigerian prisons or the experiences of the Guinean farmer whose application of millennial farming techniques has had a wonderful impact on reversing desertification.
|Architectural Possibility 1 – the widespread education of local builders in bio-architecture techniques.
The widespread education of local builders in bio-architecture techniques. Charitable or enlightened individuals could by land in slums to build dwellings according to these principles, these first dwelling serving as examples for their neighbours, Architects and agrobiologists and sustainability specialists could offer their services to neighbours helping them to gradually alter and rebuild their homes.
Connectivity …Citizens are also connected through the internet to each other and to the state, with real-time decision making and feedback on public policies.
The democratisation of access to tool-sheds … Technology is applied both in terms of citizen-led low cost ‘home-made-in-a-shed’ technology, (using 3-D printers) as well as large public works (such as harnessing kinetic energy, recycling, sewage systems, mass transportation) provided by the state.
Values underpinning our perspective of cities: Sustainability, The common good, participation and voluntarism
This vision of a virtuous city (and word), is underpinned by fundamental values that are paramount to constructing our vision: Sustainability, The Common Good, Participation and Volunteerism. In our planning the vision is not considered to be virtuous if its energy requirements do not fit within these limits.
We recognize that global civilisation is in the midst of a spiralling environmental crisis caused by overproduction, overconsumption and high waste production. City life must be geared towards self-reliance, local food production, low energy usage, renewable energy production. This is informed by the oft quoted global footprint research studies which demonstrate the if everyone was to aspire to ‘the western world’s’ consumption levels, the resources of five planets would be required to fulfil their needs. Therefore, air-conditioning for everyone is sustainable in the current mode, something more efficient, in compliance with planetary limits is essential. For the effluence of the six million residents to be dumped into the sea is not sustainable, nor is current waste management processes where all the rubbish is dumped at a landfill somewhere out of sight.
- The Common God
In orientating policy making decisions, the common good of the city residents is of utmost importance (within the limits of the above mentioned environmental constraints), in addition the city residents cannot infringe on the rights of others, such as people of another region having lower quality of life to supply the quality of life of city residents. For example, people living near a landfill are going to be negatively affected, thus such a proposal is rejected. Or a city which imports materials for construction which degrade another ecosystem is also not allowed.
Equal access to city amenities and opportunities for all is also to be strived for.
- Participation and Voluntarism
This city vision needs to be governed by the people at the most fundamental levels. We are opposed to a command and control architecture of governance and want adequate citizen participation at all levels. It would be possible for an enlightened dictator to provide good for all, and sustainability, but this would not involve people at the grassroots levels. It is imperative that neighbours learn to work together for the common good and manage the area where they live. It is essential that the population is politically informed to make decisions. However the above two rules of the common good and sustainability trump participation, so a group of citizens who propose something which is not sustainable or which infringes on the rights of others would be prohibited.
The role of the state is not weak however, it is considered representative of the collective, and absolute authority of the common good of the citizens and has the power to conduct public works and educational drives for all. The regulatory power of the state is supreme, and the state is in turn regulated by a full grassroots up participatory process.
In what follows I discuss, from a policy-making perspective the aspect of citizenship, governance, sustainability and the application of technology.
The questions of citizenship and governance:
Starting from the bottom up – grassroots citizenship
Building strong and cohesive neighbourhoods
The city I envisage must be socially cohesive at the grassroots level. It is essential that the practice of neighbours voluntarily collaborating for their own benefit must be instigated across the city. It is essential that in this way citizens assume responsibility and ‘help’ the state, especially in the poorest cities. The practice of neighbourly cooperation toward a common goal is also essential to raising community self esteem and empowerment. Social Scientist Felton Earls coined the phrase “collective efficacy” as a term to gauge the degree of this neighbourliness in cities: “the linkage of mutual trust and the willingness to intervene for the common good that defines the neighbourhood context of collective efficacy. Just as individuals vary in their capacity for efficacious action, so too do neighbourhoods. Earls considers this the key factor in reducing levels of crime and raising quality of life in communities.
Collective efficacy is different from the traditional concepts of social capital, social ties, or networks. It is a measure of social cohesion and shared norms—a reflection of social processes and relationships, the willingness of people to work together to make things happen. Neighbourhoods are high in collective efficacy when the residents trust each other, share common values, and are willing to intervene on behalf of the common good—for example, in supervising children and protecting public order.
Felton Earls discovered this concept from a study into what makes neighbourhoods violent in Chicago in the 1990s. What his research showed was that when neighbours did not know each other or felt uneasy reprimanding one another’s children there was a clear correlation with levels of violence, weak academic performance among children and adolescent pregnancies.. However, in communities where neighbours knew each other’s first names and were able to work together on small projects, levels of violence and social malaise were much lower. We can also see this phenomenon in neighbourhoods where families sit on front porches and communicate with each other in the evening, where the street is non-threatening communities are much healthier than areas where the street is seen as dangerous, and neighbours not to be trusted. The solution to this malaise is for neighbours to get together, and decide through dialogue and consensus on projects which they can execute themselves, such as the clean up of a local space, or planting a garden. These encounters between people facilitate social cohesion.
The differential ability of neighborhoods to realize the common values of residents and maintain effective social controls is a major source of neighbourhood variation in violence. Although social control is often a response to deviant behaviour, it should not be equated with formal regulation or forced conformity by institutions such as police or courts. Rather, social control refers generally to the capacity of a group to regulate its members according to desired principles—to realize collective, as opposed to forced, goals. One central goal is the desire of community residents to live in safe and orderly environments that are free of predatory crime, especially interpersonal violence.
It has been demonstrated that collective efficacy approaches are very efficient in improving neighbourhood life. It only requires a small percentage of a community to invest their time voluntarily in a community to cause a broader change. If only 5 – 10% of a community begin to clean up their street and plant a garden for example, this will positively effect the rest of the community, who even if they do not participate themselves, will feel re-assured that their neighbours care about the common environment, and will also feel inhibited to throw rubbish or engage in anti-social behaviour themselves.
Collective Efficacy as a response to policing deficits and crime
Collective efficacy research arises from discussions around violence in cities and why this happens, it emerged as a response to genetic arguments on why adolescents would turn to crime. Pointing out that neighbourhood, family and early childhood development factors, the ecology in which the individual grows up are the defining factors, rather than some sort of innate disposition to criminal activity.
However, for the future city in the majority world especially, the question of policing and providing security must be addressed. As mentioned above, cities with limited resources cannot train the police, or provide enough police, or even in many cases maintain a functioning justice system. However, what can be done, which does not require non existent resources is the empowerment of neighbourhood strength and informal social control, in order to provide security in that area. This is not a top down approach, such as the installation of a Militia as in suburban areas of Rio de Janeiro, rather a neighbour-led approach of mutual care and concern which inhibits criminal activity.
As a practical measure, the installation of a ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ where neighbours meet weekly to discuss crimes, agree to look out for one another’s property, and to take turns patrolling the local neighbourhood is an entirely feasible strategy for reducing crime. It also has a powerful secondary benefit, which is that neighbours get to know each other. This alone is a key factor in making communities safer.
Why collective efficacy is of fundamental importance to conceptualising the future city
The policy implications which collective efficacy theory shows us are that the neighbourhood is an important site for intervention, and that neighbours dong things for themselves as a group is a key variable. I find this so relevant for thinking about virtuous future cities because the more neighbours do things themselves, rather than wait for the state to do it, the better. This is a good thing to do because it builds community resilience and strengthens the bonds between neighbours. Very important also, is that we address the practical issues for city-building, particularly in the developing world, where the state does not have the resources to provide adequate public services for all. Therefore, the more local neighbourhoods do things for themselves, and are enabled and empowered to do so by the state, the better. Collective efficacy shows us is that strengthening neighbourhoods is fundamental, and also that collective efficacy models work for emporverished urban areas, slums, which is where most of the planet’s urban dwellers live, with very little investment from the state.
Collective efficacy, on the other hand, can be achieved even with weak social ties: the key is a willingness to activate those networks to achieve a shared result. To that end, policies that link local social networks to institutions and larger systems, both inside and outside the neighborhood, might support a neighborhood’s collective efficacy and help residents achieve their common goals.
It is possible for less advantaged neighborhoods to have high levels of collective efficacy. In general, though, collective efficacy is higher in neighborhoods with residential stability and high rates of home ownership, and lower in areas of concentrated poverty and disadvantage, where people feel alienated and powerless.
In order to build collective efficacy, citizens must become more active, thus the concept of. Active Citizenship” is also important:
“Citizenship is much more than the passive membership of a particular political entity. To be a citizen in the fullest sense…, you have to be active. It is about a willingness to get involved and make a contribution both to political debate and social action.” (Brannan, John & Stoker, 2006: 994).
The assumption, moreover, is that activating citizens and enhancing civic engagement are essential to face today´s crisis`s and problems: “Generating civicness is perceived as a panacea for numerous previously intractable social, economic and political problems: social exclusion, community cohesion, crime, democratic deficit, political apathy and disillusionment, and unresponsive and underperforming public services.” (Brannan et al., 2006: 1005).
From taking the neighbourhood as a starting point, we can begin to think of activities which neighbours could engage in for the common good, such as planting gardens, building things together, neighbourhood watch, and solidarity economies. In addition, the more neighbours undertake this practice, the more likely true leaders will be emerge. Neighbours will see who really is working for the common good, and will elect the most virtuous leaders as local representatives.
Community Decision Making
I propose that at the very local level, communities be strongly encouraged to meet with each other at the very local level, and to meet at least weekly to discuss the issues which affect them collectively in their neighbourhood. From such meetings the groups should come up with policy recommendations for their area, as well as ideas and plans which they can implement themselves.
Initially a government drive of ‘community-coaching’ could occur, with special agents sent to communities to instil in locals meeting management techniques, planning, as well as the skills or assistance necessary for them to implement the projects that they chose to do. Such meetings serve to foster local self-reliance, leadership, resilience and engagement with one’s locality. Consensual decision making skills should be imparted to communities in order for participatory decision to be made through processes of dialogue, deliberation and consensus. The role of ‘community-coach’ is important, because it cannot be expected that communities develop self-reliance and responsibility programmes on their own. Initially at least a catalysing force will be necessary to coach citizens neighbours achieving their goals. In addition, general training programmes and capacitation will also need to occur.
Neighbours planning meetings, and community coaching sessions are informed by the pedagogy of Paulo Freire. A revolutionary approach to education. A methodology to free people from oppression, to realise their potential and perceive themselves as the key agents in their lives, with the power to influence their surroundings. Building local knowledge, consciousness and resilience.
No pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors. The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption.
Educating towards a culture of citizenship
Education in Values
Alongside general campaigns to raise awareness on the importance of being a good citizen, education towards citizenship needs to be taught formerly to children to instill in them values of cooperation, voluntarism and community spirit at the school level. In order to build cities where neighbours work spontaneously and voluntarily together, these principles must be instilled in children through the school system.A model for this sort of education policy is the Cuban example, where “Values Education” to promote social cohesion is a core part of the curriculum.
Implicitly and explicitly, Cuban education is organized to promote social cohesion around the values of the Party and state. Values Education is a core subject in the Cuban curricula. Education, specifically Values Education, is expected to promote social cohesion by preventing internal disruption from violence, drugs, and criminality.26 Values Education is taught as a separate subject two hours a week. Teachers are selected from those with exemplary behaviour. They teach values and attitudes aiming at consolidating internationalism, national identity and patriotism, a morality of work, solidarity and defense against external threats.
In addition, it is important to instil in children the principles of working and cooperating voluntary if we are to have communities where people do things for themselves.
The primary curriculum includes 480 hours of “labor education” over six years, out of a total of 5,680 hours. Here the Marxist principle of combining study and work is applied to school gardens (las huertas escolares). By participating in simple agricultural activities, students are expected to develop a positive attitude toward work along with attitudes of solidarity with workers. School gardens size range from one to more than 20 hectares. When schools do not have their own garden, students work in “collective gardens” in the provincial capitals. “Education and not production,” is the aim of this experience, we were told while visiting a few schools, thus disclaiming possibility of exploitation of child labor.
Of course, any education system envisaged must comply with the Freirian tenet of education for self-reliance and freedom, and not indoctrination. The following value must be applied:
Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.
In order to for cities to become cohesive at the aggregate level educational campaigns for citizenship should be implemented. An example of where this worked is that of Bogota. In the 1990’s Mayor Antanas Mockus implemented a series of interventions to encourage a ‘culture of citizenship’. For example, street-mimes were employed to shadow and ridicularize people who did not cross the road at traffic lights, women only evenings, cultural events in parks, and a series of other measure were implemented to build a sense of co-responsibility and informal social control. These activities had the effect of reducing crime and increasing quality of life of the residents:
The idea was to mobilize urban residents to adopt a set of shared habits, actions, and regulations that generate a sense of belonging and facilitate urban coexistence. Antanas Mockus saw the promotion of a ‘culture of citizenship’ as the key to counter-acting social violence and insecurity.
A central element of his philosophy…is his firm belief that transforming the attitude of urban citizens towards their city was the key to the problem. Thus, he shaped the approach of cultura ciudadana [“culture of citizenship”], founded on the idea that urban violence is best combated by inducing citizens to be respectful of each other and thereby make peaceful interaction possible (cf. Mockus, Cultura).
He argues that an ‘individual is not born as a citizen but becomes one.’ In his view, becoming a citizen implies being treated as a citizen, i.e., with respect, and learning to treat others as citizens (also in their relations with the state). 
Children as active participants and stakeholders
Children and political decision making
For the society envisaged, children must be included as active participants. They must be respected as stakeholders and as capable decision makers. The work of Felton Earls has shown that given encouragement and some training, it comes quite naturally to children to make intelligent and innovative decisions regarding the common good. Thus the voice of the younger generation should be included in the political decision making process. There is also a practical reason for taking the participation of children seriously, the current trend in cities of the South towards a younger mean population age. For example, in many Sub Saharan African countries more than 40% of the population is under 15, and nine out of ten young people live in the developing world. These statistics show that that it is essential to put in place mechanisms whereby the majority of a country’s population becomes included in the decision making process.
For children to become efficient active participants politically and in communities, a new children’s educational agenda would need to be put in place, stressing the values of citizenship and collective responsibility as well as collective decision making There are many examples of educational projects in which children are given decision-making power which have yielded results.
The concept of the child is one that is defined by context, development discourse seems to be dominated by Eurocentric notions of the nurtured child, who is politically subjective rather than active. There are many other experiences of childhood, particularly in the developing world where children are active participants in the economy. For example in Bolivia there are so many children working that there are trade unions specifically for child workers.
Given a nurturing educational environment where children’s creativity and responsibility are encouraged, the resource of their creativity and moral sense could be tapped for the good of the community as a whole. For example, children empathically nderstand questions of environmental sustainability in a practical way. We know that when kids get taught in school that throwing rubbish on the floor is bad, they may perhaps begin walking around their community picking up all the litter. Or if kids are taught about economising water, or composting, or the importance of smiling at one’s neighbours they can serve useful social functions relating to these subjects. I envisage an organised way of encouraging this participation through workshops, and formal interfaces with democratic institutions. The importance of children in public decisions is also related to their age, the fact that they have their lives before them makes them more attuned to questions relating to sustainability, and actions undertaken on behalf of the common good. Formal mechanisms which offer children the opportunity to be actively participating citizens, and for their opinions to be taken seriously by policy debate is essential. However, we make the distinction between consulting with children in focus groups, with children actually doing things. Just listening to children is not enough, children need to be given opportunities for actually doing things, feeling intrinsically that they are listened to, and perceiving themselves as actors for change.
This section is included as part of the overall section on base-level citizen active participation in decisions and actions for the public good. Laying out an overall vision for a positive agenda. Of course, the ramifications and practicalities for meaningful children’s participation imply constitutional change, and an overhaul in the way that children are educated.
Citizen Regulation of the state
Strengthening of Government – Neighbourhood Interface
If empowered neighbourhoods are to emerge, there needs to be a new interface between the state and the citizen. The state needs to educate and coach citizens to capacitate their self-reliance, and the state must be able to funnel necessary funds to communities, so that they can do things themselves. The state would taking an empowering role in a two way exchange ceding authority and decision and budget to local volunteers.
I prefer to work up to the imagining of a utopian municipal governance structure, by presenting some key technologies and best practice tools which could be used to strengthen citizen control of decision making and foster a local neighbourhood and local authority interface. I prefer to attack this subject by the edges, rather than attack it directly due to the complexity of the subject.
Participatory municipal budgeting is a key step in the development of citizen regulation of government decisions. This is a process that is already in place, with the city of Porto Alegre in Brazil an example of a place where this has worked successfully. The following extract demonstrates technically how participatory budgeting works to provide a regulatory corollary for government decisions:
Participatory budgeting involves three parallel streams of meetings: neighborhood assemblies,
“thematic” assemblies, and meetings of delegates for citywide coordinating sessions. These meetings continue throughout the year. The first stream discusses fund allocations among districts or neighborhoods of the city for the usual departmental responsibilities, such as water supply and sewage, street paving, parks, and schools. The district-based meetings begin with
“great assemblies” in public places, including union centers, gyms, churches, clubs, and even a circus tent. The city government’s “Presentation of Accounts” from the previous year marks the beginning of events every year. The government also presents its investment plan for the current year, as decided in the previous year’s meetings. Then a debate starts for the next year. The debates continue for nine months, and each district gives two sets of rankings, one set for requirements within the district (such as pavement, school construction, or water lines), and the other set for efforts which affect the whole city (such as cleaning up the beaches). A public debate decides the criteria for allocating investment budget among districts. These criteria can be population, an index of poverty, a measure of shortages (such as a lack of pavement or the lack of a school), the assigned priorities, and so on.
Participatory budgeting is also virtuous for the society, because it encourages citizens to organise themselves at the local level, so as to know what to demand, this has a galvanising effect on communities. In addition, participating in budgeting naturally leads to greater political awareness. By becoming involved in participatory budgeting, citizens gain an understanding of the technical ways in which the state operates, what its limits and potentials are, as well as how they themselves fit into the system. Through this sort of participation, citizens become practically literate in city affairs. What I propose however is that citizens get involved far more in the running of their city than just the budgeting.
Big Date for Regulation
For management-cybernetician Stafford Beer writing in 1984, the computer together with simple telecommunications (i.e. with an internet connection today), and with insight from cybernetics, was an underutilised tool for the management of modern institutions.
As cities get bigger and bigger, there are more and more things which the government needs to take care of, such as more miles of roads, sewers, more crime, more buses and houses. However it is clear that today’s institutions, especially in the majority world cities, are overwhelmed by all of this data. The different municipal departments need to efficiently process the data of the city. For Beer, a combination of computers, telecommunication and an insight from organizational cybernetics could be used to resolve this reality of public administration being swamped with too much data.
The role of the computer is to collate and make sense of the vast amount of data that it is built to handle, far more than the human brain whose number crunching ability is quite limited. Used in this ways, all sorts of civic data could be used in a way that mimics the human central nervous system as a model for governance and control. The tool of the computer used as the mechanism to crunch and make intelligible all this mass of data.
What is required is an ordinary computer, with teleprocessing interfaces between itself and its inputs from the country and itself and the control room, plus an extraordinarily clever program.
The vision I am trying to create for you is of an economy that works like our own bodies. There are nerves extending from the governmental brain throughout the country, accepting information continuously.
At the time of writing Beer was using computers and telex machines as a mechanism to give real-time feedback with the aim of giving the government the power to make intelligent decisions regarding industrial policy. At the time the government was using paper reports, that were always at least two months out of date, Beer revolutionised this by having industrial data from key factories faxed into the government’s ‘Command Centre’ at the end of each day, thus the government could make informed decisions using relevant data.
Why should governments be trying to deal today with last summer’s problems—which are, in any event, settled one way or another by now? Then does this then mean that government will be flooded with masses of data that it cannot handle? Certainly not. My brain and your brain at this moment are both accepting all manner of sensory input— everything in the room is registering there, and that is good, because we may need to attend to something quite suddenly. Until that need arises, however, our brains automatically inspect all this irrelevant input, and filter out most of it.
This is what I mean by using computers as variety handlers on the right side of the equation. They have to accept all manner of input, and attenuate its variety automatically. What they will pass on to the control room is whatever matters. Now we tell our brains what matters to our bodies by detecting inputs that are deviating from what would normally be expected. Everything else maps onto the understood pattern in the model. Inputs fluctuate of course, but they fluctuate within limits that can be continuously calculated by probability theory—if you have a computer. So to recognize what matters the computer will need to make very very complicated calculations on every item of data coming in, and assess the chances that something novel is happening.
[Beer] …was essentially suggesting that Chile’s entire economy–transportation, banking, manufacturing, mining, and more–could all be wired to feed realtime data into a central computer mainframe where specialized cybernetic software could help the country to manage resources, to detect problems before they arise, and to experiment with economic policies on a sophisticated simulator before applying them to reality.
I am mentioning this here in the context of democratic accountability and participation. With the level of current computerised connectivity all manner of data could be collated into a central command centre, the contents of which could be entirely public, displayed on maps or 3D models, with the aim of making masses of data intelligible to our brains. If citizens were encouraged to engage with this city data, and had an understanding of civic budget constraints, they would be able to engage and regulate the decisions made by policy makers. If the Ministers and elected representatives knew that their actions would be fully scrutinised by an informed public, their actions would be regulated by this. In the same way, this form of ‘central nervous system’ of civic data would allow citizens to engage in and make decisions relevant to their local areas, at the most local, neighbourly level. Of course, at this stage I am talking in the context of democratic accountability, and participatory decision making, but the ramifications of using computers in ‘on the right side of the variety equation is relevant at the regional, national and global level also.
Big Data and Sao Paulo example
In the age of ‘big data’ and the technological ease with which we could connect citizens to the internet, a regulatory mechanism could be developed based on a model I heard about in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Legislation is required to enforce a public agreement, whereby all upcoming Mayoral candidates agree that if their election promises are not implemented, then they lose the right to be Mayor. All campaign promises are put on a platform on the internet, and voters can choose which policies they think are best, and vote for that candidate. This same web-platform, which is independently run, then follows the elected Mayor’s administration, and tracks what was promised to what was delivered. This same platform presents all relevant data about the city as 3-D models and in map format.
In this way the amount of libraries in a given area, police incident rates, hospital services, sewer infrastructure, public spending and an endless variety of variables could be displayed on a realtime map of the city. Such a platform could allow the viewer to correlate services with spending, to follow campaign promises with what is delivered and so on. ‘Big date’ used in this way, provided by an independent source would be used to scientifically analyse government decisions. With all budget decisions mapped corruption would be more difficult, and the allocation of resources to white elephant projects would be also less likely as the decision-maker would have to justify his decision to his critics, and face the possibility of losing his mandate if he spent the resources imprudently.
Using the internet, and ‘big data’ in this way would really help to build a ‘smarter city’, by facilitating regulation and scrutiny of city data. Of course, people need to be capacitated to be politically interested and to make informed decisions. However I believe that such a system would facilitate a more scientific and democratic approach to making policy decisions.
This is an area where technology and governance overlap. Technological breakthroughs and sensors connected to the internet are allowing for a huge amount of data to be collected, and computer processors are getting more powerful so as to be able to compute all this data.
What I am advocating is a way of using the computer based on the ideas of Stafford Beer, the management cybernetician. Beer complained that computers were being used wrong on the whole, complicating things and distracting us by saturating us with information. He suggested that a more intelligent use of the computer is its power to process big data, to make huge data sets understandable at a glance.
This is also an approach which rejects the whole paranoia that the government and Google use this data for spying for example. While this may be the case, it is more important to see the host of beneficial effects in terms of citizens being able to regulate their local administrations, through access to all relevant urban data. Big data analysis is something which intelligence agencies have been using in recent years, to provide their operatives with ‘actionable intelligence’. It is equally possible to make citizens more intelligent about their governments through public access to big data, on an easy to understand interface.
There are examples around us where big data is being used, such as IBM’s Smarter Cities project, or Siemens’ programme of Smart and Sustainable Cities. Palantir Technologies mission statement reads:
We build software that allows organizations to make sense of massive amounts of disparate data. We solve the technical problems, so they can solve the human ones. Combating terrorism. Prosecuting crimes. Fighting fraud. Eliminating waste. From Silicon Valley to your doorstep, we deploy our data fusion platforms against the hardest problems we can find, wherever we are needed most.
Shyam Sankar, director of forward deployed engineering describes Palantir’s goal as fostering “human-computer symbiosis,” a term adapted from J.C.R. Licklider, a psychologist and computer scientist who published a prescient essay on the topic in 1960. Sankar contrasts that with what he calls the “AI bias” now dominant in the tech industry. “We focus on helping humans investigate hypotheses,” says Sankar. That’s only possible if analysts have tools that let them creatively examine data from every angle in search of those “aha” moments.
In practice, Palantir’s software gives the user tools to explore interconnected data and tries to present the information visually, often as maps that track to how people think. One bank bought the software in order to detect rogue employees stealing or leaking sensitive information. The detective work was guided by when and where employees badged into buildings, and by records of their digital activities on the company’s network. “This is contrary to automated decision making, when an algorithm figures everything out based on past data,” says Ari Gesher, a Palantir engineer. “That works great. Except when the adversary is changing. And many classes of modern problems do have this adaptive adversary in the mix.”
While Palantir is a controversial subject, that sort of data fusion expertise could be used to build a system with the explicit aim of providing a regulatory mechanism for citizens to control their elected representatives. I mention it here only because this technological aspect is essential for understanding how city officials could be regulated by their citizens.
There is a precedent for this that I am aware of. In the city of Sao Paulo the NGO ‘Nossa Sao Paulo’ set out with the purpose of publishing online the campaign promises of to be candidates, and securing binding contracts with them that they would voluntarily leave should their promises not be fulfilled. The organisation also set out with the purpose of gathering data about city spending and provision of services in abid to make citizens smarter and better informed about their leaders.
For example various ‘Apps’ could be developed towards this end. Citizens could feed information into online state maps with photos, videos, live data. Citizen opinion and assumed responsibility could be signalled, as well as ways for prioritising policy decisions. A relatively simple software interface would allow this to happen. Another online map, available on one’s tablet or phone could offer political profiles, campaign promises compared to items delivered, 3-D maps could show the current spending plan in a consise easy to understand manner. Another click and citizens could see relative spending on the health, security, education and transport sectors. Simple technology, if guided by the goal of making the citizen politically literate, and making spending understandable, could make the whole governance process transparent. Citizens could make spending suggestions and face the reality of how best to spend financial resources that are never enough together with their elected representatives.
Applications of Technology for sustainability
The question of sustainability is of course fundamental. If agglomerates of millions of people living in close proximity to eachother can continue to exist for generations to come, a sustainability architecture needs to be put in place wherein the city’s aggregate resource consumption does not exceed its environmental carrying capacity. This is a tall order, if we factor in projected population growth, and the current disorganisation and bureaucratic deficits of many of the world’s cities, particularly in the South.
In the face of these difficulties we have one fundamental reason to be optimistic and that is the exponential advances of technology since the last century. Discoveries are made daily regarding all manner of scientific fields which, if acted upon for the common good could meet the challenges of how to provide sustainability for city agglomerations. The hurdle to be overcome is ideological. Science and technology function within a capitalist system, and serve the bottom line of turning a profit rather than serving the common good of the people. It would be easy for a city to have free wireless internet connection for free, for everyone, the implementation cost would be minimal, but we do not because the bottom line is that technology must generate profit for the investor firstly, and be socially useful secondly. EThe filds of energy generation from non-fossil fuels, transportation, agricultural innovation, IT and robotics, examples of an ever expanisve list already have hundreds of proven prototypes of technologies and methodologies which could be applied now. They are not however because of the fundamental ideological constraint.
In order for this to change, fundamental aspects of our institutions would have to change. I propose that research into technology applicable to the common good, with the fundamental value of sustainability be financed by the state, if we think in terms of the current nation state organisational model (i the future international working groups could work together organised thematically rather than by nation, and their findings could be implemented )
Tackling this issue requires a fundamental change in the nature of the behaviour of the citizens themselves. As we have discussed in the previous section, the people themselves must contribute to the wellbeing of the city itself.
We require the application of technology for the common good, applied to the city with respect to the laws of thermodynamics, in a cybernetically organised fashion. There are various wholesale strategies which could be applied to a city’s architecture which would generate energy and minimize waste. For example, the sewer grid could be redesigned to re-use excrement to generate energy, water could be cleaned by being filtered through edible plants and re-used as drinking water. Or a smart-grid system of solar energy on private houses, tied to the city’s electricity grid could provide electricity to power the city from a renewable resource.
For example, off the top of my head here are a few ways technology could be used for the common good in current cities:
Water and Sewage Ideas
There are all sorts of ways to treat waste water by using plant based filters.
Raw sewage can quite easily be turned into gas to be used in electricity generation
Local composting can produce adobe to be used in local vegetable gardens and reducing the onus on municipal waste services. The city could build composting centres to accommodate this.
Re-introduction of tram-lines as citizen friendly transportation
For transportation of goods and materials balloon based systems could be used, Airships and Zepellins could be used for transportation, using a system of feeder smaller feeder ships, and larger transporters.
Wholesale implementation of incentives for individual households to install grid-tie solar panels on their houses, reducing reliance on national grid.
Widespread implementation of community fruit and vegetable gardens, and chickens, reducing external food dependence of the city. Changing the dynamic of buying food as an economic transaction rather than growing a certain amount oneself, or together with one’s community. Integrated with sewage filtration and composting.
There are all sorts of sustainable building ideas which could be utilised, from Adobe-dwellings, to bamboo structures, to efficient concrete.
Occupation of derelict commercial or residential buildings, as in Caracas’ Torre David may also be necessary solutions.
Favela-centric cities as a conceptual starting point
The city we are envisaging is the city that the majority of the world’s population is likely to live in, given current economic carrying-capacity constraints, it is likely that the masses of people who will be living in the future cities will have to live in the least expensive housing possible and in cities where the services that the municipality can provide are likely to be extremely limited. As an exercise in rational forecasting, we can therefore conjecture that these cities are likely to be Favela-centric, I say Favela rather than “Slum” because of the negative connotations of that word. Whereas Favela offers some hope, it does not necessarily mean human misery, rather a more organic form of humans who are constrained by scant resources, doing their best to live in a city. This preamble is an assumption on which the pervious and following ideas and solutions are based, when we think of future solutions it is favela-dwellers who we are thinking about.
A city made up of favelas, with an engaged citizenry is the starting point for thinking about sustainability actions in progress. When we think of composting and community gardens, local neighbourhood watch, and solar panels for example, it is these communities that we are thinking of.
Decentralised Access to Technology
Within this context, decentralised access to technology, in terms of practical mechanisation for labour saving could be developed. I envisage the installation of a shipping container 3-D printing workshop, in each of the city’s Favela communities. The 3-D printing workshop would be able to print machine tools for loca residents’ pumps, irrigation systems, gardening tools, or whatever the local community choses. In this way local communities will be the entrepreneurial drivers for change in their neighbourhood.
I envisage the state facilitating the installation of the 3-D printing shop, together with a training programme for those interested (as part of a wholistic strategy, school-level education and adult education would be used to teach people practical science, basic electrics, and interpretation of machine design). In this way the local community would have the capacity to build and repair their own machines. 3-D container workshops can also easily print designs from the internet, and I imagine that this could be done in a relatively simple way, so that local citizens could put ideas into practice themselves, without requiring too much technical expertise.
Container based 3-D work, “Additive 3-d printing” (printing 3-D objects using stock materials) has already been used by the US Army in Forward Operating bases in Afghanistan. Containers with the printer and mechanic are delivered by helicopter, soldiers can then manufacture 3-D objects as per their necessity; gun parts, car parts this idea could be transposed to Favela-centric cities for use in construction, agriculture, and all manner of self-sufficiency. The “Open Source Ecology” collaborative machine design and building initiative is designed to make easy to use blueprints of industrial machinery that anyone could use, as cheaply as possible, with the blueprints distributed for free. I envisage the Open Source Ecology initiative and rudimentary 3D printing and mechanical workshops revolutionising the way local communities interact with technology and machines. Open Source Ecology’s vision is that such a new way of interacting with practical technology will cause a fundamental shift in huma consciousness. I envisage the wholesale adoption of their ideas as part of a sustainable strategy for the future.
“This work of distributing raw productive power to people is not only a means to solving wicked problems – but a means for humans themselves to evolve. The creation of a new world depends on expansion of human consciousness and personal evolution – as individuals tap their autonomy, mastery, and purpose – to Build Themselves – and to become responsible for the world around them. One outcome is a world beyond artificial material scarcity – where no longer do material constraints and resource conflicts dictate most of human interactions – personal and political. We see a future world where we can say – “Resource conflicts? That was back in the stone age.”
Another area of technological development to be coupled with 3-D printing, and Open Source Ecology is robotics, potentially in the near future communities could build robotic systems towards the common good in similar fashion.
The question of Public Space
An important aspect of the vision that is beginning to emerge is related to the notion of public and private space. It has been noted that when some citizens take care of the public space around them that the well-being (measured in Quality of Life quotients) of the entire community increases. So all gardening initiatives and initiatives which involve neighbours doing things together have socially positive collateral rucksacks. However the debate also needs to cover aspects of what the state does and what people do themselves regarding pubic space, as long as people feel that the public space is someone else’s responsibility this will not happen. In our favela-centric vision, public space becomes something that is communal, but locally owned and managed. 3-D printing workshops, community gardens, composters and so on are all public utilities, constructed and used by the local public. In someways the difference between the state and the people becomes blurred, in that the people in this vision are the state in action. The state – in terms of collective spending power for the common good, must work as a kick-starter and catalyser for this fundamental change towards a sustainable society, providing the relevant coaching and educational frameworks, providing the tools, even paying people initially, doing everything in its power to protect and nurture such a fledgling vision.
Government regulatory agencies and ways of working to protect the citizen would need to be adapted in order to ensure some form of quality control, while also enabling local communities.
A brief aside, as I read what I write I feel the necessity to address a potential naivety in relation to the loosely defined ‘Favela-centric Communities’, this is all too quaint. Communities are not fixed sums of family units, and the contemporary ‘family’ seems to be in general less nuclear and more spread out. People also tend to be alienated from their community, I blame the work-centric lifestyle, where citizens are locked into a cycle of working 9-5 in a job, devoting themselves to this, as their ‘calling’ fundamentally, but also in exchange for money with which they can purchase goods and services and pay taxes so that the state looks after the social issues in one’s community. Such a mode locks people into a vicious circle of alienation and neglect of local life, not through the fault of the individualised individual, but due to the difficulties of surviving within such a system.
Practically speaking, how does the above aside impact on our vision for achievable and sustainable cities, made up of cohesive communities? It springs to mind that essentially we would need to incorporate the dynamic nature of human communities into the programme, perhaps making participation a fact of life, but that this participation need not necessarily be drastically tied to place.
 David Harvey explains for example how high energy usage was installed in American cities. As a kind of Keynesian economic injection, the government spent lots of money reconstruction cities, and relocating urban poulations to suburbs and satellite towns, connected by roads to the centre. The city thus has high energy usage built into it, as the residents need to commute by car 40 km to work per day, as the city centre is far away. Obviously to reform such a geographical constellation it is somehow perhaps more difficult (although there exits solutions in localism) than a city which has slums closer to places of work, for example.
 More on this notion, it makes me think of the secrets of agro-forestry as an allegory of the city, things surging forth, mutually supporting eachother, in synergistic relationships.
Sampson, R. J., Raudenbush, S. W. and Earls, F. (1997). Neighborhoods and violent crime: A multilevel study of collective efficacy. Science 277, 918–24
 Earls, F. J. (2005). Neighbourhood Matters Selected Findings from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, retrieved 2014 from http://www.macfdn.org/media/article_pdfs/INFO_CHICAGO_NEIGHBORHOODS.PDF (page1)
 Op. cit.
 Ibid. page 918
 Earls, F. J. (2005). Neighbourhood Matters Selected Findings from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, retrieved 2014 from http://www.macfdn.org/media/article_pdfs/INFO_CHICAGO_NEIGHBORHOODS.PDF (page 3)
 Brannan, John & Stoker, 2006
 Brannan, John & Stoker, 2006
 (Freire, 1970, p. 54). Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
 Gasperini, L. (2000). The Cuban education system: Lessons and dilemmas. Education Reform and Management Team, Human Development Network–Education, World Bank.
 Gasperini, L. (2000). The Cuban education system: Lessons and dilemmas. Education Reform and Management Team, Human Development Network–Education, World Bank.
 Op. Cit.
 Available at https://www.academia.edu/3101154/Addressing_Urban_Fear_and_Violence_in_Bogota_through_the_Culture_of_Citizenship_Scope_and_Challenges_of_a_Unique_Approach
 http://world.bymap.org/YoungPopulation.html & http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.0014.TO.ZS
 Empowerment Case Studies: Participatory Budgeting in Brazil, available at: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTEMPOWERMENT/Resources/14657_Partic-Budg-Brazil-web.pdf
 Beer Designing Freedom page 18
 Beer Designing Freedom page 18
 Beer Designing Freedom page 17
 Beer Designing Freedom page 18)
 Alan Bellows http://www.damninteresting.com/nineteen-seventy-three/