7 Billion Urbanists: Unlimited Cities Taiwan: Collaborative urban planning, citizen participation and digital tools

7 Billion Urbanists: Unlimited Cities Taiwan: Collaborative urban planning, citizen participation and digital tools

Urban designers Morgane Le Guilloux and Clément Tricot, from France, have been living in Taiwan since 2018. They have already participated in the development of three projects with the Unlimited Cities open source software. In this article, they relate their first experience with residents and their children.  So here is what happened in the summer of 2018 in Hsinchu. You can use Unlimited Cities too; contact@7-bu.org

Alain Renk
urban planner architect, co-founder of the HOST laboratory agency
and the 7 Billion Urban Planners association

How can we enable residents to participate in the development of their neighbourhoods and living spaces? For what purpose? These concerns, to which we are very attached, are at the heart of many debates and projects around the world. In Taiwan we had the opportunity to participate in various citizen participation actions, some of which used the digital tool Unlimited Cities. In this article we present you the process as well as our participation in workshops that took place during the summer of 2018 in Hsinchu.

A digital tool to promote collective intelligence

Unlimited Cities is a collaborative urban planning approach whose main objective is to allow anyone to contribute to the processes of urban change. The process is relatively simple to understand. A web application that can ideally be opened on a tablet allows users to sketch the future of places on any scale: street, square, neighbourhood, etc. From a photo, simply drag and drop different elements and textures into the application's database and adjust them as needed. The user thus creates mixes that will be published freely on the Internet. He can then leave a short message to insist or not on what he considers essential.

Used in a consultation process, this tool helps to structure the dialogue between professionals, residents and local authorities. Exchanges can, for example, open up to taking into account the uses of places or local habits. These sensitive concepts and elements are difficult to perceive from an office. The approach thus makes it possible to complete the traditional work of statistical, cartographic or conceptual analyses, which can sometimes appear to be too disconnected from the realities of everyday life.

The hyper-realism of the application is, in our opinion, one of its greatest qualities. The results obtained will not of course be as good as a professional graphic designer's work. On the other hand, the mixes have a very different merit. First of all, their realization is very simple and those regardless of the user. This makes the use accessible to all. Then, the use of photos allows an easy mental projection, and this, in a concrete environment.

The impact of the achievements is further enhanced when deployed directly on the project site. This creates a climate of trust and simplifies exchanges in a positive way. Moreover, the reflection is not restricted to a fixed plane but is part of an environment observed to 360 degrees.

Finally, let's add that the application does not require any downloads and does not collect your personal data...

Also in the context of an in situ deployment, the various event mediators and project leaders can be both actors and observers. They must be able to simply talk about the process and make it understandable to participants. This requires a difficult synthesis but this work is positive in the context of studies that are sometimes unreadable because of their thickness... The professionals present can open the discussion on subjects that are sometimes imperceptible or technical and that are not considered by the participants. Finally, the approach allows them to observe and listen to what enriches the work. This step is important in order to improve the creativity of urban projects and to adapt technical responses to the specificities of the place.

Let us take the issue of floods to understand the role that the different actors can have. Although floods are only visible occasionally, they are a hazard to be managed on a daily basis. The inhabitants can share their views and opinions on the evolution of the situation or on more or less daily constraints. Knowledge held by inhabitants can also reveal imperceptible details. The professional can bring more detailed technical or methodological reflections. Community representatives, whether or not they are the initiators of the project, also have their place. They can be attentive and better understand local expectations and territorial issues. They will also be able to communicate on the actions they have taken. Each party involved in the project can therefore find an interest in these exchanges that serve to collectively think about the territories.

The NGO 7 Billion Urban Planners: giving every inhabitant of the world the opportunity to participate in the construction and improvement of their city

Unlimited Cities was first designed by the architecture agency HOST. According to one of the founders, the architect Alain Renk, Unlimited Cities' approach is based above all on the sharing of knowledge, uses and collective intelligence in order to envisage less standardized lifestyles and more creative urban projects.

Concerning its use in the world, the open source application has been deployed in several countries: France, China, Taiwan, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Ecuador...

Collaborative urban planning projects require great agility in participation methods and inventiveness in the tools to be deployed. The interest of the Unlimited Cities approach lies in a horizontal distribution of creativity and expression. The idea is not so much to redefine decision-making powers as to strengthen collective practices and interactions between professionals, local governments and citizens.

First experience of the Taiwanese field in Hsinchu: meetings, workshops and discussions

This summer, we participated in a series of workshops in a park in Hsinchu (新竹). The Taiwanese association Our Green Map (錄點點點點) was in charge of event management. We were invited to lead a collaborative urban planning process. Set up in different workshops, we had the opportunity to test Unlimited Cities for the first time.

We found ourselves in a park in a neighbourhood marked by many real estate projects under construction. These housing developments are the result of urban forms that are changing the face of the neighbourhood. High towers gradually replace some dense and compact blocks. The streets are widening. The storefronts that used to look out onto the public space are being replaced by large, luxurious halls. This phenomenon can be observed in many cities in Taiwan. This raises questions that are of great interest to us: do these neighbourhood changes have an impact on the uses and practices of the inhabitants? How do they live it?

As this was also our first use, we wanted to test the real contribution of digital technology. Consultation can be imagined without the use of tablets. Thus, we combined the use of the application with a manual approach using printed images and collages.

Ease of exchange and understanding

The experience was short but constructive. First of all, let's just say it: at that time our mandarin chinese abilities was more than approximate. We have already experienced similar situations, especially because we worked in Vietnam several years ago without mastering the local language. But we had a lot more time. In Hsinchu, the ephemeral nature of the event offered us only a very short time. However, the ease of use of Unlimited Cities allowed us to have a smooth dialogue and facilitate understanding with participants who were a little surprised. We were able to get to the point and talk about simple and concrete things. The profiles of people who stopped to test the application were very varied: families, young children, the elderly, curious passers-by...

We were somewhere a kind of curiosity in these workshops mainly oriented towards exchange, meeting, conviviality or manual creation. The application has received very positive feedback. The use of digital technology has proved its value. The creative and manual workshops we had prepared were often taken in a lighter way, or even reserved for children. The application was approached more seriously and carefully. Loading the mixes made online live and grouping them in an image gallery made it possible to compare points of view at the end of the day.

Unlimited cities Taiwan: towards post-concertation follow-up?

Following our participation in the Hsinchu Sundays, we were contacted by various Taiwanese companies for further collaborations. We were able to participate in two projects in the Wenshan district of Taipei. Before finding our next articles retracing the other approaches, you can consult the online application set up for the "Wenshan Oasis" project, a consultation process on the development of the district initiated by the city of Taipei and run for several years by the Taiwanese company Collaborative O. You can also take an interest in the event that took place on January 12 with the company Wisdomfun in the Muzha area. The information can be found on Facebook.

Article by Morgane Le Guilloux and Clément Tricot - https://urbantaiouan.com/
Photo Credits: Unlimited Cities