Cividend: A Democratic Urban Planning Mechanism

Jordan Ostapchuk at RadicalXChange: “Urban planning as a professional discipline is implicitly flawed towards its approach to the design of cities. The term “urban planning” is a category error—it is a mistake to view urban environments as something that can be planned.

This stems from our modern desire to make messy systems ‘legible’ through maps, plans, strategies, and grids. It temporarily suppresses the underlying messiness without ever solving it.

The dominant urban planning philosophy of today assumes two contradictory stances.

On one hand, it assumes people know what is best for their life and can faithfully express it via the virtues of the free market. “If people want single family homes with yards, far from the activity of the city centre, then by rights the market has provided!” (Ignoring the five-decade legacy of race-driven zoning policies, loss-making municipal infrastructure subsidies, and hidden costs to health and wellbeing.)

On the other hand, contemporary urban planning assumes that people have no idea what is best for their life and must be saved from their follies by the maternal hand of strict zoning policies, design guidelines, and municipal bylaws. “If we do not intervene, neighbourhoods will devolve into chaos; trust the experts to masterplan your streets and buildings!” (Ignoring the irony of assuming a central bureaucrat can decide what is best for a neighbourhood that they do not live in, work in, or worship in. And the repeated failures of historically master-planned cities and the prevalence of bylaw exemptions.)

There is a better way to think about cities, how they evolve and our role in the process.

It helps to start with two fundamental truths:

  1. Incredibly complex systems arise from a set of very simple rules
  2. We cannot predict the future, but we can invent it.

By thinking about the city differently, we can reframe “the kind of problem a city is” as Jane Jacobs said, one that is better suited to our 21st century challenges and opportunities.

We need to redefine our thinking about cities as collections of interactions, rather than just physical spaces. We should think about cities as market-based, and socially-driven systems.

Michael Batty defines cities as “…aggregates of multiple decision-making processes that generate designs and decisions pertaining to the way we organize our social and economic activities in space and time,” and this is the way they will be approached here. To invent future cities, we must create a system of “radically innovative political economies and social technologies that are truer to the richness of our diversely shared lives” per RadicalxChange’s mission…(More)”.