Online platforms provide citizens with new ways to shape urban development in their own backyard. Photo by Claudio Olivares Medina/Flickr.

Online platforms provide citizens with new ways to shape urban development in their own backyard. Photo by Claudio Olivares Medina/Flickr.

Many developing world cities are experiencing population explosions at the same time as they face funding gaps and citizen apathy towards government’s ability to make meaningful change. In light of these challenges, BD Promotores Colombia, Prodigy Network, PSFK Labs, world renowned architects Gary Hack and Winka Dubbledam, and the citizens of Bogotá, Colombia have decided to make a radical and inspiring change to the process of urban redevelopment. The downtown Bogotá project is focused on citizen participation at every stage of the process. The project’s website “Bogotá: My Ideal City” gives people the ability to collaborate on the redevelopment of their downtown, the expert knowledge to understand complex urban issues, and the platform to crowd-fund this development. This project is an important step in recognizing that sustainability goes beyond individual projects and interventions, and must include opportunities for citizens to access information and decision-makers to influence their future and the future of cities.

Starting a conversation

“Bogotá: My Ideal City” serves as a forum where citizens can converse on topics ranging from “What information would you like to have from your local government?” to “What would be the perfect place to hold concerts in Bogotá?”. With the conversation, “How would you like to be transported around Bogotá?” the overwhelming majority of participants take the online forum seriously and together they foster meaningful discussion. For example, some exchanges touch on expanding bike infrastructure and implementing congestion pricing, typically the fodder of planners and technical experts. These conversations have real impact, as architects pull out common trends to incorporate people’s preferences – like an easy commute, expanded public spaces, and human-oriented streets, all elements of transit-oriented development (TOD) – into the design plans for downtown redevelopment.

From onlooker to active citizen

One of the most important aspects of “Bogotá: My Ideal City” is that it allows people to engage in civic dialogue and simultaneously learn about how their comments fit into a larger conversation. Experts in the field, such as Andre Haddad, CEO of Relayrides, and Sam Zaid, CEO of Getaround, each write about the different models of their respective car-sharing programs. Their participation not only teaches people about car-sharing in general, but allows them to understand what program model might best be adapted to their city. Everyday citizens may not understand zoning ordinances or complex urban theories, but they can point to an example of a project and say “I want this in my neighborhood.” This kind of learning allows citizens to move from being interested onlookers to active participants.

Taking ownership: The citizen’s path to shaping future cities

Perhaps the most important component of “Bogotá: My Ideal City” is that the comments citizens make are actually read and will be incorporated into the redevelopment of the downtown neighborhood. Without treating citizens like clients, where their desires need to be carefully assessed and fully met, the online platform for citizens to vocalize their problems is simply a pretense.

The combination of prioritizing citizens’ needs and a crowd-funding model that holds architects and planners to meeting those needs creates tremendous impact. For the citizens of Bogotá, they will get a downtown project that fits their lifestyles and improves quality of life for all. They have learned lessons in civic engagement and seen an online platform that they can leverage to confront problems facing their city. They have learned lessons in civic engagement and seen an online platform that they can leverage to confront problems facing their city. Most importantly, they have shown the global community that it is still possible take back ownership of their city and its future.