Integrating civil society into reflections and decisions for more inclusive and sustainable territories.

Our civilization faces unprecedented human and environmental challenges. Our way of living in the world, from villages to metropolises, must evolve. Urban planning must also evolve to fully integrate civil society into reflections and decisions to preserve a habitable world. The best way to transform our territories is to do so progressively and collectively, by multiplying inspiring projects. It's the demonstrative power of open urbanism projects, with their ability to mobilize and empower citizens, that will assist political authorities and professionals in changing urban planning.

Open urbanism proposes new paths: its principles lead to approaches that respect humanity and nature, starting at the local level. Because its subjects are defined with a wide diversity of participants and across all generations, open urbanism activates collective intelligence and involvement. It reveals qualitative and exciting opportunities, where conventional urbanism often shows blockages and a dilution of responsibilities.

Far from suggesting insularity and being limited to local scales, open urbanism approaches propose a paradigm shift inspiring at a global scale, with a worldwide connection of human creativity around unique, infinitely scalable, and adaptable solutions, because they are produced from local and sustainable resources.

Principle 1: Participation

Building trust between political authorities, experts, and civil society

Taking the time to progressively establish listening and trust among stakeholders

Trust is a crucial foundation for developing an approach to open urbanism. The initial participants in the process need to feel respected, heard, and valued. Multiplying formal and informal friendly meetings gradually expands the circle, creating better listening between civil society and political authorities and experts, as well as between political authorities and experts and civil society. Organizing these meetings in third-place settings also facilitates a shift towards more open, transparent exchanges with the public interest at the heart of decision-making. Allowing all citizens to verify that this commitment is upheld creates the necessary trust for contributive dynamics to emerge.


Principle 2: Inclusion

Engaging with everyone, in their living spaces

Moving around to assist a wider diversity of actors to participate

The responsibility of professionals and political authorities is to engage with everyone. Travelling to different locations to converse with residents and users provides professionals with a unique source of learning and understanding the complexity of the territory. Each physical or virtual location is significant. Since some people do not respond to invitations, establishing contact to include them is crucial—going to where these individuals live, work, learn, exchange, and live. People also tend to express themselves more easily on their own ground, where landmarks are more solid and cultural and generational barriers are less present. Since the use of spaces varies with daily and seasonal cycles, adapting to diverse schedules is necessary. Repeated visits to the same place are not a waste of time and have many benefits for exchanges; they demonstrate attention and respect towards usually excluded groups; they give individuals time to formulate their questions and develop their contributions.


Principle 3: Engagement

Engaging all inhabitants of a territory

Allowing all topics to surface to highlight the links between individual interests and the public interest

The engagement of civil society in territorial transformations strengthens when discussions freely cover topics that concern everyone: housing and employment issues, quality of life, climate change, etc. Openness is useful both for engaging individuals who think political agenda topics do not concern them and those who feel the issues addressed are insufficient for ambitious and urgent challenges. Openness is also beneficial for generating interest in more specific topics guided by personal interests. These topics need to be expressed; participants with personal interests in open urbanism processes face regular encounters with a diverse group of people and transparent debates (see principles 1 and 2). They are compelled to argue and gather as many people as possible around their ideas to advance them. In doing so, they create links between personal interests and the public interest. Interest in the process is further strengthened when a diversity of ideas, from the most pragmatic to the most utopian, is directly accessible to everyone. The process triggers surprises, amazement, and intensifies exchanges. A final point that favors the inclusiveness of open urbanism processes: organizing reflections and arguments on all topics allows strategies driven by political authorities and experts to intersect, without excluding any topics or imposing others on civil society.


Principle 4: Empowerment

Unleashing everyone's creativity and abilities

Facilitating expression, opening sources of inspiration from the local to the global

Contributions from everyone should enable concrete territorial transformations. Each individual must be able to unleash their creativity, speak up, and engage, even if they are not accustomed to doing so. The approach must increase over time the opportunities for individuals to express themselves, imagine, refine their thinking, develop self-confidence, take a stance, and develop their autonomy of thought. Proponents of open urbanism must consider that each person expresses themselves differently, sometimes more easily individually or collectively, in writing or verbally, through drawing or imagery. Each individual should also be able to gradually become more skilled on topics where they initially lack knowledge, filling gaps with the help of their peers and the process leaders. Professionals, political authorities, and involved residents must enable the emergence of solutions directly related to the specificities of each territory, while complementing exchanges with experiences and references from other territories, even distant ones, so that everyone can grasp and draw inspiration from them, opening up reflections. Every participant, whether from political authority, expert groups, or civil society, should thus be able to evolve over time and engage in new topics by discovering contributions unknown at the start of the process.


Principle 5: Experimentation

Initiating experiments based on a common intention

Encouraging projects that bring about large-scale evolution towards more sustainable lifestyles

In the progression of an open urbanism approach, the multitude of expression and exchange methods produces a wealth of ideas often hybrid in origin, as they result from iterations among contributions from political authorities, experts, and civil society. Bearing values of the public interest and commitments, they are contingent on social dynamics. These ideas, emerging from collective intelligence, first inhabit imaginations; they are fragile, being still far from the constraints of reality, yet powerful because they outline possibilities for large-scale improvement of territories based on common intentions. Starting with modest-scale topics involving a wide variety of participants, initial experiments test ideas and serve as concrete proofs of the value of the collective intelligence process. The creation of multiple experiments and feedback from contributors will spark new contributions and refine common intentions for scaling up. These actions contribute to inclusivity and sustainability dynamics by prioritizing local resources they help emerge in a commonly envisioned territory. Progressive evolutions towards more inclusive and sustainable lifestyles are conceivable because civil society fully participates in project strategies and the development of concrete solutions from experiments.


Principle 6: Social Dynamics

Bringing forth enthusiastic resource people

Incorporating long-term commitment individuals into the process

For political authorities and experts, the territory is divided into various zones and entities under different land ownership and administrative responsibilities. The difficulty in coordinating different owners and administrative responsibilities can be such that some public interest projects cannot be launched. This can also be the case in lawless areas. For example, how to rebuild biodiversity corridors to preserve animal species when land is fragmented across individual private properties and agricultural operations? How to reorganize soft mobility by cutting through private properties? How to revive public spaces in informal housing areas where every available surface is overexploited? Advancing these projects is often challenging for professionals who cannot rely on legal constraints. Peer-to-peer exchanges, sharing ideals, and the ability of active individuals to persuade by mobilizing the public interest open new paths. The enthusiasm, goodwill, and convictions carried by these individuals, who have knowledge, experience, and passion for certain public interest topics, are key to envisaging real transformations. These resource people can come from all walks of life: research, education, associative, entrepreneurship, public or private spheres. They reveal themselves during collaborative processes on the ground during experiments (see Principle 5). They can create trust through their long-term journeys, attract contributions, and broaden the circle of participants around common public interest intentions. (see Principle 4) Political actors and professionals must recognize the importance of these resource individuals and work with them to succeed in complex projects with the new capabilities for action that civil society can bring.


Principle 7: Resilience

Co-constructing assemblies of modular and evolutionary projects

Deploying projects that users can evolve

Across the globe, geopolitical and environmental contexts are changing and unpredictable. No longer are there recipes for applying pre-existing solutions, and rigid planning solutions have become risky. Each territory must invent its own logic for deploying open urbanism and interpret the principles based on its material and immaterial resources: geography, materials, know-how, and culture. The collaborative dynamics generated by open urbanism activate these resources. These collaborative dynamics are precious and must extend well beyond the time and topics of urban and architectural transformations because interactions between political authorities, experts, and civil society make the territory a learning space conducive to open innovation logics. These logics enable each territory to adapt open models such as the contributive and circular economy, third places, fab-labs, and cooperative housing. They help reinvent local economic systems to increase the proportion of goods and buildings produced locally, promote the transition to local energy and food production, and maintain active contributive dynamics on a territory also enables mobilizing creativity and collective intelligence on many structuring topics: protection of minorities, access for all to education, culture, health, healthy food, water, dignified housing, sanitation, waste reduction, mobility, and empowering digital technology. The open innovation culture also facilitates the transition to more sustainable industries through the demand for modifiable and repairable products. To continuously adapt territories to changing conditions and thus improve their resilience, it is important to promote the diffusion of methods, components, and products that are modular, evolutionary, freely modifiable, and assembleable. These elements should preferably be governed by compatible free licenses (open source, open design, open hardware) to foster a culture of contribution. Collaborative dynamics are then facilitated within each territory, but also between distant territories, with all the capacities for solidarity and inspiration that ensue.


Principle 8: Common Informational Heritage

Creating spaces to forge and interconnect common informational heritages.

Developing everyone's contributions

Experiments, actions, and projects arising from social dynamics require convivial and accessible places to enable debates, share processes, and governance rules of the approaches. Free access and the acceptance of critical feedback are essential to increase the number and quality of contributions. Exchanges and projects must be systematically documented to create a common informational heritage. A digital hub must be established in this place to facilitate access to this heritage, increasing the capacity of individuals involved in a project to interact and integrate into local cultural and economic ecosystems. Beyond the local, the place and its digital hub must organize the sharing of the created common informational heritage with other places and countries, as well as provide access to inspiring approaches developed elsewhere. This allows each territory to develop its capacities for action and open up to the world. Each territory can thus develop its creativity from knowledge shared under the regime of compatible free licenses (open source, open design, open hardware) and pool its methodological and technical R&D with other territories. The logics of freedom allow for accelerations: countries with greater financial resources can assist in creating learning digital territories, develop methods and techniques to strengthen inclusion and sustainability of their territory, then share them freely, without imposition on other territories.


Principle 9: Local + Global

Connecting local public interest actions to large-scale transformations.

Utilizing open innovation and distributed intelligence logics

Large-scale strategic projects often provoke resistance to change because they are generally perceived as carrying transformations that will be imposed on territories and their inhabitants. The oppositions between large-scale strategies and local territories need to be overcome, especially as the consequences of the Anthropocene are visible to all. Four centuries of unreasonable domination of nature and detachment from reality have led to climate disruptions and disturbances in the life cycles of plants and animals. Already, hundreds of millions of people live in inhumane conditions, and UN reports highlight the urgency since they indicate that this number is set to increase. To combat climate disruptions and accelerate the transformation towards more inclusive and sustainable living territories, human societies must transform their urban planning methods to move beyond oppositions between global and local dimensions. To do so, conventional urbanism must evolve towards less overarching approaches by integrating a new DNA based on open innovation, distributed intelligence, and contributive practices across all scales. Under these conditions, it will be possible to co-produce common representations and a massive commitment to a transition towards more inclusive and sustainable lifestyles. Open urbanism prefigures this evolution; territorial transformations stemming from open urbanism processes benefit from the energy and creativity of social dynamics based on common intentions. These approaches, because they are co-constructed, promote behavior changes, lifestyle evolution, and the emergence of a common culture. This culture unites a multitude of contributors who can become convincing ambassadors. Open urbanism also has a non-destructive replication potential because it promotes the use of sustainable local material and immaterial resources to preserve the continuity of cultural ecosystems and regenerate local economic systems. (see Principle 7 and Principle 8) The involvement of civil society fosters the emergence of conversations with political authorities and experts around large-scale strategic issues. Local strategies can thus be enriched by global strategies and vice versa. Political authorities and experts, across all scales, thus have valuable material to succeed in inclusive and sustainable large-scale territorial transformations, with the effective participation of civil society.