Cities by Citizens: From Planning to Citymaking

Silvano De La Llata

'Where is planning in all this?' was a recurrent question I received when I presented my  research on the square movements of 2011, 2012 and 2013 in urban studies, geography and planning conference. The occupations of Tahrir Square, Plaza del Sol and Catalunya in Spain, Zuccotti Park in New York, and Taksim Square in Istambul developed open libraries, kitchens that fed thousands every day, community gardens, art workshops and film screenings. They hosted open-to-the-public assemblies, teach-ins and open conversations to discuss the economy, gender, social change, the environment and the media. They cooked with solar stoves, built structures with recycled wooden skids and used bicycle-powered sound systems in their general assemblies. Here, it is difficult to recognize a hierarchical order but it's impossible not recognizing planning. However, the experience of the protest encampments makes us reconsider planning and think more about citymaking as a broad process of design, use, regulation, interpretation, representation, imagination and, of course, urban planning. The experiment of the square movement has passed. But the impetus to create citizen-driven, citizen-led and citizen-responsive cities is very much alive.  

The People’s Library at Occupy Wall Street. New York, 2011) (Source: Wikimedia Commons. Available online: Last accessed: June, 2017) 

The People’s Library at Occupy Wall Street. New York, 2011) (Source: Wikimedia Commons. Available online: Last accessed: June, 2017) 

The project Cities X Citizens draws from the experience of the square movements and builds on critical planning and design methodologies, such as pattern language design, placemaking, open-source design and community charrettes to explore avenues to democratize citymaking broadly. Two methods were developed as a result of this process: planning-in-situ (i.e. planning the space from the space itself) and open planning (i.e. opening citymaking processes to online and offline participation). These methods have been tested in different public spaces in Montreal (e.g. NDG Park, Kent Park, Alleyway Bishop/Mackay) and are in itself a work in progress. Therefore, they embrace a transformative spirit and evolve based on the inputs of stakeholders and participants.  

Open conversation and brainstorming session to discuss safe spaces and rethink service alleyways in Montreal. Montreal, 2017. (Source: Silvano De la Llata) 

Open conversation and brainstorming session to discuss safe spaces and rethink service alleyways in Montreal. Montreal, 2017. (Source: Silvano De la Llata) 

Open planning and planning-in-situ methodologies applied to the revitalization of interstitial spaces at Concordia University. Montreal, 2016 (Source: Silvano De la Llata) 

Open planning and planning-in-situ methodologies applied to the revitalization of interstitial spaces at Concordia University. Montreal, 2016 (Source: Silvano De la Llata) 

This blog seeks to open a conversation about the democratization of citymaking and the (applied) right to the city. It is addressed to planners, architects, urban designers, community organizers, artists, students and researchers who see themselves as equal participants in the complex process of citymaking. Here, we will post reflections about this topic, but will also share content and resources that can potentially contribute to creating cities by citizens. We will also post updates of our experiments with open planning and planning-in-situ in urban spaces. We encourage comments that contribute to the advancement of rendering cities truly open, democratic and accessible. Here, you will find posts about urban planning and design, public spaces, community charrettes and workshops, walkability, accessibility, urban sustainability, social movements and community gardens, among others.  

A variation of the question of 'Where is planning in all this?' that was also recurrent when I presented my research on the square movements was 'What would you recommend the majors or the city planning commissioners of, say, Barcelona or Istanbul, in relation to these square occupations? My response was always the same -- You have thousands of people meeting in public spaces to discuss the future of the economy, politics, sustainability, gender equality, art, cinema and social change. You have people testing new technologies, forms of organization, architecture, sustainable energy and urban design: true urban laboratories in public spaces ... What are you still doing in your offices? ... You're missing out! 

Occupy Wall Street General assembly at Zuccotti Park (New York, 2011)  (Source: Wikimedia Commons. Available online:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Day_14_Occupy_Wall_Street_September_30_2011_Shankbone_2.JPG Last accessed: June, 2017) 

Occupy Wall Street General assembly at Zuccotti Park (New York, 2011) 
(Source: Wikimedia Commons. Available online:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Day_14_Occupy_Wall_Street_September_30_2011_Shankbone_2.JPG Last accessed: June, 2017)