Wikispaces: How open-source theory can democratize public space planning.

Figure 1. Open planning workshop. Inspired by the open-source culture, pattern language design and wikisystem, we tested the idea of  wikispace . The planning students from Concordia University (Montreal) and community members participated in the design of Coffee Park with the use of an interactive model. Photo: Prem Sooriyakumar (2019). Montreal, QC.

Figure 1. Open planning workshop. Inspired by the open-source culture, pattern language design and wikisystem, we tested the idea of wikispace. The planning students from Concordia University (Montreal) and community members participated in the design of Coffee Park with the use of an interactive model. Photo: Prem Sooriyakumar (2019). Montreal, QC.

There is a revived and ongoing debate about the meaning of publicness since the arrival of the internet. We have ubiquitous access to a non-hierarchical open system based on exchange, interconnection, coproduction and spontaneous organization. We understand this inextricably political concepts not by reading political or organizational theory, but by directly taking part in this network everyday. Our idea of open has expanded. Our idea of access has expanded. And, so has our idea of commons. Planners, designers, activists and ordinary citizens can now envision the possibility of opening, not only space itself, but also the design and planning of public spaces to the public.

The open-source paradigm has completely changed how we understand and conceptualize public space: The idea of a perpetually-editable, accessible-to-all and ever-evolving public space is now a provocation impossible to ignore. Open-source systems are powerful metaphors of the public realm and they offer useful interpretational tools to plan and design the city. The notion of wikis, is perhaps the most provoking image of all.  A wiki text (e.g. a Wikipedia article) can be created, complemented and modified by potentially anybody. It can also be linked to other related texts (i.e. hyperlinked). Conceiving a city as a series of interconnected spaces that are perpetually subject to transformation by its citizens forces a conversation that connects politics, planning and informatics.

While there are advancements in transforming democratic participation through the internet and social web (Mancini, 2015), in linking open-source and wiki systems to participatory design (Di Gangi, et al 2009, Aitamurto, et al, 2015) and architecture (West and O’mahony, 2008, Tato and Vallejo, 2012, Parvin, 2013, Di Quarto, et al, 2014), and in linking social struggles to planning and design (Hou, 2017, De la Llata, 2016, Knierbein, 2018, Alfasi, 2003), there has not been a transversal conversation that links the political, technological and design dimensions that are inherent to open-source planning. There is work that explores the notion of open-source architecture and wiki design (Salingaros, Mena-Quintero, 2010), that is to say, a design process that is open to the public. However, there is little inquiry on opening the actual making of public space to the public. But, can we conceive the idea of wikispaces? That is to say, a physical space whose material -- not only virtual -- development is open for transformation, as means to democratize public space planning and design. The challenges are political as much as they are technological and conceptual. The notion of wikispace raises a number of questions, such as: (1) How can we ensure that public spaces are the result of meaningful design contributions when design is open to all?, (2) Can wiki-systems ensure, not only democratic design processes, but also outcomes that reflect the needs and values of the potential users of urban spaces? as well as, (3) What is the role of knowledge and experts in the planning and design of a wiki public space and what are the implications for these professions? However, it also reveals enormous potential for bottom-up city-making. A wikispace “would not only be an open-source, but also an open-ended system. [And], as the system remains open for external inputs, the space constantly grows in complexity” (De la Llata, 2015: 3).

The internet is represented and conceived as a virtual image of real life. However, after two decades of iterating a parallel reality online, we begin to realize the potential of the opposite: testing the logics of — the best of — the internet in the physical urban world.


Aitamurto, T., Holland, D. and Hussain, S., 2015. The Open Paradigm in Design Research. Design Issues, 31(4), pp.17-29.

De la Llata, S. (2017). Operation 1DMX and the Mexico City Commune: The Right to the City Beyond the Rule of Law in Public Spaces. In City Unsilenced (pp. 173-185). Routledge.

De la Llata, S. (2015). Open-ended urbanisms: Space-making processes in the protest encampment of the Indignados movement in Barcelona. Urban Design International, 21(2), 113-130.

Di Gangi, P.M. and Wasko, M., 2009. Steal my idea! Organizational adoption of user innovations from a user innovation community: A case study of Dell IdeaStorm. Decision Support Systems, 48(1), pp.303-312.

Di Quarto, G., Labate, A. and Malaspina, M., 2014. Open Source Architecture for" Nuovo CEP". In Advanced Engineering Forum (Vol. 11, pp. 171-176). Trans Tech Publications.

Hou, J. (Ed.). (2010). Insurgent public space: guerrilla urbanism and the remaking of contemporary cities. Routledge.

Mancini, P. (2013). Media fragmentation, party system, and democracy. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 18(1), 43-60.

Salingaros, N. (2010). P2P Urbanism.

West, J. and O'mahony, S., 2008. The role of participation architecture in growing sponsored open source communities. Industry and innovation, 15(2), pp.145-168.

Cities by Citizens: From Planning to Citymaking

'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.