Health warning: this is just a quick brain dump by me and no doubt misses masses of relevant research and thinking in this area. Please feel free to add, subtract or critique as you see fit. All contributions welcome!
Talking over matters of urban design, city governance and the social web with Mark Charmer, Lorenzo Wood and Joe Simpson at lunch yesterday (as you do), I stumbled on a way of describing what I believe we are seeing around us and what I expect we will see far more of in the coming decade, what I called the move from the privatisation of public space to the re-socialisation of public space.
During the eighties, nineties and much of the noughties, we have witnessed an unprecedented privatisation of public space – from the handing over of public land to private landlords to tackle problems of blight in our cities (the Docklands development perhaps being the biggest and ‘best’ example of this), government and politics removing themselves ever further from the public glare, scrutiny and, in fact, influence over society (think of the culture that ultimately led to the MPs expenses scandal or allowed a government to ignore 1 million people marching against the war in Iraq), and in our ‘virtual lives’ a web that was set to broadcast and closed as default (closed member forums and read only websites).
Roll forward to today and we are beginning to see a profound shift in the way we look at the public sphere, driven by a wave of support for the virtues of openness, honesty and community. This can be attributed in no small part to the power of the web, a social web that has begun to re-engineer itself, evolving into an open, sharing and collaborative platform. A read write web.
The emerging impact on government (or city governance as we were discussing over lunch) is clear. From collaborative policy making, to appearances from senior politicians in online forums, to the transparent tracking of public projects, or in fact the transparency movement as a whole. Over time the privitisation of democracy is being nibbled away at and power returned (often by force) to the people.
There are now very many real examples of the power of the web in bringing people together to collaborate and rework their local environment, reimagining and taking back the public sphere outside their window/Windows (geek joke – apologies), as collaboration and openness establish themselves as the social norm not the exception. Whether it’s Hyperlocal sites, the innumerate Meetup or Facebook groups or the Twitter effect, people are coming together online to make a difference offline, driven by the ability to have a more open, honest and trusting relationship with perfect strangers.
As the lines between these three realms, and others I have no doubt neglected, begin to blur ever further, it will be interesting to see how the world looks at the start of the next decade where the norms of human social interaction have been fundamentally altered and (on and offline) public space is once again truly social.