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Engaging Citizens With Digital Media

How can digital media aid citizens to engage with their environment, with fellow urbanites, and with issues at stake in their cities?

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Written by DeletedUser

From Engaging Cities (which has a wealth of information for future inspiration & concepting):

The increasing growth and complexity of cities raises the question how we can use digital media technologies and principles from online culture to design livable and lively cities. How can digital media aid citizens to engage with their environment, with fellow urbanites, and with issues at stake in their cities? Most mobile and location-based apps are about personalized consumption and sharing preferences with an in-group of like-minded people. Can we use digital technologies to help solve collective problems in the city too?

Information can be used to provide people with consumer recommendations based on shared patterns (Citysense), but it can also inform design programs better tailored to citizen’s needs (Twitterhouse). In the data-commons scarcity takes on another meaning. The challenge is to design interventions where individual use does not deplete the commons but instead adds value to the whole. For example, the more people use location-based services like traffic reports, and feed information back into the system, the more accurate the service becomes.


For decades policy makers, institutions and architects have tried to persuade people to actively participate in shaping their cities. Often these remain top-down trajectories. The bottom-up extreme is a community model rooted in proximity, shared interests and similar lifestyles. Yet this denies the nature of cities as places of heterogeneity and the fact that many urbanites shiver at the thought of village-like parochialism. With digital media new networked publics can be activated, beyond top-down or bottom-up but peer-to-peer and distributed. An illustration is Verbeterdebuurt (the Dutch take on Fixmystreet). This is a mobile and web app that allows citizens to report problems in their neighborhood, but also to suggest improvements and vote on each other’s ideas, and therefore assemble others around collective issues.

Digital media thus allow citizens to co-design their own environment. An interesting project in Amsterdam is Face Your World by artist Jeanne van Heeswijk and architect Dennis Kaspori. Young people and other people living in this neighborhood collaborated in designing a city park using a 3D simulation environment. With this crowdsourced plan they managed to persuade the local government to abandon the initial plans for the park and execute theirs instead.

Cities worldwide (like Amsterdam) are embracing smart city policies in close collaboration with tech companies and academia to optimize urban processes. These policies are technologically driven and despite claims to the contrary tend to ignore an active role of citizens. If we truly want engaging cities, it is urgent we start exploring how we can make our cities more social rather than more high-tech.


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Photo of Meena Kadri

Great breakdown, Sushmita. You might also be interested in

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Great example, Meena! That reminds me of a Boston initiative called Citizens Connect ( that allows citizens to report problems using a mobile app or twitter.