“The streets are now alive with data, invisible but all pervasive.” —Dan Hill
Meaningful community input in urban development is a common rallying cry, but is rarely achieved. Power, and more importantly, information, remains tightly controlled by cities and there agencies. It is usually only shared in controlled public meetings and charrettes. Recent advances in technology and social networks offer an opportunity to change this.
Open source urbanism works to develop intersections where a cities urban form connects with information to directly inform and shape our urban environment. In doing so it is changing the way we think of our communities and city life in general. It is rooted in the idea of open source, most commonly associated with free computer programs that can be shared, adapted, and further developed by anyone with the ability to contribute.
Cities are a logical extension of the open source movement. The city is both a product and a generator of immense amounts of data. Much of this information—including temperature, light rail delays, population density, accident locations and stock prices—can be mapped, recorded and shared in real-time through the Internet.
Some early success in open source urbanism are Portland’s TriMet transit system map and the closing of Times Square to traffic. Based in part on these early successes, cities such as Portland; Vancouver, B.C.; and San Francisco passed sweeping policies requiring departments to use open source software and open data. In addition, the White House has set a high standard for federal agencies to adopt. As more cities and civic agencies see the benefit of sharing their data, such successes will multiply.