How to deliver a Big Society - a place that acts as a catalyst to and inspires grassroots local activism - in the most bureaucratic, statist and controlled public space of them all: the built environment?
Here's one answer: 'open source' place-making.
This is an approach to urban development that centres on the making of an implementable 'social action plan' first - not a master plan - is inspired by the autonomy that many people want from their lives and seeks to create places through an unfolding process of interaction design first, architecture second.
You can download an essay by me on the idea, its roots and implications, with case-studies here.
Strapline: 'a collective approach to the development of cities in an age of Big Society, digital media and social enterprise'.
In its most naked form, 'open source' place-making is about taking a development site, establishing a very basic planning framework for it, triggering population of the site and then through its unfolding occupation form a forward plan for its development.
In effect, run an alternative to the standard planning and development process, enable occupation of spaces and places that's a physical equivalent of what's known as digital swarming and free real estate developers from having to be generalissimos of a war-game to theatrical managers.
A second dimension to open source place-making is to innovate the management of a neighbourhood, prioritise opportunities for tenants to benefit from short leases, self-build and self-management of the way in which they relate to buildings; also support different terms of trade and promote internal markets in goods and services on a barter basis - perhaps even follow a model by which tenants provide services-in-kind to external grant funders of a site, in lieu of rent.
No problem reserving a place for a branch of Zara or Jamie Oliver's Leatest Eating Experience but why not actively support the formation of co-operatives, mutuals and social enterprises on site, entities that tenants can direct, benefit from and that help build community?
There's no need to fight shy of enabling this to happen at the centre of the consumer economy - see the new co-operative corner shop a group of us have recently founded in London, The People's Supermarket.
For those who suffer from a lack of thrills: do a deal with Ferrari or local Scraphead Challenge types, turn an empty warehouse in to a showroom/playground and you could incubate a cluster of engineers.
For those who want autonomy: cluster their talents and provide an opportunity for them to excel. Say if they are good cooks, offer them vacant space on site and encourage them to form a new micro-food enterprise.
In other words, be a talent scout, recruit and capitalise upon its momentum.
On one level, 'open source' place-making is asking the development sector to open its mind up to a different way of thinking about design and site assembly: what tech people call interaction design.
Start to see physical space as a form of sovereign real estate - much like a web page - who's personality unfolds through the involvement of users - and see activity on site as a sequence of what geeks call transient interrupts that develop, die or mutate in to profitable enterprises over time.
Create a development framework that is less command-and-control zoning and more a theme that enables an early idiomatic understanding of the space that over time, through public engagement and interaction, acquires a personality and resolute business case.
On another level, 'open source' place-making is a plea: to slim down bureaucracy, open up development to taking an equity stake in the customer and reflect the fact that in an internet economy, people are loyal to data and experience and 'modal switch' between platforms; what's more, maximise opportunities to win a return on investment in certain markets or market-makers: such as social enterprise, independent retail, consumers who live in online, as well as offline spaces, and those who want autonomy.
The pragmatic answer is that there's nothing stopping landowners from holding on to the most lucrative bits of real estate that will generate the highest short-term return.
The better answer is that to outsource development sites as enablers of change is to create and capture new (and higher) values.
Earlier this year, the Social Investment Task Force reported that investment by Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) Funds in the UK was running at an estimated £764bn.
At a similar time, the BBC reported that one in every four and a half minutes spent by people online is on social networks and blog sites.
Meanwhile, urban development has wound right down, with producers and consumers of land either deleveraging or starved of bank credit.
You don't need to be Ben Bernanke of the Federal Reserve to realise that in this climate, it might be profitable - as well as more effective - for the real estate and renewal sectors to follow people and their money more resolutely in to online and social markets, and start to behave like those markets.
You don't need to be a nu-folk hipster to realise that stimulus investment in green infrastructure in the USA and UK is starting to confirm our age as a decade of sustainability as offensive strategy, to quote Gardiner Morse in the Harvard Business Review.
And you don't need to be Che Guevara to recognise that if grassroots citizen action is going to have an impact upon the design and delivery of public services - and become a key player in a new value chain - there's no better place to start than in a key market place for those services, the public realm.
The paper on 'open source' place-making is part of a larger programme of work - "Growing the People", a social action plan for the development of Speirs Locks, Glasgow, Forth & Clyde Canal - commissioned by Architecture + Design Scotland, the Scottish Centre for Regeneration and part of the Scottish Government's Sustainable Communities Initiative.
An army of outstanding creative thinkers working in real estate, economic development, design, the creative industries and architecture have fed in to this work - including Diarmaid Lawlor of Architecture + Design Scotland, Chris Brown of igloo Regeneration, Stuart Gulliver (former Chief Executive of Scottish Enterprise Glasgow), Steve Dunlop (Head of Regeneration, British Waterways), Gary Watt (ISIS Waterside Regeneration), design writer John Thackara, city development consultant Roy van Dalm (former associate of Richard Florida) and social innovator Rohan Gunatillake.
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Images courtesy of: 1. Not known (lost). 2. Mauricio Guillen. 3. Yvan Rodic. 4. James Joyce. 5. Haarala Hamilton Photography. 6 & 7. wearesnook.com (Lauren Currie). 8. Jan Chipchase, Frog Design. 9. Via my veil of stars.