perjantai 19. kesäkuuta 2015

Crowdsourcing 2.0 in Urban Planning

Crowdsourcing 2.0 refers to mass collaboration in which Web 2.0 technologies and services are utilized. In the context of urban panning, it includes such forms as wikipalnning, co-alerting, various forms of Web-assisted co-creation as well as participatory budgeting and crowdfunding. This mini-article clarifies the idea with a focus on wikiplanning, interactive websites, information platforms, participatory sensing, and co-creation. (Discussion is based on Anttiroiko, 2015).


Web 2.0-based crowdsourcing platforms, applications, and services can be used to generate collective intelligence in urban planning (on crowdsourcing platforms and applications, see Doan et al., 2011). Crowdsourcing can smarten up various collective activities. Brabham (2013), for example, has proposed a problem-based typology of crowdsourcing approaches: (a) Knowledge discovery and management: mobilizing a crowd to find and assemble information, as in the case of creating collective resources; (b) Distributed human intelligence tasking: mobilizing a crowd to process or analyze information, such as large and diverse data sets not amenable to computer analysis; (c) Broadcast search or scientific problem solving: mobilizing a crowd to come up with a solution to a problem with an an objective, verifiable right answer; and (d) Peer-vetted creative production: mobilizing a crowd to come up with a solution to a problem with an answer that is subjective or dependent on public support - a category associated with design, esthetic, planning, and policy problems. In city planning the last aspect dominates, and a good example of this is wikiplanning.

From a more planning-oriented view we may consider the basic planning functions and assess the potential of Web 2.0-assisted crowdsourcing. Let us consider the following functions of a comprehensive planning process:
- Identifying issues: people may identify problems of the city, e.g. crowd ideation and involving citizens in problem identification.
- Stating goals: people expressing their ideas about the goals for city planning and the future of the city, e.g. wikiplanning.
- Collecting data: people can help in alert messaging, reporting, and collecting data, e.g. crowdsourced information platforms and mapping.
- Preparing the plan: people can contribute to the writing of the plan and designing solutions, e.g. wikiplanning, user-generated content creation, and mapping for the crowd.
- Evaluating alternatives: people can vote for or set priorities on alternatives or participate in scientific deliberative polling.
- Implementing the plan: people can assist in implementing a plan as co-creators and co-funders.
- Monitoring the plan: people may monitor and follow up the realization of the plan through crowdsourcing tools.

Such a range of Web 2.0 services and tools that can be applied to various planning functions illustrates the huge potential of crowdsourcing in urban planning. Next we elaborate this topic further. To structure the discussion let us rely on inductive categorization of the types of crowdsourcing derived from real-life cases in urban planning, which resemble the categories presented above. Discussion focuses on three forms of crowdsourcing 2.0: wikiplanning, informational crowdsourcing (co-alerting), and various forms of co-creation.

Wikiplanning and interactive websites

The first group of cases to be discussed is town planning exercises, which use content sharing and teamwork tools, such as wikis. A pioneering case of wikiplanning is Future Melbourne Wiki and Blog at The City of Melbourne, Australia, used wikis in 2008 to attract comments, to generate discussion, and to enable registered citizens to edit the content of the Future Melbourne draft plan. The City was possibly the first of its kind in the category of big cities to enter a new era of online community consultation focusing on large-scale city planning with the help of wikis.

Another pioneering case was the wikiplanning project of the City of San José, California, in conjunction with drafting the city’s general plan in 2009. It aimed at soliciting user input on the future of the city through a Web-based wiki. The core method for eliciting citizens’ views was a 19-question survey, which gathered citizen input in order to guide city officials making development decisions under the Envision San Jose 2040 plan. The survey was open to anyone at In addition to the survey, users were also able to post photos of elements from San Jose they liked or disliked. And if a user had seen something in another city that might be a good addition to San Jose, he or she could add photos of it or discuss it on a community message board. Citizens had also access to project data, background information, maps, PowerPoint presentations, and videos on city planning and sustainability. Besides utilizing collective intelligence through citizen participation and increasing the number of participants in the city planning process, wikiplanning was assumed to affect the composition of participants by attracting newcomers and especially younger citizens (Vander Veen, 2009; Bruensteiner, 2009).

Even if not literally wiki-based urban planning, there are hundreds of town planning cases where contributions from local inhabitants have been solicited. For example, the city of Bristol, Connecticut, set up a ‘Bristol Rising’ initiative with the idea of turning the city’s decaying downtown back into a thriving destination with a vibrant, walkable, contiguous experience. Residents were invited to upload their own ideas and join in discussions at the website so that developers could gauge exactly what the community wanted (See the site at A similar project in New York starts with the question, “How can we make our city a better place to live?” Community members were invited to submit ideas at the ‘Change by Us NYC’ website (, where a network of city leaders read and considered each proposal. Successful projects operational in 2013 included a new community garden and greenhouse. Suggested improvements also included cleaning and repairing existing bike lanes, new pedestrian bridges, composting locations, and discounts on Citi Bike memberships for low-income residents. The third example worth special mention is My Ideal City (, collaboration between several partners to redevelop the city of Bogota, Colombia, based on user input. The concept has certain peculiar features. First and foremost, the project organizes a half-year period of conversation through W Radio in Bogota and globally on trends around the future of the city, in Spanish and English respectively. Every week both parties discuss the same topic, on which audiences are asked to comment via Twitter or the project website. The responses are gathered and reviewed later by two experts working on a plan to redevelop a neighborhood in downtown Bogota (Fawkes, 2013; WebUrbanist, 2014).

Lastly, several planning-oriented crowdsourcing initiatives find their realization through commercially available citizen engagement platforms. A good example is Mindmixer, a platform that offers community leaders a chance to crowdsource ideas, pool assets and manage feedback ( Another case is Spigit software deployed by two US counties, Harford County, Maryland, and Maricopa County, Arizona, to gather ideas from citizens to make productivity gains and reduce costs. A similar community-based idea management system developed by Spigit was adopted by the City of Manor, Texas, in 2009. The project created an open innovation platform called Manor Labs as a common space for citizens to share their ideas on how to improve city operations (Vander Veen, 2010; Mergel, 2013; Mergel & Greeves, 2013).

Information platforms and participatory sensing

Crowdsourcing 2.0 has proved to be particularly useful in reporting problems. Such Web 2.0 applications and services can be used in the planning processes when identifying problem sites, disseminating information, learning from other cities, and generating development ideas. We could call these jointly informational or even ‘instant’ crowdsourcing. A paradigmatic case is New Urban Mechanics, an idea embraced by Tom Menino, Mayor of Boston to use technology for addressing the everyday problems of citizens. A showcase for their work is based on crowdsourcing via the use of smartphone-based applications available to citizens to alert officials about street-level problems in the city’s neighborhoods, such as complaints about potholes. In general, the phone + camera + GPS, all in one smart device, can make a revolution in such an instant crowdsourcing (Townsend, 2013, pp. 212-214; Goldsmith, 2010). It is close to the idea of participatory sensing, which empowers ordinary citizens to collect and share sensed data from their surrounding environments using their mobile phones (Kanhere, 2013).

Crowdsourced information platforms are changing the top-down nature of how news, opinions and complaints are gathered and disseminated by placing reporting tools in the hands of citizens. A case that takes us closer to the reality of urban planning is a project developed by the Beijing Transport Research Center and the World Bank aiming to find out to which areas transportation planners should be paying special attention. Anyone can submit a mini report on issues related to cycling and walking infrastructure through the website, smart phone applications, SMS, or social media. These user-generated reports are then mapped and visualized, and made available for public discussion (WebUrbanist, 2014).

Another somewhat similar snapshot is Place Pulse (, which aims to ascertain through user participation what makes a place feel safe, vibrant, active, unique, central, or family friendly. The site presents images side-by-side and asks users to rate them with questions like “Which place looks more beautiful?” The images are from cities around the world and provide researchers with data that can be used to study the association between urban perception and datasets like violent crime, creativity, and economic growth (WebUrbanist, 2014). To generalize, information platform-based crowdsourcing is a powerful tool for rating, comparing, and benchmarking the aspects of urban conditions, functionality, esthetics, and development.

Various forms of co-creation

Many Web 2.0 applications invite people to create their own drawings, videos or mockups to support a planning process. An illustrative prototype is Streetmix (, an interactive street section builder that helps community members mockup the streets by modifying a street design template and presenting the results of their work as future plans for city planners (Miller, 2013). Another interesting pilot was Next Stop Design, a co-production website, which was part of a research project called “Crowdsourcing Public Participation in Transit Planning” active in 2009-2010. It was set up to find new ways of involving people as alternatives to traditional open meetings and workshops. This particular case had two rounds, of which the first was about letting citizens design bus shelters for the university campus in Salt Lake City and the second about dealing with the planning of an intersection in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City. The project was a joint effort of the University of Utah and the Utah Transit Authority. (See Next Stop Design at

To the category of co-creation-oriented crowdsourcing for the built environment we may also add CitiNiche from Australia, an online property development platform launched by a team of architecture, planning and digital technology professionals. The idea behind the project is to use crowdsourcing to develop proposals and attract potential owner-occupiers to residential properties, i.e., participants subscribe to “niches” matching their property preferences and enter further ideas for their ideal dwelling (see (Ward, 2013).

Betaville brings people together in the name of online gaming. This is an open-source multiplayer environment for real cities, in which ideas for new works of public art, architecture, urban design, and development can be shared, discussed, tweaked, and brought to maturity. It enables the public to visualize planned buildings that are to be built and also to collaborate or give feedback on urban planning (see It started in New York City and has since expanded internationally (WebUrbanist, 2014). Another real-life planning game was known as Participatory Chinatown and launched in 2010. This was a 3-D immersive role-playing game designed to be part of the master planning process for Boston's Chinatown area (

An important form of co-creative crowdsourcing utilizes geographical information and mapping. Hudson-Smith, Batty, Crooks and Milton (2009), for instance, have described how to harness the power of Web 2.0 technologies to create new approaches to collecting, mapping, and sharing geocoded data. There are applications like MapTube, GMapCreator, Image Cutter and PhotoOverlay Creator that let users make thematic maps, display images on the maps, and view, share, and mash maps online. An illustrative example is MapTube, which allows users to create new maps from scratch using a combination of crowdsourcing, crowdcasting, and broadcasting ( Another interesting case is the Ushahidi online mapping platform, which can be used for monitoring elections, pooling local resources, and mapping crisis information (see Such tools contribute to our understanding of the opportunities provided by neogeography or ‘mapping for the masses’ (see Hudson-Smith, Crooks, Gibin, Milton & Batty, 2009; Haklay et al., 2008). In general, even if real-life cases of GeoWeb 2.0 in urban planning are still rare, combining crowdsourcing with geospatial intelligence has undeniable potential to smarten up urban planning practices. It is possible that a decisive impetus to the incorporation of such intelligence into planning comes through the increased use of tablets and smartphones (Leinbach et al., 2012; Allen et al., 2011).

Some relevant crowdsourcing applications and practices can be found in social or collaborative tagging (see Yi, 2012). In its paradigmatic form tagging allows users to add and change not only content (data), but content describing content (metadata). Users may tag basically any digital objects. In the libraries, for example, they may tag a library’s collections and thereby participate in the cataloguing process. Social bookmarking is another form of tagging, as in collecting Web site tips in Delicious or locating, organizing, and sharing one’s favorite online resources in PennTags at (Maness, 2006; Lankes et al., 2007). Another form of social crowdsourcing based on tagging is the creation of folksonomies, i.e. classification systems created in a bottom-up fashion without central coordination. The result is a tag cloud that presents an aggregation of people’s usage or views rather than a systematic analysis of the structure of the given activity area (Lankes et al., 2007, p. 21; Anttiroiko & Savolainen, 2011; Casey & Sevastinuk 2006, 41). A special form of tagging worth mentioning is conversational tagging, which became popular through the use of hashtags (#) in Twitter. It does not create indexes for later retrieval but rather is motivated by attracting attention and making the message to appear in certain discourses or streams, as in the case of Twitter’s short-lived emergent topics known as micro-memes (Huang et al., 2010). Many of the projects around the world have substantiated the claim that people can significantly benefit the work of knowledge institutions and processes if organized in Web 2.0 style (Tay, 2009). The implications of such cases for urban planning are obvious. The experiences in commenting, rating, and tagging can serve communication, analysis, evaluation, and wrapping-up in the planning process.


There is a plethora of examples of how Web 2.0 tools can be applied to urban planning. However, experiences in Urban Planning 2.0 are so far thin and true breakthroughs and killer applications are still fairly few. Nevertheless, their potential to enhance various forms of social intelligence is undeniable. One of the areas that have clearly shown potential is the ability of Web 2.0 tools to support crowdsourcing, which is a primary method that generates collective intelligence. The cases discussed earlier in this chapter, most notably such as wikiplanning in Melbourne and Palo Alto, are indications of the potential to increase intelligence in urban planning via Web 2.0. Yet much remains to be learned about the preconditions for the realization of such potential. Besides, wikiplanning is only the tip of the iceberg of activities which have a potential for smartening up urban planning. The precondition for optimal enhancement of Web 2.0-assisted intelligence is the understanding of social and cultural dimension of the deployment of new ICTs. The other important element, which is critical to collective intelligence in particular, is the appreciation of diversity (Surowiecki, 2005). After learning from various facets of Web-enabled social intelligence in urban planning, the next step is to consider the need for their integration, which may pave the way for a new role of artificial intelligence and even technological singularity in urban planning, which may eventually profoundly change the way we plan and develop our cities.


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