Participatory cities grounded in practical, everyday acts

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This is the fourth in a Placemaking Profile series in which we will share short conversations we’ve had with urban innovators – from those who are actively building places that foster social inclusion to those who listen, engage, and tell stories from the communities.

For more information about placemaking, please click here.

Tessy Britton: Participatory City

In conversations about shaping our cities, we often talk about public participation as a crucial element of decision-making. But how does this translate to people’s day-to-day lives? Are there enough opportunities to get involved in local governance? What factors are necessary to achieve power shifts rather than tokenistic public input?

These are questions that Londoner Tessy Britton and her Participatory City initiative have had on their minds for many years. While we intrinsically know that cities should be places for all (and therefore shaped by all), it can be difficult to concretize this ideal. Tessy, through her deep work in practical participation in UK cities, has answers. Last month, we had the opportunity to chat about supporting networks of citizen-run spaces, connecting everyday acts with larger goals like social inclusion and enterprise creation, and how neighbourhoods can be created by and for everyone.

We began our discussion by sharing what our home cities - Toronto, Canada and London, UK - have in common when it comes to citizens shaping city spaces. In both cities, placemaking is happening on a micro-scale (think tool libraries, 100in1Day, laneway crawls, and myriad other examples), and though it makes a difference to the immediate community, these projects are often disparate and don’t reap the kind of measurable results that influence decision-makers. In other words, small, citizen-led initiatives certainly have localized benefits, but are not adding up to a more supportive society.

What if participating in planning your community didn’t have to involve taking time to attend a formal public meeting or filling out an online survey that doesn’t allow for communicating the nuances of lived experience? What if your regular activities, from gardening on your front porch to preparing food to repairing your bicycle, were recognized as contributing to the collective experience of folks in your neighbourhood? While these support systems exist, they tend to be exceptions to the norm, where we are connected mainly for purposes of financial transactions. In a Participatory City, decisions about place are actually structured around these everyday acts. So what does this look like? Who is involved? How can we harness the know-how, creativity, and passion of citizens into a city that takes care of its inhabitants?

Starting this year, Participatory City will transform one London neighbourhood into a Demonstration Neighborhood - of around 200,00 to 300,000 residents - that will become a model for wellbeing, sustainability and equality. Here is how this impressive initiative is taking shape:

  • It is built on an open-source environment that allows all users to share what they’re doing and collaborate with others.
  • It doesn’t have to involve a lot of new inputs; instead, it makes better use of spaces, resources, skills, and knowledge.
  • It recognizes the potential of essential, everyday acts to effect change, when connected and supported.
  • It supports an ecology of mutually dependent and supportive collections of activity in common places like cafes, schools, and gardens (the goal being 1,000 ideas to transform one’s neighbourhood).
  • It gets unlikely allies working together, resulting in more social capital and greater resilience.

Our conversation kept coming back to power and the ways in which city governments value certain assets and undervalue others. In order for our cities to become places for all, not just for those with certain powers and privileges, change must be rooted in building social capital in a way that is available to all. The Participatory City is different from one-off citizen engagement because the projects within, by their nature, attract people of different socio-economic backgrounds, cultures, and interests. Why? Because the projects are social, practical and productive”, and allow for different ways to participate, unlike many traditional volunteer or charity activities. Since they are built on activities which appeal to a variety of people, they provide easy opportunities to collaborate without much external intervention, resulting in an immediate sense of ownership, and often a tangible outcome.

This is something that we could learn from in Canadian cities. From coast to coast, there are fantastic grassroots projects that demonstrate new possibilities for using city spaces, from Montreal’s Ruelles Vertes to Open Streets projects happening yearly in several cities. However successful these 'temporary activation' projects are, it seems like momentum is slow to build, and that arguably, these projects have not yet shifted dominant practices of city building or community enterprise creation. Perhaps one solution for city governments and private funders lies in emulating what is being done with Participatory City: rather than funding localized projects and then leaving them to fend for themselves, a solution could be a more self-sustaining system of connecting, scaling up and out, and reinforcing community-driven projects and enterprises for long-term impact. Participatory City does this through a cycle of listening to people in ways that enable citizen experimentation and co-creation of projects and social enterprises.

Want to know more about Participatory City? Tessy will be sharing her work at a public discussion series, The City as a Commons, starting next week in Montreal (March 20 and 23), Toronto (March 27), and Ottawa (March 28). All events are free, but please do register.

Further reading:

 About Tessy Britton:

Tessy is the founder of Participatory City and has been developing the Participatory City practice for six years, researching and prototyping new ways to support widespread practical participation. Tessy works on a number of international projects, including supporting Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayor’s Challenge, judging the New Radicals 2016 with Nesta and The Observer. She is also a British Council Fellow for the Hammamet Conference in Tunisia. Tessy is a guest lecturer at: Saïd Business School (Oxford), LabGov at LUISS University (Rome); Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University; Rhode Island School of Design (Providence. USA).

Voices of New Economies: Lucy Gao

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This blog is part of the 'Voices of New Economies' series within Cities for People - an experiment in advancing the movement toward urban resilience and livability through connecting innovation networks. This Voices series is collectively curated by One Earth and The Canadian CED Network. We are launching Voices of New Economies as part of New Economy Week 2014, hosted by the New Economy Coalition. Throughout this week, a series of 5 questions guide our exploration of what it would take to build the economy we need - one that works for people, place, and planet.

Today’s Voices story responds to the third question in the New Economy Week series: How can we connect and learn from successful experiments, pilot projects, and campaigns to build broad-based power and effect deep transformation at scale?

Voices of New Economies – An interview with Lucy Gao

By Craig Massey

To sharing economy innovator and curator Lucy Gao, real Lucy Gao_Picwealth is immediately definable but altogether intangible. It means having enough money to sustain oneself, but more importantly to sustain relationships with friends and family. It means having the opportunity to do things that challenge you, and pursue goals and mastery. It means being able to embrace life experiences, like going to a park and enjoying the city.

Lucy's fascination with (and admirable dedication to) the sharing economy in Toronto emerged from watching a TED talk by Rachel Botsman that made the case for collaborative consumption. It just made sense. As she researched these new business models, she realized they addressed many of the discrepancies she had witnessed between her studies in political science and business. They were solving real problems.

Inspired, Lucy took the four months she had free after university to join the small team preparing to launch Unstash, a peer-to-peer lending platform. This was an education in marketing and using social media to promote the platform, while making sure the supply (of shareables) existed before the demand. Through this project she networked with players in the new economies locally in Toronto as well as globally. This led to attending OuiShare Fest in France and an invitation to be a curator for From this position, Lucy broadened the reach/strength of the local Toronto sharing economy including through Meetups and events.

What do you see as the key elements of "new economies"?

  • Systems that promote peer-to-peer (p2p) interactions.
  • Creating small neighbourhood-level connections rather than centralized and corporate systems.
  • Access rather than ownership.
  • Enhancing the reality of people's lives, while making services available to community members with low incomes.
  • Empower people to “be their own business.”
  • Enabled by technology, enterprising individuals can reach others interested in what they already have.

How do you think we can connect and learn from successful experiments, pilot projects, and campaigns to build broad-based power and effect deep transformation at scale?

This will be achieved by adding structure to our current networks and enabling current players to reach out to other groups more easily. This will allow easier replication while we share what we have learned. It will also be important to take a more proactive approach with government regulation and building their buy-in. Once we have defined who the new companies are, we can work to help create a new set of regulations. Government involvement can increase the impact of companies that already exist.

Related links:

Rachel Botsman on TED: The Case for Collaborative Consumption

Shareable – Sharing Cities Network – Toronto

Collaborative Living blog

See also previous Cities for People events and blogs on the Sharing Economy including:

Global Mapjam - October 13th - Put the New Economy on the Map

April Rinne - Collaborative Economy - Cross-Canada Tour

What Bike Sharing Says about Our Cities and our Values

When fruit and sharing come together everyone wins

The City that Shares: Vancouver & The Sharing Project

The Sharing Economy: It's more than we think

Gifting Circles and the Gift Economy

When fruit and sharing come together, everyone wins

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Good news of the week: the Sharing economy has set sail. With AirBnB reaching over 1 million users a month, the world’s first fair trade and open source Smartphone being launched in Amsterdam, and locals hosting pop-up restaurants in their homes  across the globe, a new cultural narrative of collaborative consumption is unfolding. And with summer fruits ripe and ready to be picked, what better way to celebrate than by sharing fruit -- urban fruit, that is.

In today's world where over 30% of food goes to waste, every little bit counts. Community-based initiatives have sprung up in several cities to reclaim the overlooked edible bounty of our own city streets and backyards.

Two non-profit initiatives in Toronto and Montréal are harnessing helping hands from local communities to harvest urban fruit trees in people's gardens. Most homeowners are unable to keep up with the abundant harvest produced by their tree, leaving thousands of fruits unharvested each year. Not Far From The Tree in Toronto and Les Fruits Défendus in Montréal see this as an opportunity -- to reduce waste by redistributing fresh, local produce to local food banks, shelters, and community kitchens.

NFFTT volunteers

Not Far from the Tree volunteers picking cherries in Toronto. Source: Flickr.

Not Far From The Tree aims to inspire residents "to harvest, share, celebrate, and steward the bounty from our urban forest as a way to connect more intimately with a sound environmental way of life."

As Les Fruits Défendus puts it, "[this] brings together fruit tree owners and volunteer fruit pickers in order to give the city's delicious fruits a happier fate." In the end, everyone's happy - homeowners, volunteers, community members, and even the fruits!

In fact, there are dozens of organizations across the country carrying out similar "fruit rescue" operations, with 15 in British Columbia, two in Alberta, two in Quebec, two in Manitoba, one in Newfoundland and Labrador, and eight in Ontario.

Three geographers and photographers from the University of Colorado took on the ambitious project of quantifying these urban resources on a global map. Falling Fruit's website reads:

"Falling Fruit is a celebration of the overlooked culinary bounty of our city streets. By quantifying this resource on a map, we hope to facilitate intimate connections between people, food, and the natural organisms growing in our neighborhoods. Not just a free lunch! Foraging in the 21st century is an opportunity for urban exploration, to fight the scourge of stained sidewalks, and to reconnect with the botanical origins of food."

fruit map - world

Falling Fruit world map. Source

The map data is crowdsourced, meaning any local from Montreal, Barcelona, or Beijing can go on the website and input the geo-coordinates, a photo, and a short description the plum tree down the block. Talk about open source! Being able to share data now means being able to share resources, like deliciously free local fruit.

fruit map - apple

A lonely apple tree in Michigan, submitted by an anonymous user. Source

Another troupe of three decided to form an art collaboration around abandoned fruit in Los Angeles. Fallen Fruit "uses fruit as a common denominator to change the way [people] see the world", first by mapping fruit trees in public space in L.A., then expanding to public projects and installations in various cities around the world. By working with fruit as media, their projects reimagine public interactions with the margins of urban space, systems of community, and narrative real-time experience. Their people- and fruit-focused programming includes such fringe activities as Public Fruit Jams, Nocturnal Fruit Forages, Public Fruit Meditations.

Food is central to the way we perceive urban space, and sharing is the economic paradigm of tomorrow. What could be a sweeter, juicier marriage of edible urban landscapes and the sharing economy than enjoying fallen fruit with new neighbours.


July 17th is #iCollday!

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OuiShare is proud to be organizing their second International Collaboration Day this month, with over 45 co-working spaces hosting open co-working days and talks about connecting and collaborating. Join the community at events in London, Barcelona, Paris, Cordoba, Sevilla, Valencia, Donostia, Nice, Frankfurt and many more!

iCollDay is a set of globally-connected events – facilitated by co-working spaces – to build collaborative relationships across all sectors and disciplines.

The inaugural iCollDay took place on 16th January 2014 and saw 45 co-working communities in 30 cities from New Zealand to San Fran participate.

>> Add your event here
>> See all events


OuiShare is a think and do-tank with the mission to empower citizens, public institutions and companies to create a collaborative economy: an economy based on sharing, collaboration and openness, relying on horizontal networks and communities. Learn more about OuiShare here


 Photo Credit: What's Up?

Canada Sharing Economy Roadshow: April Rinne in Toronto

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April Rinne recently participated in a cross-country tour of Canada promoting Shareable Cities, speaking in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. The tour was co-hosted by Social Innovation Generation (SIG) and Cities for People, a new innovation platform that aims to create more resilient and livable cities, with support from The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation.

photo-2-300x300A key theme throughout the tour was “connecting the dots,” specifically, how cities connect the expertise, resources and assets between government, citizens, entrepreneurs and companies to create a shareable city.

At April’s Toronto pitstop on February 11, she started the day with a workshop attended by city leaders in municipal government, economic and social development and urban planning. Municipal support is crucial for taxation, insurance and other regulatory policy reform which can help sharing systems flourish.

In the afternoon, April attended an ideation session with entrepreneurs, key leaders and enthusiasts in the Toronto sharing economy. Attendees included the Toronto Tool Library, Trade School Toronto, Etsy Canada, and Repair Café Toronto. The goal of this session was to discuss next steps for an expanding Toronto network, one that aims to raise awareness about collaborative consumption to everyday Torontonians.

April’s evening presentation to the public focused on defining the collaborative economy, highlighting examples of cross-sector collaboration and reiterating the importance of connecting the dots. April charismatically described a pair of goggles that would allow us to see idle assets in a city, whether they exist in government, a household or in a company’s supply chain. It’s important that cities unlock the wealth in these assets, which create an abundance of resources that can provide lots of public benefit to citizens.

At one point in April’s lecture, she mentions that Mayor Park Won-Soon of Seoul, South Korea sees a city as a laboratory to hatch ideas and incubate projects, which is the perfect way to describe the task at hand for cities now. Cities need to determine what platforms resonate with the needs of their citizens and create pilot programs and start taking action. In doing so, they can create an enabling environment to make sharing more mainstream and transform their local communities.

Read about the Vancouver public event here.

Read the blog post "The Sharing Economy: it's more than we think" here

Watch April Rinne’s full presentation:

Video credit: The Collaborative Economy: How sharing is powering a sustainable future – MaRS Global Leadership from MaRS Discovery District on Vimeo.

Credit: Collaborative Lab; posted in Perspectives Videos on by Lucy Gao, Global Curator Team, Canada - twitter

Collaborative Economy Event in Vancouver

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April Rinne, Chief Strategy of Collaborative Lab, was in Vancouver as part of a cross-Canada tour on Thursday 13 February 2014.

April Rinne Speaking 300 Photo Daniel-RotmanAt the public event that evening, she illustrated how the collaborative economy (or "the sharing economy") has the potential to transform the way we design products and services, create sustainable and "shareable" cities, re-imagine public services, reduce waste and connect communities.

Collaborative Consumption and The Sharing Economy: Opportunities for Cities, Organizations, and Well-Being

Featuring April Rinne, Chief Strategy Officer, The Collaborative Lab

Sadhu Johnston, Deputy City Manager, City of Vancouver
Chris Diplock, Co-Founder, Vancouver Tool Library, Lead Researcher, The Sharing Project (learn more about The Sharing Project here)
Hilary Henegar, Marketing Director, Modo - The Car Co-op

In Vancouver, April’s visit was hosted by One Earth as part of Cities for People, with partners including Vancity, The Sharing Project, Modo The Car Co-op, City of Vancouver, The HiVE, CityStudio, Board of Change, Village Vancouver, Share Shed, Pogoride, Ashoka, The Extraenvironmentalist, BC Partners for Social Impact and other local partners. Her national speaking tour is co-sponsored by Social Innovation April Rinne 300 Photo Daniel-RotmanGeneration (SiG). Vanessa Timmer (One Earth) and Tim Draimin (SiG) - pictured at the right - joined April across the country.

Read about the Toronto public event here.

Read the blog post "The Sharing Economy: it's more than we think" here.

Watch the video recording of April Rinne's Vancouver public event in Vancouver, recorded at The Hive on 13 February 2013 by The Extraenvironmentalist:

Photo credits: Daniel Rotman 2014

The Sharing Economy: It’s more than we think

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There is a good chance that you’ve heard about “The Sharing Economy”.  It’s drawing attention because of innovations such as peer-to-peer sharing among neighbours including tool libraries and business-to-consumer enterprises including AirBnB.  Instead of keeping our focus here, we can widen our view and find an entire universe of social innovations.  These innovations have the potential to connect us to each other, lessen our impact on the Earth, and experiment with new business

Sharing has always been a part of city life including through libraries, community spaces, guilds, and civic structures. In the past decade, there has been a revival and acceleration in sharing innovations across sectors from mobility (Bixie Bikes, Coop Cars) to accommodation (AirBnB, coachsurfing) to skills (TaskRabbit). Businesses are sharing idle supply chain capacity and joining forces in collective institutional purchasing, and community-based grassroots innovators are creating neighbourhood community time banks and clothing swaps.

“Sharing cars, books, tools can also be expanded to shared, community-owned energy; shared 3D printing facilities; and communal office spaces. Shared ideas, green space, seeds, air, and water have been with us since we set foot on the earth but need protecting.”
– Mike Childs1

“The sharing economy can be manifest in almost every sector of society and corner of the globe. Sectors which have experienced robust traction and interest include accommodation, transportation, tourism, office space, financial services and retail products. Areas where significant growth is expected include [peer to peer] P2P car sharing, ridesharing, errand marketplaces, P2P and social lending, and product rental.”
– Young Global Leaders Sharing Economy Working Group2

Also known as collaborative consumption and the collaborative economy, the Sharing Economy is the bartering, exchanging, sharing, renting, trading, borrowing, lending, leasing and swapping of goods, services, time, capital, experiences and space by individuals, institutions, businesses and communities.  This is all being supported by new mobile and digital technologies and online platforms that redistribute and enable transactions based on trust and reciprocity. It is motivated by the realities of the economic crisis and financial hardship, growing urbanization, resource and energy constraints, and inequitable access to resources.3


Clothing swap hosted by sharing community,

There are opportunities to unlock idling capacity – the untapped social, economic, and environmental value of underutilized assets.  For some this is heralded as indicative of a changing relationship with material possessions and a rejection of mass consumption through a shift from ownership to access; however, others question whether the mainstream is willing to make this shift. What we do know is that when a community shares more, it consumes less material and energy.  The purchase of one 10 pound circular saw at the Vancouver Tool Library is estimated to have prevented up to 320 pounds of waste.  Although as Rachel Botsman notes, the Sharing Economy Lacks A Shared Definition, its promise lies in the possibility of reductions and more efficient use of resources and untapped and idle capacities, opportunities for local and inclusive economies, and greater social connectivity and trust.

Though the Sharing Economy holds much promise for creating social innovations, it’s important to consider who is benefitting from these new models of sharing. The successful growth of sharing businesses like Airbnb and Lyft clearly indicate the economic value of the movement. What is less understood is the social benefits that are created by the Sharing Economy for vulnerable populations. One of the greatest aspirations of the Collaborative Economy is to form a more inclusive society. Monitoring the impacts of sharing on low-income groups can help realize this vision.

An Expanding Universe of Sharing

 ”‘Sharing and shareability’ are typically too narrowly conceived and perceived. The opportunity is so much greater than middle-class ‘swishing’ and even though urban bike-sharing schemes have dominated news in this space, whether in London, Copenhagen, Paris or Montreal, or Rio, Guadalajara (México), Buenos Aires, or Providencia (Chile), sharing is definitely about much more than ‘bums on bikes.’”
– Julian Agyeman, Duncan McLaren and Adrianne Schaefer-Borrego4

We are missing some key aspects of the Collaborative and the Sharing Economy such as business to business sharing, informal sharing among immigrant, isolated or marginalized communities, and activities in unexpected sectors such as within the arts.

So how can we widen our view?  We can explore the what, who and how of the sharing economy:

  • WHAT

    The universe of sharing crosses many areas of our lives including transportation, food, space, funding, and goods.  It’s quite different if we are sharing things (books, cars, art), services (rides, child care, time) or experiences (skill sharing). There are also varying types of ownership – some sharing innovations are public, some private and others are cooperative.

  • WHO

    Most attention has been on individual peer-to-peer sharing (e.g., bartering networks like and business to consumer enterprises (e.g., Zipcar).  Sharing is also taking place among businesses (e.g., Liquidspace and horizontal collaboration across supply chains) and within communities (e.g., Tool Libraries, Cooperatives). We can also explore the diversity of networks emerging to support sharing innovators (, Collaborative Lab, Peers).

  • HOW

    The way we share also varies from money exchanges to non-monetized transactions, formal and informal innovations, and socially connected and more impersonal interactions.

By broadening our definition, it is possible to spark entrepreneurship and social innovation, to anticipate negative reactions and impacts, and to create a more nuanced and vibrant understanding of the Sharing Economy.  This, in turn, can guide the development of pilots, activities and supportive structures and policies.

From 10 – 14 February traveled with April Rinne, Chief Strategy Officer, Collaborative Lab and Tim Draimin, Executive Director, SiG National across Canada on a collaborative economy tour, co-sponsored by SiG and Cities for People.

Photo credit: Daniel Rotman 2014


1 Mike Childs (2013) The Power of Sharing: A Call to Action for Environmentalists. 5 November.

2 Young Global Leaders Working Group (2013) Circular Economy Innovation and New Business Models Initiative. Position Paper: World Economic Forum Young Global Leaders Taskforce.

3 Resources: Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers (2012) What’s Mine is Yours; Lisa Gansky (2010) The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing; The Sharing Project Bryan Walsh 10 Ideas That Will Change the World: Today’s Smart Choice: Don’t Own. Share. Time Magazine, 17 March 2011.,28804,2059521_2059717_2059710,00.html

4 Julian Agyeman, Duncan McLaren and Adrianne Schaefer-Borrego (2013) Briefing: Sharing Cities. Written for Friends of the Earth’s “Big Ideas” project, September.

Credit: Originally posted at SiG Generation on 3 February 2014 by Vanessa Timmer.