Asking questions about DIY Urbanism

The first blog in this series looked at what DIY Urbanism is, the second at what’s going on in DIY Urbanism in Sweden, and the third on international trends in DIY Urbanism. This final blog post in the series reflects on the role of research in DIY Urbanism. It also explores some of the research projects already going on at this university, KTH in Stockholm. Finally, some follow-on resources are suggested for finding out more – or taking action yourself.

Is “DIY Urbanism” a research topic – isn’t it about action?

When asked whether research on DIY Urbanism contributes to urban planning, KTH Associate Professor Karin Bradley is clear in her reply, “As researchers in urban planning we can deepen our understanding of city making by understanding why DIY urban interventions are happening, in what contexts. We can also analyze their effects and importantly map out what this could mean for urban planning and decision-making.” She goes on adding, “We can also help cities understand how they can use the power of DIY urbanism and how they might engage more deeply with it within their traditional planning structures, even re-considering what planning means today.”  Urban planners and city makers have much to learn from understanding DIY initiatives; research studies provide a method for collecting, analysing and summarising this knowledge.

What is going on at KTH in this area?

At KTH, DIY Urbanism and associated areas are increasingly active fields of research as well as teaching with many different people contributing from different angles. Karin is currently running a project called Urban Sharing that looks at the evolution of sharing initiatives and sharing cultures in cities. “Many people are sated with shopping and want an alternative to the consumer society; indeed, they are willing to build this alternative themselves” Karin comments. The project is exploring contemporary urban sharing schemes, examining why they start and how they grow as well as their consequences for the development of the city. The project draws on case studies in Malmö, Barcelona and London. As part of this research project she has made a documentary film, called “Dela är det nya äga” (Sharing is the new owning), together with film maker Lotta Ekelund.

Karin is also connected to a project based at KTH called Beyond GDP-Growth. This project develops scenarios for cities and small towns in a future when GDP-growth has been halted. This may be due to a redirection of politics towards a steady state economy or it may have come as result of financial crisis or failed growth politics. “We are questioning the status quo,” Karin comments, “and developing scenarios for a very different future.” From the perspective of her own research, Karin reflects that the grassroots “DIY” sharing of resources may well play a far more significant role in a post-GDP-growth society, at a neighbourhood level but also more widely with the help of digital technologies. The project has a focus on the built environment, reflecting on scenarios for building, transportation and welfare provision.

Elsewhere at KTH researchers are exploring how the power of computing is enabling community engagement in urban and other developments. This is in part about developing tools for analyzing the big data sets that cities and governments are releasing with ever greater frequency to let us engage in urban development. It’s also about supporting the open source and hacker communities. The Centre for Sustainable Communications provides a hub for many of these activities such as the Green Hackathon.

“A feature of DIY urbanism and research on it” Karin Bradley notes, “is its interdisciplinary. It involves bringing lots of people with lots of different skill sets together to create solutions. Here at KTH many of those skill sets can be found – and technology can be explored as a vital force underpinning, as well as enabling the next wave of DIY Urbanism.”  It’s an approach that Karin is keen to instill in the next generation of urban planners through the courses she teaches undergraduates at KTH.

Looking beyond the university, Karin comments that most typically she collaborates with municipalities and civil society organizations  in her work. She is also keen to work with more people from the open source software world and digital fabrication.

How can I become a DIY Urbanist?

If you feel inspired by this series, becoming a DIY Urbanist yourself is only a Google away. “A key feature of this movement”, Karin comments “is its openness and many projects produce wikis or handbooks that they publish online to allow others to replicate their work”.

Mike Lydon has produced a series of Tactical Urbanism Guides that can be downloaded.  Via the Open Source Ecology project, you can find information on DIY hardware – how to build ovens, 3D printers, multipurpose tractors etc: the “tools of civilization”

Finally, what  books should we read on DIY Urbanism and the cultural shift surrounding it?

Karin suggests the following texts:

Tactical urbanism: Short-term action for long-term change. Lydon, M. & Garcia, A. (2015).

Urban Catalyst: The Power of Temporary Use. Oswalt, P., Overmeyer, K. & Misselwitz, P. (2013)

Insurgent Public Space – Guerrilla Urbanism and the Remaking of Contemporary Cities. Hou, J. (ed.)

If you would like to contact Karin Bradley about her research, she can be reached via the links on this page.

The KTH Centre for a Sustainable Built Environment thanks Karin for her insights and help with this DIY Urbanism blog series!