AHRC Conference Whose Right to the Smart City: DESIGN and the Smart Citizens

DESIGN and the Smart Citizens. The Pathway of Communities Light!

Professor Arianna Mazzeo
Professor Design for Social Digital Innovation
Director Masterlab Service Design for place and community building.
Leader Desis Lab Elisava- Hub Design for Social, Digital Innovation and Sustainable Research


The metropolis, as Frank Lloyd argue in his book When Democracy Builds, “it is so far from human scale that is not anymore a place where we can have high life standards”.We import the american vertical model of skyscrapers, design the city as a consumerist space of negative freedom, con- ceive it as the lack of forces which prevent an individual from doing whatever they want, toward neoliberal pleasures and needs.

In his discourse on 1956 on urbanism and society, Adrian Olivetti said “In the city of man, the street, the factory, the house are the most substantial and visible elements of a civilisation in evolu- tion” complained that Italy’s cities had been expanding “incoherently for uniquely selfish goals, ma- terialistic, speculative, without a real plan coming from a general vision of life”. At the opposite is model of Ivrea and Matera community, is based on new factories were designed with in-built space for cafeterias, playgrounds, rooms for debates and film screenings, and libraries with tens of thou- sands of books and magazines. Outside, an extended network of social services was constructed including nursery schools, Ivrea’s first hospital, and in Matera the first mountaintop retreats for workers’ children. Following this argument, Jane Jacobs, in The Life and Death of Great American Cities, argue, “Streets in cities serve many purposes besides carrying vehicles, and city sidewalks

– the pedestrian parts of the streets – serve many purposes besides carrying pedestrians.” They are intended and designed as an efficient way to get people around on foot.All those projects re- quire the active and collaborative participation of citizens, for that we should talk about a city build- ing strategy that works only when participatory and collaborative form of dialogue are implement- ed. Here is when “expert design” bring creative ways of visioning and making those visions a little more “real“. At the same time “diffuse design” happen where the design process is more of a grassroots movement and less of a top-down distribution of ideas. This process of co-design of the city informed the transition design framework, which relies heavily on individuals shaping change within small, local, open, and connected (SLOC) communities.We have the power as citizens in designing the politics of everyday life, but not alone. We need expert design to support, link and transform the space we live in a place of knowledge production. Not only do we have the ability to resist within our participatory and collaborative democracy (where existent), to speak out and we also need to be able to propose new futures and ways of living. The resiliency of true democracy in that it sustains a diversity of options and opinions making city a platform for opportunities for all through design.


The workshop format is interactive and open format that aim to co-create a dialogue about rights and space of citizens in the smart city to co-design a new sense of place. New “dis- positifs” of democracy trough conversations and dialogue.

The other aim is create a new public in co-production of services as the base of the public policies and the common goods.


To co-design the city as smart citizens and be change agent we understand that:

  • the politics of everyday life can regenerate democracy and vice versa and
  • we need to make meaningful things happen as a form of proactive resistance and vice versa through dialogues and conversations
  • the city social forms, as such, can not be designed / built What can we can do through design is to create the conditions for their existence to become possible and a real collaborative eco-system of rights to be and act as smart citizens.
  • Contemporary design now has effective operational and cultural tools that allow it to intervene in the construction process of the smart city, bringing a remarkable and origi- nal contribution. And this ability will not be still recognized but is already existing in the nature of “expert design” as cultural transformative mind-set to think, act and reflect with people about new and more resilient ways of



What we can design our rights to be agent of change and smart citizens?

To enable the design process we co-create on the base of the following ideas:

Idea 1: Rethink public space. Building trust, service for smart citizens Co-creation/crowdsourcing/co-development actions.

Idea 2: Bring the needs outside. Co-design with the community

new physical-digital work environments and eco-system for quality of life and protection of the environment. This central role of users is transforming the traditional city planning model from top-down to bottom-up approach.

Idea 3: Make your communication opportunities to learn. Design for Democracy. En- abling citizens to directly report non-emergency problems to the public administration and requests about local issues as access to rights and equal opportunities.

Idea 4: Create Job Opportunities for All. Job Creation is one of the more important challenge we need to face. The practice of participatory design can shape our present and future worlds in fair and inclusive ways.

We act trough interventions and performance to foster highly interactive engagements of a new participatory era for citizens to speak out. When Design perform for a cultural par- adigm shift. “Here we are. Where Community talk, speak out and remain in Light!” is the research through design performance I run with the students, teachers, practitioners, phds and creative of Elisava Design School and Engineering for the TIME project ( Innovation in Teaching Methods&Experiments) as research line of Desislab Elisava, to open up acade- mia into the everyday, the public space and the city as transformative place of a new edu- cation mind-set.

Situated actions, new encounters, performance where the main characters are citizens with their voice and actions for a better now.

What if the city is a transformative open- source lab?

What if our open class is the place where we grow up and learn with the community? What if our creativity is the platform to foster social innovation? What if we share the right to live the city as smart citizens?

We can shape our present and future worlds in fair and inclusive ways. 

Researching through Design and Performance allow all the citizens of a community to act and transform in their own local environment. Starting with your own local context, you can be also change agent and conceiving, developing and connecting new possibilities for democracy and wellbeing. In every possible arena where design has a voice, you are the CHANGE AGENT.

Situated actions bridges a number of existing symbolic systems performing very well in temporally demanding tasks embedded in complex environments as our city, public spa- ces and neighbour, thoroughly symbolic (and representational) relationship, and, have the power to the extent this storytelling as open-ended included the uncertain, unknown imma- terial territories and explore it, as extension to complex tasks and creativity process, to transform, amplify actions in which the design community, with all its richness and diversi- ty, is already taking a stand.

Speak out! Stand up for new inclusive ways of living.


Arianna Mazzeo

Leader DESISLAB-DESISNETWORK ( Design for social Innovation and sustainability; www.desisnetwork.org ) in Elisava Design School Barcelona, Spain( http://www.elisava.net)

I believe in design and collaboration, open to co-create services and opportunities for all and connect people to life. A transformative pathway toward new cultural circular mind-sets. I’m working and collaborate with crit- ical minds as Ezio Manzini, John Thackara, Irini Papadimitriou,Liz Sanders, Francesca Bria and many more that help me to be humble and open to overcome stereotypes and prejudices. We want to reach and be ac- cessible for the many, delivering co-production of public services in an equal and reciprocal relationship be- tween professionals, people using services, their families and their neighbours.

Involved in European and International Open Innovation Projects, I coordinate the first European Open De- sign School based on the open culture values, collaboration and digital fabrication, new emerging business models for open innovation research.The challenge is helping professionals, private and public institutions, cultural and creative hubs, policy makers, administrations, foundations, associations and creative industries as well informal groups and start-ups to innovate through service design. This long and open process brings me to work in Cameroon, Mexico, Turkey, Armenia, South Africa for social innovation programs, co.design within the local community and the govern, in order to re-design education through new open educational resources(OER) and policies.

Specialist in ethnography process, my focus is on the co-creation of public/private services.

For example co- designing with policymakers scenarios to develop their strategy for their Social Innovation Policy Agenda as well with start-ups performative design think-thank with cooperatives and companies in co- production such as IBM, Gsma Mobile World Congress, and other International organisations (UNIFEM, UNESCO,EESC-European Economic and Social Committee,Frank Nigro’ Architects Associated, New York, Open Design School, Victoria and Albert Museum, Xschool, Makers, Fablabs).


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