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Conference paper

Participatory Mapping in the Co-Design of the Future North

It is important for designers of the built environment – from the varying scales of architecture, urbanism, and landscape – to capture and reflect locally specific human voices in the anticipation and design of future communities in the face of great change. The world is increasingly challenged with the complex dynamics of climate change and globalisation. This is particularly acute in the Arctic where warming temperatures increase access and potential exploitation of natural resources, and has related socio-cultural and environmental impacts. How do people here anticipate and respond to changes and contribute in the co-design of their physical and social realms at the scales of the local neighbourhood, city, and region?

Saskia Sassen advocates for open-source urbanism, and the appropriation of technology to bring forth the intimate lived knowledge of a city as experienced by its inhabitants to city governments.[1] And there is increasing awareness of how (social) digital media can radically change participation in urban planning.[2] This paper discusses the participatory co-design potential and impacts of such a tool, MyCity.io, which is a locative-mapping platform that was developed by community activists in Murmansk, Russia. MyCity enables the plotting on an interactive map of ideas for civic improvement that can be up-voted, tweeted, or discussed in a forum.

Several iterations of MyCity will be looked at here. MyBarents.com investigates the borderlands between Russia and Norway, perhaps the Arctic’s most energetic edge of contention and collaboration. Other MyCity instantiations, such as that in Tromsø, Norway, and in Kurgan, Russia, show the platform as operated by civic administrations and activists respectively. The article will discuss the differences between use, levels of participation, and transformation of ideas to action of some of these platforms. Similarities and differences are explored pertaining to how MyCity is used within these varying dimensions and reveal limits and challenges, as well as benefits and opportunities. This includes critically discussing power relations in the seemingly bottom-up processes and the limits to existing forms of communicative planning that often fails to deliver results that are relevant to locals.[3]

Location–based digital services are rich with opportunities,[4] and face stiff challenges,[5] but these digital tools can act as complementary civic forums to those of brick and mortar.[6] I argue that they can work together to yield new hybrid forms of participation where both co-exist in a reciprocal relationship to increase civic engagement in the co-design of our communities across scales.


[1] Sassen, Saskia. 2013. “Open Sourcing The Neighborhood.” Forbes. November 10. http://www.forbes.com/sites/techonomy/2013/11/10/open-sourcing-the-neighborhood/print/.

[2] Shipley, Robert, and Stephen Utz. 2012. “Making It Count: A Review of the Value and Techniques for Public Consultation.” Journal of Planning Literature, January. doi:10.1177/0885412211413133.

[3] Innes, Judith E., and David E. Booher. 2004. “Reframing Public Participation: Strategies for the 21st Century.” Planning Theory & Practice 5 (4): 419–36.

[4] Shepard, Mark. 2011. Sentient City. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

[5] Gurstein, Mike. 2010. “Towards An Urban Community Informatics.” Gurstein’s Community Informatics. August 28. https://gurstein.wordpress.com/2010/08/28/towards-an-urban-community-informatics-movement/.

[6] Thielmann, T., (2010). Locative media and mediated localities; An Introduction to Media Geography. Aether: The Journal of Media Geography 5: p. 1–17.


Ip, M. 2015. 'Participatory Mapping in the Co-Design of the Future North'. Sheffield: 10.09.2015–12.09.2015.