The Challenge


How might we restore vibrancy in cities and regions facing economic decline? read the brief


Brownfield-eliminator App/wiki/map/calendar

The problem : privately owned empty unused spaces that deteriorate when owners & investors just leave it. I suggest online tool that enables volunteers to report & then apply for permission to use the lot for temporary activities
This concept is about designing a local database-tool that will make it possible for citizens to report directly to authorities about abandoned buildings/property. Application for smartphones/web page/wikipedia/forum. And to search for appropriate venue to hold temporary projects/events (art exhibition/farmers market/food festival/rock concert/whatever...)
(updated 30th december,
removed some details, see the attached document)

This is IT-infrastructure project.
Enable simple instant reports from the citizens to city officials, similar to what is done in some cities (reporting about potholes...)
Suggestion box for citizens requesting activities, a forum to connect with like-minded people and to form groups to organize activities. To make them find venue for their event. To make other citizens go out and search for empty unused lots.

Design this software/App/facebook plugin to make the process to get events up and running quick and smoothly.

Inside the APPlication:
• Posting a venue:
Anyone can take a photo or video of an abandoned house, empty industrial estate, unused property, and upload with a simple report and the GPS-location or address (could be done hightech or lotech)
That report should make the city planners start to:
  1. Search in the archives of who the legal owners are
  2. contact these for investigation
  3. prepare all paper-work, release-forms, insurance and permits that is needed.
  4. place this property in the calendar, available to be scheduled for different events once all paper-work is cleared.
(Users on the forum could give advice on what is needed to fix/repair on each site to make it safer)(users could easily send link/tweets to their friends that look for venues to borrow)

• Posting activity:
Anyone can submit ideas for events/activities they want in their city.
Match with the available properties that are in the database. Make public query for what type of venues are needed, to instill a open search for more properties to add into the database.
All citizens can vote online for projects.
organisor of event can find volunteers and reach customer base in advance, to start work immediately when an appropriate property comes up as available.
Spreading virally tweets about the upcoming events.
Asking for participants videos and photos from each event will be possible, to show how vibrant it was on the night, helps promote future similar events. (It seems very popular to watch on internet who was at the party on previous weekend)

Every property with permission to use, appears in the calender, and becomes able to schedule for activities & projects. Several projects can be held at the same venue at different days of the week. Many activities can coexist, in the same place, at the same time, without interferring with each other. This will definitely bring a vibrant crowd of diverse groups, for interaction and spread of ideas and influences.

• Posting an event:
New activities will appear both in calendar and on the map, and these databases is searchable, and possible for spreading through grapevine, virally/tweets. RSS-feeds can create automatic messaging to people requested news about certain types of activities.

Low-tech-ads onsite (offline-info)
Signs could be put on each site that is reported into this database, to make it clear that this site is just awaiting permits, a cleanup and a go-ahead-signal from the authorities. with info about where citizens can add ideas to what could be done at the site.
When this property clears permits, and exist in the online calender you could change the posters and stickers to a different colour! and with info about upcoming events, and where to look for finding the schedule.
Signs could also be put up on sites that is reported but is not being allowed to be used by the owners, explaining reason why it is abandoned, explaining that there are several other sites like this available to use for your activity, and how to do to book those.
Educational possibilities and work-experience:
If city hall can do a thorough search for all previous owners of the lot, it could compile and share the heritage of it to neighbourhood at these venues (volunteers with access to archive? doing extracredits for school?). All city archives & local museums have got old photos, ancient street maps, blueprints and other records that can be displayed at the events on these sites. (make simple power-point-presentations to project onto the exterior of the factory)

There could be mentoring or apprentice-ships within this program. Work-experience-schemes for unemployed youths within the city council for administration, making them the moderators of the forum in the App (opportunities for engineering & repairing to secure the dangerous sites, constructing safety measures to make them safe to use)
Legal issues:
Property owners could at least be made to give temporary contract and time-limited permission for events that does not require any permanent installation in the ground or on the building.
Funding ideas:
Other property owners in this city would be able to purchase a licence to scan this database for all the different types of ideas that have been submitted by the public. If they find something that they feel is appropriate for their unused properties, it could be organised collaborations to start scheduling activities, anything temporarily.
These companies could be asked to become investors/donors/sponsors/partners.
Perhaps this will create other spin-offs that utilize the functions/service within this concept. Potential for the local business, trade, culture...
there is no need at this stage to create a list of potential events/content to take place on the empty lots, this is just focused on the direct way to have open database as interface-window between the three parts : citizens, government and property owners.

Spin-off idea Service clerk / City Concierge :
Citizens can't waste time to run around the city hall between departments with their simple errands. Install a new form of service-minded employee in the local government! This concierge/clerk receives the citizens at a counter or in this database online, assist in filling out forms, and then run around to all departments to get needed permissions.
( I started this spinoff idea as a separate concept : /open/vibrant-cities/concepting/city-concierge/ so I will add and adjust that concept depending on your feedback/comments on it there)
What resources (money, time, people, technology, etc) will your concept need to be successful?
Existing database or wikipedia-technology adjusted to combine with a calendar and photo-uploading-functions and geo-mapping. (perhaps use only existing social forums?) Staff/Volunteers with some experience in real estate laws and local government code to maintain and monitor/moderate the database/wiki inside the App. These just enable contacts, contracts and permissions, cutting "the red tape". After a trial period it could perhaps arise an active forum community among the event organizers that could be let in to administer parts of this App/forum on a strictly pro-bono basis. To minimize costs for the actual administration. Money for some tools and safety fences to board up the sites, to make sure noone will be able to enter wrong area if event is taking place outdoors outside a dangerous factory etc. This could be outsourced to local contractors, and made to be paid by property owners.
How can your idea be scaled so that it's implemented in cities around the world?
If this software is constructed, it can be franchised to any city. Write a white-book on appropriate conduct. Just need to find suitable local organisations and authorities to explain the concept to. Everything is scalable and adjustable depending on local cities legislation, geography, demographics and culture.
My Virtual Team
See the comment section below on many good contributions! thank you everyone! AnaMaría PardoPachón Anne-Laure Fayard Matthew Rouser Mike McDearmon and the usual collaboration cadre!


Join the conversation and post a comment.

Sarah Fathallah

December 29, 2011, 21:04PM
Brilliant idea! Kind of like AirBnB, except for more than just hosting people :)
Maybe there should be a similar "community reviews" function in the app to help owners trust a little more the system? Each profile will also link to past events/activities organized by that member, which will reassure the owners.

Johan Löfström

December 30, 2011, 10:08AM
Of course, great suggestion. Of course the property owners would need to hear positive feedback from earlier good examples. If it is simply showing votes/results in the app, or doing thorough interviews from previous projects and creating a package of methods that are a range between extremely successful/not so good.

First, I was a bit confused about your comment, because I try to see the "owners of this concept" as the individuals that submit report about the vacant, unused places. (Real Estate Investors & owners could in this concept be completely passive/silent partner, yet contribute and earn kudos by letting people borrow the lot a couple of months or permanently)

Sarah Fathallah

December 30, 2011, 10:23AM
Oh I see. Sorry about the confusion.


December 26, 2011, 20:41PM
Congrats on this post being today's onsite Featured Concept!

Johan Löfström

December 30, 2011, 10:09AM

Mike McDearmon

December 19, 2011, 06:42AM
Hi Johan - this idea could be enormously beneficial. One of the issues we've run up against in Phoenix is that the rules are very different for public vs. private properties. I like the idea of simplifying the process by zeroing in on the private owners to help simplify the process.

I'm also really liking the potential of fusing all our ideas into a cohesive package. Something like this/Opencity could be used to identify vacant properties and generate discussion/ideas in the community. If we helped make those ideas easier to implement with a solid road map to completion, we'd have a solid platform for revitalization!

Johan Löfström

December 20, 2011, 10:12AM
I would also like a fusing/merging of concepts, to create one better proposition instead of two similar but not perfect. I just updated with an idea above about a service clerk. check it out and tell me what you think! :)

Johan Löfström

December 20, 2011, 11:39AM
just added this idea for a service clerk as an independent concept :

AnaMaría PardoPachón

December 15, 2011, 23:07PM
Johan hi, surfing in the web I came across these articles in the news:

"Report: Nearly Half of Detroit Adults “Functionally Illiterate”"

"Report: Nearly Half Of Detroiters Can’t Read"

So I realized that, unfortunately, is as well a common reality among adults on the brink of exclusion or poverty around the world. So I think that the information display, the design, should be very visual and intuitive, because everybody has a mobile phone.

What do you think about it? Or, how could the app includes that people/"market" segment?

Johan Löfström

December 15, 2011, 23:24PM
I have been looking in detail at all the links that you so kindly researched for me. (thanks a lot)
and those look extremely difficult to navigate and understand what they do, even for me.

So with exactly that same concern of yours, to accomodate for people not so high-tech or academic, I think that communication would need to be extremely user-friendly, must become very graphically minimalistic, with simple icons and functions that just needs clicking on to turn on/off. Perhaps enable easy uploading of photos, video clips, audio clips where the user can speak about his idea/input/request. a visual show&tell via webcam or phone-cam.

Thank you very much for your effort, it helped to add stuff towards a better, more fuller description on how this essentially needs to be packaged and delivered! A big warm hug to you!

Johan Löfström

December 15, 2011, 23:32PM
I just realized a thing, exactly when I posted that... Imagine if this App was designed by the users? and easily adjustable to also work well for color-blind or other sight impaired users?

Or imagine if this App was looking so extremely difficult to use, and we could somehow pay the users to make it attractive to participate, I bet that we could influence many to ask around for help and initiate many spontaneous social interactions that way, out from the desire to understand how it works. :)
perhaps a bit too evil concept for now. but to make random strangers join forces with eachother and activate them together towards a common goal, it is often effectful to bring in a villain/nemesis.

keep being creative! :)

Jared Graf

December 16, 2011, 01:37AM

AnaMaría PardoPachón

December 15, 2011, 18:18PM
Johan, good job!

I don´t know how to link the comment made by Daniel Bassill on December the 10th, so I copied it (part of them), and paste it. ,)

May be you could find in their links, more insights to keep improving your concept.

"(...) I encourage groups to use geographic maps to focus attention and resources to all of the highest poverty areas of a city and to the organizations working in these areas who are competing with each other for scarce resources needed to do good work. At http://www.tutormentorprogramlocator you can see maps and a searchable map-based directory that can be used to help connect with individual organizations or to build collaborations that support many organizations in the city or a specific zip code.

At you can see how maps and graphics and other visualizations are intended to show the ways people need to work together, and the many years this work needs to be continuously supported in order for programs to become great and for first graders entering school today to be entering college in 13 years and jobs and careers a few years after that. At you can see how the maps and graphics are included in blogs and how interns are creating and writing some of these stories.

The ideas shared can be applied to any city where the size of the geography and the population make extra challenges in building collective efforts and long-term strategies. (...)"

AnaMaría PardoPachón

December 15, 2011, 21:23PM
Upppssss! Sorry! Twice. How can I delete one?

Meena Kadri

December 15, 2011, 21:49PM
No worries AnaMaria – I've used my Community Manager special powers to do that for you ;^)

AnaMaría PardoPachón

December 15, 2011, 22:06PM
Hahahahahhahaha! THANK YOU!

Dan Parham

December 14, 2011, 22:27PM
Hey Johan,

I work with Candy on a platform called Neighborland that was based on "I Wish This Was." Our mobile experience will be launching in a few weeks. The web site is live in New Orleans -

I'll build on your idea, and create a page for Neighborland there.

Johan Löfström

December 15, 2011, 11:36AM
great, I linked to yours.

Meghan Dufresne

December 08, 2011, 22:29PM
The farmer's market idea is very interesting, especially if combined with the new guerilla gardening movement, where people start plants in vacant lots, brownfields, and unlikely urban places. It would be a great way to grow food locally and engage the community.

Johan Löfström

December 08, 2011, 22:55PM
Yes I totally agree! but I will try to keep the focus in this concept in the infrastructure-technology that will be enabling and facilitating all sorts of content be suggested and carried out for all the various empty spaces. But thanks anyway for your ideas!

Karen Boyd

December 08, 2011, 20:50PM
I love the idea of an app like Layar for this!
Grammatically, it should be "I wish this were" ;)

Johan Löfström

December 08, 2011, 20:57PM
"—thank you for correcting my english, which stinks" (quote from Eddie Murphy in a classic comedy film)

Karen Boyd

December 08, 2011, 21:04PM
Haha, it's a little thing that many (if not most) native speakers get wrong: only just now did I read your name and think "He might not be from around here..." Your English is fantastic!

Johan Löfström

December 08, 2011, 21:14PM
nawww... *blushing* ;-p

Meena Kadri

December 08, 2011, 21:17PM
Thought you both might get a bit of a chuckle out of this:

Johan Löfström

December 08, 2011, 16:44PM
[Opencity] is a very similar concept proposal, with a very clearly defined animated video that explains the same "process" that I imagined for my concept above.

Take a look at it:

And maybe we will be able to merge together these two different concepts into one. (then this page will become abandoned, just like an old factory, so comment on OpenCity-page and not here)

Meena Kadri

December 07, 2011, 22:48PM
I notice you've got no image here yet, Johan. Let us know on if you're having any problems uploading one as we've been getting reports of problems today. I'm hoping for some kind of awesome sketch to summarise the pathway within your idea – which you might update later ;^) Oops! I just saw your note up there that you've got one coming – looking forward to it.

Meena Kadri

December 08, 2011, 21:17PM
**fab** image update, Johan!

Anne-Laure Fayard

December 07, 2011, 22:10PM
Hi Johan,

great idea. I see this concept being connected to Amanda's infographics:

I can also see a way of engaging people with the work of artists like Candy Chang or Eve Mosher:

Johan Löfström

December 08, 2011, 11:53AM
Thanks for the links, and definitely content suggestions of activities that are so much "inclusiveness" and "democracy" like Chang/Moshers "talk to your city" would be a part of the growing list of events to startup on these lots.

AnaMaría PardoPachón

December 07, 2011, 22:02PM
Hi Johan...

It's not exactly your idea but it could be addapted. I hope you find it useful.

Johan Löfström

December 08, 2011, 11:54AM
Thanks for the link, I will look into it, seems great

AnaMaría PardoPachón

December 15, 2011, 21:26PM
Hi again... Have you seen it before? It's to connect job seekers and employers. May be the platform could give you more insights... ,-)

AnaMaría PardoPachón

December 15, 2011, 22:01PM
And this one? ,-) May be you already knew them! (Source provided by Elizabeth Littlejohn)

Johan Löfström

December 07, 2011, 21:49PM
please feel free to comment on this and discuss details and ideas below, I appreciate any effort to help this getting better molded.

And I forgot to mention one of the clearest positive results that this could have : property owners to the houses in same block, next to this "brownfield-eye-sore" will probably see their value of their property rise, due to something positive happening in their immediate neighbourhood.
I am mostly into the spin-off-effects of this type of direct-contact that can make many exiting things happen for a "non-vibrant" community.

Johan Löfström

December 07, 2011, 21:57PM
another potential very-long-term-result : Perhaps this could densify an area, renew interest to live in urban areas instead of long way out in suburbia, and perhaps this can prevent the city limits sprawling outwards, at least slow it down some.

AnaMaría PardoPachón

December 07, 2011, 22:12PM
Following initiative started from a neglected area... and might be helps to support the benefits of your idea.

Johan Löfström

December 08, 2011, 11:54AM
Thanks again! :)
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