Wikitopia Project is an interdisciplinary research project, that aims to realize technologically-enhanced future cities that are continuously edited and improved by citizens like the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. The project, launched in 2017 under the leadership of computer scientist Yuichiro Takeuchi, is a cross-institutional collaboration headed by Sony CSL Kyoto (Sony Computer Science Laboratories Inc., Kyoto Laboratory). Our research is characterized by an eclectic and pragmatic approach informed by a wide range of academic and professional disciplines, including computer science, electrical engineering, urban planning, architecture, political activism, etc.
Who are are in charge of building our cities? Governments, corporations, professionals such as architects and urban planners — while there may be a number of possible responses, in any case the power to design and build cities does not appear to be equally distributed among citizens (i.e., the actual "users" of cities), but instead seems to be consolidated in the hands of select institutions and individuals. This is in contrast to the digital world, where we can find many examples — Linux and Wikipedia, to name two — of large, complex, and reliable systems being created by "everyone", or groups of distributed, willing volunteers. And such democratically-created systems possess a number of beneficial attributes, such as the capacity for quick, incremental changes, increased reliability stemming from transparency, and the ability to reflect the needs of diverse populations.
Our project aims to bring such democratic modes of production to urban design, giving rise to a new form of urbanism (i.e., Wikitopia) where cities are designed and created through active, spontaneous participations of citizens themselves.
While this vision of Wikitopia may strike some as fantastical, DIY-style, citizen-led urban design is in fact a well-established practice with precedents existing worldwide, such as guerrilla gardening, pop-up bike lanes, and various forms of street art. While many of these examples started out as illegal activities, recently they are increasingly receiving official sanction; for example, a number of cities have introduced "parklet programs" that allow citizen groups to convert roadside parking spaces into small pedestrian parks. In more and more regions around the world, citizens are taking up the task of improving their neighborhoods into their own hands, in increasingly creative ways and under full approval from local municipalities.
Relying on a suite of cutting-edge technologies, we seek to further accelerate such participatory urban practices — lowering the barrier to entry, and drastically expanding the scope of urban interventions that can be carried out in a citizen-led manner. Our work will bring increased scalability to participatory urban design, making democratically-created spaces and artifacts an everyday sight in our future cities.
The majority of our efforts are directed at creating novel technologies that facilitate citizen-led urbanism. We are interested in a wide range of technologies, with special focus on those belonging to the four categories shown below. Ongoing initiatives include exploring the use of digital fabrication to realize novice-friendly DIY urban gardening, and developing intelligent software that guides citizens in drafting plans for lawful urban interventions.
We also conduct in-the-wild evaluations of the developed technologies, and seek to incorporate them into actual urban design practices in Kyoto and beyond. In addition to technology development, we regularly publish papers discussing the theoretical aspects of Wikitopia in both academic and popular media (currently only in Japanese; an English paper is in preparation), and also hold events such as the Wikitopia International Competition.
DIY-Style Urban Design
Support spontaneous, DIY-style urban design by citizens (e.g., tactical urbanism) through new design tools and fabrication technologies
Dynamic, Adaptive Environments
Make urban environments dynamically adapt and respond to citizens' needs using new interactive technologies and intelligent robotics
Sharing Visions of Future Cities
Allow citizens to easily visualize and share their visions of future cities through augmented/virtual reality and other new media technologies
Assist collective decision-making by citizens using intelligent planning tools and online platforms that facilitate consensus building
Our project is mainly funded by Sony Computer Science Laboratories Inc. and Sony Corporation. A subset of our initiatives have been supported by funding from Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), and sponsorship fees from partnering groups and companies. We are always looking for new collaboration opportunities. If you are interested in working with us, please feel free to contact us via email.