In the Industrial age, we built cities for machines: they expanded in size, scale and shape. In the post-industrial era, our cities must translate to a human scale — not only in physical form, but also in how citizens participate in making decisions, creating new tools and developing their experience of the city.

The future of the post-industrial city means converting the large-scale landscape to a human scale. Design Thinking and Participatory Design offer a process, a set of tools, and a mindset that can be expanded to achieve this transformation in the post-industrial cities of America.

Design thinking is “a methodology that imbues the full spectrum of innovation activities with a human-centered design ethos” (Brown), where innovation is the solution that adds value in new ways. Design thinking is driven by cultivating an understanding of what people need, want, like and dislike about the products, services and environments they experience. Through a process of observation, learning, ideation, prototyping and iteration, design thinking can be applied to a variety of new ideas, large and small.

Design thinking has been applied to the user-centered design process, where the focus is heavily “on the thing being designed (e.g. object, communication, space, interface…)” (Sanders 2002). User-centered design, where research may be an intermediary between the designer and the end-user, is evolving into a participatory design process, where the “the roles of the designer and the researcher blur, and the user becomes a critical component of the process” (Sanders 2002).

Participatory design offers an opportunity for post-industrial cities to find new opportunities, small and large, with their citizens, and not just for them. It is already being applied to our post-industrial cities. Here are a few examples of efforts to change the experience of our cities through the intentional, facilitated participation of citizens.

Designing Chicago Designing Chicago, a project by Greater Good Studio in Chicago, is a project to develop new ways to navigate the city of Chicago, by designing “the mother of all transit apps”. By building a collective team not limited to users of the Chicago Transit Authority, but also drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians, Designing Chicago is learning from the needs of users of the vast, multi-modal transit system of the city.

Chicago, like many other industrial cities, has a transportation system built of many separate pieces — subways and elevated trains, buses, highways, taxis, bike lanes and even boats. Each mode has grown up in a different era and, in the modern world, the interface between and use of these systems is complicated for even a daily user.

The Designing Chicago team has brought together over 80 users from not only Chicago but around the world to contribute through research and design. Participants, known as Urban Agents, were sent out with tasks such as finding and identifying Pro Tips, sharing Best and Worst moments, and brainstorming “how my app might help me have a smooth trip when I leave one place to when I arrive at the next?”

Throughout the process, highly engaged Agents came to the Greater Good Studio to participate in-person, analyzing research, brainstorming, voting on ideas, and even creating apps. The Greater Good team has taken these ideas and is moving into a development phase to actually build an app based on the participation of the citizens and direct users.

building communityWORKSHOP building communityWORKSHOP is a Dallas, Texas based non-profit with a mission of increasing the livability and viability of neighborhoods. This neighborhood focus is designed to promote grassroots planning that engages residents to supplement and even challenge city-wide planning that overlooks the human scale. bcWORKSHOP’s first projects were architectural in nature, but today their major initiative is People Organizing Place [POP], which strives to identify neighborhoods, culture, to motivate citizen advocates.

Based on their success in engaging communities, bcWORKSHOP created the POP Toolkit to engage citizens in grassroots planning. It is based on the design thinking process, distilled into accessible language to unlock everyday actions as tools for creating social and physical change. Currently, the Toolkit is a pilot in two parts: an Activity Book and a field guide.

The Activity Book is a how-to companion to community building and facilitation focusing on building social capital. It questions motives and suggests activities that establish a firm neighborhood support structure to ensure that the result of the process will implement change. The field guide is an index of pieces and parts of the urban physical environment (streets, buildings, open spaces). It is awaiting testing with communities to prove success in teaching design vocabulary and engaging citizens.

There is a desire among neighbors to determine what, when and how change happens in their community. The Toolkit is an effort to empower more residents to accomplish that themselves, positioning them to pressure design and civic professionals to be partners with citizens.

DServe</b> DServe is an initiative by Catalysts by Design “that explores design-based social entrepreneurial learning with youth in underserved communities.” By training youth in the skills of design, they are able to engage their own communities and themselves as “catalysts for re-envisioning culture, economy and physical space”.

As with the POP Toolkit, D*Serve aims to empower youth to act within their community — both on an individual level and as citizens in a broader neighborhood. This summer, youth from Hyde Park in St. Louis, Missouri will learn techniques to investigate what they deserve in their communities.

This model of educating with tools to increase participation has been applied in other contexts, and D*Serve shows a new iteration of the possibility of participation and how it can change the landscape of a post-industrial city to a human scale.

SEED Network & Conclusions For us, the human scale invokes the right of people to organize and impact the places they live, work and play. Designers, organizers and planners working to bring a human scale to cities have long tried share their findings and methods, and measure their success. In 2005, Structures for Inclusion (SFI), a conference organized by Design Corps, began developing a tool known as SEED (Social, Economic, Environmental Design). As the name implies, SEED is meant to be like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), creating a “standard to guide, evaluate and measure the social, economic and environmental impact of design projects” (SEED Network).

The SEED model today is a free method to share the best practices of participatory design, aimed at establishing a free-standing profession that relies not on grants but on fees for its sustenance. While economic sustainability is essential, the primary goal of practitioners and professionals of human-centered, participatory design in our post-industrial cities should offer their methods and successes to attract as many believers as possible, among professionals and citizens. Rather than a defined profession, participation is a strategy for everyone.

The examples we’ve presented are just a small part of the movement towards creating tools, frameworks and systems for communities, supporting citizens in designing and advocating for themselves. This is more authentic to the mission of empowerment that participatory, human-centered design exudes, empowerment that will unearth the places for people that lie beneath our post-industrial cities.

1Brown, T. (2008). Design thinking. Harvard business review, 86(6), 84. 2Sanders, E. B. N. (2002). From user-centered to participatory design approaches. Design and the social sciences: Making connections, 1-8. 3Greater Good Studio. 4Designing Chicago. 5bcWorkshop. 6Catalysts by Design.!/about 7SFI Conference. Design Corps. 8SEED Network. SEED Network.