The growth of cities around the world forces us to look deeper into the urban dynamics. This is of great importance considering the rate of daily global urban population growth, and with already more than half of the world’s population living in urban areas. This makes us wonder, how do we make the city livable for all these people?

The relationship between the city and its inhabitants is a dual one. Urban modern day life can be a struggle because you are unwillingly exposed to a continuous wave of stimuli. In order to protect themselves against this urban flow of impressions, people living in cities have developed a metropolitan personality. This personality serves as a shield for overwhelming impulses from the city and becoming indifferent towards the surroundings is part of that personality.

The City Answers to the World

At the same time, the industrialization and modernization waves of this century have made the city a global institution. Because of that the city has troubles in maintaining a personal connection with its inhabitants, as municipalities’ responsibilities now reach far further than the physical borders of the city. Societal globalization has put cities in charge of international issues and now the city has to justify its actions directly to the political international arena.

This discrepancy adds a challenge to us in defining the ideal livable city. Basic elements of urban livability are a healthy environment, decent housing, safe public places, uncongested roads, parks and recreational opportunities, vibrant social interaction, and so on. The existing indicators for livable cities are based on top–down city models and they often miss critical issues at the local level, failing to measure what is important to local communities.

Livability, Sustainability and Livelihoods

According to Peter Evans, author of Livable Cities? Urban Struggles for Livelihood and Sustainability, livability is half livelihood and half environmental sustainability. Livelihood is essentially the daily activities people conduct to fulfill their basic human needs. The other half, sustainability, adds an environmental dimension to urban livability.

Livelihood and sustainability are definitely important keywords but don’t cover enough of the understanding of urban livability. Urban livability suggests that there is an ideal relationship between the urban environment and the social life it sustains. The missing link is the relationship between urban communities and their environment. In short, the current social organization of many cities tends to cause a disconnect from the environment and sustainability.

Right to the Commons for Well-being of Urbanites

Urban communities thrive when they have access to a public common space and urban green spaces are crucial for the well-being of the inhabitants of any city. A simple example is a drop of crime rates when the cities invest in planting trees in crime-prone areas. The social aspect of a livable city has been pointed out as number one priority by several actors such as municipalities, architects, urban planners and most importantly the civilians themselves. But, one main problem of actually attaining the status of a livable city is that there is no coherent overview of what a livable city actually implies.

No Two Cities Are Alike

Making a global definition of livability is difficult and there is really no room for generalization since each city has its own challenges and benefits there. That cities lack bottom-up input from local communities up to higher levels of government does not imply a lack of demand from the community, but instead a lack of organization when it comes to incorporating these elements into cities to encourage urban livability.

This is a logical problem because each neighborhood in each city consists of different social and cultural specificities that have individual needs and demands. Proponents of this approach argue that to gain relevant and meaningful perspectives on local problems, it is necessary to actively involve community members in the research process to stimulate social action or change.

Civic Crowdfunding for Livability Projects

Civic crowdfunding may be one of the answers for this problem. Spacehive is a British crowdfunding platform where people are given the possibility of improving their own neighborhoods. Through crowdfunding, social projects can be developed and financed by communities themselves and can be “Anything in a public space - or somewhere the community can freely access” as said on Spacehive's website.

Projects supported through crowdfunding can vary from building playgrounds and parks but also organizing cultural events. The grassroots nature of these initiatives is what makes Spacehive stand out. These types of initiatives give freedom to locals to design their own surroundings making the community stronger because this way the community members actively become part of their neighborhood. And that’s part of what makes a city more livable.

Civic crowdfunding is a process that binds people together and gives them a stronger sense of ownership over their area. By now there are already 60 successful projects run by Spacehive that are financed by individuals, private companies and the municipality. By working closely with the civic authorities and partnering up with local entrepreneurs, Spacehive forms the perfect bridge with the locals by helping to give communities the chance to co-create their version of an ideal city.