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Challenge / Goal

Every summer, the local government of Helsinki launches an initiative to convert two streets of the city into pedestrian-only zones (elävät kadut). This allows pedestrians to enjoy the city through various street improvements such as incorporating urban greenery, resting spots, and open spaces. In previous years, an architectural firm oversaw the entire design process. However, in 2023, the city commited to make the design process more inclusive to stakeholders across a wide demographic: women, children, elderly, and persons with disabilities. This requires organizing a space where users of diverse technical capabilities can still meaningfully engage and co-create the city. Using the participatory design platform, UrbanistAI, the City of Helsinki opened up the possibility to enhance the engagement and creative expression of its local community by expanding their capacity to imagine and execute their ideas. 

Solution

The city used the platform to redesign three of the Helsinki’s central streets through workshops completed with the city’s Citizen Committee and business owners. During the engagement, groups of four to five participants were asked to generate their visions of the Summer Streets using UrbanistAI. 

Codesigning with AI
Stakeholders uploaded an image of the street and redesigned it based on a crafted text prompt. This gave users with no technical training in architecture or urban design the chance to incorporate their ideas during workshops without the need to manually draw or render their proposal through computer-aided applications (CAD).

Collaborative Reiteration
Through the platform, multiple contributors interacted with the design. With this, stakeholders deliberatively discussed their ideas and build upon each other's contributions all in one canvas.

Polling and Decision-making
The citizen-generated designs were evaluated through a polling feature that allows everyone to cast votes and deliver feedback. 

Citizen participation

UrbanistAI is seen then as a pivotal tool towards bridging the participation gap in urban planning. By engaging diverse stakeholders and democratizing the design process through codesign workshops, initiatives like the Summer Streets Project in Helsinki exemplify how AI can empower communities to co-create their urban environment.

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Time period

Planning time: Less than 6 months

Implementation time: 6 months to 1 year

Implementers

City Government of Helsinki and UrbanistAI

Service providers

UrbanistAI, WSP and Sweco

End users

Residents of Helsinki

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