Design thinking for Bucharest business district areas. Experimental workshop – outside view @Kaleidoscope

Guest authors: Irina Paraschivoiu (Urban INC), Anamaria Vrabie (Urban INC), Silje Klepsvik (Kaleidoscope Nordic), Miia-Liina Tommila (Kaleidoscope Nordic).

This is the second of two posts based on an experimental workshop developed by Urban INC and Kaleidoscope (first post here, more details at the bottom).

Outside view @Kaleidoscope: the place

What can be done without lengthy municipal processes, and who should initiate change? What is the identity of the Pipera and Dimitrie Pompeiu districts, and how can the identified problems be turned into opportunities? These are some of the questions we wanted to highlight in the workshop held at Urban INC.

It was evident from the interviews that social arenas, green elements and more outdoor activities would be highly valued. The opportunity to sit on a bench in the sun, have a place to meet a friend away from the shopping centre, or have a place to go for a walk in pleasant surroundings, or just being safe on the pedestrian sidewalk would give increased well-being and higher input throughout their working day. Understanding these people’s daily needs and obstacles is the key element in any further development of the area.


The interviews confirmed the many challenges the area is confronted with, but also revealed possibilities and that people’s perception of the area is not solely negative. Many enjoy the modern architecture and the aesthetic of the lighted buildings, some do take their bike to work even though the bike lanes are few and incoherent, and although mostly located in the shopping centre, there are many eateries to choose from. But most importantly, there is an abundance of highly competent and resourceful people working in the area! This is the real asset.

Walking through the area we also discovered several urban qualities, some more hidden than others. There is a diverse mix of modern glass buildings, former industrial buildings and wasteland. The new clean surfaces next to the old and ruff makes an intriguing combination, and some leftover green spots have a great potential. Being accessible from the center by subway, tram and bus pose a major advantage, and with small improvements and a change in mindset the area could turn problems into possibilities.

Bicycle paths and pedestrian networks have an enormous potential to provide the area with increased coverage and improve the safety, health and well-being of those who work there. In addition, public spaces for social interaction could give the area a real boost, by integrating work life with social life and offer more than just being a workplace.


This leads us to the question if public space could be the driving force for community building and a more cohesive development of  the Pipera and Dimitrie Pompeiu districts. Public spaces tend to act as an activator, and trigger local initiative and innovation. In public venues entrepreneurs see the opportunity to start something. This attract users and consumers, making the location more valuable, and when social commitment starts occurring, it brings a myriad of  positive synergies.

Roadmaps to business district heaven


The emerging business areas in the North of Bucharest have been growing fast and the local authorities have not proven the capacity to support this trend by putting in place adequate access to utilities or through master planning and long term envisioning. The administrative complexity of the city of Bucharest and its metropolitan area have also had detrimental effects in taking advantage of the private sector’s locational decisions and their benefits for the city. We have seen in our interviews and field research that governance boundaries translate into physical boundaries which come at great cost for the companies and employees who are key drivers for the city’s economic growth.

However, we found there is potential to surpass existing challenges, if there is a clear understanding of the existing problems and opportunities, as well as an imagination of alternative scenarios. We found that design thinking methods can be a powerful tool to accelerate understanding and mapping of local problems and can provide a fast track to solution design.

As a combined result of the different approaches and scenarios thought out in the workshop, Kaleidoscope worked out a series of collages illustrating one possible chain of incremental change. This scenario is linked to the power of renewal which is embedded in fixing the missing links in the area. What if the short term action was only to remove obstacles and fences along the way, and paint a bicycle lane network connecting Pipera and Dimitrie Pompeiu district internally? Even in a guerrilla manner, in order to raise awareness around the conditions of public space? Could a stunt have the power to change people’s mindset and their behaviour? This immediate action could potentially function as a kick-starter for a long term vision where a welcoming public space with focus on the pedestrians and soft mobility rises as a new typology.

Pipera 1

Pipera currently

Pipera 006

Pipera short term change. Copyright: Kaleidoscope Nordic

Pipera 007

Pipera long term vision. Copyright: Kaleidoscope Nordic

The workshop was designed as a part of the project Urban Insights: Building partnership for user-centred design, financed through the NGO Fund in Romania via EEA Grants 2009-2014 and managed by the Foundation for Civil Society Development. The content of this material does not necessarily reflect the official position of the EEA Grants 2009-2014.

Photos: Kaleidoscope Nordic

Urban INC is a platform space for experiments, learning and scaling of new solutions for cities. Urban INC works towards formulating meaningful insights on urban dynamics in Romania, bringing together stakeholders and citizens to experiment, learn and scale new solutions.

Kaleidoscope is a Norwegian-Finnish architecture office creating architecture with a local presence and a Nordic resonance, working in a variety of scales and approaches to urban issues. Kaleidoscope is also a member office of the Finnish urbanist expert network Uusi Kaupunki collective, specialising in participatory urban planning processes.

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Online participatory mapping for spatial planning

Spatial planning is all about putting things on the map: existing spaces and places, as well as spaces and places to come. Yet how much of mapping for spatial planning actually engages the supposed beneficiaries of planning? This post considers online mapping technologies that can be easily used by non-experts, particularly online mapping surveys for public engagement.


MinStad, online participatory mapping in 3D in Gothenburg, Sweden. Courtesy of Agency9.

Value of online participatory mapping

The main stake for online participatory mapping is to allow virtually anyone to participate in mapping places of interest, as well as places of disinterest that would benefit from upgrading or transformation of some sort. Insodoing, online participatory mapping enables the crowds of non-expert to express contrasting interests and views about places and spaces. This can make for variegated maps that bring to the fore the inner tensions of dwelling together and sharing spaces. Such was the case in an online mapping survey carried out as background public consultation for the Helsinki 2050 master plan, where two distinct groups of participants emerged: those supporting urban infill and those preferring the status-quo. This ability of online mapping surveys to address contentious planning issues is simultaneously a major challenge and benefit of online participatory mapping for public engagement. Participatory mapping in the form of Public Participation GIS (PPGIS) can enable local communities to put their issues on the map, facilitate resource management, stand up for their rights, and/or speak the same language as planners (e.g. see the development projects).

Beyond GIS

Geographical Information Systems (GIS) are the backbone of spatial plans. Yet their use remains limited to those who have had adequate training, typically people who need to work with GIS on a daily basis. Traditional GIS is opening up though. QGIS is a powerful, open-source alternative to proprietary GIS software marketed by firms such as ESRI. Because it is open-source, QGIS is often used for different forms of participatory action research (e.g. here) as is the open-source, and crowdsourced Open Street Map (see for example the extreme citizen science projects at UCL, and humanitarian OSM). QGIS and OSM projects are however typically expert led, or requires solid basic training for which many people may not have sufficient time, patience or spatial skills. Open Street Map, although crowdsourced, is mostly updated by a minority of keen mappers, for a majority of passive users (i.e. that do not contribute content, as is often the case with many “wikis”). Furthermore, maps made with QGIS do not provide shared, instantaneous interactivity to many simultaneous online users, in the way that online mapping survey software do. Even much PPGIS can require the intervention or leadership of mapping experts.

Some online mapping software

With Web 2.0 functionalities, cloud-based data storage, and increasingly interoperable geospatial data (i.e. compatibility across data formats and visualisation platforms), participatory mapping technologies are now more powerful than ever. A former post on the blog highlights some of these online mapping tools, such as Carto (formerly CartoDB), Fulcrum or Harvard University’s free, intuitive map-making software World Map. A great Open Source online software is you can make great maps on the fly, draw on them, put place markers, add simple attributes to the added features, share the maps with others, and export the maps in multiple formats, or directly to Github for easy collaboration on projects. ESRI’s Story Maps allow users to create beautiful and simple picture-based maps and narratives, but are otherwise limited.

Online mapping surveys

Online mapping surveys, in the form of web-based Public Participation GIS, have been used in many places the world over to engage people in spatial planning, particularly in cities. They are meant to be easy to use for virtually anyone acquainted with Google Maps or Bing Maps. Although a lot of online mapping survey services enable ordinary people to participate in mapping, and some source codes for software are Open Source, most of them remain license-based (Software as a Service –SaaS). Most existing online mapping services have emerged since the 2010s, so this is a rather new phenomenon for spatial planning.  Here are some examples.


The research-based software Maptionnaire is one of the most famous PPGIS to have been applied in many planning contexts, mostly in Finland, but also internationally. It has received extensive coverage in the academic literature, as most people running the company are (or were until recently) researchers at Aalto University. Over time, it has been used to engage thousands of urban residents, and has also been customised to engage target groups in urban planning (e.g. children and older residents).


This software has been used in many French cities, including Lille, Marseille, Strasbourg, as well as smaller councils/municipalities. Of late, it has been used to engage local residents in choosing alternative routes for a new fast train line linking Paris and Normandy. Feel free to play with the demo for Paris (in French). Given its range of functionalities (e.g. like/dislike comments, view who contributes what, see places in google street view etc., commenting options) and unique user interface, the tool deserves to be used in other countries too.

Social Pinpoint

Based in Australia, Social Pinpoint tool has been used in many different planning contexts, especially in smaller councils. The range of projects is quite impressive, and the user interface can provide a lot of background information to users and enable significant interactivity for users.

Mapping for Change

While the above have mostly been used in urban planning, Mapping for Change has been used for more diverse uses, including making community maps (e.g. comprehensive maps of local community assets, local climate change mitigation initiatives) as well as citizen science projects (e.g. monitoring air pollution in London). Like Social Pinpoint, this online mapping survey software has mostly been used to engage smaller communities and neighbourhoods, or by small local councils and boroughs. Check out their wide range of completed and current projects.


As online GIS is growing more powerful, 3D and 4D (3D over time) GIS are becoming increasingly available on the web, thanks to WebGL technology. Making use of Open Street Map 3D, CityPlanner is a software that, at its best, can function as a 3D planning platform and urban social media. The main flagship project for public engagement, and best all-bar-none identified by myself so far, is MinStad, used and augmented by the City of Gothenburg. It allows to visualise planning proposals in 3D, view historical pictures of the city, and read other users’ personal narratives about their life in the city. Most importantly, it allows users to make comments and submit ideas in 2D (e.g. cycle routes, areas) and 3D (blocks, volumes), as well as demolish features in the 3D environment (I haven’t managed to make that work though…). You can then share comments on social media, as you would with Social Pinpoint or Carticipe. CityPlanner is also used internally by many local councils in Sweden for project management and collaboration, in a similar manner as ESRI CityEngine.

Toward Mapping 4.0

The above online mapping surveys enable to engage urban residents in a powerful way that complements more traditional methods for public engagement. While this is a great achievement in itself, the future lies in increased interoperability between all digital platforms, with a significant potential to link all stages, aspects, and spatial scales of place-making processes. Terms such as “Urban Information Systems” will likely best encapsulate the potentialities of the digital participatory planning platforms of the future, which will connect and stretch well beyond either online mapping surveys or professional planning, construction and design tools, and enable an interconnected synergy between these. The shape of such “Urban Information Systems” to come will be the theme of my next post.

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Design thinking for Bucharest business district areas. Experimental workshop – inside view @Urban INC

Guest authors: Irina Paraschivoiu (Urban INC), Anamaria Vrabie (Urban INC), Silje Klepsvik (Kaleidoscope Nordic), Miia-Liina Tommila (Kaleidoscope Nordic).

This is the first of two posts (here is the second) based on an experimental workshop developed by Urban INC and Kaleidoscope (more details at the bottom).

Local buzz, global pipeline

In 2004 a group of economic geographers interested in innovation – Harald Bathelt, Anders Malmberg and Peter Maskell – defined the processes of interactive learning as a combination of ”local buzz” and ”global pipelines”. When local individuals, start-ups, and like-minded people locate in each other’s proximity, they are on their way to creating a local cluster (not necessarily a formal one), which is based on common interests, a particular field or simply geographical proximity. But for a local buzz or ideas to thrive, it also needs the ”global pipelines”, the strategic connection to the outside world, which allows for interaction, new ideas, openness and partnerships. Without the global pipeline, the local buzz runs the risk of stagnation, by missing out on the advantages of a broader collaboration.  

In a much less theoretical and rather more intuitive way, this knowledge creation process is exactly how Urban INC and Kaleidoscope got together to share experience which could be relevant to both parties and build upon knowledge and assets. Our exchange was gladly funded by the EEA Grants through the NGO Fund in Romania, as a follow-up to the capacity building of Urban INC in 2015-2016. This is rare opportunity for organisations working in Romania and Norway to meet and learn from each other’s different context and work experience.  Our meeting point was using design methods to unpack complex problems which cities face. Our different approaches were the black box on our horizon, the opportunity to learn and experiment with strategies and tools which operate in a slightly distinctive way. At Urban INC, design methods translate into design thinking and complex problem solving, aiming at behavioral, policy and wider societal change. Kaleidoscope, as an architecture office, engages in participatory processes and user-centered design to address urban challenges through inclusive methods.

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The Environmental Assessment Methods: Part 2 *

Environmental assessment methods are important tools to quantify the environmental impacts related to products or services.

In the following, some environmental assessment methods related to the building sector are briefly presented.


Green Building

In 1996 in Canada the Green Building Association has developed an environmental complex evaluation tool based on the most recent and accredited estimation methods and on worldwide recognized ecological criteria (Francese, 2007). The Green Building (GB) method evaluates – through the use of some indicators – the positive and negative effects of a building on the environment. The GB uses thresholds for the evaluation. The building performances are represented through the use of quantitative or qualitative parameters. For the estimation of impacts the evaluator rates different characteristics. The score is from -2 to +5. The negative scores (-2 and -1) are attributed every time the performances of a building are lower than those imposed by law. Zero is the minimum acceptable value; besides, +3 corresponds to the best practice and +4 and +5 are the best possible solutions without an increase of the costs. The GB can be adapted to the local conditions of a particular environment, maintaining the same initial structure. Every year the GB Council updates the evaluation tool. The GB tool is divided into three levels: Continue reading

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Localizing Resilience Strategies: Embracing the Practice of Resilience in Response to Disasters and Climate change

Guest author: John Shaw, County Emergency Management Director, Florida, USA

Image credit: online (

There is a saying in emergency management, “all disasters are local.” Typically, this is understood to mean the acute disaster – the hurricane, the flood, the wildfire – is a local issue and occurs with little to no warning. What is often ignored are the chronic stresses on the community – homelessness, blight, and climate change – all are local issues that require a resilient approach for the community to survive. To increase the resilience of a community, leaders should have a basic understanding of the complex interdependencies beyond the immediate, life-saving response and short-term recovery actions.
Most emergency managers understand these basic interdependencies of their communities; for example, if schools are closed due to the disaster, then the parents or caregivers may not return to work because they need to supervise their children. This impacts the local economy every day there is not a solution to re-open schools. It impacts the first responders who are parents, too, and emergency services may be reduced to due reduced staffing levels. A disaster has multiple layered complexities that can continue to compound against each other, potentially causing a larger problem than the initiating event.
How does urban planning fit into disaster management? Critical to the understanding of resilience against natural disasters, against technological disasters, against terrorism, and against climate change is that it needs all aspects of the community to work together. Traditionally, emergency managers function best in coordinating the disaster response and short-term recovery, and many are trained to have an “all-hazards” philosophical approach. In theory, emergency managers should be able to coordinate any disaster, chronic stresses such as climate change notwithstanding. Urban planners are, among other traits, exceptional at devising long-term strategies to facilitate changes in a community. Continue reading

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Smarter past, smarter future: lessons for smart cities

The smart city is much discussed as a sustainable urban development model. However, as discussed in former posts on the blog, “smartness” is in the eye of the beholder. Smart cities of the past can help us plan smart(er) cities. Especially, examples of former and traditional engineering, construction and design can provide a well of examples of what works in the art, craft and science of sustainable cities.


Babylon forever? Its Hanging Gardens can inspire green cities more than the Tower of Babel! Picture by Timo on Flickr. Creative Commons Non-Commercial 2.0 Attribution 

Learning from the past Continue reading

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Green Infrastructure and Green City: The lenses to evaluate urban greening

Urban greening and green infrastructure are at the heart of contemporary urban sector discussion in the light of climate change debate. In fact, green infrastructure, in terms of using renewable energy and clean energy, is older concept than urban greening. The blog first introduces green infrastructure, and then discusses urban greening, green gentrification, green growth coalition, and environmental justice. The blog attempts to provide a lens for scrutiny of urban greening-related policies.

Green infrastructures, in the true sense of the term, use renewable energy, and clean energy. The Public Private Partnership literature speaks about green infrastructure, as private sector specialised skills are largely used in green energy generation. The literature focused on Value for Money (VFM) for such projects as the initial investment for energy generation is high. However, it is paid back over the life cycle of a project. There is another way the term green is used in practice. This is to indicate newly aligned projects. For instance, green expressway means a newly aligned expressway instead of upgrading an existing one. For instance, private sector actors prefer Greenfield smart city projects, as the process of land development is easier than redevelopment of brown-field projects. Although the true meaning of green is quite controversial here, it has not been so much discussed. Continue reading

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