Designing Trust

The event Social Cities of Tomorrow that took place last Friday opened up with a series of workshops at the ARCAM (Architecture Center of Amsterdam) earlier this week and brought together local stakeholder organizations and participants from different backgrounds to brainstorm on urban design and media technologies. It was organized by The Mobile City and Virtueel Platform.

As part of this collective reflexion on how to make our cities more social, Premsela, the Netherlands Institute for Design and Fashion, held a very interesting debate on designing trust last Wednesday evening. All of this served with pizza and beers!

Premsela launched the research project Trust Design to explore the relationship between design and trust. Since 2001, Trust Design worked with Volume magazine on four supplement issues. Already three discussions were held at the Designhuis in Eindhoven (Design Breakfasts Premsela) and the fourth one took place last Wednesday at the ARCAM.

-Crisis of confidence: public vs private

During this night, Premsela’s Tim Vermeulen first introduced the researcher and project manager of Premsela’s Trust Design project Scott Burnham who gave us a detailed explanation of the crisis of confidence we all experience since the financial crisis hit in 2009. Burnham argued that during these past decades we have seen a shift from public associations to the private sector with the consequences of a loss of trust. The Sociologist Robert Putnam also investigated this historical change in his study Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, 2000. Here, Putnam surveys the decline of participation among Americans in amateur group sport such as bowling that marks therefore a decline of social capital (social relations).

-Re-allocating trust: sharing economy

As trust in society radically decreased we have nonetheless employed other tactics to build a brand new model in using new technologies. This is what we have seen recently with the rise of sharing services. Burnham states that we might have lost trust in public and private institutions however we found a way to design new trust systems in a sharing economy. A distributed system or collaborative consumption gives the feeling of being part of something.

Websites such as, eBay or Airbnb using peer-to-peer ratings offer more commons-based values where technologies play an important role of efficiency. This is what Mywheels is also doing. Henry Mentik, co-founder of this car sharing service, took also part of the debate last Wednesday to explain how this system helps to break barriers in the normal way of thinking. Sharing economy represents a new business and marketing for the future. This phenomenon of reuse everything was also discussed by the landscape architect Ronald Rietvelt who brought the issue of vacant buildings in The Netherlands. There is a need to colonize the public space and to impulse creative knowledge economy, says Rietvelt.

-New media and urban issues

Michiel de Lange, co-founder of the Mobile City and new media lecturer at Utrecht University reminded us that all of this could not have been achieved without the new media technologies, which allow rapid feedback. Even if the Internet fosters “network individualism”, concept coined by the Sociologist Barry Wellman, there are still many collective projects out there, says de Lange. New technologies enable us to act collectively in the urban sphere. A characteristic that was the core of the event Social Cities of Tomorrow last week!

Posted on February 21, 2012


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