Architecture of Public Spaces: Increasing Transparency & Improving Quality through Crowdsourcing

Fenway Park in Boston, Empire State Building in New York City, Independence Hall in Pennsylvania – these are all city landmarks and cherished national treasures that tell a story of who we are as a nation, keeping track of significant events in various aspects of our lives as a community. These are monumental pieces of architecture, however, they are not the only ones that record the development of our buzzing cities and quiet towns. There are millions of other landmarks – small in scale but just as important – that are an integral part of our communities: local parks, town halls, public housing, fountains, streets, squares, avenues, schools, parking lots and so many others.

Brookside Park, Ames, Iowa
Brookside Park, Ames, Iowa

As residents of a particular community, we often times pass by these places without paying much attention to them. Yet, they make up our lives: taking children to a playground, enjoying a sunny day in a park or riding a bike down an alley. We can’t function as a society without these small piece of architecture.

Local governments are in charge of ensuring the construction and maintenance of these spaces. However, how much do you know about what goes into the process? Can you name architects and landscapers behind these developments? Do you know how your local government assigned this project to this particular architect? Are you aware of how much money the city paid for the design of a landmark? These are all the questions that we don’t really bother to find answers to. We, as a community, rarely, if ever, get involved in the design of the areas we live in.

In all fairness, it requires quite a bit of digging to find out this type of information. While most information is available online these days, it is not as easy as we though to find these specific type of information. Here is the process we went through.

  1. We typed in “park renovation” in Google News search to see which cities completed renovation projects recently and came across an article on the Olden Recreation Area in East Price Hill, Cincinnati, Ohio.  The piece covers the re-opening of the park after a big renovation. “$300,000 was invested in new equipment, landscaping and other improvements, making a welcome change for people in the neighborhood,” reads the article. This part intrigued us.
  2. We decided to do further research into the ‘landscaping’ part of the renovation. Who was the landscaper? How was this person/firm awarded the project? We went to the government website of the City of Cincinnati. We found a section on the Olden Recreation Area renovation, which contains 10 images: 1 of the proposed landscape design and 9 of the renovation process. Not much else. That didn’t really help us.
  3. We went to the ‘budget‘ section of the website. That was a rather overwhelming experience, we have to admit. Each document is 300+ pages long. Searching through them using such keywords as ‘landscaping’ or ‘architecture’ wasn’t much help.
  4. Having failed miserably to find relevant information in the ‘budget’ section, we continued our search in the ‘SEARCHABLE EXPENDITURE DATABASE‘. Luckily, we could filter expenditures by ‘architecture’, which produced 145 records for 2013, 2014 and 2015. We still didn’t find anything for 2016/2017 and/or for the Olden Recreation Area. We will get back to this part a paragraph later.
  5. In our final attempt to find out which firm or individual landscaper was awarded the project as well as any information on how much of the $300,000 was allocated towards the design, we desperately entered a Google search of ‘Olden Recreation Area landscaper’. That was a failed attempt.

The process of finding out information on the architectural part of the renovation was rather frustrating. We did this exercise for the purpose of this article. How many of us do it on a regular basis though? Exactly! Yet, our research was not completely fruitless. The 145 records we found on the government website of the City of Cincinnati did grab our attention. Here is a quick screenshot:Screenshot

Not a single cell in this table was hyperlinked to further information on the expense – what improvement in what area or the selection process of the architect.

The goal of this exercise was not to pick on the government of the city of Cincinnati. This particular example was a random selection. The goal is not to throw shade on the allocation of funds or the selection process of contractors or to throw any accusations around. That’s not the point. The goal was to understand just how much transparency there is when it comes to public development projects and how easy it is for residents to obtain various pieces of information on the processes behind the developments. As it turned out, it’s not easy at all.

Cities and towns all over the country spend billions of dollars on renovations annually. Millions of them go towards architectural and landscaping design developments. Yet, when was the last time you took part in the decision process of what exactly the playground in your local park that you take kids to a few times a week to should look like?

A couple of decades ago, such involvement would not’ve been feasible. Luckily, we live in the glorious times of technological innovations that have the power to completely transform both our communities and our impact on building these communities in the first place.


Using crowdsourcing platforms for public development is the answer. This is not to say that it is the answer to every project, every need and every part of development. However, it is a way for local governments to solve three issues for numerous developments: transparency, budget and public involvement.

  1. Transparency
    Say your need as a local government is to replace an old fountain in a park. Instead of automatically awarding the project to your usual architect or going through the highly bureaucratic process of selecting one, you start a competition on a platform like Arcbazar, which has a network of thousands of designers (both young and with decades of experience). You open up the project to designers and architects from all over the world, gathering dozens of ideas and designs. Your community can easily access the competition, check out the designs and see the amount of money their local government is spending.
  2. Budget
    We know that most, if not all, local governments constantly struggle with budget considerations, facing daily struggles of making tough decisions on how to stretch the budget or what to prioritize it for. Crowdsourcing makes architectural design more affordable!
  3. Public Involvement
    A platform like Arcbazar allows the public the cast votes for their favorite designs. Why not use this option when renovating public spaces? You can get communities actively involved in the decision process of the final design – communities that will be directly affected by the project.

Technology presents the world of opportunities to make our lives better, easier and more efficient. It has changed the way we order food, exercise, stay up-to-date on recent events, communicate, travel and work. It has made architectural design more affordable and fun. So why not take advantage of that and use it to bring communities closer together, improve transparency and reduce costs when it comes to the development of local landmarks?

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