Unlimited Cities

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Unlimited Cities (in French Villes sans limites) are methods and apps to facilitate the civil society involvement in urban transformations. Unlimited Cities DIY is an Open Source upgrade of the application linked with the New Urban Agenda of the United Nations "Habitat III" Conference.

Habitat III, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, took place in Quito, Ecuador, from 17 – 20 October 2016.



These apps that can be used on mobile devices (tablets and smartphones) for people to express their views on the evolution of a neighbourhood before future developments are outlined by professionals. "Through a simple interface, they make up a realistic representation of their expectations for a given site. Six cursors can be played with: urban density, nature, mobility, neighbourhood life, digital, creativity/art in the city. Designed by the UFO urban planning agency [1] in partnership with the HOST architectural and urban planning firm, the apps provides upstream information to urban project developers, as well as to people to query their design wishes and thus to appropriate the future project.”. [2] Thus the Unlimited Cities method gives the civil society the opportunity to act and co-construct with professional urban developers without being subject to solutions predetermined by experts and public authorities.

A mobile device is a computing device small enough to hold and operate in the hand. Typically, any handheld computer device will have an LCD or OLED flatscreen interface, providing a touchscreen interface with digital buttons and keyboard or physical buttons along with a physical keyboard. Many such devices can connect to the Internet and interconnect with other devices such as car entertainment systems or headsets via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular networks or near field communication (NFC). Integrated cameras, digital media players, the ability to place and receive telephone calls, video games, and Global Positioning System (GPS) capabilities are common. Power is typically provided by a lithium battery. Mobile devices may run mobile operating systems that allow third-party apps specialized for said capabilities to be installed and run.

Urban density is a term used in urban planning and urban design to refer to the number of people inhabiting a given urbanized area. As such it is to be distinguished from other measures of population density. Urban density is considered an important factor in understanding how cities function. Research related to urban density occurs across diverse areas, including economics, health, innovation, psychology and geography as well as sustainability.

Transport Human-directed movement of things or people between locations

Transport or transportation is the movement of humans, animals and goods from one location to another. In other words the action of transport is defined as a particular movement of an organism or thing from a point A to the Point B. Modes of transport include air, land, water, cable, pipeline and space. The field can be divided into infrastructure, vehicles and operations. Transport is important because it enables trade between people, which is essential for the development of civilizations.

Japan, city of Tokyo, French Institute, November 2011. Unlimited Cities PRO prototype presentation. By Alain Renk and Daisuke Sugawara, architects. Unlimited Cities 0000 japon 1024.jpg
Japan, city of Tokyo, French Institute, November 2011. Unlimited Cities PRO prototype presentation. By Alain Renk and Daisuke Sugawara, architects.

According to one of its creators, the urban architect Alain Renk: "Today the future of cities and metropoles lies less in the poetic, imaginary and solitary techniques found in Jules Verne’s novels than in capacities offered by digital mediations to imagine, represent and openly share knowledge, through the collective intelligence, offering opportunities to consider less standardized and prioritized lifestyles, freer creativity, shorter design and manufacturing circuits of circular economies and, ultimately, preservation of common goods. [3]

Jules Verne French novelist, poet and playwright

Jules Gabriel Verne was a French novelist, poet, and playwright.

Knowledge sharing is an activity through which knowledge is exchanged among people, friends, families, communities, or organizations.

Collective intelligence

Collective intelligence (CI) is shared or group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration, collective efforts, and competition of many individuals and appears in consensus decision making. The term appears in sociobiology, political science and in context of mass peer review and crowdsourcing applications. It may involve consensus, social capital and formalisms such as voting systems, social media and other means of quantifying mass activity. Collective IQ is a measure of collective intelligence, although it is often used interchangeably with the term collective intelligence. Collective intelligence has also been attributed to bacteria and animals.


The project originates in 2002 at the Orleans ArchiLab international meetings, with the publication of the book named Construire la Ville Complexe? (Building the Complex City?), published by Jean Michel Place, a well-known editor in the world of architecture. Then in 2007 with a research using digital urban ecosystem simulators on the Plan Construction Architecture du Ministère du développement durable (Construction Architecture Plan of the Ministry of Sustainable Development). A crossed interview [4] with Alain Renk and the sociologist Marc Augé discusses the possibilities of simulators to operate the collective intelligence.

A digital ecosystem is a distributed, adaptive, open socio-technical system with properties of self-organisation, scalability and sustainability inspired from natural ecosystems. Digital ecosystem models are informed by knowledge of natural ecosystems, especially for aspects related to competition and collaboration among diverse entities. The term is used in the computer industry, the entertainment industry, and the World Economic Forum.

Marc Augé French anthropologist and geographer

Marc Augé is a French anthropologist.

In 2009, the HOST Agency, responsible for the creation of the Civic-Tech UFO, got the certification of the Cap Digital and Advancity competitiveness clusters to mount the UrbanD collaborative research program, [5] intended to lay the collaborative software theoretical and technical basis for the evaluation and representation of the quality of urban life to enlighten decisions. This 3-year program (from early 2010 to late 2012) was the basis for the creation of "Unlimited Cities", apps and required an 800 000 € budget that was half funded by European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) subsidies. [6]

In June 2011 a beta version of Unlimited Cities PRO is presented in Paris in the Futur en Seine Festival with real world tests with visitors, then shown in Tokyo in November and in Rio de Janeiro in December of the same year.

On October 2, 2012 the first operational deployment is implemented by the town hall of Rennes,: [7] [8] " the first tests were carried out in the area around the TGV1 train station and the prison demolition site in Rennes, and we discovered that when being able to build what they wanted, users quickly forgot reluctance such as for urban density, and they conceived urban projects that often went against conventional wisdom. The idea of urban density and tall buildings is often rejected, but it is accepted as soon as people can adapt it to their own logic.”. [9]

Rennes Prefecture and commune in Brittany, France

Rennes is a city in the east of Brittany in northwestern France at the confluence of the Ille and the Vilaine. Rennes is the capital of the region of Brittany, as well as the Ille-et-Vilaine department.

France, city of Montpellier, La Pompignane District, June 2013. Mediation with Unlimited Cities PRO. Local people with JM Bourgogne, digital city director Montpellier and Martin Cahen, Strate designer. Unlimited Cities Montpellier 1024.jpg
France, city of Montpellier, La Pompignane District, June 2013. Mediation with Unlimited Cities PRO. Local people with JM Bourgogne, digital city director Montpellier and Martin Cahen, Strate designer.

Then the tool is implemented in Montpellier [10] in June 2013. Then in June, July and August in Evreux, where UFO worked on the conversion of the downtown former Saint-Louis Hospital., [11] [12]

In June 2015 in Grenoble, "the application is used to imagine, jointly with the population, solutions to give more visibility to the transport offer. It is a different way of working. We do not turn anymore only to the planners but we directly go to the locals and ask for their opinion, their vision. The purpose is obviously to increase buses utilization, but it is also to have people satisfied with the arrangements put in place. ". [13]

The first cities to use Unlimited Cities PRO call the attention due to the mediators’ ability to query people in the street, often off guard, with an appealing playful tablet. Their presence in the neighbourhoods for several weeks, right where people live and work, prompts the number of participants to be much higher (over 1 600 people in Evreux) than with conventional methods of consultation that struggle to get people go to places allocated for this. These achievements arouse the interest of some researchers who will analyse some attitude changes in urban professionals and citizens. Can we talk about a rebirth of participatory democracy? Are those images, which belong to hyperrealism, misleading or conversely are they accessible to all kinds of people? Are the Open-Source dimension of the collected data and its accessibility in real time involved in building trust between experts and non-experts? The method is the topic of several scientific articles, [14] [15] and has been honoured with several awards in France, as well as with the Open Cities Award from the European Commission.

UN-Habitat and Unlimited Cities DIY

The first requests were initially applied for in Rio, in 2011, for associations to use the software in the favelas, and then recurrently in Africa, South America and India. In parallel associations and groups in Europe also wanted to be free to implement, in their territories and independently, the collaborative urban planning device without needing further financing than users’ support. In June 2013 the Civic-Tech UFO presented at the festival Futur en Seine the Unlimited Cities DIY prototype: an open source, free and easy to implement upgrade. Presentations of the beta version are then non-stop: September 2013 Nantes for Ecocity symposium; November 2013, Barcelona in the Open Cities Award Ceremony; January 2014 Rennes for a meeting at the Institute of Urbanism, March 2014 Le Havre at a conference of Urbanism collaboration; May 2014 London in the Franco-British symposium on Smart-Cities; July 2014 Berlin for the Open Knowledge Festival; early October 2014 Hyderabad, India for Congress Metropolis; late October 2014 Wuhan China for the conference of the Sino-French ecocity Caiden; 2015 Wroclaw for the Hacking of the Social Operating System; September 2015, Lyon at the annual conference of the national Federation Planning Agencies and many other workshops that confirmed recurring applications for an Open Source version easy to implement.

China, city of Wuhan, Huashan suburb, May 2016. Co-conception with Unlimited Cities DIY. Children of Natur project, Mu Wei, Sam Cho and Yu Hui architects. Unlimited Cities IMG 7187 1024.jpg
China, city of Wuhan, Huashan suburb, May 2016. Co-conception with Unlimited Cities DIY. Children of Natur project, Mu Wei, Sam Cho and Yu Hui architects.

2016 has been showing a strong acceleration of the Open Source version expansion because several workshops were organized with the University of Lyon in April to redesign the campus of the Central School (Wikibuilding-campus project), and then again in China several conferences and use of the software with farmers (Wikibuilding-Village project), with children (project Wikibuilding Natur), and with students and faculty of the University of Wuhan HUST.

The first contacts between the agency UN-Habitat and Unlimited Cities DIY software are held in October 2014 in Hyderabad with the City Resilience Profiling Program and then in Barcelona in 2015. The connection is concretized in the following Habitat III Conference. Held every twenty years, Habitat conferences organized by the UN form a sounding board that accelerates the consideration of major urban issues in public policy. This year 2016, the preparatory document for the Habitat III Conference in Quito highlights the need to evolve towards urban planning construction carried together with civil society. The non-profit organisation "7 Milliards d'urbanistes (7 billion urban planners) " [16] will be present in Quito to introduce the open source Unlimited Cities DIY software to delegates of the 197 countries member for collaborative urban planning to become available to the greatest possible number of people.

Honours and awards

In 2015, the Wikibuilding project designed for the future Paris Rive gauche is preselected under the contest "Réinventer Paris." [17]


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Amiens Prefecture and commune in Hauts-de-France, France

Amiens is a city and commune in northern France, 120 km (75 mi) north of Paris and 100 km (62 mi) south-west of Lille. It is the capital of the Somme department in Hauts-de-France. The city had a population of 136,105 according to the 2006 census, and one of the biggest university hospitals in France with a capacity of 1,200 beds. Amiens Cathedral, the tallest of the large, classic, Gothic churches of the 13th century and the largest in France of its kind, is a World Heritage Site. The author Jules Verne lived in Amiens from 1871 until his death in 1905, and served on the city council for 15 years.

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  1. for Urban Fabric Organisation
  2. Julie Nicolas and Xavier Crépin, « Créer virtuellement un urbanisme collectif. Une application permet aux habitants de participer à leur nouvel environnement urbain. (Virtually create a collective urban planning. An application allows people to participate in their new urban environment) », Le Moniteur des Travaux Publics et du Bâtiment, no 5813, April 24th 2015, p. 24
  3. Alain Renk; Francis Jutand (October 25, 2013). "Et si le Grand Paris passait à l'urbanisme collaboratif?". LesEchos.fr (in French). Retrieved April 6, 2018.
  4. Marc Augé, « L'infinie complexité de la ville contemporaine (The infinite complexity of the contemporary city), interview with Alain Renk and Anne-Marie Morice », Mutations urbaines, 2006
  5. Initiator of the program: UFO, Industriels associés : Think Out Paris, Preview Montreuil, laboratoires du CNRS associés : LTPT Telecom Paris-Tech, LIPN Paris XIII and LAA LAVUE EAPV
  6. Juliette Kinkela, « UFO réinvente la concertation 3.0 (UFO reinvents consultation)», Objectif Grand Paris, no 7, sep-oct-nov 2014, p. 54-55
  7. Sylvain Arnulf, Passer de l’idée au produit : 5 conseils de 5 start-up qui ont réussi Archived April 8, 2018, at the Wayback Machine , L’Usine nouvelle, October 15th 2014 (visited on May 28th 2016)
  8. Samuel Nohra, Les Rennais ont réinventé le sud de la gare. Et vous? Archived 2018-04-07 at the Wayback Machine , Ouest-France, September 26, 2012
  9. Jean-Pierre Gonguet, Révolution numérique : bienvenue dans les villes 3.0 Archived January 9, 2018, at Wikiwix, June 10, 2013 (visited on May 28th 2016)
  10. Alain Renk, Villes sans limite, retour d'expérience Archived April 7, 2018, at the Wayback Machine , Le Monde, June 13, 2013 (visited on May 28, 2016)
  11. Sylvain Rolland, « Et si on inventait l'enquête d’imagination publique? (What if a survey on public imagination was invented? », La Tribune, hors-série Grand-Paris, no 1, 12 2013, p. 29-31
  12. Charles Giovacchini, « Plus de nature et de mixité (More nature and diversity)», Eure Infos, December 31st 2013, p. 4
  13. Matthieu Estrangin, « La réalité augmentée au service de l’urbanisme (Augmented reality in the urban planning department)», Dauphiné Libéré, June 24th 2015
  14. Article written by Nancy Ottaviano in June 2014 in Unlimited Cities Montpellier Archived August 3, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  15. Article by Nancy Ottaviano for Participation et démocratie Archived September 19, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  16. The non-profit association 7 Billion Urbanists A.K.A. 7 milliards d'urbanistes (7 Billion urban planners) finds its origin in the Urbadiversity founded in August 2014 in France by the civic-tech UFO to promote the development of urban collaborative planning sharing without restrictions methods and tools, as well as feedback from their experiences. In 2016, the association became international when it settled in China and it converted to 7 Billion Urbanists.
  17. Elsa Ferreira, Wikibuilding, et si l’architecture devenait collaborative ? Archived April 29, 2016, at the Wayback Machine , Makery le média de tous les labs, July 15, 2015