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Max St John

CityCamp – social innovation and making cities better

Just as this blog post is published, the second CityCamp Brighton kicks off, and I think it’s something worth celebrating.

The first event took place last year, and brought together local government, community groups and individuals, designers and developers to come up with new ways of making our city a better places to live.

Four months before, Anthony Zacharzewski of DemSoc, Catherine Howe at Public-i and I had decided that Brighton needed to join the CityCamp movement (started in Chicago in 2010), and thanks to support from a growing team of volunteers, our forward thinking council, the University of Brighton and others, we somehow got it together.

The amazing thing wasn’t that we got it off the ground in the first place (although that was a small miracle) but what it produced and the passion of the people involved. From ideas to get more people volunteering to mobile apps that keep teenagers safe at night, teams worked through the weekend to create things they genuinely believed would make people’s lives better.

One attendee remarked that “It changed my whole outlook”.

Afterwards, the event turned into a network, and every month for the past year everyone’s been meeting up to support the ongoing development of projects, spot new opportunities and problem solve.

This year, CityCamp Brighton is bigger and better (no thanks to me, I’m on the judging panel but I’ve taken a back seat in organising, having a six month old baby to look after!). Backed again by the university, and with a £20,000 total prize funding from Brighton and Hove City Council, its not just the event that’s grown but also interest in it, and its potential impact.

Here’s why I think it’s such a big deal:

  • By the year 2030, 60% of people in the world will live in cities. CityCamp is about making them places for people and communities, improving well-being and community collaboration.
  • This is about grassroots activism, but involving authority to deliver projects that work with the system and therefore have a head start.
  • Local authorities are effectively investing in community-lead service design and delivery. Projects and ideas for communities, created by communities.
  • This builds on other movements like Social Innovation Camp, and confirms that the networked world is somewhere where a few committed individuals can throw something together and make change happen.
  • It’s part of a wider movement of civic engagement and collaboration in Brighton – the We Live Here project and peripheral events (like social media surgeries) are all helping give people the skills and confidence to become both more connected and more autonomous.

If you can’t make it, you can watch the live stream of talks on Friday, or check the CityCamp Brighton blog for updates on the projects and winners.

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