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CHAPTER VI - Conclusion

Many scholars of urban life agree that cities are at the frontlines of many difficult economic and social issues, ranging from income inequality and transportation woes to a lack of affordable housing and declining democratic participation. The great appeal of the city-as-platform is that it can begin to offer some fresh and imaginative approaches for ameliorating such problems, or even change the terms of engagement so that new fields of possibility can be opened. Digital technologies are not a panacea by any means, but at a time of intense political polarization and economic challenge, civic networks that emulate the open-source ethic and practice are extremely attractive. More than a niche solution or easy talking point, they offer the mid-term possibility of transformative system change without necessarily hitting ideological tripwires or inducing political paralysis. After all, who can object to the idea of bringing more people into the process of city management and enhancing civic deliberation, transparency and democracy?

Of course, reconceptualizing cities as platforms is not easily achieved, and it remains potentially disruptive, at least in the short term, because it challenges some deeply entrenched systems and norms about how cities can and should be run. Yet the shift to open civic networks is also potentially liberating. The intelligence, imagination and commitment of an entire city can be brought to bear on problems; reliance on political elites and government experts does not go away, but it is certainly tempered by new feedback loops and opportunities for participation. Figuring out the new archetypes for civic governance and management, and nourishing a participatory civic culture that empowers citizens in meaningful ways, will not happen overnight. But the stories told during this conference offer some genuine cause for optimism.

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