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Four ingredients for urban innovation

Einstein said that new ways of thinking were needed to solve problems created by old ways of thinking. In other words, in order to make thought, and practice, evolve, oftentimes you need to think out the box. This is the premise that underpins innovation, or at least should. But its hard to demarcate exactly where innovate begins and ends. It may even be a brittle term.

However, contemporary complexity constantly urges us to rethink the way we do things. Even so, we continue to doggedly hammer square nuts into round holes. And particularly in architecture and urban planning, where we perpetuate the same rationales from one hundred years ago, only now we use a computer instead of a paralex. Our discipline has proven not to be broad-minded enough to adapt to change and effectively seek resources. The last 50 years of Spain’s urban planning developmentalism back this sentence up.

This makes it inevitable to rethink how to transform our cities. And for that we need to reconsider the rationales we have inherited in our profession and come up with new approaches, methodologies and tools. And, why not new vocabulary? After all, as Wittgenstein said, language creates the world.

This is precisely the context in which we place “urban innovation”, a concept that enables us to broaden the framework and steer urban planning towards a more comprehensive, ecological and participative place.

This is what has pushed us at Paisaje Transversal to seek the ingredients needed for new ways of building cities, outside what orthodoxy considers its bounds. Here are four of those ingredients.

1_ Collaborative design. Urban innovation comes hand in hand with processes where people are the ones to project their desires on the place they live and help define their problems and potential. This first-hand perception combined with comprehensive technical analysis helps us complete the snapshot of what needs to be transformed. But it also helps us determine how we intervene, the solutions we design, the monitoring we do of implementation and the evaluation we do of its effects. This is what makes it important to have community members participate throughout the process, adopting tools enabling technical development to be linked to the community’s needs.

2_ A trans-disciplinary vision. “Departmentalisation” of urban design projects must be banned. When we intervene in cities, we must rely on the standpoint of various disciplines, because urban innovation requires cross-cutting action on public space, mobility, the environment, business, social inclusion, culture, heritage and so forth. Within local governments, this must gel smoother, on-going collaboration between different departments.

3_ Sustainable solutions. Our premise is that any intervention or ours must be ecological and self-sustaining. We therefore need to design long-term solutions and strategies, implemented through a concatenation of short-term actions. But urban transformation must not only attain sustainability from a physical or environmental standpoint. It must also attend to social and economic factors. This is why our designs must place the accent on curbing the gradual increase of urban inequality.

4_ New technology. Just as mainstreaming comes hand and hand with the broadening of minds on management models, new technologies also will come hand in hand with new possibilities. New technologies allow us not only to broaden participation, but also to enhance and fine-tune urban analysis, put forward new interpretations and facilitate their understanding through mapping exercises factoring in the potential of the data generated on a day-to-day basis in our cities.

These are some of the principles that we understand should underpin urban innovation. But more could be added. Redefining the rules of play for urbanism is a collective endeavour. Who wants to join in?


Text translated by Beth Gelb
Autor:
Paisaje Transversal es una oficina de Planificación Urbana Integral que ofrece asesoría y consultoría en la transformación de las ciudades y los territorios desde una perspectiva innovadora, integral y participativa. Desde el inicio de nuestra andadura profesional a finales de 2011 hemos desarrollado más de 100 proyectos repartidos entre España, Europa y Latinoamérica.

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