Emerging themes April 2015

A shift is happening and it could be significant. Three issues jump into the foreground and they are linked to three words: ‘human’, ‘public’ and ‘start-up’.

There is the Human Cities project led by St. Etienne, involving 12 places across Europe. It seeks to put the human being at the centre of decision making. Then there is ‘human smart cities’ initiative coming out of Bologna University, which encourages us not to simply rely on technology to get us out our fix. And lastly the European Living Lab network puts a focus on ‘human beings’ as a means of taking control of how our cities evolve. Perhaps it is the virtualizing world that reminds us we are humans and not robots.

The second word is ‘public’. Major institutions and governments are realizing we may be losing something when we let the market rip without wider concern for the public realm whether in terms of public space or public debate. A major symposium in Perth, Australia has just gathered a global grouping of people who have made tangible change happen and turned ideas in the public interest into reality. The first social impact bond in the Netherlands, ‘restaurant day’ the informal restaurants that have spread like a virus from Helsinki outwards; Social Capital Credits a virtual currency for social good or initiatives to recapture public space from Bogota to Delhi. The vast Bays Precinct initiative along the coastline in Sydney instead of doing a business as usual approach to development has outlined a set of principles that balance public and private interests. Finally Torino launched a new kind of biennale, not arts or design, but the ‘biennale democrazia’.

The third word is linked to the start-up culture that has caught on like a rash across the globe as incubator centres proliferate, often in older reused buildings.

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