Making the urban innovation spiral happen. Why, how, where

smartravelPortugalBNOn 4th, December 2015, we spoke about “the urban innovation spiral” at the Smart Portugal event in the beautiful medieval city of Bragança, province of Tras Os Montes.

As many urban practitioners, we are increasingly interested about cities as solution providers to problems. The aqueduct of Segovia (Spain) is an example of how cities, in the Roman era, solved the problem of access to drinkable water thanks to a smart invention. Today it attracts hords of tourists while giving a distinct identity to the city. In the middle ages, city walls, like Lucca’s (Italy) gave shelter to people threatened by insecurity and pillage. In the 21st century, that wall is one of the city’s main attractions, its upper promenade offering a shady tour of the city in the hottest days of summer. But overall, in the past as well as in present times, cities have represented the quest of prosperity. Few names illustrate this pursue better than the name of “La prosperidad”, a Madrid neighborhood originally populated with migrants from southern rural Spain under the dark times of Franco’s dictatorship.

World urbanization rate grows in parallel to the decrease in illiteracy level and life expectancy. Those are fundamental, aggregate indicators. Literacy is highly correlated with our future. Life expectancy speaks mainly about our past. But, while urbanization fixes the bigger picture (famine, extreme poverty or violence, access to sanitation), it creates bugs: inequality, obesity, isolation… Many refer to the process of addressing these bugs through technology as the transition to becoming a “smart city”. Continue reading

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Questions for a new generation of city scientists

MCSOn 28th, October 2015 we were honored to lecture at the opening session of 2015-2016 edition of the Master of City Sciences at Politechnic University of Madrid, sharing our latest thoughts and experiencies on urban innovation with students and staff.

Everything starts by Jaime Lerner’s statement about cities as the great solution, fostering progress in the fields of economics, sustainability, quality of life, and innovation.

The desire to climb up the prosperity ladder has been the main driving force that keeps attracting people to cities. That only means that cities have always been perceived as extremely ‘valuable’ by people. Now… can we aspire to quantify the value of cities? In the lecture, we presented several works by prominent city scientists, as well as subsequent laws that cast some light into this question, and then move to another important subject: how can we reconfigure cities to maximize that value? Continue reading

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The city as an innovation platform. #ICCS2015, Shanghai.

shanghaiICCS2015

On 5th, June 2015 we spoke at the ‘International City Sciences Conference’ in Tongji University at Shanghai (China). The event gathered technologists, architects, policy makers and urban planners on deciphering how ‘New infrastructures for future cities’ could be planned, built and operated in these times of increasing uncertainty and breathtaking changes.

From the beginning of urbanization to the end of the 20th century, the historical ability of cities to adapt its form and function to the changing needs of people have been founded on a close relationship between urban planning and infrastructures. Traditionally servicing the purposes of urban planners, the role of infrastructures in cities is changing in this digital era. Digital infrastructures have contributed to the intentions of urban planners to revitalize city downtowns, recovering them as centers of production. Paradoxically, some of those digital entrepreneurs today run Internet giants like Google, Über, AirBnB or Amazon, and are launching innovative services at a much quicker pace than city authorities can regulate them. They are shaping, for good or bad, urban life. Continue reading

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Agile urbanism, slow technology and participation

Uncertainty, globalization, technification, liquidity, acceleration…, opportunities, goods, information and capital moving at the speed of light worldwide and around the clock. And a degree of urbanization as never known before, as if the answers to the remarkable challenges posed by all those elements together were circled around a single word: cities.

The way cities are planned, on the contrary, is a public activity slow by nature. Cycles in urbanism vary from 10 to 20 or even 30 years, and this is not the only trait that makes urbanism so special. Continue reading

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