For those who wonder what is on the mind of the world’s mayors, last week’s MIPIM Mayor’s Think Tank in Cannes, France was a rare opportunity to discover just that. In the Salon Royan of the Cannes Majestic Hotel, mayors and officials from cities around the world gathered to talk about what their cities were doing, what issues were important to them, and to hear some new ideas for cities from me and how to get the funding to make them happen.
The day kicked off with my opening keynote outlining ideas and strategies to leverage the potential of existing urban assets, with a specific focus on maximizing the potential of existing infrastructure.
As part of a nicely put together program, I was followed by John D. Macomber from the Harvard Business School who oultined strategies for private investment in infrastructure projects. Following this one-two combination of “here’s some ideas … and here’s how you can pay for them”, the heart of the session opened up as the mayors discussed, workshopped and reported out the key topics on their minds.
“There are opportunities within the problems.”
Below is a selection of themes that were shared at the end as the chairs of each subgroup reported out. Though cities face a vast array of problems, Dr. Arab Hoballah, Chief Sustainable Consumption and Production of the United Nations Environment Programme [UNEP], summed up the spirit of the day: “There are opportunities within the problems.”
1. City Autonomy: Let the Cities Decide
In my keynote, I touched on the topic of distributed infrastructure and how cities can become more resilient and resourceful by decentralizing systems. This became part of a much larger focus on decentralization of great importance to mayors – that of City Autonomy and the need to decentralize cities from central government control.
“The world,” said Bernard Brochand, Mayor of Cannes, “will be saved by the mayors. You are the only ones who know the problems, know the avenues to prosperity.”
“We have to work on resource efficient cities, and the message we’d like to give is that local public incentive, investment and control on policies is very important to build resource efficient cities. In particular, cities should be able to decide – and it is important that they are the ones to decide – the operator who is going to deliver the service to the people, whether it be a local public company or a private company.” *
“It is important to be able to control the way the services are built and that sustainable solutions are invented by local actors.”
“Central control is stifling innovation and investment.”
“It’s not only about more money it is about being in control of how you spend it.”
“Autonomy should offer the potential and capacity of cities to be more autonomous in terms of energy production and energy supply. Consider the buildings first, and then the rest of the city as a provider of energy, not only a consumer. It is a great opportunity that mayors have not fully embraced.”
2. The Potential of City Regions Transcends National Borders
Cross-border collaborations have an immense amount of potential that can be thwarted by the limitations of national borders. Across the street in the Palais des Festivals, this was fully demonstrated in an intriguing city pavilion: The Copenhagen Malmo Region - a collaborative initiative for development and investment that transcends the respective borders of Denmark and Sweden to view the neighboring cities as a single entity of opportunity. “More than Scandinavia,” as their PR material says. It was a theme playing out elsewhere in the world.
“Cities are older than states.”
“Cieszyn, Czech Republic and Cieszyn, Poland, are just across the border [from each other]. They have the same issues to deal with. So they can cooperate and exchange ideas on how they do it – regenerating brown field sites, transforming the old coal mining industry into something new. The same thing between Copenhagen and Malmo. Malmo is known by those in Copenhagen as being a good example of waste management, where Copenhagen has other things to offer, so the cooperation is very important.”
The justification for this also lies at the basis of the “Ljubljana Forum”. As Miran Gajsek, Head of Urban Planning for Ljubljana noted, “Cities are older than states.”
3. Early, Clear, Collaborative Thinking Cures Complexity
“It is vital to have clarity and collaboration in terms of governance, especially between investment and planning, and the relationships between levels of government.”
“Quality and clarity of leadership is needed for outside investment.”
“Thinking on Scott’s keynote presentation outlining the opportunities in current urban assets, the key is that you need to dissect this process in order to assess the hidden value in the different component parts of the infrastructure. The importance is to include into this thinking very early on in the planning the growing social inequalities in the city.”
4. Great ideas are everywhere. Communication makes them work.
“There’s a lot of vibrancy of ideas coming from the public sector and the private sector, but not everywhere is the demand in society right enough to make them actually work – to make them work at scale where they can really make a difference. The key thing is how you tell the story.”
“As a city, you have to tell the story. Think about how the citizens are going to perceive, understand and appreciate what it is you are trying to do. Think about what this means in terms of work within the city, between different departments and how you engage the people in your communication department early enough on in the process to be able to integrate this thinking on communicating to the citizens, which is perhaps the most important part.”
“Technology, infrastructure, resource management… it’s still about citizens. It’s still about how this is communicated.”
“We usually call on citizens to be more proactive, and to think more of the future, the next generation and so on, but the greatest incentive to them is when we show them that they are going to reduce their personal expenditures, for example, how they are going to save money using public transport. That is more efficient than calling for good behavior in everyone.”
“The highest tech solutions will not work if you don’t have ‘take-up’ – if the citizens don’t understand the value that is in it for them.”
5. Developing Cities Need to be Part of the Conversation
“There are no sustainability solutions if developing cities aren’t part of the conversation. Developing cities have to be invited if global sustainability has a chance. If things go wrong in those cities, what we do here won’t matter.”
——-* Unattributed quotes are table summaries from the moderators, so individual attribution has not been given.
What does the reconstructive Tommy John surgery that has given many injured baseball pitchers a second life and my urban renewal design strategies have in common? More than most are aware of.
On Monday, February 10th I will be giving a public lecture at the Wentworth Institute of Technology’s College of Architecture, Design, and Construction Management titled “How to Operate on a City: Corrective Surgeries for Neglected Urban Areas”. It is a lecture I’ve waited a long time to give – partly because it’s a chance to dig into the themes and processes behind some key projects, but mostly because it gives me a chance to step outside the usual paradigm of work overview lectures and explain my strategies and approaches in the context of rehabilitative and reconstruction surgery on the city. As the promotional copy for my lecture says…
Most mark the illness or injury that requires surgery by moments of being in an ill state, and then of being in recovery. We rarely have access to or understanding of the process and procedures between these two points and what is required to ensure the surgical process is successful. Scott Burnham has been invited by numerous cities around the world to devise treatments for areas of their public realm through design and architectural interventions. From rapid prototyped bus stops in Portugal to vast public designs created collectively by the public in The Netherlands, where his work was credited by author Aaron Betsky as being “some of the most promising experiments, not in urban design, but in designing the urban, I have seen so far.”
In this lecture, Burnham shares the processes and procedures behind his many projects that operate on the urban body. It will be the first time he has offered a detailed look at the method behind his work, offering wide-ranging insight into site selection, strategy and team assembly, working with unusual materials and skill sets, bringing municipal authorities along on adventurous urban projects, and what to do when a work consisting of 250,000 pennies runs afoul of the Amsterdam police.
If you are in the Boston area, I hope you’ll come along to share in an evening I’m looking forward to very much. Here are the details:
5pm, Monday, February 10, 2014
Wentworth Institute of Technology
Blount Auditorium, Annex Central
550 Parker Street, Boston, MA
It’s been a tremendously busy autumn, but I’ve finally found some time to collect the links from recent articles I’ve written on repurposing existing urban infrastructure and how design approaches should change to increase connectivity and creative capital in cities.
These links and many more appear on my Writing page, but for quick access, here’s a summary of where my most recent writings can be found:
Can Urban Innovation Meet Growing Needs?
“To unlock the full potential of our cities and solve pressing problems, we must re-imagine the existing urban infrastructure writes Scott Burnham”
Read the full article here
Ten Innovative Ideas Boston Should Embrace
“Urban Strategist Scott Burnham presents ten new ideas – inspired by cities around the world – that could revitalize Boston’s urban landscape.”
Read the article on boston.com here
Design With Cities, Not For Them
“…[the] city has all the resources it needs; the key to unlocking these resources is seeing the urban landscape not as the end result of a previous creative process, but as the beginning of a new one—a landscape to design with, not for.”
Read the full article here
Existing City Infrastructure can be ‘Reprogrammed’
“Across the world, innovative solutions to urban needs are emerging from new uses for existing structures and systems. Officials are joining hands with engineers and corporate R&D teams to improve access to essential resources like water, energy and sunlight, and increase social and environmental wellbeing, by reimagining the potential of the resources they already have.”
Motioning for Transport
“The existing systems for transporting bodies around cities is challenged to keep pace with the numbers, types, and desires of their mobile residents. Due to the lethargy, negativity, or shortsightedness of many city or state municipalities, the citizens have taken it upon themselves to address the matter. A variety of inventive efforts have been enacted in urban centers worldwide, with the improvement of daily life in mind.”
Feature article, Issue 39; not available online (sorry) | More information here
Reprogramming The City: Opportunities for Urban Infrastructure is a global overview of ways in which existing urban infrastructure is being re-imagined, re-purposed and re-invented to do more in the city. It’s a collection of ideas of how cities can do more with the structures and systems they already have. The exhibition is on at Boston Society of Architects’ BSA Space Gallery until September 29, 2013.
The exhibition is an illustration of my belief that the city holds a vast amount of untapped ability. The structures, surfaces, objects and systems that underpin its daily operations have the potential to do more, to perform an alternate function, or assume an entirely new role in the mechanism of the city.
Reprogramming The City explores a new paradigm of urban creativity and resourcefulness that treats the hardware of the city as a platform of opportunity, and infrastructure not as the end result of a previous creative process, but the beginning of a new one.
Reprogramming the City is a collection of some of the best ideas I’ve found in cities around the world that apply resourceful strategies to the existing physical assets of the city. The projects highlighted in Reprogramming the City go beyond being just aesthetic improvements for the city – they represent a new innovative and resourceful approach, transforming the existing physical assets of the city into vehicles to benefit public health, movement, communication, social cohesion and environmental concerns.
The notion of reprogramming our relationship with the city, and the role design in the city, has always been at the center of the urban design projects I’ve created and directed over the years. A couple years ago I began a wide-ranging research project exploring how a new spirit of resourcefulness was emerging in cities everywhere. This exhibition is the first of many projects that will come out of my ongoing research in this field.
Reprogramming the City isn’t only a display of projects from other cities, it is also a lab of sorts for new prototypes for reprogramming existing urban assets. City Tickets by Mayo Nissen (pictured at right, below) is one such prototyped project being launched in the exhibition. The City of Boston provided a Multispace Parking Pay Machine for Nissen to literally reprogram to provide a model for how the machines could serve an additional function in the city beyond just dispensing units of time for parking.
Nissen’s reprogrammed parking pay machine now integrates with the city’s 311 incident/fault reporting system, offering the public an opportunity to print out a list of incidents or faults in the city that have been reported in the area surrounding the machine (broken street lights, potholes in need of repair), and a real-time response from the city as to how the incidents are being responded to. Users can also print out a form for them to submit a new incident or fault report, or simply offer a suggestion for improvements for the area. To the side of the City Tickets prototype is an area for visitors to the gallery to submit their own ideas for what future parking pay machines could do, or be, in the city.
Visitors with a keen eye will realize there are more assets within the exhibition from the City of Boston than just the parking machine. It was very important to me when designing the show that the exhibition be of the city and not just about the city. All display structures, signage and freestanding images are actual street signs, posts, foundations and assorted physical materials provided directly by the City of Boston’s operations department. When visitors are done seeing the displays in the first section of the exhibition, turn around and look behind you. The building blocks of the exhibition – particularly the material on which the images are mounted – then become clear:
And all information panels for each item on display are printed directly on repurposed street signs:
Reprogramming the City: Opportunities for Urban Infrastructure is on view at the Boston Society of Architects BSA Space Gallery, 290 Congress Street, Boston, until September 29, 2013. More information can be found here.
As part of my work with Venice’s neighboring city of Jesolo, Italy, a set of traffic lights are being reprogrammed to become an interactive game of tic tac toe that the public can play.
The city of Jesolo asked me to create a design strategy and serve as design director for implementing it through the city’s public design projects.
Working with a team of students from London’s Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design and an assembled team of Italian and international designers, architects and artists, Made of Jesolo worked with three of the city’s underutilized public spaces, the city’s functional urban materials, and the skill sets of local businesspeople, tradespeople, and municipal crews to create three new projects, made in Jesolo, and Made of Jesolo.
Traffic Lights Creative team: Varvara Guljajeva, Radha Mistry, Ilias Michopoulos, Diego Sepulveda-Herrera, Marie Durand Yamamoto
This June, my exhibition Reprogramming The City opens at the Boston Society of Architects’ BSA Space gallery.
A combination of exhibition, projects and events, Reprogramming The City will explore ways in which existing urban infrastructure is being re-purposed, reused and reinvented in cities around the world to change or increase its functionality in cities, and enhance the functionality of cities themselves. The sub-theme of the exhibition, opportunities for urban infrastructure, will carry through into other areas of activity, including exhibited proposals inviting consideration of even more adventurous reuse and re-purposing initiatives of existing urban material stock in Boston and other cities, as well as workshops to generate more ideas.
Reprogramming The City and its related public projects and events will offer unique perspectives on how the existing hardware of the city can be reprogrammed to increase its functionality by employing a new “software” of imagination and resourcefulness. It is about designing, developing and creating with the city, rather than for it.
Whether it is Edge Design Institute’s project to increase public seating and greenery in ultra-dense Hong Kong by designing a new structure to be installed on top of a wide staircase (title image of this post), or the much-celebrated “Low Line” concept to transform a disused NYC Lower East Side trolly terminal into an underground park (image below), there is a shift in the way cities are viewing their existing physical terrain. Urban objects, structures and areas are no longer seen as the end result of a previous creative process, the beginning of new ones – platforms for possibility.
The reuse and re-purposing of existing infrastructure of urban materials and infrastructure is something I have worked with for a long time, from hands-on design projects such as Made of Jesolo to research vehicles The Urban Guide for Alternate Use, and plenty of writing, lectures and workshops along the way.
Reprogramming The City takes my personal interest and investigation and opens it to an international scale, using documentation from my time in various cities and network of practitioners, to new research and discoveries of what is happening everywhere else. The journey – and work – has only just begun, so come back often or subscribe for updates or previews of work, people and cities I discover and work with along the way.
And of course, if you are in or near Boston in June 2013, please come along – exact dates and event details will be communicated as soon as they are confirmed.
I’m often asked for my opinion or direct assistance to increase engagement in cities and their spaces or services, or even across a company’s existing offering. Frequently, the thing being discussed is quantified as a “product”, a fixed end result of the effort. There’s nothing wrong with the word in itself – shipping product is an attractive notion, but it is limiting. But my first advice is that there is always more value in thinking about creating platforms instead of products.
Products have a finite ability to engage. Platforms are much more resourceful, agile and dynamic. Products tend to be the end result of a creative process. Platforms are more often the beginning of another one. If we embrace areas and services of the city – and the city itself – as a platform instead of a fixed product, and design as catalyst for platforms open to development after the designer steps away, our future possibilities for engagement are wide open.
People Want Platforms
There are plenty of examples of opportunities that open up once products are reconsidered as platforms. Apple’s iOS was never originally intended to be a platform at all. When the original iPhone was released in 2007, Apple wouldn’t allow independent developers to create native applications for the device. If people wanted custom apps, said Apple, they could be created as Web apps and accessed on the Web using Safari, but that there was “no need” for developers to create applications beyond what was shipped with the phone. Five years later, the need and desire among consumers and developers for the iPhone and its OS to be a platform and not a standalone product is clear with 1 million third party applications developed so far, producing $4.9 Billion in revenue for the company in 2012 alone.
We can find parables today in design hacking, urban intervention, street art, and many other examples of DIY actions being taken to transform a fixed environment into a platform for independent development.
Going a bit further into the story of the iPhone as a platform, a lesson can be found that is applicable far outside the tech world. When the original “iPhone OS” was first introduced with the iPhone, developers looked under the hood and found Unix. Beneath the new exterior was a familiar, common interior language which gave developers the intellectual platform to start developing their own apps. As noted, Apple at first refused to allow them into the system, so the early developers jailbroke their phones to allow their own custom applications to run on it. We can find parables today in design hacking, urban intervention, street art, and many other examples of DIY actions being taken to transform a fixed environment into a platform for independent development.
Platforms turn users into developers
A platform mentality enables independent development at a much more agile, micro scale as well. Twitter, for example, was launched with few of the engagement features we now consider to be its core functions: #hashtags, @replies, and retweets were developed by users organically as the service grew. This user-developed functionality bakes-in value as features aren’t rolled out to users, but created by users during use of the service.
Discussions are shifting from “what’s your product”, to “what’s your platform?”
Even outside of technology, or perhaps especially outside of it, embracing a platform mentality can be equally rewarding. The popular DIY design / hacking activities at the heart of the “Ikea Hacker” trend that reached critical mass a couple years ago transformed Ikea in many people’s eyes from a retailer of defined projects to a platform for personal design possibilities. By taking one or more products and assembling them based upon personal needs and preference instead of according to the set instructions, the company’s product line became a platform of opportunity.
As part of my longtime working with and writing about design hacking, I spent a lot of time researching and exhibiting Ikea Hacks, which lead to me being invited to Oslo, Norway several years ago to give a talk about Ikea Hacking at one of the company’s get togethers. After my talk, I met some Ikea execs from the mothership in Sweden, and asked them their thoughts on Ikea Hacking. “We know about it,” said one executive, “we’re just watching and enjoying.”
In the few years since, open approaches to urban planning, tactical urbanism, open design, 3D printing, hackerspaces, open source hardware, and many other cultural and creative developments have shown what a platform-based mentality can have on design, cities, space and consumer engagement. It’s an exciting time, and a long-overdue moment when discussions are shifting from “what’s your product”, to “what’s your platform?”keep looking »