Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Enabling City - Social innovation for urban sustainability and participatory governance.

by Chiara Camponeschi
The Enabling City 2010

Creative Urbanism: Citizen Innovation and the Power of the Everyday.

Springboard believes that ordinary citizens can become extraordinary change leaders- and with good reason. Today, groups of ordinary citizens, better know as ‘creative communities‘, are joining forces to respond to our current ‘triple crisis’ in innovative and inclusive ways, inspiring a global movement of positive change along the way. With my toolkit, The Enabling City, I wanted to document and celebrate creative community initiatives that stimulate social innovations for urban sustainability and participatory governance. In particular, I wanted to explore what I refer to as ‘place-based creative problem-solving’, a participatory tool that leverages the imagination and inventiveness of citizens in collaborative efforts that make cities more vibrant and sustainable.
Place-based creative problem-solving is a holistic approach to urbanism that works to make cities dynamic social change hubs. As in the case ofBroken City Lab, it does so by providing opportunities for creative self-expression that lead to moments of reflection and collective action. Another example that may be well known to Oregonians is City Repair, an organization known internationally for Intersection Repair, the citizen-led conversion of an urban street intersection into a public square. Operating under the assumption that localization - of culture, of economy, of decision-making - is a necessary foundation of sustainability, City Repair allows citizens to reclaim urban spaces in order to plant the seeds of greater neighbourhood communication, community empowerment, and cultural sustainability.
What makes place-based creative problem-solving so promising is precisely the value it gives to the everyday, raising awareness on the local and personal cultures that exist alongside more ‘official,’ or institutional, ones. In an enabling city, local administrators can support ‘place-based creative problem-solving’ by investing in socially innovative ideas that harness the power of local know-how while simultaneously pushing for a new idea of governance that is open and responsive to today’s challenges. The challenge for cities, then, is to foster a culture of ‘creative urbanism’ that links communities together and unlocks the creative potential of citizens to meet their own needs.
Transition Towns is an example of a community-led program that works to address local needs while rebuilding resilience in the face of climate change and economic recession. Initiatives linked to the network seek to reduce carbon emissions by running thematic sub-groups and partnering with a wide variety of actors to embark on Energy Descent Action Plans. Italy’s Banca Etica is another example of the role that creative leadership can play in promoting a kind of sustainability that opens up new avenues of participation for civil society. As the country’s first ethical bank, it manages savings raised from private citizens, organizations, companies, and institutions and invests them in projects pursuing social and environmental goals that directly strengthen and support citizen initiatives.
Socializing can go a long way, too! Human Library is an creative global concept designed to promote dialogue, reduce prejudices, and encourage understanding in the form of a mobile space that gives visitors the opportunity to speak informally with “people on loan” (a group widely varied in age, sex, and cultural background.) And of course, there are countless interesting initiatives that leverage the reach of online networks to enhance off-line experiences, just think of portals like Share Some SugarSchool of Everything and Boskoi, to name only a few.
As a whole, I believe these examples speak to the desire of communities the world over to participate more meaningfully in the process of brainstorming and designing initiatives that address the complex realities of urban and cultural sustainability. In so doing, creative urbanism not only challenges our ordinary ideas about expertise, but it actively redefines our understanding of participation itself. After all, in the words of activist and community organizeGrace Lee Boggs, “we are the leaders we have been waiting for.”
Chiara Camponeschi works at the intersection of interdisciplinary research, social innovation and urban sustainability. For more examples of creative urbanism and place-based creative problem-solving,