Innovation Capacity and the City The Enabling Role of Design

  • Commission on Higher Education
  • 2020-06-22 10:20:24
  • 562

It is unquestionable that the global community is challenged by distressing crises (political, social, economic and environmental), which are sometimes referred to as “wicked problems” due to their idiosyncratic, and apparently impossible to tackle, nature. These problems often display a huge interconnectedness (they are reciprocally reinforcing) and may be generative of new issues (a sort of challenge-within-the-challenge mechanism), making their proper handling even harder and any adopted approach highly controversial. These crises are recurrent and similar from place to place, but their magnitude is growing in size and affecting people on a global scale, thus making the task of approaching them far too complex for any single stakeholder or territorial community alone. For these reasons, now more than ever, new individual behaviours and collective practices, innovative rules and norms, novel local and national policies and wider international cooperation agreements often occur and are widely experimented on, all over the world, bringing about sustainable solutions at multiple levels and scales. Cities are directly affected by most of these crises and, at the same time, represent the place where the larger sustainability game is played. However, as most people think, the overwhelming challenges embedded in city life for individuals, families, civil societies and governments can, and must, be seen also as opportunities for innovation, diffused equity, more diligent foresight and, above all, pragmatism. In fact, it is not only due to the urbanization trends that we turn to cities when we look for solutions to the wicked problems that the world faces. Free from national and global politics, though always acting in its shadow, cities are, more and more, places where creative problem-solving flourishes (sometimes out of necessity, sometimes by purposeful construct) even when such issues as climate change, migration, and economic inequality are at the forefront of change makers. Cities know how to get things done, and they are doing just that all over the world (Brescia and Marshall 2016a). Further to the above, cities provide crucial resources for our future (Brescia and Marshall 2016a). This is because they are not simply population aggregation centres: they are knowledge hubs and sustainable power plants; they serve as first shelters for immigrant people; they are fertile environments for old and new trading and innovation projects (Brescia and Marshall 2016b). It is hence there that intelligent, local answers to global challenges can be and are being identified and experimented. For a long time, however, cities have been seen as passive participants to multilateral efforts for a more sustainable development. Now, it is clear and globally shared that they are key actors in this global and planetary battle: they are asked increasingly often to take charge of the necessary, often complex, transitions. To this end, however, cities must become fully aware of being key environments for change, due to the huge density of resources, energies, knowledge and skills within (Dvir and Pasher 2004) and also due to their interconnected nature, which enables place-based interactions to materialize among different operators, organizations, initiatives, institutions, etc. In these systems of an urban nature, one finds the right breeding ground to stimulate the emergence or integration of innovative solutions, capable of contributing to ignite the necessary and urgent systemic changes and transitions in local and global communities. However, envisioning, designing and governing transformations, while working in such complex environments, requires an intense dialogue between different, and sometimes distant, disciplines and practices, theories and applications, cultures and visions, acting as co-located forces, i.e. all being active in a same place. In addition, capturing, designing, guiding and spreading out those transformations which can be relevant for the global challenges is also complex work, which requires aligning and synergizing differences and uniformities, immutability and instability, continuity and discontinuity. This work must also be carried out within environments that are often as complex as the problems themselves. Within every city to some extent, this acknowledgment and instrumentalisation of transformations can effectively begin, as it is there that the networked nature of the individuals and resources involved can find accessible hubs to access the dynamic and creative flows of the necessary information, knowledge and practices. Yet, cities are not alike when it comes to triggering, generating, hosting, and scaling up systemic and sustainable change (Molinari and Concilio 2016). Indeed, they show very diverse political, infrastructural, organizational and societal conditions, which act in different ways to preserve the status quo or foster new value creation, to prevent or facilitate innovation and to impede or ensure that it has a broader impact (Puerari et al. 2017). Overall, these conditions can be said to belong to two main and distinct groups (Puerari 2016). The first group is related to the productivity and vitality of a city’s cultural environment, including:

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