City 2.0 or Device for Innovation
Cities are the mirror of the society. As the society changes, develops and adapts to the challenges of the present, so does the city. Or, should do. A city’s success depends on how fast this evolution takes place—and therefore how quickly a city can be so as to act as multiplier of society’s development.
Cities have always been representative landmarks and trade hubs. Rural people would go there to make good business and attend majestic ceremonies. During the 19th century and as a result of industrialization, cities rapidly grew in population. They kept their representative and trade roles, but moved their economic engines –the heavy, polluting industries- to their peripheries. During the second half of the previous century, as production methods became less harmful to the environment, cities increasingly tried to integrate industry and slowly started to erase the boundaries between residential and work spaces. These marked the first efforts towards a more inclusive and diverse city.
Back to the present, back to the “technology era” in which we are now living, the economic and productive models have again changed dramatically. Business markets are no longer pyramidal and hierarchical, but flat—and the world too is increasingly flat. The internet has gathered all of us in front of the chessboard, potentially with the same number of pieces and the widest range of movements. Everyday more people join the game in a market that has been completely atomized. Brilliant and innovative ideas are no longer property of the big companies, but increasingly belong to entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship and partnership are starting to flip the board of the labor market, and cities have a great opportunity to take part in this as environments that encourage this type of innovation.
Chattanooga (TE), is a paradigm of what I would call a “CITY 2.0”. After being declared the dirtiest city in the US in 1969, today, apart from being clean, the city retains the fastest internet in the world, the “GIG”. Supported by this breakthrough and with a strong community commitment, Chattanooga has been able to attract young people willing to locate their start-up in Chattanooga’s growing “innovation district”. Public and private investment, together with a shared awareness of the importance of rethinking the public space –in an inclusive, friendly, walkable, and appealing way- are attracting talent to making Chattanooga and making it a hub of talent.
Many European cities –let me mention here my hometown, Bilbao– are beautiful cheeseboards (livable, sustainable, vibrant, and creative spaces that encourage personal and professional interaction) but, unfortunately, there are not enough players. It is not that the talent lies just on the other side of the Atlantic, but it might well be the fact that the rules of the game are more rigid on this side. It is time to engage the public and the private sectors on the design of new rules and spread an appealing call to all those players full of talent. If we want to surf this wave, let’s do it sooner rather than later.
Jon Ander Azpiazu Juaristi, a 2015 Marshall Memorial Fellow, is an Architect at Scheiwiller Svensson Arkitektkontor Ab.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.