A workshop on cities and their futures, to explore the ways and means of transformation, together with international pioneers who have experienced these challenges
Always growing, ever more crowded, sprawling and chaotic. Our cities are changing at an incredible pace. But in what direction are they heading?
City vs periphery, urban vs rural, exponential growth of cities vs. impoverishment of the countryside. This is the dichotomous development set out by Lorenzo Giorgi, Executive Director of the Bloom Project.
Ezio Manzini, founder of DESIS, an international network of design for social innovation and sustainability, Honorary Professor at the Politecnico di Milano and Chair Professor at the University of the Arts London, sees it more as a fragmentation into different monocultures: “The city of the rich closed within gated villages, the city of the poor closed within slums, the city of business, the city of tourists, which becomes a type of theme park”.
And so, where do we pick up from?
From people, from brilliant, talented and creative young people, but above all from the citizens and local communities, and from places and platforms that can bring them together and allow them to discuss different futures for the city, or rather; Many Possible Cities.
Many Possible Cities, an initiative promoted by Manifattura Tabacchi, invited experts, visionaries and pioneers of urban transformation to sit down with people who want to experience and be protagonists for this transformation.
It was a series of events and days in which a dialogue around innovation was linked to the experience of the urban farm, highlighted by the addition of bee hives to the roof of the Manifattura. Many Possible Cities was also a series of workshops based on understanding how we can make cities more open, inclusive and sustainable.
Cities are created by us, with different lifestyles and different ways of living alongside one another. Often, we use them without paying attention to the people and objects that we see every day, until they’re no longer there. What if those things that we no longer see wanted to start up a new dialogue with us? And what if crossing an intersection offered us the opportunity to smile, to play with the traffic lights and our waiting companions? If the street lights could give us the memory of those who passed under them, the outlines of their movements projected onto the pavement?
These are all installations that Playable City has created in cities such as Recife, Bristol, Lagos and Tokyo. Through games, these projects encourage people to reclaim spaces, the city and the relationships between citizens. The vision summarised by The Guardian in Cities that play together stay together, is the basis of Creative Producers International (CPI), a collective that aims to bring together creatives, citizens and politicians in a continuous conversation on the opportunities for change and regeneration in the city.
Karishma Rafferty is one of the fifteen Creative Producers that CPI selected to promote its activities throughout the world, and came to Manifattura Tabacchi with the workshop Yes, but… ideas for changing the city. A brainstorming session, inspired by Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, asked the participants to share a method of understanding the infinite possibilities of changing Florence, trying to adopt different points of view. The workshop was also an opportunity to find out more about the activities that Karishma carries out through her role as a curator at Somerset House in London. Constructed as a government building in the 1800s, it has seen many different uses over the years, hosting the tax office, the Navy and many Royal Societies, such as the Royal School of Design. In the early 2000s the building was given over to a trust and transformed into an art centre, with the purpose of promoting the gallery as a public good. Karishma has developed a wide-ranging cultural programme, including festivals, installations and events, involving the more than 2500 people who work in this creative industry; a melting pot of both artists and the wider public.
Karishma identifies creativity as the key to our future, a creativity which needs to be cultivated and nurtured in order to create the city of the future, more innovative, shared and inclusive.
Comparisons on this theme come from the international level. Karishma trusts in what we can learn from other cities which are developing quickly and which have diverse lifestyles, taking into account the effects of climate change, an issue which is very important for her.
For Karishma, Manifattura Tabacchi is “a place which can host conversations between citizens, artists and creative people, but also with policy makers and decision makers”, a new space which is able to promote change and prototype new ways of living together.
We live in an era of urbanisation and cities have the power to overcome some of the key challenges that we have in terms of energy use, sustainability, and climate mitigation.
For Jorick Beijer, Executive Director at The Class of 2020, the solution to these problems is talent: “We need bright young people to come with new ideas, with new lifestyles, to overcome some of these major challenges”. Cities are competing against each other to attract talent, but the real challenge is to retain it.
The workshop Florence: towards a Learning City, looked at finding innovative solutions to stem the haemorrhaging of talent, identifying strategies to attract, cultivate and retain the brightest young minds. This is the mission of The Class of 2020, a pan-European think-tank which connects the industries of higher education, real estate groups and policy makers, with the aim of generating development projects focused on student life, learning opportunities and urban regeneration.
Tourist cities can become empty and the high cost of living drives away not only residents but also future generators of innovation, the creatives. Jorick Beijer is clear that the dangers highlighted by Ezio Manzini and Karishma Rafferty, based on their experiences of Barcelona and London respectively, also concern Florence.
This concept of hit and run is not merely a trend of tourism, it also concerns the human capital of millions of foreign students who have left the city due to a lack of far-sighted policies. This coming and going of creatives is part of the structural character of a city like Florence, “a crossroads for talent since medieval times”. For our city it’s important that we start again from this human capital. For this issue we need to make a comparison between foreign universities and cultural institutions in the city.
Manifattura Tabacchi enters into this scenario as a key place to connect and make use of these resources. Jorick enthusiastically defines the project as “an opportunity to rethink the talent geography of Florence”.
In his eyes, the Manifattura represents a hybrid place where work and learning can be real engines for urban regeneration, one of the most compelling examples at a European level of what he himself calls the “Urban Campus”.
Each of us moves in our own way, both in our personal and working lives. The city should be more than just the sum of these individual parts, it should be able to sustain and encourage the interconnections between these parts, creating an ecosystem.
In Exploring Principles of Platform Design, one of the workshops held during Many Possible Cities, Luca Ruggeri discussed the role of the city as a platform. His experience as a consultant in digital innovation and transformation for businesses looking to develop ‘future proof’ strategies could be seen in the identification of which types of services, channels and contexts make a platform efficient in the stimulation of multiplier effects. Platform Design is a tool which serves this purpose.
Luca’s workshop looked into an innovative approach via 7 key principles: like a toolbox to keep with you during your professional life. Some of these are like reminders, little tips that turn out to be strategic in a competitive perspective: «innovation grows at the margins»; «A single worker can transform the future of the company».
Luca asked the participants to focus in on a risk that faces businesses today, the trend towards excessive customisation of products and personalisation of services. So as not to lose sight of the business interests, the approach he suggested consists of allowing the user to adapt the service independently or through dialogue with another user. In order to make this happen, the role of the organisation that manages the platform should be just that, to be a silent but present arbitrator. To keep pace with a world in continuous – and above all rapid – evolution, the watchword is updating, both for the individual and the group. Competition and collaboration must act as opposing and complementary stimuli for continuous learning. Establishing “unbreakable” rules is another means of making room for innovation. If it is true that novelty grows near the borders, then the innovator is disobedient. Doing business also means learning from those who disrupt the rules, or rather those who work on the margins of them.
«We need less ‘I’ and more ‘We’ in order to grow», affirmed Luca at the conclusion of the workshop, speaking about an identity which broadens out to the ecosystem, which allows us to earn more by giving up some of our self-centredness. This principle synthesises the vision that Luca has for the platform and applies both for organisations and cities. From this perspective, the role of Manifattura Tabacchi is that of the platform, one that is able to «involve more and more people by bringing them on board with initiatives. How else can we help our cities if we don’t make cultural aggregation and innovation possible?».
Taking a systematic approach means learning to think in terms of interrelations, contexts and processes. Putting this into practice through social innovation and sustainable development means setting up a permanent dialogue between opposing poles: the northern hemisphere and the southern, the metropolis and its surroundings. These are the issues that Lorenzo Giorgi’s workshop delved into.
With the workshop Systemic Impact for All at Manifattura Tabacchi, Lorenzo brought his experience of collaborating with the international NGO ‘Litre of Light’, and setting up the BLOOM Project, and NGO based in Prato which develops innovative technology solutions for sustainable agriculture in the global south, whilst at the same time encouraging the employment of disabled people in this sector. Bloom Project was set up with the aim of being able to combine scientific research, sustainability and the scalability of innovations with systemic and economic impact, and it does so thanks to the collaborations with the Università di Padova and Politecnico di Torino.
The innumerable agricultural innovations that characterise the Western market, from the large high-tech structures of northern Europe to the IKEA greenhouses for amateur gardening enthusiasts, have enormous barriers of entry for the global south. How can this technology become present in these territories and bring innovation to the agricultural sector? How can people with disabilities fit into the labour market?
To respond to these questions, Lorenzo brought the project AGRITUBE to Manifattura Tabacchi, a system of hydroponic cultivation which is both scalable and transferable, thanks to its low technological input and reduced cost. As with the other projects developed by Bloom, it has to follow very specific rules: it must be open source, and developed with 100% local materials and with 100% local staff. These in turn follow three fundamental aspects: economic growth, environmental sustainability and social inclusion. In addition to stimulating the local market through the use of local materials, hydroponic cultivation uses ten times less water and produces ten times as much, doubling the cultivation cycles. At the same time, using fewer local resources offsets the CO2 produced through importing new technologies. Finally, by working above the ground, Agritube allows for the inclusion of disabled people in agricultural activities.
It is this systemic approach, claims Lorenzo, which is necessary in order to speak about sustainability and, as a result, the future.
For him, Manifattura Tabacchi represents an engine for urban regeneration that is able to bring together different people, professions, events and contexts within a reassessed industrial archaeology.
Many Possible Cities concluded with a round table discussion, where they compared the results of the day, the four workshops and the experiences of Luca, Karishma, Jorick and Lorenzo, thanks to the contributions of Andrea Cattabriga, Professor Ezio Manzini and, as moderator, Giacomo Biraghi.
Andrea spoke about the experience of Slowd, the internet platform he created to connect product designers with smaller manufacturing enterprises which don’t have the ability to carry out research and development in-house. A furniture design, once selected from the platform and licensed open-source, can be produced by different local manufacturers. With this formula Slowd was able to bring even smaller producers to Expo 2015.
Andrea, who describes himself as a strategic designer, and his organisation promote the construction of collaborative chains, tools to help traditional companies engage with technological innovation and vice versa. This was the case with the multinational company Leroy Merlin which asked them for help to take root in particular territories, making local producers create some of its items near the point of sale. As Andrea says, Slowd helps “those who feel small in the face of innovation”.
Responding to a question from Biraghi about whether urban manufacturing runs the risk of becoming simply a ‘buzzword’ in the discussion about cities, Andrea pointed the finger at the overarching economic structure, denouncing the difficulties of the production world: «Either we exit the capitalist paradigm, integrating forms of exchange of value other than money, or we will not be able to afford production, even if it’s urban, even if its’ clean and small scale, because things cost too much».
To explain his mission, Andrea compares innovation, the prerogative of the biggest entities, to Goliath, and small businesses to David.
Ezio Manzini – Honorary Professor at the Politecnico di Milano and the founder of DESIS, an international network of design for social innovation and sustainability – took over the metaphor employed by Cattabriga, calling attention to differing tensions: an ever-present theme when discussing the many possible cities. To move in this “multiplicity of possibilities” we must «know the Goliaths, hoping for an army of Davids».
The comparison for him winds between desertification and ecosystem complexity, the former referring to cities that lose their long-held complexity and multiplicity, becoming a set of homogeneous areas, defined by monocultures (the city of tourists, of the rich, of the very poor, etc…) and cities that struggle to maintain their ecosystemic character.
Ecosystem complexity is based on values that multiply the possibility of different groups that live within the city meeting each other, which multiplies the possible activities and conversations. Cities of social innovation try to set this ecosystemic richness into motion, working from the bottom up but also with the contribution of enlightened institutions.
Biraghi concluded the round table by giving each speaker a final reflection based on the following words; speed, power, boundaries, space and money.
The speed of development which cities are experiencing. According to Jorick, shared and redistributed knowledge will allow cities to be inclusive and to re-align these speeds.
The power that Karishma wants to question in order to make room for those who can bring creativity to cities, involving a greater number and diversity of people in the dialogue.
The boundaries that Lorenzo believes can be broken down through investing in human capital.
Andrea transforms money into value, turning the paradigm behind our development model upside down.
And finally, the space that professor Manzini want to transform into place using the only recipe he knows: to involve the community in the process of research and attribution of meaning.