Conclusions: ‘Infrastructure Revolution’ & ‘Igniting Fuses’

My Dynamic Connections programs at the BMW Guggenheim Lab have been about ‘making’ cities and urban places with people – Dynamically connecting people and places through dynamic transportation and community connections.

The Dynamic Connections programs had eight key, and overlapping, topic areas:

1. Cycling: We asked how can cities be ‘cycling cities’ and how can we make the bicycle a normal and viable mode of travel for all ages and genders.

2. Space for everyone:  Cities, streets and public spaces should be for everyone. We challenged how streets and public spaces should address the needs of everyone; children, an aging population, people with disabilities, pedestrians and cyclists. We hosted a day of tactical and temporary urbanism, transforming car parking spaces into spaces for people

3. Plug-In, Park-Up: We challenged the future of car parking in cities with the imminent rise of electric cars, debated whether the rise of e-mobility will ease or create congestion and discussed the move towards ‘access’ rather than the ‘ownership’ of transportation. We experimented with how electric and solar powered bicycles can help change our cities and provoked debate about our own personal travel behaviour.

4. City Transformation: In a fast-paced daylong Marathon of Transformation we shared success stories, obstacles encountered and current processes for transforming cities with an array of bottom-up, top-down and self-organizing projects from around the world. We used “City Conversations’ to empower people to design changes in their cities immediately, soon and in the future

5. Transformation Champions: We turned our gaze to the community catalysts and ‘people’s champions’ who have made city and social transformation possible. We celebrated agents of change and local heroes

6. Dare to Share: We challenged and questioned the future of sharing, borrowing, bartering, shopping, freight and economics in cities of the future in light of the rapid rise in technology. We experimented with sharing and swapping of ‘resources’, time, skills and knowledge to involve people in courageous acts of collaboration.

7. Talking Tourism: We debated the saying “Tourism can warm your home or burn down your house” by exploring the positive effects and risks of tourism and discussed the future of tourism in Berlin and cities around the world? We discovered how to effectively communicate and positively promote sustainable and resilient tourism.

8. Reverse Garbage Infrastructure. We challenged waste because it never really goes ‘away’ and we need to re-use the commodities that we dispose of in our cities. We investigated how to create and build civic infrastructure out of household waste and prototyped with trash salvaged from Berlin.

My initial conclusions (full conclusions to follow in the coming months) are:

1. We need an ‘Infrastructure Revolution’

2. We need people to ‘ignite the fuse’ for change to happen

3. We need to communicate with positive messages

4. We need to experiment with temporary and tactical urbanism

5. We need to connect our communities and self-organize to enable sharing

6. We need to confront our waste comfort for innovative infrastructure

 

1. We need an ‘Infrastructure Revolution’

  • The rise in ‘access’ to private vehicles rather than ownership and substituting cars for e-bikes will provide more space to accommodate sustainable modes of travel. Cycling increases social cohesiveness in neighbourhoods and across cities.  People want safer cycling infrastructure for children, cycling infrastructure that is completely separated from parked and moving cars, more community cycling projects including cycle training and social events as well as better cycle parking.
  • The Los Angeles Department of Transport said “for the bicycle to catch on we need a revolution in our infrastructure”.  The Lab, and its participants, has confirmed the need for that revolution and for dedicated Cycling Super Highways.

2. We need people to ‘ignite the fuse’ for change to happen

  • Urban transformation stems from a ‘can do’ attitude and not having a fear of failure. People don’t need permission to put their stamp on their city. We need to create opportunities for people to experiment (on a small-scale) because temporary use of space is a fast and efficient transformation tool that can lead to immediate change and foster future uses for urban spaces. Urban engagement can happen in a variety of creative ways with people and technology in the digital and physical realm.
  • Individuals with a personal motivation to change their environments are needed as inspirational examples for the possibilities for change. Basically, for change to happen you just need someone to light the fuse. We need to show people what already exists to empower them to get involved but success is innovation and not just rolling out a project, which another city has developed or implemented.

3 We need to communicate with positive messages

  • We need to release our ‘Trojan Mice’. Trojan Mice are small, well focused changes, introduced in an inconspicuous way. They are small enough to be understood and owned by all concerned. We should take a ‘scary idea’ into our own networks and problem-solve together because our networks trust us and that’s how we can really influence change.
  • In the tourism world a ‘Trojan Mouse’ is someone like Peter Fraser, owner of award-winning fish and chip shop Harbour Lights in Falmouth. Peter sent ‘Cod on Holiday’ for one week to persuade customers to try other species. Peter said “In challenging economic times, it may seem like financial suicide to take your best seller off the menu for a week, but we are also in challenging environmental times, and one thing that would really help the world’s marine resources would be if we were not so stuck in our ways and were more willing to try different species of fish. There are so many tasty alternatives available. It’s about not being selfish. I really enjoy cod and chips and I think my grandchildren should be able to as well”.
  • We need to tackle difficult and complex issues in a fun, positive, encouraging and inspirational way. We need to be passionate, to be personal – tell stories not facts, and to be humanistic – people don’t buy what you do they buy why you are doing it.
  • If we avoid confusing people with mixed messages, avoid telling people what to do, avoid making people feeling guilty and stop boring people. If we start exciting them we can change people’s behaviour without them even realizing!

4. We need to experiment with temporary and tactical urbanism

  • We can’t all redesign the main street in the centre of famous cities nor can we all be part of removing cars from the centre of cities. But we can all be part of experimenting with and transforming a car parking space.
  • By experimenting we transformed a street dominated by cars into a space where people felt they ‘owned the space’. The very fact that people stood in the middle of the road to have a conversation with other people and that parents let their children ‘roam free’ and that cars drivers chose to use alternative roads is testament that people felt empowered to use public spaces in unconventional ways. The fact that cars drivers chose to use alternative roads shows that we all need to decide what we want our cities to be like
  • The highlight of the day was a mother and her two daughters who came to the lab unaware of the concept of transforming car parking spaces. They took some of the resources and materials donated by a Berlin recycling company and went out into the street and transformed a parking space. Not only did they have a wonderful time and made new friends but they also told passers-by about the day, the philosophy and why it was so much fun – that’s what community projects are all about.
  • The Lab, our experiments and our speakers confirmed that all public spaces are important places, that we need to rethink the way that we use our streets and that we can use temporary projects and experiments as a platform to make cities more people friendly. Furthermore the de-regulation of traffic and pedestrian rules are a crucial step towards improved safety for everyone.

5. We need to connect our communities and self-organize to enable sharing

  • The desire to share ‘resources’, time, skills, information and knowledge has been a common theme across every day and every program theme in the Lab, but this will require complete changes in our western culture
  • There are two different schools of thought. The first perspective is that ‘share shops’ and ‘sharing’ needs to be more glamorous, cool and clean. People don’t want the stigma of using someone else’s “junk”. The second perspective is that of a ‘sense of urgency’. In these times, on the edge of financial, resources and environmental crisis, we need to learn how to share because we won’t have time to ‘learn’ and change our culture and behaviour when we are in the midst of crisis.  In both cases people need to estimate the value of things/time/knowledge themselves.
  • We can’t replicate initiatives. We can’t just ‘drop’ or ‘plonk’ an idea from one city into the next city. Communities need to develop their own projects relative to their own needs and their own ‘cultural literacy’
  • Online shopping and sharing will change the way our streets and cities look as storefronts decrease and internet-based purchases and peer-to-peer sharing/borrowing rises.

6. We need to confront our waste comfort for innovative infrastructure

  • Some countries are ‘comfortable’ with their waste and wastage behaviours whilst others are working to eliminate materials such as plastic from their supply chains. Berlin already has numerous successful schemes for recycling and waste management, but success can always be built upon and it is important that other cities can learn from their initiatives and adapt them to their own needs.
  • It is important to focus on the ‘big picture’ global change requirements and waste elimination as well as waste behaviour change at the household level.
  • Recycled and waste materials are not only good for small objects in everyday life, for example making park benches out of plastic bottles, but also for large scale urban infrastructure projects such as plastic bottles being used as the materials for road bridges
  • Communication, collaboration and innovation are required to raise awareness of elimination, reducing, recycling and reusing issues
Thank you to everyone at and involved with the BMW Guggenheim Lab for allowing me to be part of such an amazing project
Thank you to Enrique Penalosa for believing in my dream
Thank you to the local Berlin programs team for your dedication, enthusiasm and passion
Thank you to AECOM for their ongoing support
Thank you to all of our local and international collaborators and all our new friends in Berlin, and from far flung lands, for participating in our programs. This would not have been as much fun without you all.
This certainly isn’t the end or goodbye… this is just the start of something very big and incredibly exciting!