Cities: Innovation Ecosystems & Drivers of a Sustainable Future

We have now had two sessions during the forum that focus on the city. It is a clear reflection from both sessions that cities are very much social-ecological systems. Cities represent the hopes and dreams of the people that live in them and they also represent perhaps the best hope for reversing large-scale ecological decline, social breakdowns and economic stagnation. Each session though had its own flavour.

The first session focused on ways of creating systems of innovation within cities that are able to cope with gradual and rapid change and how to leverage urban people assets. The second session focused more on the design aspects of urban areas and how to design and implement systems to make cities more sustainable.

In the first session we were joined by John Tiernay Dublin’s city Manager, Trevor Graham – Sustainability Manager from Malmo city Sweden and Dr. Marilyn Hamilton, Founder of Integral City Meshworks Inc.

John started off the session with a high energy presentation introducing the spectrum of initiatives that are under development in Dublin that are helping the city to develop into an innovation ecosystem. Clearly the Dublin Innovation Festival is a key part of this ongoing work. John also talked about the Creative Dublin Alliance which is an initiative led by the Dublin City Council which is about coming up with creative solutions to many of the core issues that Dublin faces. It brings together a wide group of stakeholders who work together. John, also made the clear point that for many city authorities and local municipalities facing budget cuts or capped budgets, the crucial issue is to think about how technology and innovation can contribute to allowing such organisations to deliver the same or better public services with the same or less resources.

Trevor then weaved the fascinating story of how Malmo in Sweden has transformed itself over a period of 20 years from a dirty, industrial maligned place to a city that is now recognised around the world as the flagship city for sustainable living. Indeed the first ever eco-village in Scandinavia was built in Malmo in the 1980s. Malmo today is becoming an increasingly attractive place to live. Further, Trevor outlined the experiments they are implementing and the ideas that are being generated around how to build; smarter, greener and more liveable housing for the residents of Malmo. For more info check out their website here.

The final speaker was the blue-sky thinker, Dr Marilyn Hamilton. Marilyn pulled no punches by framing the discussion in the way that Innovation being essential to our survival as a species and the fact that we face immense challenges as for the first time ever over 50% of humans are living in urban areas.

Dr Hamilton then told the story of the humble honey bee and their extraordinary evolutionary history. What can we learn from hive society and how can it be applied to transforming urban areas? The key thing that struck me was that Beehives echo elements of human social organisation. 90% of bees are conformity enhancers and 5% are diversity generators. These are the entrepreneurs of the bee world. These bee types and others work closely together to create a complex, sustainable system, not unlike what a sustainable city might look like. check out this quick video below to show just how sophistication bees actually are:

Marilyn then went onto to provide examples of how the learning from beehives can be applied in the contexts of cities and how creating the ability for these ‘bee’ characteristics to emerge across multiple scales, social groups and sectors within a city. This is only a small taste of the fascinating work being done by Dr Hamilton and her colleagues so if you are interested in diving more into this, check out her book; Integral City – Evolutionary Intelligences for the Human Hive

So that is Part One on the urban context for sustainability, Part Two to follow.


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  1. […] City spoke on Cities as Innovation Ecosystems. Click here for the summary and a great video of our evolutionary teachers, the honey […]

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