In establishing CARBON:imagineering, a little over three years ago, one of our goals was to reinvigorate the technology ecosphere in Leeds and more broadly, Northern England.
In the course of this journey, I've come to believe that cities, and our understanding of the concept of a city, are critical to this, and other wider projects. There's a subtext of anti-urbanism that lingers in British culture, yet cities as social and physical constructs carry within them the seeds of prosperity, happiness and almost counter-intuitively, the "green-ness" that most of us seek. Also, for Brits, we identify more closely with cities than city regions, counties or the home nations.
Being involved in helping Old Broadcasting House flourish at the heard of a vibrant technology scene; engaging in free-form discussions with Leeds' civic architect John Thorp and chief economic officer Paul Stephens; visualising the rebirth of Temple Works; observing the civic passions of people like Matt Edgar, Emma Bearman and others; all illustrate a palpable exhilaration at shaping the future of an old city, with deep problems.
Yesterday I was asked by the Renaissance Leeds team to comment on innovation strategies for the city; what is it, why it's important and how we ‘do’ innovation. I immediately though of GOOD magazine's series of Ideas for Cities, a 'continuing brainstorm on the future of cities'. Some of the more compelling ideas, particularly relevant to the tech industry, included...
Tech Mission; working with a large tech company - say Google - to establish a location for startups, meetups, popup classes, new projects & lectures.
Decentralised Design Hubs & Work Centers; Neighborhoods become local “offices” and create workplaces to support and encourage employees to work in these hubs rather than driving or commuting.
Incubation Infrastructure; Cities partner with property owners to outfit homes and workspaces with broadband, connectivity and computers as well as meeting rooms and to help nurture entrepreneurial activity.
Talent Districts; Converting neighborhoods into districts for personal and civic development, encouraging residents to win residency, subject to meeting a developmental and goal.
Free-agent Portfolio; Citizens collect "lifetime learning points" for skills and qualifications with civic administrations providing a "talent agency" and infrastructure to employ those earned credentials and progress people along a career path. I can almost envisage points as an augmented reality game :)
Zooming out further into the future, Matt Jones' The City As A Battlesuit For Surviving The Future underlines the powerful notion that cities are perhaps the eternal solution for humanity.
I'm uncertain of the best courses of action to recommend - witness Leeds' calamitous Clarence Dock experiment - but I sense we're not even asking the the appropriate questions of ourselves as citizens, but offloading this responsibility onto civic leaders.