Amplifying Innovation in Our Cities Ourselves: A Review on Two Urban Exhibits in NYC

In cities everywhere, our own New York City included, communities are developing a myriad of ways to live together resourcefully and comfortably. These innovative mindsets in sustainable urban living are undoubtedly necessary to ensure the recovery and continuation of human society on Earth; as William Gibson said, “The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet.” To distribute and promote more sustainable living methods, we must share local solutions globally and in the words of an exhibit set up by Parsons The New School for Design and Milano The New School for Urban Policy, “amplify” them by “broadcasting all these good ideas for others to adopt.” Two excellent exhibitions – “Amplify” and “Our Cities Ourselves” – have now closed but reference materials remain up on their sites.

An important factor in the distribution of ideas as well as goods, mobility within and between cities determines the efficiency of the global network of developing urban communities. Local transport in every developing city must be safe, reliable, energy-efficient, and environmentally sound in order to maintain the sustainability of urban growth around the world. As an integral part of urban planning, transportation alternatives are also now being critically explored with developed cities trying to reduce the dominance of private cars and developing cities having the opportunity to avoid the asphalt paths of the developed cities by reconciling rapid economic growth with sustainable principles. At the Center for Architecture in Downtown Manhattan, an exhibit called “Our Cities Ourselves: The Future of Transportation in Urban Life” featured proposals by leading architects for transportation improvements in ten global cities in 2030.

Through the use of interactive props (rickshaws, bus seats, crates of plants), activities (design a street contest, sticker votes, index card/post-it comments), and vivid images (on walls and on digital screens), ”Amplify” and “Our Cities Ourselves” captured interest in and inspired further thought into the possibilities and practicalities of socially inclusive, environmentally sustainable, and commercially viable development all over the world. These exhibits offered a hopeful glimpse at a widespread sustainable future created through global information sharing and local community participation in several developing countries of interest to SCA.

Even with such ideas being displayed in exhibits in our own great city, the global movement to sustainable urban living in developing country cities has many more obstacles in the way, such as the lack of organization in poor communities, government resistance to expend resources on building unconventional systems, government indifference to the conditions of its people, and difficulty in finding outside sources of finance/investment. In comparing the small-scale actions already taken in creating sustainability through community-supported farming, community daycares, etc. in “Amplify” with the grand actions potentially to be taken in ensuring more sustainable transport through improving public transit, transforming public spaces, etc. in “Our Cities Ourselves”, we can grasp the necessity for more investment and action to improve actualities and realize possibilities by capacity building and establishing sustainable business models in the rapidly growing urban areas of developing countries, like India, Brazil, and China.

AMPLIFY: CREATIVE & SUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLES IN THE LOWER EAST SIDE

India
Arzoo (Ahmedabad) – an educational arts and crafts center open to children of all religions, castes, etc.
Satvik (Ahmedabad) – a traditional food festival promoting the conservation of local crops

Brazil
Vila das Canoas (Rio de Janeiro) – Community-Based Tourism
Mundo Infantil (Rio de Janeiro) – Community daycare
Rede Ecologica (Rio de Janeiro) – Community-Supported Agriculture

China
Agri-Fond Association (Lui Zhou) – Community-Supported Agriculture

OUR CITIES OURSELVES: THE FUTURE OF TRANSPORTATION IN URBAN LIFE

India
Ahmedabad – Develop more Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and bike lanes to link town of Jamalpur to Ahmedabad.

Brazil
Rio de Janeiro – Revive public spaces in degraded city center by creating shaded pedestrian path to Central Station and replacing congestion with BRT lanes/bike paths on Avenida Presidente Vargas.

China
Guangzhou – Turn Renmin Road highway into a pedestrian/bike-friendly space similar to NYC’s Highline Park.

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