Be Wilder: Designing Urban Futures from the Bottom-Up (Part 4 of 4)


Throughout the last month, we’ve been exploring the topic of urban ecology from a few different perspectives.  First, through the lens of our personal practice, we’ve introduced some of the challenges we’ve faced while developing projects and businesses at the intersection of ecological, economic, and social concerns. We’ve considered a historical perspective by contrasting American and European attitudes toward nature, cities, and wilderness.  We’ve discussed the meaning, ethics and aesthetics of “ecological urbanism” through some exciting contemporary precedents.  We’ll wrap up our BeWilder series this week with a few final ideas and questions.  

We focus on urban issues in our work because for better or worse, cities have become the primary human habitat.  More of us live in cities now than ever before, and the future trends and projections predict an increasingly urbanized world in the future.  Our fate is now tied to what happens in these dense, often chaotic regions we call home.  And despite the bleeding headlines and dire predictions that we are constantly bombarded with, there are still plenty of reasons to be hopeful about our ability to work together, and collectively thrive in the 21st century and beyond. It’s worth remembering that cities have become and will continue to be, epicenters of innovation, new ideas and collective action.  

While ecological urbanism helps reconcile “nature” and “city” into a more seamless space of understanding, what are needed now are ways to inspire projects, actions, and interventions on a number of scales.  There will always be a role for the kinds of top-down, large-scale, capital-intensive solutions offered by city planning commissions, regional and state governments, and private investors.  But relying on these traditional drivers of incremental change is simply not enough. One of the biggest, and perhaps most exciting questions in the next chapter of global development will be how we meaningfully embrace concerns and their associated responses from the bottom-up. These informal, gritty, so called “user-generated” forms of urban design, product/service development, and innovation will be radically local in nature, but global in their implications, and will likely be facilitated by inclusive human-centered design processes. In fact, many of the challenges we face today can be framed as creative challenges, taking the form of “How might we” statements.  

For example, how might we:

  • Utilize the productive potential of urban biodiversity?
  • Reimagine the aesthetic and spiritual experience of nature in our cities?
  • Explore new forms of local economic development that address issues of social justice?
  • Identify opportunities for urban resilience in the face of natural disasters and climate change?
  • Empower urban citizens to better understand, shape, and utilize their everyday surroundings?

These are the questions that will continue to underlie our explorations of creative practice at the intersection of social impact.  Stay tuned on the Commonstudio blog as we continue explore these ideas as well as a range of new topics in the coming months.

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