Can Cities Be the Source of Scalable Innovations?

Article by Christof Brandtner: “Systems change to address complex problems, including climate change, is hard to achieve. What little optimism remains to tackle such complex challenges is mostly placed in supranational schemes, such as the COP climate change conferences, or transformational national policy, such as the Green New Deal in the US. Solutions of grand design regularly disappoint, however, because of their high costs, the challenges of translating big plans to local needs, and ongoing disagreement and polarization about what works and what is detrimental.

There is hope on the skyline though. Urban innovation ecosystems can provide an alternative to grand schemes, and cities’ social sectors provide a source of ongoing innovation. Companies like Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Alphabet that develops technologies for sustainable urban design, are transforming business as usual to solve complex urban problems. Social enterprises such as car-sharing programs are changing the nature of urban transportation and providing alternative options to individual car ownership. Through its iconic mobile showers, the San Francisco nonprofit LavaMae has found new ways to serve the homeless in the absence of more radical reforms of affordable housing. And the US Green Building Council (USGBC), an intermediary promoting energy-efficient construction, developed guidelines and rating systems for sustainable cities and neighborhoods.

Promising ideas are in ample supply, but the crucial question is: How can social innovators scale such innovations so that their local impact adds up to big solutions?…(More)”.