David Lida at the LongandShort: “…The five are members of Mexico City’s Laboratorio para la Ciudad (Laboratory for the City), an innovation lab founded by Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera soon after he assumed office in December 2012. While innovation labs have sprung up around much of the developed world in the last few years, the Laboratory for the City is the first of its kind in Latin America. Over espresso, croissants and sandwiches, the lab members brainstormed about strategy for other parts of Latin America.
The meeting was convened because the lab had been approached by governments and organisations in cities such as São Paolo, Buenos Aires, and Montevideo, as well as the entire country of Chile, and Miraflores, one of the wealthiest neighbourhoods in Lima, Peru. All these locations asked for advice about establishing their own innovation labs or to collaborate with the Mexican lab on specific projects. Among the ideas bandied about was whether or not the lab should share the code of its website. Should they host a symposium about innovation labs for people from all over Latin America? Could they get funding for it from the World Bank? Would it be helpful to write a manual about starting an innovation lab? Should they establish alliances with other cities?
Amid all the breathless propositions and after the second cup of coffee, the lab’s director, Gabriella Gómez-Mont, reminded her four staff members of a crucial point: “We are in the middle of our own apprenticeship.”
Indeed. Despite the mostly gushing articles about the Laboratory for the City that have appeared in international media such as Monocle, Wired, and Forbes, it might be a bit premature for it to offer advice. Despite the fact that some of the staff members seem to work 24 hours a day, the lab is only in its infancy, at least in terms of tangible results.
“Innovation labs can generate good ideas for change on a civic scale,” says Nate Berg, who writes about cities for such publications as City Lab, Architects and Next City.” But the implementation is sometimes put off.”
The Laboratory for the City has only been up and running for a year and a half, so perhaps it’s too early to expect many results. Still, the language in its promotional literature – and indeed that spoken by its staff – can be frustratingly vague in terms of what it is trying to accomplish.
“We are very interested in the possibilities of tech as a social amplifier. But we are not a digital department,” says Gabriella Gómez-Mont. “We are an experimental area and creative thinktank and tech is just one of our many tools. Our real work lies in bringing in different perspectives and methodologies, exploring other means and ways forward, engaging other types of disciplines and people into the fascinating realm of city-making.
“We believe there are fascinating possibilities in creating spaces for experimentation within government, as well as making its dividing walls more porous. Through several projects and experimenting with different methodologies, we are prototyping what it means to add a temporal yet intensive ‘layer’ of citizen participation to government, break inward-looking orientation subconsciously generated by the way that most governments structure themselves, and even embedding up to nine months’ different profiles within different city departments, with our Code for Mexico City and Open Office programmes, for example.”… (full article).