The Innovation District — This Millennium’s Oxymoron & The New Thinking of Co-Creation
We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
— Albert Einstein
October 2017 from Amsterdam
The proposition of this brief is that democracy and economic revitalization are being born in the streets and small gathering places of city districts as I write this and it is read, as the rising discontent with existing institutions and governments demonstrates that we are fundamentally missing the point by proposing yet another answer to questions already answered, that ‘innovation districts’ are merely corporate office parks reborn within a new set of economic needs revolving around the tech workforce who crave the intrinsic value of connectedness to interactive, culturally vibrant cities not unlike previous generations craved the intrinsic value of separateness, with suburban living as it’s urban product, giving rise to the design and construction of corporate office parks that are now seen as stale and uninviting.
Iterations of this paper also suggests three main vehicles for evolutionary change — first, a fundamental and unprecedented high risk, low tangible reward investment in the redistribution of income from the wealthy to the disenfranchised, secondly and related, the unprecedented support for the arts, cultural and spiritual endeavors that will provide the messages of change and evolution for all of us as urban dwellers, guiding us all toward, and finally, support for the development of the infrastructure of protest, with the fundamental rights of freedom of speech being respected, honored and encouraged, hopefully forestalling unnecessary death and injury in the necessary disruptions to city life that are now being promulgated in the streets of urban areas around the world, in the face of economic inequality and environmental degradation. As such, the paper outlines some exciting developments in the rise of decentralized movements some of which will undoubtedly be the harbingers, messengers and vehicles for change and the establishment of new urban ecosystems, built around the intricacy of highly textured communities, places and institutions, in the co-creation the more beautiful world that we all know is possible, and is indeed emerging as this article is being written and read.
Another assumption is that the tangible results of this endeavor cannot be foretold in historically measureable forethought, that serendipity and surprise are necessary consequences of letting go of any preconceived notions of outcome, allowing distributed creativity to call the shots from our urban microbiota, our human society’s mycelium equivalent, where change and growth happen organically, co-created in conversations that are loosely organized to foster the rise of collective consciousness not found in well meaning board rooms or design studios but rather around community dinner tables, artist co-ops and community theater, where we are our own source of new narratives, new initiatives, co-created in surprising grass root endeavors, engendering
Although the goals and objectives (a perhaps outdated process moniker) of innovation districts is laudable and important as a means for large institutions to have as an understandable framework for the need to rapidly change in a rapidly changing world, this author’s downside evaluation, speaking ‘truth to power’ as a privileged white male who understands the dynamics of unbridled capitalism as a participant, the propositions of most innovation districts is merely a formula for the continued gentrification of working class neighborhoods adjacent to major city centers, more particularly city cultural centers, where entertainment and the vitality of urban life are quickly and easily accessible to young millennial’s lifestyles, the economically targeted inheritors of these districts, with major sports, museum, shopping, drinking and eating and cultural establishments add a richness to the workaday world.
In a real-world dilemma, the author will highlight an existing Denver, Colorado institution that is perhaps representative of struggling populations world-wide who are economically depressed yet thriving not by conventional economic or even social measures of success, but by virtue of the mutual care provided for all members of the community, in the midst of them carrying untold stories based on horrendous experiences of repression and genocide that result in intergenerational trauma that must be supported by those of us who are the beneficiaries of white privilege, largely responsible for the repression that must be addressed in the loving light of forgiveness and self-reflection. At the risk of highlighting this institution in the conventional socio-metric laboratory that may in and of itself harm the organization, its anonymity is protected here, much as the individual identity of a victim of sexual abuse is kept confidential.
Another premise of this missive is the need for a wholesale redistribution of income to promulgate the strategies found above, where the economics of tools like unconditional basic income and platform cooperativism are edgy propositions that will likely fuel the inevitable change to our cities, brought about by the decentralizing power and energy of the ubiquity of the internet and social media.
Finally, it is the position of this author that my engagement in the arduous task of finding reconciliation and redemption in the face of my involvement in unbridled capitalism that will lead to meaningful forgiveness earned, will provide a clarity and consciousness that will prove to allow me and us the ability to grow as a member of the kind humankind, where collective wisdom is brought to bear on ‘the inside edge’, allowing and supporting the transformation of business, society and ourselves, leaving this world a little better than we found it.
In one example of a strategy that is offered up in the urgency of the need to innovate, I support the initiatives to create true community commons’ and cooperatives, and to place a value added real estate transfer tax on cities that are finding themselves in a position of restrained supplies of adequate housing in escalating real estate markets, where the proceeds of the tax be redistributed to disenfranchised home owners and renters to support and sustain their ability to improve their lot in life, allowing their lives to find enriching experiences in the same milieu as those found by us high net worth individuals, allowing us all the time and financial means to enjoy the riches of life, celebrating in cultural and spiritual communities, allowing our human purposes and passions to thrive like never before.