How Might We Improve the Health & Wealth of Cities?

December 16, 2013 — 4 Comments

designthinking_megacities_576

At IDEO, we often start brainstorms with the phrase, “How Might We” (HMW, for short). We use these three words because they help frame a problem in an open-ended, optimistic, and collaborative way. “How” assumes there are solutions out there. “Might” says some of the ideas may work, others won’t—either way, it’s OK. And “We” says we’re going to solve the problem together by building on each other’s ideas. (I write more about this powerful phrase in my book, Change By Design.)

This is the first of several such HMW posts I’ll be posting over the coming months. The intent is to provoke conversation about some of the big global challenges we face and reframe them as creative opportunities.

The inspiration for this post was a recent discussion I moderated on “The Rise of Megacities” for the World Economic Forum. A megacity is defined as having over ten million people. One panelist informed us that as cities increase their gross domestic product, the average wellness of their inhabitants declines. At first, this seems counterintuitive. While city dwellers are undoubtedly earning more than they would in their rural homelands, dense living conditions, poor sanitation, and lax policing mean they’re also exposed to terrible diseases and increased crime. Over time, these things lead to increased income inequality. A small portion of the population does disproportionately better both economically and physiologically, while the majority stays locked in poverty with significantly shorter life expectancies. Social instability and violence quickly follow.

Another insight from the session: in many megacities, the lowest paid workers—drivers, maids, etc.—commute up to six hours a day. This has terrible impact on quality of life. Thankfully, some Latin American cities are beginning to address this issue. For instance, one of Rio De Janeiro’s most notorious favelas, Complexo do Alemão, has a sophisticated cable-car system that speeds 30,000 passengers a day to work in the city center. Each resident gets one return ride per day for free. Reducing commuting times means residents have more time to spend with their families, on education, or even second jobs.

Our thought-provoking discussion got me thinking in HMWs:

How might we redesign cities to increase the wealth and health of the majority of inhabitants?

How might we use open spaces in cities to promote wellness?

How might we reduce the amount of surface area currently dedicated to cars (now around 30%)?

How might we design new services to help city dwellers achieve sustainable livelihoods?

How mights we rethink zoning rules and exploit emerging digital-manufacturing technologies to bring work closer to where people live?

Data shows that megacities, in general, are a good idea. They reduce carbon emissions, generate wealth, and increase productivity and innovation. One of the greatest design challenges of the 21st century will be ensuring everyone benefits equally from these cities’ explosive growth—instead of some being unfairly exploited by it.

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

Photo: CC Image courtesy of Daniel Julie on FlickrPhoto.

Tim Brown

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4 responses to How Might We Improve the Health & Wealth of Cities?

  1. I recall and article that has stuck with me about GDP. GDP doesn’t count health of our children, quality of their education, joy in their place, integrity of our public officials, our learning, wisdom, compassion. Also, I believe in a future of collaborative consumption, peer to peer commerce and the means of production in the hands of individuals will inevitably lower the GDP, but give us better and more sustainable lives.

    “A small portion of the population does disproportionately better both economically and physiologically, while the majority stays locked in poverty with significantly shorter life expectancies.” I would venture to guess the inequality is in equal proportion to the means of production concentration. The 1% have 99% of the wealth and means of production. A technology driven decentralization is needed. Absolute equality is impossible, but Justice is achievable.

    How might we rethink zoning rules and exploit emerging digital-manufacturing technologies to bring work closer to where people live?

    1. Planners must accept that living, working and third places must be walking/biking proximity. Commerce, Making and living must be brought back to the Community. Segregation of people was unhealthy and inhumane, just as segregation by use is unhealthy and inhumane. End the apartheid of our community by building use.
    2. Create Fab Lab style maker hubs in these communities with space co-working and incubating new ideas. Make them Free with the ask that those who achieve success voluntarily give back to support the hub.
    3. Put the means of production into the hands of any person with an idea/passion or curiosity.
    4. Collaborative consumption for every part of life
    5. Focus on placemaking that begins to rebuild our third places. We have created too much private and lost the public space to be together.

    What city shall we start with?

    I look forward to hearing more around this topic.

    Kind regards,
    ThoughtsxLR

  2. Do you truly believe in helping to make the wealth and health of cities?

    Or are you another person saying the right words for the wrong reasons and not following with actions.

    If you truly mean what you say would you consider helping a Country who’s children are being abused and used as sex slaves due to no education?

    I have done more than consider it, I am going to make it a reality and with help from people who truly believe and truly care, will start making this reality as soon as possible.

    I am a single mother of four children, who lives in South Africa and has finally found my reason to live this life, instead of only existing in it and that is to help an amazing, humble community, who are being subjected to abuse that makes me sick to my stomach.

    An anonymous donation of $50000 by yourself will give me the opportunity of starting to turn this despicable situation around, one step at a time .

    I know you can deviate from your norm to help an Individual also change the world.

    http://www.donationto.com/Help-give-a-child-a-happy-life.

    I BELIEVE IN U xxx

    With love and light, Vanessa xxx

  3. Do you truly believe in helping to make the wealth and health of cities?

    Or are you another person saying the right words for the wrong reasons and not following with actions.

    If you truly mean what you say would you consider helping a Country who’s children are being abused and used as sex slaves due to no education?

    I have done more than consider it, I am going to make it a reality and with help from people who truly believe and truly care, will start making this reality as soon as possible.

    I am a single mother of four children, who lives in South Africa and has finally found my reason to live this life, instead of only existing in it and that is to help an amazing, humble community, who are being subjected to abuse that makes me sick to my stomach.

    An anonymous donation of $50000 by yourself will give me the opportunity of starting to turn this despicable situation around, one step at a time .

    I know you can deviate from your norm to help an Individual also change the world.

    wwwDOTdonationtoDOTcom/Help-give-a-child-a-happy-life.

    I BELIEVE IN U xxx

    With love and light, Vanessa xxx

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