Oct 5, 201309:00 AMPoint of View

Cities are the Innovative Labs for the Future

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Urban Prototyping Festival at Future Site of 5M.

Courtesy San Francisco Department of Planning

Meeting at the intersection of design, the arts, and technology, the nascent Maker Movement is helping revive light manufacturing. With the creation of the first TechShop in Menlo Park in 2006, Jim Newton, former adviser to Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters, has grown this business to six markets with over 3,300 members. What’s more, the urban creatives that have migrated from their garages to this futuristic factory floor are building, molding, and creating anything from small prototypes to fully functioning products.

San Francisco’s TechShop also points the way toward the future as part of the innovative 5M development -- a relationship eco-system that allows art and tech people to meet and work together in co-working spaces. This type of co-location of people, services, and space furthers the needs of a creativity-based knowledge economy. 5M is an innovative working environment in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood that reuses and expands the San Francisco Chronicle Building. Gensler Architects is working to design this space for future needs that will allow people to interact with others that they might otherwise never meet: techies meeting artists, tinkering meeting advanced robotics, to investors meeting always needy nonprofits. This type of bump-and-spark interaction can be created through innovative design solutions that re-imagine existing buildings for uses that could have never been envisioned in the past.

Austin Alleyway. Flight of the Cranes and 20ft WIDE.

Courtesy Donald Mason via Flickr

Partisan gridlock may be hampering progress in Washington, but in our cities – where leaders are close to the people they govern and connected to what is happening on the ground –  they are charging ahead with innovative ideas and policies.

Local leaders don’t have the luxury of governing from afar. They must get to collaborating, creating next generation economies, planning for the future, and taking calculated risks, because leadership in these times calls for taking chances and experimenting. Life begins at the edge of our comfort zones and innovation isn’t about perfection, it’s about courage and the willingness to try. Cities are the incubators of great ideas and the labs for change that will make this happen.



Brooks Rainwater is the American Institute of Architect’s director of public policy. As leader of that program he is focused on design-centered policy at the key intersection of cities, sustainability, and health. As a strong advocate for vibrant and successful cities, Brooks frequently speaks and writes on the subject, and is the lead author of Local Leaders, a national research series that examines sustainable, livable, and healthy communities. Follow Brooks on Twitter @CitizenAIA

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