An elaborate parklet in Florence, Italy - the level of sophistication of this example from Europe where street life is well developed contrasts against examples from Australasia and USA where flexible use of street space is a more novel concept.  

An elaborate parklet in Florence, Italy - the level of sophistication of this example from Europe where street life is well developed contrasts against examples from Australasia and USA where flexible use of street space is a more novel concept.

 

WE WORKED WITH PALMERSTON NORTH, NZ TO USE A SPRINT TO RAPIDLY DEVELOP AND PROTOTYPE POLICY AND A SERVICE PROCESS FOR AN URBAN INNOVATION - FLEX SPACE AND PARKLETS.

Urban innovations are proliferating and being imported faster than ever in the digital age, yet, city policy struggles to keep pace with novel ideas.

As the world rapidly urbanises validated solutions are needed to solve urban issues and methods are needed to import and adapt them - the sprint is one of these methods. This post outlines urban innovations, how they spread, and provides an overview of a sprint.


Part 1 of 2 - What are 'urban innovations'?

The process of urban innovation has likely been ongoing since people started living in permanent settlements. The number of innovations is huge, and it's probably futile to provide a strict definition.  However, for urbanism we are particularly interested in the types of innovation that are developed in one place to solve a public challenge and exported to another. In general, our focus is on innovations which increase the shared public value rather than those which provide private benefits. Separated bicycle lanes are a topical example of an urban innovation which is sweeping around the world. Urbanists are adapting this type of bike lane as it is inserted into different cultures and city contexts which have much different land development patterns than the European cities.

Norrebrogade, Copenhagen - a separated bike lane and associated street innovations such as a 'floating' bus stop, cycle lane marking through the intersection rather than along the street, traffic lights for cycles, and street lighting hung from wires.

Norrebrogade, Copenhagen - a separated bike lane and associated street innovations such as a 'floating' bus stop, cycle lane marking through the intersection rather than along the street, traffic lights for cycles, and street lighting hung from wires.

Other innovations in cities can be found by looking at the re-mixed or hybrid forms in a city. Two great examples of hybrid forms are linear parks such as the High Line, New York or the Goods Line, Sydney which are a mix of a park and a street. Another example is shared spaces such as Auckland's Elliot, Fort, and Federal Streets which are a mix of a pedestrian plaza and a street. As cities are in constant flux we should expect that innovations which make sense today will be obsolete in the future, some will fade away, and others will be updated to meet the needs of future generations, cultures, and circumstances. However, right now we see great value in the rapid transfer of validated ideas from city to city as the world rapidly urbanises.

The Goods Line, Sydney in the shadow of the UTS's Dr Chau Chak Wing Building by Frank Gehry. Other innovations are present like the popular public ping pong table and way-finding point.

cities and the Diffusion of innovation

We all know from travelling, the internet, social media and so on that cities and cultures are diverse and that some places feel like they are stuck in the past, and others feel like travelling into the future. The last group are usually serial innovators and seem to always be ahead of the pack, like Singapore. From business innovation we find a well developed mental model to apply to cities instead of customers - it's called the innovation adoption lifecycle or the diffusion of innovation theory.

 
Innovation adoption lifecycle.png
 

The diagram illustrates (from left to right), the distribution of cities adopting innovations. On the left there are a small percentage of innovators - the people that invent a novel idea. At this stage the idea might not work very well, yet, it is picked up by the slightly bigger group - the early adopters - this group is willing to take a risk on solutions which are not perfect and they usually help develop the ideas through their use. The early majority pick up the refined ideas where the innovation begins to be implemented in large numbers, these are then followed by the late majority - at this stage market penetration of the idea is over 50% and is likely no longer feeling 'special'. The final group are the laggards - this group essential only adopts the idea when they are forced to as their existing solutions are no longer supported.

Is your City an innovator or a laggard?

The diffusion of innovation model can help urbanists work with cities as they advise them on strategies and initiatives to achieve their aspirations - to be more liveable, more sustainable, more lively, and more prosperous. These aspirations mean that the city must move from the groups on the right of the diagram towards innovation and early adoption - they need to move ahead of the curve or they will always be perceived in negative terms by people who might choose to live in them. The mindset and methods of innovation can be applied regardless of city size.

With regards to urban innovations there are some well-known success stories of previously staid cities which have become leaders in liveability through being innovators and early adopters over a sustained period - Melbourne, Copenhagen, Vancouver, and Singapore while other cities, such as Auckland, are starting to rapidly transform themselves by adopting the growth mindset of innovation. Smaller cities are also demonstrating the potential of rapidly shifting from a risk averse mindset to an entrepreneurial one - such as Napier, NZ.


What is a Sprint?

One of the methods of innovation is a 'Sprint'. In a sprint:

  • an interdisciplinary team works through a structured process over a set period.
  • a specific challenge has been defined but the outcome has not been determined.
  • stakeholders, project sponsors, and the users/customers are involved through the process.
  • multiple potential solutions are designed through a mix of design processes.
  • the team selects and prototypes a first option from the potential solutions.
  • the prototype is presented to users/customers on the final day.

The next blog How to encourage urban innovation with a Sprint - Part 2 will step through the process and outcomes, and learning from our sprint with the city-making team in Palmerston North.

 


WE BELIEVE IN TRANSFERRING AND ADAPTING DESIGN AND INNOVATION PROCESSES FROM OTHER INDUSTRIES FOR CITY-MAKING.

We do this to increase stakeholder buy-in, reduce risk, and accelerate outcomes. Get in touch with us to discuss how your city-making could be strengthened with design and innovation methods.