Lab Notes I

Announcing a New Series: Lab Notes I Will Explore Emerging Trends in Urbanism

“What do the ideas generated in the Lab mean for the present, and how can they bring us into a better future?”

The true test of any experiment begins the moment it leaves the laboratory.

The BMW Guggenheim Lab is no exception; ideas, like medicines or inventions, are only as good as they are relevant in the real world.

It is therefore with excitement that we announce the launch of a new blog series, Lab Notes I: Trends from the New York Lab.

Three months ago, on a chilly October night that marked the final weekend of the Lab’s run in New York, Lab curators David van der Leer and Maria Nicanor stood before an audience of 300 visitors who were anxious to learn what the Lab had discovered.

There Maria and David announced a series of emerging trends in urbanism today, as defined by the discussions that had taken place at the Lab over the previous three months.

Since that day these trends have marinated in our collective brains. They’ve been revisited, rethought, refined, and renovated. And now they must be explored.

Which brings us to Lab Notes I, a blog-based exploration of how these ideas are shaping the world of urbanism today, and what potential they hold. What might they look like implanted in reality? What do they mean for the present, and how can they bring us into a better future?

A rise of bottom-up and open-source/participatory urbanism is the first to bat, putting the citizen before the expert as the starting point for urban change. While much of the 20th century was about top-down, high-level ideas for urban design, digital technology has handed out more tools than ever before to enable social-cooperative models of city organization. This makes involved, organized, and active community groups and neighborhoods crucial players in creating urban change. Moreover, the rise of crowdsourcing and open data has given them the ability to measure, map, analyze, and publicize urban needs like never before, opening the potential for development of new governance models, and creating new possibilities for low-cost urban solutions.

Then comes the need to promote emotional cityness—a recognition of the power that person-to-person connectivity in urban environments will hold in a climate of rapid urbanization and uncertainty. Whereas the tendency over the past half-century has been towards increased individuality—which has led to social fragmentation—personal relationships, community cohesiveness, and even simply polite, respectful, and happy conviviality will play a key role in building the necessary networks to both survive and develop solutions to the challenges to come in our cities over the coming decades.

We’ll move then to a need to acknowledge fast-changing citizenship, which looks at how, by becoming aware of the increasing diversity of the roles in society we must play to adapt to ever-changing urban needs, citizens will be better equipped to influence political processes as well as the physical organization of urban spaces.

And finally, a need to retrofit urban life will tackle the need to take urban interventions into our own hands by tossing out grand urban schemes or grandiose design proposals and shifting our focus toward individual and community creativity that retrofits, reuses, and reappropriates existing physical and organizational structures.

Over the coming eight weeks we, along with a talented score of guest bloggers from a wide spectrum of disciplines—from art and education to neuroeconomics and environmental psychology—will tackle these themes by steering them out of the Lab and into the real world.

We hope you’ll join in the discussion along the way, and help us understand the walk behind the talk.

Lab Notes I is a series on trends from the BMW Guggenheim Lab New York. Curators Maria Nicanor and David van der Leer, blogger Christine McLaren, and a prominent group of guest contributors will explore the forces and transformations shaping the future of cities. The eight-week series will focus on four successive trends; the first is the Rise of Open-Source Urbanism.

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Photo: Eric J Henderson