To watch someone speak publicly about an idea that has barely germinated feels, in a way, very 21st century.
It’s like we’ve passed through the era of expertise and come out on the other side humbled, and accepting of the fact that we don’t know all the answers to the vastly complex problems before us, but positive that we must discuss the need to find them.
This was the case at the Lab on Wednesday, when Kristian Koreman and Elma van Boxel of ZUS gave an introduction to the focus of their last week here in New York—“neo-globalism.”
In their presentation, ZUS imagined a world where global entities would help empower local initiatives by equipping them with the resources and support that are lacking today.
“Maybe ‘neo-globalism’ could be making use of a global operating network, recognizing that local organizations aren’t capable of dealing with these issues,” said Kristian.
As an example, he cited advocates in Brooklyn fighting the gentrification of their neighborhoods—an issue that neighborhoods all over the world are dealing with individually with limited legal tools and resources.
“People need to be equipped with new types of tools … maybe providing them with connections, architects, artists, to make their organizations stronger, and helping them reach out to sister organizations all over the world dealing with similar issues,” said Kristian.
After their presentation, I grabbed ZUS to bombard them with questions about how such a fantastically connected world of global-to-local empowerment would look.
The catch was, they had no clue how this could happen. But the goal is to investigate the possibilities, they said.
“It’s an interesting exercise to work out … how this could be developed but also be sure that it’s not an even more capitalist system that you’re organizing,” Elma said.
“The government and the market have come so close together—neo-globalism could be a new way of protecting the public structure of urban planning, to keep it public instead of putting it in the hands of developers.”
There are two sides to this issue, she told me. One is that cities need money.
“Because of the shrinking of economic growth, it’s impossible for a government to organize themselves if there’s no money anymore.”
But if this money is going to come from global entities, like private corporations taking on urban issues as part of their social-responsibility platform, for instance, there needs to be something—a new governing official—in place to ensure that public interest is still driving the agenda, she said.
“How can you go beyond branding and sponsorship? That’s the question,” Elma said.
I asked her to imagine how this might look, if we were to let our imaginations run wild.
She imagined something on the United Nations level, serving as middleman between the global and local entities to ensure that the local is empowered and free of pressure from the agenda of the global.
“You need this new layer in between,” she said. “We need to reorganize ourselves so that the people who are idealistic are connected to the power through a global entity.”
That’s as far as we got.
It’s certainly not a solution. But it’s a heck of a start to finding one, if you ask me.
So herein lies the major challenge of the BMW Guggenheim Lab. Throughout its course, there will be dozens of seeds—germs of ideas, like ZUS’s conceptual vision of neo-globalism—that will be born. What happens to them from there will be the real test.
There is only so much each Lab Team member can do during their short stay at the Lab. But it will be fascinating to see what happens with the ideas that come about during their stay, and to see if and how those ideas find traction and further development thereafter—both inside the Lab, and beyond its walls.