Lab | Log

Giants in the Neighborhood: Can Global Entities and Local Initiatives Work Together Toward Urban Solutions?


There’s a busy week coming up at the Lab as ZUS looks to spark discussion around the idea of “neo-globalism”—or how global institutions could harness their power and reach to tackle the challenges that accompany urbanization.

Already I’ve watched people question and discuss this enormous question right on this very site, perhaps without even knowing it. They’ve started with comments like these:

“Doesn’t the fact that the Lab is underwritten by a major corporate donor take any possible sting out of this?”

“I’d love to know more about BMW’s relationship to this project.”

Yes, the very nature of the BMW Guggenheim Lab—a collaboration between two global giants in their respective fields—lends itself naturally to this discussion, serving equally as an example and a platform to contemplate the merits and possibilities of the role global entities can play in finding and creating urban solutions.

So I look forward to seeing how the public uses this opportunity for debate and hopefully cultivates some forward-thinking solutions along these lines.

I thought it would be useful to plant a few more seeds before the discussion starts at the Lab, however, and to allow some thoughts and opinions to germinate prematurely, by mentioning a few other examples of how the global world is getting involved in localized urban problems.

The examples include a variety of global entities, ranging from corporate to nonprofit to activist. Briefly:

  • In 2011 Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) gave $100,000 to the cycling advocacy organization Bikes Belong to fund a project called REI Best Practices Grants. The program awards grants of $10,000 to $25,000 for city governments to create or redesign their bicycle infrastructure based on the “best models for bicycle transportation from Europe and North America.” The grants are only available to cities or regions in which REI stores are located.
  • Transaid is “an international UK development charity that aims to reduce poverty and improve livelihoods across Africa and the developing world through creating better transport.” They work throughout Africa, as well as Bangladash, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka, creating and improving community-managed transportation where public transit does not exist or does not serve the needs of the community. Their interventions range from the creation of local bicycle and motorcycle ambulance systems to bus driver training programs.
  • Right to the City is a national alliance of groups that advocate for responses to gentrification and displacement in cities.
  • The United Nations Human Settlements Programme, UN-HABITAT, is mandated to “promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all.” The agency works through “advocacy of global norms, analysis of information, field-testing of solutions and financing” with the goal of creating cities without slums.
  • Earlier this month Coca-Cola, UN-HABITAT, and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) partnered to bring water-sanitation improvements to 300 inhabitants of two coastal communities in Pakistan.

There’s a lot of food for thought here.

As globalism extends to ever-farther corners of the world, how could or should global entities be involved with the creation of healthy urban realms? Are these examples of responsible actions? Good uses of resources? Should local and global initiatives even be crossing paths?

. . .

Photo: used by permission under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) License from Jacob Anikulapo


    We need to keep looking for the link between the characteristics of every context. This experiment takes us to a higher social searching… beyond the physical solutions.

    • Anonymous

       Interesting thought, Invisible Patterns. Can you expand on it, though? How would identifying similar contextual characteristics help us understand how these global entities would fit into the local sphere? What would we look for?


    There will be a common pattern, for instance. Driving a BMW gives you the sense of security, luxury or efficiency cars. There must be some way in the society that give will you back that sense, maybe in parks, maybe just having a luxury mind. It’s all about the engine, what’s inside your heart. To make you feel like a powerful machine, driving in the streets of a sustainable life. Maybe I will create a gas station to fill your spiritual tank. Maybe just a simple word to make you believe that you are not a driver of a car, but a driver of the world. Thinking about all the street signs, love sings, green signs… 

  • Anonymous

    Comment, from the BMW Guggenheim Lab Facebook page:

    Giulia Callegari: Nike should also get a little greener in China, where they are polluting heavily rivers, then work on neighborhoods, or do both things together at least.