Last Saturday, TED, the organization that promotes “ideas worth sharing,” lent its name and support to The City 2.0, a series of conferences on urban futures held in seventy cities around the world. The conferences, part of a TEDx series (“TED” to signify the format; “x” for “independent”), were locally run and organized without direct input from TED save a blessing, framework, and, presumably, funds. The New York iteration of this event was held in DUMBO.
The impetus for The City 2.0 came from the 2012 TED Prize, which was awarded to an idea—getting people together to discuss the future of cities—rather than to an individual. The prize money was then used to crowdsource discussion on urban futures by holding the simultaneous, global talks. Everyone—in this case, anyone with computer access—was invited; those who wanted to attend filled out a form explaining why and what they would do with the privilege. Local organizers selected from applicants and invited those who they thought would most benefit the effort.
TEDxDUMBO took place in Galapagos Art Space, a mixed-use space built into the shell of a hundred-year-old building that includes a stage seemingly floating on a pool of water; audience members included students, urban planners, policy makers, and those otherwise interested in what cities will look like tomorrow. They came to take in talks by fourteen speakers, covering topics ranging from urban dwellers’ (apparent) lack of interest in marriage to musings about how geolocation and habits, as can be monitored based on people’s smartphone use, could be used to increase serendipity.
A few of the talks stood out: Marcos Zotes, whose work questions the laws and assumptions that govern public space, demonstrated how effective a light projector can be in getting people to think about what is allowed in public. Dong-Ping Wong, an architect who designs structures that integrate passive production of resources, discussed a pool that floats on the East River like a giant Britta filter, producing a clean place to swim and filtering the river’s polluted water at the same time.
The point around which The City 2.0 seemed to turn was not the talks, however; it was a group of proposals and ideas from residents, or “action pitches,” to which audience members were encouraged to contribute in whatever way they could. The three pitched in DUMBO targeted things near and dear to most urban dwellers: art, environmental restoration, and access to space. Art Bar, a collaboration between Vincent Appel and Julien Leysenne, envisions a way to refashion the Staten Island ferry’s car deck, which has not been in use since September 11. Appel and Leysenne want to transform the deck into an art space that highlights work produced in the five boroughs.
Gowanus Mud Balls, a proposal from the MoS Collective, will engage residents of the Brooklyn neighborhood of Gowanus in a bioremediation project: they will inoculate mud with microbes that consume toxins, and then toss the mud into the Gowanus Canal, a heavily polluted former industrial canal. Made in the Lower East Side, or miLES, aims to develop a platform to connect people who need a space for a short time, for a pop-up shop or to hold a dinner party or whatever else, with landowners who have a vacant lot or storefront.
The audience was enthusiastic about all of the pitches, but I found the mud balls project especially enticing. Flinging globs of mud into a superfund site to clean it up? Seems like a project that not only does good, but appeals to the primate in all of us.
Following The City 2.0, TED will award ten of the action pitches from the global talks with $10,000 dollars each, to help their pitchers bring them about.
Check back on the Lab | Log later this week for a report from the TEDx event that took place simultaneously in Mumbai last weekend.
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Photo: Jake Davis