Ideas for Cities

Ideasforcities In establishing CARBON:imagineering, a little over three years ago, one of our goals was to reinvigorate the technology ecosphere in Leeds and more broadly, Northern England.

In the course of this journey, I've come to believe that cities, and our understanding of the concept of a city, are critical to this, and other wider projects. There's a subtext of anti-urbanism that lingers in British culture, yet cities as social and physical constructs carry within them the seeds of prosperity, happiness and almost counter-intuitively, the "green-ness" that most of us seek. Also, for Brits, we identify more closely with cities than city regions, counties or the home nations.

Being involved in helping Old Broadcasting House flourish at the heard of a vibrant technology scene; engaging in free-form discussions with Leeds' civic architect John Thorp and chief economic officer Paul Stephens; visualising the rebirth of Temple Works; observing the civic passions of people like Matt Edgar, Emma Bearman and others; all illustrate a palpable exhilaration at shaping the future of an old city, with deep problems.

Yesterday I was asked by the Renaissance Leeds team to comment on innovation strategies for the city; what is it, why it's important and how we β€˜do’ innovation. I immediately though of GOOD magazine's series of Ideas for Cities, a 'continuing brainstorm on the future of cities'. Some of the more compelling ideas, particularly relevant to the tech industry, included…

; working with a large tech company – say Google – to
establish a location for startups, meetups, popup classes, new projects
& lectures.

Design Hubs & Work Centers
Neighborhoods become local
β€œoffices” and create workplaces to support and encourage employees
to work in these hubs rather than driving or commuting.

Cities partner with property owners to outfit homes and workspaces with broadband, connectivity
and computers as well as meeting rooms and to help nurture entrepreneurial activity.

Talent Districts;
Converting neighborhoods into districts for
personal and civic development, encouraging residents to win residency, subject to meeting a developmental and goal.

Free-agent Portfolio; Citizens collect "lifetime learning points" for skills and qualifications with civic administrations providing a "talent agency" and infrastructure to employ those earned credentials and progress people along a career path. I can almost envisage points as an augmented reality game πŸ™‚

Always-on Service; a civic "call centre" staffed to answer any question of concern at
any time – like NYC's 311.

Zooming out further into the future, Matt Jones' The
City As A Battlesuit For Surviving The Future
underlines the
powerful notion that cities are perhaps the eternal solution for humanity.

I'm uncertain of the best courses of action to recommend – witness Leeds' calamitous Clarence Dock experiment – but I sense we're not even asking the the appropriate questions of ourselves as citizens, but offloading this responsibility onto civic leaders.


  1. Good post Imran. You are right about citizens expecting the leadership to just ‘get things right’. Yes please to a buoyant economy, reduced debt, cohesive communities and a sustainable low carbon future. The manifestos will promise all of these things and more. But they, the politicians, can not deliver. It is not about an elected few designing a better future. It is about all of us stepping up and doing our bit for ourselves and our neighbours.
    Greta communities urban or rural arise when people with personal, self interested dreams, learn to how to associate and collaborate for mutual gain. Clarity of self interest matters. As does power. From them springs association, mutuality and progress.
    Elected officials need to fathom how best they can ‘foster the bazaar’ instead of trying to design and build cathedrals to consumption like Clarence Dock. To stop trying to engage us in their cunning plans, but engaging themselves in our hopes and dreams.
    Less of a local authority please and more of a local facilitator!

  2. Thanks Mike, I’m generally optimistic about a culture of self-organisation taking root, though I’m not so sure that it leads to ‘cathedrals of self’
    I like the idea of a “Office of Good” or “Ministry of the Future” to help citizens imagine what their city or community could be πŸ™‚
    What say we just go ahead and create our own visions for government and community…why are we waiting for a heroic council to deliver it?

  3. Have you seen the sustainable architecture exhibition happening in The Light this week? They have local architecture students looking at just this type of stuff. I’m sure they’d love to get involved in more local & real world projects.


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