Social Innovation

Economic, social, and environmental sustainability in development theory and urban planning practice


Summary. In ten years, more than half the world’s population will be living in cities. The United Nations ŽUN. has stated that this will threaten cities with social conflict, environmental degradation and the collapse of basic services. The economic, social, and environmental planning practices of societies embodying ‘urban sustainability’ have been proposed as antidotes to these negative urban trends. ‘Urban sustainability’ is a doctrine with diverse origins. The author believes that the alternative models of cultural development in Curitiba, Brazil, Kerala, India, and Nayarit, Mexico embody the integration and interlinkage of economic, social, and environmental sustainability. Curitiba has become a more livable city by building an efficient intra-urban bus system, expanding urban green space, and meeting the basic needs of the urban poor. Kerala has attained social harmony by emphasizing equitable resource distribution rather than consumption, by restraining reproduction, and by attacking divisions of race, caste, religion, and gender. Nayarit has sought to balance development with the environment by framing a nature-friendly development plan that protects natural systems from urban development and that involves the public in the development process. A detailed examination of these alternative cultural development models reveals a myriad of possible means by which economic, social, and environmental sustainability might be advanced in practice. The author concludes that while these examples from the developing world cannot be directly translated to cities in the developed world, they do indicate in a general sense the imaginative policies that any society must foster if it is to achieve ‘urban sustainability’. 

Cont. reading...

Role of social infrastructure in local and regional economic development


RDSA Regional Infrastructure Summit 

What is social infrastructure?

“Social infrastructure is the interdependent mix of facilities, places, spaces, programs, projects, services and networks that maintain and improve the standard of living and quality of life in a community.” 

The glue that holds community together. Can be broadly categorised as: 

• health
• individual, family and community support • education;
• arts and culture;
• information;
• sport and recreation;
• housing;
• community development;
• employment and training;
• legal and public safety;
• emergency services; and
• public and community transport. 

Cont. reading...

Artists and Spatial Practice

As architects have expanded their practice beyond the built object and artists have moved out of the gallery, so the already blurred boundaries between the two disciplines, have become still more entwined within the realm of critical spatial practice. To engage with the terms of spatial agency, artistic practice must show some form of transformative potential. Although there are a large number of artists working with spatial relations, those included here influence the actual production of space or change spatial relations in some way.

Michael Rakowitz is a case in point, trained as an architect, his work straddles the divide between art and architecture. Based in New York, his most memorable project is paraSITE (1998), at once a critique and a making visible of the prevalent attitudes towards homelessness, whilst at the same time improving the material living conditions of those living on the streets. Rakowitz designed a series of inflatable shelters that plug into the vent outlets of buildings, creating a warm and dry space for their inhabitants. Custom designed for each individual their oddness in the street scape gives visibility to the homeless. In an interview, Rakowitz relates that the initial shelter was made from black plastic in the hope of providing privacy and darkness to sleep in, but upon consulting his clients, he realised that what was most important to them was to be able to see out in case of attack and a desire to be seen and acknowledged. The shelters not only comment on the situation of the homeless, but also the large amounts of energy wasted in buildings.

Marjetica Potrč's work also blurs the boundaries between art, architecture and urbanism working in diverse locations, from the informal settlements of Caracas, to the trailer parks of Florida, or in the West Bank. Trained as both an architect and an artist Potrč's work is situated in these locations but is also displayed in galleries. Moving away from the problem solving approach of architecture Potrč tries to learn from each context through observation, developing an understanding of the micro-processes involved in order to inform the eventual interventions. For example in the La Vega barrio of Caracas, Potrč worked with architect, Liyat Esakov, as part of the Caracas Case project to design a dry toilet that responded to the lack of water. Designed in consultation with residents, rather than providing a one-off solution, the toilet can be easily replicated. In another project based in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, a small solar powered desalination device was installed in a school, in a context where solar energy is abundant but its use is virtually non-existent. As in the work of Rakowitz, Potrč's projects simultaneously reveal uneven living conditions whilst also working to alleviate them.

The artist, Thomas Hirschhorn's sculptural installations are participatory and collaborative in nature and fit within an artistic tradition including the Anarchitecture Group and Robert Smithson. Taking sculpture in its broadest sense as the manipulation of spatial conditions, Hirschhorn critiques architectural production through approximating and mimicking architectural structures. The project Bataille Monument (2002), named after the Surrealist writer, was located in a mainly Turkish neighbourhood of Kassel, Germany, as part of the Documenta art festival. The intervention included a television station, snack bar, an installation about Bataille and a library themed around his work. Inviting residents to participate in the installation through adding to it, the work raises questions about art and architectural practice and their relation to the production of public space.

The expanded field of spatial production is also the location of Ursula Biemann's work, an artist who works between geography and art in the video format. Her work engages critically with a range of disciplines and fields of knowledge, including feminist and post-colonial theory, ethnography, cultural and media studies and urbanism. Projects such as Sahara Chronicle (2006-2009) and Remote Sensing (2001) document spatial agency in unfamiliar contexts, whether it is the sub-Saharan migrations across Africa towards Europe or the territories of the global sex trade. Biemann spatialises the territorial and human relations in these situations, which are intricately linked to and influenced by the social and economic consequences of globalisation.

Other artists also work in fruitful collaborations with architects, such as the group of women artists and architects, Taking Place. Their work looks to define what a specifically feminist spatial practice could be. They have organised a number of events, from small gatherings to larger events hosted at institutions, involving students and members of the public. The events are a forum in which to discuss ideas and projects, as well as a chance for temporary transformations of space, for example lectures and talks occur in stairwells whereas lecture theatres become places to cook and impromptu performances are organised. Whether coming from an artistic or architectural point of view, taking place's practice is about conceptualising space as fluid, social and political, and as their name suggests, they start from the premise that 'places can simply be taken'.

Other collaborations between artists and architects include formal practices, such as muf and Public works, or informal networks that come together around specific projects, such as those initiated by Atelier d'Architecture AutogéréeCrimson,ExyztRaumlabor and others. Architects, such as Teddy Cruz and collectives such as Stalker / Osservatorio Nomade often work in collaboration with artists, whilst certain artists and artistic movements have had a large and direct impact on the practice of architecture, for example the Situationists, who have defined new directions for architecture that emphasise the everyday and the relationships between politics and cultural practice.

Key Projects

Other Work

'Michael Rakowitz', [accessed 6 July 2010].

Michael Rakowitz and Nick Stillman, 'Conversations …', New York Foundation for the Arts [accessed 7 September 2009].

'Marjetica Potrc', [accessed 6 July 2010].

Marjetica Potrc, Urgent Architecture, Pap/DVD (LA: Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art, 2004).

Marjetica Potrc and Aisling O'Beirn, 'Tracking the Urban Animal', Circa, (2001): 26-29.

Craig Garrett and Thomas Hirschhorn, 'Thomas Hirschhorn: Philosophical Battery (interview)', Flash Art, (2004) [accessed 5 July 2010].

'Geobodies - Ursula Biemann's Art and Geography Site',[accessed 5 July 2010].

Ursula Biemann, 'Remotely Sensed: A Topography of the Global Sex Trade', Feminist Review, 2005, 180-193.

Jan-Erik Lundstrom et al., Ursula Biemann: Mission Reports - Artistic Practice in the Field - Video Works 1998-2008 (Bristol: Arnolfini Gallery Ltd, 2008).

References About

Benjamin Buchloh, 'Cargo and cult: The displays of Thomas Hirschhorn', ArtForum, 2001,;col1 [accessed 4 July 2010].

Angela Dimitrakaki, 'Materialist Feminism for the Twenty-First Century: The Video Essays of Ursula Biemann', Oxford Art Journal, 30 (2007), 207-232.

Mark Rappolt, 'Studio: Thomas Hirschhorn', Tate Magazine Issue 7 [accessed 4 July 2010].

Marco Scotini, 'Dry Toilet', Domus, 891 (2006), 88-91.

N. Thompson, The Interventionists: Users' Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004).


Artistic Thinking. Key to Social & Business Innovation: By Neil Ramsay

Can Miami rise with the sea level and out the swamp of business as usual? 

I was reminded by the March release of McKinsey & Company’s report, “The Real Business of Business” that corporate managers are responsible for focusing on creating wealth for shareholders, but social concerns, at times, don’t align with the corporate responsibility of maximizing wealth — especially when short-term profiting is at play. This explains the deliberate ignorance surrounding social issues, climate change, for example.

Social innovation is a 21st-century solution for creating social value, and Miami is ripe with resources for making an impact of national significance. We can think and do “innovation.”

Miami has an underutilized economic-asset base in its artists. When underutilized assets are efficiently put to use, their value increases to the point where they are optimal. This is the same fundamental goal we see in our real-estate investments. 

The premise is to set the environment, invite cross-sectors to the conversation, start dialogue and collaborate on holistic investments for our future. To facilitate this, I’ve proposed an Art Think Institute. 

The Hialeah Contemporary Culture Project — HICCUP — founded by Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, a cultural anthropologist, and artist Ernesto Oroza, is an example. They created an initiative called Hialeah Souvenirs. As Hernandez-Reguant says: “Initially, souvenirs were unique to a place. Now, in the last two decades, they are all made in China, and now anywhere you go in the country it’s all the same.” When you see a T-shirt or a product that says, for instance, “I (heart) 305,” in reality, consumers “heart” Chinese mass production. Hialeah Souvenirs seeks to push back by localizing production, hiring locals and producing in Hialeah. This project, funded by the Knight Foundation, was a result of Oroza and and artist Gean Moreno researching souvenirs and modes of contemporary production. 

Stanford University says that social innovation directs us to ideas and solutions that create social value, focusing on the processes through which they are generated, not only the individuals and organizations. This process integrates private capital with public and philanthropic support. 

Miami is emerging as an art-centric city. Contemporary this and contemporary that are artfully weaving into the 305’s vernacular with the same ubiquitousness of, let’s say, cafecito. Miami’s Knight Foundation fits the rich-uncle persona. By recently extending funding of its Knight Arts Challenge through 2018, it validated the creative trajectory and what I see as art-based innovation cultivation. Learning and measuring the impact can help better convert financial subsidies into regional growth and sustainable outcomes.

With Miami’s cultural sector well under way, there are efforts in developing a technology hub (eMerge, UM Launch Pad, Venture Hive, Lab Miami, Endeavor, MDC Idea Center, Rokk3r). 

Trying to clone Silicon Valley is a stretch, especially with our relatively dismal venture-capital component. Miami was ranked 80th in 2014 by National Venture Capital Association for dollars invested in a metro area, beaten by its neighbors Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, and West Palm Beach, ranked 11th, 40th and 55th respectively. 

Innovation is required for our own tech-ecosystem breakthrough, namely, birthing a market-winning technology. Collateral benefits — artist-led urban turnaround — of Miami’s burgeoning, and sometimes dubious, developments in real estate add to the creative-capital mix. With less dubiousness and more benefit, by utilizing more enlightened practice, Miami is poised to respond and engage the national outcry for innovation — particularly social innovation. 

In developmental economics, investing in education yields one of the highest dividends a nation can reap for its people. Education is a function of social engagement. Formal education is a business, and many institutions are subject to the constraints of big-business complexity. A culture of bureaucracy and “it’s expensive to be responsive,” means change is left to smaller, sleeker, entrepreneurial types to address the gaps until “Big” can catch-up. 

Creativity, experimentation, chance, radical thought, play, failure, tinkering and social causes don’t often thrive or survive in Main Street businesses. But we find those attributes for innovation in our artist community.

An FIU paper published in 2013, Digital Literacy: A Demand for Nonlinear Thinking Styles, highlights the merits of nonlinear thinking for visual literacy and artistic intuitive practices in education and workplaces. Employing artists’ lenses to more aspects of our economy goes beyond employing their training to adorn our community’s walls and streetscape. Individual labor is moving toward a project-based, digitally networked, parceled, multi-organization approach. Artists are seasoned practitioners, by necessity, in an environment that is usually limited to the mainstream way of doing business. Their creative way of seeing and doing things has increasing value to our evolving economy.

Nonlinear — artistic — methodologies have a role at decision tables. As an experiment in the alternative, if not simply to stimulate, we ought to encourage convergence of right-brain/left-brain thinking to achieve more whole-brained thinking to address commercial and social problems. 

Read more here:


Nathalie Kylander in Stanford Social Innovation Review: Catalytic Collaboration

CATALYTIC COLLABORATION: Path-breaking organizations, working together in a new way, might just transform the nonprofit sector.

The problems that nonprofits seek to address seem to be getting more entrenched and complicated by the day. NASA named August 2016 the warmest August in 136 years of modern recordkeeping. The US Census Bureau recently released data that confirms the persistence of gross economic inequality (despite nominal middle class gains). And in the midst of the US presidential election cycle, numerous polls show that Americans have shockingly low levels of trust in public institutions such as the media and Congress. It will take collaborative efforts to solve these issues—but even collaborations designed to achieve collective impact have limitations.

There is some good news, though. Think of how the iPhone and Wikipedia took existing technologies and created something transformative. In a similar way, an emerging approach to social change may be able to help nonprofits work together to create something far greater than the sum of their parts. e call this approach “catalytic collaboration,” and we “discovered” it through talking to the leaders of a diverse set of 30 nonprofits about the ways they work and the potential they see for seeding unprecedented, sweeping change. All of the organizations we studied are committed to collaboration, but only a handful, we realized are emerging as truly catalytic collaborators. These organizations are exemplary in displaying four essential behaviors:

  1. Prioritizing learning: Catalytic collaborators are intently interested in creating knowledge for the betterment of their entire field. They focus on not just learning for evaluation, but field-relevant learning, about both broad trends that influence the social problem at hand and failed past attempts to tackle it. This focus forms the basis for innovation, transformation, and sustainable impact.
  2. Systems thinking and acting: Catalytic collaborators are intentional in their efforts to understand and address the full chain of factors that contribute to their issue at a systems level, including the ecosystem of relevant players.
  3. Democratizing access to assets: Catalytic collaborators focus on equitable access to assets rather than on individual ownership. To ensure this access, they create or leverage open source technology and platforms.
  4. Building long-term, diverse, transformational relationships: Catalytic collaborators inclusively and deliberately bring together unusual suspects. They seek to build mutual trust, respect, and complementary activities over time, and foster transformational relationships across a wide range of stakeholders. 

Other writers in SSIR have highlighted some aspects of this approach in isolation, such as the importance of humble network leaders who cultivate trust-based relationships, the value of a systems mindset, and the role of information sharing and learning (specifically for evaluation’s sake) in collective impact. However, we believe that in order to be truly transformative, an organization must work to ensure that all four traits are present, and working in a way that amplifies the impact of each one.

Who Are the Catalytic Collaborators?

What follows are very brief profiles of four emerging catalytic collaborators. Each embodies a combination of the four behaviors outlined above, even if a single trait is clearly dominant. Indeed, we have found that many catalytic collaborators display one or two of the four behaviors more strongly, while others’ strengths lie more in another of the four. We expect that over time, these organizations will strengthen their performance across all four dimensions.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the example organizations that follow are also among the first to leverage the potential of current socio-economic shifts toward democratization, including: 1) the rise of the sharing economy (which promotes access over assets); 2) increased recognition of the importance of networks (and decreased relevance of organizational boundaries and the organization as a distinct entity); 3) growing interest in systems thinking and systems leadership; and 4) the decentralization and digitization of knowledge and information.