Culture TED Prize

8 ideas for the future of cities

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TEDCity2.0In 2012, the TED Prize was awarded to an idea: The City2.0, a place to celebrate actions taken by citizens around the world to make their cities more livable, beautiful and sustainable. This week, The City2.0 website evolves. On the relaunched, you’ll find great talks on topics like housing, education and food, and how they relate to life in the bustling metropolis. You’ll find video explorations of 10 award-winning local projects that received funding through this TED Prize wish, and resources for those hoping to spark change in their own cities. The site will also be the home of all future TEDCity2.0 projects. In other words, it’s an online haven for everyone who wants to create the city of the future.

Below, a sampling of the great ideas you’ll find on Enjoy, as most of these have never been seen on before.

1. Buildings can promote healing. Alan Ricks wields his architecture degree in an unusual way—he aims to build structures that heal. In this talk, he shares statistics on how many people around the world actually get sicker in hospitals, giving the example of a tuberculosis epidemic in rural South Africa which spread “in crowded, unventilated hallways.” Even in the United States, he says, the death rate from hospital-born infections is staggeringly high. Ricks tells the story of helping build the Butaro Hospital in Rwanda, a state-of-the-art hospital with beautiful, airy, open wards. Butaro has transformed the health of some of Rwanda’s poorest people — and it was built in collaboration with the community. “I learned that architecture wasn’t about simply a completed building,” he explains, “but about the process that created it.”

2. An app could invert street harassment. In this talk, feminist activist Emily May paints a picture of a world without street harassment. It’s a tricky thing to build a movement around, she says, because “you can sue the pants off corporations, but you can’t sue the pants off the sidewalk.” May co-founded Hollaback! in 2005 to reverse the power dynamics of street harassment. “We wanted to take the focus off of the woman and put it onto the harasser,” she says. While street harassment is a global epidemic, May refuses to accept it as a fact of life. So she leveraged her 2012 City2.0 award to build an app that allows users to geo-document street harassment and, in the process, crowdsource data with the power to influence policy. “The larger system we need to change here is called ‘culture’ and it’s big,” says May. “I want to live in a world where street harassment is so rare that when it does happen, people are shocked.”

3. Food can be a form of diplomacy. Leah Selim co-founded Global Kitchen, which promotes cultural exchange through food. Food is deeply tied to our culture and identity, she says, and what we cook is an expression of who we are. In this talk, Selim discusses how food, identity, place and politics intersect, and digs into the growing trend of “gastrodiplomacy,” the idea that by being introduced to a cuisine, we also gain awareness of the culture itself. When we travel, she says, “So much of actually experiencing the culture of a new place is trying the food. It’s definitely why Anthony Bourdain tried warthog anus in Namibia.” Bottom line? In an increasingly globalized world, sharing food is a powerful tool. And not just outside of a geographical area. She says, “It is through the communal act of sharing food that ideas can be exchanged freely — an essential first step in growing a community.”

4. A city’s quiet nooks can be a source of inspiration. In this quiet talk, Jason Sweeney offers an aural picture of the city, highlighting the “in-between spaces.” Sweeney admits that he prefers “to disappear into a metropolis and … go unnoticed” as he composes music in his head. So he seeks out quiet spots — those rare spaces where you can hear the sound of birds chirping or where a flowing fountain masks the sound of the crowd nearby. His idea: “a sonic health service for built environments.” In 2012, Sweeney used his City2.0 award for an online, participatory composition project called Stereopublic. His idea has now been activated in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Edinburgh, Sheffield, London, Los Angeles and New York.

5. Tiny houses could offer security and mobility. “The biggest ideas come in the smallest packages,” says Amy Henion, a “tiny house” advocate. Like many college students and recent grads, Henion isn’t sure what the next few years will hold. While fretting about how to pay the bills while still being flexible to new opportunities in other areas, she stumbled upon a solution: a tiny house. “Think of a house so small that it fits within the footprint of a parking space,” she says. In this talk, she shares the benefits of tiny living, and gives a short history of the tiny house movement in the United States. With our economy reeling and natural resources running out, she may just be onto something.

6. Playgrounds can include all kids. G Cody QJ Goldberg sees playgrounds as places of incredible potential. “Play is quite literally how we learn,” he says. Goldberg advocates for more play time, and makes the case that building better playgrounds could actually help improve lives. He and his wife live in Portland with their daughters Harper and Lennon. Because Harper has special needs, the couple launched “Harper’s Playground,” a passion project that has spurred a movement to create the city’s first inclusive playground. The idea: that it adapts to the needs of a wide range of children. “What the world needs more of is more people making more play,” he says.

7. Great design is universal. As a young man, Lance Hosey was inspired by Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead to become an architect. But now, he hates the image of the architect in the book. “Consider the core message: the creator serves nothing and no one,” he says. “He lives for himself.” Hosey wants that to change. He takes issue with the idea that good design isn’t definable because, again and again throughout nature and history, certain patterns and shapes recur — for example, the “golden rectangle” and fractals. Hosey invites architects to create spaces that speak this universal language, while also being sustainable.

8. A city is ultimately about its people. “The city is man-made now / Concrete / Asphalt fueled by caffeine, commerce, nicotine and childlike dreams of making it big.” These are the verses of urban wordsmith Felice Belle, who makes the city come alive with this Walt Whitman-inspired ode to New York. Belle reminds us that beyond the planning and the policy are everyday people — and it is in their stories that the city is born. “Stockbrokers, stickup kids, baristas, bartenders, actors moonlighting as cater-waiters, private investigators, substitute teachers, corporate lawyers, janitors … the unemployed, the unseen pricetags on individual life,” lists Belle as she explores the dark underside to city dwelling, than shows each of us to be its soul.