Ideating seeds for urban transformation

I’ve just started as an “Honorary Fellow” through Victoria University’s Centre for Cultural Diversity and Wellbeing on a new project to run through 2016, possibly longer, titled (for the moment) “Ideating seeds for urban transformation”. I would like to express my deep appreciation to Centre Director Michelle Grossman for taking me on, and Professor Siew Fang Law for facilitating the role.

I am looking for research partners, collaborators, allies and supporters to bring the research to life, in the Western Suburbs of Melbourne, Australia-wide and World-wide. Please contact me if you are interested. In addition, this is an open access / commons based research project in which anyone can use and reuse text, proposals (even this one) and ideas from the project for their own purposes, so long as they give author attribution.

The focus of the research will be participatory research on cross cultural collaboration, open design and breakthrough innovation for urban transformation, sustainability and resilience. The research asks “How can diverse (cosmopolitan) communities co-imagine the urban Western regions of Melbourne for breakthrough design, innovation and resilience. The research perspectives sees migrants and culturally diverse communities holding potentially unique  “gifts”, knowledge and ability, that can be mobilised for collaborative urban transformation. A particular emphasis is put on the notion of “Cosmo-localization”, how cosmopolitan communities bring together culturally diverse knowledge, knowledge frames / perspectives and abilities as resources for localised productive collaboration. The city is seen as a strategic local of change, which must re-invent itself in the face of great 21st century challenges (both social, environmental and other). The research intends to experiment with the creation of economic solidarities between culturally diverse communities  (currently referred to for lack of a better word as “socio-economic solidarity”).  The research will use a combination of participatory research approaches together with participatory online technologies (including online mapping, potential use of augmented reality applications, social media, sharing economy / credit systems etc.), in the broader context of action research informed strategic foresight.

Cities as strategic locales of transformation

Cities are both at the crux of our great sustainability challenges in the 21st century and at the heart of their resolution. Cities are increasingly cosmopolitan, incorporating a milieu of cultures that are physically proximate but linguistically and culturally diverse. Cities may also express a stratified spectrum in self-efficacy and empowerment (some groups are politically, economically and culturally more enfranchised than others). Cities are increasingly the locale of industrial and scientific cross-fertilization and innovation, generating economic gains – or they can also be wastelands (e.g. Detroit before its recent renaissance)  … the products of fast and disruptive shifts via industries, climate or conflicts. Cities are indeed the locale of high carbon intensity, as well as where the biggest gains can be achieved in carbon reduction.

In the context of these many challenges, inquiry and research into fundamentally re-imagining the city and ideating urban resilience breakthroughs is deeply needed. Will our cities be dysfunctional wastelands of lost industries and cultural ghettos, or will they be engines of creativity, dynamic diversity and resilience? The answer lies in our capacity to ideate new pathways, and the seeds of breakthrough designs and innovations we plant today.

Cultural diversity and socio-economic solidarity 

Cultural diversity is an inherent good in many situations, increasing a region’s pool of knowledge and experience, and providing variety for residents. And yet where there are rapid influxes of migrants, such as in Footscray and the western regions of Melbourne, migrants can suffer the effects of displacement – unable to engage creatively within their new locale. When faced with prolonged experiences of exclusion, because of linguistic, cultural or educational barriers, such communities can experience serious pathologies that spill over into the wider community.

It is therefore important to link economic solidarity with cultural diversity. It is not enough to value cultural diversity, even though it is an inherent good. Urban areas faced with forced or accelerated cosmopolitan characteristics need new strategies for socio-economic solidarity. This can happen by linking (relatively more) enfranchised communities (such as Australians of European descent) with newcomers which are relatively disenfranchised (such as some African and Burmese communities.

In a pilot project in the western region of Melbourne called Burmese Enterprise Association for Urban Trading (BEAUT), my wife De Chantal and I attempted to do this by forging a solidarity system between the Burmese community in Braybrook and Sunshine, the Footscray Maker Co-operative (which acted as the fabrication space), and an e-commerce network selling to those more enfranchised residents (e.g. home owners) in the local community.

Such projects aim to transform accelerated cultural diversity from a source of potential conflict or exclusion / alienation into a source of co-creative economic development, solidarity across cultures and urban sustainability.


A critical potential space of exploration is what can be referred to as ‘Cosmo-localization’. Cosmo-localization describes a new global-local dynamic in the generation of value. New technologies and the imperative to create resilient communities is driving initiatives for ‘re-localization’. Yet, this re-localization is being enabled by the emerging architecture and resources in the global knowledge commons. For example, the design for electric cars, from Tesla and earlier the Rocky Mountain Institute, are now open and commons based. The question is whether local communities can leverage the potential of this global knowledge commons toward smart re-localization. There are thousands of examples where this is happening, from food, to 3d printing, medicines, etc.

Cosmo-localization adds another crucial element to the matrix of cross cultural empowerment, global knowledge as a local resource. Yet such knowledge navigation is not a simple issue, requiring leadership, communities of learners and teachers, the mediation and translation of knowledge resources. Migrants should be seen as much more than receivers of global knowledge. They too compose key elements of the cosmopolitan city, with unique trans-local knowledge and abilities. As bi-cultural citizens they may have access to knowledge resources others may not have.  Knowledge commons are therefore mediated differently depending on the cultural requisites, making migrants both teachers and learners. Enacting knowledge toward localized production, enterprise and commerce may then stem from this local to global knowledge mediation process, where migrants are both teachers and learners of new production practices.



With a background in action research and learning, as well as a commitment to building public knowledge commons, the project will use several methodologies I am familiar with or which I have developed.

·      On-line mapping and visualization / visioning

·      Participatory design and problem solving

·      Foresight methods

·      Audio visual documentation

Research will be conducted in an open and collaborative fashion, with maximum transparency and inclusiveness. Research results would be provided on a regular basis to the community of the research, and the research would be open and adaptable, so to partner with diverse collaborators who can provide synergies.

Where and with whom would the research be conducted?

The research will be conducted in the Maribyrnong region and outlying areas, with research partners that merge, local CALD communities, with VU, Maribyrnong council, and the local “maker” community (potentially) working with my ties with the Footscray Maker Co-operative. I also will be working with my research partners through the P2P Foundation, Vasilis Kostakis, Michel Bauwens and others who are doing similar research.

If you are interested in this research and want to become a research partner, please let me know!

One response to “Ideating seeds for urban transformation

  1. Pingback: Vision Mapping Using Causal Layered Analysis | FuturesLab·

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