Crisis: the opportunity for sustainable innovation.

[by Julia Cervantes Corazzina]

Europe is going through one of the worst moments of its economical history: high levels of unemployment, political conflicts, and a huge sensation of uncertainty.

However, this uncertain situation is an opportunity for new initiatives to launch – most of them very critic of the current system. This is the moment that they were waiting for to propose new economical, social, and technological models. Hence, the crisis is, in a way, the perfect opportunity for innovating.

Let us start with projects which point out problems of the current political and economical situation of the Spanish system. Among those, we should mention some documentaries and short features that, focusing on social problems, explain the factors that led us into the current crisis. “Simiocracia” by Alex Sarrió and “€spanish Dr€am” by Santiago Cirugeda and Gillermo Cruz explain -in a very clear and direct style- how the housing boom in Spain happen until 2007 and the policies that made the housing bubble succeed. In addition to that both movies allow us to be critic and re-think new ways to transform our society. The documentary “Debtogracy” by Aris Hatzistefanou and Katerina Kitidi focuses on the crisis situation of Greece, its causes and the reasons why certain alternatives and more efficient solutions to solve this crisis are not being considered by some international institutions.

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(Image: Cover of the book “Modern ruins -a profitable topography” by Julia Schultz)

Another project, in line with the former ones, is “Modern ruins -a profitable topography” by Julia Schultz. By means of a collection of images, the photographer shows the empty spaces caused by the collapse of the building industry. The work consists of a collection of photographs and data describing the post euphoria conflicts. That gives us a chance to consider them as places where new initiatives can be housed and how to repurpose these places in a more social and sustainable way: urban farming, collective used spaces, etc. “El campo de cebada” (an initiative by social groups of Distrito Centro in Madrid) and the case that the documentary “Retired City” describes, Self-constructed Allotment Gardens built by retirees at the periphery of Barcelona, are two examples of re-inhabiting the city in order to improve the democratic sense of public spaces.

Besides the criticism of some of these projects, it is worth mentioning other projects that focus on the criticism against technological improvements. In fact, some of the greatest technological revolutions were born in very difficult circumstances. An example of that could be the “bike revolution” that took place in the Netherlands in the 70’s . The documentary “The History of the Dutch Bikepathsystem” discusses the three main causes that led up to a deep awareness of the Dutch people about a more sustainable and safer public transit system. The efficiently designed bicycle-friendly infrastructure that can be found throughout Holland originated in the oil crisis in the 70’s, the subsequent rise of the fuel prices, and the high rate of traffic accidents due to the high motorization of the country. This consciousness and the introductions of well developed bicycle lanes transformed deeply this country and put its cities among the safest ones in the world.

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(Photography Source: Muralarts.org)

Other projects exemplify how city conflicts can be solved throughout aesthetic urban interventions. Amongst others, two projects stand out: “Muralarts”, promoted by Jane Golden together with the city council of Philadelphia, USA, and “Colores en Tirana”, promoted by the government of Albania. In both examples, a low impact intervention -based on painting façades in bright colors- is the way of revitalizing an urban area with social, economical, or building issues.

In the first case, the Philadelphia city council toghether a network of graffiti artists launched a program in which empty vertical spaces of the city were used as canvases to paint murals representing social customs, traditions, and several Philadelphia historic scenes. “Colores en Tirana” was, however, a strategy aimed to improve the health and social conditions of Tirana. Due to the Kosovo refugee crisis of 1999, 50 years of Stalinism, and a following decade of anarchic capitalism, the population of Tirana quadrupled without improving its sewage or refused collection systems. The Tirana city council worked on a number of urban interventions to show, as it is said on the website of the project, that “the change of the city was possible and to encourage citizens to take part in that change”.

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(Source of the image: RTVE)

Without doubt, Crowdfunding is a policy that is worths mentioning. Especially in Spain, the number of projects that have been collectively funded has raised in recent years. As this interactive infographics by RTVE shows, according to Verkami statistics, 554 Spanish cultural projects have been succesfully crowdfounded. Amongst the more successful ones are: literature, arts, cinema, and children educational projects.

Other collaborative economic models have recently appeared and the websites that spread these principles proliferate. The Spanish website “Consumo Colaborativo” and the international project “Ouishare” are two of the websites that more exhaustively study and promote these models. Coworking spaces, couchsurfing, or carpooling are projects that these platforms promote and that embody the conscious belief in new economical and productive politicy to empower citizens, public institutions, and companies to build a society based on collaboration, openness and sharing, as the introduction to the Ouishare website states. Collaborative enterprises, therefore, is n option to save resources, to use them more efficiently and also to promote collaborative knowledge and innovation. As Antonin Léonard said: My intuition was that a new culture was emerging, a culture of openness, transparency, and empathy (…).