Crowdsourcing the New City

Just two days into the new Festival of Ideas for the New City this past weekend (May 4-8, 2011), an ambitious multi-venue collaborative festival coordinated by the New Museum on the Bowery and designed to stimulate innovative urban ideas, the Guggenheim Museum invited cultural reporters uptown to hear about the BMW Guggenheim Lab, the institution's own contribution to crowdsourcing the new city. As the downtown New Museum festival got underway, with panel discussions and keynotes by architect Rem Koolhaas and virtual reality thinker Jaron Lanier, the BMW Guggenheim Lab introduced their idea for a new mobile laboratory, one conceptualized to investigate the urban experience by soliciting innovative ideas from the public.

Festival of Ideas for the New City
Festival of Ideas for the New City, Street Fair, May 7, 2011. The Bowery.
The old city and the new city

For the first two-year cycle of the Guggenheim Lab, a mobile truck will set up shop from August 3 to October 16, 2011 at 33 East 1st Street between First and Second Avenues. The future location just happens to be across the street from where the Festival of New Ideas set up its Street Fair on Saturday, a place which we can now infer must be the optimal latitude and longitude for soliciting ideas about the urban experience (near Whole Foods on the Bowery, don't you know). The location of the New Museum's Festival and the choice of placement for the future Guggenheim Lab seemed not just coincidental but rather perplexing. It gets even more confusing, especially as the Festival and LAB were not working in tandem, at least consciously. For example, at the preview announcement at the Guggenheim Lab, I met a former mayor of Bogotá, Columbia, Enrique Peñalosa, known for his innovative leadership, but he was not to be confused - to my embarrassment - with his successor, Antanas Mockus, who delivered the keynote at the Festival of Ideas on Friday night. Tell me how that is not weird.

Given these efforts and others like them, the idea of crowdsourcing the new city, whereby organizers invite people to offer their ideas and then disperse - perhaps an urban planner's equivalent of the flash mob, seems part of the zeitgeist. Many of the specific elements of the "new city," also of the spirit of the age, were on display at the street fair for the Festival of New Ideas - the artisanal and green movements, the youthful energy of street performance, the DIY culture, the bicycle culture, and the collaborative pursuits of artists and collectives.

Festival of Ideas for the New City
In the new city. Festival of Ideas for the New City

The new city, as represented at the street fair, is the slow city, laid-back and colorful, with much time to smell the flowers. The only thing wrong with the new city is that some people miss the old city - the fast caffeinated glamorous city of a black-and-white photograph, with the smell of late night diners, cigar smoke, and exhaust. The new city comes casual in daylight. The old city dresses up and goes out into the evening.

Some of us find ourselves walking between the two cities, the middle-aged in mind or body, folks who once stayed out in the city at all hours but can't do that anymore. Like the city itself, we want to age gracefully. We like both our terrace gardens and our martinis served in classic bars. We like a nice walk and then a bench to sit on. We live for the city in twilight.

Crowdsource us.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from May 7, 2011.
More on the BMW Guggenheim Lab may be found here at this page on Guggenheim's website.

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