Experiments hold the key to urban sustainability of our cities, say researchers in a new book called Urban Living Labs: Experimenting with City Futures. Experimenters are hip, ambitious and often out to have some fun. But what’s also important is that they might just learn how to change the world.
The past decade has been an especially productive period for experimentation. Since 2005 the cause of climate change alone has inspired 627 urban experiments globally. Experiments can also provide an important contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals agenda, which is a topic to be explored at the upcoming Open Living Lab Days 2018 in Geneva, held by the European Network of Living Labs.
Among the most famous experiments is the Low Car Diet, which involved 300 car users who gave up their vehicles for a month. Subsequently the project was replicated by a whole community in South Korea: the trial made cycling and public transport much more popular locally. It also showed that a different social reality is possible when it comes to transportation.
Meanwhile, experiments like the No Impact Project in US and Zero Waste Challenge in France allowed local families to produce less waste and still live well, if not better. Likewise, a recent basic income trial in a number of countries might help deal with rising unemployment. Organizers also hope to better understand how unemployment arises so as to be better able to prevent it in future. Then there is the Happy Street Living Lab from Vancouver, Canada, which explores how nature-based and inventive interventions in urban environments can improve local people’s general wellbeing.
Researchers emphasize that all such experiments must allow for exploration and public participation because that way they tend to yield much better results than via strictly top-down interventions. The trick is now to scale up these sustainability experiments and duplicate them elsewhere. And while not all the experiments will lead to lasting social or environmental changes, they can always provide useful insights for future policy initiatives as well as inspiration for a more sustainable world.