Transforming #urban crucible of #creativity: Can #grassroots #innovations trigger humility, #harmony and healthy reciprocity?


Transforming urban crucible of creativity:

Can grassroots innovations trigger humility, harmony and healthy reciprocity?

The Cities worldwide attract different kinds of aspirational people around the world. Some who are opportunistic, have resources, try to explore ways of fulfilling their aspirations through market and non-market means using their social and cultural capital. There are also those who come to cities to escape drudgery, limited employment, and poor subsistence condition in native rural areas. An inclusive city nurtures aspirations of all, including artists, craftsmen and women, poets and plumbers etc.

Mayor, Seoul city,  had tried in different ways to nurture commons philosophy for  innovative governance of cities. Four kinds of commons hold the key to urban renewal and vibrance: cultural, technological, aesthetic and knowledge commons. Each of this was given a very empathetic interpretation. Old city is often seen a touristic site to understand the cultural heritage of the city. He triggered a system of governance where the residents of the old city using latest technologies could determine how many tourists will visit at a time without disturbing the resident apart from SMART technology experiments for waste bins and parking lot locations. Use of common spaces and facilities does require in the current times use of technology that makes the convergence of collective choice not only feasible but also desirable.

Technological commons are conceived in many ways: how do we create tech platforms which aggregate collective choices for social action and innovation. The experiments near abandoned oil tanks uncovering community creativity in art, culture, crafts and other domains were facilitated by tech common networking.

Aesthetic commons is a sensitive issue calling for samvedana in the way beauty is perceived together. For many people, settlement of poor and lower middle-class people are a subject for a casual entertainment visit. But for Mayor park, it was a deep empathetic connect. His aesthetic sense saw the pain in houses without air conditioning in summer and thus he stayed in one such house himself to undergo voluntary suffering. This a true Gandhian spirit of practicing what one preaches. Beauty in such situation is visible to a community when pain is ameliorated. Shared sense of such a meaning of beauty is less well known in practice and literature.

Knowledge Commons deal with common databases, knowledge sharing openly not just by adults but also creative children and allowing NGOs and community reps to discuss with the expert panel and others involved in social innovations. Let me describe how could city mayors around the world could experiment with different kinds of commons and increase social well-being and happiness.

When we look at the portfolio of private, common and public goods created by us all, we figure out the roots of urban alienation, and in some cases even anger lie in creation of lesser public and common goods, shared services and networked space where creativity blossoms through non-reciprocal exchange of ideas. The consumption of creative expressions creates in such shared spaces creates a market for mindfulness and not just materials, and where strangers sustain odd ideas in technological, architectural, cultural and literary spaces.

Why is alienation such a dominant consequence of individualistic pursuit of wealth and prosperity. What do aged people become burden rather a source of much sought after mentors and guides for children? What is the source of the architectural silence when habitats are not designed to keep parents (and even pets) together with children?

 kong-an (Korean; Japanese: koan): a paradoxical or irrational statement used by Zen teachers to cut through students’ thinking and bring them to realization, signifies the irony of the urban growth without inclusion.

 Let me make a few suggestions which can pave the path of inclusive progress:

Landscapes of love, if dotted with sacred spaces where people can pause without a reason, just like that and absorb grace of devotees feeding birds and squirrels and the ants.  Inclusion of not just other humans but also non-human sentient beings truly makes space for inclusive and compassionate urban development. If we are not kind to other life forms, will we be kind to unborn and unseen; and even to the disadvantaged members of our society? urban spaces should be created where an artist can leave her canvas, a sculpture can leave a sculpture, a installation artists can dislay his installation on some social theme. In other words, self–organizing space where art, culture, literature happens, people come and read their poetry, tell stories, paint and even organize workshops for children, play with pets which they may not be able to keep in their house (there could be a pet hostel, where people can keep their pets, keeping them in houses may not be always be possible because of long hours of travelling jobs). Birds, squirrels and ants can also be fed in such places.

Unmet social needs of elderly, workers, children and communities in disadvantaged regions besides birds and beetles are seldom articulated in planning and policy documents for cities. Some of them don’t even vote in the decision making processes. How do we map their unmet needs then is a challenge we have to address. Here the youth can play an important role in making connections among missing building blocks of a caring and sharing society.

The Honey Bee Network has mapped creativity of scattered communities all over the country and in many parts of the world. Cross pollination of ideas, overcoming anonymity of creative people and sharing of benefits were the key principles. It ventured in scouting and documenting, validation and value addition in both contemporary ideas but also outstanding traditional knowledge (e.g. medical science is slowly recognizing that traditional squatting position is better for mothers to deliver a child rather than horizontal positions for which hospital delivery beds are designed world over),  IP protection, business development and diffusion through commercial and non-commercial channels. Aesthetic commons were blended with technology and knowledge commons.

Shodhyatras: learning walks  in almost every state of India have revealed a very deep, empathetic pedagogical approach to learn about creativity atgrassroots and also the unmet social needs. May be we can have similar shodhyatras on shop floor in large corporations, urban slums and low income areas  and talk to workers, supervisors and discover creative and innovative ideas not only for the corporates  concerned but also for the larger society.

Children creativity Workshops: when children from mixed background, well-endowed and disadvantaged together do research on social problems, they can come out with strikingly original ideas which adults, conditioned in a uniform way of thinking often miss. Such workshops in schools and community spaces can be a powerful way of triggering social innovation and also groom future compassionate leaders of not just Korea but all over the world.

Frugal innovations world over require understanding nuances of frugal design, development and deployment. is a global platform which has pooled abstracts or titles of over 200,000 projects pursued by 550,000 engineering/technology students in India from over 500 institutions. Originality is bound to be articulated through such platforms. Can Korea also decide to upload similar information from all colleges in Korea so that Indian, Korean and global students co-create frugal, socially useful IP based as well as open source solution for small and medium industries world over. Big corporations can throw challenges of futuristic technologies and discover young geniuses in the process.

Traditional Knowledge: there are elderly community members all over the world who are not going to stay with us too long. But they have time tested sustainable practices/knowledge which may provide solution to many global and local problems of the future. Why not a campaign with Honey Bee Network to document their knowledge and wisdom urgently through school and college children.  We should pay particular attention to the knowledge of centenarians.

Public policy for inclusive frugal and grassroots innovations may also be molded by Gandhian values of compassion, collaboration and co-creation. Special policies and institutional arrangements must be created by city council to pursue the following knowledge, spatial, skill, and sectoral commons:

a)       Awards and prizes can be announced for sharing knowledge, innovations, practices in open source which enrich community life, help poor people get access to various services and products and encourage social innovations and enterprises. The database of such ideas will encourage formal and informal institutions to create many more open source knowledge commons. This may also target migrants’ communities to share their knowledge and ideas for common good.

b)      Challenge awards for solving unmet social urban needs: how to cool a top floor room in summer without using air conditioner, for instance; how to segregate, recycle, repurpose and rejuvenate the waste so that sanitation and livelihoods are connected in a circular economy space.

c)        we may provide free, open and engaging spaces for such displays and if possible stable installations, how will dialogue about dissent, diversity and democracy take place?

d)      Community food kitchen Lab: elders can come and share with younger generation about traditional and organic food and keep families happy and healthy. City councils can encourage Sattvik kind festivals ( to connect urban communities with rural organic and traditional food communities.

e)      knowledge commons: open source content, reading and study rooms for children from families which can’t provide a peaceful place for children to study. Public libraries with software, apps collections, mobile phones, tablets on hire, besides books are needed at an unprecedented scale. This will help trigger entrepreneurship and overcome job inequalities.

f)        Children creativity has not been given enough attention. Children are often treated as a sink of advice and assistance rather than a source of new ideas. Children creativity workshops and idea contest during shodhyatras-learning walks have a great potential of molding the mind and heats of future leaders of our society by connecting them to society and nature.

g)       Mobile libraries, wi-fi hotspots in common co-working spaces, community innovation lab, playgrounds, gardens, walking stretches, can overcome some of the income and opportunity inequalities.

h)      Risk funds/micro venture funds to help citizens convert their ideas about overcoming problems of disadvantaged communities and city councils are needed to encourage social innovations and entrepreneurship (

There can be many more ways in which we can revitalize cities and help shape the future of frugal and compassionate spaces for fulfilling aspirations of common people. The key driver is revitalizing urban commons.


Visiting Faculty, IIM Ahmedabad & IIT Bombay and an independent thinker, activist for the cause of creative communities and individuals at grassroots, tech institutions and any other walk of life committed to make this world a more creative, compassionate and collaborative place