Services for collaborative cities with Ezio Manzini

Great class today with Ezio Manzini, a pioneer of the Service Design discipline. Among the huge variety of topics he usually deals with, today he focused on the concepts of collaborative services and liveable proximity. Different from the past century, today’s most important driver for change is no more technological innovation, but social innovation. Starting from this assumption, Ezio developed a class full of lectures, discussions, and hands-on exercises to give our students the basic knowledge about radical and transformative social innovation toward sustainability.

Contemporary society, especially in the last year of the Covid-19 pandemic, is witnessing a radical change in the concept of well-being. We as a society have been forced to recognize that past ideas about mobility and fastness were leading us to a very serious environmental and social crisis. And so, the growing functional distancing in daily activities began to clash with the need to bring together what had been removed; to reconnect what had been separated, to bring services and productive activities closer to people. Right now, the same sanitary distancing it requires of us has shown everyone how important physical proximity is: the existence of neighborhood services, the possibility of working (close to) where you live, the relationships with the tenants next door.

The outcome is different scenarios that emerge from this crisis. Two of them are: the scenario of everything at/from home, and the one of the living and livable proximity. Both of these scenarios have a basis of feasibility in new technologies: connectivity, component miniaturization, digital fabrication, artificial intelligence make it possible to break the previous functional model and bring different functions back to the user/consumer and, if required, group these functions on a local scale. This process of mutual rapprochement between people and functions leads to the creation of new forms of proximity: hybrid proximity because its existence in the physical world is made possible by its placement in an appropriate digital space. Given this common basis, the two scenarios mentioned above are however in stark contrast to each other: the scenario of everything at/from home leads to the dystopian vision of a humanity of individuals closed in their homes, at the center of a deserted proximity (crossed only by riders, or tomorrow by drones, of home delivery). On the other side, there is the scenario of living and livable proximity, with the desirable reconstruction of the places and communities that it entails.

The class focused on the second scenario and showed how it has emerged from the grassroots social innovations of the past 20 years, and how, in some large cities, it has become a reference for action (sometimes using the expression “The 15-minute city”). This happens in many cities like Paris, Barcelona, Milan, Seoul, and so on. The city of proximity, or 15-minute city, is the one in which distributed models are adopted, in contrast with the concentration of activities in large mono-functional centers. And therefore, it is a city where a new proximity is created: a proximity capable of responding to many, if not all, the daily needs of citizens.

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