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On September 15th we experienced a “method day”. Vannesa Ahuactzin, Cultural Planner at Gehl together with David Carlson, founder of Designboost, planned and facilitated the day.

The method days happens twice a year. They are a meant to bring the Gehl Office together to discuss relevant topics. This method day was about discovering ways to build a mindset of knowledge gathering and innovative practices within.

+Why is it important for office to experience a method day?

We travel a lot and work independently in many ways. This time of coming together to discuss, put our minds on a topic together for a whole day, is very valuable to the people who work at Gehl. It is about pushing the boundaries and developing new ways to gather and approach knowledge.

Beginning the day with Vannesa's beautiful illustrated ideas

+Why explore the theme of knowledge and innovation?

Knowledge is important to our business. We focus on changing knowledge to innovation. The core of the day was to understand how we can find new knowledge, how we work together and apply knowledge to our projects and thinking. Knowledge is a strange thing; it is nothing and everything, it is everywhere and nowhere. In fact it is very much here [we are talking together by the yellow table at the office library], but it doesn’t mean anything until someone uses it. What’s interesting is trying understanding that mental and practical process of changing knowledge to innovation, and by having this method day, we can go deeper into this topic.

Discussing ideas - David is as always very passionate

A group went to the café downstairs to explore and discuss their ideas

+The day was planned as a workshop – Why do you think this structure was fruitful in dealing with this specific theme?

Workshops are about bringing people together to discuss different matters or themes. The success lies in our ability to create an environment of openness that allows the participants to freely express their ideas. But it is also crucial to create a sense of expectation and to push the boundaries of what people already know. When they get tired, they get more honest. From the beginning of the day we made our expectations and gave the participant’s parameters to produce their ideas. We divided the day into smaller working groups, had two working sessions with presentations and discussions. By doing this you take the temperature of the discussion – how is it going? And it gets more dynamic and exhausting J

Gathered after workshops and putting our ideas on the boards

+What came out of it?

Lots of good ideas that we can keep pushing forward. Innovation is like a cake: You are continuously building up the layers. The method day brought a lot of the ingredients and layers, but we are still working on making the rest of the cake. Sometimes the actual answers that come out of the day – the well-worked sheets themselves – are not the most interesting output. It’s was behind them, the interpretations of the presentation, the small comments, seeing how the behavior changes. Going beyond the unexpected.

Emmy: For me the most unexpected was that innovative practices are about the workspace culture. It is about how people at the company work together and how they share their knowledge. Vannesa: It is about how children are taught to share. Are they hiding their findings from each other or are they open? Are they willing to discuss before the unfinished? If you want to be innovative, you must break the practices and change the minds by coming together and pushing the boundaries. Basically creating a culture where people take up something and change it into something new.

When I visited New York in January I was worried.  Central Park had just recorded another record snow and the life in the city seemed to resemble that of pre-2007 – the only cyclists were delivery men, and the hordes of pedestrians on the City’s lively streets were only moving from A to B rather than spending time in the dozens of new city plazas created over the past 4 years . Few people were taking the time to soak up the atmosphere of the city and few women and office workers were seen on their bikes. Despite widespread support for the Department of Transportation’s Green Light for Midtown and ReNEWable Times Square projects, the pressure was on city leaders to defend the changing face of New York’s public realm.  The issues of bicycle lanes had become especially contentious – being widely discussed and debated.

Yet when I visited NYC again in May – spring had truly made an impact.  The streets were filled with diverse cyclists –

young, old, women, men, tapered jeans and dockers, as well as locals and tourists were meeting and socializing in the new public spaces of the city. Tattooed hipsters were sharing the same spaces as top-sider wearing yuppies, mid-western tourists and lifelong New Yorkers were both glued to their ipads sitting in the free tables and chairs.

Quick business meetings and office tasks have moved out into the public realm

Alone together, hordes of New Yorkers were enjoying time in the City.  City life had transformed from a lifestyle of ‘A to B as quickly as possible’ to a more relaxed ‘enjoy the journey’ . The outdoor café life of Gansevoort had spread to the rest of the Meat Packing district – and beyond.  The streets of New York have begun to rival the City’s fantastic park’s as places to spend time in the city.

City life is unfolding from inside shops and cafes and out into streets and spaces

All forms of non-motorized transport are utilizing the new bicycle lanes

All forms of non-motorized transport are utilizing the new bicycle lanes

Why check e-mail inside when comfortable free seating is available along Broadway?

Rather your grabbing lunch, or just relaxing Mad. Sq. Eats Mark't is a great way to enjoy city life

From highly visible and meticulously designed projects like the High Line, to newly created temporary Madison Square Park Eats, the economic benefits of investing in the public realm and prioritizing the needs of people in the city are beginning to be understood.  In fact, the High Line is heralded as an Economic Dynamo – creating thousands of jobs, boosting real estate values and spurring private investment.

The newly created food market at Worth Square showcases independent food artisans. With fantastic views, great subway access and close proximity to Madison Square Park, it is surprising that Worth Square was never utilized before.

As I noticed that the number of baby carriages had begun to compete with the number of leashed dogs, I realized that the city was again re-inventing itself.  This time not only as a place to get rich, inspire the next Jay-Z, and visit as a tourist -  but also a place to spend free time, feel healthy, and raise a family.   The culture of New York City is changing.

New York City has always been a great place to raise a family, but it seems that even more young families are spending time in the city's streets as well as parks.

After years of smaller west coast cities leading the charge toward high quality  urban living, the Big Apple is back.  NYC is again leading the charge of American cities into the second decade of the 21st century.  It’s about quality of life, mobility, and happiness. It’s about a sustainable future, but also a livable today.   New Yorkers get it and now they have the platform to again lead the charge.

Old and young, male and female, the profile of the New York Cyclist is expanding.

Old and young, male and female, the profile of the New York Cyclist is expanding.

Part of the reason more and different types of people are biking has to do with new amenities that improve the comfort and convenience of cycling in NYC

…. Now if that bikes on the subway issue can just be simplified

Dr. Vandana Shiva in Copenhagen 2010

Vandana Shiva, the internationally recognized Indian activist and philosopher, explains that planning for the human being rather than the automobile can liberate space and create community within a city. In her opinion, a sustainable city should operate as a self-reliant and self-sufficient cluster of villages.

Vandana Shiva is an internationally recognized Indian activist and philosopher. After earning a PhD in physics from the University of Western Ontario, she has campaigned tirelessly on issues related to agriculture and food, property rights, and gender. She has assisted grassroots movements in countries around the world.

Dr. Shiva has advised the International Forum on Globalization, a citizens’ group that monitors the impact of globalisation; the Women’s Environment & Development Organization, an international organization focused on gender equality; and the Third World Network, a network of individuals and organizations that addresses environmental issues and development in the Third World. In 1984, Dr. Shiva founded Navdanya, an organisation that works to promote biodiversity, farmers’ rights, and organic farming. In 1993, she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, known as the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize, “for placing women and ecology at the heart of the modern development discourse.”

This interview was conducted by Sustainable Cities during the Velo Global conference in Copenhagen, summer of 2010.

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