There is an entrepreneurial, collaborative spirit that is gaining popularity in the built environment sector. We are observing how there are many awards competitions developing in order to connect small-scale entrepreneurs with innovative ideas to large, multinational coprorations or institutions with acces to resources. From large international competitions such as the one hosted by the LafargeHolcim Foundation every three years, to regional competitions such as the one hosted by Studio-X Rio, there seems to be a growing sense that innovation is happening at the entrepreneurial level and must be discovered. The trend is picking up and some big names are getting involved - the sustainable urban housing competition that culminated at the Studio-X in Rio had the American Planning Association, US Department of Housing and Urban Development, US Department of State, the Ashoka Changemakers, and the Rockefeller Foundation as backers.
Studio-X is an initiative of Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP), and these "studios" attempt to bring these local networks of urban planning practitioners into one place where they can discuss and share knowledge about the future of sustaianble urbanism. I highly recommend interested readers to visit their website for more details of how to get involved. Studio-X Rio hosted the final four chosen from a pool of 200 entrants into the competition. A brief summary of the finalists are given below.
Brazilian NGO, Soluções Urbanas, was chosen for their Family Architecture project that calls on the spirit of do-it-yourself culture. Soluções Urbanas invites local low-income families to attend workshops where they receive technical training, exchange construction advice, and learn how to use recycled materials in construction. Soluções Urbanas also assists families in gaining access to microfinance.
In Lima, Peru APA brought together a group of lawyers, architects, and urban planners to create a public-private partnership in a region of Peru with UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The group is managed by La Eficiencia Legal Para la Inclusión Social (ELIS) and is helping 60 families acquire property rights to the buildings and access credit.
From Bolivia, Hábitat Para La Mujer Comunidad María Auxiliadora, was an organization that supported a women's cooperative comprised of all-single mothers or victims of domestic violence who were fighting to gain legal recognition for their informal cooperative housing project. APA helped the group with lobbying and leadership training to create a Community Land Trust model of collective land ownership to facilitate the future construction of low-cost housing.
Finally, there was EMBARQ Mexico whose mission was to construction "pocket parks" to counter the loss of recreation areas.
The diversity of the projects selected as finalists reminds us that the urban and affordable housing challenge is not limited strictly to building low-cost housing, or improving access to microfinance. Through the competition, large organizations such as APA were reminded of the every day struggles of the average civilian to overcome a variety of obstacles that stand between them and owning a home. Many of these proejcts will not be scalable and may not be attractive for corporates to boost their bottom-lines, but these projects are a reminder of the reality of urban development: that sustainable urban development requires both small-scale and large-scale change. As such, it is important to stay connected with the context in which the end consumer lives so we, as large multinationals, don't forget who exactly we are working for.
Do you know of competitions similar to this in your region? Let us know so we can promote it!