The eighth Aspen Ideas Festival is currently underway in Colorado, bringing together some of the most prominent and influential social, political, economic and technological players in the U.S. and the world. Amongst the many wide-ranging topics that are being addressed at the festival is the question of how radically disruptive technologies are transforming the world, how the ‘next generation’ is adopting innovation in every aspect of their lives. In particular, panelists and presenters talked about innovation being rooted in clusters of creativity and shared experiences. During a panel on the “Population Problem,” they discussed the kind of impact that increased urbanization is having and will continue to have on the very limited resources of the planet. However, as we’ve written about in the past as well, this same phenomenon of rapid urbanization is also leading to the establishment of more and more formal as well as informal innovation and creativity hubs.
Concentrations of humans–cities–foster the exchange between people and the “combination and recombination” of ideas, that is the engine of innovation. And in a world where, as former senator Tom Daschle noted Thursday, “to feed everyone in the world in the next 40 years we have to produce more food than we have in the last 8,000 years,”it is innovation that will continue to make life on earth possible.”
But, as Florida notes, mere human density alone does not beget transformative innovation. The infrastructure, design, and culture of a place must encourage positive interaction between people.
But not all cities, despite their population concentrations, are equally creative or innovative. Since it seems apparent that making cities into humming, buzzing generators of innovation would be the only means to tackle a lot of problems generated by urbanization, the next big question is how we can achieve this transformation. One answer is to invest in the well-being and social advancement of women and girls. Healthy, educated girls have a “multiplier effect” throughout the community, and the overall status of women indicates the overall health of the society, especially in terms of the soft cultural factors that can either aid or act as barriers to innovation: openness to new ideas, willingness to fail, take risks, and much more.