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Can a New Administration Spur Innovation in Design?

Regardless of political leanings, for most of us, we agree that this has undoubtedly been a significant week in history.  I have contemplated all week about how I could speak about this momentous transition and not just be one more blog entry about Barack Obama. Clearly, our country is poised for change. Yet, this change does not simply surround financial stimulus or halting terrorism or overhauling healthcare.

Regardless of political leanings, for most of us, we agree that this has undoubtedly been a significant week in history.  I have contemplated all week about how I could speak about this momentous transition and not just be one more blog entry about Barack Obama. Clearly, our country is poised for change. Yet, this change does not simply surround financial stimulus or halting terrorism or overhauling healthcare. Yes, these are mission critical endeavors, but so is the change we will begin to see around innovation and design as we all embrace a new perspective on our current situation, and apply hope and human potential.

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Last night, I had the benefit of attending an event hosted by Metropolis Magazine and Steelcase called: Expanding Architecture: Design as Activism.  The session was led by Susan Szenasy, Editor-in-chief of Metropolis — an award winning New York-based magazine focused on architecture, culture and design, and Bryan Bell, author of the book Expanding Architecture: Design as Activism.  Bell is also the founder of Design Corps, whose mission is to create positive change in communities by providing architecture and planning services.

I was very interested in Bell’s wisdom as he addressed the many of the same issues in his discussion of design and architecture as I have in previous blog entries on business.  It is the shift from working for one goal of profit to a larger goal of solving social and environmental issues through our work.   And as Szenasy said, “here we begin to use wisdom and logic to create change.”

A question posed to the Expanding Architecture panel and one that I continue to ponder is this: how will the new Obama administration affect design and innovation?  Our future, it seems, is rooted in history.

Consider Roosevelt’s’ New Deal and the WPA (Workers Progress Administration). The goal of the WPA was to employ most of the unemployed people on relief until the economy recovered. Over  $11 billion was spent on highways, roads, bridges, street projects, and public buildings, and publicly owned utilities.  Design and innovation solving socials issues.  A movement that created jobs.  That sounds recent and familiar. Look to the work of Van Jones and his Green For All organization.  Van Jones, as many of you are familiar, has proposed that the “green” movement is poised to create thousands of jobs (green collar jobs) each year.

There is another precedent with the Kennedy administration, which established the Peace Corp Act of 1961.  The Peace Corps sends volunteers around the globe, to more than 70 countries, to work with governments, schools, non-profit organizations, non-government organizations, and entrepreneurs in the areas of education, business, information technology, agriculture, and the environment.  Creation of jobs, innovative design, ability to solve social and environmental issues.  We’ve been here before and moved forward with great success.

As Bell explained some of the architecture and design projects outlined in his book, he spoke of design that addresses climate issues, natural disasters, issues of water scarcity and safety.  We are already seeing great stride in our own countries embracing the Green Building Movement with LEED Platinum projects in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth ward and in Greensburg, Kansas.  If history is any indicator, and is most always is, we will be seeing a large advance in the area of design innovation in this country.  I look forward to watching it expand beyond architecture and into all aspects of product and service offerings that face and meet the needs of a rapidly changing world.

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In the upcoming first 100 days of the new presidency, the world will be watching our new President and his administration as they tackle many dire issues facing our country. Many of the benefits of this influence will not been seen for a while.  I encourage us all to think and move with an innovative spirit but remember that the seeds are being planted today which will springboard a new country for future generations. Each of us can do our part in pushing and encouraging not only innovative design, but also innovative implementation.