Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

WORDS | Science in the City

By Linda Carroli

I’ve just looked at the state Chief Scientist’s recently launched paper, Queensland Science: Building a Smarter Future. The document provides a blueprint for developing the R&D, commercialisation and educational opportunities for science around some core themes such as health and environment.

Having just received the latest Instructables newsletter, I’ve started wondering whether we can engage science in the city in a similar way that we engage culture and creativity. Science is equated with ‘smartness’. Queensland prides itself on being the ‘Smart State’ and creativity is nested under this rubric. However, when I read about science initiatives (as in the Queensland Science document), it’s often regarded in harder R&D terms with quantifiable outcomes that filter from experts and labs into the public realm. Unlike creativity, science can sometimes be disengaged from the participatory except in educational, consultative, exhibitionary or public program terms. However, I do fully acknowledge the very vital role of science/ideas events, media and festivals and how these inflect in urban space.

A couple of years ago, I heard Charles Leadbeater discussing the Pro-Am movement as a massive and dynamic group that is shifting traditional knowledge hierarchies. He described Pro-ams as “people pursuing amateur activities to professional standards”. And said “For Pro-Ams, leisure is not passive consumerism but active and participatory, it involves the deployment of publicly accredited knowledge and skills, often built up over a long career, which has involved sacrifices and frustrations”. Their main source of income is not earned from these amateur activities.

In our present ‘user as innovator’ era, there are some benefits for new engagements with science beyond normative science communication and education models. Creative capital, according to Richard Florida, pools in places and becomes ingrained over time. Can the same happen with science?

While Queensland Science does a marvellous and erudite job in highlighting the opportunities for research, economic gain and enterprise development, it does not say much about capturing the imaginations of ‘ordinary’ people, communities and Pro-am groups to continue to engage and promulgate scientific ideas.

So this has me wondering about how we might think about Science in the City, as integral to urban innovation and part of the cultural and intellectual fabric of the city. I wonder whether there is potential for programs that engage communities in science in much the same way that the myriad community arts programs have engaged communities in cultural activity these past few decades. A creative city has its creativity inflected everywhere. Can a smart city do the same through a meaningful engagement and development of Pro-am groups and networks?


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