polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Spaces for Social Innovation

by Melissa García Lamarca

Cities, with significant density and diversity of people and sensory stimulations, are natural places to attract creativity and innovation, manifested in multiple forms and spaces through the built environment as well as in social structures and collectivities. While great disparities and injustices emerge in these manifestations, so too do exciting models of positive change towards building a better world – something that myself and so many others I know find inspiring and utterly imperative to move towards a more sustainable world.

One of these models to incubate and grow change is The Hub, a social enterprise whose ambition to inspire and support imaginative and enterprising initiatives for a radically better world. Working across four continents, and 15 cities – such as London, São Paolo, Halifax, Bombay, Tel Aviv and Johannesburg, to name a few – the goal is to create collective spaces for people who are working towards positive change, places that borrow from the best of a member's club, an innovation agency, a serviced office and a think-tank to create a unique sort of innovation environment.

A membership is available from five hours per month (around 30€) to unlimited access (around 300€), a fee which provides access to spaces for working, meeting, reading and playing, office facilities, professional resources, finance to support project development, and finally to the growing network of Hubs and peer innovators in cities across the world. The majority of members in existing hubs are freelance professionals or small social enterprises. Events, many open to the public, range from high-profile Hub Lectures, Thought Dinners and inter-disciplinary Innovation Labs to open source Hub Lunches that foster peer-based learning and collaboration amongst Hub members.

The Hub aims to be a global community of people from every profession, background and culture working at 'new frontiers' to tackle the world's most pressing social, cultural and environmental challenges. Hubs strive to be inspirational spaces that leverage the best elements of offices, outdoor plazas, libraries, cafes, and picnic tables to create an environment, which, by design, facilitates new ways of relating to one another other, the environment and financial resources. It is about the power of inspiring places where new connections, relationships and initiatives can evolve, adapt and thrive, about the power of people with ideas.

When I learn about these kinds of places in cities, it reinforces my optimism that every one of us can be part of building positive change in the world. Check out one in a city near you, or start talking to other change makers and get one going where you live – the aim is for the Hub to be rearing in 65 cities by 2012. Feasibility studies have been undertaken in New York and Los Angeles, plus there is talk in Montreal and Vancouver of getting two up and moving. Yes, as we say, another world is possible, another world is now.

Credits: Cartoon image of people from the Hub Bay Area brochure. Map of global hub network from the Hub Bay Area brochure. Image of the Hub Brussels from the Hub Brussels website. Image of the Hub São Paolo from the Hub São Paolo website. Image of design features of the Hub Berkeley from the Hub Bay Area brochure.