This is the first of several thought pieces Imaginator Academy will post as we prepare and experience the Cities Summit of the Americas in Denver, Colorado.
The Great Pyramid of Giza, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, Colossus of Rhodes, and Lighthouse of Alexandria are the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that have inspired awe, innovation, and cultural significance of ancient civilizations. Their legacy lives on in how we think about architecture, engineering, and urban design. However, most of us never stop to consider the human legacy.
Only one of these structures has survived. The others have been lost due to time, natural disasters, wars, and other culture shocks and shifts. Although new lists emerge of modern day Seven Wonders of the World, such as the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu in Peru, and the Taj Mahal in India, the originals’ demise is an important lesson in the fluidity of human endeavors.
The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World shared common characteristics:
- Grandeur and size: The Seven Wonders were massive structures and feats of engineering and construction that required enormous resources and manpower.
- Innovation and creativity: Each of the Seven Wonders was a unique and innovative achievement, built using advanced techniques and materials, showing the creativity and ingenuity of the civilizations that built them.
- Cultural and symbolic significance: The Seven Wonders held deep cultural and symbolic meanings for the people who built them, often associated with religious or mythological beliefs, and they served as powerful symbols of the civilizations that created them.
Applying Seven Wonders-thinking to modern cities requires us to think about how cities can be more than just functional places to live and work. An especially relevant issue in an increasingly hybrid workforce. Cities can also be places of wonder, beauty, and inspiration, reflecting and nurturing human creativity through social well-being.
If cities fail to serve as a creativity infrastructure for connecting human interaction, history shows our complex urban problems can go unaddressed until they reach crisis levels. Modern cities’ relevance may be short-lived if they are not envisioned to have fluidity. Culture is always changing, and our cities should be capable of adapting as well.
From a neuroscience perspective, understanding grandeur and size, innovation and creativity, and cultural and symbolic significance involve different regions and processes in the brain. For example, understanding grandeur and size can activate the brain’s parietal lobes, which are involved in spatial processing and perception, helping us understand the scale and magnitude of large structures and urban environments.
Understanding innovation and creativity can activate the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in executive functions such as problem-solving, planning, and decision-making, helping us appreciate the complexity and ingenuity of modern architecture and urban design.
Finally, understanding cultural and symbolic significance can activate the limbic system, involved in emotional processing and memory, helping us appreciate the cultural and historical significance of different urban environments, and helping us form emotional connections to specific places and spaces.
Understanding the different aspects of modern cities involves complex neural processes distributed throughout the brain. By understanding the neuroscience of urban perception and cognition, we can gain new insights into how people experience and appreciate urban environments and how we can design more effective and meaningful cities in the future that supports brain capital (brain health + brain skills) development.
The social sciences also have much to say about how groups work together to understand grandeur and size, innovation and creativity, and cultural and symbolic significance in modern cities. Regarding grandeur and size, social psychologists have studied how people form impressions of large-scale environments and how these impressions affect behavior. For example, research has shown that people tend to feel more anonymous and less accountable in large urban environments, which can lead to more antisocial behavior. However, social identity theory suggests that people can also form positive group identities based on shared experiences of urban environments, promoting social cohesion and collective action.
In terms of innovation and creativity, organizational psychologists have studied how creativity and innovation can be fostered in urban environments. Research has shown that cities can provide access to diverse networks of people and resources, which can facilitate collaboration and creativity. However, it is also important for cities to have supportive policies and infrastructure that can help promote breaking through siloes and flattening the hierarchy of what we consider more valuable (art vs. science) — both are required for innovation and entrepreneurship.
In terms of cultural and symbolic significance, cultural anthropologists have studied how urban environments can be meaningful and symbolic for different groups of people. Urban spaces can serve as sites of cultural expression and resistance, as well as sites of political and economic power. Understanding urban environments’ cultural and symbolic meanings is important for promoting democracy, social justice and equity in cities.
Research in psychology suggests that experiencing awe can profoundly impact the resilience of modern cities.
- Social isolation is an increasing issue in cities. Experiencing awe can evoke feelings of smallness and humility, increasing the feeling of connectedness to the larger community.
- Studies confirm that experiencing awe can enhance creativity and open-mindedness. In cities, people are often exposed to diverse ideas and perspectives; awe nudges people to embrace these new ideas and think creatively about how to solve complex problems.
- In urban places where access to nature is especially difficult, experiencing awe in other ways can help residents nurture an ongoing sense of wonder and curiosity, which sustains engagement in their communities.
SEVEN TYPES OF TEAM MEMBERS THAT LEADERS NEED TO PLAN WONDER-FULL CITIES
Are you ready to lead the way in creating a city that is truly wonder-full? A city that inspires creativity, fosters social well-being, and promotes brain health and skills everyone will need in the future? Wonder-full city leaders need great teams. So, next time you embark on a city-building project, here are seven types of people you must bring together to ensure that the plans are not only prosperous, sustainable but also meaningful and inspiring for all.
- The Intergenerational Connector: “Connecting the past, present, and future.” Wonder-full cities understand the value of intergenerational collaboration and how it can help build a stronger and more cohesive community. Creating spaces that encourage people of all ages to come together can foster a sense of belonging and shared purpose.
- The Collaborative Innovator: “Uniting for a common goal.” Wonder-full cities are built on partnerships that unite diverse stakeholders to work towards a common goal. By creating public-private partnerships that foster innovation and problem-solving, you can harness the power of collective intelligence and create a truly forward-thinking city.
- The Brain-Healthy Enthusiast: “Designing for mental wellness.” Wonder-full cities prioritize brain-healthy environments that support mental health and well-being. Incorporating green spaces and other natural elements into your city’s design and infrastructure can promote a sense of wonder and connection to nature essential for mental wellness.
- The Inclusion Advocate: “Everyone is welcome.” Wonder-full cities are inclusive and welcoming to all members of the community. By creating spaces that are accessible and inclusive for people of all abilities and backgrounds, you can ensure that everyone has access to resources and opportunities essential for a thriving community.
- The Creative Catalyst: “Fostering creativity and innovation.” Wonder-full cities prioritize creativity and innovation as drivers of economic growth. By creating an environment that fosters entrepreneurship and supports creative industries, you can unlock the potential of your city’s most valuable resource – its people.
- The Social Impact Investor: “Investing in social well-being.” Wonder-full cities embrace social purpose enterprises that prioritize social impact over profit. By creating a culture of social entrepreneurship that addresses societal challenges and promotes social well-being, you can create a more equitable and just city for everyone.
- The Sustainable Steward: “Minimizing waste, maximizing impact.” Wonder-full cities prioritize sustainability and circular economies that minimize waste and promote the efficient use of resources. By creating an environment that supports sustainable practices and encourages innovation in waste reduction and recycling, you can create a city that is prosperous and environmentally responsible.
When leaders build intentional teams with these seven types in mind, they exponentially improve their odds of creating generationally-responsive cities that inspire creativity, foster social well-being, promote brain capital, and, most importantly, move and change with culture. This last point is the most under-discussed aspect of sustainability and foresight. Culture futurism is the new frontier of sustainability.
WONDER WITH COURAGEOUS IMAGINATION
By embracing these lessons from across time, leaders can cultivate new insights into creating future-focused cities ready to meet the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow. But no one can do it alone. That is why Imaginator Academy is here. We are a new action-driven creativity think tank to facilitate dialogue and brain capital building between artists, scientists, businesses, and city leaders. It is more than just talking, though. It is a deep, evergreen approach to producing future-focused initiatives of national and international significance around the idea of a brain capital triple play: creativity, culture analytics, and purpose-rich human experiences. Driving equitable growth and inclusive innovation is the goal.
Creating future cities requires more than just good planning and design. We must also understand urban environments’ neuroscience and social dynamics to create wonder-full spaces. By integrating the latest research in arts, social sciences, humanities, economics, and neuroscience, we can create cities that bring out the best of human creativity. Creating future cities requires courageous imagination.
As a new platform for hosting a dialogue that sparks action and establishes links between government, science, business, and the arts, Imaginator Academy is free to be different and explore in unexpected ways. Ways in tune with where the world is going rather than where it has been. Ways that bring fresh insights and actions to create a better future for all. Join us in this important mission, and let’s make our cities future-proof and wonder-full.
If you are attending the Cities Summit of the Americas, We invite you to join us on Friday, April 28 for our session on Creativity and Brain Health in the Future of Work.