Last Friday, we continued our Sustainability Speech Series by hosting a talk on “Solving Community Problems with Innovation” at Tongji University. Three speakers presented at the event: Leonard Milford, Associate Director and Chief Architect at Arup Associates; Kevin Chen, Co-founder of italki.com; and Nitin Dani, Director at Green Initiatives. Chuli Duan from Collective Responsibility and Professor Bo Gao from Tongji’s College of Design and Innovation moderated the panel discussion.
All three speakers share the passion for building communities of different sorts and have profound knowledge in the field. With a strong focus on public realm, place making and urbanism, Leonard’s architectural experience covers many sectors and scales: from bespoke international master plans, sports stadia and airports down to one-off residence and contemporary restoration projects across the UK, Continental Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Apart from being the co-founder of italki.com – a language education startup connecting students and teachers for online language lessons – Kevin is also an organizer at Techyizu.org, a non-profit that runs startup events in Shanghai. Nitin is an architect by profession and environmentalist by heart. In 2009 he founded Green Initiatives, which is an environmental nonprofit organization focusing on education, awareness and action on environmental issues through projects, events, trainings & workshops for the regular community, students and professionals. Up to date, Green Initiatives has organized over 200 events.
In his presentation Leonard mainly talked about the use of data for developing smart cities. To him, the business successes of companies like Uber, Facebook and Alibaba are largely the result of the 2.5 billion people wearing tracking device everyday. Yet technology should also be used to solve the many social problems cities are facing – one solution being the use smart data to help make better design strategies.
Nitin shared his journey from India all the way to China as an architect first and then an environmental activist dedicated to fostering the sustainability community in Shanghai. Concluding with the explanation that community is “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals”, Nitin illustrated the power of community and encouraged students to find their passion and build their own communities along their career path.
Kevin introduced the different functions of Techyizu.org and how it has managed to bring together different design groups to solve problems such as social inclusion, disasters and scarcity. He also shared some realistic takeaways for managing community-based events pointing out the difficulty of solving big social problems with smaller events like theirs yet recognizing their educational impacts.
In the Q&A session that followed, the speakers and students further exchanged thoughts on the challenges and opportunities of developing smart communities faced by companies in China.