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Living Innovation Zones - a tool to improve public space

The IFHP Travel Squad reports from San Francisco: The first Living Innovation Zone is to be launched October 29, 2013.

A Living Innovation Zone (LIZ) is a designated area in the city where innovators can access and shape public space to demonstrate emerging solutions for public benefit. Even more important, it is a tool to make people interact with each other and the built environment.

Revitalizing Market Street
With the first Living Innovation Zone being launched by the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation and implemented by The Exploratorium – San Francisco’s learning lab and museum of science, art og human perception – San Francisco opens up for co-creation between citizens, innovators, and the City. The idea is to build an interactive educational experience that open people’s eyes and ears in San Francisco’s most important corridor, Market Street.

The Living Innovation Zone Program (LIZ) is part of a larger City initiative called Make Your Market Street which aims to bring people, energy, activity and innovation to the sidewalks of Market Street. The City is advancing the Better Market Street project to revitalize San Francisco's most important street and transform it into a more lively and safe public thoroughfare.


Photo: The first LIZ is going to be implemented on Market Street at Yerba Buena Lane. Photo_courtesy of The Exploratorium

Prototyping innovation
Living Innovation Zones make it possible to use public space in new ways. The idea is to create geographic zones throughout the city for prototyping and demonstrating innovations. Living Innovation Zones are 1:1 platforms to test new technologies and engage people in the public realm. “Prototyping for us is really the backbone for evolving new ideas,” curator Shawn Lani explains. “The Exploratorium is new to urban revitalization. Urban planning is not our specialty. People are. And we would like citizens to be part of the conversation.”

Physically, the first Living Innovation Zone is built around two large listening vessels or ‘whisper dishes’ located 50 feet from each other on the sidewalk. The idea is that the people sitting in front of the dishes can hear each other intimately while people walking down Market Street will pass through these conversations. “Something like this might actually strike a chord and make people feel that they are part of the city,” Lani elaborates. ”We want people to interact not only with each other, but also with the urban environment.”


Photo: A sketch of the first LIZ. Photo_courtesy of The Exploratorium

A new philanthropy
The budget for the first Living Innovation Zone is 75,000$ of which 25,000 $ is to be raised through the crowdfunding site Indiegogo. It is new to the Exploratorium to use crowdfunding for their projects but it is done as they believe it gives people a sense of ownership, even for donations as small as 50 $. “It’s the first Living Innovation Zone and it’s the first time we use Indiegogo so there is a lot of risk here. But we feel that this might actually strike a chord and help form a new philanthropy among city dwellers,” Lani explains.

The first Living Innovation Zone is set to stand for two years. It is being developed and implemented by the Exploratorium, while daily operations are run by the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District; an organisation of local retailers and businesses. “I like the fact that it’s temporary,” Lani concludes. “In this way we can learn, share and improve. And when we feel confident about our learnings, then we can go for larger and more permanent installations.”

Read more about
>> Living Innovation Zone - Same streets, different ideas
>> Exploratorium Living Innovation Zone
>> Exploratorium Living Innovation Zone - Help us build exhibits on Market Street!
>> Gehl Architects - the urban research and design consultancy behind LIZ 

Read the previous blogs on San Francisco
IFHP Travel Squad reports from San Francisco
San Francisco at a glance with IFHP
San Francisco innovating through data sharing
San Francisco – green and growing
San Francisco - City of High and Low
Parklets - claiming back the streets
San Francisco - City of Tranparency and Innovation