It’s Amazing

There are many reasons why the BRICS countries should join forces to share ideas, knowledge, and investment, but one stands out the most. If each country paid only one-fifth of the bill, they could all enjoy 100% of the rewards. This is the kind of ‘one size fits all’ approach that applies both to urban development and far beyond.

I was recently invited to take part in a small BRICS meeting in Brazil. Delegates from all five BRICS countries were in attendance; one topic we explored was the context of the new economy. Though brief, all of the day’s participants left convinced that it had been a positive and productive encounter. Why did we think so? Because in a sense, we members of the BRICS countries will form the new world Anglo-Saxon economy.

Although that might seem surprising, the science behind the theory is clear. Over the last century or so, the economies of the UK, Europe and the US have been the world’s major powerhouses. But today they seem to be running short of steam and cannot maintain rapid growth. At the very least, they do not have the capacity to grow in the same way as the BRICS countries, which have development potential in almost every possible sector, including agriculture, innovation, education, housing, and urban development.

Moreover, the ‘old’ Anglo-Saxon model does not seem to be well-equipped for change. If somebody comes up with a brilliant new idea – creating new telecom technology, for example – it would be almost impossible to change anything in Europe or the US. But just imagine the potential for advancement in South Africa, Russia, India, or China. Not only would it be a golden opportunity, but also a once-in-a-lifetime chance for the five nations to catch up with the old leaders or even take over as a new global power.

The issue is how to implement new ideas in the most efficient and effective way. I strongly believe that we will only be successful if we network and share ideas. One example of how it might work, though predominantly at a regional level, is with the Pan-Asia Network (PAN) project. This is basically a learning and exchange platform where diverse programs related to urbanism, innovation, well-being, education, creativity, heritage, and city development are tested, executed, and distributed through collaboration and peer learning. It aims to equip people for the post-industrial age, where creativity, open innovation, and collaboration are the core elements of growth and development.

PAN is now two-years-old, and we have already had participation from more than 2,000 people and 15 Asian cities. At its core, it is about Asian countries and Asian cities linking together to find ways to complement one another. We collaborate and co-create, which dramatically improves how we learn and how well we innovate.

We realized that sometimes we have too many preconceived notions about our own cities, so we cannot learn and accelerate quickly enough. We are often held back by our own inhibitions, dogma, and habits. But sometimes the greatest way to learn is by observing our neighbors. Thus, what I am doing in Asia is not only learning from America and from far away countries; I am learning from China’s next-door neighbors: Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. We are all learning from each other’s ingenuity because we have similar frameworks, traditions, situations, and problems. What we have learned from this two-year PAN experience is that Pan-Asia cannot be successful in an exclusive environment, which is why we are welcoming international members to join us. When I participated in PAN in November 2014, there were representatives from 15 Asian cities as well as 13 Western cities – including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Chicago, Berlin, Istanbul, and Moscow – who came together for four days.

Duality and Oppositions

Interestingly, this fully fits with the yin yang philosophy based on the traditional ‘duality and oppositions’ paradigm, which is increasingly being used in innovative education and crowd thinking methodologies. Let’s look at what this means in practice. If you were to put two groups of passionate professionals together (with each group coming from different sectors and bringing together different professional backgrounds), then we would have a much more balanced and productive conversation. Above all, this kind of approach offers a faster learning speed, while retaining professionalism and experience.

This also works well when it comes to scientific research. In China, for example, some research institutes and schools of higher learning conduct up to 50% of their research domestically, but outsource the rest to other universities or abroad. This is also an example of the Chinese wellness ‘duality and oppositions’ approach, where the right amount ‘cold’ of should be balanced with the right amount ‘hot’ of.

In a sense, members of the BRICS countries will form the new world Anglo-Saxon economy. Although that might seem surprising, the science behind the theory is clear. Over the last century or so, the economies of the UK and US have been the world’s major powerhouses. But today they seem to be running out of steam and cannot maintain rapid growth. At the very least, they do not have the capacity to grow in the same way as the BRICS countries

This is also true for practical urban development and aligns with the ‘human city’ concept, which is in fact a constant dialogue of dualities and opposites. It is about building a city ecosystem where each of the components works together and compliments one another.

Indeed, a city’s individual industries simply cannot exist and work productively without pieces of innovation, culture, the arts, branding, communication, and good financing. In fact, they need partnerships and a support system. All this should naturally translate into landscape architecture and creative populous public space development, which are also part of the formula.

One good example of duality with a win-win formula would be combining elderly homes with orphanages – they both need and could deeply appreciate each other.

Synergy can also result from a creative public space planner joining forces with a real estate developer to make a vibrant common space. The clear benefit for the developer is that he would be able to increase property value, enjoy better sales, and satisfy his public. In turn, the municipal government would also benefit because it would have high quality, high-energy city spaces. The benefits for the nearby residents are also clear.

Collaboration is a natural and attractive idea. Ultimately, it will create a positive ecosystem with shared purposes, ideas, resources, and talent. In other words, a ‘human city’ is a balanced, aesthetic, economically sound, and emotionally positive city.

This is what I have learned by sponsoring PAN-Asia events. And I see no reason why the BRICS countries should not collaborate to build a mutually beneficial ecosystem. Apart from exchanging ideas, co-learning, and avoiding reinventing the wheel, we could co-invest, co-share costs, and all benefit together.

Imagine again somebody coming up with a new telecom system that is entirely free of charge for everyone from the poorest sector of society to farmers and rural dwellers. If each of the BRICS countries contributed to building and sharing this new technology, imagine the benefits for the oft forgotten farmers alone. They would have better access to information, weather forecasts, health knowledge, natural disaster warnings, and much more. It could bring a positive tectonic shift to peoples’ lives – and that is just one example.

This is an extremely positive model we can all adopt for our mutual benefit. Yes, we may have cultural differences and language barriers, but those things can be overcome. In the end, a positive outcome is the most powerful argument.

We will all feel the magic of collaboration. Our five amazing nations have a dormant inner power that needs to be awakened. If we all said, “We should pay one-fifth of the total bill, bring the smartest, wisest people together from five different places, then each will go home with 100% of the excellent end results and benefits.” How amazing and promising would that be.

Richard Hsu is Adjunct Professor at Tongji University’s School of Design and Innovation, Sino-Finnish Centre in Shanghai. He is founder and curator of TEDxShanghai; Researcher and producer of Urban-Rural Bridge in China; and Founder and creative director of Pan-Asia Network (PAN). Richard Hsu is a past participant in the Moscow Urban Forum.

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