Joi Ito, the director of the Media Lab at MIT, proposes that one way to make cities a better place for people and economies is to let weirdos flourish. What he’s getting at is that cities attract creative people who can generate wealth and culture so therefore we need to let these creative people do what they do best. The best way to do this, he says, is to have government step out of the way in some neighbourhoods because developing the place may change the weirdos who live there.
What’s more, the very effort to attract such talent by building infrastructure in advance, may well backfire, raising costs and destroying the vibe. “Look at New York,” he says. “If you have an area where established businesses have gone away, costs will go down, and entrepreneurs will move in. Scuzzy kids don’t need much space anymore, they just need a network and a place with a critical mass of energy to self-organize. Infrastructure comes later.”
As technology and the internet have lowered the cost of innovation and expressing yourself creatively, the ability of small groups of people to have a big impact has increased, he says.
“The barrier now isn’t lack of money,” he says, “it’s lack of permission. Untapped capital gets unlocked when authority gets out of the way and lets people do what they would do if given potential and the context in which to do it.”