Every city, every neighbourhood, and every street is unique. While a street in Churchill, Canada might be different from one in Windhoek, Namibia or a neighbourhood in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia be different from one in Salvador, Brazil, looking at cities around the world can inspire ideas, new technologies, and even new policy measures. Admitting to ourselves that we may not have all the solutions while also turning our gaze to the far reaches of the world, we may end up with answers from places we least expect. Small ideas like adding a bike lane on a particular street or painting a bus a certain colour can have a big impact. Take the photo above, for instance. It was taken at street level, as though one was in that particular neighbourhood in Barcelona, looking up at the buildings. What does one notice about the artistic detail in the buildings? Their height? The use of balconies? The colour of the signs? The amount of streetlights? I leave these questions without answers so that one may develop their own perspective and set of impressions.
On a personal level, I remember riding the Mexico City metro system for 5 pesos (33 cents CAD) on subway trains that are narrower than here in Toronto, where musicians would play and Aztec ruins could even be found at some of the stations. Women and children also had designated areas during certain hours, in order to give them priority. I also remember cycling on the Avenida Diagonal in Barcelona around sunset, with buses, cars, pedestrians, and cyclists all having their own lanes which formed the grand avenue, flanked by elegant and distinctive Barcelonan apartment buildings. These are some examples of experiences which have changed my conception of space, beauty, efficiency, and mobility amongst a myriad of other impressions. One can then ask; how do they do things there and would it make us better off if we had something similar?
Looking abroad for ideas is a brilliant way to inspire creativity to develop one’s own unique ideas as well as using existing ones; which can be applied in one’s own backyard. As Picasso said, “good artists copy, great artists steal.” I encourage people to look abroad, not only to challenge existing perspectives, but to create the opportunity to become inspired.