The Urban Genome Project is a research endeavor initiated by editor and curator Joseph Grima and artist and architect Pedro Reyes. Its primary intent is to map the code on which cities are written, thereby assembling an index of tools for improving the urban environment, with a specific focus on political processes. Much literature on urbanism addresses the design of the contemporary city, but little of it is devoted to the extensive administrative work necessary for making the implementation of design strategies possible. To collect testimonies on this subject, a mobile unit resembling an expandable toolbox will be mobilised as the venue of a series of live exchanges of knowledge between strategic agents, citizens, politicians and desicion makers. When fully open, the UGP Mobile Unit becomes a fully-functional open-air TV recording studio where interviews can be conducted and recorded in an open-ended process that aims to collect case studies and learn which are the best practices and main challenges that cities face in the XX century. This pool of knowledge will be organized as a cross-referenced index that will constitute the UGP archive.
The turn of the millennium coincided with a consequential occurrence in the history of the human race: for the first time, the inhabitants of the world’s metropolitan regions outnumbered those living in rural areas. Humankind, in other words, is today an undisputedly urban species. It is becoming increasingly clear that in the XXI century it will be up to the cities and metropolitan areas, rather than nation states, to shape the world’s social, political, cultural, technological and economic agendas. One premise of this project is that hand in hand with the rapid urbanization of recent decades goes an equivalent rise in the prominence and influence of the figure of the mayor. The conventional understanding of the mayor as mid-level bureaucrat and policy-maker, subservient to the national government and incapable of achieving influence on the international political stage, is being transformed – in cities all around the world – by a new breed of politician: the Supermayor.
Supermayors are, by definition, visionaries: they are dynamic, charismatic, and profoundly aware of the importance of media in shaping the future. They are the offspring of the Supercity – the vast metropolitan regions of the XXI century that are capable of competing economically and, in some instances even politically, with entire countries. They pride themselves in the autonomy of their power, and dare to undertake direct political negotiations with foreign cities or nations. A key component of the UGP archive will be a series of in-depth interviews with current or recent mayors from cities around the world. These individuals will be chosen either for their role in redefining the contemporary understanding of what a mayor is, or for the exceptional nature of the challenges faced by the cities they govern. The objective of the interviews themselves is not just to compile accounts of the past achievements of these individuals, but to tap into their visionary outlook – beyond the political rhetoric – to piece together a glimpse of the city of the future, as seen by those charged with building it.
A second key component will be a series of dialogues with policymakers responsible for innovation in the urban sphere. These might be mayors, urban planners, administrators, governors, regulators, councillors, members of parliament, congressmen, senators, public officers, etc. These individuals will be asked to contribute an idea, strategy or policy (an answer), preferably derived from direct experience, to the common pool of knowledge being accumulated by the UGP. They will also be asked to submit a problem, query or challenge (a question) that they are facing as policymakers. One of the ultimate goals of the UGP will be to match questions with answers from all around the world, creating a database of strategies sufficiently vast as to serve as a general point of reference for urban policymakers, transcending political and geographical boundaries.
- Strategic Agents
A third category of individuals who will be invited to act as sources for the UGP are Strategic Agents. This group will include citizens, researchers, artists and architects, activists, writers and critics who are collectively transforming our understanding of urbanism, policy and design practices. Their ideas, strategies, innovations and research will be presented in the mobile venue and included in the UGP database. This category of contributors will include both indipendent practioners and individuals affiliated with institutions.