Street Mimes and Civil Innovation

“It seems that I cannot escape writing this post. Early on in my foray into the blogosphere I crafted a post all about the street mimes in Bogota,  Columbia, and their instigator, Mayor Antanas Mockus. The post, however, never saw the light of day as my computer lynched itself and shutdown, losing my masterpiece. I digress. But last month, whilst I was attending the Sustainable Cities Roundtable the Mayor and the innovative social experiments taking place in his city were again ignited. The whole situation is fascinating, and provides a real example of social, concept innovation.”

It seems the town of Bogota has been running, for several years, an event called Ciclovia. Essentially, the city closes down 70 miles of it’s busiest roads every Sunday (yes, EVERY Sunday) and opens it up to non-car traffic. Bikes, Rollerblades, walkers, runner and even impromptu games of soccer. This attracts more than 1.5 million people each week (yes, each week). It’s the first example of a city taking a leap and reaping the benefits of real change innovation. The benefits have been large, including better health for it’s citizens, less traffic on Sundays, more trade for local vendors and increased tourism. Whilst the initiative was not of Mockus’ time, it is still indicative of a progressive society not afraid to change up the daily routine.

The real innovation has seemed to stem from Mockus’s rein. The key article, a Harvard Gazette piece,  detailing the events under Mockus rule in Bogota can be found here. To paraphrase the main points:

“The fact that he was seen as an unusual leader gave the new mayor the opportunity to try extraordinary things, such as hiring 420 mimes to control traffic in Bogotá’s chaotic and dangerous streets. He launched a “Night for Women” and asked the city’s men to stay home in the evening and care for the children; 700,000 women went out on the first of three nights that Mockus dedicated to them.”

Pre-Mockus, the city was in a state of complete havoc. Cars and road-users ran red lights without fear of punishment, parked cars on sidewalks and generally ran amok. This lead to large numbers of civil injuries and deaths on the roads. Mockus, to combat this, put in place 400 street mimes to bring attention to law breakers in a jovial manner. The mimes would then help the law-breaking citizens to do the right thing. The move was a success, and lead to the training of the city’s own force of street mimes. Injuries and deaths fell and the efficiency of the roads increased dramatically.

Street Traffick Mimes

This is an example of real, concept innovation. Einstein has been quoted many times, espousing the belief that you cannot solve a problem buy using the same thinking that created it. In many societies and businesses, we can get so absorbed by the problems we face that we are only able to provide piecemeal solutions which follow the same old lines of thinking we are all used to. The real groundbreaking results happens where the concept used to solve the problem has been ‘re-thunk,’ applying a totally new line of thinking to an old problem which creates new and better outcomes for all involved. The ability to think like Mockus, in a profoundly concept-inventing focused way, is something I plan to discuss more and more through this blog. Let me know if you have any thoughts on it yourself!

2 thoughts on “Street Mimes and Civil Innovation”

  1. Thanks Glenn, I agree. The thinking exhibited here by Mockus is breakthrough, and may prove to be decades ahead of it’s time. Lets watch this space.

Comments are closed.