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When I think of public spaces each has its own qualities that generate different spontaneous or organised uses. I’m thinking of a tree filled park near where I live with picnics and games of hide and seek.  Federation Square in Melbourne with its cascading spaces and fractal façade, alive with its street performers and staged events. Melbourne’s most recent M-Pavilion by Barcelona architect Carme Pinós, my favourite M-Pavilion yet, a beautiful space to be around and host many cultural events.

It’s this combination of place, people and purpose that truly gives each public space a special quality. La Marina Living Lab is an innovative combination of a public space with a purpose: to support innovation for products, services or publics.  There is a wonderful freedom to this. While there are the Living Lab structures in place, there is no one theme, like a smart city or ageing. A public space that supports innovation is very open. People can meet with or without purpose; spontaneously or by design.  To me this seems to set the conditions for the quality I hope the Living Lab will have, serendipity.

Serendipity is the “faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident.”  It comes from a tale of Princes who were sent on a quest and meet again years later not having completed the quest but having more valuable discoveries along the journey.

Living Labs have many of the conditions for serendipitous discoveries. They bring together groups that would not necessarily work together, with multiple views brought to think about a problem. The user can express their needs from the very beginning of a process, we might think of this as the well of opportunity from which the Living Lab bucket draws from.

David Snowden, creator of the Cynefin framework (a Welsh word “It describes that relationship: the place of your birth and of your upbringing, the environment in which you live and to which you are naturally acclimatised” ) recently described how a University is trying to create serendipitous events. Students from different faculties, science, arts, humanities, etc are given a project to work on, the idea is that these radically different viewpoints may produce unexpected discoveries, not even necessarily about the project they are working on. It’s a deliberate attempt to overcome siloed thinking from any one subject.  By unexpected discoveries we’re really talking about innovation, finding new ways of doing, seeing, creating, approaching something in a novel way.

La Marina Living Lab’s freedom and public space is its advantage. What better place to create the conditions for serendipitous occurrences? Public spaces are all about public involvement, bringing together different communities, creating new relationships and meaning where it didn’t exist before. In a public space there’s the opportunity to make this a deliberate act and support the spontaneous. The Living Lab will also have the structures to develop and nurture these new ideas.

The manifesto has all the conditions to support a truly exciting public space, that supports serendipitous occurrences that can lead to exciting new realities.