Antanas Mockus had just resigned from the top job of Colombian National University. A mathematician and philosopher, Mockus looked around for another big challenge and found it: to be in charge of, as he describes it, "a 6.5 million person classroom."
Mockus, who had no political experience, ran for mayor of Bogotá; he was successful mainly because people in Colombia's capital city saw him as an honest guy. With an educator's inventiveness, Mockus turned Bogotá into a social experiment just as the city was choked with violence, lawless traffic, corruption, and gangs of street children who mugged and stole. It was a city perceived by some to be on the verge of chaos.
People were desperate for a change, for a moral leader of some sort. The eccentric Mockus, who communicates through symbols, humor, and metaphors, filled the role. When many hated the disordered and disorderly city of Bogotá, he wore a Superman costume and acted as a superhero called "Supercitizen." People laughed at Mockus' antics, but the laughter began to break the ice of their extreme skepticism.
"No, sir, you can't bob for apples with your hand."
Basically, this academic ran for mayor, won the position, and then proceeded to implement policies such as..
- hiring mimes to direct traffic
- giving out "thumbs up"/"thumbs down" cards for citizen to use to pass judgment on fellow citizens' behavior
- asking citizens to voluntarily pay 10% more in taxes (63,000 people complied)
- and more!
What struck me the most about this particular article/story, however, was this:
"The distribution of knowledge is the key contemporary task," Mockus said. "Knowledge empowers people. If people know the rules, and are sensitized by art, humor, and creativity, they are much more likely to accept change."
This, I think, is a huge insight into how we can create effective designs (or really, how we can create effective anythings). We know already that knowledge alone isn't enough to get people to change; you have to make them receptive to the idea of change, and I think that good design is one way of doing that. As was mentioned somewhere in a post from a few weeks ago, people respond very well to playfulness and humor — it causes them to drop their guard for a few moments, leaving themselves open to subsequent ideas and suggestions. Good design doesn't always need to be humorous, obviously, but I think that it has to be able to cut through cynicism and world weariness somehow before its message can be heard. Sometimes this can be done subtly, but other times, like here, it can be quite in-your-face about it (in a good way).
Do you think something like this would work in Chicago? Has something like this succeeded or failed in Chicago (or some other major American city)?