Sofia’s sophists and the virtue in a Vespa

In September, innovation consultant, writer and speaker Georgi Kamov led a Street Wisdom event as part of a conference focused on ‘How to achieve quality of life in Sofia.’ It was organised by the Wellbeing Sofia project run by the Bagra Foundation in the framework of the Europe Program of the Sofia Municipality. 

Sofia was an interesting venue for holding a Street Wisdom event, given that the name of Bulgaria’s capital comes from the word “Sophia”, meaning “wisdom” in Greek.

The forecast for the day predicted rain and clouds – and it was indeed so for the first half of the day. Right before the event started, the skies cleared up and we had a lovely, sunny autumn afternoon. The group was comprised of 13 people with diverse backgrounds – City Council members, university professors, NGO activists, entrepreneurs, students. All of them went enthusiastically through the process, starting with a bit of skepticism. It quickly wore off after the first preliminary walks, when participants shared that time went really fast and they started tuning to the rhythm of the city.

Some of the observations of the city environment included “We really don’t realize how noisy it is because of cars and transport”, “We have so many hidden gems that we simply don’t take notice of – old house gates, trees, street signs”, “The streets are in fact divided in two – the lower half is on street and eye level and is full of life, the upper half is totally overlooked and barely noticed by us”.

Some of the stories were connected to questions such as “Should I end a long-standing professional relationship?”, “How can I create solutions for improving the city environment for children?”, “How can we create change more effectively”. Some of the participants did not want to share their questions, but instead shared insights on how Street Wisdom got them to think differently about them.

One participant mentioned that she did not find an exact answer to her question, but met an acquaintance on the street that she hasn’t seen for quite a while and was connected to the issue at hand. Another participant shared that she asked herself a challenging question connected to her professional future and did not find an answer – instead, she came to the conclusion that overthinking the question is not really beneficial and she should live for the moment, enjoy what’s happening right now and stop worrying.

A third participant saw that the communication between parents and children on the streets is limited to trivial matters (“Are you feeling cold?”, “Button up your shirt!”, “Watch out for passing cars!”) – instead, she felt parents should use their commuting time to create shared moments together and discuss the world around them.

A fourth participant (myself) had a really exciting experience. 50 metres from our meeting point found a red Vespa – coincidentally, we had used a photo with a red Vespa taken in Sofia for our “Wellbeing Sofia” quality of life conference. The Street Wisdom event was part of it. I have been seeing red Vespas on the streets of Sofia for a couple of weeks now.

My question was “How can we create change in our cities in a more effective way?” During my walk I decided to talk to a stranger – a saleswoman in a small, independent gift shop. I approached her and asked her to comment on my question, to which she replied: “I can’t really tell you anything, I just woke up” (it was 4 in the afternoon). This was my first insight – some people are just waking up to the idea of city change not driven from above, from city administrators and councillors. The next insight was a old sign on a building with letters made of metal. Usually you can guess what’s written by the remaining letters, but in this case I could not really tell. Second insight – if we help people fill in the missing blanks they might make better sense of the big picture. And the third insight came from the red Vespa – keep going, you are on the right track, follow the white rabbit 🙂

Georgi Kamov

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