You say you want an urban revolution? Jeb Brugmann argues that it’s already happening. And like others who are influencing the discussion about urban spaces by focusing on a single concept, such as Richard Florida (creative class) and Christopher Leinberger (walkability), Brugmann has boiled it down to one word: optimization. “Our next moment is being driven by an intensifying hunger”—corporate, governmental, and societal—“to optimize assets in their places,” said Brugmann, a longtime entrepreneur and the founder of the business consultancy The Next Practice, at his Friday morning keynote address at the AIA convention. “I argue it will be the defining trend in the coming decades.”

Rooted in the notion of networks as the defining model (individual cities will eventually be replaced by a “global city system,” he predicts), Brugmann said that real optimization can be achieved through “strategic design,” a five-part process that incorporates policy decisions, institutional efforts, product creation, business models, and communications. “The new sandbox,” he called it.

Brugmann illustrated how strategic design works by pointing to different successful urban efforts in various cities—among them, Curitiba, Brazil, where a bus rapid transit (BRT) system born in the 1970s and fostered by Jaime Lerner, an architect who also served as the Curitaba’s mayor for three terms, completely transformed the city’s development and was hailed around the globe as an object lesson in the bottom-line benefits of public urban transportation. It succeeded, said Brugmann, because it incorporated the five aspects of strategic design: 

• Policy: new zoning rules, as well as land-swapping opportunities, to entice developers

• Institution: the creation of Urbanização de Curitiba (a publicly administrated, privately funded company to manage the BRT system) and the Instituto de Pesquisa e Planejamento Urbano de Curitiba (an urban planning think tank)

• Product: the development of eight different types of buses, each designed for a specific BRT route

•  Business model: the monitoring of all costs to four decimal points; Curitiba’s BRT, Brugmann noted, is one of the few public-transit systems in the world to consistently break even when it comes to costs—and even make a small profit, on occasion

• Communications: user-friendly maps; color-coded buses; and streets with large , easily understood graphics on them

“We live and create value through networks,” Brugmann said, exhorting the audience to embrace strategic design as a new way to view, and value, their work as architects. “It’s your turn,” he concluded.