2014 SXSW Interactive Session Spotlight: How Overcrowded Asian Cities Inspire Innovation

Written by Megan Simpson | February 20, 2014

At SXSW 2014, Tara Hirebet talks about innovation in crowded Asian cities

Born in India, Tara Hirebet (@TaraHirebet) later grew up in Singapore, where she now lives and works. She previously worked in advertising and for a market research firm in China, where she looked at trends across China for major multinational companies and brands. Now working in Singapore, she runs the Asia Pacific regional office of trendwatching.com, a boutique global trend firm, where she focuses on tracking Asian consumer behavior, trends, insights, cultural shifts and changes. She also writes two monthly columns on Asian consumer trends and innovation ideas in Campaign Asia Pacific and The Korea Times. In Austin, she will present, “How OverCrowded Asian Cities Inspire Innovation,” the focus of this installment of the Session Spotlight.

SXSW: So, how do overcrowded Asian cities inspire innovation?
Hirebet: Asia’s cities are chaotic, but this chaos inspires us to seek creative and innovative solutions for citizens to manage and enjoy life in them. On the one hand there’s a need for innovations that help Asians squeeze in as many fun city experiences as possible into each moment. On the other hand, there’s a need for solutions tackling overcrowded living (transport, traffic jams, lack of living space and greenery, pollution, food and health.). We take a look at examples from across the region and see how governments, brands, entrepreneurs, designers and citizens are stepping up to answer these needs.

SXSW: Have you spoken about this topic before?
Hirebet: Yes, I have spoken on a similar topic at a Singapore Chapter of Creative Mornings and at TEDX City 2.0 in Singapore. Audience members seemed energized and inspired by the sessions, approached me to chat further or congratulate me on it, and people tweeted about the talks and their take aways from them. I have also spoken on aspects of this topic in the Mashable Social Good Summit here and a recent TEDx Women Singapore talk on how we should redesign cities to make them better for women. Both received numerous tweets, Facebook shares and people felt they inspired new perspectives and were thought provoking.

SXSW: What kinds of people do you anticipate being in the audience at your session?
Hirebet: With our future set to become increasingly urban and urbanism spreading, a topic like this is really relevant to us all from a personal to a professional point of view. Understanding the way people both enjoy and struggle in them and their needs, is useful for anyone wanting to create a product or service or solution for urban citizens and urban consumer needs today. Anyone in research and design, innovation, strategy, insight, advertising, digital and social media, app developers, startups, urban and city planning, policy and services, and other public sector areas, trends, consumer behavior and insights should attend. There is something for everyone in this. It provides a way to understand rapidly developing Asia and its true needs now and for a sustainable future.

SXSW: Why should SXSW registrants attend this session?
Hirebet: Asia seems far away from everything in the US and it isn't often a topic spoken on by someone in Asia and from Asia. I hope to and can offer that firsthand life experience, insight and passion to change things as someone who was born, grew up in Asia, studied Asian consumers and innovation but have lived and travelled in many other parts of the world too. I also think they should attend because it is going to make them rethink Asia, not as copycats or adopters but as pioneering innovation and design and find its urban problems and solutions a source of new perspectives, angle and inspiration for us all, wherever we are and whatever we do. Why? Because for the first time, we are looking at over packed cities to a level the world has never seen, and we don't the answers. These are cities with no tried and tested solutions and blueprints and they are in serious need of a complete rethink to make them successful, sustainable long term and enjoyable and humane again for the teeming masses inside them. This makes Asia a real-time, live out of the box challenge and opportunity for global citizens, creatives and thinkers to work their innovation muscle in ways they haven't before and I encourage SXSW registrants to come and start chewing on that challenge and use it as an inspiration and exercise in their own disciplines, industries and careers.

*SXSW: What excites you most about this session?
Hirebet: What excites me is sharing something that is close to my heart, a passion, and a growing lifetime need and goal of researching, understanding, innovating and improving Asian cities for those that live inside them. I am excited to be Asian and share this Asian moment at a place like SXSW, with the biggest and brightest thinkers and innovators and getting their energy and input. I love cities. Asian cities to me are thriving vibrant places and I want to be able to share that vision, and the sheer magnitude and opportunity they present to us in the world today, for life changing and world changing creativity and innovation.

SXSW: What do you think will be the biggest trend at the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival and why?
Hirebet: That's hard to say! (Even being in trends!) I think talks from diverse regions, and on smaller groups demographics or niche topics will be hits. I think people are searching off the beaten path for unpolished gems and nuggets. I could see the idea of mental and spiritual happiness and social good being a big topic.

Watch this website for more installments of the 2014 SXSW Interactive Session Spotlight. Click here for the complete list of programming for March in Austin. For tips on interesting sessions to attend, visit the new Recommendation page. Register now to attend “How Overcrowded Asian Cities Inspire Innovation” and other incredible programming at SXSW Interactive 2014.