Social Innovation: Indian City’s Blue Sky Thinking

This is a usual social innovation story involving the use of colour to improve an Indian city’s social and civic issues and outlook. Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, is to undergo a makeover and be painted a light blue. All government buildings, roadside railings and flyovers will be painted in a local government initiative by the ruling Trinamul Congress. The new colour scheme will include repainting the city's yellow taxis along with a number of famous landmarks. Owners of private buildings will be requested to paint their premises in the same colour and will incur their own costs.

Firhad Hakim, Urban Development Minister, says, "Our leader, Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, has decided that the theme colour of the city will be sky blue because the motto of the new government is 'the sky is the limit'. The necessary government orders will be issued soon." However, this social innovation idea of blue announcement has been criticised by opposition parties who believe the local government was "preoccupying itself with non-essential issues."

Calcutta’s local respected newspaper, The Telegraph, seems to support this social innovation idea, believing this cosmetic change could solve the key problems of the city such as its “chaotic health care, inability to implement pollution control norms, arsenic in the water, archaic sewers and garbage disposal, bad roads, killer buses for public transport, an airport falling apart and beyond dismal, priceless paintings rotting away in public art galleries.” It reported that painting the city blue was about “Finding the right colour combination. Undoubtedly the crucial first step in making a city safer, healthier, cleaner and generally more user-friendly for its inhabitants."

In colour psychology, blue is the most universally favoured colour of all cultures and the safest to use. It relates to trust, honesty and dependability—helping to build customer loyalty—and is often used for more conservative types of businesses such as banks and other financial instituitions where trust and reliability are important. It relates to one-to-one communication rather than mass communication, and inspiring wisdom and higher ideals, though is also conservative and predictable. Physiologically, blue is calming, reducing tension and fear. It slows the pulse rate and reduces appetite, creating the sensation of space. It adds strength and unity.

This new city colour scheme for Calcutta just might be a clever social innovation idea that could sort out its key social and civic issues. In 2006, Aurangabad (in the Indian state of Bihar) was painted pink by the local authorities to try to uplift the city’s declining morale and spirit. Another Indian city with colour is Jaipur, in the north of India; it is called the ‘Pink City’ after its terracotta-coloured palaces and buildings. Globally, there are places of colour -the small city of Guanajuato is a rainbow of structures and UNESCO World Heritage Site while Riomaggiore in Italy is stunning, resembling freshly opened packs of crayons. Maybe there’s something in this colour thinking, after all.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia