starsightImagine a natural disaster knocking out your local power and telephone grids. A city in the Republic of Congo has planned ahead for that potential problem, with a system that combines solar-powered street lighting and internet access in a wireless configuration.

Looking for an inspirational approach to recycling that can generate income for the poor or developmentally disabled? In Cairo, Egypt, local officials have developed innovative partnerships that boost the supply-and-demand for creatively recycled materials. recycling

It used to be common practice to look no farther than our local neighbors for ideas and solutions that could be translated to meet our own community’s challenges. But today’s global economy has transformed our world into a smaller place, where a rapid transit system in Guangzhou, China might be just the ticket to solve our own Complete Streets challenge…or a global village design in Pakistan could provide the perfect low-cost model for emergency housing after a local tornado or flood.

Design With the Other 90%: CITIES is one in a series of themed exhibitions curated by the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, that demonstrate how design can be a dynamic force in transforming lives, by addressing the basic needs of the “other 90%” of the world’s population not typically served by the design community.

But the truly valuable revelation here is how often these “global solutions” can help spark us to reimagine the way we approach our own issues right here at home. Even an exotic innovation in some distant, emerging economy could have a practical application in our local backyard. Check out their website and be prepared to be inspired!