The meaning of melons (revisited)

hana_top_05.gif.jpeg
Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), told the US Congress last year that Japan’s debt path was ‘out of control’.
Simon warned of “a real risk that Japan could end up in a major default”. [The IMF expects Japan’s gross public debt to reach 218pc of gross domestic product (GDP) this year, 227pc next year, and 246pc by 2014].
I really don’t understand this scaremongering and negative thinking at all. Japan must be full of money, because there are so many beautiful things to spend it on.
Last year, for example, I visited a gorgeous shop in Tokyo called SunFruits. In it, one of these melons was on sale for only 21,000 Yen [euros 160, US$ 233].
menu_main.jpg
Now to the farmer who grew the melon, $233 might seem a bit on the high side, compared to what he was paid for it.
But this is where the politics of envy so often gets it wrong. Because SunFruits don’t just sell melons, they sell a *totally designed experience*.
The SunFruits shop, for example, which contained the melon, makes the average Prada store look like a charity shop.
And it can’t be cheap paying for the security guard who’s there to keep an eye on the $6 strawberries. (That’s $6 each strawberry). (The guard is not in the picture because he was chasing someone who had stolen a grape).
I was reminded of all all this at our market here in France today. In it, I purchased the melon below for two euros. Mine is an upscale melon hereabouts; others were on sale for half that.
I doubt that my melon was 93 times less delicious than the melon I saw in Japan. In fact I’d bet (but cannot afford to pay for a definitive test) that my melon tastes as good or better than the SunFruits one.
The only difference? mine has not been enhanced by the magic touch of of Design.
melondoors.jpg

Posted in [no topic] | Leave a comment

Silent tree hugging in Tenerife

over-development-andalucia.jpg

The criminal over-development of the Canary Islands – and the loss of biodiversity and social capital that followed – was financed by the same banks and speculators that our governments are now trying so desperately to save.
Given the desecration of these beautiful islands, the bankers who financed it all do not deserve to be saved. A more fitting fate would have them turned into biomass and returned as fertiliser to the land they have despoiled.
brokers-multi.png
These uncharitable thoughts are prompted by my visit this week to the second Biennale of the Canary Islands Its theme is “Silencio” – but it took me a while to get into this spirit on arrival at Tenerife’s northern aiport: builders were cutting through marble using unmuffled saws, and a massively over-amplified PA system further jangled the nerves.
Away from the un-silent din of Arrivals, the scope of the biennial is impressive. A 200-page catalogue lists dozens of events to do with architecture, art and landscape design. Many excellent and charming projects have been developed as modest interventions.
portada1.jpg
But taken in total, the attitude (in writing) of the professionals is dispiriting. There are endless riffs of the kind, “the vertiginous pace of development/consumption” – but no self-criticism by designers that their profession has played an important role in all this this ecocidal development. (I do not exclude myself from the guilty, having flown in-and-out in too short a time).
The biennial aspires to chart a new design course for the islands – but one would pay more respectful attention to these proposals if they were preceded by the occasional *mea culpa*.
Just as films don’t get made without a script, urban development doesn’t happen without a “design vision” to inflame the lust of investors.
[ The Canary Islands are not unique in this. During the now-dead boom decades, many illustrious names in design were iimplicated in awful projects. One Dubai property developer teamed up with Giorgio Armani, for example, to build a US$43 billion luxury development on two islands – Bhudal and Bhuddo, off Karachi – that government officials described as being ‘deserted’. But the livelihoods of 500,000 fishermen and their families – indigenous people who have been living on the islands for centuries – will be destroyed if the development goes ahead ].

Read More »

Posted in most read | Leave a comment

My plan to save the city of Nice $250 million

IMG_1859.JPG

This blog first proposed the replacement of trophy buildings with street art back in 2002.
In a piece called “Trophy buildings are over” we argued that because they are conceived as spectacles, so-called signature architecture would be subject to the law of diminishing returns: the novelty would wear off, and buildings conceived as tourist destinations would be hard to sustain.
The modest size of the adoring horde outside LA’s $270 million Gehry (photographed above in February) would seem to confirm this prognosis.
The decline of architectural trophyism coincides with an interesting debate about the use of existing, but abandoned, industrial buildings. Until the bust, most large empty buildings would have been jumped on by developers and turned into egregious lofts. These days, the pressure is off and cities are considering more interesting uses.
Last weekend in Nice, for example, I learned that the city is contemplating what do do with 40,000 square metres (400,000 square feet) of disused abattoirs (below).
Sophie Duez, a celebrated actor, and municipal councillor, has been appointed president of a “Committee of Reflection” to stage a series of “debattoirs” during the year. A wide variety of cultural, social and community groups will participate.
abattoirs_01.jpg

Read More »

Posted in city & bioregion, most read | Leave a comment

‘Reversing the reversal’ with john chris jones

jcjones_i&e.png
I’ve been re-reading “the internet and everyone” by john chris jones.

I’ve been astonished once again by the sensibility of an artist-writer-designer whose philosophy – indeed his whole life – first inspired me when I was a young magazine editor more than 30 years ago.

Like another muse of mine, Ivan Illich, John Chris Jones was decades ahead of his time. The time is ripe now for a wider readership.

He wrote about cities without traffic signals in the 1950s – sixty years before today’s avant garde urban design experiments.

In the 1960s, Jones was an advocate of what today is called ‘design thinking’; (then, it was called design methods).

He advocated user-centered design well before the term was widely used. He began by designing aeroplanes – but soon felt compelled to make industrial products more human. This quest fuelled his search for design processes that would shape, rather than serve, industrial systems.

As a kind of industrial gamekeeper turned poacher, Jones went on to warn about the potential dangers of the digital revolution unleashed by Claude Shannon.

Computers were so damned good at the manipulation of symbols, he cautioned, that there would be immense pressure on scientists to reduce all human knowledge and experience to abstract form.

Technology-driven innovation, Jones foresaw, would under-value the knowledge and experience that human beings have by virtue of having bodies, interacting with the physical world, and being trained into a culture.

Read More »

Posted in [no topic] | Leave a comment

From mega, to micro: What You Can Do With the City

[Summer re-run; first published last year]
83a.jpg
The atmosphere at last week’s Megacities conference in Delft was subdued. I don’t suppose my own talk, which ploughed a similar path to the Debt, Diesel and Dämmerung narrative I mentioned yesterday, helped lighten the mood very much.
Spirits were low because it is becoming clear that mega solutions of any kind – whether or not they are desirable – will be extremely hard to sell, let alone launch, for the forseeable future. Given that our host venue, TU Delft, is Europe’s degree zero for mega-solutions, glum faces were to be expected.
So it was especially cheering when, the next day, Martien de Vletter (its Dutch co-publisher) gave me the brand new catalogue of an inspiring exhibition has just opened at the Canadian Centre for Architecture Actions: What You Can Do With the City.
The show features 99 actions that have the potential to trigger positive change in contemporary cities. The seemingly common activities, that feature walking, playing, recycling, and gardening, show the potential influence personal involvement can have in shaping the city – and challenge fellow residents to participate.
49.jpg
The project website includes projects by a diverse group of “human motors of change”. They include architects, engineers, university professors, students, children, pastors, artists, skateboarders, cyclists, root eaters, pedestrians, municipal employees.
09.jpg
The 99 actions touch on the production of food, and possibilities of urban agriculture; the creation of public spaces to strengthen community interactions; recycling of abandoned buildings for new purposes; the use of the urban fabric as a terrain for play such as soccer, climbing, skateboarding, or parkour; alternate uses of roads for walking, or of rail lines as park space.
Actions is curated by Giovanna Borasi and Mirko Zardini, with Lev Bratishenko, Meredith Carruthers, Daria Der Kaloustian, and Peter Sealy. The catalogue, which I warmly commend, contains case studies and short texts on most of the featured interventions.

Posted in city & bioregion, most read | Leave a comment

Alternative trade networks and the coffee system

0262524805-medium.jpg

Every day 1.5 billion cups of coffee are drunk somewhere in the world – quite a few of them in this house – but few of us in the North know much about the 25 million families that grow and produce this valuable bean.
After reading a new book called Confronting The Coffee Crisis I feel better informed not just about the negative aspects of the story – but also motivated to explore practically the potential of emerging alternative trade networks to change the bigger picture in profound ways.
In a system that can involve as many as eight transactions to bring the coffee to market, coffee farmers receive less than two percent of the price of a cup of coffee sold in a coffee bar, or roughly six per cent of the value of a standard pack of ground coffee sold in a grocery store.
So far, so outrageous. Less well-known are the damaging effects of these unequal power relations embedded in global coffee networks: threatened livelihoods, greater poverty, malnutrition, deforestation, and out-migration.
A “bigger, faster, cheaper” mentality has created a dynamic that exploits the most vulnerable at the bottom of the supply chain.

Read More »

Posted in food systems & design, most read | Leave a comment

Salvage design

kalakbook04.jpg
(Summer re-run: first published 26 July 2008)
Bamboo scaffolding, knotted aerial lines, hand painted signs or converted plastic bags: German photographer Thomas Kalak has published a book called “Thailand – Same same, but different!” that celebrates the Thais’ exceptionally gifted art of improvisation.
The strange objects and arrangements remind Kalak of art world “ready-mades” from the beginning of the 20th century.
They remind *me* that salvage society is not a future prospect that will happen when peak-everything hits home: untold millions of people subsist on the detritus of industrial society right now.
You can order the book here.

Posted in transition & design | Leave a comment

Innovating our way to oblivion

(Summer re-run: first published 16 June 2008)
Out-of-control buzzwords are like locusts: you can swat handfuls of them down with a bat, but more will come to take their place.
I’ve been swatting away for ages in this blog at all things Conceptual, Cultural, Clustered and (especially) Creative.
But now we’re suffering a massive counter-attack by the word Innovation – 137 million uses of which are known to Google alone.
A good proportion of these mentions probably belong to the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts (NESTA) in the UK.
Nesta’s mission is to “make innovation flourish,” and one way it does this is by using the world innovation in every second or third sentence of the emails it sends me.
Now Nesta is staffed by smart and well-connected people. And most of my clients think innovation is the very elixir of life itself. So I probably shouldn’t say this. But I have to, because it’s important:
INNOVATION IS NOT GOOD IN ITSELF – IN FACT, MORE INNOVATION DOES HARM, THAN DOES GOOD.
My evidence for this statement is contained in a breathless announcement from Mintel, the market research company, that a “Record-Breaking Number of New Products Flood Global CPG Shelves” and that (the numbers are for 2006) “close to 182,000 new products were introduced globally, with key booming areas focusing on mind, body, and general good health”.
Well over half of these of these innovations – 105,000, to be precise – were food and drink products.
This flood of innovations enable us to profit from such trends as “brainpower foods, age-defying treatments, increases in portion control, and “just for you” customised products”.
Now I may have misunderstood something here, but surely the Mintel numbers mean that more than half the innovations that reach the market all over the world – 300 innovations, every single day of the year – decrease the resource efficiency and hence sustainability of global food systems?
Good, so that’s Innovation dealt with. Bring on the next killer word!

Posted in [no topic] | Leave a comment

Marketing, me, and the future of tv

(Summer re-run: first published September 2009)
A marketing whiz I know in New York asked me to do her a favour: answer some questions about the future of tv.
At least, that’s what I thought she asked. But when, a couple of days later, a FedEx package arrived, it contained a tiny digital voice recorder and the instruction: “tell us your views about the future of the television” – ie, the product, not its content.
Although deprived of the opportunity to pontificate about the evils of reality television and Fox News, I nonetheless narrated the following into the little machine and FedExed it (at my friend’s insistence) back.
For some reason, I never heard from her again.
[Transcript]
“For me, big televisions are like gas-guzzling SUVs: fat, wasteful, and paid for with debt.
These fat objects don’t just waste energy – they’re toxic, too. The big old ones, the Cathode Ray Tube ones, were bad enough: each one contained as much as four pounds of lead.
But the new flat ones are also full of heavy metals. When improperly dismantled – which is most of the time – they release dioxins and poison the air and water systems.
Adding insult to injury, the biggest screens aren’t even used for anything useful. Most of them are used for push advertising.

Read More »

Posted in [no topic] | Leave a comment