In the Palace of the Popes

Is culture something that’s produced to be sold, or a description of the ways people live? It’s an old question, but last week’s Forum d’Avignon (see also my story below) put a new spin on it: could the culture industries lead the way out of the economic crisis?
The debate did not take place on neutral territory. The Forum’s 300 grandees of media, economy and culture met in the Palace of the Popes. The event felt more like a papal conclave than a business meeting.
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Post-GDP: metrics, aesthetics, or ethics?

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So on Friday I’m immoderating a panel discussion about “After GDP” at the Forum d’Avignon, a uniquely French event which brings the worlds of culture, economy and media together in the Palais des Papes. By way of throwing an advance stone into the pond, I wrote this short background article for Les Echos. The French version comes first (thanks, Emilie!); scroll down for the English version.

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epa!

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The highlight of my visit to Musashino Art University’s 80th Anniversary was this stunning fashion show called epa! (Thanks, Tatsu, for the pictures). An incredible amount of fine handwork was involved in the clothes and acccessories, but what struck me most was the energy of the staging and choreography, and the pagan storyline: these reminded me of a design-school graduation collection I saw back in 1984 called “Les Incroyables”. It was by a young designer called John Galliano.
Even earlier than that, back in 1954, Musashino art students moved in different ways….
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From FarmVille to TransitionVille

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If I were a PsyOps specialist at Monsanto, I’d have invented FarmVille. More than 62 million people have signed up to play the Facebook game since it made its debut in June, with 22 million logging on at least once a day. It’s quickly become the most popular application in the history of Facebook.
FarmVille players outnumber actual farmers in the United States by more than 60 to 1, and it would be hard to imagine a better way to distract people from re-localising food in real-life.
“The whole concept of ‘I’m sick of this modern, urban lifestyle, I wish I could just grow plants and vegetables and watch them grow,’ there is something very therapeutic about that,” said Philip Tan, director of the Singapore-M.I.T. Gambit Game Lab.
FarmVille Freak, a blog, has a simpler slogan: “I can’t stop watching my crops!”

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Spacing in

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As you may have read in this month’s newsletter, I’m a new fan of Spacing. This excellent new-paradigm magazine and multi-city blog (Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Atlantic, including Halifax) features daily dispatches from the streets of these places on “just about anything that involves the public realm of our cities” Under that heading, they just posted an interview with your correspondent, about 4 Days Halifax, on Spacing Radio. Listen closely and you may be able to hear the sound of Halifax rain pattering onto the microphone. (You have to click the button just below the signature of Andrew Emond; my bit is about 18 minutes in).

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Tech push and social pull

I’ve been reading a special issue of Innovations called “Energy for Change: Creating Climate Solutions” which claims to be “as thorough a survey of energy and climate solutions as has yet been compiled”. (I’m not putting a link here because the publisher – naughtily – has changed a contents page into an order page since I wrote about the journal in my newsletter. )
Although authored for the most part by eminent engineers, and published out of Tech Central – MIT – the collection is not wholly about technological solutions. Alongside optimistic papers on electric cars, carbon capture, and nuclear energy, there’s also a paper by Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka and of Get America Working, entitled “Engage People, Not Things”.

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Melons we can believe in

Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), told the US Congress last week 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 evening, for example, I visited a gorgeous shop round the corner called SunFruits. In it, one of these melons was on sale for only 21,000 Yen [euros 160, US$ 233].
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Now to the farmer who grew the melon, these prices 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.
Their 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].
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My only concern is that SunFruits will get to hear about Transition Totnes’ first nut:
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This first produce of the Totnes nut tree planting scheme has been announced by Rob Hopkins.
Over 100 trees have been planted since the scheme was was initiated three years ago, and it’s a worry that if SunFruits are seen to be selling similar nuts for fifty pounds each, thieves might steal the nuts and sell them in Japan.
Happily, most of the Totnes trees have a ‘guardian’ whose job it is to keep an eye on them.

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High entropy? Moi?

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When I first came to Tokyo, fashionable parts of the city would be lined with hundreds of heavy taxis sitting in queues with their engines running, for hours on end. Every powered item was always on, 24/7. Tokyo Metropolitan Government has passed a law against idling cars – but this hall of mirrors atrium is a reminder that high entropy Tokyo will not disappear without a struggle.
This picture is by way of context for my lecture yesterday at the International Design Symposium which was held to mark Musashino Art University’s 80th anniversary.
Here below is what I said.

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Transition countries and transition towns

I went to Poznan, in Poland, to speak at a conference called World Innovation Days. In brushing up on the history of the Wielkopolska region [of which Poznan is the capital] I was reminded that Central and Eastern countries of Europe are still called “Transition Countries” – as in, transitioning from communist statehood to membership of a bright, shiny and high-tech European Union. To help them along, the EU wants transition countries to grasp the holy grail of Innovation, which is why EU money paid for most of this event.
Now in the EU, “innovation” is interpreted as high technology innovation – but, to their credit, the organisers in Poznan invited several speakers [including me] to talk about social innovation, too.
I devoted a fair bit of my piece to Transition Towns which, I told my hosts, are the most important development happening anywhere right now. I would like to report that everyone in Poznan said “Yes! We must link up with these fellow Transitioners” – but as this would entail a 180 degree policy about-turn, they didn’t. It will take a while yet.
The rest of my Letter from Poznan is here

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