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].
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].
My only concern is that SunFruits will get to hear about Transition Totnes’ first nut:
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?

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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Do true cost economics spell finito for the Milan design scene?

Few artefacts embody so much mental, but also material energy, as a high design furniture from Milan. Will this sector be viable when the true social and environmental costs of industrial production start to be charged, rather than hidden?
Well maybe, and maybe not: my lecture is followed by a debate. Thursday 8 October, Design Library, via Savona 11, Milan. The event is for members of Design Library but we have a few tickets available: email

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Cities of Design

At a conference in St Etienne next month ‘Cities of Design’ including Minneapolis, Montreal, Quebec, Toronto, Seoul, Portland, Eindhoven and Dortmund will all be represented. Personally I think either that all cities should be design cities – or perhaps that none should if the word denotes, as is too often the case, narcissistic urbanism. But you be the judge: 30 November and 01 December, St Etienne. Info:

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Do you want to be exhibited in New Delhi? in three days from now?

Our good friends at Quicksand in Delhi (together with B.L.O.T. and Codesign) are curating an art event from start to finish in four days. It’s called “Pop Up Arthouse” and they invite creative people everywhere to submit works that will be shown at Mocha Arthouse, Vasant Kunj, in a few days from now. You don’t need to read more here: check it out now

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The Buckminster Fuller Challenge

I’m extremely honoured to be on the jury for the next Buckminster Fuller Challenge. More importantly, there’s a $100,000 prize at stake – so do check it out. I quote the introduction: “There is a movement afoot–of highly motivated individuals all over the world seriously engaged in coming up with solutions to the mounting set of problems we face. These design pioneers and social innovators are not waiting for large scale institutions to deliver us to a sustainable future. They understand the critical role they play as the change agents for the future we all want to see. These are the people and projects we are excited to see submit an entry to the Challenge”.

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Classroom design competition – two winners announced

Our friends at Architecture for Humanity ask that we spread the word that the winners of its 2009 challenge have been announced – and we are happy to do that.
The accompanying press release quotes a World Bank estimate that “ten million new classrooms are needed” to reach its targets on education and that, in addition, “tens of millions of crumbling classrooms – including many in the United States – are in desperate need of upgrading”.
“Meeting this demand for better learning environments will constitute the largest building project the world has ever undertaken” says the Bank.
This assertion, while no doubt welcome to architects and builders, is tendentious in the extreme. There is no evidence that throwing money at building projects makes a vast difference to the education that happens within them.
On the contrary: money for hard infrastructure is too often invested at the expense of money spent on teachers – or on simply getting out more.

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China’s clean little secret

As an experiment this weekend, I went through all 192 stories tagged “China” on a major eco website. More than 90 per cent of its posts were about at least bad, and often terrible, environmental news and developments.
It’s not that these grim stories stories were untrue, or unimportant. It’s just that their aggregate impact is disabling. One feels overwhelmed, as with so many aspects of the ecological crisis.
The negative slant is amplified by the fact that most of us in blog land rely on news feeds from wire services. Even if they had the inclination to do so, wire services’ offices are so lightly-staffed that locally-based journalists simply don’t have time to go out into the field looking for positive developments.
As a second experiment, therefore, I decided not to write about the latest grim report about the impact of industrial agriculture on the ozone layer, headlined Nitrous Oxide Fingered As Monster Ozone Slayer”.
I wondered: is anything positive happening in China to offset this latest nightmare?

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