My plan to save the city of Nice $250 million

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.

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How they’re playing the game

Roughly once a week, I admonish myself for spending too much time reading financial blogs. “Focus on the positive,” I tell myself. “Raging at politicians and banksters is a waste of your life energy. Build an alternative reality to theirs. Go and plant a carrot”.
So yesterday I went into the real world (well, Nice) and hung out with real people doing real projects. And I was much inspired. But on the train back, thanks once again to Illargi, I accidentally stumbled across this excellent piece by Justice Litle (sic) that explains how the people who caused the mess are now making billions gaming governments’ solution to the mess.
“Tragedy is turning into farce as the real intent of the bank rescue plan becomes apparent”, Litle begins.
“Imagine, for a moment, that I have a beat-up old mini-fridge in the back of my garage. It has a coolant leak, it’s a little moldy, and it smells like stale beer, but I’m pretty sure it still works.

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Are toxic assets a reprieve for the biosphere?

Last October I first saw this splendid inverted pyramid chart (this version has been smartened up) and put it next to another diagramme about programmed trading. I nicknamed the combination image a “Toxic Sludge Machine”. “Where we’re at now” (I wrote then) “is that systems designed to “streamline” the market have been spewing out financial derivatives which, insofar as anyone can count them, now amount to eight hundred times global GDP”.
But the financial crisis is not just the result of technology running amok. For months now, revelations of the wholesale greed and blatant transgressions of Wall Street, and the City in London, have reminded us that “The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One.” Bill Black, who wrote a book by that title, says the numbers, as large as they are, vastly understate the problem of fraud. (There’s a really terrific interview with Black by Bill Moyers, here. )

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Sins of emission (2)

The Guardian says today [Friday] that the (G20) summit’s biggest loser may have been the fight against climate change. “Hundreds of billions were found for the IMF and World Bank, but for making the transition to a green economy there is no money on the table”.
The Guardian quotes diplomatic sources to the effect that “China led the opposition to green language in the final communique”. I don’t buy this for a second – that China is to blame. On the contrary: the G20 was always going to be about a rescue of the ecocidal economic model that has led us to this situation. If they thought about it all, I’m sure most of the political leaders in London told each other they would “deal with climate change later, in Copenhagen”.
It’s tempting, on days like this, to rage and scream at these ignorant bastards. But do you know what? They won’t hear – because they can’t hear. There’s nothing in the lived experience of a senior politician (think of that grim conference centre yesterday) to help him or her understand the world differently. Most of them are lawyers and economists: their known world is, by training and socialization, abstract and disconnected from the biosphere.
Besides, is it a good use of one’s life energy to scream at the captain of the Titanic? The economic model the G20-ers hope to have ‘rescued’ is dying anyway.
That’s why I don’t agree that yesterday was a “lost opportunity”. The G20 was never going to be where a “green economy” would be made – or even thought about. The green economy is being made elsewhere.
And that reminds me: I have a meeting to go to about rainwater capture in our town.

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Sins of emission

An unlikley climate change alliance has emerged: China and Christian Aid. Both argue that countries should take responsibility for their aggregate greenhouse gas emissions to ensure fair play as nations strive to halve global emissions by 2050.
He Jiankun, a professor from Tsinghua University, says today that developed countries, which are home to just 20 percent of the world’s population, have contributed 75 percent of all global emissions since the Industrial Revolution. Therefore, because cumulative carbon dioxide emissions hang around in the atmosphere for 50-100 years, every nation should take responsibility for its aggregate contribution to climate change.
Conservative commentators this week charge that China is looking for ways to obscure the fact that it now tops the list in annual carbon dioxide emissions and that that the country is “backing out of global efforts to address climate change”.
This sort of argument will no longer wash.

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Make sense, not stuff: A three step plan to connect design schools with the green economy

[I was asked to write a text about the green economy by Cumulus, the international network of design schools. It will published at their forthcoming conference in London (27-30 May). This is a preview].
What would architects design, if they did not design buildings? What would designers design, if they did not design products, or posters?
My question is not a rhetorical one. On the contrary, I believe design schools are in danger of being marginalised by events. The world is changing around them fast – and they are not. Or not fast enough. I agree with Al Gore that the world has reached a tipping point in its responses to climate change, resource depletion, and economic crisis: Changes we have all talked about for years are starting to be implemented.
But design schools are finding it hard to move on from the old paradigm of design-for-production, and design for individual expression.
Read the rest of the text here: Download file

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London “nine meals away from anarchy”

In 2007 Lord Cameron of Dillington, first head of the UK Countryside Agency, famously remarked that Britain was ‘nine meals away from anarchy.’ Britain’s food supply is so totally dependent on oil – 95 per cent of the food eaten there is oil-dependent – that if the oil supply to Britain were suddenly to be cut off it would take just three full days before law and order broke down. “We rely on a particularly vulnerable system. Britain needs to invest seriously in agriculture infrastructure if we are to avoid food crisis” said the noble Lord at the time.
I’m not sure that much action has so far followed these remarks, but an exhibition opening in London next month explores what those investments might be. The show looks at different ways that cities might be transformed from consumers of food to generators of agricultural products, and at how food production can be incorporated into the urban environment at both industrial and domestic levels.
A highlight of the London show is a photographic and filmic record of the Dott 07 Urban Farming project in Middlesbrough. Good to see London following so promptly – only three or four years behind the northern town. In Middlesbrough itself, since Dott 07 itself ended, the town’s Council is expanding the Urban Farming programme. The Bohm and Viljoen map (below), created for Dott 07, that plots sites of productive potential, is a reference point for a raft of new initiatives. The Council recently won a £4 million (4.3 million euro) grant to run a “cocktail” (their word) of food and health projects, and the plan is to make the Town Meal an annual event to showcase the results of this new work.
LONDON YIELDS : Urban Agriculture is curated by Jackson Hunt and opens on Wednesday, 8 April, 6.30 – 9pm at The Building Centre, 26 Store Street, off Tottenham Court Road in central London.

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Now just add one more column…

They’ve installed this impressive new departures board at Paris CDG airport. It lists a good number of the more than one thousand departures from there each day. Now, what it needs next is a right hand column that shows, for every flight, the forcings per passenger of climate through CO2, NOx, and contrail formation. With that extra column in place, I can’t help thinking the board would soon start getting smaller again.

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What Tools for Transition Towns?

This morning I received an interesting email from Transition Towns. “We recognise that out in transition land there’s a great diversity of web tools and processes currently in use and under development” the mail begins; “some of these will be resilient and adaptable enough to support the changing needs of transition groups around the world”.
I am then asked to I fill in an online survey to help the Transition web team to “map out this sometimes alien terrain for community groups, and introduce common tools, processes and protocols to make it easier for us all to do our work”
Now I love surveys, and a tools survey like this one seems to be an excellent step. But, as we learned doing the “Tools for Sharing Shed” at City Eco Lab last year, knowing about the availability of tools, and figuring out how to use them well, are two different things.
[“Cabane a Outils” at City Eco Lab]
Two key questions arose in St Etienne: who will procure, deploy and maintain these tools? and, how and where will they do so?
When I read the Transition Towns email, my first reaction was that they should be talking to the web team at WiserEarth. This amazing site seems to me to be a two-years-ahead, all-in-one-place example of an adjacent (to Transition Towns) movement that is on top of this Web 2.0 stuff.
The challenge for Transition Towns – and for us all, really – is to deploy social networking tools in such a way that we don’t all get flooded and overwhelmed. Hardly a day passes without a new eco-everything site being launched.
Today, for example, I was told about a new UK-based site called Ecomotion.
Ecomotion is supported by such excellent organisations as the Soil Association and Triodos Bank, and all the stories it links to are important. But its home page, for me, is incredibly frantic and busy. “Collaborate…Innovate….Activate!” it commands, amidst a blizzard of clickable images and boxes.
My first reaction, on seeing Ecomotion, was to think: “Leave me alone! I need to be calm. I want to think about, and do, one thing at a time”.
My second reaction was that I must be in the wrong demographic – too-linear, too old-web-paradigm, a constraint on innovation.
But lo! Literally one minute after thinking these “I’m past it” thoughts, I received a comment on the story below from a student called Natalya at Parsons School of Design in New York.
Natalya, who is my new hero, writes that “the decreasing costs of production provided by the Internet is exponentially increasing the amount of all types of information available, as well as widening the spectrum of people that can produce it. Our ability to navigate and make sense of these piles of data and opposing viewpoints will determine much of our economic and social futures”.
“I can see these information challenges consistently represented in the work of my peers”, she continues. ” Some are using networked Internet resources to broaden the scope of their projects. Others are becoming increasingly mired in their personal interests, magnified by the virtual realm, and producing “design for design’s sake” with little relevance. Operating in a rapidly changing, globalized economic environment, designers must embed their work in this worldly context, or risk irrelevance or worse”.
I first read read Natalya’s email to mean, “it’s OK to hate Twitter”. But then, another epiphany: I was alerted by a twitter message, no less, to a project in Birmingham, England, that strikes me as a simple and brilliant answer the”how do we use these tools” question.
Paradise Place, as it’s called, organises social media surgeries at which volunteer bloggers show voluntary and community groups in the city how to make best use of social media. “No boring speeches, no jargon”, they promise.
Absolutely spot on. Every Transition Town needs its own Paradise Place.

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