Travel Without Moving (Design clinic on ‘sustainability immobility’ at Pixelache Festival, Helsinki, 2009)

Many of us are confronted by a painful dilemma: the only way to reduce our ecological footprint of flying is to stop flying – and yet we feel we need to travel for our work, and to see loved ones. Can modern transport and tourism ever be sustainable? After all, the movement of people and goods around the world consumes vast amounts of matter, energy, space and time – most of it non-renewable. To explore substitutes for mobility, we co-produced a design clinic on Traveling Without Moving together with the Pixelache Festival and Juha Huuskonen.
A version of John Thackara’s talk was published by Adobe Think Tank under the title The fake-space race: Design and the future of travel

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JT West: Experiencing Sustainability

Climate change, peak debt, peak energy: these are all stakes being driven into the body of business as usual.
The days of acting as if infinite growth were possible within a finite system are over.
Where does this leave (interaction) design?
To find out you need to attend my talk on “Experiencing Sustainability” at IxDA in Vancouver 5-8 February.
After Vancouver I’m paying a visit on Saturday 7th to Bainbridge Graduate Institute; it’s a relatively new b-school and the only one I know of whose MBA programme is based explicitly on sustainability. Environmental and social responsibility are the basis of every course. (I first learned about Bainbridge from the three grad students who joined us at Doors 9 in Delhi last year).
On Monday 9 and Tuesday 10 I’m in-and-around Palo Alto. On Monday I’ll be catching up with my friends at Ideo and on the Tuesday I’m hoping to do a half-day workshop with Banny Banerjee who runs the Stanford Joint Program in Design (it serves as a bridge between the and the design program).
Then it’s on to LA where, on Thursday 12 February, together with The Planning Center I’m running a Southern California Sustainable Daily Life workshop.
After that event I’m staying on for a week in Southern California with my daughter, Kate.
No, I don’t expect you to find the above interesting. But I’m publishing my schedule here because my days of flitting over to the West Coast on a whim are over, and I don’t want to appear impolite to anyone I won’t see (or have not yet planned to) on this trip.
2009 is Year 2 of my take-10-percent-fewer-flights-every-year campaign. This will be my first long-haul flight in 17 months and I did, as promised, reduce the number of flights I took in 2008 by 30% compared to 2007.
My main ambition this trip is to find out what kinds of sustainability and design projects between North America, Europa and India are a) important to do; and b) can be undertaken remotely, with a minimum of air travel. If you have strong ideas on that matter, do get in touch.

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City Eco Lab: view from the balcony – and from the net

An overview (above) of the City Eco Lab site on its second Saturday. It was snowing in St Etienne but the place was packed. (80,000 people came to the biennial two years ago but many more seem to be expected this time).

If you scroll down from this story, there are another 18 posts on specific projects.

Dori Gislason has put an album here, and Allan Chochinov – Mr Core77 – has blogged the bienniale here. Marcia Caines has now posted an excellent review here at the Cluster website. Brice Pelleschi from exyzt has posted some fab City Eco Lab images at Flickr. And here are some more from Juha Huuskonen and a collection from “your bartender”also at flickr.

Allan Chochinov has also posted a mini-movie. of me explaining the project as a whole.

Here below is the installation on urban permaculture by Mathieu Benoit Gonin:

here explaining it to visitors


Below is the urban fish-farming prototype of Hugo Bont and Olivier Peyricot; (I’m not sure the cutest baby in the shed knew the fish were to be eaten):


and here is the “Tools for Exchange” stand inside the Tool Shed created by Bethany Koby and Ellie Thornhill.


The containers describe a wide variety of tools and organisational platforms for cooperation and sharing resources.

The popular ones after a week seem to be community-supported agriculture, energy descent action planning (as used by Transition Towns), local economy trading schemes, alternative trade networks, and land- sharing platforms.

Visitors add their own recommendations for tools by writing on the blank lables of other containers.


And in the Explorers Club (above) food producers and citizens discuss ways to enhance the AMAP system of community supported agriculture.

Next to the Explorers Club, in the Map Room (Salle des Cartes), Big Picture proposals from The Why factory are mixed up with maps of ecosystems and biodiversity in the Rhone Alps region.


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City Eco Lab: productive urban gardens

One of the inspiring discoveries we made in putting City Eco Lab together was l’Ilot d’Amaranthes,a five-year-long project in which St Etienne designer Emanuel Louisgrand, in partnership with Galerie Roger Tator, has created productive gardens on abandoned sites in different parts of Lyon.
Given the range of malfunctioning global systems we have to deal with, attempting to design global replacements top-down simply wont work. Instead, we have to “grow” their replacement from small experiments, or seeds, that have the potential to multiply and be scaled up. Solutions will come through intense and diverse experimentation in doing things in a lighter and more sustainable way.
When I speak about experimentation, I don’t mean research in a laboratory, or debate in an academy. I mean experiments in the real world with the participation and co-ownership of citizens. Such experiments, when rooted in reality, generate the feedback and rapid learning that’s needed in terms of perpetually iterative design.
L’Ilot d’Amaranthes is a perfect model of the kind of activity that we need to see in every city and town. What shines out from the project is that each intervention is unique to that place and that time. This is a sustainable way of thinking: Understanding what makes each place unique, and then defining tools and infrastructures that can be adapted to it.
Roger Tator Gallery have published a new book about l’Ilot d’Amaranthes and the work of Emanuel Louisgrand. I know this because I contributed a short text and have a copy sitting next to me as I write – but I can’t quite find it yet on the Roger Tator site. But do hassle them for a copy – it’s beautifully done.

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City Eco Lab: the art of food proximity

“Let’s keep food around us” says Debra Solomon of her presentation at City Eco Lab: Lucky Mi Fortune Cooking. It’s is a working example of how a community can optimize its food flow using design. “New (food) products are not the answer” says Solomon; “new platforms, new actors, new configurations are”.
There are a lot more of Debra’s pix here.

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City Eco Lab: The river runs through us

If perpetual, resource-intensive growth is no longer a viable model for the development of a city-region, what alternatives are available?
In City Eco Lab, we explored the idea that St Etienne’s river, le Furan, and the natural systems of the broader region, might be a fruitful basis for re-imagining the city.
It was in this spirit that City Eco Lab’s scenographers – Gaelle Gabillet, and Exyzt – put water and earth in the centre of the space. Man-made stuff was arrayed around the edges.
We then ran workshops with a variety of individuals and groups who were involved in different ways with the history and the future of the river. From these encounters emerged a map (below) of projects and opportunities.
In St Etienne, much of the river – Le Furan – was built over and hidden during its years as as an industrial and manufacturing centre of France. But thanks to wonderful research by Justine Ultsch and her colleagues at St Etienne’s City Hall, we were able to present many aspects of this hidden history during City Eco Lab.
The image below, for example, is taken from a video, commissioned by the city, of sonic scanning that shows where the river flows right under the city centre.
It will not be practical to re-open all of Le Furan – but certain stretches can be brought back into plain view.
But for les Stefanois, developing the river as a tourist sdestination is less interesting than using it to support new business opportunities.
My own hobby-horse was the idea of using floodable ex-industrial land to grow crocuses (from which high value saffron is extracted) as they do in India.

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City Eco Lab: St Etienne’s Soupe de Ville (City Soup)

Architects are sometimes accused of being more at home in a world of abstraction than in the here-and-now.
Nonsense! A team from St Etienne’s architecture school disproved this vile calumny with a wonderful project called Soupe de Ville (City Soup).
Having first done a beautiful job documenting sites around the city where food could potentially be grown….
…the team built a planting bed on formerly-industrial land not far from the biennial site…
When the crop was in, Soupe de Ville staged servings at various points around the city….
…in their custom-made Baravan…
…before makinge a triumphant guest appearance in City Eco Lab
There’s piles more material at the Soupe de Ville site.

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City Eco Lab: de-motorisation at different scales

A key principle of City Eco Lab was to focus on live projects and enterprises rather than on good ideas in abstract.
The city’s dynamic new courier company, Les Coursiers Verts (The Green Courier Company), took us at our word and relocated their office to the City Eco Lab site for the duration of the event.
A key question posed by a start-up like Les Coursiers Verts concerns scale: could their model absorb more than a tiny proportion of the flows of packages around a modern city?
And what about distance? Bike-base couriers may work in a city centre (even one with seven hills like St Etienne) – but what about longer distance traffic?
Frankly I don’t know the answer – but the idea of the show was to pose the question and bring different actors together to address it.
Right next to Les Corsiers Verts, for example, the French postal service, La Poste, presented the prototype of an an electric vehicle that they will deploy nationwide.
La Poste delivers five million packages a day in the city centres of France, and they’ve committed themselves to do this with zero emissions by 2012.
Now, zero emissions is not the same as zero environmental impact. For example, hybrid electric vehicles contain 60% more copper (thanks to their batteries and electronics) than old-style gas guzzlers. Mining and processing copper is incredibly energy and resource intensive.
Dealing with this wider footprint of delivery services is next on the list. For City Eco Lab, we were happy to start a conversation between The Big and The Small.

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City Eco Lab: “hybrid reality story scripts” about creative communities

Traditionally, the regeneration of a city has focused on its built fabric; architects and designers propose ways to upgrade or replace the old streets like the one above in St Etienne.
In City Eco Lab, the focus was less on buildings, than on activities that would represent more sustainable ways of organising daily life.
The designer Francois Jegou asked people from St Etienne to imagine their current life using solutions that reduced their impact on the environment and also regenerated the social fabric around them.
The result was a series of 13 “story scripts” that were shown on small screens in City Eco Lab (below).
These visions are “realist and pragmatic”, Jegou explains. “They show solutions that already exist in Saint-Étienne – imminent projects here, or solutions that exist elsewhere.”
For Jegou, these story scripts form “hybrid realities” that are realistic enough to make us question our own lifestyles, but still sufficiently open-ended for us to be able to adapt them to our own lives.
The resulting series of images are like little photo-novels which together present several solutions and a multi-faceted vision from the citizens’ point of view.
Jegou’s project at City Eco Lab continues his pioneering work on social innovation and design for sustainability.
Further details are here and here.
And here you can download free Jegou’s book “Collaborative Services, social innovation & design for sustainability”

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