City Eco Lab: neighbourhood energy dashboard

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In the central space of City Eco Lab, a variety of live projects were on show that dealt with energy, water and mobility. Two key questions emerged: What variables make a neighbourhood sustainable, or not? And how do you measure them?
Magalie Restalo, a designer from St Etienne, presented the prototype of an energy and resource flows dashboard that would indicate the impacts of different kinds of interventions: feeding the quartier’s citizens more from allotment gardens; increasing the flow of foods through the community-supported agriculture system AMAP; and the use of bicycle based couriers such as Les Coursiers Verts.
The animation is not real-time, but it is based on reasonably hard numbers. The idea is to show citizens of the neighbourhood how much difference each of the possible changes would make.
If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I’ve been trying to commission dashboards for cities and regions for years now – but until the St Etienne project, they never left the drawingboard. (For Dott 07 in North East England, for example, I commissioned a project called Vital Signs which morphed into an quite different art project to the one I’d anticipated).
So I’m doubly thrilled and impressed that Restalo, who was supported in the project by EDF, has made such an effective prototype. It’s an impressive piece of work as you will see from the animated version here.

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City Eco Lab: soft tools for sharing

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The “Soft” department (above) within the City Eco Lab’s Cabane a Outils (Tool Shed) presented a variety of soft tools such as software platforms, new economic models, and design research networks. The aim was to make visitors aware of the existence of such ‘soft’ tools and present a selection so that they would not be overwhelmed by what’s out there.
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Designers Ellie Thornhill (above, left) and Bethany Koby (right) used a variety of physical containers to ‘contain’ the various soft tools. Some of these included:
Local Systems of Exchange
Complementary Currencies such as the Lewes Pound.
Short-term car poooling
Energy Descent Action Plan
Re-localisation.net
Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity
Landshare
Local Economy Trading System (LETS)
Spin Farming
AMAP (French community-suported agriculture (CSA)
Spot Scout – the eBay of parking spaces (which we reckoned could also be used for rooms)
Thing Link “Every thing has a story. We help people to link to it”
Etsy buy and sell all things hand-made
Co-ops
Mobile Banking
Time Bank
Fair Tracing
Alternate Reality Games
Ecosystem Valuation
Carbon Discosure
Ecological Footprint Calculator for Schools
Design Ethnography
Life Cycle Analysis
Sustainable Materials Selector
Ecodesign toolbox
Sustainable Measures
Appropriate Software
Intentional Communities

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City Eco Lab: open source hardware

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Many of the goods and services we take for granted in our daily lives depend on global flows and networks that seem to be unraveling in today’s converging crises.
Are doomed to return to a pre-industrial, pre-technological age?
If Jean-Noël Montagné (above, left – with Juha Huuskonen on the right) is around, tools and technologies will still be available – but not the proprietory, closed-system kinds we have now.
In one of the most remarkable presentations in our Explorers Club at City Eco Lab, Jean-Noël told us about the fast-emerging world of Logiciels libres, matériels libres, ressources libres – loosely translated as “free and open computing, materials and resources”.
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“We need to re-invent self-reliance” said Jean-Noël. The products, services and infrastructures we depend on need to be durable, and adaptable to different contexts. Their production should be based on recycling, and nurture local economies.
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Jean-Noël told us about the bricophone project that is being co-develped by Craslabs and left us with a Directory of do-it-yourself (DIY) technologies and resources.

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City Eco Lab: Map Room

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The focus of City Eco Lab was on live projects from the city-region – but we wanted to place these in the context of the bigger picture.
We therefore invited The Why Factory, from TU Delft in the Netherlands, to present their “Green Dreams” maps in our Salle des Cartes (Maps Room). The project was led by Pirjo Haikola, researcher and lecturer at (T?F).
The map beow, for example, shows livable and unlivable areas n 2100; it’s by Pauline Marcombe and Adi Utama.
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And the image below shows a proposal for a Hanging Gardens of Barcelona; it’s by Magnus Svensson and Nicola Placella.
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These maps focused on global and large scale urban view of sustainability. They compared strategies and their impacts on global and urban scale and looked at the big picture numbers. What is the effect of green buildings in an urban scale? How ‘green’ are cities today and how green should they be? Would it be possible to provide electricity for the whole world with renewable sources? What would an urban plan integrating renewable electricity generation be like? Is it possible to grow enough food inside the city boarders for all the inhabitants and how would that transform the city?
The Why Factory is a research group founded by Prof. Winy Maas, MVRDV, Delft School of Design and Delft University of Technology.

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City Eco Lab: dry loo solutions

Many people ask, “What has design got to do with sustainable development?”.

Well, take toilets.

In the South, 40% of the global population lives without toilets. In most places, scarcity of water renders sewer systems impossible, while ad hoc human waste disposal spreads waterborne illnesses that prey upon millions, and cripple developing economies.

In the North, roughly 20% of our already profligate daily water use is to flush toilets with drinking water. City dwellers have simply got to reduce this appalling waste – but how?

Hardened eco-warriors take pride in using hand-made dry toilets like the ones in the caravan below, and it is not hard to obtain worthy but grim solutions.
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But rickety utilities like these are not a solution for retrofitting millions of urban homes – especially if squeamish people like me are to be expected to use them.

Sustainable urban waste water management moves away from the disposal-based linear system that most of us know now – flushing – to a recovery-based, closed-loop system that encourages the conservation of water and nutrient resources without compromising public health.And these new closed-loop systems have to be retrofittable to millions of existing homes.

According to Dena Fam an Australian researcher, “the knowledge and technology already exist for this change to take place. There is a gap, however, between the current availability of innovative technology and the cultural acceptance of waterless toilets”.

Fam discovered that it is important to maintain a sense of ‘normality’ for the user in the design of new toilet systems. Only a small minority of citizens will opt for sustainable toilet behaviour because it is the right thing to do.

Part of the problem is a lack of system design that makes it easy to maintain,use and manage new waterless systems optimally. “If waterless toilets are to be accepted by the user” says Fam, “the design must take into consideration not only the technical aspects of the hardware but also the introduction and management of the waterless system in order to fit the prevailing socio-cultural context”.

The Dry Flush system (below), now being developed in Australia, takes these cultural issues explicitly into account.
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For industrial designer Virginia Gardiner, the key is to exploit the economic potential of waste. She has develped a waterless toilet, the G/CH4 (see below) that creates an urban infrastructure in which people trade their waste for biofuel.
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Gardiner explains:”many NGOs are hard at work installing composting eco-toilets for those in need – but a continual challenge is to motivate communities to look after their new toilets. By turning human waste into a high-value commodity, energy, the Gardiner CH4 offers plenty of incentive to sustain itself”.

The G/CH4 is a low-cost mechanical toilet that is sold alongside a simple biodigestor unit. In the toilet, a biodegradable lining material transfers and contains excrement in a sealed container which the user empties into the biodigestor, sited at an outdoor location, in exchange for methane gas: free cooking fuel.

“We are now preparing to build the techincal rig including a full-scale biodigestor, and test it in London” says Gardiner. “We are gathering funds for this critical phase of the project. Upon its completion, field tests will begin in Lagos, Nigeria, where we have already conducted extensive market research”.

My conclusion, after seeing her prototype in City Eco Lab, is that Gardiner should do some trials in London, now, and not wait to get to Lagos.

The contexts may differ, but the need for closed-loop waste systems is shared by both northern and developing cities.
For example, systems to capture rainwater, that can be retrofitted to existing houses, are taking off in a big way because an architect, Sally Dominguez, designed them to be modular, work well, and be easy to instal:
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Someone needs to develop hog loos, pronto.

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City Eco Lab book list

IN THE BUBBLE: Le design pour un monde complexe
John Thackara, Revue Azimut, 2008. It’s available from 12 December – perfect timing as a gift for all your francophone friends this holiday season….
THE LONG DESCENT
John Michael Greer http://www.newsociety.com/bookid/4014
HUNGRY CITY
Caroline Steele.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hungry-City-Food-Shapes-Lives/dp/0701180374
PERMACULTURE: PRINCIPLES AND PATHWAYS BEYOND SUSTAINABILITY
David Holmgren. Holmgren Design Services, Victoria AU:2002.
THE TRANSITION HANDBOOK: FROM OIL DEPENDENCY TO LOCAL RESILIENCE
Rob Hopkins
THE POWER OF COMMUNITY – HOW CUBA SURVIVED PEAK OIL
http://www.powerofcommunity.org/cm/index.php
RESOURCE CONFLICTS, SECURITY, AND GLOBAL?JUSTICE. WOLFGANG SACHS.
London Zed Books, 2007. http://www.zedbooks.net/fairfuture
HOPE, HUMAN AND WILD: TRUE STORIES OF LIVING LIGHTLY ON THE EARTH.
Bill McKibben, Milkweed Editions, 2007
STOLEN HARVEST: THE HIJACKING OF THE GLOBAL FOOD SUPPLY
Vandana Shiva, South End Press, 2000
THE LOGIC OF SUFFICIENCY
Thomas Princen, MIT Press, 2005
PEGAGOGY OF THE OPPRESSED
Paolo Frere, Continuum Publishing, 1993
DEPLETION AND ABUNDANCE: LIFE ON THE NEW HOME FRONT
Sharon Astyk, New Society 2008
REINVENTING COLLAPSE: THE SOVIET EXAMPLE AND AMERICAN PROSPECTS
Dmitri Orlov, New Society, 2008
PEAK EVERYTHING: WAKING UP FOR THE CENTURY OF DECLINES
Heinberg, R, New Society, 2007
IN THE BUBBLE: DESIGNING IN A COMPLEX WORLD
John Thackara, MIT Press, 2005
CONTINUOUS PRODUCTIVE URBAN LANDSCAPES
Andre Viljoen _ Katrin Bohm
SMALL CHANGE
Nabeel Hamdi
CREATIVE COMMUNITIES
ed Anna Meroni, Edizioni Poli.Design, Milan Politecnico
FIRE AND MEMORY: ON ARCHITECTURE AND ENERGY.
Fernandez-Galiano, Luis. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. 2000
BIOMIMICRY: INNOVATION INSPIRED BY NATURE
Janine M. Benyus, William Morrow and Company, New York.
SUSTAINABLE FASHION AND TEXTILES
Kate Fletcher, London, Earthscan, 2008
NATURAL CAPITALISM: CREATING THE NEXT INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
Paul Hawken
WORLDCHANGING: A USER’S GUIDE FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
Alex Steffen
LIVING IN THE CRACKS – A LOOK AT RURAL SOCIAL ENTERPRISES IN BRITAIN AND THE CZECH REPUBLIC
Johanisova, N, FEASTA and Green Books, 2005
COAL: A HUMAN HISTORY
Barbara Freese, Arrow, London, 2003
SIX MEMOS FOR THE NEXT MILLENNIUM
Italo Calvino, Vintage, London, 1996
SUBURBAN TRANSFORMATIONS
Paul Lukes, http://www.suburban-transformations.com/
THE NO NONSENSE GUIDE TO INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Maggie Black, Oxford, 2007, New Internationalist
THE HAND
Frank R Wilson, New York, Vintage, 1999
LOCALISATION: A GLOBAL MANIFESTO
Earthscan Books, London
FAIR FUTURE RESOURCE CONFLICTS, SECURITY, AND GLOBAL JUSTICE
Edited by Wolfgang Sachs and Tilman Santarius
A GEOGRAPHY OF TIME: THE TEMPORAL MISADVENTURES OF A SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGIST.
Levine, Robert. New York: Basic Books. 1997
LIQUID GOLD: THE LORE AND LOGIC OF USING URINE TO GROW PLANTS
Carol Steinfeld
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The Design Biennial St Etienne Catalogue includes my 2,688 word introduction. The whole book is in French and English.

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City Eco Lab: thing-design to-do list

City Eco Lab asked: What would life in a sustainable St Etienne be like? and, in which ways can design help us get from here, to there?
The discovery, mapping and documentation of a territory’s natural, cultural, human resources is a key element in building resilience.
Designers and artists can be especially good at spotting assets in the territory – such as abandoned buildings, disused sites, or vernacular tools – that other people might not consider interesting.
Designers also have the expertise to visualise solutions that do not yet exist; this important activity creates a common objective that people can work towards.
Traditional communication design skills are always invaluable to people organising projects.
Thing design, too, remains important even in the “less stuff, more people” world we’re creating now. Designers can improve the quality of experience, and equipment used, in all manner of resource-efficient services.
Interaction and experience designers can improve ‘touch points’ in everything from websites, to shared buildings.
And yes, some designers will ignore clients, contexts and users completely – and create sublime solutions out of thin air.
Putting it all on a ready-to-design plate, here are a few of the most pressing needs that emerged from City Eco lab:
– Biodiversity maps (of eco systems and natural resources)
– Energy and resource-use dashboards
– Rainwater capture and storage systems
– Natural filters and phytoremediation installations
– Waste and composting equipment
– Dry toilets
– Garden planting & planning tools
– Tool sheds
– Urban trellises
– Urban cold frames, greenhouses
– Raised planting beds
– Seed storage and labelling tools
– Shading structures
– Platforms for alternative trade networks
– Carts and baskets for de-motorised distribution services
– Labeling and product information systems
– Websites
– Food drying racks
– Mobile kitchens
– Benches and tables for communcal eating area
– Solar cookers
– Washrooms and lockers for communal gardens
– Neighbourhood-scale composting services and equipment.

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City Eco Lab: Les Stefanois and Sugoroku: only connect

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The Sugoroku project, designed by Catherine Beaugrand for the Saint Etienne Biennial, took a fresh look at ways media games might connect people with neglected assets of a city – physical, social, biological.
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In recent times, media artists have expored numerous ways to transform the use and experience of public space. The concepts of near and far have been redefined, and private life now emerges in communal areas. Events such as flashmobs combine partying, play, sociability, community and political activism.
Sugoroku combined play, and tool-making, with purpose: help people discover people and places that they would not otherwise connect with.
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The name sugoroku comes from a Japanese board game. It’s like snakes and ladders combined with a role-playing game. It combines elements of travel, Kabuki theatre and everyday life.
Sugoroku was very popular during the Edo period – seen now, in retrospect, as a byword of sustainable living.
In the original Sugoroku, players followed a route on the road leading from Tokyo to Kyot. On this road, 51 way stations marked renowned viewpoints, culinary specialities, craft products, and assorted rituals encountered along the way.
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The e-sugoroku project in St Etienne combined walking in the city, geolocation systems, mobile telephones, and the Internet.
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Players chose routes which they located on a board superimposed over a real map. This annotated overlay stimulated players with lavish commentaries on the places they visited. These were not always specifically identified places, but could be found accessed using clues.
The aim of the game was to collect virtual objects located in real places which could be found using flash tags and GPS co-ordinates. Text messages were sent to the players’ mobile telephones telling them where to find the objects.
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These objects were then collected and gathered together on a website, where each person managed his or her own collection. To collect a complete set, players had to trade objects with each other. Winning meant gathering the most complete sets.
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The search for virtual objects scattered around public space brought players into contact with Saint Étienne’s underground network of mine galleries and various sites associated with the city’s legacy of industrial and craft-based production of all kinds of objects: weapons with blades, firearms, cycles, sewing machines, mechanical parts, hardware and glassware items, luxury ribbons, etc.
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There’s lots more here at the Sugoroku website.
And if you mke it to Saint Etiene, be sure to have lunch the Cafe des Sports: it was our works canteen during City Eco Lab and serves steak frites to die for.
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City Eco Lab: Velo Wala

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A personal treat for me at City Eco Lab was the VeloWala installation that’s being put together for us specially by Quicksand and friends in India.

Across the hall the Velowala presentation about bicycle-enabled commerce in India was as fabulous as I knew it would be.
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Avinash (below) and his colleagues are building a rich media archive that pieces together the ecosystem of bicycle-based commerce in India.
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In City Eco Lab you hear the sounds of the various traders as well as see photographs of them.

All-in-all, there’s been plenty already to make me think – and lots more to make me smile. (I do this stuff for myself, of course).

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