City Eco Lab: the art of food proximity

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“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”.
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There are a lot more of Debra’s pix here.

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City Eco Lab: The river runs through us

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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)

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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….
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…the team built a planting bed on formerly-industrial land not far from the biennial site…
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When the crop was in, Soupe de Ville staged servings at various points around the city….
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…in their custom-made Baravan…
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…before makinge a triumphant guest appearance in City Eco Lab
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There’s piles more material at the Soupe de Ville site.

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City Eco Lab: de-motorisation at different scales

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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.
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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?
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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.
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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

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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).
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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.
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Jegou’s project at City Eco Lab continues his pioneering work on social innovation and design for sustainability.
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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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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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