Food systems and cities: Doors event in UK

Up to 30 percent of the ecological footprint of a city can be attributed to the systems which keep it fed and watered. But when the Mayors of the world’s 40 largest cities met recently to discuss sustainability strategies, food was not on the agenda. Why not?
Doors is organising a one day international debate, jointly with Designs of the time (Dott 07), to reframe the food systems of city-regions as design opportunities. The debate opens with a review of Dott 07’s Urban Farming project, in Middlesbrough, UK, which has involved more than a thousand citizens.
The debate is intended for service and food system designers; policymakers who deal with rural and urban development; urban planners and developers; and change leaders from retail, food and house building businesses.
John Thackara will moderate the day’s proceedings. Among the speakers will be Chris Hardwicke, a Toronto-based architect who is involved in Toronto’s emerging food strategy and who was one of our group at Doors of Perception 9 on ‘juice’ in India earlier this year. Chrtis is also part of a team organizing Alphabet City a festival about food, in Toronto, that immediately preceeds the Dott 07 Festival.
Key people from Dott’s Urban Farming project presenting (who were also at Doors 9) include David Barrie (senior producer), Debra Solomon (, Nina Belk (Zest innovation) and Andre Viljoen (architect and urban designer).
Tim White from Middlesbrough Council and someone from Bioregional Quintain will also take part.
The Dott 07 Debate on food systems and cities takes place Monday 22 October, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead 10h-17h. Tickets – just this once! – are free. But you absolutely have to reserve your seat by emailing

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How to counter greenwash: measure what matters – and make it visible

The term greenwashing applies when companies (or governments) spend more money or time advertising being green, than on investing in environmentally sound practices.
In business, greenwashing often means changing the name and/or label. Early warning signs that a product is probably toxic include images of trees, birds, or dew drops. If all three are on the box, the product will probably make your skin peel off in seconds.
London’s mayor, Ken Livingstone, complained recently that government rather than commerce is holding up progress on climate change. He described the UK energy review as “dishonest spin” and the latest G8 meeting as a “carnival of debate”.
But the UK government is also taking important steps that, in the medium term, will be a powerful deterrent against greenwash.
The Carbon Trust and UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) have announced that they will work with BSI British Standards to co-sponsor the development of a Publicly Available Specification (PAS). This will be a standard method for measuring the embodied green house gas (GHG) emissions in products and services across a wide range of product and service categories and their supply chains. The aim is to enable companies to measure the GHG related impacts of their products, understand the life-cycle climate change impacts of their products, and highlight significant emissions reduction opportunities. The intention is that this is the first step in moving towards an internationally agreed standard for measuring embodied GHG emissions.
Also this week in the UK, it was announced that a new offsetting code will be launched by the Government later this year. Offsetting is a complex subject (well explained here) and George Monbiot, in a celebrated text, described offsetting as an excuse for business as usual. There are indeed cowboy firms out there, but the whole industry has suffered because there is no way reliably to measure the claims of those offering to offset carbon emissions.
Some will complain that both the PAS and the offsetting code will be voluntary. Companies will be able to choose whether or not to seek accreditation for some or all of their products and services. The PAS scheme, in particular, is aimed explicitly at companies, and is not designed to empower citizens to make critical purchasing decisions.
But these are early days. As governments and international institutions, responding to political pressure, impose order on environmental reporting systems, we designers can reveal and repurpose the data in creative ways.

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New concept of mobility – in three lines

I was asked by Seung Yoon Lee, at Korean Design Research Institute, for a three line quote on “a new concept of mobility due to ubiquitous technologies”. (It’s for an upcoming issue of Asian Design Journal).
So I sent this: “Reducing the movement of matter – whether goods, or people – is a main challenge in the transition to sustainability. Technology, in this context, can help us use resources in a radically more efficient way – and by ‘resources’ I do not just mean matter and energy, but also space, and time.” Not bad eh? That’s another perpetually half-finished book I can chuck in the bin.

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Design and sustainable tourism

The next Dott 07 (Designs of the time) Explorers Club meeting on Thursday 14 July, to be held at the Robert Stephenson Centre in Newcastle. Our focus this month is Sustainable Tourism.

In terms of someone’s carbon footprint, a single holiday in New Zealand is equivalent to 60 short visits to the North East. But those sixty trips to the region will not be sustainable if they stimulate a wasteful use of finite resources by visitors and their host businesses. This is a real and pressing dilemma.

Tourism is fundamental to the North East’s Regional Economic Strategy. The region is committed to increasing its share of tourism expenditure in Britain, and to do this by accelerating the rate of investment in tourism facilities, new accommodation, and attractions.

How might we re-shape this economic strategy to be consistent with a commitment to sustainabiity? What might sustainable tourism in North East England be like? Our expert speakers are:

Chris Little, who heads the Tourism Development Unit at One North East. The unit is responsible for directing and influencing investment in development of North East England tourism.

Leandro Pisano and Alessandro Esposito are partners in Ufficio Bifolco, a marketing and cultural planning companythat works on ICT strategies for development of rural areas in South Italy. They are producers of two festivals in Southern Italy – Interferenze, and Mediaterra – that bring together nature and technology, tradition and vanguard, past and future, local and global. This unique convergence of sounds, images, landscapes and carnival rites of a rural land, are signals of new ways we might visit and experience new locations.

Beth Davidson is the mapping creative lead on Mapping The Necklace. This ongoing project in Durham asks: Could a public park be more than grass and benches? Durham’s Necklace Park is a 12 mile stretch of spaces – and experiences – linked to the River Wear. You create your own park by mapping tracks, forests, picnic and fishing spots.

Ross Lowrie is a project leader of the Tyne Salmon Trail. A celebration of the river, its heritage, and its increasingly diverse ecosystem, the project explores low-impact ways to improve access to the River Tyne and its plethora of different species.

It’s free, but you need to reserve a place with Beckie Darlington:

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Design Roads to a One Planet Economy: Art Center lecture

green buildings
How do European, American and Asian approaches to green design differ – and what we should learn from each other? Will technology save us, or is a social revolution more important? I’m giving a lecture on this topic at Art Center, in Pasadena, on 5 June – and I’m told there will be a lively debate. My talk accompanies an exhibition (curated by Gloria Gerace with the support of Vitra) called Open House: Architecture and Technology for Intelligent Living. The picture above for a Seoul Commune designed by Mass Studies, is one of the show’s highlights. Before you make a joke about it, I will: The lecture takes place inside the Wind Tunnel. Windy or not, the event is free and is open to all, so do please come. Tuesday 5 June, 7.30pm, Art Center, California. For detrails phone +1.626.396.4254 or email

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How to teach no-product product design

In an excellent piece in Metropolis , Peter Hall argues that “design schools need to rethink how they teach product design.” The subject is booming, Hall writes, and yet the world is filled with terrible products: cars that kill two people every minute; airport X-ray machines that consume more time than Tardis, and designer trains that are less reliable than the ones thay replaced and cost four times as much to ride.
Hall observes that design schools are responding to the crisis in three ways. Some are positioning product design as “a business(week)-friendly, innovation-focused process (IIT and Stanford); others focus on research rather than form-making; a third group produce sexy imagery of objects that are often more hypothetical than manufacturable”. These conceptual products don’t guarantee an income, Hall concedes, but – like paper and digital architecture – can sometmes stimulate fresh thinking.
A fourth new approach to product design, for Hall, is “to shift gears to mapping those object-producing systems and using the data, arrayed in compelling visual form, to drive design change”. That approach is evident in the service design sector; “opportunity maps” (a term I believe was first used by E-Lab ten years ago) are becoming a powerul way to help multiple disciplines work together. Interestingly, many of the best service desgners began life as product designers: their instinct is to make services work well, not just look good.
The above illustraton to Hall’s piece, which I borrowed from Metropolis, is by Martin Lorenz. It’s beautfully done, but I don’t buy the way it puts designers at the centre of multiple systems and flows. Design thinking is key in the transition to a One Planet Life, but it won’t all be done by laptop-toting Designers.

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Beauty, mortality, presence.

I don’t know about you but I’m off mapping today (and hope to see many of you there ). While I’m away, here’s another of the Belsay projects, this one by Francesca Steele. Her work engages with beauty, mortality, and presence.

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Bluebells at Belsay

You missed a truly gorgeous day: The opening of Picture House at Belsay. Here is Dott’s Beckie Darlington playing with the installation by UVA, which (the image) I borrowed from Pixelsumo (Chris O’Shea) who has posted a ton more on Flickr. Uber-blogger Regine Debatty was there, too, so you don’t need any more from me. Regine’s pix are here. The Picture House team worked three years to make the event happen and usually they’d now have to start work again on the laborious task of disseminating results. But in the age of Flickr, publishing the results of an event has become easy as….. this.

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The point of it all

This is a big week for Dott. The Picture House exhibition at Belsay Hall Mansion opens with a Digital Dinner on Thursday. The exhibition features three projects curated for Dott by Juha Huuskonen / Pixelache: a new work from Golan Levin; Adam Somlai-Fischer & Bengt Sjölén; and UVA. Adam-Somlai Fischer and Bengt Sjölén have documented the making of their installation at Belsay, a kinetic reflection display system called Aleph. The name Aleph comes from a fictional point of singularity by Jorge Luis Borges, “a point in space” (explain the artists) “that contains all other points. Anyone who gazes into it can see everything in the universe from every angle simultaneously, without distortion, overlapping or confusion”.

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