Global place – or is it a hat?

The following is the text of my lecture at the Global Place conference in an unseasonably warm Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Joshua Kauffman has posted an excellent summary of the event here).
THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE FOR A HAT
Some of you may know Oliver Sacks’ book “The man who mistook his wife for a hat”? It’s about people afflicted with fantastic perceptual and intellectual aberrations – and in particular a man who looks at something familiar (his wife) but perceives something completely different.
Well, I’ve become one of those people!
It happened to me most recently at Madrid’s new airport. One minute I was admiring Richard Rogers’ gorgeous roof, and the play of light upon curves.
But I suddenly stopped perceiving these effects as aesthetic. In place of elegant forms and vistas, I started to contemplate the vast amount of energy embodied in the artefacts, structures and processes that surrounded me.
A big new airbus, taxiing in to park, made me wonder how many thousands – millions – of pounds of matter and energy must have been used to build it.
Beside me was an elegant concrete pillar. It looked benignly tree-like with a gently curving trunk and branches, higher up, that supported a soaring roof.
But how many carbon dioxide emissions were generated during its fabrication? A ton of CO2 is emitted for every ton of concrete that ends up in a pillar – or the miles of concrete apron that stretched, in Madrid, in every direction.
Millions of tons of concrete visible to the eye. Millions of tons of emissions out of sight.
Then there was the noise. I don’t usually notice the background hiss and hum of these great modern spaces. But this time my cognitive filters seemd to fail. I became aware of an ambient, angst-inducing roar.
All that air-conditioning, cooling huge volumes of empty space, blowing gales of out hot air to goodness knows where in the sky.
Eight per cent of the world’s total electricity supply is used to cool buildings in the United States.
Then there was the light! There was a bank of large plasma screens. On the screens, ads were playing – but all I could think about was their greed for electricity.
Did you know that flat screens use five times more power than the bulbous ones they replace?
And that’s just the power they use. Cathode ray televisons contained mostly air. These new plasma screens are packed densely with complex materials whose manufacture is highly energy intensive.
So I’m the man who mistook a concrete pillar for a threat to the world! But do you know what? I reckon my cognitive confusion in Madrid had just cause.
I read a text by Rafael Buitrago about our aesthetic and visceral responses to landscape. (My fellow speaker Anne Spirn, who I met in the break, told me Buitrago is an ex-student of hers).
The ways we respond aesthetically to our environment, Buitrago (and Spirn) argue, may be derived from psychology that evolved to help hunter-gatherers make better decisions: when to move, where to settle – to chase or not to chase – in varying situations.
Environmental stimuli as diverse as flowers, sunsets, clouds, thunder, snakes, and predators, activate response systems of ancient origin.
I’m a frequent flyer, not a hunter gatherer. But I’m sure now that feeling the creeps in Madrid was some residual survival instinct being triggered. Not by an inherited fear of snakes – but by a learned fear of degredation to the biosphere and the threat it poses to us all.
Many climate change activists complain that “climate pornography” – the promotion of apocalyptic climate change scenarios – is counter-productive. Climate porn, for one British think tank, “offers a thrilling spectacle, but ultimately distances people from the problem’.
These critics are right. To do things differently, we have to perceive things differently – but not be immobilised by fear, or guilt. We need to be startled out of our complaency, but in such a way that we feel motivated to take meaningful action.
A lot of people seem to have started. Paul Hawken reckons that over one million organizations, populated by 100 million people, are engaged in grass roots activity designed to address climate and other environmental issues. This worldwide movement of movements flies under the radar, he believes, but “collectively, this constitutes the single biggest movement on earth”
These one million grass roots organisations are just one part of the story. Many big organisations, too, are re-thinking fundamental principles of their business. For many multinationals, the consequences of climate change for the very existence of their business has moved from the realm of “future scenario” to be a real and present danger.
Let me give you some examples I’ve heard about just during the last month:
I heard about a top five logistics and parcel delivery company for whose CEO sustainability is the key driver of the company’s future.
I was told that one of the world’s largest shipping ports has decided it must render its operations carbon neutral within a decade. How, I have no idea – but it sounds as if they are completely serious.
A major European airport, I learned, is studying how it might feasibly prosper if air travel ceased to be an important part of its business.
Whole countries are getting serious about massive transformational change.
Sweden, for example, has made it national objective to be independent of oil within a decade.
Switzerland has set a target of becoming a “2000-Watt society”. That’s one third of the 6000 Watts of energy consumed by each of its its citizens today on food, goods, heating and cooling buildings, mobility and so on.
The most dramatic shift, for me, is emerging in Britain – until now, a byword for of wasteful consumerism.
The recent publication of the Stern Review Of Climate Change Economics – by a former World Bank chief economist – marks a step change in government responses.
It’s not just that Stern’s conclusions correspond broadly to what environmentalists have been saying for fifteen years. The fact that the report was commissioned by The Treasury, which control’s the nation’s taxation and money – is also key. Money is at stake: Something must be done!
Stern paves the way for so-called “external” costs to be counted properly for the first time.
(Notoriously, economists describe as”external” costs things like energy, water, minerals, the biosphere as a whole – that, until now, have not been properly counted as part of the game. We used energy to exploit resources – but did not pay the full price of the energy or the resources).
A government can use fiscal measures to make these so-called “external” costs internal costs, payable by the producer. Matter and energy flowing through the economic system will have to be paid for at full price – rather than taken for granted as a freebie. The Stern review provides an economic justification for dramatic changes to the ways we live.
RESOURCE EFFICIENCY AS DESIGN OPPORTUNITY
There’s a truly gigantic design opportunity here. We have to re-design the structures, institutions and processes that drive the economy along. We have to transform material, energy and resource flows that, unchecked, will finish us.
In this new design space, the boundaries between infrastructure, content, equipment, software, products, services, space, and place, are blurred. Compared to physical products, or buildings, sustainable services and infrastructures are immaterial. They are adaptive in time and space.
So it’s a huge opportunity, but a new kind of design practice is needed to exploit it.
First: This new design practice is more about discovery, than blue sky invention. Many of the answers we need already exist. We need to become global hunter-gatherers of models, processes, and ways of living that have been learned by other societies, over time. We have to find those examples. Adapt them. Recombine them.
Just as biomimicry learns from millions of years of natural evolution, we can adapt the social innovation of other times and places to our present, ultra-modern needs.
For example, a lot of people already know how to live more lightly than we do. Hundreds of millions of poor people practise advanced resource efficiency every day of their lives. That’s because they are too poor to waste resources like we rich folk do.
Design schools should relocate en masse to favelas and slums. These informal economies are sites of intense social and business innovation.
A second key feature of the new design practise: it is less about control, more about the devolution of power. A good test is whether a design proposal will enable people to retain control over their own territory and resources.
A third feature of the new design practice: it does not have to think Big,or act Big, to be effective. On the contrary: we have learned about the behaviour of complex systems that small is not small. Small design actions can have big consequences, and these can be positive.
If someone builds a bus stop, in an urban slum, a vibrant community can sprout and grow around it. Such is the power of small interventions into complex urban situations. Read Small Change by Nabeel Hamdi for more inspiring examples of the power of designing small.
Item four: The new design practise looks for ways to replace physical resources with information. The information part is knowing where something you need to use, is. If you can locate a thing, and access it easily, you don’t have to own it.
Think of cars. Most of them are used less than 5% of the time. It’s nonsense. 600 cities now have carsharing schemes? The same goes for buildings. In a light and sustainable economy we will share resources – such as time, skill, software, spaces or food – using networked communications.
We don’t have to design sharing systems from scratch. Many already exist. Local systems of barter and non-monetary exchange, such as Jogjami, have existed in India for at least 500 years. A cooperative distribution system called Angadia, or “many little fingers”, enables people to send goods over sometimes vast distances without paying.
They just need to be internet enabled.
The fifth and hardest aspect to master of the new design practice is whole systems thinking.
The best example I heard recently is from an entrepreneur called Paul Polak, who helps people in developing countries develop more effective water distribution systems. Paul reckons the design and technology of a device, such as a pump, or sprinkler system, is not much more than ten percent of the complete solution. The other ninety percent involves distribution, training, maintenance and service arrangements, partnership and business models. These, too, have to be co-designed.
I began this morning by describing the curious perceptual delusions that I experienced, whilst staring at a concrete pillar in Madrid Airport.
I may be nuts, I said, but could there be method in my madness? The ability to perceiving disorders in the environment has helped a lot of creatures survive.
Besides, millions of people seem to share my unease. I suspect there are quite a lot of you in this room.
Big companies, and governments, are also readying themselves for transformational change. I promise you that strange bedfellows will be teaming up in the near future.
Eugenio Barba calls this “the dance of the big and the small”.
I don’t mind if you choose to dance. I’l be satisfied if, just once this week, you slap a concrete pillar and start to wonder…..
end
COMMENT FROM ROBERT HOLLIER
John,
I very much enjoyed this post – thought-provoking, yes, but written in a positive and energetic style. Lots of arresting ideas to ponder.
And I really think you ought to strive to get wider distribution for this piece.
Fyi, I tried to post this comment on the blog but kept getting incomprehensible (to me) error messages.
RH
robert.hollier@b1.com

Posted in city & bioregion, most read | 1 Response

Doors 9 conference programme

We preview our main activities for the year – especially Doors of Perception 9 in India and Designs of the time (Dott 07) in the UK in January’s Doors of Perception report which (if you do not receive it by email) is here. Please make a note of the key dates. Please also pass this information on to friends and colleagues who may be interested.
DOORS 9 CONFERENCE PROGRAMME (Saturday 3 March)
Doors 9 opens with a introduction to the relationships between food, energy and design by Hannu Nieminen (Finland, Nokia), Aditya Dev Sood (India, Centre for Knowldge Societies), Debra Solomon (Netherlands, culiblog.org) and John Thackara (Doors of Perception).
Session 2 is about food in cities: Dutch architect Winy Maas (MVRDV) proposes three-dimensional agriculture, with a reference to pig cities. Urban designer Andre Viljoen explains his book about Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes (CPULS). David Barrie and Nina Belk describe their urban farming project for Designs of the time (Dott 07) in the UK. Designers Sanjeev Shankar and John Vijay Abraham compare old and new traditions of street food. Chris Hardwicke (Toronto) and Ron Paul (Portland) discuss farmers markets as hubs within food systems.
Session 3 is on food information systems. Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, ponders new ways to think about browsing for food. Divya Sharma looks at food maps. Ellis Neder (USA) and Ian Brown (Fair Tracing, UK) look at identity management and food certification systems.
Session 4 of Doors 9 is on “juice”. Designers Jogi Panghaal and Ezio Manzini discuss the different ways European and Asian cultures think about food. Alex Steffen and Sarah Rich (editors Worldchanging: A User’s Guide to the 21st Century) describe small and large scale changes already under way with Walter Amerika, an advisor to multinational food companies.
Session 5 of Doors 9 (yes, it’s a full day, but there’s food throughout) is a social technologies bazaar featuring innovative food-related projects from around the world. Among those you will meet are: Garrick Jones (UK, Ludic Corporation); Georg Christoph Bertsch (Germany, Cargo Bathing); Giovanni Canata (Italy, DxH2O water project); Claire Harten (USA) and Maria Wedum (Denmark), Dirt Cafe; Kultivator (Sweden, agriculture as art); Dori Gislason (Iceland, new lives for fishing villages); Francesca Sarti (Italy, food kiosks in Florence); Marije Vogelzang (Netherlands, Proef project); Maja Kuzmanovic (Netherlands, Groworld) ; Margie Morris (USA, Intel, food repositories).

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The dance of the big and the small

(Alex Steffen and Sarah Rich from Worldchanging asked some people to send them an end-of-year reflection. Here below is mine. They are both coming to Doors 9, by the way).
Suppose Bill Gates were to purchase six and a half billion copies of Worldchanging, have them translated into the world’s major languages, and then give a free copy to every citizen of the on the planet. Would the challenges we face disappear?
I don’t think so. Reading, writing, and discussing are important precursors to meaningful innovation – but they do not, of themselves, change material reality.
On the contrary. Although hundreds of millions of people are now demanding that “something must be done” to avert climate change, they – we – are confronted by a debilitating cacophony of often contradictory ideas and solutions.
Think, for example, of buildings and energy. Passionate advocates of different technologies insist to us that each has the ideal solution: Wind turbines, nanogel insulation, hydrogen fuel cells, solar panels, wood-chip boilers. How can each one be the answer?
Or take energy infrastructure. One group of innovators insists that each building can become its own power station. Another says that micro-generation is only viable when 50 houses do it as a group.
As many organisations offer advice as there are technologies to choose from. In the North East of England, for example, when we set out (in Designs of the time ) to reduce the carbon footprint of a single street, we encountered 20 organisations already busy trying to help people save energy.
We’re swamped by innovation, but starved of meaning. So what steps should we take, and in which order?
I believe the solution is to scout the world for situations where the question has already been addressed – whatever the question may be. The Danish theatre director Eugenio Barba describes this as “the dance of the big and the small”. We need to be global hunter-gatherers of models, processes, and ways of living that already exist.
In the same way that biomimicry learns from millions of years of natural evolution, we need to adapt lessons learned by other societies to our present, ultra-local needs.
Where there are gaps, we can invent stuff. But let’s ease up on inventing for it’s own sake: it delivers as much smoke, as solutions.

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Money to burn

Passing through London this week, I found the atmosphere to be even more crazed and febrile than is normal even at this time of year. I think I know why: City of London staff (ie the financial hub part of London) have been promised a record £21 billion in bonuses. Some of the biggest deal-makers expect to receive more than £10 million. Each. All told, 4,200 people, just in London, will each receive a bonus of more than one million pounds ($1.9m, 1.5m euros). Now if you’re one of this lucky (but of course deserving) group of people, you might want to check out the the unsettling presentation by Margrit Kennedy at Doors 8. Read that (the file loads slowly but is worth the wait) and you may well conclude that the worst thing to do now would be to hang onto your dosh. If you don’t buy Kennedy’s argument (she is, after all, an urbanist, not an economist) then read the alarming because matter-of-fact warnings of your fellow deal-makers and economists. (I was especially charmed by this quote from one trader on the irrelevance of reality: “I don’t care about the numbers, the economic data, whether Iraq is in a Civil war, if the President gets impeached, who controls congress, what a company does, whether we fall into a recession or if China buys Europe and turns it into a Disney theme park. My world is defined by what I see on my four 20 inch monitors in front of me. Everything else is noise”). I know, there are too many killjoys and negative thinkers in the world, which is a warm and wonderful place. But it’s Christmas, so at least consider the following: If all you lucky 4,200 people were to donate your bonuses to HIV/AIDS-prevention programmes, more than 28 million lives would be saved within six years. It would be win:win. You’d feel good about yourself – and you wouldn’t have to worry about losing the money in the coming crash.

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Re-designing the game

(The following is the text of my lecture at today’s Competitiveness Summit in London.
“I have been asked to address two questions this morning.
The first: Is UK competitiveness imperilled by developing countries catching up and overtaking us?
And question two: How best shall we use our creativity and innovation to stay ahead in the game?
My answer to question 1 is that it is the wrong question, as I shall explain in a moment.
But I will answer Question 2 – by telling you about a project in North East England, called, Designs of the time, or Dott. I will explain the ways in which Dott reframes competition as a race for energy and resource efficiency in our everyday lives.
I will conclude with suggestions on how the lessons of Dott might usefully inform the ways we think about competitiveness at a national level.
A] CHANGING THE GAME
Question 1: Is our competitiveness imperilled by developing countries catching up with us?
My answer is No, because, in so-called developing countries, but also here in the north, the rules of competition are changing – profoundly, and irrevocably.
We are all emerging economies now.
The publication of the Stern Review of climate change economics, by a former World Bank chief economist, marks a radical change in the rules by which we compete.
Before Stern, we measured our competitiveness against bizarre criteria. The country with the highest growth, and productivity, went to the top of the league.
But the application of bizarre criteria leads to bizarre – and unsustainable – results.
High growth, as an abstract measure of success, meant that last year a new product was launched every 3.5 minutes.
Companies all over the world innovated like crazy, and competed like mad, to bring out some new ….thing….at ever increasing rates.
Did we need a new product every 3.5 minutes?
I don’t think so.
On the contrary: survey after survey demonstrates that we are in despair at the flood of often pointless products we are told will make us happy.
What beckons in an era of perpetual growth? New product simultaneity? Reality that will contain only new products?
Measuring competitveness against the yardstick of productivity leads to other forms of strangeness.
You must have heard the story: the highest degree of productivity is exhibited by a cancer patient going through a divorce.
Very smart.
What’s especially mad about productivity, as a measure of success, is that so-called “external” costs – energy, water, minerals, the biosphere as a whole – are not properly counted as part of the game.
The theory of productivity is that we produce more with less.
But we don’t. We use energy to exploit resources; and we don’t pay the full price of the energy or the resources we use to do so.
Excluding external costs from the score sheet means we completely ignore the impact of our game on the playing surface. And guess what. The playing surface has become worn. And the ball has started to bounce in alarming ways.
(A laboured cricketing metaphor is pretty much a requirement in any speech made in England).
This is what is important about Stern. He is paves the way for a new scoring system.
Under new rules, which the UK Chancellor’s pre-budget statement yesterday started tentatively to portend, will be introduced progressively faster as cultural and poiitcal pressure for action builds.
One of the few things a government can do, when the people demand that it does something, is use fiscal measures to make these so-called “external” costs internal costs, payable by the producer.
This is the heart of what a “high value, knowledge-based economy” means.
It’s when matter and energy, flowing through the economic system, have to be paid for at full price – rather than taken for granted as a freebie.
Who will be competitive then?
B DOTT 07
Some commentators responded quickly to Stern. They proclaimed lists of the crucial actions that government must…. take…. now.
What governments must, or can do, top-down, is a modest part of the story.
There are limits to any government’s power to tell people how to behave. Especially, if these edicts boil down to the command: consume less!
This leads me to Designs of the time – Dott 07 – and the second question I was asked to address: How best shall we use our creativity and innovation to stay ahead in the game?
Dott 07 is about creating demand for new and more sustainable ways to live.
(Dott is an initiative of the Design Council and a joint venture with the Regional Development Agency, One North East).
Next year, throughout the North East of England, different communities have been challenged to address the question, “how do we want to live?”
Grass roots communities are taking the lead in experiments to change the ways they deal with daily-life issues.
These issues range from energy use in the home; to how we move around; how we look after older people; how we can grow food in cities.
One Dott project is called LOW CARB LANE.
More and more of us would like to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, especially at home. To save money, if not to save the planet.
But how to do it?
Wind turbines? Fuel cells? Solar panels? Nano-gell insulation? Wood-chip boilers? There are so many competing technologies claimed to be the magic cure-all solution.
It’s imposible to decide what to do.
It’s also hard to pay. Most people cannot afford to shell out thousands of pounds just to be good.
Low Carb Lane tackles tackles these challenges head-on, in a real street: Castle Terrace, in Ashington.
The community will explore the potential to achieve warm and comfortable homes in ways that reduces their carbon footprint – and also save them money.
Helped by an an innovation and design team from Dott, they will look at ways to modify everyday patterns of activity; choose more efficient appliances; add insulation; generate their own power.
Everything from energy saving lightbulbs, to high-tech meters; solar hot water; and off-grid generation; will be considered as a whole.
We’ll see if Personal Energy Passports might work for the citizens of Castle Terrace.
We’ll explore the idea of a Green Concierge Service to help citizens choose which solutions, if any, are best for them.
Seventy five schools across North East England are also tackling the energy issue head-on.
Year eight students have been given a tool by Dott to help them map the carbon footprint of their “school as an ecosystem”.
Once they have identified which aspects of their school’s energy and resource life are wasteful, they will propose re-designs to make their school more resource and energy efficient.
The 50 best schools will progress these plans the help of professional designers. The best designs will be put forward for awards at the Dott Festival next October.
Low Carb Lane, and our schools project, both respond to the big energy picture.
But these projects must deliver practical improvements to the daily lives of real people in real places.
What’s key is that these small actions just might, as tipping points, have big consequences.
Another Dott project, called Move Me!, tackles the need for mobility and access in a rural community.
The question posed by Move Me! is this: How can we improve peoples mobility, and access to services, without adding more cars or building new roads?
Scremerston County First School, in Northumberland, is the focus for this project.
The Move Me! project will look at the school community’s total mobility needs – including un-met ones – and explore how they can be better served by combining existing services, in smarter ways.
In policy terms, our subject is transport intensity, rural access, and resource efficiency.
In Dott terms, we are seeking practical ways to improve daily life for one community, in one place.
The idea is that if we can improve things for real people, in one school – the tools, methods and services we develop for Scremerston can be scaled up and multiplied.
This is why we say Dott is in the acorns business,
A third Dott 07 project is called Urban Farming or: “I grew it my way”.
Food is a huge energy challenge.
From farm to plate, depending on the degree to which it has been processed, a typical food item may embody input energy between four and several hundred times the food energy that enters our bodies.
As much fat from fast food outlets is clogging up the sewers of our cities — as is clogging up the arteries of our citizens.
Or take an iceberg lettuce in Harvey Nicholls food hall: for every calory that we eat, it takes 120 calories to grow it, pack it, fly it over the Atlantic, and display it under bright flattering lights in an open-fronted refrigerator.
Totally mad.
In Dott, we decided to take practical steps to slash the distance between what we eat, and where it is grown.
Based in Middlesborough, our Urban Farming project is helping local citizens grow their own food in small, medium, and large urban growing spaces.
These will range from window boxes, to larger planter boxes, and low-sided skips.
A Meal Assembly Centre will be established where growers will be helped to prepare their produce in a week’s worth of meals.
The project will culminate next September, in a ‘Meal for Middlesbrough.’
All the individuals, schools, businesses, farms and communities will take part.
A fourth Dott 07 project is called ALZHEIMER 100.
It asks: What practical steps are needed to improve daily life for people with dementia and their carers?
Dementia affects 750,000 people currently in the UK. This is expected to rise to 810,00 by 2010 and 1.8m by 2050. Two million sufferers means five million people directly affected.
It’s a huge – but largely hidden – issue.
As with the other Dot projects, we will investigate every day problems experienced by particular Alzheimer’s patients and carers in real situations.
Dott has teamed up with Alzheimers Society branches throughout the North East to find out what new products and services might be needed tackle these specific problems.
We will enable people with Alzheimers and their carers to document a “day in our life”. These day-in-my-life presentations wlil become opportunity maps that mark practical things to be fixed.
Where new with support systems, or devices, are needed, we will make design proposals.
We don’t yet know what the outcomes will be, but early meetings have considered concierge or “porterage” service; a time sharing system for carers and volunteers; and a buddy system for people with Alzheimer’s enabled by GIS technology and wearable computing.
C LESSONS OF DOTT 07
The first public events of Dott 07 are not until next March. But Dott 07 has been in preparation for over a year, and a number of lessons pertinent to today’s discussion are already evident.
The first lesson we have learned in Dott is that creativity and innovation are all around us. People are busy – dealing innovatively with daily life – in all manner of creative ways.
Everywhere we look.
Paul Hawken reckons that worldwide, over one million organizations, populated by over 100 million people, are engaged in grassroots activity designed to address climate and other environmental issues.
“Collectively this constitutes the single biggest movement on earth, but but it flies under the radar” he writes.
Our job in Dott, we now realise, is not to create innovation it from scratch. Our job is to discover and accelerate existing grass roots innovation.
A second lesson from Dott is about networks, connections, and alliances.
Some of our public commission projects involve ten or fifteen different partners. Public ones and private ones. Big ones and small ones. Academic ones and business ones. In Dott’s public commission projects, we seem to have them all!
Bringing together new players, in new combinations, is exciting. Importing inspirational examples from other domains is dynamic. Looking “outside the tent” for new ideas has fantastic potential.
But it takes an awful lot of time and social energy to build the shared understanding, and trust, without which these new alliances and relationships would not flourish.
Our conclusion, a year into Dott: Innovation is as much a time issue as it is a money issue, or a technology one.
The third big lesson we are learning in Dott concerns leadership, and that over-used word, “vision”.
We are finding, in Dott, that posing a question – “how do we want to live?” – motivates people in ways that telling them how to live, does not.
We do not stand over people and demand: “what sacrifices will you make to save the planet?”. On the contrary, Dott is about open-ended conversations about how we want to live.
Our ambition is that out of these conversations – and others that are happening throughout the region – a shared vision of region-wide and sustainable renewal will emerge.
It’s a vision in which people take control of how they want to live. Not a vision imposed, top-down, by those with technlogies to sell, or policies to impose.
D CONCLUSION
I said at the start that there are two ways to compete:
Either we run faster and faster – under existing rules – wear out the pitch, and then, whilst looking backwards, run slap into a rock. The rock of climate change.
Or we re-design the rules of the game.
The old game was all about productivity, growth and continuous acceleration. We played it – and played it well in the UK – as if resources were limitless. As if carrying capacity of the planet didn’t matter.
In the new game, resource constraints, the carrying capacity of the biosphere, are all that matter.
Given that 80 per cent resource efficiency, or the lack of it, is determined at the design stage, the new scoring system presents design with a gigantic challenge.
I’m not so starry-eyed that I expect humankind to get all lovey dovey and co-operate our way to sustainabliity.
Let’s face it: We humans are rapacious and competitive by nature.
But when new rules turn “external” costs into internal costs….
When matter and energy flowing through the economic system have to be paid for….
Well, we’ll just have to be rapacious and competitive in new ways.
Some of these new ways bare being tried out in Dott. So I look forward to seeing you at the Dott 07 Festival next October, somewhere on the bands of the River Tyne.
END
Some other texts and resources:
HOW TO BE GOOD
http://www.doorsofperception.com/archives/2006/07/how_to_be_good.php
ALTERNATIVES TO GELDOFISM (pdf.)
http://www.doorsofperception.com/archives/images/thackara_rsa_handout.pdf
SOLIDARITY ECONOMICS
Strategies for Building New Economies From the Bottom-Up and the Inside-Out by Ethan Miller
http://www.geo.coop/SolidarityEconomicsEthanMiller.htm
NEW INDICATORS
The percentage of people in Northern countries calling themselves happy peaked in the 1950s – even though consumption has more than doubled since then. Hazel Henderson has helped develop twelve quality of life indicators – new criteria against which to make decisions about what we innovate, and how. http://www.calvert-henderson.com/update-globalboom.htm

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Jeremijenko in Glasgow

A rare opportunity to meet Natalie Jeremijenko in Glsagow. Voted as one of the Top 100 young innovators by the MIT Technology Review, Natalie is a design engineer and techno-artist who creates large-scale participative experiments in public spaces. She produces multimedia installations that use robotics, genetic and digital engineering, electromechanics and interactive systems. Her work focuses on the design and analysis of tangible digital media to bridge the divide between the technical and art worlds. 11 January 2007, 11am-4pm, The Lighthouse, Glasgow. Cost: £40 + VAT includes lunch and all refreshments. Contact: Gillian@urbanlearningspace.com or telephone +44 141 225 0105.

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Think More, Drive Less

News reaches me from Los Angeles, via Bruce Sterling that, in the corporate imagination of General Motors, “the Hummer could be transformed from the SUV that environmentalists love to hate to an algae-infused, oxygen-exuding buggy that would open up like a flower.” (GM’s sketch for the “Hummer O2” was named the winner on Thursday of a design contest at the Los Angeles Auto Show that challenged major automakers to design a vehicle with a five-year life span that could be fully recycled).

This, I’m sad to say, is another example of the creative class – in this case, auto designers – fiddling-while-the-biosphere-burns. The fudamental probelm with the car is not that it burns too much of the wrong kind of fuel. The problem is that cars enable, and perpetuate, patterns of land use, transport intensity, and the separation of functions in space and time, that render the whole way we live unsupportable.

Rather than tinkering with symptoms – such as inventing hydrogen-powered vehicles, or turning gas stations into battery stations – the more interesting design task is to re-think the way we use time and space.

Rather than enable long-distance patterns of movement, at accelerating speeds, we should add a ton of new functions and value to local patterns of activity so that we no longer need or want to move so much, except on foot or by bike. There’s plenty of evidence, after all, that self-propulsion is central to everything from tackling obesity and climate change to creating high quality liveable cities.

In the immortal words of Janine Benyus, “nature does not commute to work” – and neither, at the end of the day, should we.

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Eeks a mouse!

The website of the conference in Boras now has videos of the speakers including Jeremy “hydrogen economy” Rifkin, Saffia “Free Trade” MInney, Oliviero “1,000 slides” Toscani, and John “oh no not a mouse!” Thackara. Back in Newcastle, we explored the relationship between design and sexual health.

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Life as a spot

Remember all those books and reports about “the future of work”? Well, the future seems to have arrived. A new report from Orange called The way to work states that, of 28.5 million UK workers, 3.64 million (13%) are self employed, 7 million (24%) are part-time workers, 7% are freelance workers, and 11% are in businesses with no employees. Otherwise stated: 55% of the UK workforce does not have a job in the traditional sense of the word. The report does not mention the hundreds of millions of hours of unpaid, uncounted work done by parents and care givers. If their work were included in the total, the number of job-less workers would be nearer 80% of the total. Now there’s a thought.

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