Biomedical downtowns

An intriguing story in next month’s Cluster magazine describes plans in China for the world’s first urban biomedical hub. Sascha Haselmayer, one of its advisors, writes that Fenglin Biomedical Centre will concentrate life science, medical care services, medical education, business incubation, and medical exhibitions, in the Xuhui district of Shanghai. Haselmayer says Fenglin is about “building a healthcare system that has to almost instantly provide for more than one billion currently unprotected people”. Fenglin can become a global biomedical hub, he says, that will “increase productivity, and speed up the process from scientific discovery to bedside product”. Emerging trends such as lifestyle diseases, preventive medicine, and bio-informatics, have further stimulated interest from international partners. And there, for me, is where FMC is misconceived. It’s an urban development project, not a health service one. As I discovered in Korea a while back, biomedical clusters (here’s a map of them) like Fenglin are popular with investors and multinationals. Large inflows of capital are attracted by tax breaks and what Haselmayer describes as “an inclusive yet visionary governance” that, in Fenglin’s case, includes a Patenting Center to assist in interrnationalisation/localisation of patents. But the latest thinking on health favours the radical decentralisation of care – not its concentration, and not its technological intensification. A business model based on the privatisation of medical knowledge is also unlikely to benefit China’s population. Investors will probably get sick, too, when the wildly over-egged promises being made for biomedicine turn out to be chimeras.

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Life after overshoot

What will life be like when our growing economy overshoots its carrying capacity, degrades its resource base, and collapses? A gripping description of this more-likely-than-not outcome is included in a British government report about Intelligent Infrastructure Futures. Andrew Curry and colleagues developed four contrasting scenarios of life in 2050, one of which is called Tribal Trading. “After a sharp and savage energy shock, the global economic system is severely damaged. Infrastructure is falling into disrepair. Long distance travel is a luxury few can enjoy. For most people, the world has shrunk to their own community. Cities have declined, and local food production and services have increased. Local transport is typically by bike and horse”. There are local conflicts over resources, and lawlessness is high. But less energy means there is more physical work to be done, so people are fitter. And it’s not as if life becomes non-tech. Electricity is available from ‘microgrids’ – small community networks that integrate wind and solar power. And there’s still an internet: It’s based on wireless mesh networks whose servers are maintained by a new breed of scavenger-nerds who scour the old world’s electronic detritus for re-usable circuit boards and memory. Tribal Trading was regarded as the worst case of four scenarios developed by the report’s small army of technocrats. But Tribal Trading sounds preferable, to me, to the high-speed, perpetual motion, Always On scenario which is where we’re headed now.
If the report has a weakness, it is in describing as hypothetical futures, changes that are happening now. For example, it speculates that “perhaps in 50 years there could be a Department of Intelligent Infrastructure’ – but in FedEx and DHL, we have just such organisations today – they’re just private. Another section refers to “growing resistance in 2040 to 24/7 working patterns”. But massive disaffection with that lifestyle is recorded in numerous happiness surveys of present times. It’s only because we need to service massive personal debts that we keep working – and the money system, too, is tottering. Although Tribal Trading is not inevitable – some combination of the four scenarios is the likely outcome – one footnote does state that “The overshoot scenario is the most likely. Our system is inherently structured for overshoot and collapse”. But maybe it won’t be so bad.

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Hi, Protein!

Warm congratulations to one of our favourite and most respected newsletter-website things, Ninfomania aka Protein° Feed aka Protein° Supplement. Today, Protein celebrates it’s 300th issue, having first been published in September 1997 to 14 people. It is now enjoyed by an international audience of over 9,000 select subscribers. Go there, subscribe, push them to 10k as a birthday treat!

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Doors in D.C.

I’ll be in Washington DC for the nights of 29, 30, 31 March (for IDSA/Business Week jury duty). If you’re in DC (or know Doors persons there) we could meet for a Doors brunch on Saturday morning (April 1). Interested? Then mail me: john@doorsofperception.com

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Utopia by design? Creative communities in Europe

An international seminar on design, welfare and local development takes place in Milan on 28 March. The event concludes the two year Emude project (in which Doors is a partner) that explored social innovation in 10 European countries. Emude is a Europe-wide investigation into the phenomenon of people who, in a wide range of contexts, invent new ways of carrying out daily life activities. This botom-up innovation by creative communities is found throughout Europe’s knowledge-based societies.This phenomenon of diffused creativity has the potential, we believe, to drive the major social and economic changes that will be needed during the transition to sustainability. Emude investigated these creative communities with from a design perspective. That is to say, we observed their ideas and practices with an eye to the design and deployment of enabling platforms. Enabling platforms would enable creative communities to be innovative more effectively – and to multiply. They are infrastructure systems based on products, services, communication and governance tools. These platforms, we surmise, would enable larger numbers of people to solve daily life problems in an active way. Sometimes these activities will generate shared or common goods, and a new sense of citizenship.
In summary, the key results of Emude, which will be dioscussed at the seminar, are:
a) the identification of creative communites – and descriptions of their role in a knowledge based society as key actors in the transition towards sustainability
b) definition of the notion of diffused social enterprise and discussion of its potential role in the fields of active welfare and sustainable local development
c) an initial description of the enabling platforms that could enhance the effectivenesss of the diffused social enterprise
d) proposal of an policy agenda for bottom-up initiatives – a list of actions to be taken to create a better environment for creative communities to arise, and to evolve as strong, scalable, social enterprises. (An online book about the 56 cases at the centre of Emude will be published in April).
Milan, 28 March, 09.30-13.00h. Politecnico di Milano, Campus Bovisa, Via Durando 10, Aula CT46.Carla Cipolla

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The first critic of “creative industries”

The Situationists were early critics of the creative industries. They rejected the idea that art is a specialized profession, or that its task is to produce spectacles for consumption. The only time their leaders came to London (in 1961), one of them, Guy Debord, was to speak at the Institute of Creative Arts – a place that is awash in creatives to this day. In the absence of a platform speech, an audience member stood up to ask: “What is Situationism about?”. Upon which Debord replied: “We’re not here to answer cuntish questions” – and the Situationists walked out. I love this childish story, but repeat it here by way of a public service announcement that a retrospective, in New York, of all of Debord’s six films is to take place on Sunday 5 March 5 at Chashama.

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Some enhanc-ed evening

AV Festival 06 is the UK’s newest, and largest international festival of digital arts, music, games, film & new media. With the theme of Life, it explores what happens as expectations rise that we might be able modify and improve our bodies and/or minds. More than 90 events will take place in NewcastleGateshead, Sunderland and Middlesbrough, between 2-12 March. I am moderating a symposium, on Friday 10 March in Middlesbrough, which analyses the artistic, ethical and social aspects of robotics, nanotechnology, biotechnology and information technology as they aspire to modify humankind. Dr Tom Shakespeare is a keynote speaker in our session; it also includes discussion panels on the social and ethical critique of enhancement technologies, and the geopolitics of food production. For more information see the website (click through a couple of screens to find the programme) or ring the information line on +44 191 260 3875 or email info@avfest.co.uk to request a guide.

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Is sprawl good, after all?

I have always assumed that sprawl is a Bad Thing. For Jane Jacobs, in ‘Dark Age Ahead’, urban sprawl is something that “murders communities, and wastes land, time, and energy”. Sprawl is frequently blamed for environmentally-damaging transport intensity, the collapse of communities, even obesity. But James Woudhuysen, for one, thinks density has been over-sold, and that land in many countries is under- not over-used. The author of “Why is Construction So Backward” is a speaker at an intriguing seminar in London on 3 March. He appears with Ken Yeang (international architect and author “The Green Skyscraper”) and Tristram Hunt, historian, broadcaster and author of the excellent Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City. The seminar is organised by Austin Williams, Director of the Future Cities Project.

Posted in city & bioregion | 2 Responses

Doors 9 discussion in New Delhi

As part of our preparations for Doors 9 in India next year (March 2007) there will be a small round table meeting of art curators and cultural producers in New Delhi in the afternoon of March 10. Representatives from funding agencies, cultural missions, art galleries, event spaces, museums, schools of art, architecture and design, prospective sponsors and others wishing to discuss possible activities with us next year are welcome to attend. Please contact divya@cks.in. On 15 March, we’re also organising a creative communities holi party as a means for creative groups and individuals to meet. (The first Doors holi party in 2005 was the concluding highlight of Doors 8 ). This year’s holi party will be produced by Centre for Knowledge Societies in collaboration with the Global Arts Village, Khoj, Studio Us, Kids at Home, AIE, and numerous creative individuals to whom we are very grateful. The party is in Chhattarpur, New Delhi, from 11 am. Admission is limited to people bearing a printed invitation. To request one of these invitation cards, send an evocative email telling us about yourself and your interest in Doors 9 to: holi@cks.in

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