Cycle Commerce: The Red Blood Cells of a Smart City

[The chart above is from the online catalogue of cargo bikes at Nutzrad]

India’s many millions of bicycle and rickshaw vendors embody the entrepreneurship, sustainable mobility, social innovation, and thriving local economies, that a sustainable city needs.

As an ecosystem, they’re also part of the metabolism that makes a city smart.

That said, cycle commerce is a challenge for a city’s managers. Many different actors are involved in bicycle commerce – often with differing or downright conflicting agendas. Managing this kind of urban constellation is Read More »

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An Open Design School for India

(Image from http://openwear.org/)

In recent months a working party in India, chaired by Sam Pitroda, Advisor to the Prime Minister of India on Public Information Infrastructure & Innovation, has been developing the plan for a nationwide network of 20 Design Innovation Centres, an Open Design School, and a National Design Innovation Network. The latest public version of the plan is here: Download pdf   

During this process, I was invited by Abhimanyu Nohwar to make a short statement to the group by way of a ‘useful provocation’. Here, below, is what I said:

Sixteen years ago, when Sam Pitroda spoke at our Doors of Perception conference, whose theme was “speed”, he told us that connectivity is as much about the design of clever business models, as it is about Read More »

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Healing The Metabolic Rift: Designing In Social-Ecological Systems


The term metabolic rift describes the alienation between humans and nature that opened up with the growth of the the modern economy. Could the growth of bioregionalism, and research into ‘social-ecological systems’, be signs that the rift may be healing? And if so, what are the opportunities for design to contribute? 

[Picture: The Stockholm Resilience Centre investigates the governance of social-ecological systems. Shown here is a rural agricultural system in Madagascar]

Spare a thought for global business leaders as they prepare for this year’s World Economic Forum, in Switzerland. Instead of a guide  to apres-ski eateries, their host has sent them Read More »

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German Government Think-Tank Supports Fringe Change Agents

Good news from Germany: A ‘global transformation of values has already begun’. It’s proving tough to leverage changing attitudes into sustainable behaviour – but a transition to a more sustainable society ‘would be welcomed by a significant part of world society’.

In a 400-page report called World in Transition: A Social Contract for Sustainability, the German Advisory Council on Climate Change (WGBU), the heavyweight scientific body that advises the German Federal Government on ‘Earth System Megatrends’, reviewed a wide-range of values surveys. A significant majority of the German population, it found, views growth and capitalism with scepticism and ‘does not believe in the resilience of Read More »

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Venice: from Gated Lagoon to Bioregion

Computer rendering by Christian Kerrigan.

Rachel Armstrong, who develops synthetic biology applications for the built environment, believes it could be possible to grow an artificial limestone reef underneath Venice using ‘metabolic materials’ – photosensitive protocells, engineered to be light averse. Her idea is to stop the city sinking into the soft mud on which its foundations are built – and to do so in a way that respects its non-human inhabitants.

Armstrong’s approach sounds like science fiction – but it’s informed by the ways living systems actually survive in hostile environments. When algae, shellfish and bacteria search for new territories and nutrients, for example, they sculpt the materials of their surroundings. Armstrong describes these as Read More »

Posted in city & bioregion, most read | 1 Response

From Autobahn to Bioregion

[Above: for CRIT, Mumbai may look a mess – but the city enjoys ‘high transactional capacities’]

The big Audi that collected us from Istanbul airport contained nearly as many electronic control units (ECUs) as the new Airbus A380. The Audi, and similar high-end cars, will soon run on 200 million lines or more of software code. As a comparison, the avionics and onboard support systems of Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner run on fewer than seven million lines.

That makes modern cars highly intelligent, right? Well maybe, and maybe not. Suppose the owner of such a two ton vehicle drives a mile down the Read More »

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Transition Dogville

In Lars von Trier’s 2003 film Dogville (below) there is almost no set. Buildings in the town are represented by a series of white outlines on the floor. Dogville was a to-the-limit exercise in what von Trier calls ‘pure cinema’ – a commitment to use only real locations, and no special effects or background music, when making a film.

I was reminded of Dogville during a this year’s Transition Conference in London. There were talks and workshops, of course, but our main task was Read More »

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How To Manage a Constellation

The map below is of the Baltic Sea. Over the last hundred years its ecosystems have been poisoned almost to death by outputs from a multitude of industries and farming activities in the nine countries that surround it. These deadly flows are shown on the  complicated chart below: Read More »

Posted in city & bioregion, [no topic] | 4 Responses

Old Growth

[Photography courtesy of  Marc AdamusHere follows the talk I gave last week at the Global Design Forum in London.  

“Last week I went a restored paper mill in a tiny village in the middle of Sweden. I was there (*) to meet a bunch of people who’ve been given a uniquely challenging task: make the bedroom and bathroom products sold globally by a famous home furnishing giant – – sustainable.

When I say that their task is “challenging”, think of it this way.  Read More »

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