July 15, 2008
Design for resilience
DOORS OF PERCEPTION REPORT
Design for resilience
By John Thackara
CITY ECO LAB: BARN-RAISING FOR UNDER-16s?
Last month's request prompted you to send me some terrific suggestions about
mapping eco-system services; thanks in particular to Wendy Brawer and GreenMaps.
My next request is for examples of projects in which under-16 school students
do some kind of collective barn-raising event that has a connection with the
sustainability of their school or town. We would need to adapt this activity
to an indoor, two week-long activity in which a school group would add -
something - every day.
DESIGN FOR RESILIENCE
The speed with which Transition Towns are multiplying is another sign that far
more is happening beneath the radar of mainstream media and politics than above.
The core activity of a Transition Town is Energy Descent Action Planning (EDAP),
a process developed by Rob Hopkins, in which a community develops its own vision
of their town 20 years in the future and then backcasts from then to now.
Hopkins describes the capacity of a community to embark on an EDAP as
"resilience" - a set of capabilities to which designers can certainly
add a dimension or two.
"We've got to get out of this 'saving Africans' mindset" says singer Damon
Albarn; "we're the ones that need to be saved". Actually Damon I think we
probably need each other - but I do agree that there's a lot we can learn from
Africa. I'm especially mesmerised by the rapid diffusion of airtime-based value
exchange via mobile phones. Niti Bahn's has written about banking, airtime,
transaction models, and informal economies:
CRISIS? WHAT CRISIS?
Possibly driven over the edge by the above news from Africa, Australia's top
treasury official is taking five weeks leave to look after endangered wombats.
The BBC reports that Ken Henry, treasury secretary, has warned that hairy-nosed
wombats are "on death row". Mr Henry will miss a central bank meeting, even
though it (the bank) probably shares the wombats' predicament.
Cities, like people, are what they eat. The gargantuan effort necessary to feed
them arguably has a greater social and physical impact on us and our planet than
anything else we do - yet few of us are aware of the process. Carolyn Steel, an
architecture professor, has written a wonderful book about the ways that we live
in a world shaped by food - or, in the case or city design, have failed even to
think about food systems. She puts it all into an historical and cultural
context - but with a wonderfully light touch. The culpable insouciance of many
policy makers today is eerily similar to the food policy that hastened the last
days of Rome. "Food is about networks", Steel concludes, "things that, when
connected together, add up to more than the sum of their parts". You need
to be connected to the Hungry City network, so do buy the book.
If you're in or near London on Saturday, take your copy of Hungry City to
Continuous Picnic. It's organized by Bohn & Viljoen Architects with a team of
community gardeners, designers and food enthusiasts. The day kicks off in the
morning with an "Inverted Market" to which anyone may take locally produced
fruit and vegetables and have it included in a 150-metre long installation.
(Which, I assume, one then eats). Saturday 5 July 2008
Also part of the part of the London Architecture Festival,
are the scenographer-builders of City Eco Lab with me in St Etienne
in November, so do go and say hello to them in Southwark.
URBAN CLIMATE CAMP (SINGAPORE)
Drew Hemment is looking for community activists and scientists who have
undertaken innovative projects on sustainability in urban environments,
and who are based in or near to Singapore, unless they are traveling
there to attend ISEA2008 already on 30 July.
THE TRUE PRICE OF SMOKING
What does a pack of cigarettes cost a smoker, the smoker's family, and society?
MIT Press has published a book about the private and social costs of smoking.
The total social cost of smoking over a lifetime is put at $106,000 for a woman
and $220,00 for a man - which is almost $40.00 per pack over a lifetime of
smoking. But that $40 does not include the environmental impacts of growing the
crop. Tobacco growing is responsible for damage to ancient forests, causes soil
depletion through soil erosion and nutrient loss, and vast quantities of
pesticides, fertilizer and herbicides are used; some crops require more than a
dozen applications of pesticides during their three-month growing period. Nearly
600 million trees of forest are destroyed each year to provide wood to dry the
stuff; in Tanzania, an estimated 65 pounds of wood is needed to dry one pound of
tobacco. Water is a big issue, too: Pesticide runoff from tobacco plantations
pollutes ground and surface waters. So what shall we say, after adding in these
environmental costs: $100 per pack?
SO YOU DON'T LIKE IT HERE?
Is it possible to re-locate a city? This is the challenge set for City Move
Interdesign, an international workshop in Gellivare, Sweden next year. The
project will look at ways to create new spaces for people in a more humane and
creative way when homes, workplaces, tourist attractions and meeting places have
to be left behind or relocated.
LAND AS MEDIA (1)
Homo sapiens is the only known species consciously to effect change to the
Earth's geologic environment. We reshape the Earth, intensify erosion, modify
rivers, change local climates, pollute water resources, soils and geologic
media, and alter soils and the biosphere. We dig holes in it, remove parts of
it, and bury highly toxic materials in it. Ernest Solomon drew my attention to
this fascinating ournal about possible roles for the geoscience community in
sustaining and preserving the Earth.
LAND AS MEDIA (2)
This website changes pixels on the screen into digital sand. This can be used as
building material for "cosmic landscapes, Clemens-style sand paintings, mandalas
and so on". It's a joint project by designers Johanna Lundberg and Jenna Sutela
with the Flash programmer Timo Koro.
FEWER FLOWERS, MORE DISCIPLINE
The UK government plans to spend more than three billion euros on innovation in
public services that deal with chronic disease, youth crime, climate change, and
teenage pregnancy. But how to spend that money well? A stern Matthew Horne, in a
new report, argues that "experimentation without discipline does not lead to
innovation at scale... the kind of innovation that transforms outcomes for
people on a large scale does not come from letting 1,000 flowers bloom".
Horne proposes a kind of House of Correction for social innovators - a mediation
service that would help innovators to improve their problem definition,
benchmarking, experience sharing, and brokering. Matthew probably has
a point - it's just that me, I'm in the flower blooming business.
The report, Honest Brokers, is free to download:
CONSENSUAL AND CONTESTIBLE
Britain's Local Government Association has published a list of 100 words
that public bodies should try not to use if they want to communicate
effectively with local people. Amazingly, the words concept, cultural,
and creative do not appear in the blacklist - but its authors have promised
to consider them for the next edition.
CAN DYNAMIC CITIES BE DEMOCRATIC?
Cluster magazine ran an interview with me and Sunil Abraham for its special
issue published this month at the World Congress of Architecture
which opens later this month in Torino.
You will be after taking this test:
Next: Assuage your guilt by writing in person to ten people with your warm
recommendation that they subscribe to this newsletter. It's free, so it won't
make them any richer - or guiltier. All they have to do is send a mail to:
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Posted by John Thackara at July 15, 2008 03:14 PM