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John Thackara

GDP As a Doomsday Machine [August 2009]


This free monthly newsletter starts conversations on issues to do with design for resilience — and thereby reveals opportunities for action. It also brings you news of Doors of Perception events and encounters. Back issues are now archived on Design Observer. To subscribe to future newletters by John Thackara click here.

THIS MONTH’S HIGHLIGHTS
Doors event: How to recycle an office block
Food systems: is urban farming the new dot.com?
Measuring what matters: GDP as a doomsday machine
Social innovation: from philanthrocapitalism, to social venturing

DOORS OF PERCEPTION EVENT

HOW TO RE-USE AN OFFICE BLOCK (SAO PAULO)
We’ve agreed dates for our experimental “pocket conference” at the Momento Monumento project in Sao Paulo: Tuesday 3 and Wednesday 4 November. The two days will consist of design clinics and discussions around two questions: what kinds of social enterprise might re-animate this abandoned 24 story skyscraper as a place for people to live, work, learn,and connect? And, in what practical ways can design help them do that? The following organisations have agreed to meet there: Doors of Perception; Coloco; Exyzt; Transforma Design; DESIS (d-schools working on service design); the MetaReciclagem network; and The Hub, Sao Paulo. The event is an experiment: how to leverage the value of our respective networks to help an important project – but without encouraging people to take long flights to participate.
http://www.momentomonumento.org/en/

FOOD SYSTEMS AND DESIGN

ONE IN NINE ON FOOD STAMPS - WHILE OBESITY COSTS SOAR
One in nine Americans already relies on federal food stamps to help buy groceries – a startling number that will grow as unemployment rises. At the same time, medical spending on obesity - a major cause of diabetes, stroke and heart attacks, reached $147 billion in 2008, an 87 percent increase in a decade.
http://tiny.cc/E7KJb
http://tiny.cc/lv2ZI

SO: HOW MUCH IS A SCHOOL GARDEN WORTH?
California is spending $65,000 (45,000 euros) per classroom seat in a schools rebuilding programme – but only $1 per child per year for garden upkeep and support. Mud Baron, whose job is to help 500 L.A. schools develop gardens and nature projects, has fought a lonely battle to persuade planners and architects that contact with nature - not just buildings – is a crucual ingredient of a "green" school. When Mud explained his campaign to a Doors of Perception workshop at The Planning Center, in February, we came up with the idea of re-labeling school gardens as “outside classrooms”; this would have resolved Mud’s resource problem at a stroke.?But the situation in California has deteriorated fast since then:The budget crisis has left countless teachers unemployed, and a $1.7-million grant to Los Angeles Unified School District for its Instructional School Garden Program has expired. Mud’s boss has agreed to match the funds that Baron and his network can raise – if they reach $100,000. We don’t usually run campaign appeals here, but when the issue is schools + food + learning-to- grow, we simply have to make an exception. Donate what you can, here:
http://tiny.cc/u9Ymy
http://www.laschoolgardens.com/

IS URBAN FARMING THE NEW DOT COM?
Emergency appeals are not a long-term solution to Mud Baron’s situation – nor to myriad other social programmes for which government funding is collapsing. In the US, a first response has been to start a business to fill the gap. A September event in New York, Agriculture 2.0, will introduce alternative agriculture entrepreneurs to investors. Organizer Roxanne Christensen says innovators are developing profitable models for sustainable alternatives to industrial agriculture that "can help create a post-industrial food system that is less resource intensive, more locally-based, and easier to monitor and control". The perkily-named of start-ups include BrightFarm Systems, SPIN-Farming, Virtually Green, Aquacopia, NewSeed Advisors. 17 September, New York City.
http://tiny.cc/A4Ek9
http://www.newseedadvisors.com/conference

NURTURE CAPITALISM
Slow Money also promotes itself as a new economic vision. It's “an emerging network of investors, donors, entrepreneurs, farmers, and activists committed to building local food systems and local economies. It's about the soil of the economy. It's the beginning of the ‘nurture capital’ industry”. The slow money community meets 9-11 September in Santa Fe.
http://tiny.cc/GAXHu
http://www.slowmoneyalliance.org/national-gathering.html

FOOD AND CITIES: LEARNING FROM THE SOUTH
In countries where hunger is a lived reality, growing food in cities is taken seriously. The South can teach the North a lot here. A new book by leading experts on urban agriculture drawns on original field work in cities across the rapidly urbanizing global south; it proposes practical strategies to integrate city farming into the urban landscape. City farmers, politicians, environmentalists and regulatory bodies need to work together, the book concludes, to improve the long term sustainability of urban farming as a major, secure source of food and employment for urban populations. Agriculture in Urban Planning: Generating Livelihoods and Food Security, is edited by Mark Redwood and published by Earthscan with the International Development Research Centre.
http://tiny.cc/qxgGn
http://www.idrc.ca/en/ev-133761-201-1-DO_TOPIC.html

NO FOOD WITHOUT WATER
There is no food without water, and the best source I know for design challenges posed by water projects is the journal Water 21. They publish an excellent free online newsletter, too.
http://tiny.cc/nq9B4
http://www.iwapublishing.com/template.cfm?name=mailings MEASURING WHAT MATTERS

MEASURING ECONOMIC PROGRESS
Enrico Giovannini, Chief Statistician of the OECD, is pleased with with his new visualization tool, the OECD Factbook Explorer. Few people on the planet are exposed to a larger volume of statistics than he is, and he’s well aware that the more data proliferate, the harder it is to extract meaning from them. But making numbers look interesting is not its main point: Its longer-term potential is as a tool to help change the ways we perceive and measure economic progress.
http://tiny.cc/5RKta
http://www.doorsofperception.com/archives/2009/07/post_48.php

GDP AS A DOOMSDAY MACHINE
Over at Adbusters, they don’t want to wait. “Conventional economics to a bucket full of water that's ready to tip. So, let's kick it over” says their True Cost Economics Manfesto. It describes neoclassical economics as a “gigantic fraud upon the world” and promises that “in the months and years that follow, we will begin the work of reprogramming your doomsday machine”.
http://tiny.cc/K6twi
https://www.adbusters.org/campaigns/truecosteconomics/sign

GREEN MAP IMPACTS
The Green Map platform enables local communities to map assets and resource flows. A new book features fascinating illustrated narratives by local green map makers in ten countries.
http://tiny.cc/PGTBX
http://www.greenmap.org/greenhouse/files/Green_Map_Impacts_09.pdf

WHO TRACKS THE TRASHED TAGS?
If we knew exactly where our trash was going, and how much energy it took to make it disappear, would we think twice about buying bottled water or "disposable" razors? A team of MIT researchers wants people to think more about what they throw away. Trash Track involves the development of special electronic tags that will track different types of waste on their journey through the disposal systems of New York and Seattle. A dilemma for Tracking Trash: in their present form, RFID tags are themselves eco-unfriendly waste, and less than 20 percent of US e-waste is recovered for recycling. http://tiny.cc/zY35u
http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2009/trash-0715.html

THE 121 POUND IPHONE
A hard dilemma confronts those (such as this writer) who have too fliply promoted networked communications as “the infrastructure of sustainabiity”. The amounts of energy, materials and waste associated with the lifecycles of digital media are too often underestimated or just plain ignored. According to information recently released by Apple, for example, the footprint of an iPhone includes 121 pounds of CO2-equivalent green house gas emissions over a three-year expected lifetime of use. Read Don Carli’s startling article:
http://tiny.cc/kSGvh
http://www.sustainablecommunication.org/resources/articles/53-which-medium-is-more-sustainable-paper-or-digital

THE CHIPS THAT WEIGH AS MUCH AS A CAR …
The energy consumption of electronic devices is skyrocketing: the electricity consumption of computers, cell phones, flat screen TV's, iPods and other gadgets will double by 2022 and triple by 2030. And that’s just the power needed to use them; more important is the energy required to manufacture electronic equipment. A handful of microchips embody as much energy as a car. Low-Tech Magazine has posted a long and detailed analysis:
http://tiny.cc/X2dns
http://krisdedecker.typepad.com/.a/6a00e0099229e8883301157108f109970b-pi

… AND THE HEAVINESS OF GLOBAL SUPPLY CHAINS
Of humanity’s 50,000 ecocidal mega-tonnes of annual CO2e greenhouse gas emissions each year, around 2,800 mega-tonnes are caused by logistics and transport activities. Road freight is a major element of this footprint; minerals and food transportation are the largest contributors by product category. Possibly shocked by these numbers, the World Economic Forum has published a report on Supply Chain Decarbonization.The report talks bluntly about “a clear need to move beyond corporate and geographic barriers in addressing supply chain carbon emissions”.
http://tiny.cc/fTpBg
http://www.weforum.org/pdf/ip/SupplyChainDecarbonization.pdf

BATTERIES, WIRES: SO OLD PARADIGM
Gunter Pauli is disturbed by the very sight of electronic devices that need batteries or electric wires in order to function. So the gadget-filled venue of the LIFT conference for technology developers, in Marseille, must have been a challenge. But the founder of the Zero Emissions Research Initiative was not to be deterred, as the video of his talk shows:
http://tiny.cc/pjxbe
http://www.doorsofperception.com/archives/2009/07/post_47.php

SOCIAL INNOVATION

FROM PHILANTHROCAPITALISM, TO SOCIAL VENTURING
A new book about “philanthrocapitalism” chronicles a new generation of social investors who deploy big-business-style strategies and expect results and accountability to match. They include Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, George Soros, Angelina Jolie, and Bono, among others. Their proposition is that there’s a "missing middle" in emerging countries can be filled by new capital to fuel growth. This msojunds very much the economy that we have now; can’t we do better? A contrasting vision is contained a new publication from The Young Foundation, Social venturing, that describes a different kind of economy – a social economy – that is more socially and informationally intensive than capital intensive. Read more at:
http://tiny.cc/n9DZi
http://www.doorsofperception.com/archives/2009/07/from_philanthro.php

APOLLO PROGRAM FOR SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media researchers in the US have called for the creation of a National Initiative for Social Participation. Ben Shneiderman is using social media to organize the effort through a Facebook group called iParticipate. “I see this as an agency like NASA is for space”, he says.
http://tiny.cc/ptCAj
http://ebiquity.umbc.edu/blogger/2009/05/06/national-initiative-for-social-participation/

SOCIAL MEDIA: FROM ME-WARE TO WE-WARE
David Barrie produces popular documentaries and programmes for television. In recent times he’s used these media techniques in community and urban development. In David’s new project, in Wales, ‘Unofficial Mayors’ and community groups are using social media to develop an action plan for physical, social and cultural initiatives. The idea, says David, is “to network communities and local life in a collective way – in the spirit of garden allotments on common ground rather than the fenced-off private gardens you find in social media now”.
http://tiny.cc/OHvfy
http://groups.google.co.uk/group/digitalbutetown

OPEN SOURCE SEWING
Among the many inspiring social innovation projects listed in NEW York 100, I especially like the sound of Hot Bread Kitchen, a social-purpose bakery that employs local immigrant women to bake traditional recipes. There’s also a feral-sounding group of recyclers, called Scrapkins, and Burda Style, an “open source sewing” venture. All Day Buffet are organising a conference for these and other start-ups on 1 October.
http://tiny.cc/DbPM5
http://www.alldaybuffet.org/newyork100/

LET THEM EAT ECO BREAD
City Eco Lab veterans Exyzt and Bethany Koby have created a combined windmill and public oven in London. They’ve been baking a local currency out of bread, called the Dalston Slice, that can be used at local stores.
http://tiny.cc/TbAB7
http://www.barbican.org.uk/artgallery/event-detail.asp?ID=9311

ALSO NOTED

ECOLOGICAL LITERACY TEACH-IN
A design education teach-in to help students, faculty and staff re-frame design I the context of resource depletion, loss of biodiversity, and climate change. The idea is to embed ecological literacy in design education by 2012. Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 12 October.
http://www.teach-in.co.uk

ALL OUR FUTURES (UK)
Education for sustainability is also the focus of this conference in Plymouth. Speakers include Martin Charter, Director of The Centre for Sustainable Design; writer and design activist Alastair Fuad-Luke; and Sara Parkin of Forum for the Future. 15-17 September, Centre for Sustainable Futures, University of Plymouth.
http://tiny.cc/gdVfB
http://csf.plymouth.ac.uk/allourfutures/

RE-DEFINING “ENVIRONMENT”
Is it time to re-frame what we mean by the word “environment” - and thus, how we perceive, design, and inhabit the world? The Institute for Advanced Studies is Glasgow is hosting a four month Scottish-Danish research project to explore these questions. It aims to re-locate the concept of environment “in a more more encompassing ecosystemic context”.
http://tiny.cc/qt1jq
http://www.instituteforadvancedstudies.org.uk/Programmes/DesigningEnvironments.aspx

EDUCATION THAT PAYS FOR ITSELF (ECUADOR)
The Third International Conference on Sustainable Education is for innovators tackling key challenges in education across the developing world: How to provide high quality education without high fees; How to teach young people to succeed as entrepreneurs ; How to empower future generations to break out of the poverty trap. 8-10 December 2009 Yachana Lodge, Ecuador.
http://tiny.cc/dVmOL
http://www.teachamantofish.org.uk/conference/

02 GLOBAL NETWORK – NOW ON LINKED-IN
The O2 Global Network informs, inspires and connects people interested in sustainable design. An enterprising Joel Mulligan (who also needs a job) has established the group on LinkedIn.
http://tiny.cc/AQQy3
http://www.linkedin.com/groups?homeNewMember=&gid=2162795&trk=

CLASSROOM OF TOMORROW
Finalists in Architecture for Humanity’s classroom challenge range from an outdoor classroom in inner-city Chicago, to learning spaces for the children of salt pan workers in India. In September, a selected partner school will receive up to US$50,000 to realize its design.
http://tiny.cc/jIPVE
http://www.openarchitecturenetwork.org/

SMART CITIES
For ten years, Carol Coletta has hosted a nationally-syndicated (in the US) public radio show called "Smart City." So she wasn't sure how to react when IBM launched its Smarter Cities campaign, and when Fortune magazine launched a tech conference of that name, too. Neither credited Carol. There’s nothing much to be done about these schoolyard bullies – except grant credit where credit is due.
http://www.smartcityradio.com/

AND SMART STREETS
If anyone at IBM or Fortune is feeling guilty, they could assuage it by donating funds to Smart Streets, the always useful (and always under-resourced) blog about new mobility. This week Sue Zielinski writes about New Mobility Hubs; these would help you access a whole range of transport options including buses, trains, streetcars, clean fuel taxis, auto rickshaws and car share or bike share vehicles, day care, satellite offices, cafes, shops and entertainment.
http://tiny.cc/OltTQ
http://newmobilityagenda.blogspot.com/2009/07/new-mobility-hubs-connecting-dots.html

BOOKS OF THE MONTH

Design is the problem: The future of design must be sustainable, by Nathan Shedroff. Design has a tremendous impact on the produced world in terms of usability, resources, understanding, and priorities. Shedroff does a fantastic job explaining how to feed the leading frameworks and perspectives on sustainability into the development process of products, services, and events.
http://tiny.cc/kv0zX
http://www.rosenfeldmedia.com/books/sustainable-design/
Design Meets Disability, by Graham Pullen. If eyeglasses can evolve from medical necessity to fashion accessory, why not hearing aids, prosthetic limbs, and communication aids? Graham Pullin shows us how design and disability can inspire each other. MIT Press, 2009
http://tiny.cc/UnP1v
http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=11673
Design Activism: Beautiful Strangeness for a Sustainable World, by Alastair Fuad-Luke. How design activists are catalysing positive impacts to address sustainability: their leader describes approaches, processes, methods, tools and inspirational examples. Earthscan, 2009
http://tiny.cc/FcC6x
http://www.earthscan.co.uk/?tabid=49386



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