If the The Oceanic Crisis” in The Monthly Review had one clear (and often heard) message, it was this: things are far more interconnected than we know – or even than we think we know. And if we’re not more careful, we’re going to really mess things up. (If we haven’t already.)*

It’s not a new message, and if it weren’t written in terms of specifics and with educated authority, I’d be tempted to ignore it: “I know, I know. Circle of life.  Yeah yeah.” But there’s something more persuasive about the facts that Clark and Clauson pull from.  Just knowing that they (or somebody) has tried to give this issue the comprehensive look it deserves makes me give it my attention.  I don’t have much patience for touchy-feely moralizing, not without some rock solid reasons for paying attention.

And so it’s interesting to evaluate the other articles we were assigned this week by the same bar: written for greatest effect and to rouse the largest number of rabble – or are they, perhaps, maybe, on to something I can take seriously?

Take the Michael Pollan article in The Nation, for example. He had a perspective I hadn’t heard before:

When change depends on overcoming the influence of an entrenched power, it helps to have another powerful interest in your corner—an interest that stands to gain from reform.

We simply can’t afford the healthcare costs incurred by the current system of cheap food—which is why, sooner or later, we will find the political will to change it.

– Michael Pollan

But in the comments below, there was this contradictory and revealing reaction:

This article revealed absolutely no information on who controls food, what their plans are for the immediate future, or anything about how to end this control. Every word above was capitulation nor resistance. Every word above was acceptance of the current status quo of ownership and control of food.

I agree, for the most part. This article might have been written for a particular audience – one who can afford to wait until things get figured out by the powers that be, but I think the comment is misdirected when it implies that waiting for things to get figured out is necessarily passive. And, paraphrasing from an earlier part of the comment, I’m not sure that a full revolution is always the best machine for changing “this control.” I have doubts about the longevity and workability of a sudden change. Not to say that it can’t, but that perhaps when things happen gradually, and you have win over individuals and corporate interests, you find a solution/compromise that everyone can get behind, for whatever reason, Mother Earth or budget lines.  Or perhaps it’s the case that the longer the battle, the more knotted the bureaucratic tape.

And part of changing people’s minds is advertising. Marketing. Maybe even exotic marketing.  I too, I think like Jacob, think that companies need to be more forthright with why they’re doing something, or why they’re choosing to sell their product/service/idea in the manner they’re selling it.  When they dissemble, it makes me mistrust them, which isn’t doing their cause any good. Maybe portraying something as “exotic” or “sexy” or “hip” is the way to get people to pay attention.  Does it matter that they’re attracted for the quote “wrong” reasons as long as they’re paying attention and change is happening? Perhaps Speak Shop should employ local, second-generation Spanish speakers to tutor their clients.  Or perhaps the influence/population Cindy and Clay Cooper want to affect are Guatemalan.  But why, specifically? Be clear.

Similarly, Bamboo Sushi’s doing a hell of a job selling itself as a sustainable destination.  So what if they’re investing in a fish refuge in the Bahamas, when their salmon is coming from the PNW? (I have to think they’ve thought this through more carefully though, there must be a specific reason they’ve chosen that location.) At least fish are being saved.

Because after all – we’re all connected, no?

 

 

* I’d prefer to think that we haven’t messed everything up irrevocably just yet. ‘Cause if we have, then our mission changes from “how can we as a species and a planet survive most responsibly?” to “how can we suffer less than we’re going to?” And that’s not going to help anyone. Not really.

Celebritizeing Goodness

The global business of glorifying the simple act of being a decent human being is loathsome. It makes me afraid for humanity that we have sold off our rights of sustenance to corporate intermediaries who are feeding us food that comes from a laboratory rather than the dirt.

I guess that is how humanity has spread goodness to begin with, religious figures are exactly that, a glorified hero which we are encouraged to base our life’s decisions around. The fact that we need to actually hold public panels, define a culinary revolution, and make heroes of people who maintain the standard of eating right is rather depressing.

Food is life. (period) among every other topic we have consulted over this course I have been willing to grant wiggle room. Designed objects, South American tea, learning a second language, whatever, none of these things are as fundamentally important as food. Don’t Fuck with food! It is quite possibly the most important necessity for sustaining life. With this declaration I am willing to respect the individuals who maintain this high level of stewardship towards food but I am only willing to do that, respect them. These people are not breaking new ground, the things they are campaigning for are something that was simply the standard two generations ago.

The responsibility that Bamboo sushi has taken for the fish it serves is admirable. It should be a legal requirement for every food proprietor to be that focused to maintaining a standard that high. However, I am not so sure that serving sushi is ethically responsible to begin with. The resource consumption of the fishing industry is gluttonous from the start.

“If the fishing industry were a country, it would rank with the Netherlands as the world’s 18th-largest oil consumer” – Cornelia Dean,  NY Times

Owning a responsibility to maintaining fish populations simply so you can eat more of them is no noble deed, it is simply being business savvy. We are so apt to applaud someone simply for being smart, furthermore we veil it as heroic. The same goes for Bamboo’s statement about sustainably harvested teak chopsticks. Although Plantation Teak grown in Latin America is a more sustainable option to Indonesian old growth teak,  it still comes from much farther away than an Oregon black walnut tree. It is the glorification of social entrepreneurs actions by their own personal declarations as well as journalists praise that instantly places these practices under a high level of scrutiny.

I guess what I am trying to say is stop bragging about doing things that are simply ones obligation as citizens of the earth. If you want to eat threatened fish from far away make sure you don’t eat too many. If you want exotic hardwood eating utensils plant a tree for every one you cut down. But stop bragging about it, no one would respect Michael Phelps if he wore his eight Olympic gold medals everyday. When is doing the right thing just going to become the standard?

“Look at me, I’m the best!”

A pescetarian’s view on coral reefs…….

I was educated by some alarming information on coral reefs about two years ago when I watched an IMAX movie at OMSI on how human interference has caused an enormous threat to coral reefs. The movie made me appreciate the marvels of nature’s creations, so breathtakingly gorgeous and morphologically perfected however on the other hand how the ecological integrity of the reefs is compromised by the destructive practices of overfishing and marine pollution.

Coral reefs are often referred to as the “rainforests of the oceans” and also known to be the largest, complex ecological community of biological origin that grow slowly while building deposits of calcium carbonate. The organisms that make up the coral  colonies are stationary and get their nourishment from reaching out their tentacles to small fish and plankton as their food. The coral reefs also provide a habitat for food and shelter for the diverse sea life and in such a way a very symbiotic relationship is formed. Any imbalance caused to this  natural system greatly upsets not only the marine life but also the ecosystem at large with effects like changes in temperature, chemical and water quality, erosion control; reefs are not able to withstand long-term stress.

The current statics show that more than half of the world’s reefs are at medium to high risk of destruction and exhibit little recovery from this damage.  The Great Barrier Reef along the coastline of north-eastern Australia located in the Coral Sea is the world’s largest single structure made by living organisms. A lot of revenue is generated from the tourism industry associated with the Great Barrier Reef. It is under serious peril of deterioration due to rise in temperature of the waters cause of global warming as corals thrive within a specific range of temperatures (77-80 degrees fahrenheit) optimum for their calcification of structures. The increase in carbon dioxide in the water changes the PH value of the water causing what is  known as ocean acidification. This causes coral bleaching when they shed the algae that live in their tissue which impart the brilliant hues to the corals and the corals are flushed out of any colorations and become white. Another reason the Great Barrier reef is on the brink of irrecoverable stress is the nitrogen-based pesticide runoff released in the ocean from the local farming communities further deteriorates the water quality.

A number of countries such as Australia, France, Jamaica, Japan, Philippines, Sweden, U.K. and U.S. are part of the international efforts to address the issues related to coral reef degradation with a governing body that was formed in 1994 called the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI). Under this governance various programs are formed to conserve and restore the use of coral reefs and develop and research programs that will monitor the coral reef environments. Although ICRI is not a funding organization, it is able to take measures to develop policies and legislation to protect the coral reefs and the environments that are affected by it.

http://www.icriforum.org/

Our various readings glorify marine ‘activist efforts’ like certification from ‘Marine Stewardship council’, consumer regeneration, subsistence fishing, ecological aquaculture in the name of ‘Blue Revolution’, can they truly alleviate the domino effect damage we have brought about or is human extinction truly the answer? Maybe our association with nature calls for a more humble approach to behave in a symbiotic relationship akin to the coral ecosystem where we mutually respect our place on this planet.

Not sure after this blog and being aware of some atrocious acts that our species have been carrying out in the name of ‘fishing’ if I will be able to find my tuna sandwich pretty palatable!

Ecosystem Overfishing – where fishing becomes unsustainable at the ecosystem level

Waste not. Want not.

The thing that struck me about this weeks readings is the disgusting amount of waste that happens in the fishing industry: “As much as half of all fish caught never make it to the table” acknowledges the Goldmark in the Most Sustainable Sushi Restaurant in America. And in the article The Oceanic Crisis: Capitalism and the Degradation of Marine Ecosystem the author, Brett Clark states: “[Industrialized capitalist fishing] leads to an immense amount of non-target marine life-bycatch- being captured. Bycatch are commercially unviable species, thus they are seen as waste. The “trash fish” are often ground up and thrown back into the ocean. Part of the bycatch includes juveniles of the target fish…it is estimated that an average of 27 million tons of fish are discarded each year in commercial fisheries around the world, and that the US has a .28 ratio of bycatch discard of landings.” This is outrageous! Over-consumption and greed is one thing- at least it is feeding people, but to intentionally waste that much marine life is atrocious!

I grew up fishing with my dad and there are strict regulations in place on the amount and size of fish you can keep-even for weekend anglers who use a hook and line to catch fish. These regulations are enforced with pretty good success by the state D.N.R. We always happily adhered to these limits because we knew it was for a good reason-to keep the fish population healthy. So I wondered why there are not similar regulations in place for commercial fisheries? Even if you accidentally caught fish you can always release them, right?

As it turns out, many bycatch fish die in the release process, so that is not necessarily the only answer. However, I did find out that there are actually federal regulations in place and ways to reduce the amounts of bycatch. According to the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, regulatory law limiting the amount of bycatch has significantly reduced the amount by approximately 460 million pounds, but the amount of groundfish thrown over board in today’s  fisheries still represents excessive and unnecessary waste. http://www.akmarine.org/our-work/conserve-fisheries-marine-life/solutions-to-minimize-bycatch

I also found out that many fishing operations dump the bycatch rather than bring it to shore, because it is more cost effective to fill the space in the boat with saleable fish. Or, fish like halibut and salmon that have a higher market value. In the same article, the Alaska Marine Conservation Council states that: The new federal regulation requires Bering Sea and Aleutian Island bottom trawl catcher/processor vessels that are over 125 feet long to retain an increasing portion of their overall catch. It requires that vessels retain at least 65% of their catch in 2008 and 85% of their catch by 2011. While some vessels already retain 65% or more, others throw away over 50% of their catch at times. http://www.akmarine.org/our-work/conserve-fisheries-marine-life/solutions-to-minimize-bycatch

There are also different types of nets and practices that reduce the damage to fish and the marine floor, while reducing the amount of bycatch. This example from the Louisiana State University relates to the shrimping industry: Currently available to shrimpers are NMFS-approved bycatch reduction devices (BRDs), which have openings called fisheyes and funnels sewn into trawls. Fish entering the trawls swim out of the openings along with some shrimp. The size and economic impact of the loss will be a continuing concern to fishermen and regulators. The full document is attached for further reference.

This is good news and I am happy to see that there is some consciousness surrounding the issues, however, I’m sure more can be done. I am happy to be more aware of these issues and will be sure to check the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s fish watch for more info on ocean-friendly seafood and sushi. They even have a fishwatch app that you can download onto your smart phone to help make smart purchases. http://www.montereybayaquarium.org

Gotta love sushi

“In a year, we will go through 4,000 pounds of albacore, 5,500 of salmon, 3,500 pounds of tuna…” Kristofor Lofgren’s busy sushi restaurant uses incredible amounts of fish. “It’s probably eight tons of seafood that we serve, so we feel it’s our jobs to make sure we have a positive impact.” To compensate for that drain on the ocean’s resources, Lofgren wants to add all that and more back into the ocean, so every ounce of spicy tuna roll you eat puts twice as much live tuna back in the sea.

How is it that we have not depleted the fish supply yet? I ponder this question when I was traveling in Japan last December. Fish was every where I went: either on a menu at a restaurant, in markets, on conveyor belts (sushi), salty snacks that tasted like fish, and even cold for breakfast. Eating cold fish for breakfast was a true challenge; I never got use to it, nor did I enjoy eating it. I researched more on the amount of fish being consumed in Japan, and it’s importance to East Asian culture. Fish contributes a significant amount of nutrition to the East Asian diet, containing higher amounts of protein than meat and milk, and providing a good source of amino-acids, vitamins A, D, and B.

The Wall Street Journal states, “Put aside all those stories of global battles spurred by Japan’s reputation as a voracious seafood-eating nation. Here in Japan, the trend that’s causing buzz is quite the opposite: Fish consumption has been steadily declining. Per capita fish-eating fell below that of meat for the first time in 2006. The average monthly household spending on seafood has dropped 23% since 2000, to $74 last year.”

So a decline in fish consumption could also be related to children of Japan would rather eat spaghetti than squid sashimi or stewed sole. The elders are worried about choking on the sharp bones. This perhaps has a negative impact to consumption of fish. However, a song about fish called “Fish Heaven” by Gyoko was used by the Fisheries Agency in 2008 and now it is played all over the supermarkets in Japan: “Fish. Fish. Fish. You get smart when you eat fish. Smart Smart Smart. Fish Fish Fish. You get healthy when you eat fish. Healthy. Healthy. Healthy.” I did not personally hear this song because ironically they were playing christmas songs in english when I was visiting in Japan. I found a video of the Gyoko talking about Illegal Fishing in Japan through music and working at a Fishery.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62tiXApn_34&feature=fvsr

Imperialistic sustainability

Diego Garcia

Like a lot of what we have covered in this class so far, as well as much of Entrepreneurial Studies, Kristofer Lofgren’s Bamboo Sushi’s support of a fish bank smells like Exotification Marketing.  One of Exotification Marketing’s biggest pitfalls is its inability to develop wholly positive feedback loops.  Where business models such as Speak Shop and Guyaki purport to offer environmental and social benefits alongside the product or service, they are only utilizing the appearance of those benefits.  Speak Shop, rather than hiring tutors in Guatemala to teach middle class Americans Spanish, should be hiring local second generation young Latinos who may be at a higher risk for unemployment.  They have been translating for and tutoring their parents in a second language as they learned English.  I am skeptical that Guyaki’s purported rainforest saving scheme and potential Mate’ plantations in the United States really only end up benefiting the two hippy kids who started the company.  They trick consumers with images of faraway lands in peril to purchase their product, pandering to their customers white guilt.

Bamboo Sushi is about to officially buy their first marine protected area. It will be 100 square kilometers, about 405,000 acres, in the Bahamas. Planning for the second one, closer to home in the Pacific Northwest, is already underway.

This is where I end up with Bamboo Sushi’s grand plan to fund the protection of tracts of ocean.  First of all, how is it sustainable, or even reasonable, for an American company to regulate the marine ecosystem’s surrounding the Bahamas.  Alex Goldmark’s article starts out, “In a year, we will go through 4,000 pounds of albacore, 5,500 of salmon, 3,500 pounds of tuna…” Kristofor Lofgren’s busy sushi restaurant uses incredible amounts of fish., well kind of, Albacore is a tuna and therefore I am unsure what exactly that means tuna is.  Salmon do not live in the Bahamas.  They need the cool waters of the Northern Pacific and Northern Atlantic.  They are found other places globally, but only in cool waters such as Southern Australia and Northern Europe.  Not in the Bahamas.  This is where I got really confused.  If Bamboo Sushi is preparing to invest in a Marine Protected Area why isn’t it located where their product is sourced?

“We are going to take a portion of every dollar spent at Bamboo Sushi, and work with the Nature Conservancy, WWF, Monterey Bay Aquarium… [and others] to buy those areas of ocean, turning them into ‘fish banks’ for research.”

I am really unclear on what this means.  Superficially, this sounds great.  Areas of the ocean will be set aside and human exploitation will be regulated.  There are outstanding examples of success from implementing a Marine Protected Area.  The Phoenix Islands Protected Area may be one of the last untouched reef systems in the world.  As with so many domestic and international efforts to preserve ecosystems the compromise often ends up watering down the goals of these efforts until paper is all that’s left.  Amongst the US State Department cables released by Wikileaks there is evidence of an MPA being used to promote neo-imperialism to protect US and British military interests on the Chagros Islands in the Indian Ocean.

This cable discloses how in spite of the claims of their proponents that “marine protected areas” are designed to “protect” the ocean fisheries and ecosystem, they are in fact often used as racist tools to dispossess indigenous people of their human rights. The move by the British and U.S. governments to green wash their imperialist policies by depriving the Chagrossians their rights has a direct parallel to the violation of indigenous rights that have occurred in the creation of marine protected areas in the U.S and Mexico.   indybay

There are too many uncertainties surrounding Marine Protected Areas, too many opportunities for an MPA to be used as a neo-imperial tool. There are too many grey areas such as spill over, the movement of species through an MPA. The MPA that Bamboo Sushi is trying to help fund is about twice the size of Hillsboro, Oregon or .000000277% of the worlds oceans.

The implementation of this Exotification Marketing again falls short of its stated goals.  Rather than using your spending power as a way to exercise agency within the Wicked Problems we are faced with, a consumer ends up being pimped by a restaurant like Bamboo Sushi.  Kristofor Lofgren’s heart might be in the right place but part of me hopes he hasn’t bamboozled himself with the aspects of his business and marketing strategies that seem to be designed to pander to some sort of emotional response to environmental degradation.  If, like me, you have a fairly constant craving for sushi put your money where your mouth is, not where you think your heart may be.

Is anyone else concerned that the slow food videos were sponsored by BP?

Place-Based

Diversity of Food: Appalachia

The Appalachian mountain regions of North Carolina, East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky contain a long history of cultivation of heirloom varieties of fruits and intense wildcrafting.  (Wildcrafting is defined as gathering herbs, fungi and plants from the wild.)
This mountain range has been inhabited by people for many centuries and is known for it’s agrobiodiversity.  Much of this diversity springs from the agricultural practices of the Native American groups such as the Cherokee.

The Appalachians are full of yummy foods such as Muscadine grapes (great for jams and wine), the October bean, apples (eating, cooking and cider), sweet potatoes, pawpaws (a favorite of my grandmother), squashes, pumpkins, berries, grains, mushrooms, etc.

“Apples are abundant among the region’s 1,412 food varieties.”

—-James R. Veteto, contributor and editor – Place-Based Foods of Appalachia

“The place-based foods of the Southern and Central Appalachia region are treasures of global importance, just as much as the bluegrass music of the same region.”

——Gary Paul Nabhan, founder of Renewing America’s Food Traditions Alliance and editor
of Place-Based Foods of Appalachia

With the ever looming risks of climate change, farmers are carefully observing which varieties of plants are hearty and resilient through past extreme shifts in climate.  These flexible contenders are being used to bring variety to their fields.  Thankfully, monoculture is rare here.  The food systems are more in tune with the natural cycles of the region and what the soils can produce.

Some researchers speculate that there is danger of the most active gardeners and cultivators in the region of dying out and traditions dying out too.  But there is a return to the ideas of self-sufficiency and sustainability.  According to James Veteto in Place-Based Foods, “ Droves of young people are returning to the land in western North Carolina through the sustainable agriculture movement.  Conservation efforts through the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, Center for Cherokee Plants and The Southern Seed Legacy Project are generating an enormous amount of interest in heirloom seeds, wild foods, and heritage breeds.”

With all the readings this week about slow food, sustainable sushi and the tragedy of over-fishing and oceanic dead zones, I kept trying to think of an area that might embody practices for food growing that might somehow be more inherently healthy or environmentally sustainable and I kept thinking of Appalachia.  Slow food and self sufficiency seems to be a way of life there.  Maybe we all just need to slow down?  Maybe we don’t need sushi every week?

-Editor and contributor to Place-Based Foods, Gary Paul Nabhan, has also written “Endangered Foods of the Gulf South” and was featured on Slow Food NOLA’s blog.

-James R. Veteto also has written “The Slaw and the Slow Cooked.”

Another interesting site is: Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project

From the ASAP site’s FAQ:

“At ASAP, we believe the labor and environmental issues associated with agriculture are important. Supporting local agriculture is a powerful way to shape the food system and impact the kind of environmental and labor standards you want to see. Localizing agriculture connects farmers and community members; it means that consumers are in direct contact with the farmers that grow their food or are only one or two steps removed. With this kind of close connection, you can make informed choices about the food you eat and in turn foster greater economic, social, and environmental health. We encourage you to get to know the farmers that grow your food. If you have direct contact with farmers, you can ask them directly about their production and business practices. If you buy your food through a retailer, produce managers are often knowledgeable about the local farms that supply their store. “

Expanding our definition of “now”

MOOTSPACES & THE SELF- ORGANIZING POWER OF NETWORKS

I’ve been reading a lot recently about “third” places – not your home (#1) or your workplace (#2), but that “informal public gathering place” where everyone knows your name.  Or so Cheers would have you believe It got me to thinking about the value and importance of different kinds of social interactions.  There’s not a hierarchy, per se, between those relationships you have with people you welcome into your home and those relationships with people you gather with at the corner pub.  They’re both essential.  I’ve been operating, without knowing it, that the best relationships and interactions were those appropriate to one’s private home. I’ve been seeking out people whom I can invite over for dinner or with whom I can, I don’t know, watch a movie and paint my nails.  Something along those lines.  I’ve been forgetting the role played by those whom I see at the coffeeshop in the morning and the regulars who nod and smile at the library.

And so the idea of a “mootspace” intrigues me.  Do truly democratic spaces already exist? If so, where? And if not, is it as simple as Field of Dreams makes it sound: “if we build it, they will come?”  Is building the space enough? Is providing opportunity enough?  Or are there other ways to seek input and communication and consensus (if those are even the democratic ideals we’re going for)? Hmm.

Also, the quote from Suzi Gablick: “calls for an end to alienation of artists and aesthetics from social values in a new, inter-relational, audience-oriented art” is spot on.  We should always consider the future life of what we make by considering who our work is serving.  We as artists/designers/craftsmen/makers/whatever you want to call yourself have a unique opportunity and ( very serious)  obligation to serve people other than ourselves.

SENSING and ACTUATING – THE ENVIRONMENT TALKING BACK TO US

The guy on the TED talk mentioned briefly the idea that when you show people a record of where their plastic water bottle goes, proof that it still exists on the planet, that it didn’t disappear when you tossed it in the trashcan, then you might be able to promote some behavioral changes. In other words, show people proof of what’s going on, and they then have something to react against, against which to measure their individual impact and begin to examine how they might influence/change that impact.  Seems clear. and obvious.

Saw this in action this morning at church.  It was Ministry Sunday this week, the week during the year when the parish asks people to consider participating/volunteering in one or multiple of the ministries that keep the church running.  This could mean staffing the food pantry, or coordinating donuts and coffee after Mass, or singing in the choir, or visiting the sick or the homebound, etc.  Anyways, at the end of Mass, the priest invited anybody who had, over the years, delivered food from the food pantry to families or individuals who needed it to come forward and be recognized by the congregation.  And I thought that 1, it was wonderful that people get applauded and thanked for something they did/do that may go unrecognized or may be an invisible task, and 2, how useful it was for me to see just how many people in the church were actively participating in this one ministry. It made me think that if all these people made time for this, perhaps I could too.  Note to self: thanking volunteers – and being able to visually see the number of people involved – is great for enlisting more volunteers.

Conclusion: Seeing evidence gives you something to react against or with.

TOWARDS SUSTAINING THAT WHICH GENUINELY SUSTAINS

Not much to say about this just now, but the idea intrigues me.  I love the word “sustain.” Not “sustainability,” with all the baggage that comes along with that term, but simply: “sustain.”  Don’t you want something that sustains you? That lasts, that endures, that supports, that grows? How can I be a part of sustaining things?


And as a last note from the Dutch floating city talk: Dubai as “a country with a strong vision”?  I’ve never heard Dubai described that way.  And while I suppose it’s true, the results of those strong visions are beyond absurd.  Case in point: the palm tree islands. Floating towers?

I have two can openers.

Don’t ask me why but when I think of adaptive design, I think of suicide booths. I know they are make believe, but they seem like a viable alternative to floating houses. They’re cheap, at only a quarter a pop, just about everyone can afford to use one. 6.7 billion x 25 cents is like 1.7 billion dollars just waiting to be made by any cutthroat corporation savvy enough to step up to the plate. I bet most people would be willing to pay upwards of 5 or 10 dollars. Half of the products out there are killing us slowly one way or another anyway. Imagine the positive impact on the environment if our population suddenly began to decrease instead of increase! We wouldn’t even have to make any new stuff, there would be so much extra stuff laying around.

Seems like most peoples idea of now is RIGHT NOW! Not a week or a year. People can’t even wait for a car to turn off Burnside for 5 seconds, they have to floor it into the next lane just so they can make it to the next stoplight faster (this is one reason I think suicide booths would be a hit). No one has any patience any longer. Patience would go a long way in shaping design as far as consumerism is concerned. If people would wait to buy things until they find exactly the right thing, instead of buying whichever thing they can get their hands on, the day they decide randomly that they needed new shoes or a new can opener. People need to stop buying stuff just because they feel like their lives aren’t going the way they were hoping and they just gotta get that thing that will fill the void (suicide booths). Then the crappy can openers would stop being made. No one would buy them, find out they suck, and toss them in the trash. Only good can openers would be produced, since only good can openers would get purchased. All because we thought about the can opener that would be the best can opener for us.

I don’t know if everyone should be involved in the design process at the development stage. Not everyone should have a say in how a can opener should be made. Some people can operate can openers, but really have no concept of how they work.
Everyone should buy good can openers when they need one. Maybe cans should all have pull tabs, then we wouldn’t even need can openers at all.

I love the Netherlands

Out of all the week 9 readings, I was most interested in the Floating Architecture for a Changing Climate.  The Netherlands’ architect, Koen Olthuis’, inspiration and vision is to live with the water and not push the water away.  Meaning to design floating houses that will live on the water adapted from the history of Dutch floating house boats.  These house boats were originally designed for the poor as an easy solution to finding housing.  The inevitable rise in sea level that comes with climate change is making it very difficult to control the water rising over the land.  The Netherlands is 26% below sea level.  Since water dominates most of the Netherlands, the Dutch constructed a water system consisting of dykes, polders and weirs.  But, these water systems can no longer keep up with the rising sea waters.  Instead of cursing their fate, architects are designing and thinking of new ways to float on the water.  The Dutch government agrees and is willing to try out the Netherlands’ new theme of living on the water.  This has led other countries to start to think about living on water instead of dry land.  Apparently, building a house boat is easy according to Olthuis; all you need is to fill a concrete box with some kind of plastic foam, flip it over, and you have a stable platform that floats.

When I was 25, I took a long backpacking trip around the Netherlands.  I was amazed that you couldn’t go a mile without seeing some type or water, whether it was a river, canal, or dykes.  I was naive at the time, not understanding that some of the Netherlands was under sea level.  I couldn’t wrap my brain around the idea that basically I was standing on water.  There are no basements in the houses and there are many floors stacked on top of each other.  I also recall observing lots of moss growing everywhere, even on cement.

When I first saw the numerous house boats that were floating in the bigger canals, I wished I could have gone inside one to see what they were like.  They float because of their unique foundation.  These house boats created clusters of curved lines and colored wooden planking.  I jokingly said to my boyfriend at the time, we should buy a floating house and move to the Netherlands.

I just walked over to my window and closed it. . . The room got warmer. How’s that for interactive architecture!

To be frank, placing tracking devices on my garbage to guilt me into worrying about where my trash ends up is not going to make me eat less hotpockets when I’m stoned on a Wednesday night. Creating a kitschy robo-house may be an interesting way of exploiting new computer technologies and bring about an awareness towards energy consumption. But it is in no way adressing real design solutions of have and have-not.  I whole-heartedly feel that education, exposure and awareness are the key to affecting change, however I am very skeptical of the current trend towards the “heroification”(© J. Tietze) of designers.

As a boat builder by trade I can assure you that the massive production of floating homes is not a viable solution to climate change. Marine vessels and structures require a massive amount of energy materials and chemicals to maintain. Almost all the wood used in maritime construction is exotic, threatened, rain forest timber, and in the cases where more sustainable lumber is used it must be slathered with caustic sealers and paints. These sealants are then perpetually sloughing off of the vessel poisoning the harbors where it rests. This coupled with the constant upkeep, repair and replacement required to dwell in a marine environment show that this is not a practical design solution to the melting polar ice caps.

Decades of paint crumbling from the hull of a ship.

The two movies were both proposing new ideas of development as if they were some new and society altering solution. The idea of a building that reacts to real-time happenings is not a new concept (see my automatic thermostat) as well the idea of a floating home with a modern design aesthetic, a drive along the Columbia river to view an array of rotting once modern floating homes will attest to that. The spokespeople for both these ideas seem to be elevating the worth of their work in some sort of an attempt to elevate their own personal worth. The concept of a floating modern home is nothing more than a cool idea, that’s it. It is not the solution to rising tides, moving onto higher ground is the solution for that. With all this being said, none of these ideas are worthless endeavors. Beautiful floating homes are wonderful objects, A house that tells a story with water droplets is a truly engaging concept, I just tend cringe at the design worlds misappropriated nobility. These design solutions are no more revolutionary than a third world, or jury rigged solution yet we feel no desire to hoist these people on the shoulders of society as heroes.

Why is that? Oh right, capitalism, “If you sell a man a fish he has to come back to your store every night to make sure his family has something to eat. If you teach a man to fish. . .  you go out of business” The media, universities, and museums are looking to promote something new shiny and above all, profitable.

A novel solution for a staircase but too low brow to warrant a TED talk from it's creator.

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”- William Morris

A statement by William Morris, the father of the arts and crafts movement, that seems a bit antiquated when put up against the dazzling intrigue of modern technologies.

Mootdesign(or perhaps redundant)

Adaptive Capacity:Design as a Social Strategy for Designing “now” and “co-futuring”(Now there’s a mouthful) begins by saying that “During the past two centuries ‘design’ was self-absorbed in its own culture. An unholy battery of academic posturing is stitched together for us to try to decipher. The article also deems design in its current standardized role as simply responding to the whim and fancy of corporate market interests and the greater global economy. The rhetorical and cliche notion of altruism(too give is also to get) is juxtaposed with what design ought to be doing and sometimes attains. The ideals of beauty and aesthetics are debased to merely encompass market wants and trends. Beauty I would say transcends definition and cannot be lessened by market forces(or your perception of their inherent value). To quote another term the new vision coined as Beautiful Strangeness is the solution for capitalism/consumerism gone awry. Yet I cant help but wonder where do corporate interests derive the needs of the masses? Are they simply fabricated by some malignant mad-marketing campaign. Doesn’t society currently get a democratic say of what is  fabricated and desired? Needs and wants exists because society desires them. Economic degrowth as opposed to the blind juggernaut of ungenuine(its a real word wordpress), and the morally corrupt methodology of today’s industrial machine unloads upon us is proposed as a solution. Yes, ” sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” I agree that responsibility in the end is a collective imperative. Yet, I don’t think we can accurately predict what the needs of the future will be.

Here ill say it, I have no interest in being an activist. Philosophically speaking I belive that which we resit persists.  But i do agree that designers can take the role of facilitators, authors, co-creators, co-designers and ‘happeners’ ‘(i.e.  making things actually happen)… ‘designers  as  connectors and facilitators,  as  quality producers,  as visualizers and visionaries,  as  future  builders (or  co-producers). Designers as promoters of new business models.  Designers as catalizers  of  change.’

Ill ask this, what is positive behavior change? The Mootspace already exists in the ether. Every time you think your voice is heard.  Its your belief which makes  it a reality.

part 2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Q-I0iVBDmC4

part 3 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nnb9_njsJbs&feature=related

 

part 4 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdhbgEvTa2c&feature=related

By default, we are all engaged in participatory design. We are integrally connected to the universe and fearing tomorrow (or today for that matter) is counterproductive to say the least. Every person you come across is a co-creator. The future will be beautiful, and perhaps strange, hopefully for you in a good way.


Sense-ing for change

After the lights went out in Carlo Ratti’s TED talk I was instantly intrigued.  What can I say, I am a sucker for shiny flying objects. But I was most fascinated by the slide he showed about the trash tracking.

I was really impressed they were able to get 3000 people to participate in Seattle, which for me made for a stronger more legitimate survey.  We have often talked about where our trash goes and where it ends up, but it was made quite real to see on a map just how far our trash can travel.  I was flabbergasted to see that a few pieces of trash went all the way across the country to Florida!  “Why is that even happening?” I asked myself.  Ratti goes on to say that hopefully by showing people this type of data they can spread the knowledge of awareness, and through that, change peoples behavior.  I believe that this is one of the best examples of how this sensing can help us change.  There is something about seeing this information manifested visually that has a larger impact than a sentence listing a statistic.

I am a less interested how the sensing and responding affects architecture, and am more interested in how it can assist us with medical knowledge.  Having two roommates in the medical field I am constantly reminded how our health care system is strongly rooted in treating symptoms instead of treating the entire person.   Doctors look for the quick fix, often with a medicated result, instead of reviewing the whole person to find and treat the root cause of their symptoms.  Which is why after perusing sensables website I was drawn to their project Health InfoScape.

The goal of the Health InfoScape is to “analyze data from over 7.2 million anonymized electronic medical records, taken from across the country (the US), we are seeking to uncover statical relationships between space, geography and health”.

And I also love this statement from the projects site.

“We often have a tendency to think of illness as an isolated event, but our first analysis details the numerous (sometimes unexpected) associations that exist around any given condition. This gives us new insight as to how closely connected some seemingly un-related health conditions might be. Such results force us to re-examine conventional categories of disease classification, as the boundaries between traditional disease categories are thoroughly blurred.”

Although the visuals are a bit more convoluted and harder to relate to than the trash experiment, I hope that this type of visual data can help change the way our health system operates today.  I think we have for quite sometime been linking our environment to our health, but maybe we need to go deeper, make more connections from larger amounts of data.  Which is just what Health InfoScape plans to do in the future with this process.

Looking at you looking at me

I was struck by Carlo Ratti’s description and implementation of Real Time Control Systems.  This is the sort of futurism that gets people really fired up.  These concepts are the new way in which large swaths of our local and global populations will interact both with each other and with their broader geophysical landscapes.  This will include the ways in which we interact with the virtual qua reality worlds constructed on servers around the globe.

Previously I found conclusive evidence that gravity exists in Second Life (see video).  Poking around I found a wiki founded by Annie Spinster, an artist and designer based in England.  The project of Spinster’s I found most fascinating was Jiggle-Ometer, an open source hardware based system in which someone could directly interact with something in Second Life through an array of sensors.  It is developments

It is developments like this and Carlo Ratti’s that continue to blur the demarcation between virtual and physical and pushes the threshold into tighter and tighter tolerances.  Whereas Koen Olthuis is working towards an easily implemented architecture to adapt to climate change in the form of rising water levels, I think an equally important question is what will distract the population from how difficult their lives are becoming.  With the air of gentrification implied in the N.P.R. article/ video what will the rest of us do to convince ourselves that our lives aren’t too bad?  Maybe we will continue to retreat into popular culture, into a version of reality that we can identify with.  That is part of the draw with reality TV.  The characters portrayed are easy to identify with, there is an immediate human connection whether that is sentimental or ridiculous we can recognize ourselves in those characters.

Virtual reality through interfaces such as Second Life may continue to garner market share.  Especially as open source hardware options become more ubiquitous.  People will have the ability to shape their entertainment through familiar physical processes.   The shift from spectator to participant will increase in both speed and scale.  What Carlo Ratti termed the self organizing power of networks will work to not only generate solutions to the wicked problems of our society and culture but to increase the methods in which we can escape the weight of our problems.

Float On

I was intrigued by a post my friend made on Facebook the other day about a new way of wind-powered travel.  The Passing Cloud method was proposed at an international ideas convention by Tiago Barros, an architect working in New York.  Propelled by the flow of the wind, the Passing Cloud would provide a smooth ride for those looking to take in a journey with no specific destination.  Barros says, “The journey becomes the essence.” 

The Cloud would be composed of multiple nylon covered balloon structures with an internal steel framework.

Passing Cloud

Tiago Barros

I do have a few questions though about the smoothness of the trip.  What if you hit severe weather?  Will there be a general course that is followed and if so, would there be the ability to bypass a tornado spawning in Kansas or straight-line winds in Arkansas?  Would you float high enough to be unaffected?

Still, it seems like a pretty clean way of travel.  I wonder what kind of speeds the Passing Cloud would achieve.  Could this futuristic Cloud be adapted further to help solve the large carbon footprints of traditional air travel?  Or should we stick with the push for more high-speed railways?  Could Passing Cloud work internationally?

Switching from air to sea, Paul Van De Camp and Koen Olthuis’s idea of floating cities in Holland is equally enchanting.  Though I’m not sure this is the solution for those prone to sea sickness.  The idea of adapting to rising water by floating versus levees has a subversive feel that I admire.  Levees are essential, but at a certain point, walls may not be enough when sea levels keep rising.

It seems fitting that wealthy Dubai is on board to be the guinea pig for Dutch Docklands first structures.  Paul Van De Camp moved to Dubai because of the ‘try anything’ spirit.  Dubai’s sprawling coastlines have been primarily covered with resorts and hotels.  According to an article by Joe Palca at NPR, “they have run out of sand.”

Dutch Docklands

Each island is supposedly stable enough to have hotels, entertainment, and even a heliport.  Van De Camp says that with the exception of the handful of days a year that there is a big storm, residents would not feel any noticeable sway.  They are considering this a possible model for coastal cities which raises a few questions for me.

What about cities in regions with far more stormy days in a year?  What about hurricane prone coasts?  Tsunami prone areas?

It all seems a little surreal like watching Waterworld with Kevin Costner.  Somehow having my feet on the dirt of the earth is the only thing I feel I can completely trust.  Perhaps at some point we will not have a choice.  What is our adaptive capacity as a species?

Hurricane Katrina footage:

 

Proposal for a New Vision of Beauty

Part of adaptive design is adapting our perception. I was very inspired by the chapter on adaptive design in the Design Activism text we read this week. Particularly the passage on page 188- “We need new visions of beauty…a beauty that is not quite familiar, tinged with newness, ambiguity and intrigue, which appeals to our innate sense of curiosity…beauty that is more than skin deep…because the current vision of beauty is largely ordained by big business and governments.” (Strangely, I’ve never thought about it in this way but it is indeed true. Our notion of beauty is shaped by Apple, Nike and the like, shaped by organizations that have one motive in mind: profit) “We need a beauty that serves all society, healing society’s divides (around wealth, health, education, access to digital and other technologies). We need a beauty we can adapt as future circumstances change.”  I believe this is so true. In order to design for sustainability, we need to go to the core and re-think what our notions of beauty is in the first place. Is beauty convenience or durability? Is beauty synthetic, sleek and shiny, or is it authentic, organic and tactile?

As my understanding of the world changes with experience over time I observe my notions of beauty change. For instance- when I was in my late teens I had a cast-iron pan that my dad gave me. I thought it was clunky old and kind of gross. I preferred cooking in the non-stick modern pans that I had. I would only use it if it were the only pan clean. Through neglect and ignorance the cast iron pan began to rust. It got to the point where it was unusable in the state it was in and I think I ended up giving it to Goodwill or throwing it away. How foolish I was. Since then, I’ve learned more about cooking and pans and have come to appreciate the cast iron greatly. We have a variety of styles and sizes and I prefer to use them to the non-stick variety. I find them to be more beautiful now because I appreciate the versatility, durability, and longevity of the pan, as well as its ability to heat more evenly. I also appreciate the timeless, traditional aesthetic. They are also easy to clean, since you don’t even really have to clean them.

The Japanese say: “Anything that is useful is beautiful. Anything that is beautiful is useful.”  Interesting. The level of an objects usability and function directly correlates to its beauty. What if we adapted this type of philosophy as designers? Would we consider objects that have a short life of usefulness but long waste streams beautiful? If an object is only useful for a short time, then it is not as beautiful as one that is useful for a longer period of time, like in the case of the cast iron pan. The simple, organic elegance of the quintessential Japanese aesthetic was not always popular. It began when out of necessity the poor monks would keep their quarters in this way: clean simple, decorated with an arrangement of natural objects for a respected guest. Eventually, the aristocrats came to appreciate and adopted the organic wabi-sabi  http://nobleharbor.com/tea/chado/WhatIsWabi-Sabi.htm  aesthetic in their homes. Over time the cultures sense of what is beautiful changed to a more simple, nature-based aesthetic. I think it would serve our culture well to embrace a new beauty, like the beauty of a cast iron pan. A beauty that is inspired by the principles of wabi-sabi: finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It’s simple, slow, and uncluttered-and it reveres authenticity above all.

Common Knowledge

I like solving problems. Beyond the exquisite multi-sensory joy of making things, I think that is why design appeals to me. The idea of leaving things unfinished or unresolved is very unsettling. This is especially true when you have other challenges on the backburner and more on the horizon. Could this perhaps be a symptom of what Alvin Toffler called future shock? Perhaps this sort of anxiety propels designers and planers into swift and efficient action. The question of, is that always preferable pops into my mind. The consequences for me are at times a stalling out. If I can’t resolve an issue I simply drop or hasten my pace. This is detrimental state when there are deadlines at stake. Is there a remedy for this condition? I find the counsel of other extremely useful. I know I’m far better at finding (re)solutions when I am not the only stakeholder.

The spirit of co-operation has always resonated with me. So much so that I have often envisioned myself working in a supportive collective environment which fosters creativity. I find the aspirations of participatory design which goes beyond the scope of mere peer-collaboration intriguing. Not only is there strength in numbers, but the idea of taking into account what the customer/consumer would prefer goes one step further.  Some problematic areas arise when co-designing with others. Even if our country was forged by the pick yourself up by your bootstraps ethos and fierce individualism, issues of (IP) Intellectual Property are obvious to most and not only Americans. Yet notably, the computer industries open source networking phenomenon which started in the 80’s has provided revolutionary consequences.

A general definition of ‘open source’ refers to a ‘product’ comprising source code, design documents and/or content that users have permission to use. Open source has a variety of expressions being applied to ‘products’ such as software (e.g. operating systems such as Linux; internet browser& such as Mozilla Firefox; content management systems such as Moodie for educational uses), hardware, games and, more recently, music, but it is also extended to embrace panicular expressions of democracy – open source content (e.g. Wikipedia the online encyclopedia), governance, government and politics.

Design Activism: Beautiful Strangeness for a Sustainable World

Creative Commons is perhaps more relevant to me and designers working on physical products. (CC) takes the next obvious leap toward non-code objects into the material realm.

Creative Commons ‘defines the spectrum of possibilities between full copyright all rights reserved – and the public domain – no rights reserved. Our licenses help you keep your copyright while inviting certain uses of your work- a “some rights reserved” copyright. ‘ Creative Commons, September 2008

As mentioned Lawrence Lessigs Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity, The Commons were much easier to appropriate at the turn of the 20th century. He points to one of the most notable and perhaps disturbing conditions of our judicial system, which is that financial resources/big business interests can and do win over what seems just and “conmen sense”.  I whole heartedly disagree with the premise of competition being an evolutionary condition necessary for survival. * Much like Lessigs points towards the acceptance on the part of the Japanese to allowing doujinshi artists to copy more “original” Manga comics I believe the sharing of ideas can lead to more creatively enriched and supportive societies.

It seems my generation (those born in the 70’s) , although born in a time when the  spirit of co-operation and sharing was in bloom might still be reticent to these concepts. I personally felt a little threatened as a designer when I first learned of participatory design as an undergraduate. What will happen to my control of the more enjoyable aspects of design? I don’t believe the role of the Industrial Designer will be simply parceled out piecemeal for the public to command. Yet, I do believe that a more integrated system of understanding customer needs will arise. A system which allows for a more informed  creative process.

Yes, given the nature of  the subject I primarily included links to YouTube and Wikipedia on my blog entry.

* I found Howard Rheingold’s Tedtalk on collaboration quite informative, relative to this subject, and inspiring.



		

Throw Away Clothing is So 2008

Did you know that 98% of our clothing is manufactured overseas?  A majority of that 98% is made in China where quality and sustainability are compromised for high volume and cheap labor.

After working in the apparel industry for 6 years I have seen first hand the ugly side of ‘fast design’.  I remember becoming disenchanted with how the apparel industry mass produced its clothing.  The sample process was a joke and one of the most wasteful parts of production.  For every single style it was required that the factory send a series of working prototypes throughout the approval process.  This alone accounted for a minimum of 3-4 sample garments for each style (these were considered waste since they could not be legally sold to the public).  And each season any one division had anywhere from 24-36 styles which, if ya do the math, makes for 72-144 garments made just for samples.  A big fat waste!  Where do all those go, you might ask? Well when I had the honor of working in production we were literally packed in our cubicles stacked floor to ceiling with boxes of samples, it was a total fire hazard!

Replace the papers with clothes and that's pretty much what it looked like, no joke! Except I don't wear glasses.

Whats the need for so many samples you might ask?  Well for one control, we need proof they understand the design and can make it correctly with limited mistakes.  Orders were not shipped until we were confident the factories could produce the quantities of our design to the best of their abilities, which never seemed to meet the designers standards.  Why did the designers have to compromise on the quality of their designs?  Simple, time and money and time was money.  There was only so much time to get the design right in order to ship it to the stores on time and get paid.  Everyone was under the time/money radar.  And I believe that this is the largest contributor to the lack of quality in our clothing today.

Lately I have become more and more aware of our cultures affinity for throw away clothing and what has lead people to expect to be able to buy a tee shirt for $8.  Which means when they see a tee shirt for $30, even if it is made in the US, they immediately think its over priced.  But is it?

Slow Design companies like Alabama Chanin and Raleigh Denim are challenging this very notion, and trying to break down the barriers of a throw away clothing culture.  With remarkable style and impeccable quality both companies are successfully leading the slow design movement into the mainstream.

2 Looks from Alabama Chanins latest collection

Alabama Chanin is the epitome of slow design with their beautifully handcrafted garments, each one completely sewn by hand by a local seamstress.   The entire line is made of locally grown and sourced 100% organic cotton.  These clothes are made to last.

Raleigh Denim: his and hers

Sarah and Victor Lytvinenko started Raleigh denim as a quest to create the ideal pair of jeans.  Their passion for quality and design is exceptional.  Their focus is on the quality of the fabric and the perfect fit.  They are making the pair of jeans that you will wear for the rest of your life!  And all of their denim is manufactured just one hour away from their workshop in Raleigh North Carolina.

One day I hope to follow in their footsteps and create my own slow design clothing line, because I believe that people need more options for high quality long lasting clothes.

I challenge you to check your labels and see how much of your clothing was made in the US.

 

Here is a funny video that abc did asking people in Grand Central Station to check their labels.  My favorite is the German couple who came to America to buy American clothing from Abercrombie and Fitch:)

http://abcnews.go.com/Business/MadeInAmerica/made-america-clothes-clothing-made-usa/story?id=13108258

Here are some other great links talking about slow design in the apparel industry.

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/01/jargon-watch-slow-design.php

http://thebobbinmamas.typepad.com/the-bobbin-mamas-adventures-in-eco-craft/slow-fashion.html

And here is a a website that lists companies making clothing and accessories here in the US.

http://www.acontinuouslean.com/the-american-list/

Future Shock… Aaaaah!

“…The notions of designing and manufacturing established in the 19th century, honed in the 20th century, and taken as the norm a mere decade ago, are facing a period of ‘massive change’…The speed of the transition is remarkable and hardly permits time to catch breath.  There’s no time to experience the phenomenon the Avlin Toffler observed in 1965, called ‘future shock’- ‘the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.’  We become desensitized to change as a new manifestation of globalization is joined, hybridized or is superseded by yet another manifestation.  Change has been normalized and so has the rapid tempo of daily life.”   (Design Activism, 141)

I’m really feeling the “future shock” lately, so I must disagree with the statements suggesting that there is no time to experience it- that we are desensitized to change and that this change has been normalized.  Much of this may be the effect of grad school; having more time to see beyond the rapid tempo of normal daily life while being bombarded by diverse sets of information we are supposed to process in short periods of time.  I suppose the stress is pretty normal, but the sense of disorientation in regards to appropriate future planning is unsettling.  The world of design and manufacturing has gone through a rapid change, it is hard to catch one’s breath, and it is difficult to feel that more traditional approaches (those of a mere decade ago) are still relevant or applicable within the evolving zeitgeist.

I looked into the futurist Alvin Toffler and Future Shock a little further and found out he also coined the popular term, “information overload,” which we can all experience from time to time.  He saw the structural changes taking place in the late 60’s and early 70’s as a shift from an industrial society to a “super-industrial society,” and suggested that most individual and social problems were symptoms of this technological acceleration.  His book inspired a documentary of the same title you can find on Youtube. (Wikipedia)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Ghzomm15yE

As Orson Wells narrates, and smokes cigars wherever he goes, he speaks of that voice we hear that says, “Don’t fall behind- keep up with the latest.” The film discusses how, “technology feeds on knowledge and knowledge expands at a phenomenal rate.” The audio visuals are clearly outdated, perhaps most exemplified by the room sized computer in the process of flipping coded index cards and spooling audio tapes.  As the camera pans, Orson explains, “This machine makes our lives move faster, computers combine facts to make new knowledge at such high speeds that we cannot absorb it. They effect not just the things we buy, or the things we know, but the things we do.”  It’s rather amazing that this was a decade before the first PCs became available, and I can’t help but wonder how Toffler would see things today.

I don’t have strong opinions on the state of open source technology, peer-to-peer sharing, and the debates surrounding the possession or dissemination of knowledge and information.  I’m sure Wikipedia will find a way to incorporate forms of knowledge that can’t be sourced in traditional ways.  I’m sure as more safeguards are developed new ways will be found to get around them.  I obviously appreciate having access to the information I seek, but I feel for the people whose livelihoods depend on compensation or credit they may not be receiving because of these technological changes.  Most of the open source programming is developed by gainfully employed professionals who are sharing in their free time.  I applaud their generosity, but I’m assuming their needs are met and they are not struggling to pay their bills, put food on the table, etc.  I wish we could all be so altruistic, but this is where altruism clashes with reasonable self interest and the need to make a living. There is also a divide between what can be easily shared and what cannot.  Many of these ideas just do not fit into my thinking in regards to the work I make and how I hope to operate.  If your income is based in making and selling physical things, what would you share? your process? techniques? tricks or trade secrets?  For now there remains a physical/digital divide, and until 3D scanners and maker-bots are more commonplace I’m not going to stress about any negative technological impacts in regards to my work, or delve deeply into areas I have little interest in or understanding of.

“Rip, mix and burn”

The notion of appropriating information has been a format for evolution of thought forever. The example of Walt Disney forging an empire on taking previous stories and influencing them with a more modern or locally understood details is a format that has brought about a conduit for understanding. By altering another work you have the unique ability to make it more accessible for a broader audience. Evolving, not appropriating, another idea is by no way a violation of property. The allowance of this practice has lead to Disney’s ability to capitalize on alternative aspects of a films production by borrowing an already field tested story. This practice, in my opinion, leads to a swifter evolution of collective creation.

As we see in the New York Times article the author and several others believe that the specific way in which wikipedia chooses to catalog its information as being narrow minded. What Wikipedia has done is put the responsibility to research into the hands of the public. By dividing responsibilities amongst a broader scope of minds it has allowed themselves time to devote to making a more accessible and unsearchable form for information. By leaving the research to the public, much like Disney leaving the storytelling to someone else they have allowed themselves to do what they do best.

From what I have observed is that Wikipedia is just one and only one way of storing knowledge. John Wales has identified a system for accepting and declining data and is transparent with how these decisions are arranged. This system may be imperfect It may omit the basis for common non written tradition but it has chosen these systems to adhere to a rubric. Wikipedia is a written resource to begin with, it relies on a heavily text based format to deliver information and it seems only natural that they would rely on text based sourcing to back its claims. This leaves room for many other methods of dispersion of data. In perhaps an overly critical appraisal of research aren’t we obligated to accept everything as Theory, meaning that we boil down each statement look at the evidence proving it true and the moment it is proven false (with the same strict level of scrutiny for such a claim) we alter our lexicon.

To use a richly sophomoric analogy, there is a scene in the film “Men In Black” where Agent K explains the notion of common perceptions of our universe. He emphasizes the idea that the certainties of a massive group or people can be changed with a single act.

This anecdote provokes the idea that we only know what we think we know. We must extend the reaches of our inquiry to every form of information. From video, to print, web based info and spoken word we must assess each gathering as containing both truths and lies and assess that data to make our own conclusions. Therefore Wikipedia might be strict in it’s format but it is through our acceptance of that consistency that we can attempt form our own thoughts.

Dead Chickens and Fire Water

I was very interested in the 1945 federal case of the Causbys versus the Supreme Court ruling on officially opening the airways highlighted in the introduction of Free Culture.

The original law stated that common law ownership of the land extended to the outer limits of the universe.  With that law in place, it made designating whose part of the sky was whose a real dilemma if air travel was to take off as an industry.  At that moment, the Wright Brothers airplane was a new and exciting way of travel and exploration.  In that sense, I can understand the Supreme Court ruling that there should be public airways.  But all things need to have boundaries and I also definitely agree with the Causbys that they shouldn’t have to worry about the constant low flying planes frightening and killing their chickens and thereby threatening their livelihood and peace.

If feels like ancient history now.  We have public air spaces, no fly zones and a whole list of different restrictions that one would potentially have as much trouble understanding as intellectual property laws.  As far as I can tell, the laws really only protect the security of the military and places like Camp David.  Also, there are certain rules about flying over congested metropolitan areas, but it seems a little murky still in the area of agricultural and farming lands.  So maybe chickens are still out of luck.

Mainly, this got me thinking about the somewhat newer practice of hydraulic fracturing.  According to Wikipedia, the fracking practice first happened on US soil in 1947 and was made even more popular in 1949 by the infamous Halliburton.  Many people may have already seen the documentary by Josh Fox, Gasland, so I won’t go on too long about the dangers to various watersheds across the US and the flaming sinks of various landowners whose water has been contaminated and health condemned.  However, it is worth pointing out that: as above, so below.

Who owns the ground beneath a person’s land?  Is it public like the airways?  Apparently no, and it is even murkier below the topsoil than in the air.  If you live in say, Pennsylvania, and your family has not owned the land for centuries then there is a possibility that you only own a portion of the ground below you and not the sub-surface estate.  In some cases, the minerals and goodies contained in the sub-surface estate may already belong to a company looking to mine valuable materials or a person who would be eager to sell the rights to an oil company.  Either way, if you don’t “own” the sub-surface and someone wants to frack that.  Your fracked.

This website makes it a little less muddy but not much: Split Estate Laws

Another idea that caught my attention was the mention of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock in Design Activism.  I found a version made in the 70’s narrated by Orson Welles.  I got through part one and felt that the idea holds a lot of truth to the way we are all operating and feeling now in a time when it’s hard to find time to stay up to the second on the current news and state of affairs in our own country… much less abroad.  It’s also interesting to see 70s footage of consumer culture.

Check it out:

And just for fun:

‘wicked problem’

Horst Rittel defined sustainability as a “wicked problem” in the 1960s, as “a class of social system problems which are ill-formulated, where the information is confusing, where there are many clients and decision makers with conflicting values, and where the ramifications of the whole system are thoroughly confusing.” Rittel’s thinking was re-examined, and the problem originates from a point of view where the stakeholders are equally knowledgeable even if they are designers, experts, or actors.  This helps shift the attitude of certain business sectors towards its customers.  Through co-creation, co-innovation, and co-design, businesses realized the creative potential through its customers to develop better services and products. According to Designing Together: The Power of ‘We Think’, ‘We Design’, ‘We Make’, “If sustainability is the most challenging wicked problem of the current era, then participation in design, as a means to effect deep, transformative socio-political change, seems essential.  This suggests a significant new direction for design to seize.”

The underlying premise of co-design according to Designing Together: The Power of ‘We Think’, ‘We Design’, ‘We Make’, “is that it is an approach predicated on the concept that people who ultimately use a designed artifact are entitled to have a voice in determine how that artifact is designed.”  Co-design offers a collective opportunity for many stakeholders to define the design problem together in hopes to design a more effective object.

I looked up some co-design companies that have incorporated sustainability’s ‘wicked problems’ and solutions to some of their design products and stumbled across Nike.  Since 2007, Nike has reduced 15% of the emissions produced by their facilities. The company’s conscious decision to focus on managing actual reductions instead of purchasing renewable energy has taken Nike’s energy footprint down.  Because of the resource constraints, innovation is used as a driver in sustainability starting with design.   Nike’s solution to their wicked problem is that designing with both technology and sustainability in mind can transform everyone’s performance, even that of designers, athletes, and suppliers. Furthermore, in an effort to industry sustainability, Nike releases is Environmental Apparel Design Tool.  Based on Nike’s Considered Design Index, the tool aims to increases collaboration between companies for sustainable innovation, along with decreasing natural resources like oil and water.  Nike is committed and open to other innovations to improve this tool.  The tool is used for Nike’s designers simply to make better choices for sustainability right in the beginning design phase.

Nike has struggled with materials and handling waste from production of their products.  Nike just began using recycled polyester in many of their outdoor active gear and apparel items.
Nike uses leather tanneries that belong to the Leather Working Group, which developed a protocol to assess the environmental compliance and stewardship practices of leather tanners.  Nike’s long-term goal is to use at least 5% of organic cotton in its cotton-containing apparel.  In 1990, Nike announced to remove all PVC from their product line.  But as of today they are still working on removing PVC from their products due to the difficulty of use and price obstacles of sustainable alternatives.

What about all the old used pairs of Nike shoes that fill up our landfills?  Nike realized they were filling up the landfills with valuable materials that could be re-used.  They created the Nike Reuse-a-shoe program in 1993, which collects worn-out athletic shoes of any brand.  In this mix, they also collect through recycling programs and material flaws during the design process.  They are ground up and purified to become a material call Nike Grind.  You can read more about this process at this link: http://www.nikereuseashoe.com/

Be Slow and Open to the Source-Principles for design, not just for yoga class anymore!

The tidbit that I gravitated to in this week’s reading was the section on Slow Design in chapter 5 from the Design Activism text. I have heard of  this movement before, mostly in association with food, but the chance to revisit and engage with the concept more fully has been rewarding.

First, I think it’s interesting that the slow design movement came out of the slow food movement. My partner and I regularly practice this in varying degrees, not out of the need to make a statement but because it’s what we like to do. We find real value and enjoyment in time spent making food and eating together. We make most everything from scratch, often with veggies from our garden, eggs from a co-worker’s farm and other local ingredients as the season and budget allows. In fact, we are so slow, that it is not uncommon for us to finish making dinner at 9 pm and then eat after that! Our friends know that when they come over for dinner, they should probably have a little snack first. Though it is a super simple act, an act that is all too often overlooked, we feel that it increases our quality of life and health.

I think that if more families made it a priority to cook and eat together on a regular basis it would really make a difference in their lives. My partner’s cousin has an 8 year old daughter who suffers from an eating disorder already! She will only eat specific things like Kraft Mac n’ Cheese (yes only Kraft), vanilla pudding, milk, basically things that are soft and white. Ironically, the mother is a therapist that specializes in treating eating disorders. My partner and I theorize that if they began cooking and eating dinner together as a family, which they currently never do, the eating disorder would improve.

The slow food movement spurred a reawakening of Western culture to the benefits of slow. It spawned offspring in all sorts of areas, one of which is slow design. The principles of Slow Design are:

1. Reveal:  Slow design reveals spaces and experiences in everyday life that are often missed or forgotten, including the materials and processes that can easily be overlooked in an artifact’s existence or creation.

2. Expand: Slow design considers the real and potential “expressions” of artifacts and environments beyond their perceived functionality, physical attributes and lifespans.

3. Reflect: Slowly-designed artifacts and environments induce contemplation and ‘reflective consumption.’ 

4. Engage: Slow design processes are “open source” and collaborative, relying on sharing, co-operation and transparency of information so that designs may continue to evolve into the future..

5. Participate: Slow design encourages users to become active participants in the design process, embracing ideas of conviviality and exchange to foster social accountability and enhance communities. By utilizing the work I make to the fullest, the wearer will actively participate in the design process by deploying a piece of it

6. Evolve: Slow design recognizes that richer experiences can emerge from the dynamic maturation of artifacts and environments over time. Looking beyond the needs and circumstances of the present day, slow design processes and outcomes become agents of both preservation and transformation.

ttp://www.slowlab.net

 

The Slow Design movement isn’t so much a subset of co-design as it is a paradigm shift embracing the movement from a frantic fast-paced way of living and moving through the world to a more mindful, slow and deep way of being and making. Though this movement is still relatively fringy, I think the integration of its philosophy into the curriculum at several notable art/design institutions in the U.S. and Europe, will bring it to the mainstream more and more.

A key player in the seeding of Slow Design  is Carolyn Strauss. She is the founded SlowLab in 1993. Strauss utilized the principles of ‘slow design’ as a fertile, holistic framework through which to understand and expand the sustainable design debate. http://www.slowlab.net SlowLab proposes the application of this approach to design practice: 1) reviving designers’ connections with the idiosyncrasies of materials, re-examining form, and providing networks of knowledge to capture both, 2) re-establishing systems of trust and sharing that have disintegrated in our fast, packaged world, and 3) going deeper, making more informed moves from concept to ‘deployment.’ The website goes on to say that “Our premise is that this will result in more valuable, and indeed ‘nutritious,’ outcomes, and that the end-users of slowly-designed products/environments/systems will enjoy a richer quality of experience, just as the person who sits down to enjoy a slow meal reaps the benefits of the combined history of its making.”

Could Slow Design help cure our culture’s consumptive “eating disorder?” I think it has potential. Since learning more about design’s “form-giving controls” and its ability to regulate the flow of materials, value, awareness and integration, I have come to have more faith in it’s ability to affect change. But before designers and artists can make objects and systems that have the ability to slow the excessively high metabolism of capitalism, those who give birth to these designs must live and act in the spirit of slow.

Altruistic Open Source???

After watching the video and reading the article, ‘When knowledge isn’t written does it still count?’ where in lot of cultures there is no written base of text to carry or transfer information from one generation to the next; where people become the carriers of knowledge. As the article mentions “Publishing is a system of power and I mean that in a completely pleasant, accepting sense,” he said mischievously. “But it leaves out people.” In the open source movement where there have been initiatives to offer free and open educational models for the user communities, would they actually be able to benefit the regions of the world which lack resources and higher education infrastructure but still have access to the internet to seek out such knowledge? MIT started the MIT Opencourseware (OCW) program which allows open access to the college course materials like lecture notes, video lectures, syllabus, recommended reading lists, examination questionnaires and other academic related data. Following the success of MIT’s open source model other universities have been keen to offer an online database for educational purposes.

http://oedb.org/library/features/236-open-courseware-collections

“Probably the most innovative program in the last few years is BitTorrent, a program that decentralizes and vastly increases the speed at which very large files can be downloaded off the Internet. It is commercially successful in the sense that 50,000 copies a day are downloaded. It is also sufficiently innovative that it is now being imitated—by Microsoft. BitTorrent, however, is open-source, and according to its website, author Bram Cohen maintains the program for a living.

The final point to emphasize here is that the market for software is not unique. Innovation and competition unprotected by patent and copyright have gone hand in hand in other industries, from financial securities to fashion. The message of open-source software is a message for all industries: IP not needed for innovation here.”[1]

New business models are being developed where user communities can benefit from the open source exchange to gain access to new product designs and which in turn can propel a stream of innovations which are user generated. The LEGO group in 2006 released as open source the LEGO MINDSTORMS microprocessor providing robotic implements that offer free software which can be downloaded from their website. LEGO also released other hardware and Bluetooth developer kits that enable the users to seek new experiences and device programming and application options for robotic design development to support the growing community of robotic aficionados. This kind of collaborative product lead development by user has caused manufacturers to reassess the policies that govern product creation. Denmark was the first country that established a national policy for user inspired design and innovation when initiatives were adopted by the government to form the Technology Development Program in the 1980’s.

http://mindstorms.lego.com/en-us/News/ReadMore/Default.aspx?id=351333

http://www.globalisering.dk/multimedia/Factsheet_innovation1.pdf

Maybe the free flow of information exchange through various online open source movements can provoke a whole new breed of thinkers and innovators that feel responsible to contribute towards a model of advanced creativity.

http://puppetlabs.com/resources/overview-2/

Open Source a trademarked logo of Open source Initiative organization that is involved in promoting open source software

LEGO MINDSTORMS part of the open source robotics toolset released by the company for the community of users

Keep Your Revolution Off My Lawn!

“This could be as big as the Industrial Revolution in the way we think about ownership.”

Rachel Botsman- Coauthor of What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption

So, according to Botsman, the logic goes like this.  The internet first allowed code sharing through Linux, then it provided a way to share our lives through Facebook, next we shared content on Youtube, and now it’s inevitable that we will “share all kinds of assets offline, from the real world.” (1)

First off, this sharing concept is not new.  This is just a new means of access and delivery.  Neighbors have been helping neighbors since society formed; parents help parents, friends help friends and friends of friends, people with similar interests and needs congregate for mutual and collective benefit.  The internet is just providing wider connections between the things people want and things they are willing to give, all while providing a new means to make a buck for entrepreneurs.  This seems more like sharing economy 2.0, and people like Botsman are touting its rise as the equivalent to the dot com boom or the industrial revolution.

I have mixed feelings and serious doubts that the sharing economy will be embraced as emphatically as Facebook, Youtube, and the digital technologies that allowed them to thrive.  There were no real alternatives to these systems, and they had mass appeal.  They offered major personal benefits with little to no personal risk. This was all convenient, private, virtual sharing- code, information, data.  Sharing your physical assets (your home, car, tools, stuff, etc.) is a different animal altogether.  For the most part owning remains a viable alternative to sharing.  For now, people can just as easily, and more conveniently, own these things- especially if they already do.

However, it’s difficult to consider and pass judgement on the full scope of this new economy.  I wasn’t aware how many categories now fall under the umbrella of the sharing economy until reading Quora’s response to the question, “What are the peer-to-peer consumer startups?”  It’s dizzying how much is out there, and it seems everyone could find something of interest.  Botsman categorizes the sharing economy into three systems: Product Service Systems, Redistribution Markets, and Collaborative Lifestyles.(2) These systems include the sharing of housing, transportation, food, personal finance, work, skills, funding, travel, land, media, clothing, general goods, education and so on. Utilizing these systems may be the smarter way to go. These services may come to be more practical, economical, and even necessary as a means of curbing emissions and reducing waste.  This segment of the economy will certainly grow, but I don’t believe the sharing economy will be widely adopted with open arms anytime soon.

This is still a me society.  This attitude may be shifting, but a quick look at the state of politics and American attitudes should give us pause.  Ours has been called an ownership society.  Ownership has been the bar America has set for success since it was founded.  “Rugged individualism,” and, “pulling yourself up by your own boot straps,” are still the operative themes of half the voting population. We currently have corporations and politicians actively trying to privatize every last inch of the commons.  Every social program we have established is under attack in hopes of private ownership and profit rather than helping the collective whole.  Money is key, and money is power, and the powers that be still want that power. The sharing economy is an alternative economy which will take serious people power to make it the norm.

The whole approach of the sharing economy is rooted in the concept of collective community.  These are dirty words to some, but even for many who embrace them, change will be difficult.  I expect that the redistribution markets will  continue to do quite well- buying, selling, and trading our existing stuff.  But giving up transportation (product service systems) and bringing strangers into daily routines (collaborative lifestyles) will be harder to integrate, and these are where larger environmental and economic impacts can be made.  The success of this new economy depends on larger shifts in attitude that will take time.  The whole scope of the sharing economy seems like a great system for nimble, independent twenty somethings, that have never been seduced by ownership.

I feel like the window for me to willingly adopt many of these methods has already closed.  No couch surfing for me.  I’ve got a family.  We have a mortgage, a car, and most of the stuff we ever needed or wanted to own.  And I like owning my things.  I really do appreciate the idealism of the Generation Y Guide to Collaborative Consumption on shareable.net, which speaks of, “a new way of living, in which access is valued over ownership, experience is valued over material possessions, and ‘mine’ becomes ‘ours’ so everyone’s needs are met without waste… young people all over the world are already making [this] a reality.” (3) “Right on generation Y!”, I say.  But at the same time I can hear the old timers shouting, “Keep your revolution off of my lawn!,” and must admit that I feel where they’re coming from.

1   http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/155/the-sharing-economy.html

2   http://www.quora.com/What-are-the-peer-to-peer-consumer-startups

3    http://shareable.net/blog/gen-y-guide-to-collaborative-consumption

Thoughts on the Sharing Economy

An infographic to think about, found on Shareable:

A couple points that I appreciated/reacted to from the article by Danielle Sacks (“The Sharing Economy”):

“The central conceit of collaborative consumption is simple: Access to goods and skills is more important than ownership of them.”

It’s all about access.  Should we pay for that?  Or should it be free?  Robin what’s-her-name from Zipcar made the offhand remark that information access should be free, that the internet should be free.  I don’t know if I agree.  I’ve been wondering whether paying for information would necessarily increase the quality of the information content – or at least help fund the continued creation of quality information.  Thoughts?

“The challenge that worries everyone in the sharing world, of course, is trust.”

t’s an intriguing concept, this idea of “data exhaust.”  And I wonder why I’m so resistant to the idea of it being compiled or gathered about me.  My physical, corporeal, living-and-breathing self, collects a similar trail of evidence.  My character or reputation is based on a thousand small choices and interactions.  It’s based on who is willing to speak for me or introduce me to a friend or colleague or business partner.  It’s about whether I pay my bills on time or arrive to meetings late.  But yet it seems substantially different in a profound way from what Trust Cloud and other companies are proposing.  Maybe it’s the idea of an online, searchable bucket of information that I can never escape from. I can move to a new town, theoretically, and start afresh. You can never leave your online persona/history behind.  I don’t know that I quite like the idea of being shackled to a thousand different versions of who you once were.

But more to the point of the question: trust.  Yes, it all comes down to that.  And even with a thousand 5-star reviews on Yelp, or a glowing recommendation from another traveller on AirBNB, I don’t think I’m ever quite sold until I walk up to the restaurant or ring the doorbell and shake hands with my new hosts.  Is there an online equivalent for the handshake?

“‘I’m looking at virtually every resource and finding ways to extract additional value or productivity from it, from food to gardens to skill sharing,’ says Shapiro”

This makes me nervous.  I don’t like the idea of “extraction.” Maybe it’s just word choice, but the idea of extracting, or removing, or taking value from a human-to-human interaction doesn’t sit well with me. What if I wanted to give something away?  As a gift.  For free.  Because I felt like it.  Is there room in this new sharing economy for altruism and strings-free generosity?  On the whole, I appreciate that many of these peer-to-peer sharing sites and companies are connecting people to other people.  Now I know where I can find someone who might want to use my sewing machine.  But if renting or paying into a service becomes the norm, or the expected status quo, where does that leave our other interpersonal interactions?  Will we one day be renting time with our friends to have coffee?  Paying a subscription to an online service that connects us with our parents/siblings/classmates/partners so we can go catch a movie together?  Oh wait.  That might already exist.

I found Bruce Sterling’s talk slow-starting and dense.  I didn’t listen to all of it, but instead linked my way to a quasi-transcript. Though, since I didn’t listen to the original talk, I don’t know how accurate this is. But the transcript (or letter, really) was thought provoking:

My design book SHAPING THINGS ... talks a lot about material objects as frozen social
relationships within space and time.  This conceptual approach may sound
peculiar and alien, but it can be re-phrased in a simpler way:

What is "sustainability?"  Sustainable practices navigate successfully through
time and space, while others crack up and vanish.  So basically, the sustainable
is about time -- time and space.  You need to re-think your relationship to
material possessions in terms of things that occupy your time.  The things that
are physically closest to you.  Time and space.

I’m still trying to compile a list of objects, material objects, that (1) either expire/disappear naturally and on purpose when they have been used to their fullest extent, or (2) objects that actually improve functionally, become more useful, with time.  Things like soap for #1 and a cast-iron skillet for #2. The lists are short right now.  I’d appreciate suggestions.

Note: I read a few of the other responses before I wrote this, and Sheri’s point about trackability with the mesh networks and Jacob’s suspicion of “bigger networks are better networks” both resonate with me.  At the moment, I’m probably blissfully unaware of all the thousand (million?) ways in which my movements, choices, decisions, buying habits, conversations, etc are being tracked and recorded.  When I think about it, that bothers me. Deeply.  And while I generally like the idea of free access to wireless communication, to information, I don’t like the strings of data that will follow me into the mesh network.  I’m intrigued.  I’d like to know more, but I’m anxious about the idea that my life is not only my own.

And as to Jacob’s point, about bigger networks = more information = better, I’ll have to do more thinking. It seems like too pat an answer, so I understand the suspicion, but I can’t think of why it might be dangerous.

Share and share alike

The sharing economy is something I find very interesting. I’ve been a Zipcar member for two yrs now. For me, not owning a car and being a bike-commuter makes having relatively unlimited access to a car sharing service tremendously useful. With my current bike setup I can’t transport large items beyond the space of my bike panniers and rack. So Zipcar makes bulk item trips to the grocery more manageable.  On top of that I tend to create larger sized paintings.

Because of this, and the relatively utility you receive from a pickup I was once the proud owner of a 2002 Toyota Tacoma.

As anyone with a pickup truck will tell you, this means you will be helping friends move. While having lived in Portland 3 years I have moved 4 times now. When all is said and done, renting a U-haul turns out more convenient. In both cases having a buddy help you move is ideal. Its just more time and possibly more fuel economic to load up in one trip. Yes, U-haul is also a form of automobile sharing. I’m just contrasting my experiences. Zipcar has its limits. For one thing you cant rent a car that is already blocked out for use. This means you get a time table with increments that you can purchase. If a car is checked out for a duration you can see it online or on your smartphone. Of course, there is a Zipcar app. I have found myself needing to extend my reservation numerous times. In the past (if the block ahead of my current rental is booked) I would have to scramble to make it back to the cars singular parking space. This can be very stressful. So this has lead to the habit of purchasing more time than necessary. That’s good for Zipcar. Arguably it also good for my time management skills.

Recently, I rode bikes shares with some family members on a beach in Spain. They required a membership card and they had a one hour limit. The parking/locking stations were strewn throughout the city and beach, making meeting your hour deadline easier. I noticed the agencies trucks with loaded bikes driving though town. Some other observations were of how in certain stations there would be a couple bikes but others would remain full regularly. I wondered about how efficient the system was designed. Were these trucks necessary in order to maintain a balance distribution of bikes throughout the city? Another observation was that not all the bikes were equally maintained. The bike I rented had poor breaks, making me at one point, almost collided with my cousins rear wheel. There is no guarantee it seems, you will be ale to find a decent or well working bike at any station.

I was asked to design a utilitarian bike for the PNCA Oregon Manifest entry recently. We poured a lot of thought and effort in this build. Our client was in the end PNCA’s student body. We were tasked the role of designing an art-and-design student transport vehicle. It will hopefully be the first in a fleet of a PNCA bike share system. I think bike, car and, other share systems are extremely useful things. Of course there are bugs to be worked out. This is a relevantly new economy emerging. Its potential to reduce co2 emissions and bring costs down for the average commuter far outweigh whatever reservations some might have about ownership or accessibility.

Co-Evolution in Action-Tool Libraries are Cool

What is a tool library? A tool library is like a regular library only instead of lending books, they lend tools. In the past I had borrowed tools from my family, friends or neighbors, but since moving to Portland it hasn’t been as easy. Most of my friends here live a substantial drive away or don’t have all of the tools I need. So, I was really excited to try out a tool library this weekend for the assignment. I wanted to lend a tree limb cutter to cut a dead branch off of the plumb tree in my yard and a rake to clean up the plums that had fallen. I ended up doing a lot of inside house work instead and was burned out doing that so didn’t get to do the gardening and fall cleanup work I anticipated-thus didn’t need any tools. However, I did take this opportunity to research Portland tool libraries.

 

I began researching the North Portland Tool Library http://www.northportlandtoollibrary.org/  which has an extremely comprehensive list of tools for all household needs: gardening, electrical, building, plumbing etc. but unfortunately I am 12 blocks outside of the lending zone. So, I did a little more research and found that there is also North East http://www.neptl.org/  AND Southeast Portland Tool Library http://www.septl.org/ ! While the Southeast tool library also has a super great list of tools, I fall within the Northeast zone, which unfortunately has the smallest list- but still is a great resource.  I found this video interview with folks from the Northeast tool library on this page: http://www.wordpress.peakmoment.tv/conversations/?p=447

It’s a great interview! I highly recommend it.

 

The NE tool library is located at 431 NE 20th Avenue
Portland, OR 97211
in the basement of Redeemer Lutheran Church. In addition to carpentry, gardening and basic power tools they even have a seed lending library!!!! WOW! (I will be checking that out this week.)They are open on Wednesday from 5:30pm-7:30pm and Saturday 9am-2pm-very convenient. Surprisingly, it’s totally free to join and borrow any of the tools! The only requirements are to be a US resident and to live in the neighborhood. (This will need to be verified with a piece of mail and a legal form of ID etc.) Being a non-profit run by an all-volunteer staff and having tools that are donated, mostly by individuals, keeps the cost down and the tools accessible to all. This is truly a community-based sharing system! Since it’s local and neighborhood-based, it doesn’t have to rely on technology heavily like other, more complicated sharing services; there is a basic website for the NE Tool Library with a list of tools and link to downloadable membership form. The tools are lent on a first-come, first-served basis (and they have multiples of the basics) it means a short drive, walk or ride on Saturday morning to check out a tool. If it’s not available, then you are off the hook for chores that week.

 

With some knowledge and these free tools you could renovate your home or create a stellar garden to feed your family…very empowering!

 

I think this type of simple, localized sharing economy is the future. It is an example of co-evolution in action. While web-based sharing systems can augment the underlying urge for humans to share and create community, the foundation has to be in the local community. Furthermore, creating sharing economies for profit will only poison the waters of a natural altruistic behavior.

 

I plan to visit the NE Portland Tool Library soon to borrow some, seeds, tools and know how and will report further on my experience. Stay tuned for more.

 

 

 

Who needs the sharing economy, maybe you just need more friends?

Why not build community form the ground up?  Find a group of like-minded people, you probably already know them, pool your resources to acquire whatever it is that you need to utilize on a less than often basis.  Form a co-op to fill your needs.  Grow new communities through fellowship rather than profit development.  I look forward finding out that in the near future someone wrote An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Neighborhoods.  Addressing the distinct needs of the people the sharing economy represents will work towards its survival.

If the sharing economy is viewed as a trend then it will exist as one.  Rather than building in the expected obsolescence that is inherent in a trend, these viable community based models of consumerism should be viewed as a revolution.  In that sense they should be fostered from the foundation up.  Steps to develop them should be taken slowly so that minor problems are identified and addressed.  Negative feedback loops should be installed so that the scope of the sharing economy stays decentralized, so that it is unable to grow outside of the community in which it serves.

If the system is designed to serve the immediate local community first and foremost its decentralized nature will serve to keep it vibrant over the long term.  When the sharing economy is kept to at most a regional model the ability of an exterior force to consolidate and dilute it is minimized.  A decentralized model will allow the sharing economy to fluidly adapt to the needs of those taking part in it.

Sharing economies seem to be a way to create more intimate communities.  Ones that rely on its participant’s ability to work together and empathize with those around them while building for the future rather than focusing on today’s growth.  While I am optimistic about their ability to play a role that develops local jobs for local people, I am unsure of what the overall scope in which sharing economies could supplant more traditional models of commerce.

—————————————————————————————————————————————-

Some questions that come to mind:

Is the sharing economy a way to profitize what little communal relations we share?  Is it a way to create profit incentive for goods and services that we could get for free using a more traditional model of friend and family relationships?  Is it a device held in a post consumer culture where the service economy has morphed into an all encompassing entity?  What happens to ZIP cars after they exceed a certain mileage?  Would you share a hard drive?  A bed?  How about hotdogs or a spare tire?

How does a sharing economy derived from static objects relate to one derived from content?  You will rent a movie, how about a song?

————————————————————————————————————————————–

There are some colorful criticisms of Zipcar on amplicate.com

Check out this interview with Yale professor Yochai Benkler at businessweek.com

Share Rent Borrow Barter

I think a sharing economy is a step in a more meaningful and less wasteful direction.  At Berkeley Repertory Theatre, the props department started a rental system years ago.  They realized they had a large stock of props sitting unused in storage most of the year and decided to make a little extra money for their department by starting a Flickr site with details and images of items like furniture, fake animals, appliances, etc.  Surrounding theatres often rent from their stock OR offer to trade items.  Not only do they make a little extra money and build community with other theatres, but they also prevent the need to always purchase or build something new.  Another additional benefit of starting their Flickr site is that they were forced to document most of their props and now have a way of really seeing what all they have and hopefully putting more of it to use each new theatre season.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/brtprops/

This doesn’t always solve every props need due to a variety of scenarios involving several departments in a production company such as a design being very period specific.  Also, sometimes rentals are not allowed to be altered so if a renter’s plan is to change the color of an item like a table, renting may not work out.  However, it’s a step in a better direction.

Along a similar line, ReRun here in Portland is a great resource for costuming pieces.  They are super affordable and if the garment is not damaged or altered in a negative way, they will purchase it back and resell it.

http://www.portlandrerun.com/online/

Zipcar seems like a great idea, but I think City Car Share is really the best model.  I like that they are a non-profit and local to the Bay Area.  They really tailor their services to the area and it’s inhabitants.  I think their rates are better too.  Non-profits tend to be more about the quality of the service and their stakeholders and less about profits alone.  I AM ALL FOR THAT.

http://www.citycarshare.org/

So, Zipcar sounds cool at first, but really, as they grow they just want to make a profit and are not really that affordable.  My other issue with car sharing is that it’s really only offered in dense urban areas.  Even car rentals through Hertz, Dollar, Enterprise, etc are only really available in major cities or at airports.  When I go home for the holidays, I can really only rent and return at the airport over 2 hours from my hometown.

Mesh systems sound like the solution when you hear someone telling you all the grand problems they will fix with a wave of their wireless magic wand, but all I see is that someone can track me at all times.  NO THANK YOU.  It’s bad enough that smart phones are already similarly set up and that the government can see what you’re into on Facebook and all our other fave social networking.  As long as the “Patriot” Act is still around, I have no interest in anything like the Mesh system proposed by the queen of Zipcar nor her toll roads.

 

“The question we have to begin to ask ourselves is not how do we employ all the people who are rendered obsolete by technology, but how can we organize a society around something other than employment? Might the spirit of enterprise we currently associate with “career” be shifted to something entirely more collaborative, purposeful, and even meaningful?”

—-Quote from: Shareable: The Motorhome Diaries written by Kelly McCartney

Social Trust for a mindful sharing economy…..

“Money is one of the shatteringly simplifying ideas of all time……………it creates its own revolution.”—Paul  J. Bohannan

“ In the streets of Sardis, circa 600 B.C., a clay jar might cost you two owls and a snake. In 600 B.C. Lydia’s King Alyattes minted the first official currency. Lydia’s currency helped the country increase both its internal and external trade, making it one of the richest empires in Asia Minor.”[1] A prehistoric currency which involved a barter system as a means of transaction for direct trade of goods and services evolved towards a development of currency that took form of coins and paper money with differing face value. As economic operations became more complex, a banking system arose that not only increased the speed of business but also increased the volume of transactions. The monetary system gained a whole new meaning as a medium of exchange. Although money by itself has no intrinsic value, it lies in how much value is attached to it by the person perceiving the goods that money can buy.

[1] http://www.investopedia.com/articles/07/roots_of_money.asp#axzz1Zef7qTnh

More and more businesses are shifting towards developing operational systems to brand sharing services with a solid technological and community infrastructure. The online web network that people are part of makes several sharing resources possible by eliminating the obstacle of physical distance which was not feasible before the advent of the internet. When people interact with others online and test a particular sharing experience with positive results, it reinforces the trust within the exchange and hence they will more likely participate in more of such relationships offline too. The ‘New Sharing Economy survey’ a joint venture started by Latitude research and Sharable.net is studying trends of how people are responding to the sharing economy. The survey findings show more trusted patterns of consumer culture within the sharing services.

http://latdsurvey.net/pdf/Sharing.pdf

Essentially social trust is a huge part in this kind of economy where people share in new ways of bartering, sharing, swapping, lending, renting or trading be it virtual experiences or tangible, physical commodities and  services. How universal can this system of an impersonal sharing economy with strangers be amongst different cultures and under various political, cultural and economic climates? Studies have shown higher trust ratios with lower crime and higher quality of life. I feel trust becomes a questionable issue in larger fast-paced, metropolitan cities where city dwellers often feel disconnected with their surroundings and a broader feeling of distrust prevails among them. Also the system to support the sharing economy needs to be highly organized whether it be online or offline. Does the economy drive the way people make choices in the consumer market by their acts of thinking, acting, buying, trading or is it vice versa to foster a new kind of society?

I found on ziloc.com –“rent anything online”, a votive candle holder rented for $1/day to be shipped  from a 500+ miles distance. Clearly this sort of transaction would defeat the purpose of cost-savings! What are the most important factors that drive the peer-to-peer economy-is it the desire to reduce consumption by having a temporary owning experience, saving cost, enhance value of owning a commodity that is inter-changeable and hence becomes a novel exchange or an all-encompassing holistic experience?

http://us.zilok.com/

Even though these trend setting shared economies are taking user-defined, innovative forms in the fast paced technological context; the root of what experience we may seek takes us back to the archaic times of the barter system-in that sense we have come full circle!

Trust is an important part of the sharing economy

Bartering establishes business transactions based on reciprocal exchange of demand and supply

Sharing is Caring

I really like the idea of a sharing culture, even though I am the youngest of 3 kids and naturally have some issues with sharing.  I like the idea of sharing/taking something I need, but when it comes to giving up something of mine and hoping it returns unscathed is where my hesitation lies.  However, the companies that somehow have a warehouse full of products and rent them out to individuals is something I can get behind.

Checking out the link from Ilie’s email, I was instantly drawn to the more product based peer-to-peer sites like babyplays.com & toygaroo.com.  I can’t believe there aren’t more of these sites!  Sharing baby toys seems so genius! Especially for all those parents out there who end up buying their kids way too many toys and then 2 weeks later when the kids are over them, storing them in the basement or a cramped closet in hopes they can hand them down to the other 2 kids they plan on having.  I feel that children’s industries whether it be toys or clothing are probably some of the most over consumed and wasteful industries when it comes to products, since children grow out of both clothing and toys so quickly.  But this is honestly just my opinion and based on no facts once so ever.  I do see a lot of potential in this industry to cut back on how many products are currently being manufactured, and by offering an option to share solves the issue of storage, and possibly money.

Now I know you may be rolling your eyes thinking, “Uh yeah what about the ridiculous consumption of clothing out there Aman-duh?”  Well there are some options for that also.  If I can, I would like to promote one of our first graduates, Laura Allcorn’s practicum project Flux: A Fashion Library that addresses the subject of over consuming clothes.  Flux is “a lending concept intended to fulfill a woman’s desires for fashion and at the same time extend the life-cycle of the garments that are produced.” (lauraallcorn.com 10/01/2011 )  And Laura isn’t the only one out there doing this.  Next on the list of collaborative consumptions companies are Fashion sharing sites like Bag Borrow Or Steal and Love Me and Leave Me.  On Bag Borrow Or Steal you can choose to rent or buy designer handbags and accessories, which I think are great products for sharing.  Me for one, I LOVE bags and appreciate the option to rent instead of buy, since I usually end up using my bags for about a year and then wanting something different because my lifestyle has changed and I am carrying different things around.  These accessories are also the types of things I would be willing to rent out to other people from my own closet.  On the Love Me and Leave Me site, they not only give you the option to rent accessories but also dresses.  And one thing that both of these sites have going for them are great photos!  They both offer crisp clear photos with close ups, and on Love Me then Leave Me they have models wearing the dresses which is a huge plus when buying clothing online.

Overall I really love the idea of collaborative ownership of things we seem to be consuming too much of.  But not sure if I am there yet with the car sharing.  I certainly won’t be using zip-car after watching Robin Chases Ted Talk, ugh I think Kathy said it best in her post, that talk was “hogwash” and she just needed to promote her business that has yet to be able to turn a profit despite being so popular.  And seriously, she wants us to all have wireless trackers in our cars…is she working for the government?

 

 

 

 

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Durability and Permanence

There seems to be a continued emphasis on durability – on constructing things that will last a while. “Why buy twenty, two-dollar, crappy knives when you can buy one?” “This pair of jeans will last me a long time” “I want to construct a chair that will last for generations, something that my children and my children’s children and my children’s children’s children will use.”

Clearly, there are some other things involved in answering those questions, like consuming more material and stuff than we need (20 vs. 1), the quality of an object, assumed nostalgia and future appreciation for what we’re making now, etc.

This is not to say that making things that last is a bad thing. Or maybe it is. I’m working this argument out as I type (based on a conversation Ilie and I had last week after the lecture at ziba) so there are bound to be some logical gaps. If you notice them, help me and point them out, please.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be making things that last forever – as neat as that castle/cathedral/chest of drawers/photo album/handkerchief is – but should instead be making things that last as long as they’re supposed to last. Continue reading

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More solutions to stuff without solutions for humans

There is a lot of stuff in this world, there is a lot of crap in this world, and according to this book there is a whole lot of feces in the world as well.  How do we get rid of it?  How do we stop it?  This excerpt seems to only address some of the issues.

I found the reading from “Cradle to Cradle” a bit infuriating.  I agree with Jacob, if I can quote one of my fellow students, the authors “sound like a couple of well educated, hyper idealistic, privileged white guys.”  Their ideas seem to treat a lot of symptoms but they don’t quite offer up enough of a solution to the bigger problem…humans.

Using their product of service concept as an example, it seems they want to promote mass consumption as it is today, just tweak the products so that we can continue to consume at the rate we currently are.  That is so backwards!   The part of the product of service concept that appalls me the most, is where they state “Under this scenario, people could indulge their hunger for new products as often as they wish, without guilt, and industry could encourage them to do so with impunity, knowing that both sides are supporting the technical metabolism in the process.”  Seriously!?  I don’t even have words for how ridiculous this sounds to me.

I am reminded of Joel Kotkins article, Urban Legends: Why Suburbs, Not Dense Cities, are the Future, where he describes the mega cities solutions as strictly reactionary, and they should be meeting the needs of the people not some sort of eco-standards.  In the same vain, this also sounds like planing cities for cars instead of for people.  McDonough and Braungart are only treating symptoms and not the heart of the issues.  We don’t NEED a lot of the things in this world that go into the waste stream.  Like disposable water bottles for example, why is anyone even still providing disposable water bottles?  We don’t really need TV either, we can all live without it, besides isn’t it all crap anyway?

I think that we need to start teaching people that they don’t need a lot of stuff to live and survive in this world.  And yes at this point I think it is about survival in the future based on all the information I’ve gathered from these readings lately.  I think the key is in promoting people to have less high quality things in their lives.

Fuck it dude. . . Let’s go bowling.

The more and more I read about the destructive state of our industrial evolution the more I am convinced to just walk the other way. I truly feel that reducing ones participation is the only immediate solution to the crippling effects we are having on the globe. The reading mentioned leather shoes and the previously gentle manufacturing techniques used to fabricate them and how this has now been replaced with more harmful methods.

I personally know several people who make not only their shoes but all the clothing on their backs. They gather road-killed deer, raccoons, and coyote, tan their hides using completely natural methods and make beautiful garments using an otherwise useless resource. I am fully aware that these practices are not feasible on any production scale but I am not proposing this as a global paradigm shift. I am merely saying “Hey look at this really cool thing these people over here did, I am going to choose to hang out with them instead.”

I think by being held personally accountable for the ethical sources of a larger part of our belongings it earns us the entitlement to indulge in the more absurd. Similar to a carbon credit, this process (in my opinion) would legitimize the owning of things like motor vehicles, iPods and non regional foodstuffs. That is why I am completely comfortable with skyping with a friend who at the time is wearing buckskin clothes, not out of the charm of irony but because I feel that the two of us earned this luxury by holding ourselves personally accountable for a part of the whole that makes up our personal goods.

Here is a link to an organization that promotes the sharing of skill sets used by our primitive ancestors:

http://www.backtracks.net/

I feel that if a group of over three hundred individuals can find each other, share their knowledge and harness an awareness for the degrading effects of humans on this earth that I am not alone and that there is hope that I can at least feel comfortable with my personal impact on the earth and the wake it creates.

My interests in withdrawing my participation from large scale design solutions is not implying that these are bad avenues of pursuit for others it is just not how I will choose to devote my time and energy. Masdar is not a bad thing, if executed properly it will be an amazing asset to the development of new technologies. I am just resigning my participation in these pursuits to try to effect change on a more local and smaller scale.

“The stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stones” Sheikh Yamani former OPEC oil minister

Technical Difficulties

There is no end game, there’s an infinite game. And we’re playing in that infinite game.

-Kevin Kelly

I read Cradle to Cradle design as an industrial design undergraduate. It was a moving book. Instead of simply expressing anger or finding fault in the current state of affairs, it provided solutions. Not just mere ideological solutions, but solutions born of both imagination, hard science.  Well researched and practical solutions I might add. Material resources can be seen as having life cycles. More specifically materials can be seen as nutrients. There are technological and biological nutrients.

After reading C2C I was enlightened toward the idea of design for disassembly. Products made or designed with its entire life cycle in mind. Complex products should be able to be deconstructed and there materials reintroduced into the nutrient stream. There is tremendous waste otherwise. Nothing need remain waste.

Now then there is another component to the cradle to cradle framework. Both the health of the physical planet as well as its existing residents is considered. Waste and toxicity tend to go hand and hand. Its equally important to take these issues into consideration when designing products or buildings. But as they say, old habits die hard. Infrastructural paradigm shifts don’t happen overnight. They require awareness,  money, and time. It hard to see things change when your in the middle of it. Yet everyday and every second, something new is born into our world. It can seem overwhelming when you think about your minimal personal impact on the world. Yet, I believe the best thing you can do for the world is simply focus on that.

In the begining of William McDonough’s 2005 Tedtalk on Cradle to Cradle Design he refers to an older NPR appearance called THE MONTICELLO DIALOGUES. Here is an excerpt I found particularly intriguing.

…the exciting part of that is the good news that’s there, because the news is, the news of ABUNDANCE, and not the news of limits…and I think our culture tortures itself now with tyrannies and concerns over limits and fears. We can add this other dimension of abundance…”

Wow, and yeah. Why inst it obvious by now that there is no end game. There will always be problems; puzzles to solve and challenges to overcome. Abundance is a mindset just the same as lack. I won’t bring up any metaphysical beliefs. I think by now the majority of you know my opinion on this.

Ok, now i’m going to uncharacteristically point at some holes I see in the reading and the C2C ideology. I find the notion of leasing or product of services as mentioned on page 111 of the reading problematic. Although now commonplace  in the auto industry, it will be difficult to get beyond the psychological barriers of ownership. Whether misplaced or not, ownership gives you a scene of  security. I know id rather not rent my room.

Finally, in order to be Certified C2C you need to pony up some serious CA$H  depending on the complexity of your product. If your a big company trying to improve your image or perhaps genuinely interested in the environment I don’t see a problem.  As young designer however after I graduated and starting working I found this process a little intimidating  and out of reach.  Convincing my employer that we should  design this object with this material instead of that was tough enough.

Good food for thought

I found both the reading and the TED talk we were assigned this week to be very inspiring. It is reassuring to know that the wisdom of nature is being incorporated into design philosophy. A couple of things that stand out in William McDonough’s TED talk were: abundance, strategy of hope and there is no end game there is an infinite game. I prefer to look on the bright side of things, or that’s what I need to do to survive and thrive.

 

I am especially drawn to the concept presented in the reading of making things out of materials that can be nutritious for ecosystems. I am incorporating similar concepts into my work now. I am embedding my biodegradable work with seeds, some of which improve soil conditions. More and more I will be using plants to make it that are invasive and need to be removed.   I’d like to find out which dyes Rhoner incorporates into their production process, dyes that add to the fertility of the soil,  I’m assuming though that most plant-based dyes would contribute nutrients to the soil in some way and plan to look into this further.

 

In addition to cradle to cradle, I think our ultimate goals, as designers should be to eliminate petroleum-based materials from the waste stream entirely. These products, though can be recycled, are toxic and destructive on many, many levels. I was very shocked and disappointed by the presentation given by the material’s specialist at Ziba design last week. Though the slides she showed us were interesting and thought provoking, it seemed like she was indulging in an exercise of wishful ideation.

 

When questioned about Ziba’s actual practices, it seemed like ecological considerations took a back seat to the functionality of the material. The materials specialist reported that eco-friendly options aren’t even considered unless a client requests it. I think that even if your company isn’t marketed or missioned to be green, it is the personal ethical responsibility of designers and the owners of companies to make that happen. You need to do this by educating yourself and you’re your client. Through my personal experience as designer I have learned that if you care about doing the right thing and want to convince your client or company to do the same you have to work on gathering the right knowledge to do that.

 

I understand that everyone needs to put food on the table, but with all of the options in vegetable based plastics and recycled materials etc. out there today, to not design in a low or zero impact way is just lazy.

 

It’s about responsibility. We, I mean everyone on the planet, needs to stop thinking of “green” as an “add-on.” Or green as a marketing tactic to sell more junk to baby boomers or some other target audience. As members of the web of life, we need to adopt eco-friendly as the normal mode of operation. Nature is a perfect closed loop system that is inherently cradle to cradle. We are nature. How can our inherent connection with nature be fostered and remembered so that we can make for good?

So I asked if the Ziba materials specialist knew about hemp plastic, she said she did but wasn’t very convincing. I’ve worked for a company that was part of the Hemp Industries Association. This company, Living Tree Paper Co., made commercial printing paper from post-consumer waste and agricultural fiber like hemp and flax. Having worked at this company has educated me on the tremendous potential for the hemp plant as fiber. It also showed me that an inspired person has the ability to work within the system to make better, more responsible materials, ultimately making a difference in the world we live in.

Here are a couple of links:

http://www.hempplastic.com/

http://www.thehia.org

A Technical nutrient is a material, or rather e-waste?

As I was reading this section of Cradle to Cradle…this stuck out at me, “A Technical nutrient is a material or product that is designed to go back into the technical cycle, into the industrial metabolism from which it came.  The average television we analyzed, for example, was made of 4,360 chemicals.  Some of them are toxic, but others are valuable nutrients for industry that are wasted when the television ends up in a landfill.”  Which is similar to the mass production of electronic waste (e-waste).

According to Greenpeace, “The amount of electronic products discarded globally has skyrocketed recently, with 20-50 million tons generated every year. If such a huge figure is hard to imagine, think of it like this – if the estimated amount of e-waste generated every year would be put into containers on a train, it would go once around the world!” (www.greenpeace.org).  In 2007, the United States of America Environmental Protection Agency estimated that of the e-waste ready for disposal, only 18 percent was recycled. The remaining 82 percent was shipped worldwide to the landfills of developing countries for scavengers to sort through the massive piles of e-waste in hopes to strip out the small amount of precious metals, the Denver Post reported.  Another new report, however, indicates that a more universal solution to a growing problem needs to be found. The report published February 2010 by the United National Environment Program (UNEP) argues that by 2017 e-waste from old computers will increase by 400 percent in China and South Africa from 2007 levels of e-waste, and by 500 percent in India. Based on studies involving 11 countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the report warns that countries with relatively little e-waste today – such as Kenya, Peru, Senegal and Uganda – will soon expect e-waste to increase four-fold from PCs alone by 2020.

One factor that has significantly increased the amount of e-waste shipped to developing countries is the lower life-expectancy of electronic equipment.  In 2009, a PC could be expected to last six years.  In 2010, that life-expectancy of a PC dropped to 18 months, causing tremendous e-waste and an unethical way of disposing it.  These growing amounts of e-waste are than shipped to developing countries.  The scavengers who receive the e-waste in developing countries do not know how to recycle it without harming the environment or their own health.  Once the e-waste arrives to the developing countries, the electronics are recycled by open-burning the plastic in the air, exposing people to toxic chemicals, just to get the tiny and valuable quantities of aluminum, copper, cadmium and other minerals, which then are sold.  Afterwards the leftover e-waste is dumped into the rivers where the acid begins to leak into the town’s only water supply.  Meanwhile scavengers use this water to drink, take baths, and water their food supply, which constantly exposes them to highly toxic materials such as mercury, which causes brain damage; beryllium, which causes lung cancer; chromium, which damages DNA; and lead, which damages the nervous system, blood system, kidneys, and reproductive system.  According to Matt Ford, CNN reports: A Chinese academic report published in Environmental Health Perspectives in 2007 confirmed that children living in the same area where the e-waste was dumped had higher levels of toxic metals in their blood than other children living nearby.

The U.S. government disagrees with environmentalists that most of e-waste dumping is not exported to developing countries, which are poisoning the poor and their environment.  Coupled with the electronics industry’s tardiness to act more green by reducing the harm overseas is and will remain a daunting, long-term battle.  E-waste dumping is very poisonous and creates more environmental damage than the vast leftover piles found in these less developed countries.  Stopping the creation and spread of the electronic wasteland requires breaking the link between consumption and constant upgrading to the latest, newest technology first make less of it and second extend usable life through repair.  Perhaps now you feel uncomfortable with or even repulsed by your personal computer and your new smart mobile, which you just upgraded, too.

 

Waste Equals Food: Rubber Ducky…I’m stewing.

It seems that I’m swimming in a stew.  After reading this weeks portion of Cradle to Cradle, I realized that no where in my home is safe.  I guess I kind of knew it, but chose to ignore it.  I have at least 4 cans of soup in my cupboard and there is hand sanitizer in the bathroom.  My Craigslist couch probably has been treated with an anti-stain chemical.  One quick inspection under the sink revealed a multitude of chemicals that I regularly send into the waste stream and sometimes get on my hands.  After a run to the gym, I came home to shower and gave a longer glance to the list of ingredients in my shampoo; I suspect phthalates.

Where are they and how much?  Check out:
http://safecosmetics.org/article.php?id=290
http://www.pgbeautygroomingscience.com/phthalates-safety-in-cosmetics.html

I found an interesting article written by two people who test increases in absorbed levels of everyday products that contain phthalates, triclosan, and BPA.  They found an alarming increase in just two days of regular use of common household and personal care products.

http://www.rodale.com/slow-death-rubber-duck?page=0%2C0

Don’t get me wrong, I try to buy “eco-friendly” cleaners more frequently, but lately I need them to be on sale.  A couple of weeks ago, I went on a mission to find hair care products that had fewer ingredients and scents.  The alternatives that I’ve found thus far cost up to 3 times more than I have been paying for my regular hair care items.

It all comes back to Brand’s example of the rubber duck.  Why would we knowingly make a product that contains a carcinogen, especially a product we will come in to contact with regularly?  Why would we buy it?  And then, what kind of life does the product have?  How long will we really use it and then where does it go?

Four reasons come to mind: profits, cost, transparency and consumer education.
Brand has an excellent example with the leather shoe.  He quickly points out that the traditional method of tanning has been replaced with chromium tanning because it’s faster and cheaper.  He says, “ It cannot be safely consumed, either by you or by the environment.”  Well said, but what do we do about it?

Consumers may or may not be able to afford really expensive shoes.  Companies can sell more shoes if they are made quickly and made affordable to a larger portion of the population.  So then what?  Brand seems to suggest that the solution would be creating a new environmentally friendly product (after much research and reconfiguration) that would require no expensive government regulation therefore benefiting the public and the company.

I wonder though how feasible this is on the large scale.  In Places to Intervene in a System, Meadows writes, “ The only way to fix a system that is laid out wrong is to rebuild it, if you can.”

There seems to be a lot of talk lately about sacrifices that can be made by the consumer for better products.  Would you sacrifice this to buy that and that costs a lot more than this, but that is an investment which is more – fill in the blank– (safe, eco, well-made, etc.)  I wonder though if the average consumer could realistically sacrifice buying the cheaper alternative enough to make a real difference without going broke?

Biogas – a fuel of the future?

Some excerpts from the chapter ‘Waste Equals Food’ taken from the book ‘Cradle to Cradle’ by William McDonough and Michael Braungart…….

“Over thousands of years, the Chinese perfected a system that prevents pathogens from contaminating the food chain, and fertilized rice paddies with biological wastes, including sewage. Even today some rural households expect dinner guests to “return” nutrients in this way before they leave, and it is a common practice for farmers to pay households to fill boxes with their bodily wastes.”

“The original idea was to take relatively active biologically based sewage, principally from humans (urine and excrement, the kind of waste that has interacted with the natural world for millennia), and render it harmless.”

In the United States alone every man, woman and child consume an average of 3 gallons of fossil fuel each day which equates to over 200 billion gallons a year. Within the next 30 years the world will run out of refinable oil with the current squandering and our insatiable utilization rate worldwide. Alternative energy that is generated from a ‘waste to energy’ cycle can be revolutionary and at the same time an essential source of harnessing energy to alleviate the strain on the rapidly decreasing natural resources of our planet.

Biogas is a renewable fuel that is cheap, clean, ecologically safe energy alternative that is primarily produced from any organic waste (animal waste and even human waste) that is decomposed anaerobically (in the absence of oxygen) in a biogas plant through a process called digestion. The slurry residue provides a rich organic fertilizer. The gas produced consists of 55-65% flammable methane gas, 30-35% carbon dioxide, some hydrogen, nitrogen and other traces.

Not only does the production of biogas maintain an ecological balance by reducing deforestation as it minimizes the pressure on cutting trees for firewood  but also helps in sanitation by linking toilets with bio gas plants that provide a steady source of supply of raw material needed to operate the biogas plant. These environmentally friendly gas plants have a low capital cost and are very low on maintenance which makes it very popular in the rural areas of many developing countries that predominantly have an agrarian based economy.  The biogas produced is used for cooking,heating, lighting and an increased number of energy companies are harvesting methane gas to produce ‘green’ electricity by turning manure into a valuable resource.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/24/business/businessspecial2/24farmers.html

Currently the cost of producing and distributing electricity generated from biomass by anaerobic digester technique is higher than traditional generating electrical plants cause it requires greater energy to convert the gas to electricity and to compress the gas for transportation and hence reduces its efficiency as a biomass fuel alternative. Although it is a cleaner form of energy source it is more economically viable to integrate biomass energy producing facilities on farm sites that produce abundant and renewable energy and heat which can be a decentralized energy model;  looped back for power use on site thereby reducing farm energy costs. This also takes care of proper management of animal manure and decreases the risk of contamination and polluting the environment and reducing methane gas being released into the atmosphere which is relatively potent greenhouse gas. Perhaps the future of renewable energy will be to develop superior technologies to maximize energy production using biomass, wind, solar, geothermal sources and further ground us to make sustainability an ethical norm.

Will we be able to epitomize the cradle to cradle cycle by having DIY bio fuel kits at our homes that can use the organic waste of the household and convert it into a fuel that can function as your self-sufficient energy source -the ultimate green fuel ?

Cross section drawing of a biofuel plant

Bio gas plant

Homemade bio gas generator

Sugar cane biomass used to produce Ethanol gas

World’s first bio gas powered train in Sweden debuts in 2005

Please address the whole problem

Rome’s imperialism- and imperialism in general- emerged in response to nutrient losses, the center expanding to support its vast needs with timber, food, and other resources elsewhere.

Cradle to Cradle

Throughout the chapter Waste Equals Food of William McDonough and Michael Brungart’s book Cradle to Cradle a certain, distinct factor in the way have gotten to where we are is missing.  I am tempted to say it is missing from the entire book, but I am only three quarters of the way through it.  So I am hopeful.  This didactic and pedantic book fails to acknowledge the state of human nature.  That is to say these two sound like a couple of well educated, hyper idealistic, privileged white guys.  Within the larger context of examining wicked problems and coming up with the range of possible solutions; idealists who may have a tendency to scrutinize these issues in ways that leave human nature out of the equation are needed.  It allows others to address a hyper-complicated scenario in ways that acknowledge the direct contribution of humans to the current situation.  Rather than taking the route that acknowledges the fact that human interactions have driven events to their current place.  The base ways in which people make their decisions may well be the key to viable fixes.

There are three possibilities.  You can have it cheap, easy, or well made.  While the general consensus is that anyone can only really achieve two of these in any situation I wonder if you can have all three.  The drive to attain all three is inseparably tied to what we refer to as progress.  It may be what we have been spending all of our money and energy on for the last sixty years.  It seems to be relatively easy.  All you have to do is demand for something to be cheap.  Since progress mirrors (unfortunately) the DJI business will find a way to make it affordable.  Easy equates to access.  Something needs to be offered here, there, and just about everywhere.  Density networks work.  Well made could be another story, but it’s not.  If you produce enough chingaderas at a particularly affordable price; consumers will assume a more expensive item is well made even when it’s not.

It is not enough to say consume less with-out examining the reasons behind over-consumption.  It doesn’t move viable solutions closer to widespread acceptance.  While it may be an interesting way for the privileged creative class to discuss the problems affecting us all; it fails to address the real time decisions that most of us have to wrestle with.

Where are they today?

Over this past weekend, I went on a walk with a friend who had run into Stewart Brand the week before at Founders Fund in SF.  It was a neat little coincidence, that my friend had chatted with the man I had been reading about earlier that afternoon.  A fun anecdote to recount when I got back to Portland.  But it got me thinking: what was Stewart Brand up to these days?  To what projects was he turning his considerable background, knowledge base, resources, etc. today, nearly fifty years after the first edition of the Whole Earth Catalog (1968)?  The world’s a different place today, with different problems and different tools for tackling those problems.  How had his interests evolved?

And so, taking inspiration from the rubric at the beginning of the Catalog, which reads,

An item is listed in the CATALOG if it is deemed:

  1. Useful as a tool,
  2. Relevant to independent education,
  3. High quality or low cost,
  4. Not already common knowledge,
  5. Easily available by mail.
and adding a sixth category:
6. Human experience/wisdom
Since I think people and human innovation are the real treasures, and that one of the real successes of the Catalog was that it connected people to tools, to ideas and to other people and collaborators, I think I’d prefer to talk about where a few of the original editors of the Whole Earth Catalog are today and what they’re turning their attention to in a more digital age.
**I find it revealing, though I’m not sure of what, that all four of the men listed below still live and work in the Bay Area.  Perhaps it’s the dominance of the digital culture and the tools and people connected with that?  Perhaps it’s always been home?  Perhaps it’s particularly comfortable for old hippie types?
—–

Stewart Brand (b.1938)

In his own words, Stewart Brand “finds things and founds things.”  Things Brand has found include “tools, ideas, books, and people, which [he] blends and purveys.”  Things Brand has founded and co-founded include the Trips Festival (1966), Whole Earth Catalog (1968), Hackers Conference (1984), The WELL (1984), Global Business Network (1988), and The Long Now Foundation (1996). He graduated in Biology from Stanford and served as an Infantry officer.

To unpack those a bit… In 1984, Brand and others at the Catalog (including Kevin Kelly) organized Hackers Conference, which was inspired by the publication of Steven Levy’s book, Hackers: The Heroes of the Computer Revolution. Brand felt that it would be fascinating and provocative to get some of the people mentioned in that book together for a weekend and “see what happened”. It was a resounding success, and has occurred almost annually since then.

In 1985, he co-founded, with Larry Brilliant (a fascinating dude in his own right), The WELL (the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link) a prototypic online community that has been the subject of multiple books and studies. Time magazine said, “WELL was a huge hit, a precursor of every online business from Amazon.com to eBay.

In 1988, Brand founded the Global Business Network (GBN) with five friends.  GBN is a strategic consultancy that specializes in scenario planning, collaborative problem solving, and works with companies, governments and non-profits to tackle and solve critical long-term challenges.  (Note: I’m pulling most of that from their company summary, but I’m not quite sure what they do precisely.)

In 01996, Brand founded the Long Now Foundation, a private organization devoted to creatively fostering responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years, promoting “slow/better” thinking, rather than “fast/cheaper.”

Today, Brand splits his time between the Long Now Foundation and GBN.  He also gives talks, and writes books and articles.  And apparently wanders through the offices of Founders Fund.

Kevin Kelly (b.1952)

Before he worked with the Catalog, Kevin Kelly was a traveler, journalist and international nomad. From 1984-1900, Kelly was the editor and publisher of the Whole Earth Review.  From his bio, “Under Kelly’s direction and editorship, Whole Earth was the first consumer magazine to report on virtual reality, ecological restoration, the global teenager, Internet culture and artificial life (to name just a few early trends).”  In 1988, Kelly wrote and published much of Signal, a Whole Earth Catalog of personal communication tools. He continues to be a participant, observer and scholar of “cyberculture.”

He cofounded Wired magazine in 1993, was Executive Editor of the magazine until 1999 and currently serves as its Senior Maverick (or Editor-at-Large). He’s published several books, writes for leading publications around the country and continues to practice photography. He is also the editor and publisher of the Cool Tools website, which strikes me as a less all-encompassing, digital version of the Whole Earth Catalog.  He co-founded the Hackers Conference with the Point Foundation, the WELL, and Stewart Brand in 1984.  He is also a member of the board (with Stewart Brand) at the Long Now Foundation. He has no college or university degrees.

After a cursory amount of research, I’d say that he remains deeply invested in understanding, building and connecting to tools that leverage power to individuals.  The tools themselves have evolved since his time at the Catalog (today, many of them are digital), but the link is there.  You can read more about him and what he’s up to at his website: www.kk.org.

 Lloyd Kahn (b. 1938)

Graduated with a BA Stanford. Served in the Air Force in the late 1950’s, and edited the USAF newspaper for two years. Quit his job as an insurance salesman to build houses.  Each house became more an more ambitious, as Kahn learned new building techniques and tinkered with green/low-energy designs.  Next worked for Stewart Brand as the shelter editor for the Catalog.

In 1970 Kahn published his first book, Domebook One, followed the next year withDomebook 2, which sold 165,000 copies.  After living in a geodesic dome, decided that the design was fundamentally flawed and went in search of other (non-dome) ways to build – across the U.S.A., Ireland, and England, and the book Shelter (1973) was the result.  Shelter Publications, Inc. (of which he is the founding editor-in-chief) continues to publish books about home construction/design as well as books about fitness (seems like an odd addition). He is also an author, photographer, and pioneer of the green building and green architecture movements.

Today, he is working on a book on tiny houses (due out this Fall) and spending a lot of time skateboarding. Kahn’s website: http://lloydkahn-ongoing.blogspot.com/

A step or two removed, but still interesting to follow: Howard Rheingold (b. 1947)

Howard Rheinhold graduated from Reed and became interested early on in mind altering and methods around it.  He logged onto the WELL (discussed above) and wrote about the experience of participating in a digital community.  He edited the Whole Earth Review for a little while and was editor-in-chief of the Millennium Whole Earth Catalog. Here’s his introduction to the Catalog: http://www.rheingold.com/texts/mwecintro.html.

Today, he is a visiting lecturer at Stanford and at Cal.  He remains interested in collective intelligence and the possibilities around broad-based cooperation, the Internet, mobile telephony and virtual communities.  Here’s his website: http://www.rheingold.com/.

———

Perhaps more to letter of the assignment for this week: I was fascinated to see Dune, by Frank Herbert, in the Whole Earth Catalog.  Dune, a classic science-fiction novel, seemed a bit at odds with the other tools and literatures in the Catalog.  It wasn’t a guide to canoe-building, or a mail-order catalog for outdoor gear.  Nor did it expand upon the aero-dynamic intricacies of an eagle taking flight (another favorite page of mine).  It painted an intriguing (and possible) far-flung future for humanity and upset a few preconceived notions of what resources were necessary and which might just be luxuries.  But it was fiction.  Not to be relied upon for any real-life survival situations.

From the New York Times:

Set on a desert planet that holds the key to humanity’s destiny, this book and its five sequels stand as one of science fiction’s grandest feats of informed imagination. The ecology of Dune, with its Bedouin-like Fremen and the mammoth sandworms that dominate its food chain, was worked out to a degree never before seen in the genre; ”Dune” was cited as a learning tool in the first ”Whole Earth Catalog,” a book that introduced an entire generation to the concept of our planet as a dynamically adaptable yet ultimately fragile environment.

And from Frank Herbert, about some of the goals he had going into the writing of Dune:

It was to be a story exploring the myth of the Messiah.

It was to produce another view of a human-occupied planet as an energy machine

It was to penetrate the interlocked workings of politics and economics.

It was to be an examination of absolute prediction and its pitfalls.

It was to have an awareness drug in it and tell what could happen through dependence on such a substance.

Potable water was to be an analog for oil and for water itself, a substance whose supply diminishes each day.

It was to be an ecological novel, then, with many overtones, as well as a story about people and their human concerns with human values, and I had to monitor each of these levels at every stage in the book.

After slow initial sales (the novel was about 5x as long as most other books of the time and the $5 pricetag was unheard of for science-fiction novels), sales for Dune picked up in the early 1970’s, largely because the novel was celebrated as an environmental handbook.  In fact, Herbert spoke to more than 30,000 at the first Earth Day conference.

Today, Dune is considered the one of the most popular books in history.  I’ve read it – though I haven’t gotten to the rest of the books in the series yet – and it definitely makes you think.  Definitely worth reading, and now more than ever.

Whole Earth Catalog: The Joyful Community

After flipping through the Whole Earth Catalog, one of the items that jumped out was the book, The Joyful Community by Benjamin Zablocki.  I was further intrigued when I saw that this book was specifically about commune living, since I mentioned it as an alternative to the city vs. suburb debate.

This book is specifically about Zablocki’s experience visiting the Bruderhof community in the winter of 1965.  He describes the community as, “…a federation of three colonies located in New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut.  The colonies are known as hofs (ryming with the English word ‘loaf’), which is German for ‘dwelling place’, and Bruderhof means ‘dwelling place of brothers’.  The total population of the community numbers about 750 men, women and children holding all goods and property in common.  The Bruderhof supports itself through a communal industry–the manufacture and sale of high-quality and expensive wooden toys, most of which are bought by schools.  In 1970 the community is celebrating its fiftieth birthday.  It was founded in Germany in 1920, and has since undergone migrations to England, Paraguay, and finally in 1954 the United States.  It is held together by its common religion–a radical, fundamental Anabaptist Christianity.”

Ugh at that point I quiver at the words “common religion” a sensitive subject for me, and cannot help but think of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village.  Where a group of adults decide to develop their own community based on a simpler time as a way to escape the fast-paced overstimulated world of today.  And as a means to keep the community from straying out into the “real world” they create stories of a vicious creature that respects their boundaries as long as they respect his.  In the beginning the village seems peaceful and happy, but as the story develops and one person suspects there is more outside the boundaries of their community (doubting the elders) the viscous creature begins to infringe upon their territory.  And so terror in the Village ensues.

I realize this is a creative exaggeration of a type of commune, but a lot of the basic principles seem realistic, and scary.  Which I think is what makes the movie so creepy.  I think its completely possible for a group of adults to take over a large plot of land and start their own community, that is the building block for a commune.  The part I find the most scary is the adults ability to create their own world with its own stories (true or false) and rules.  And then raise a new generation of children whose only world is what they have access to within the boundaries of the commune.  This seems like a huge responsibility, and if done wrong could end up playing out like The Village.

Now I am left wondering, is there a difference between a commune and a cult?  I sure hope so.  I still believe some of the basic principles of a commune are ideal for the way we need to live in the future, i.e. living close together, creating a friendly close-knit community of diverse people, and using those diverse talents to aid in commerce.  And just like any other city, suburb, or community out there the key lies in the people in charge.

Dome Cookbook

The purpose of Whole Earth:

WE are as gods and might as well get used to it.  So far, remotely done power and glory–as via government, big business, formal education, church–has succeeded to the point where gross obscure actual gains.  In response to this dilemma and to these gains a realm of intimate, personal power is developing–power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested.  Tools that aid this process are sought and promoted by the WHOLE EARTH CATALOG.

My favorite article from Whole Earth, was the Dome Cookbook, which was published by Lama Foundation, New Mexico.  The cookbook was designed for an intentional community of Baer domes located in Drop City, Colorado.  These elegant funky domes were designed by Steve Baer constructed to house themselves, using geometric panels made from the metal of automobiles roofs and other materials.  The cookbook is no longer in print, but I wanted to research more on why it was made.

In 1965, Drop City near Trinidad, Colorado was formed by three friends, Gene Bernofsky, JoAnn Bernofsky, and Clark Richert, all were former art students who developed a concept they called “Drop Art.”  This was influenced by Allen Kaprow’s “happenings” and new theories and performances by John Cage, Buckminster Fuller, and Robert Rauschenber.  They were the first rural communes who were grounded in art practice.  They attempted to create a total living environment outside the structure of society, where the artist can remain in touch with themselves through the universe and other creative artist.  They also wanted to break out of the confines of museums and galleries and integrate it with everyday life.  They would scavenge junk to make art with.  They would exhibit their art widely.


Within one year they had 12 adults and children.  It was a community of many innovations, it was the site of one of the first solar-heated building of that decade.  By the end of 1968 the original occupants moved to Boulder, Colorado to start and artists’ cooperative, Criss-Cross, whose purpose was similar to Drop City’s, to function interaction between peers to create experimental artistic innovation.  Many innovative endeavors evolved out of Drop City such as:

In 1969, a solar energy company called Zomeworks, in Albuguergue.
In 1970s, artist cooperative, Criss-Cross, operative in New York and Colorado
The development of the 61-Zone system by ZomeTool of Boulder, Colorado
In 1980s, a discovery of cubic fusion of interpenetrating fractal tetrahedra by Richard Kallweit.

This youtube video sums up the simple life of Drop City. Utopian is not how the future will work, its about how the people will make the future work.  Many other nomadic communes have formed and still exist now.  I feel they are living within their means influence by nature.

Look what I (they) made

“This is the sixty-nine.” I told him, presenting the magazine the magazine in front of him.  I put my fingers—two of them—on the action, so that he would not overlook it.  “Why is it dubbed sixty-nine?” he asked, because he is a person hot on fire with curiosity.  “It was invented in 1969. My friend Gregory knows a friend of the nephew of the inventor.”  “What did people do before 1969?”  “Merely blowjobs and masticating box, but never in chorus.”

Alexander Perchov in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated

The 1968 issue of The Whole Earth catalogue advertises an interesting bi-weekly magazine called Product Engineering.  Billed as a “learn to make it like I did” publication it preceded the growth of a DIY movement.  It preceded it only because it is now so hip to be DIY, to work with your hands, to generate an authentic connection to a material and by extension the earth.  By and large we creative types tend to act a lot like teenagers when applying our minds to material.  Teenagers feel it in their bones that they have discovered sex.  People who are striving for connections, who are looking to exercise their creative functions can lose sight of the past.  Creation isn’t the only point, it’s not even the starting point, and it simply exists as a moment firmly connected to everything else.

I can’t find Product Engineering anywhere.  Multiple web searches produced 23 issues for sale on e-bay, a handful of Google images, and not much else.  The mantle has passed to magazines like Make: technology on your own time and websites similar to instructables.com.  Both of these cater to an actively engaged and optimistic crowd.  People who feel they can make the world a better place by sharing their passions.  They probably can.  Each person who stumbles upon these sources of information who is intrigued is drawn into an active community. This community is capable of more collaboration than ever before, a collaboration that casts a wider net and is constantly speeding up.

Citation is important.  Acknowledging what came before you is important; it is a way of showing proper respect, a way of acknowledging your place as a snowflake amongst others not as individual thing of exquisite beauty, but as a particle smooshed into a melting ball hucked across the yard.  One website geared towards rapid prototyping, focusing heavily on 3D printing, is thingiverse.com.  Thingiverse encourages, if not requires, participants to acknowledge where their ideas come from.  The site is set up to reflect direct connections between ideas, through the use of markers that show where an idea comes from.  People uploading models are careful to note if it is a derivative work, even when they are not sure they will hedge their bet not wanting to claim ownership of something they may have simply made.

It’s easy.

There’s nothing you can make that can’t be made.

No one you can save that can’t be saved.

Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you

in time – It’s easy.

The Beatles

It starts with “Bucky”

For the first time in history it is now possible to take care of everybody at a higher standard of living than any have ever known. Only ten years ago the ‘more with less’ technology reached the point where this could be done. All humanity now has the option of becoming enduringly successful.

– Buckminster Fuller 1980

I find it  interesting that the Whole Earth Catalog begins with a person and not an idea or an object. The catalog introduces us to him by saying  ” The insights of Buckminster Fuller are what initiated this catalog”. “Bucky” a childhood nickname that endured throughout his life exemplifies our greatest and most renewable resource; the Human imagination. Buckminster Fuller forged a path few would have been able to envision and fewer could have endured. If I was to try to surmise Buckminster Fuller in a sentence, id say he was a technological utopian with  unwavering faith in humanity. Buckminster had a vision of a technological utopia that would harness rather than reject modern technological advancements for the good of Humankind. Buckminster Fullers ideas, whether  theoretical or practically employed would and will inspire generations of future thinkers.

R. Buckminster Fuller was a 20th century visionary and inventor born in Milton, Massachusetts on July 12, 1895. Devoting his life to making the world benefit all of humanity. Buckminster Fuller epitomizes the model of a Renaissance man/woman.  He was not a specialist of one discipline but  rather thrived by integrating  multiple disciplines. He refered to himself as a Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Scientist.  As stated in Howard Brown, Robert Cook, and Medard Gabel. Environmental Design Science Primer. “Design science requires that the traditional separation of the sciences and humanities be abandoned in order to develop a more creative approach to design and planning.” Fullers aim in employing this methodology to solve global problems surrounding housing, shelter, transportation, education, energy, ecological destruction, and poverty.

The Geodesic Dome is probably the best example of Fullers doing more with less methodology.  Fullers domes embodied a perfect synthesis of form is function. Lightweight, cost-effective and easy to assemble, geodesic domes enclose more space without intrusive supporting columns than any other structure, efficiently distribute stress, and can withstand extremely harsh conditions. Based on Fuller’s “synergetic geometry,” his lifelong exploration of nature’s principles of design, the geodesic dome was the result of his revolutionary discoveries about balancing compression and tension forces in building. (Fuller n.d.)

Fuller, unlike most all other utopians, went beyond theorizing and made a conscious effort toward constructing his vision. Contrary to John Ruskin, and William Morris Arts and Crafts movement whom preached a regression to simpler times, Fuller looked toward the future. Fuller states that “the future is now” in his book Utopia or Oblivion: The Prospects for Humanity. Buckminster’s Domes and philosophical ideologies gained popularity in America among the countercultures of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Hippy artist communes like Drop City embraced both his environmental crusade and utilitarian designs but were ironically somewhat hostile to modern technology.

Drop City

Utopia represents a perfect society. Ever since the developments of the European Enlightenment and England’s industrial revolution, which notably begun in England’s textile industry, writers have been considering the idea as an attainable goal.  By the time of Buckminster birth the prevailing belief that resources were finite was gradually giving way to a belief thanks to numerous technological advances, natural resources were infinite. Although Buckminster did not subscribe to this ideology he did believe technology was the panacea of all humanities needs.

Whether he is considered naïve, a success, or failure, is still a subject of debate. It’s difficult to measure Fullers impact on subsequent designers and thinkers. If you look at the record, Fuller held 28 patents, authored 28 books, and received 47 honorary degrees. He was clearly best known for the geodesic dome, which has been produced over 300,000 times worldwide, but I believe his greatest impact on the world today can be found in his continued influence upon generations of designers, architects, scientists and artists working to create a more sustainable planet.

Wind Power Systems


 

Paging through the Whole Earth Catalog I ran across a Dunlite Wind Turbine (page 69).  The name rang a bell and realized I had seen one before.  The memory it triggered whisked me back to the late 80’s, early 90’s, when my mom used to skydive.  I spent countless weekends playing in the windswept cornfields and farmland surrounding the drop zone in east central Wisconsin, and the tallest point of the complex was one of these models.

Dunlite was founded in 1935 by Lloyd Dunn in Hindmarsh, Austrailia.  Their models were also sold by Quirk’s Victory Light Company under the Quirk’s name (shown in the Whole Earth Catalog).  These small wind generators were built to provide a power source for isolated, off-grid farms and settlements which were quite common in Australia, as well as rural areas all over the world. These systems would recharge batteries that would continue functioning whether or not there was a sustained wind.  “Whenever there is a lack of main power and a need for simple and economical power generation, there’s a Dunlite wind-driven generator to do the job.”  (Pearen) Here’s an image of a model operating in Antarctica.

Dunlite was absorbed by another company in the 70’s which discontinued their line of turbines, while Quirk’s has moved into the solar energy sector and is still operating in Sydney, Australia.  Dunlite wind generator owners are now relegated to a small fringe group who still swear by the durability and simplicity of their Dunlite models.  But the trend of harnessing the wind to produce energy is alive and well, and has turned into big business since the 1970’s. It would be hard to make a case that the Dunlite system or its competitors really inspired the growth of this industry, but it was certainly a notable precursor (it’s mentioned by Wikipedia after all) to the wind energy systems we see today.

It was interesting to see a company from the 1930’s touting the benefits of free, non fossil fuel based energy long before petroleum really hit it’s full stride and the problems of using oil were really understood.  It’s also interesting that the Whole Earth Catalog was published just prior the first notable energy crisis in 1973.  This time was considered a major turning point in renewable, wind powered technology, when a push began to develop wind farms that could feed into centralized energy grids. Today wind is second only to solar in the green energy spectrum and new potentials continue to be discovered.

I stumbled across a Ted Talks a couple weeks ago that discusses what might be the next generation of wind energy production, using the motion of giant kites to gather wind at higher altitudes.  Saul Griffith explains how the height of wind turbine towers and the diameter of the blades they support are both reaching their maximum size capacities.  His operating test system on Maui produces enough power for five households with a kite the size of a piano at 300 ft. He makes a convincing argument that the stronger predictable winds above 2,000 ft can be utilized by free flowing kites equal to the wingspan of a 747s, which would produce more energy than the largest 300 ft ground turbines.  Griffith proposes that a single factory, producing 100,000 “planes” per year (as they did during WWII) could provide all of America’s energy needs in just 10 years.  I have my doubts that this exact scenario will come to pass, but it’s a refreshingly hopeful vision of what we could do with some investment and will power.  We’ve been using wind power for thousands of years and it’s amazing to see continuing innovations in the evolution of its use.

http://www.pearen.ca/dunlite/Dunlite.htm

http://www.ted.com/talks/saul_griffith_on_kites_as_the_future_of_renewable_energy.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Fiberarts” Magazine began In 1975 as a grassroots publication by two fiber enthusiasts. Rob Pulleyn and Kate Matthews ran the magazine from the back of their yarn shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For over thirty years Fiber arts has been the leading resource for information concerning weaving, embroidery, quilting and a number of other fiber based crafts. The fall 2011 issue will be Fiberarts last issue. Over the last decade the internet has lead to the plight of many printed publications. The ready availability of information digitally has made the newsstand almost obsolete as well as hindered the postal service.This is one of the major factors contributing to Fiberarts demise.

In research on many fiber based blogs readership also seemed to feel that in recent years the magazine may have headed in a “different direction.” This observation seems a bit ignorant, the magazine had to evolve with current trends, covering new and exploratory work and artists with less than traditional methods and subject matter. Maybe this is a perfect example of the difference between art and craft, while art is allowed to evolve giving way to the next movement and constantly making room for the progress. Craft sits stagnant never changing clinging to tradition. After thirty years of publication the magazine needed to find new and exciting subjects to cover. Another article about aunt Edna’s crocheting techniques is not going to draw a new wave of readership. Although unfortunate maybe it will be a step in the right direction to put this publication to bed. The old timers will still have their sewing circles and the youth will have room to create a newer publication that is more tailored to their interests. A major downfall of this result may be an ever widening rift between craft sticklers and new age hipsters.

Like a stream of air……

The year 1971…………..Whole Earth Catalog, an issue from 40 years ago, pages as fragile as thin, crispy wafers. Maybe my nimble hands let some dog-eared corners fall to dust. I was filled with a forgotten familiarity looking at one product to the next although I must say that a good number of products had no historical connection to me. Selling products via paper catalog is no longer a means to reach the consumer. It does however put into context the social and cultural ideas that existed at that time.

My choice of a product from the Whole Earth Catalog was the AIRSTREAM TRAVEL TRAILER. It featured the following…………..

I’ve lived in a 22’ Airstream with wife and two cats for most of 3 years now. It’s the only high-tech home I’ve found at all lovable, indeed comparable to the way some ocean-going boat owners feel about living on board. The Airstream is an elegant, honest design job. It makes us parsimonious and conscious about using water, gas, power. It frees us from owning land and  encourages us to live in wilder places. It is proof from fire, earthquake, floods (drive away) and mice (except what the cats bring in and lose). It’s one of the few domes I know that doesn’t leak. When we travel with it, wherever we go we’re coming home. One more month of production and we’re hauling ass and house out of here to the desert.

Some current prices in Bay Area

1971                         21’                            $5400

1970                         23’                            $5400

1965                         20’                            $4500

1965                         17’                            $2800

If you buy in August when the sales on this year’s models start, you may save $1000 or so. For the nearest dealer consult yellow pages or

Airstream 107 Church St. Jackson Center, Ohio 45334

 15939 Piuma Ave Cerritos, CA 90701

The History of the Airstream dates back from the original designs that were created by Hawley Bowlus. In 1931 Wally Byam began to manufacture these travel trailers which had a rounded, low-profile shape that made towing easier. Byam was born in Oregon (no better way to seek tribute to the inventor than by housing one in our own ACD studio) and was a wanderlust from a very young age. When he found various complains from readers of his editorial magazine about their unsuccessful attempts to build travel trailers, he decided to build a trailer himself. His first attempts were a plywood box to house some camping equipment. He sold his plans for $5 each to the enthusiastic DIY-ers and claimed it would cost $100 to make one.  As his designs got more refined he adopted a more aerodynamic shape to the trailer and also incorporated aircraft construction materials. In 1936 the Airstream Trailer company adopted the Clipper model. During WWII the company closed its doors since the consumption of gasoline was rationed and aluminum was an important material used during the war.

Wally designed a special harness for the Airsteam to be loaded on to ships to travel to far away lands.

As the company continued to perfect its design and establish a strong reputation for quality and success, it also travel-tested the Airstream to remote areas of the world by travel enthusiasts who formed a Wally Byam Caravan Club International (WBCCI). In 1967 Airstream was acquired by Beatrice Foods . Under their acquisition Airstream continued to  manufacture high quality trailers and in 1979 it introduced its first motor home. Although in the 1970’s  with the gasoline crisis and the resultant slowing of economy affected by it, the struggling company of Beatrice Foods sold the Airstream division to Thor Industries Inc. who were fairly new in the recreational vehicle business but with the acquisition of an establish name of Airstream and with some aggressive marketing strategies they were able to make Airstream a profitable business enterprise. It was able to maintain a high customer satisfaction  and in 1987 Airstream trailers were one of 99 ‘best –made products in America’ according to Money magazine. In 1988 Thor Industries entered the bus industry with the purchase of several companies and become the largest manufacturer of small buses in America. In 1995 the company introduced a small, light-weight travel trailer at a more affordable price that could be towed behind smaller sized cars. This model turned out to be very popular and in 2000 the sales hit an all time record. Since the year 2000 and beyond the company’s bus industry continued to grow with tremendous success. In 2001 Thor set up the first fuel-cell-powered bus to be built-in California.

Smoking wagon is a modified Airstream

Over 70% of all Airstreams ever made are still on the road today

The long history of Airstream from 1930 with its reputation in high quality, safety, more fuel-economy and a sense of community that has been associated with it has made it world-famous. It maintains to live up to the tenet of Wally Byam, “Let’s not make changes, let’s make only improvements.”  The success of the Airstream continues in its excellence in offering its users an experience of engineered luxury and inspires a rich dream for a new way to travel and a way of life steeped in adventure with lifelong memories.

Our very own Airstream at the ACD studio

Information Flow as a Way to Intervene in a System

Upon paging through the catalogue I was intrigued by a book titled: The Cultivator’s Handbook of Marijuana. Having lived in Eugene for some time (where the original distributor of the book, New Moon Imports, was located), I’ve heard many stories from old guard hippies and back-to-the landers about the revolution in marijuana cultivation that happened in the 70’s when west coast hippies discovered that growing only unfertilized female plants would increase the potency of the flower exponentially.

 

Surprisingly it is still available today! (must be a popular subject) I found it on Amazon.com for $24.95 http://www.amazon.com/Cultivators-Handbook-Marijuana. It was first published in 1974 and went out of print in the early 1980’s. Then in 1986 the author, Bill Drake, copyrighted it again. Today Ronin Publishing in Berkley, California produces it.

 

Truly, this book is a compelling example of using information flow as a leverage point; how opening access to controlled or hidden knowledge can have a profound effect on the outputs of the system. Without Drake’s efforts and the distribution system of the Whole Earth Catalogue I doubt the cannabis plant would be as refined (for human consumption) as it is today. I found quotes from author explaining how he gathered the information for the book in a pre-internet world:

“Other than contacting people by telephone or mail, my only option for digging out deeply buried information was to spend time traveling and haunting libraries, begging for access to private collections, and initiating conversations with strangers, some of whom were not terribly happy to be approached, always hoping for a break that would lead me to the really good stuff,” http://www.tokeofthetown.com/2011/08/cultivators_handbook_still_around_after_almost_40.php

 

Drake’s efforts in colleting and compiling useful information for gardeners in partnership with the distribution of the book by the Whole earth catalogue greatly furthered the evolution of cannibas sativa. And after a few decades of intensive, underground research and development, the gardening of cannibas sativa has become a true art and science. The fruits of this revolution have become an extremely potent, boutique, medicinal product. In fact, Michael Pollan dedicates an entire chapter in his book, The Botany of Desire, to this subject. Check out a video of him talking about his book, marijuana cultivation and its connection to brain science: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QeCra-sn0dI

 

“Missing feedback is a common cause of system malfunction. Adding or rerouting information can be a powerful intervention, usually easier and cheaper than rebuilding physical structure” states Donnella Meadows in the article “Places to Intervene in a System.” The Whole Earth Catalogue was definitely a point of intervention in the system that served to add and channel information having powerful effects.  I wonder how we artists/designers might make use of this type of intervention and what types of effects it could create? The collective Future Farmers are a group of free designers that employ these tactics within the art world to achiever their goal to “cultivate consciousness.” Check out some of their projects online: http://www.futurefarmers.com/  I plan to ponder this question in relation to my own work as I work through my practicum this year.

 

Whole Earth Catalog item: What is it and where is it now?

From the Whole Earth Catalog:
-An item is listed in the catalog if it is deemed:
Useful as a tool.
Relevant to independent education.
High quality or low cost.
Easily available by mail.

Item I selected:

Theatre House Section
Fake Brick-made from foam rubber
Product#1764 – $2.75 each

I don’t know if I agree that the fake brick is all four of the above standards to deem it acceptable to add to the Next Whole Earth Catalog, but it is listed in the Museum and Arts section under Theatre house items.  One can still find fake foam rubber bricks online.  Some sites recommend it as a stress reliever that you can throw at your computer or as a practical joke for stacking in doorways.  Other sites tailor them for use in the entertainment industry.

http://www.theperfectgift.org.uk/
http://www.fakebrick.net/
http://www.throwthings.com/item.asp?id=171
http://www.super-cool-gadgets.com/fake-brick.html

They can even be found on Amazon.  However, the price per brick has increased since 1980.

http://www.amazon.com/Red-Brick-Jokes-Novelty-Fake/dp/B0006GK1CK

Some companies advertise their fake bricks as a way to relieve stress at events like football games.  They advertise that customers may use them to throw at the rival teams fans without the worry of anyone getting hurt.  You can even have your name or companies names printed on them, similar to the large foam fingers often seen at sports events.  I would worry though that the purchased spirit item might still anger those pelted with them causing someone to get hurt, possibly the person whose name is printed on it.

http://perfectimprints.com/sports-and-outdoor/spirit-items/foam-cheering-items/foam-bricks.html

What first inspired the fake brick is unclear to me, probably something related to comedy skits.  I guess the fake brick idea is a success as it is still around and used in theatre, film and television.  I don’t know if it can be called mainstream; I suppose it could.  Fake brick doesn’t strike me as a fringe society item.

I don’t know if this is directly related or which came first, but upon searching for foam or fake bricks I stumbled upon yoga equipment sites.  Foam bricks/blocks have been around for awhile and seem to be a standard yoga prop.  It would be interesting if the first fake brick, if intended for the practical joke, has found it’s way into a more utilitarian role as support for those who practice yoga.

http://shop.lululemon.com/products/clothes-accessories/women-equipment/Dense-Foam-Yoga-Block-32179

There are also foam bricks that have been engineered for cooling and refrigeration.

http://www.coldchaintech.com/products/foam-bricks.php

Don’t Run For The Hills Just Yet

I don’t believe there is a black and white choice as to whether cities represent a solution or a problem as we face the future.  There may be no best way for the human race to deal with our growing population, use our resources efficiently, and mitigate our environmental problems.  The best choice depends greatly on both unknown realities as they unfold and our collective attitude and ingenuity as we move forward.  If the economy suddenly crashes and the system fails, and there’s no food distribution or energy, and riots ensue, and the sky starts falling, and the apocalypse is underway, and Derrick Jensen is dancing in the street because he was right all along, then I might not want to be near any major population centers.  However, if the future follows a somewhat more predictable and less exciting course, where we have some time to adapt, then I can hold out hope.  I believe cities may be the best place and the best way for the human race to help itself and the environment we need to survive.

Let’s face the facts, there has been and continues to be a mass migration afoot.  According to the UN figures and projections in Joel Kotkin’s article Urban Legend, in just over a century we’ve gone from 14% of humans living in cities to over 50% today.  Estimations suggest that there will be 27 cities with populations exceeding 10 million by 2025, compared to just 3 mega-cities 36 years ago.  The UN believes that by 2050, 70% of us will call a city home. This trend may not be inevitable, but it seems pretty likely.

People come to cities for two major reasons.  The first is out of necessity.  People forced or displaced from their homes, desperate to survive and in need, will gravitate towards cities to find help.  This could apply to first and third world situations.  As could the second major reason people flock to population centers~ opportunity.  For people from all educational backgrounds, in developed and developing nations alike, cities tend to be where people can make a living. Cities certainly have problems.  They can be overcrowded, polluted and crime ridden, with social inequalities, gentrification, and destitute poverty.  But they can also be a pool of resources and hotbed of human ingenuity.  Cities represent a place to confront all sorts of social and environmental issues, and a place to test potential solutions that may benefit more than just the local citizenry.  They seem necessary, we just need to make them better.

The question becomes, how do we make cities more livable, even desirable, and avoid the pitfalls we know are possible in urban environments. Bill Mckibben’s article, Curitiba: A Global Model For Development, was a welcomed breath of fresh air next to all the smoke of doom and gloom that surrounds these questions concerning where and how we live and our future on this planet.  Curitiba is an inspiring model.  There was certainly some idealism in the choices that so successfully transformed it to it’s current state, but also a lot of pragmatism and practicality.  Its success is its “livability.”  It’s not a rich city; average income is just $2,500 a year and its population has tripled to 1.5 million in a quarter century, mostly due to displaced peasants. Yet, polling suggests that 99% of Curitibans are happy with their city.  Much of the credit goes to Curitiba’s long serving mayor, Jamie Lerner.  At a young age he lead an effort to maintain the city’s historic downtown instead of tearing it down to widen lanes for car traffic.  After becoming mayor, he championed Brazil’s first pedestrian mall.  He used funding for a flood control project to create a number of lakes and parks that could control flooding instead of enclosing the sometimes risky rivers in concrete viaducts. This move brought more than 150 sq ft of green space to every inhabitant, 4 times the WHO’s standard.  Curitiba’s slums are fairly clean due to a program that gives bags of food in exchange for bags of garbage.  The city works with low income families to help them build their own houses on their own land, one room at a time.  They recycle their old industrial buildings into planning headquarters and children’s centers.  The laundry list of smart choices, practical planning and a human focus goes on and on. 

The example of Curitiba shines a light on what is possible with a little foresight and a lot of gumption.  Cities may be messy but they may be the best way to accommodate growing populations while minimizing the effects of those human numbers. I don’t think 7 billion people returning to a global agrarian lifestyle is the solution, despite agreeing with some of Derrick Jensen’s ideas. Who in this utopian dream chooses the 6 billion or so people that wouldn’t fit in the equation.  Sprawling suburbs, as Joel Kotkin prefers, may offer more space and a better quality of life, but skirts issues of energy use, transportation, and the impracticalities of maintaining vast decentralized infrastructure systems. By most measures, city dwellers have a lower carbon footprint than suburbanites. Cities have mass transit systems.  They can be built up instead of out.  As more opportunity for sustainable sources of energy emerge, cities will be the places with the means to afford it and the infrastructure to distribute it.  Cities have much to offer. But the ultimate resource cities have are individuals within their populations, like Jaime Lerner, that can lead and affect positive change. Lerner wants to break the, “ ‘syndrome of tragedy, of feeling like we’re terminal patients.’ Many cities have ‘a lot of people who are specialists in proving change is not possible.  What I try to explain to them when I go visit is that it takes the same amount of energy to say something can’t be done as to figure out how to do it.’ ” I think this is the right attitude.  It may be hopeful and idealistic to say, but I am confident cities will be the model for better living in the future, not suburbs, small towns, or off-the-grid farming communes.

 

Lets not get carried away

I must say, I am perhaps at a loss for words. Not because, I don’t recognize the significance of what I’ve read and it relativity to my little part in the world. Mostly it’s because I find it difficult to express my opinion on such large scale phenomenon. This might be why I’m more drawn to the fine arts as opposed to political or hard science. This isn’t to say I don’t have opinions. I also posses beliefs which aid in the way I perceive the world. I frankly, have no interest in fostering cynicism. I must find purpose in everyday and in everything. I believe in solutions. Whether they are low tech or state of the art, there are always solutions. It’s too easy to vilify a country, a system, or people. The wealthy are not the problem. Humanity is no more evil than the concept of evil is valid.

I think it comes down to our personal and collective mindsets. In the article Global Local Tensions a UK national newspaper editor Tim Radford is quoted, ‘Two-thirds of world’s resources “used up'”. It goes further to state; we are running out of land, water, and energy. What are resources really? Are they mere deposits laying in wait for the lucky few? No, they are much more than that. They are ideas. Some ideas have a shelf life, and then when ineffective new ideas must take their place or simply modify them. Sure, when a house is in decay it is perhaps easier to rebuild. But, societies and cities, much like people need to be rehabilitated away from their disorders instead of being ridiculed, berated or sentenced to death.

Proclaiming as decreed by Derrick Jenson, James Watt a mechanical engineer, fundamental in the improvements of the steam engine, one of the most important names in the history of enslavement is simply grasping for blame.  It seems hypocritical for so many socio-political ecological theorists to put down humanities innovations and yet taut evolution in the face of other radical fundamentalists. Or better yet why don’t we blame the devil. I’m not naïve. I agree that technological innovation and species (specialization) evolution does not guarantee future prosperity but we cannot simply go around blaming the dinosaurs for global warming. Speaking of evolution, consumption is not going anywhere. It’s wired into our DNA. Deeper still I believe it’s why all species exist. Nothing is static, and everything desires growth and change.

I was raised in a big city. I prefer them smaller. They seem more manageable and less irritable.Why do so many move to NY? For some, It’s a preference.  Others I know, move to large cities out of necessity. In the end it is preferable to where they currently live. I must applauded Jaime Lerner, on and off mayor of Curitiba for the last two decades for being such a breath of fresh air.  Perhaps more than partially his credit, the online article Curitiba: A Global Model For Development claims…”In a recent survey, 60 percent of New Yorkers wanted to leave their rich and cosmopolitan city; 99 percent of Curitibans told pollsters that they were happy with their town; and 70 percent of the residents of São Paulo said they thought life would be better in Curitiba.” To me that really says something. His progressive views on transportation, public spaces, foresight, bravery, and infectious unpretentious dedication proves that good design can also have an impact on our lives.

Prepare yourself…

I am going to be a bit all over the place with this post, but there are all kinds of thoughts I have about all these readings and videos.  They all stirred up some pretty good controversy in my brain.

I had most of what I was going to post all written down, and now after reading Kathy’s post, all I can think is “she’s right”, people don’t change they never change…unless they absolutely have to.  I’ve said it many times myself, but somehow I forgot about it when reading all this and watching the videos.  I guess I was fooled by their journalism persuasiveness, and  began to think we were somehow about to be herded into these strange futuristic models of cities or suburbs, depending on which article you were reading.  So phew, we aren’t all suddenly going to be living in mass suburbia or city dwellings, these people are just crunching numbers and making predictions…and we all know how I feel about predictions.  That’s all I am going to say on that:)

Thinking about large mega-cities being the way of the future scares the crap out of me.  I personally would prefer to eventually live in a house in a smallish neighborhood with sprawling land not living on top of my neighbors, so I pretty much just want to live on a farm.  I certainly don’t want to be crammed in like a sardine with millions of other people!  Gross.  Though I enjoy the benefits of a city like new and unique restaurants, shops and events, I do not want to be forced to live in a high rise in the middle of a concrete jungle.  But I also do not want to live in a suburb, equally gross, and also just another form of a concrete jungle.

I don’t like large groups of people, I prefer smaller communities, ones that are self sufficient.  And I don’t understand why the only option is suburb or city?  Maybe the way of the future is crazy artist/hippy communes.  Lately I dream of living in a community with a similar structure.  I would love to take several friends, and their friends, maybe some family members too, and find some big piece of land we could all co-habitate on and ensure that we all have something to offer each other.  Create a diverse group of people that can create a self sustaining environment.  My home could provide, clothing, mending, and sewing, as well as a nursery for plants and flowers.  With the neighbors providing anything from painting, cooking/baking, carpentry, tools, gardening/harvesting, dairy/meat/grain farming, and any other skills we could use to trade, we could create a self sustaining community.  Sure we might have to venture out of our community for some things along the way but for the most part we could get all we needed within walking distance.  And we wouldn’t be confined to a city or a suburb.  And just think, if we found a way to use money less, we may just be able to strongly affect the government.

Initially I found it pretty appalling that these pro-urban people think that cities offer the best options for economic growth, wealth and livelihood for humans.  It seems that they are ignoring a lot of facts like the ones Joel Kotkin points out in “Urban Legends: Why Suburbs, Not Dense Cities are the Future”.  I agree with Kotkin that it seems these urban futures are based on myths.  Myths like, concentration of people creates wealth.  What!?  Do they really think this?  Big cities are the largest example of the vast separations of wealth.  They hold not only some of the poorest in the population but also the wealthiest.  And not only that but it also seems that the reason the mega-cities are becoming more green or “artsy” is strictly reactionary, and not a part of their original planning.  I think I was most struck by Kotkins last paragraph where he states “The goal of urban planners should not be to fulfill their own grandiose visions of mega-cites, but to meet the needs of the people living in them.” Absolutely!

Which brings me to the Curitiba article.  Talk about a rainbow of hope!  Jamie Lerner is a hero when it comes not only to planning but maintaining a city.  I found it fascinating all the things Bill McKibbien mentions in his article on how Lerner came to create the most liveable city in the world.  I mean they keep the city clean by offering slum-dwellers food for cleaning up trash on the streets.  Sounds pretty genius to me!  Lerner is a clever man who understands what it takes to work hard and create change.  I fell even more in love with Lerner after watching his Ted talk, he makes it sound so easy to transform a city, and in reality I think it is pretty easy, he’s using common sense.  I think a large difference in his thinking is the fact that he is an action man.  He states in his Ted talk that at some point you have to start working and stop planning, its impossible to have all the answers.  And I think that is how he gets things done so quickly, he is willing to work fast and react quickly to problems.  Hes not worried about how needs to approve it or who needs to be informed of it.  He just gets it done!  And that I admire.

So I guess if the city looks feels and works like Curitiba, I am all over it!

City Mouse

I love this picture for a few reasons.

One, it’s beautiful.  It’s a romantic (in the sweeping, epic sense of the word) view of the world and it reminds me of the night sky, sprinkled with stars.  Both equally and quietly majestic.  Nevermind that some this projection grossly distorts the relative area of landmasses, especially near the poles.  And that these lights are anything but quiet.

Two, the discoveries when you look closely are incredible.  There’s South Korea, that bright island of light above Japan and a little to the west, but where’s North Korea.  There, physically, yes, but electrically?  Virtually invisible.  Fascinating.

and Three, you can see the whole history (that may be an exaggeration, but not by much) of civilization and empire in those lights. Looking at this map (or at similar, more regionally specific ones) you see patterns invisible in day lit aerial photographs or in transit maps.  By day, cities blend into the countryside like blurry gray smudges.  But by night… a new perspective is revealed. This article has a couple great examples. Look at the thread of light stretching across southern Russia and Mongolia.  It’s there, and there specifically, because that’s where centuries of tradesmen and caravans (Marco Polo among them) established the Silk Road and today, the Trans-Siberian railroad.  If you look at Europe and Africa more closely (here) you can see the continuous rope of light along the Nile river, and the solid border along the Mediterranean, signaling centuries and millennia of trade and population (as well as more recent tourist traffic).  Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia are darker – probably for a variety of reasons, but I appreciate that it gets me to ask the question.

Here’s what NASA says about the maps,

“The brightest areas of the Earth are the most urbanized, but not necessarily the most populated. (Compare western Europe with China and India.) Cities tend to grow along coastlines and transportation networks. Even without the underlying map, the outlines of many continents would still be visible. The United States interstate highway system appears as a lattice connecting the brighter dots of city centers. In Russia, the Trans-Siberian railroad is a thin line stretching from Moscow through the center of Asia to Vladivostok. The Nile River, from the Aswan Dam to the Mediterranean Sea, is another bright thread through an otherwise dark region.

Even more than 100 years after the invention of the electric light, some regions remain thinly populated and unlit. Antarctica is entirely dark. The interior jungles of Africa and South America are mostly dark, but lights are beginning to appear there. Deserts in Africa, Arabia, Australia, Mongolia, and the United States are poorly lit as well (except along the coast), along with the boreal forests of Canada and Russia, and the great mountains of the Himalaya.”

This is a tangential way of approaching my opinion of cities.  In short, I like them.  And what I like about them has little to do with efficient transportation, strong economic markets or pooled available resources.  I like that in cities you’re more likely to run up against someone (or some idea) that ‘s different, alien, and/or challenging to you and that you’re then forced to react to it and to adapt. As I have said many times before and will say many times again, conversations are important.  Cities, as a general rule, provoke them more often.

“Density is key,” Richard Florida says in his article in The Atlantic, “because it is what causes people to connect and the pot to stir.  It enables new ideas – [technological, artistic or revolutionary – to move quickly through the population.”

“Cities,” he adds, “connect agitators… These uprisings aren’t just accidentally urban.  They would be unthinkable at low densities.”

I agree with him – though it’d debatable how many of the provocations for revolution are caused or exacerbated by high-density urban living.  Cities breed revolution – as cause and effect.  Which makes great sense to me: when people are forced (or move by choice) into more frequent contact with one another, interactions, conflicts, disagreements happen. We don’t all get along with everyone.

I grew up on a suburban cul-de-sac, an ideal place to grow up: street hockey games, neighborhood croquet tournaments, shared front yards.  I like the suburbs.  I might raise my family there too.  The temptation of a little space and a few trees is hard to pass up. But cities, especially those like Portland, have so much to offer.

As a note, I was not impressed by the article by Derrick Jensen, nor by the one by Parag Khanna.  Jensen’s was a vituperative polemic and he quickly lost any credibility by claiming “enslavement” based through such flimsy logic juxtapositions as “importation/exploitation,” “domestication – more properly called enslavement,” “ghost slaves” and Benedictine clocks and a system of telling time as restrictive and indicative of a poisonous civilizing of the world.  I can see how he gets people riled up – I would get riled up if he were in front of me – but as a writer, I can’t take him seriously.  Give me something to orient myself by.  Ground your facts.  Don’t point fingers without telling me why you’re pointing them.  That being said, I find the concept of “carrying capacity” interesting.  I wonder though, if the Earth hasn’t even come close to it’s possible carrying capacity.  Just throwing it out there – but what if we haven’t even begun to touch what’s possible?

Parag Khanna takes an alternate perspective on cities (and on civilization in general, I would guess), choosing words like “innovation” instead of “enslavement.”  He presents some interesting tidbits of information: for example, the observation that urban centers are in many ways eclipsing in importance the countries in which they are located. But I find his research lackluster and his conclusion missing.  Cities, he seems to say, are hubs of innovation, with important mayors, financial centers, loci of zero-emissions public transportation, population control mechanisms, etc, etc.  So what?  Or more to the point, how can we move forward with this information?

Bill McKibben’s profile on Curitiba was also very one-sided.  It felt a bit like a PR piece for the city, and made me a little wary of swallowing all he described (the Disney cobblestones and free community daycare centers), hook, line and sinker.  But his message resonates with me: it’s not time to give up hope. Nowhere near time.  So let’s acknowledge what’s not working and let’s fix it.  Enough with the hand-wringing.

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Thoroughbred in a concrete jungle…….

Most of my impressionable life I spent living in a highly compacted city environment with oodles of urban vitality and an alarming population who lives on the fringes of depressing human existence with widening disparities of wealth.

It is estimated that by 2050 two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities with dwindling resources and increased poverty levels. Cities become magnets of rural migration to urban influx for job and educational opportunity and better healthcare facilities. As we know of the unequivocal environmental degradation in these overcrowded cities with unhygienic sanitation, disease outbreaks, insufficient fresh water, traffic congestion, industrial grime and inadequate housing. Urban housing is more compact and densely placed – the consumption of heating and cooling the spaces is a lesser load for burning of fossil fuels however the transportation accounts for 2/3 of petrol consumption in American cities. Is hydrogen fuel cell cars, solar powered or electric vehicles the alternate to reducing pollutant emissions or would a radical shift in culture and habits and other mobility options craft better solutions?

The network of public transit system and roads shape the city and its growth boundaries. Hence densification with mixed-use development with walkable communities is a welcome for urban heterogeneity and creating the critical mass needed to sustain a city’s infrastucture.  Will more diversity, density and dynamism lead to an organic cityscape with a network of human relationships that find its relation to the natural environment?

As we are moving into a world of the virtual with globally telemediated networks the physical connections are becoming more cursory and with each shift in changes within civilizations come a new set of problems. It is not only about finding solutions from the precedents of human history but creating an environment where we keep improvising with these changes at an essential pace before the doom and gloom becomes a hard hit reality!

I find it interesting to bring to the discussion table the many viewpoints of the past visionaries and seminal thinkers and their theories on urbanism and a way to compare how the growth pattern of the cities have evolved since those times.

A plan of the Broadacre city

“Democracy….we have started toward a new integration—-to an integration along the horizontal line which we call the great highway.”

—Frank Lloyd Wright, September 1931

http://www.mediaarchitecture.at/architekturtheorie/broadacre_city/2009_broadacre_city_en.shtml

Le Corbusier’s scheme for the Radiant City where housing is assigned according to family size.

“‘Recessed’ apartment buildings in the Radiant City. Parks and schools in the middle. Elevator shafts spaced out at optimum distances (it is never necessary to walk more than 100 meters inside the buildings). Auto-ports at the foot of the shafts, linked to the roadways […]. The floor directly above the pilotis is given over to communal services. Under the pilotis, pedestrians walking unobstructed in all directions. In the park, one of the large swimming pools. Along the roofs, the continuous ribbon of roof gardens with beaches for sunbathing.”-Excerpt from Le Corbusier’s writings

Lewis Mumford believed in building a cityscape in relation to the natural environment based on the network of human relationships.

Jane Jacobs an urban activist advocated mixed-use development and dense concentration of urban living.

Survival of the Richest?

Smart design could have very positive effects on living quality and environmental impact.  One example of design I recently enjoyed was in the latest issue of Sierra magazine about ideas for wildlife overpasses in parts of Florida where more and more panthers are becoming roadkill.

Similar to the elephant population mentioned in Key Issues for Design in an Unsustainable World, Floridians have encroached so far into the panthers natural habitat that they are constantly on the move.  After seeing the proposed image for what this overpass might look like, it struck me as seeming like common sense.  Why not have overpasses for wild things?  As cool and common sense as these overpasses might seem to me, they don’t exist yet and may never exist.  Why?  They cost money.

All the actions on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals are very noble and very essential, but someone has to support them and fund them.  We are a first world nation and we don’t even properly fund our own educational systems.  The price of education, especially beyond a high school level, is skyrocketing.  We are sending all our blue collar jobs elsewhere leaving all our white collar destined graduates scrambling for too few jobs.  In some rural areas, we shop Made in China 20 to 30 miles from our homes because that’s what’s affordable and/or because that’s what’s left after certain big boxers made main street in our town an economic dead zone.

In various readings about cities as the answer or problem, one thing still remains for me, the growing economic divide.  Who is paying the designers that are supposed to solve our ever present problems?  Who is going to make fuel efficient cars affordable to everyone?  Who is going to make solar affordable?  Who is going to make shopping for organic and local foods feasible everywhere even if you are on a fixed income?  Who is going to ease the divide between the extremely rich and extremely poor?  Who will keep the “solution cities” from being over crowded, over priced, polluted, crime riddled heat islands?

Currently, our cities are places that many commute to up to 2 and 3 hours in their cars because they cannot afford to live in the city proper.  Expensive cities have created urban sprawl and wasted spaces in the form of abandoned buildings and massive parking lots just as suburbs have increased driving distances, depleted wildlife habitats and disrupted natural water ways.  Like Kotkin, I think a balance between rural and urban has to be achieved.  One or the other is not the solution.  Too much dependence on a single solution reduces our future flexibility.

We need economic repair.  We need to reconnect with nature.  Then we need to fund high speed rail all across our country complete with wildlife overpasses.  And, let’s try for more made in the USA.

http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/201109/panther.aspx

Don’t forget the children and the cities

Inspired by Jaime Lerner’s talk sings of the city on TED.com.
Lerner talks about Curitiba, which is located in the country of Brazil. I was inspired to research more information on the importance of separating garbage in Curitiba.

Garbage was a major problem due to the massive population increase from 120,000 in 1942 to 2.3 million in 1997. The new inhabitants lived in favelas, makeshift towns made from cardboard and metal. Garbage trucks could not reach these towns because the streets were not wide enough, which caused the garbage to pile up and disease to break out.

Jaime Lerner, who became the mayor of Curitiba in 1971, did not have the funds to apply for customary solutions, such as bulldozing the area or building new streets. He could not get federal assistance or further taxation. Curitiba does have an abundance of food supplies and a municipal bus system that is underused by the favela residents, because they can’t afford public transportation. Mayor Lerner had to make use of the resources he had at hand to resolve Curitiba’s urban issues.

Cleaning up Curitiba’s garbage was the first step to sustainability. The mayor Lerner placed numerous large metallic bins along the edge of the favelas. They encourage people to deposit at least one bag full of pre-sorted garbage, for which they received a bus token in return. Those who collected paper and cartons would be given a token to receive fresh fruits and vegetables. In addition, a school-based garbage collection program would supply notebooks to poorer students. This program inspired thousands of children to respond by picking up trash from their neighborhoods. Children would educate their parents to separate the garbage, which would help parents to get tokens to travel downtown to find jobs. Once the parents are downtown they could use their bus tokens at local markets in exchange for food. In a short three year period, 200 tons of garbage was collected by more than 100 schools and traded for 1.9 million notebooks.

Lerner brings this exact topic up in his TED conversation of “city is not the problem, city is solution.” He mentions that if you teach the children for only six months on how to separate garbage and the reason why it is important, and then the children will teach their parents. Now 70% of Curitiba households have become involved in this program to separate their garbage. The poorer neighborhoods exchanged 11,000 tons of garbage for 1,200 tons of food and nearly a million bus tokens. This effort has inspired other programs to finance restorations of historical buildings, provide housing, and create green areas with little to no financial burden on the municipality.

I found this interesting quote from Of Human Wealth by Bernard Lietaer and Stefan Belgin, “Curitiba discovered a means by which to match unmet needs with unused resources. They did so by making use of complementary currencies – monetary initiatives that did not replace but rather supplemented the national currency system.” This approach provided improvements to the local economy and empowered Curitiba to improve conditions in a single generation, even though it suffered poverty.

I have some questions:

  • Can complementary currencies work in other impoverished cities?
  • Could the United States utilize complementary currencies to help our own impoverished cities?

Let’s all listen to Jaime Lerner’s sustainable song one more time.

Proposal, A New Mindset for Designers: Poverty Aids Innovative Solutions

After leaving Green Festival in San Francisco- a tradeshow that showcases the latest greatest ecological products and technologies, from solar powered cell phone chargers to natural fiber organic clothing. My friend said to me- “Wouldn’t it be great if we could invent a machine that takes carbon out of the air?” and I replied, “You mean like a plant?” I didn’t think I would ever see the day that a designer was stupid enough to exploit the carbon removing properties of plants, but at the MOCA store in Tokyo I came across this sleek techy looking desk top device that was touted as a machine to purify and remove carbon from the air, http://www.thegreenhead.com/2009/11/andrea-plant-powered-air-purifier.php  http://www.thisnext.com/item/8B1E9769/Bel-Air-Plant-Powered-Living. It was basically a plant in this techy terrarium looking thing. It is not ecologically friendly, it’s made of plastic! Many folks look to technology and design for answers to global ecological problems such as climate change, but I am skeptical of technological solutions because they cost money and often are a masturbatory, over-complicated solution. Designers need to stop designing for the problem to in order to procure personal rewards and start designing for the planet (which includes humans).

 

I was inspired to respond on the reading Curitiba: A global Model For Development by Bill McKibben because of my admiration for the smart, sensible way that they have designed the city-for people, in respect for nature. “Every river has a right to overflow,” proclaims their Chief of Parks. How wise this statement is. And the wisdom was carried through into an excellent solution: In the face of potential flooding city planners choose to spend their resources creating a system of small dams that channel the overflow into lakes rather than killing the life of the river by boxing it in with concrete. This solution has had unintended benefits for the people (not unintended n consequences like many city planning projects such as tearing out trolley lines to make roads). It created a hub for outdoor recreation and raised property values through adding beautification and greenspace to the neighborhoods near the lakes.   This is just one of many examples of how the city of Curitiba has triumphed over obstacles, turning poison into medicine. After reading the article I felt a renewed sense of hope for humanity and whole-heartedly agree with the author that Curitiba is superb global model for our cities going forward.

 

I am more I sincerely admire the down to earth approach that the leaders in Curitiba embrace and believe that part of the reason why they have come to these simple, effective solutions is due to the restrictions of limited monetary wealth. The author sites that “Cheapness is one of the three cardinal dictates of Curitiban planning.” Recycling buildings, trading bags of food for litter picked up by the poor, giving the homeless materials and land and allowing them to build their own houses instead of contracting someone to do it for them…the list of smart solutions goes on and on. Cuba is another example of how a nation can flourish under restrictions of resources and wealth. “Despite international economic and trade embargoes and limited oil imports, Cuba has been living within its ecological capacity and encouraging improvement of the human development index.” (Fuad-Luke, pg 56)

 

Poverty is an external force that promotes ingenuity and ecologically savvy solutions.

This idea is echoed in the data gathered by the Ecological Footprinting system in 2003, revealing that monetary wealth is inversely proportional to ecological deficit so that countries with a high level of wealth also have a high level of ecological deficit. (Fuad-Luke, pg  69) Furthermore, the recession that has hit much of the developed world may be a blessing in disguise, “Spangenberg points out, ‘economic growth can only be environmentally sustainable if it is accompanied by resource productivity increses that are higher than the rate of growth.” (Fuad-Luke, pg 70)

 

My forecast: Low tech is in and poverty is hip. We are already seeing it in the imitation craft, handmade, and vintage goods that has become popular. I rally the designers of the richest cultures of the globe to turn poison into medicine and design like you don’t have “a pot to piss in,” as my dad would say. Better yet, why not just redistribute wealth so that you don’t have to live like you are poor, you just are (comparatively speaking). At the very least, let’s look to some of the “less developed” countries for design inspiration. The icing on the cake is that you don’t even have to sacrifice your happiness: Western societies life satisfaction has not increased significantly since the 1970’s despite significant economic growth. (Fuad-Luke, 70) Cheers to that!

 

Fuad-Luke, Alastair. Design Activism Beautiful Strangeness for a Sustainable World. London  UK: Earthscan, 2009. Print.

McKibben, Bill. “Curitiba: A Global Model For Development.” Web. 10 Sept 2011.

 

Corn builds three things; beef, babies, and bankruptcy

This is beautiful evidence:

Pruitt–Igoe

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… no matter whether the race is comparatively cultured or savage or economically advanced or backward, – we do find a strongly symbolic mentality that governs or at least pervades its thought, customs and institutions. Symbolic, but of what? We find that this social stage is always religious and actively imaginative in its religion; for symbolism and a widespread imaginative or intuitive religious feeling have a natural kinship and especially in earlier or primitive formations they have gone always together. When man begins to be predominantly intellectual, skeptical, ratiocinative he is already   preparing for an individualist society and the age of symbols and the age of conventions have passed or are losing their virtue. The symbol then is of something which man feels to be present behind himself and his life and his activities – the Divine, the Gods, the vast and deep unnameable, a hidden, living and mysterious nature of things. All his religious and social institutions, all the moments and phases of his life are to him symbols in which he seeks to express what he knows or guesses of the mystic influences that are behind his life and shape and govern or at the least intervene in its movements.

Sri Aurobindo


Antilia

Providing housing for the 1.6 billion people without a roof over their heads has become a test of governability—a test which cities like Mumbai are failing despite being host to the world’ s most expensive home, the one billion dollar, 27 story residence of magnate Mukesh Ambani. Organizations like Habitat for Humanity have moved well beyond lobbying governments versus municipalities to construct and provide affordable housing for the poor—they work with whichever is willing to step up.

Parag Khanna

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Cities are where ideas are formed and experiments on a range of subjects are performed.  Cities have bred the inequality fed by the lack of connection to the earth when nutritional demand from them outstrips the countrysides ability to produce it by conservative means.  The methodology of contemporary agriculture, while much maligned by urban professionals, is a process of compromise and adjustment.  Globally the destitute flee the countryside to become the urban poor.  In the recent history of the United States the falsely comfortable have created a veil of paradise, a micro-forest, plain and coast in a space between the block and the baler.  The very nature of suburban life is changing.  While certain neighborhoods thrive, many suburban areas on the west side of Portland have been declining.  When a neighborhood starts to go downhill, developers are quick to rebuild on the ever-shrinking parcels of legacy farmland left.  Here in suburbia there are no stars out here we is stoned immaculate.  The movement of people is not in or out, it’s not a linear phenomenon.  It has the ability to represent a major obstacle to achieving lasting effects to some of our most pressing wicked problems.  The movement of people is regulated by money.  By the quest for it and to seem in possession of it.  By a struggle to stretch it into a resemblance of security and comfort.  We may be living in a post flight society.  As the price of land continues to plunge; the poor can now afford to move away from the city and its regular degradations.

http://www.economist.com/node/18486343

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I live in an area that feeds workers into the local agricultural industries.  Cornelius is 68% Latino just about everyone else is white.  Both populations are rooted in surrounding countryside but as property experiences a continuous deflation coupled with other results of the Sub-prime issues of 2007 more and more people who have to make their living on asphalt away from the earth will move into towns like mine.  I bought my house as a foreclosure and on my street in the year and a half since, four other foreclosures have been purchased by white people who are not currently nor have ever been employed in agriculture.

http://www.ohsu.edu/xd/outreach/oregon-rural-health/data/rural-definitions/upload/Urban-Rural-Checklst.pdf

While traditionally Cornelius has been a place for populations of migrant workers to put down roots outside of the labor camps.  Currently it seems to be experiencing a sort of white flight inversion.  This phenomenon may be seen as a sort of sub-urban gentrification where white people move into historically agricultural related areas to take advantage of declining real estate values.

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Right now I am all for the doom and gloom.  Let the pieces fall as they may.  It would serve us right. This does not preclude my physical and intellectual support for those with a higher capability for idealism than I posses.  I am simply yet to be convinced that greed and desire aren’t the underpinnings of all that has gotten us to where we are today and will continue to be the primary catalyst for future decisions.

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It is already starting

Introduction

I don’t know what I would do with myself if there wasn’t a project to work on.  I suppose I’m primarily a sculptor/designer of forms, but I’m really growing to like the term “maker”. Though I’ve been making things for as long as I can remember, I really began focusing seriously on three dimensional work, mainly ceramics, in high school.  I earned a BFA in sculpture, gaining experience in wood and metal working, mold making and casting, and a variety of tools and processes.  Much of this work centered on precious, graceful, streamlined forms which indulged my perfectionist tendencies.  I then spent 7 years in the jewelry industry continuing to hone this meticulous approach. I’ve been independent the last few years, freelancing and operating a sole proprietorship making and selling sculptural objects.  This lead to my interest in the Applied Craft and Design program, which I hoped would allow me some time to better understand what it is I do, and what I’m trying to do with my practice/business.  My current work involves organizing lots of small pieces into a whole, developing patterns, playing with a sense of spacial geometry, and working out modular systems that may be open to the users participation and physical interpretations.

All of this is to say I love working with different skill sets and a variety of materials; each offers its own rewards and challenges. I’m fascinated by the relationship I develop with materials as I spend time manipulating them; learning their tactility, their smell, how they react to tools- learning to make them do what I want them to do and getting past the frustrations of this process.  I’m also growing to enjoy 3D programing; the opportunity of making something without the time and expense of producing it in tangible material. Making is equivalent to play for me, and I’m compelled to play.

I can’t claim to have a specific target audience for my work.  It really depends on the work or product I’m making and I haven’t locked in on exactly what that is. Unless I’m working for clients, I make things that interest me, and think about the audience after the fact.  My aesthetic best suits the places modern urbanites dwell, and broadly my work seems to appeal to kids and kids at heart.

I grew up in the midwest and spent summers on the east coast. I don’t think the geography, environment or specific culture of these places had a great deal of influence on which materials or processes I’ve chosen to work with.  I used what was available to me, and much of these materials were common or standardized.  Since moving to Portland, my awareness of sustainability, the green movement, reuse and repurposing has certainly grown, but I can’t say it’s been a central driver of my material choices or what I make thus far.  I have aspirations to have work manufactured and I’m becoming more interested in lean, local manufacturing models. I’m also interested in technology that will affect how things are made, their cost, and availability.  It has begun with 3D printing, and I’m excited to see what’s over the horizon with nanotechnology and the digital revolution of material.

As much as I look forward to Star Trek possibilities, I think we are in trouble as a species.  We’ve made a mess of our collective home.  We are close to having more people than resources.  We consume and waste more than we should.  Economically we are experiencing the most extreme wealth disparity since the gilded age; haves and have nots, high unemployment, a decimated manufacturing base.  I’m not against capitalism as a system, but I think laissez-fair capitalism has run amok. We now have multi-national corporations following their charter of putting profits over people, the planet, and the common good; all in the name of constant growth and shareholder satisfaction.  These entities are larger/richer than small countries and accountable to no one.  It seems to fit the, “me, me, me,” mantra and I can only hope that this attitude will shift as global realities are better understood and explained.  There’s no such thing as infinite growth and there won’t be much profit without people with money.

I think the Northwest, and Portland specifically, provides somewhat of a protective bubble from many of these macro issues.  Regionally we are more self sufficient than the majority of this country; we have access to good water, fertile land, and clean air.  The city has a strong community spirit, lots of creative energy and a population that’s enthused with buying local and embracing alternatives. I expect these trends to spread as the paradigm shifts. I believe there will be growing opportunity for makers to apply creative solutions as problems and needs mount.  Creatives have long held an avant guard position in culture and their ideas and solutions have set the course for better ways of living.  I think makers have the potential to play a significant role in shaping the world but I don’t believe it should be overemphasized.  I don’t think individual makers have that much power or influence on broad trends in the short term.  We can all do our part collectively to set a better standard. We can certainly win some battles but I’m not sure about the war.

 

Introduction and Weekly Article Response

When I was younger, my father would repeat, ad nauseum, the story of how he sat at a different lunch table every day in college, purposely putting himself in the way of meeting new people, of stretching his comfort zone and of seeking new opportunities and friends.

“Killeen,” he’d say, looking at me very seriously, “the most important thing is you can do is to build relationships, build relationships, build relationships.”  At each mention of “building relationships,” he would clap the back of one hand into the palm of the other, emphasizing both in verbal repetition and in gesture the significance of his point.

My siblings and I would mock him – and still do, occasionally – standing tall and  tucking our chins to mimic his deeper voice, repeating as we brought our hands together: “build relationships, build relationships, build relationships.”

But, as I’m told often happens with parents and children, I am now forced to concede his point. Everything does happens via relationships.  My father may have been talking specifically of social links, but I’m going to broaden the definition a bit to include non-human interactions as well.

My background is in words – English and French literature, to be precise – and I have an abiding affection for well-crafted stories and essays, in any form, and for actual, physical, printed-paper books.  The first thing I do when I move to a new city or apartment is unpack my books.  As I sit here now, typing this response, I see them arrayed on their shelves in front of me.  On the top left shelf, are the hefty works of literary-fiction, next to them, down a bit, biography and books on writing share a shelf. The graphic novels are next to the French romans and the stack of unread New Yorkers sits below my collection of well-worn and well-loved trade paperbacks.  It’s my own system, but it works for me.  Each volume stands in relation to the works around it.  The authors talk to each other.

To indulge in my love of books and of the printed word, I spent a good portion of last year learning how to bind books.  The thing I love most about the book binding process is how all a messy desk’s worth of paper, glue, thread and board can be combined into a small, neat, perfect little package.  I love the challenge of making sense of the mess, of finding order in the chaos.

Immediately after graduation, I worked in an academic history/geography lab, building infographics and working as a historic cartographer of the American West at the turn of the nineteenth-century.  My job was to track down obscure information and to determine and to demonstrate if and how these pieces of information related to each other and what story they combined to tell.  Here’s an example of one of the resulting visualizations I built, which shows how early Western railroad expansion was still strongly tied to East Coast money:

I believe that I’m good at drawing connections – between ideas and between people.  Part of my continued fascination with conversation, with narrative and with story (three words that surface again and again when I talk about my work) is that through these tools – and I believe that stories are essentially tools – people can explain relationships and explore connections.  I believe conversation is important because it links two people together.  Narrative is the thread that links disparate events into a coherent whole.  Story makes sense of narrative by adding the Why? and the How? and the So What?

Last year, I spent a long time trying to break down story qua story into its essential pieces and parts.  I hoped, by understanding the most common motifs, characters and themes, to assemble the ultimate build-your-own-story toolkit.  Take character #1, add setting #7 and plot device #4 and – poof! – you’ve got yourself the beginnings of a good story.  Here’s a glimpse at a couple of the slides/flashcards I produced:

This summer, I had the opportunity to work on a series of short film documentaries.  Moving forward, I’d like to explore the documentary medium – in film and in other forms – meeting new people, asking interesting questions, and discovering what connection or relevance they or it might have to my life and experience today.

I believe firmly that it is good and necessary to share our stories with others.  And when our stories tap greater, more universal themes – sisters, father-daughter, loneliness, etc. – we give our listeners an access point by which they can connect our stories to their own.   When you tell someone your story, you invest a part of yourself in that person.  When our narrative is compelling (and the most compelling stories always touch on one of the great themes), we transform that listener from a stranger into a neighbor.

We need, I believe, to become better storytellers.  We need to become better listeners.  This needs to happen globally, between Palestinians and Israelis, between Muslims and Christians, between young and old, between Liberals and Conservatives, and locally, with your neighbor, with the homeless man on the corner, with the woman bagging your groceries, with your mayor.  If I can help facilitate those conversations and help equip people to tell effective stories and listen generously to others, I will be proud of my work.

I believe that makers have the unique skill set and responsibility to forge connections between things that may appear to be polar opposites.  A maker sees how things fit together, how tools shape materials and how to bridge the gap between producer and public. I’m thrilled by the possibilities, but uncertain about how responsibly or truthfully I can address the needs of my audience. How will I know what issues are important?  Who are my stakeholder?  Who am I to speak for anyone but myself?

I’m going to transition now into my response to this week’s readings, because I believe they have a lot to do with relationships and connections.

Looking through the syllabus for this class and taking a glance through some of the readings and topics that we’ll be covering over the next fifteen or so weeks, I’m stuck by how frequently “systems” show up.  I define systems as give and takes, as cycles, as interactions and transactions, i.e. as relationships.  Take this as partial proof: Week 3, “The City”; Week 4, “Systems Theory”; Week 5, “Life Cycle Analysis”; Week 7, “Sharing and Ownership.”  The conversations around and the solutions to problems associated with these topics require understanding and balancing a multiplicity of perspectives,  compromises be made, and demand that consequences and downstream effects be anticipated as much as possible.  When Emily Pilloton from Studio H visited last year to give a visiting artist lecture, I remember being impressed by the clarity and foresight of one of her seven design credos: “Design systems, not stuff.”

I’m still impressed.

The author of  “A Man-Made World,” the articulately written Economist article we were asked to read, describes the field of Earth-System Science as a field which views the planet “not just as a set of places or as the subject of history, but also as a system of forces, flows and feedbacks that act upon each other.”  I like this idea – as do thousands of other people – because it acknowledges that the world is constantly in flux.

I believe that we humans have made a hot mess of the Earth and have wasted and frittered away the ecological inheritance with which we were entrusted.  Things don’t look good.  No matter the forecast – best-case or worst-case – it looks as though we’re in for some severe changes in the very near future.  Think extinction, drought, extreme weather, etc.  That being said, I am wary of those who want to “fix” climate change.  Even if, miraculously and impossibly, we were able reverse global warming and return to the state the Earth was in pre-industrial revolution, pre-mass construction of rice paddies in China and Southeast Asia, I don’t believe that there exists the perfect, stable, sweet spot for an ideal climate situation.  “Climate,” as Stewart Brand quotes from John Cox, “is a precariously balanced nonlinear system that lurches between very different states of coldness, dryness, wetness and warmth.”  I like the word “lurches” because it implies a certain lack of control, a certain unpredictability.  This does not mean that we can brush our hands of the problem, attributing it to some climactic waffling, but is instead a reminder (to me at least) that we need to pay more attention to what and why these changes are happening.  There’s always a first cause – how can we find it?  And how can we understand and identify what triggers these changes?  Once we do, perhaps we can make more informed decisions.

The answer, it seems to me, is not to abdicate our position as ecological head-honcho nor to renounce all technology in favor of a life off the grid, but to use the creative thinking and potential for radical innovation that got us into this mess to get ourselves out.  And the solution will require global collaboration (relationships), new systems for producing and distributing power (relationships) and a better understanding of how ecological systems are intertwined and what effect our actions may have on those systems (again, relationships).

I appreciated the anonymous author of the Economist article’s point that “on a planetary scale, intelligence is something genuinely new and powerful.”  We may have made a mess of the world we were given, but as a species, we’re pretty wondrous creatures.  There’s nothing else like homo sapiens.  I like imagining the Anthropocene as “a revolution in the way the Earth system works” and as humans immensely powerful agents of change.  It seems the only viable option – but it is possible.

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Introduction

I feel my context of introduction changes with the many roles that I play in my life. As a mother I want to exude a limitless spirited and spontaneous self with a delicate balance between fun and firm.  As a designer I seek aesthetics that are sinuously bound with form, function and beauty. A successful resolved object that I would make would incite an emotional response and experience that causes me to be so curious about it that I can’t look away-on every occasion as though I have seen it for the first time.  I appreciate and enjoy working in various mediums and most often combining multitude materials like wood, metal, glass in a single project. Coming from a design background without any prior experience of making before joining this program I strive to be detail-oriented and as a maker I realize that I am willing to put in lot of effort in order to achieve that goal. Many a times I chance upon the proverbial ‘happy accident’ which I embrace with much delight and less likely vacillate from its acceptance since it is the product of my own activity and intention, an experience which is quite exclusive to the making process.

I used to design for environments and work within specific parameters but I found that to be not very fulfilling.  Hence my quest to find what really excites me and drives my passion that I can make a living out of. “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life” –Confucius. I would consider myself fortunate if I am able to find that intrinsic meaningful activity.

My influences and discoveries shape my ideas and give it a personalized character drawing from the different cultural background that I inherit. My innate comparisons are to look at a more global perspective relating to sustainability and social practices and I find myself constantly making conscious and unconscious decisions based on such enquiry. This leads to me to think of the interconnectedness of  materials when used purposefully in one region and the applied sense of the material can be shifted when used in a different region. There are huge economic and lifestyle disparities on a global scale and sharp contrasts between the industrialized, capitalistic societies where consumption forms the nucleus of livability and on the other hand a world of remarkable deprivation, destitution and unfulfilled elementary needs. Being aware and witnessed both facets of the extremes strongly influences my design practice.

Design has an important expressive and emotional base that does not easily lend itself to ethical codes, hence social practice and ethics are voluntary or aspirational. As a designer I feel my responsibility to the end-user, the environment or the broader society is to find a balancing point between expressive design to more controlled morals while addressing cultural sustainability and solutions to protect our environment. A successful actualized design would be one that marries ethics and aesthetics that translate to the human needs while learning to work in a system that respects and learns its lessons from the time-tested mechanisms of nature.

Learning tools of the trade!

Burlap cloth installation

Stumptown coffee roasting facility- the source of my material

Frit tack fuse sheet glass

Pate de verre using glass frit

Re-introduction

I was born at home in a small town in Wisconsin. Growing up I spent a lot of time in the forest and lakes of northern Wisconsin fishing, hunting, swimming and walking with my dad and step-mom. My mom taught her to draw, sew, grow, and preserve food-my mom is a maker-I inherited this from her. At ages seven, ten, thirteen, and sixteen I witnessed the the home births of my four younger siblings. (my mom likes to make things and babies).

At the age of eighteen I moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. I did a semester at PNCA in 2001 then in 2002 I graduated from MIAD with a BFA in Printmaking. Living in both a rural and an urban environment was a defining element in my upbringing. Other influential experiences included an internship and residency at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, a trip to the Chicago Science and Industry Museum where I saw an exhibit of sliced cadavers suspended in formaldehyde and an Eco-Psychology class, and working at an environmental paper company- Living Tree Paper Co. may art exhibits, artists, festivals and friends have been influential…too many to list here.

After a couple of attempts, I made Oregon my permanent home in 2005. Most of my time as an Oregonian has been spent in Eugene where I became immersed in the rich yoga community there. In Eugene I worked as a graphic designer while continuing to show work in local and regional spaces.

A culmination of circumstances and influences lead me to pursue an MFA in AC+D. Right now I am focusing on creating fecund objects from paper, plants and seeds.

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Inrto-duction

Hmmm who am I?  Is there really an interesting way for me to answer that question that doesn’t sound cheezey?  Well here goes.

Love clothes, love fabric, love yarn, love color, bright color and lots of it.  I am a corn fed mid western girl who likes my meat medium rare and my music loud.  My hair color fluctuates with the change in the wind as does the style.  I used to dream of being a performer and have always wanted to ride in a hot air balloon.  I have lived a pretty fortunate and sheltered life which I have only recently in the past 5 or 6 yrs really come to appreciate.

I lived in Chicago for 3 years withstanding the frigid temperatures to attain my BFA in Fashion Design.  Where I learned I have more talent than I ever gave myself credit for and when applying said talent I can actually do well in school.  I had always dabbled in making things in my younger years, surrounded by parents who were makers and hobbyists, lead by a desire I am only now starting to tap into.  But this is where I really knew I was meant to make things with my own two hands.  Draping the fabric over the dress form and watching it take on a new life, a life I had given it, was magical to me.  I can make things!  I can make beautiful things…myself!

But alas I went to Fashion Design school to learn to make, drape, pattern, sew all my own ideas only to get into the Apparel Industry to sit at a desk behind a computer 40 hrs a week. Yikes how did I get here!?  Oh yeah that’s right it was my bright idea (partly out of fear) to get a job with a big company before entering that cold world of retail and wholesale on my own.

I spent the past 7 years in Los Angeles CA and it changed my life.  It opened my eyes to realities I had not yet faced it turned my life upside down and then righted it back up again.  It left me craving season changes and small town friendly people and a simpler way of life.  But most of all, the craving to make things took over and I soon became fascinated with making a living as a maker.

So here I am in Portland, plundering into my obsession with cloth, dying it, stitching it, manipulating it trying to discover where it fits into my life and how I can create things that move people.  And amongst all of this there is the world around me and the current environment and trying to make the world a more livable place.  And what can I do about it?  Well the  truth is I am not really sure what I can do about it.  See there’s a thing about cloth, it has a history, a 20,000 year old history, which means there is plenty of it here on the planet.  And yet I feel the compulsion to make more of it, as much as I can until my hands fall off.  And that’s my dilemma, I appreciate the old, but I crave the new and unique and I want to be a part of creating the new and unique.  Of course this is quite the faux pas to admit these days.  Its supposed to be all about saving the planet and reusing and reclaiming and recycling, making good of all this junk we have surrounded ourselves with, and I am still driven to make more and make new.  Who knows after reading these depressing articles I could end up changing my mind and it could just scare me into using found fabrics instead, but only time will tell.

I would like to think that makers are saving the world, but I am not sure any of us can save the world, or humanity for that matter, it seems we may be up” that one creek” without a paddle.  But it is quite charming, “makers saving the world one reclaimed product at a time”. I really think our draw to making is coming from somewhere deeper its really the only way of living we’ve ever known prior to the world we live in today.  And its only natural that when we become overstimulated and over-saturated that we retreat in frustration and start moving towards a simpler life.  A slower life when communities were smaller, and money wasn’t an issue because you traded what you had or what you made.  Yeah I want that life…I think, that is until I pick up my iphone, hop in my car and drive to the starbucks for a tasty beverage:)

Digitally Altered Photo Printed on Cotton and Embroidered

Waffle Weave Dish Towel

 

Woodland Refuge

Post #2 Pretty Depressing Stuff

If you have any empathy for the greater human race, or any sense of self preservation, it’s hard to palette, let alone digest, the implications of the information in these readings. Anthropocene seems an appropriate name for this era when the severity of the human impact on the earth should now be undeniable. It’s hard to comprehend how much change we have created in such a relatively short period of time, and ultimately how much control we may possess to doom or save ourselves. This is scary stuff. I was struck particularly by Brand’s overview of the scientific analysis concerning the state of the planet and the intertwined systems we depend on: the climate, oceans, land, energy, economy, etc. I’ve run across most of this information before, yet here the evidence was delivered in a framework that constructs a more vivid comprehensive model than I can assemble myself.  I find the effect emotionally deflating.

 

The documentary Collapse, Michael Ruppert’s conjecture on the link between peak oil and global economic collapse, left me in a similar state of mind; as did  Blind Spot and Crude Awakening, an Inconvenient Truth, Dirt, and Blue Gold. These films, the writings for this week, and plenty of other material out there, all pound the same drum of inevitable negative change in the not so distant future.  Even if the numbers are a little off, the gist seems pretty strait forward.  I’m not in any position to argue with the facts, opinions or predictions they offer, and I’m left wondering what position I’m in to do anything about any of this.  It’s comforting to think you can do your little part- think global act local, be the change you want to see in the world, but that just seems like another form of denial.  Faced with Brand’s stats on the volume of renewable industrial systems we would need to replace the 16 terrawatts of energy we annually consume in carbon based fuels, I admit feeling pretty pessimistic and apathetic.

 

These realities, if they’re accepted as truth or even a possibility, really squash any sense of purpose to the thoughts and actions of my daily life.  My little concerns of aesthetics, material choices, figuring out this little solution or that, meeting deadlines and worrying about money, all seem so trivial in the looming shadow of even the mildest of future scenarios described.  It makes me feel helpless and I don’t like it.  In the end I don’t think it’s helpful to fear the future, especially when there is so little control we have as individuals. After all, We can’t rule out some viral pandemic, yellowstone’s super volcano, or a giant meteorite taking care of our problems for us before we can destroy ourselves.

 

But in the mean time, I think we should try to help ourselves.  As Saul Griffith was quoted in Steward Brand’s introduction, “…we have to try.  Why else bother to be human and be in this game.”  As all of these writings more or less concluded, we need an intelligent, well informed population to have any chance at curbing the self-destructive trajectory we have set in motion.  I believe our best hope will come with education, synonymous with a shift in politics and policy.  But changing minds, attitudes and behaviors may be more difficult than changing the world we live in.

Unintended Consequences

Material Innovations
Response for The Anthropocene
Link Article: http://www.economist.com/node/18741749

A couple of weeks ago I flew into Portland-lucky to have the window seat on that leg of the trip. Upon descending into the area I was reminded of the fact that the logging industry continues to make its mark on the Pacific Northwest landscape. A distinctly man-made patchwork of clear cuts was clearly visible. It spanned as far as the eye could see north and south. It is easy to recognize the impact that humans have on the surface of the earth when it is seen from far above but as we go about our daily lives in urban or sub urban areas the mark that humans make on the earth is easily forgotten-seeing the evidence jarred my memory. I asked myself how could I forget about a phenomenon so vast, that is happening during business hours in my own “back yard?” (I pondered this in my comfortable seat, as the plane dumped carbon in the air, sacrificing the health of the earth and my own for the luxury of a vacation-guilty, guilty paradox.)

Another example comes to mind when considering the idea of the Anthropocene: Fern Ridge Reservoir a huge man-made lake complete with dam located east of Eugene, Oregon. It’s a favorite recreation spot for local boaters, anglers, and hikers. Though others seem not to mind, I’ve always had a hard time enjoying myself there because my conscience is tainted by the knowledge that a huge restructuring of the natural environment was necessary to create this amenity.

The before mentioned examples are pretty obvious but the changes we are making to Earth’s systems like the nitrogen and carbon cycles are much less so. Let’s revisit some of the facts facts presented in the article The Anthropocene: about 40% of the nitrogen in the protein we humans eat today got into the food by way of artificial fertilizer; in the past couple of centuries people have released quantities of fossil carbon that the planet took hundreds of millions of years to store away. Astounding to think about. The act and effect of intervention into earth’s systems like the carbon and nitrogen cycle are easily overlooked and/or dismissed.

Though I have already cited several examples of drastic changes we are making to the earth I would like to cite one more. I do this for the simple purpose of bringing the practice of strip mining aka mountain top removal to the forefront of the readers’ consciousness. Here are some links to information on the subject: http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/earth/surface-of-the-earth/when-mountains-move.html
http://www.newsandsentinel.com/page/content.detail/id/551243/Mountaintop-removal-discussed-locally.html?nav=5061
http://mountainjustice.org/facts/steps.php

I agree that embracing the concept of the Anthropocene is useful because it identifies the scale and scope of the change that we humans have affected on the planet. Naming the phenomenon reverses the trend of denying the effects of human activity on the geology and systems of the earth and acknowledges that humans are “central to its workings, elemental in their force.” In the book In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan explains, “Proper names have a way of making visible things we don’t easily see or take for granted.” He is referencing the term nutritionism in this statement but I think it can apply to this topic as well: it makes visible the changes we are affecting on the earth, changes that are often unseen- like carbon emissions causing the thinning ozone layer; things that are taken for granted-like the reservoir.

Though I embrace the idea of the Anthropocene, I am very skeptical of the types of corrective action proposed by the Planetary Boundaries group presented in the article. Some of the actions include: burning newly grown plant matter in power stations and pumping the resulting carbon dioxide into underground aquifers and scrubbing the air with chemical-engineering plants. (I found the agenda presented in the article as a possible fix to be contradictory to the ideas of the smallness of humans presented in the beginning of the article.) These reductionist remedies will only cause more problems. They are indicative of the same type of dualistic, human-centered paradigm that brought us here in the first place. For example- attempts to control the exotic cat population in an island near Australia caused unintended devastating consequences. The article, The Unintended Consequences of Changing Nature’s Balance reported on the situation: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/17/science/17isla.html

Lets be clear. Intentionally meddling in the earth’s systems in order to keep them from changing away from what works for humans is for humans only. It’s entirely self-serving- the Earth will go on without us. In order to begin to move forward we need to detach from the idea that the earth exists for us. We are nature; we are sadistic and masochistic. Perhaps we might consider accepting responsibility for our collective actions and gracefully accept our destiny. Maybe as designers/artists/craftspeople we can some how soften the blow, ease or transition to a lifestyle adapted to Earth’s new balance?

Why Greenhouse Gases Make the Planet Warmer

I really enjoyed reading Scale, Scope, Stakes, Speed, from “Whole Earth Discipline” by Stewart Brand.  I was most interested in Scott Denning the atmospheric scientist who said, “Believe it or not, plant life is growing faster than it’s dying.  This means land is a net sink for carbon dioxide, rather than a net source.”

Denning is a Professor at Colorado State University, where his research interests include interactions between the atmosphere and terrestrial biosphere along with their effects on exchange of energy, water, and carbon dioxide.  His research group studies these interactions through numerical simulation modeling at local, regional, and global scales.  Denning is a sharp and to-the-point speaker, who also can apparently sing, check this video out called Molecule Dance:

In this past year I have become more aware of the effects of CO2 and how its a big part of our world.  The fact is that we all know how climate works, day is warmer than night; summer is warmer than winter; ect I don’t need to agree you this.  Climate is gonna change in the next generation, and policy will be enacted in response to perceived needs.  Denning believes, the political right has been absent without official leave in proposing policy solutions to a global problem.

Denning’s simple facts that are true:

  • Billions of people will need more energy to lift themselves out of abject poverty
  • Burning coal, oil, and gas produces CO2
  • CO2 emits heat
  • Heat warms things up

I found Denning’s simple explanations very helpful to understand CO2 more clearly.   Fossil fuel burning causes 8 billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere every year, but the heat comes from the already 800 billion tons of CO2 that is already in the atmosphere.  Heat that is admitted is what is causing the warmness.  We are lucky only about half of the CO2 goes into the atmosphere because the ocean and plants draw CO2 out of the atmosphere.

According, to Denning CO2 mostly goes to land and ocean.  Things are growing faster than they are dying.  Too much CO2 fertilization and Nutrient fertilization, which causes plants to grow faster.  Land-use changes, also known as: forest regrowth, fire suppression, and wood encroachment causes a response to the change of the atmosphere were different species of plants are now starting to grow.  There is only so much forest you can regrow at some point you just need to be done.

Half of the CO2 goes back in the ocean because, it will be confined to the upper warm layer of the ocean.  Deeper water can hold way more CO2 but, it is cold and dense.  It takes about 1000 years to mix the warm and cold layers of the ocean, which brings the cold layer to the top of the ocean and release CO2 back to the atmosphere.  This is where we want the CO2 to go.

Denning says, “Myth in the media: When we reduce or stop burning fossil fuels, the CO2 will go away and things will go back to normal.”  The physics don’t agree with that.  There has been a 30% increase in CO2 since the industrial revolution.  When China & India grow their economy as they must, to delivery a decent standard of living to their people the CO2 will increase a lot and stay in the atmosphere for 1,000 years.

Physics doesn’t care what you believe.  We need to learn how to adapt and change our behaviors.  Just changing light bulbs is not enough.  Making people poorer is not gonna help.

According to Denning, we need effective solutions:

Decent quality of life for billions of people

  • Decent quality of life for billions of people
  • Energy to provide for wealth and well-being
  • Only a free market can bring this about
  • Who will advocate for effective solutions? Is Greenpeace going to advocate?
  • If free-market advocates shirk their responsibility, others will dictate policy

Can we stand up and offer solutions to these problems?  Is this really that simple?   Who should we believe?  The world needs us to be engaged, but how?

State of Affairs

I remember being extremely fascinated, as perhaps most collage freshman are by my general ed psychology and sociology courses.  I remember learning of a research phenomenon studied at Yale University named the Milgram experiment.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

It measured the willingness of test participants to follow the instructions of authority figures who requested they perform acts that conflicted with their conscience. Beyond the fact that 65 percent of study participants would knowingly obey orders to administer potentially lethal  electro-shock levels to other mock participates in a phony scientific research experiment, I was mesmerized by what the experiment was suggesting. We are at some point or another, at the mercy of experts or “authorities” in our day to day lives. We have the choice to interpret their findings as truth, probable, or false. My purpose for mentioning the experiment is partially an irony in and of itself. We have this faith in our modern ability to gauge and measure the health of a society and even a planet as a whole through scientific method and personal bias.  It is impossible to be an authority on all things. We must rely on the knowledge and skills of others in order to maintain a functioning society. When you enter an amusement park ride you essentially place your trust in the park, the manufactures of said ride, and then the operators that maintain its repair. Some say you make the same leap when you birth into the world. Beginning with the morals of our families, to values of our culture we are from birth inundated with information we must evaluate and incorporate into our perspective.  Then there is, also the added pressures of social conformity. The way “developed nations” perceive other less technological or economically complex societies and even our own is fraught with inaccuracy. The only constant and truth I know is that we all wish to be joyful. A human being only requires a minimum of things to survive. Additionally, this is also contingent on the human being.  Can we quantify what makes us joyful? This is a skill like any other and probably the most important for survival. Not just survival, but growth as well.

As artist/designer I see myself in an idealized position. We as makers hold this unique perspective valued sometimes for its creative prowess and others for its critical nature. Combine those and ideally you have solutions. Diversity requires contrasts. On a metaphysical note, they say In order for there to be shape there must be void. Nietzsche so elegantly said, “And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”  Solutions are born from the problems and hardships. One final solution would end all diversity. I’ll go back to my earlier point. The only real authority I know of is what brings joy to me. I am limited to this knowledge. I can only ask or speculate what others might prefer. My success comes from me seeking that joy.

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
Winston Churchill

Getting to know you

Getting to know you (click it)

It seems at this juncture, I cannot say I have a primary media. Life is change and I certainly do so, often. To be more specific, I have backgrounds in both the fine arts and design. This all started as a kid drawing transformers and G.I. Joes while I was expected to listen to my instructors. Eventually I found painting. (www.karlramentol.com)

Some years after I ventured into design. (http://www.coroflot.com/lequendi1)

The thread I find in both mediums’ is a love of form, proportion and the sublime. The experience or the process always informs the final outcome. The challenge now is in marketability. Our modern civilization runs on finer and finer forms of specialization. As a creative I find myself feeling boxed in or bored after a while. My audience is broad on one hand but narrow on the other. I enjoy a modernist’s aesthetic.

Ideally they would hang one of my lamps and paintings in the same room.  Although I was not born in south Florida I have lived in Miami most of my life.  Much of Florida was once a swamp. It’s the only ecosystem in the world that has both crocodiles and alligators.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everglades I did a lot of camping in South Florida’s keys and in the Everglades. I cannot say it had an effect on my material choices or process but it did give me an appreciation for nature and its diversity.

Introduction

My media of choice is paper, especially focused on hand making the paper.  I grew up in a typical midwest farm family.  For Generations my family has shared a philosophy to get the most use out of everything as in the means of cooking, sewing, decorating..ect.  My family is very artistic, we are sewers, carpenters, painters, writers, musicians, industrial designers, and web or graphic designers.  I have inherited these traits to handcraft something beautiful from a limited pallet.  In my work I am inspired to extend the life of cast off items that normally go to the garbage. These products will not only recycled, but they will also complete the cycle and be biodegradable.

I really enjoy the process of paper making from beginning to end.  The coolness of the water vat and squishing the pulp in my hands makes me smile.  Paper is a versatile material, which is excellent, but also can be aggravating.  Sometimes, I get lost in the material itself and don’t know how to make the material do exactly what I want.  Other times, I mold and sculpt the paper pulp to do exactly what I want.

My target audience is middle class to upper class singles or families with or with out children, who have an appreciation to green art, sustainable lifestyle, Eco-friendly, social responsible, and enjoy a simple life style.  They are concerned about mass production product waste that fill our landfills and create loads of carbon footprints.  They believe that buying local can boost the economy.  They want a product that can be biodegradable and contain no harmful chemicals.

The unfolding of knowledge is on its way.  Too much waste, its a part of our life.  While we cannot control the level of natural waste, as an organic part of biological survival, we can drastically reduce the production of product waste.  We need to take control of where our products come from.  What is the carbon footprint of this product? Is this product sustainable?  Compostable?  Biodegradable?  Was this product made from recycled material, what is the percentage?  The people of this planet are opening to change.  The time has come to take the conversation about sustainability to the next level.

In the past, we have focused on green building technology, eco-friendly products, recycle products, but we now recognize that half or more of all resource affects arise from everyday behavior and habits, waste.  Our lifestyles must evolve.  We need to take responsibility and accept change to help our degrading environment.

As a maker I will be environmentally responsible.  My business idea is based on recycling, up-cycling, and compostability/biodegradability design products.  The philosophy of my business, is to educate the local community about buying local sustainable products.  I will also teach my community that waste can become a product, and encourage them to be ego-responsible.

Here is a link to a video of my installation for the end of the 1st year show:

Post 1: We’re all screwed, it won’t be that bad.

Operating on the assumption that the Anthropocene (Holocene), a part of the Quaternary period has been running for ten or even twenty thousand years it is safe to say that this ain’t much.  It is hard to represent it on a scale of Earth’s existence.  Given the millions of years that other periods of time are measured in, nothing much has happened lately.  Not just that not much has happened, but that we may be too close to the beginning to accurately predict what may happen in the future, things can change, rapidly.

While I firmly believe in the power of humans to affect our landscape in a myriad of ways, we often only affect our blood pressure.  Much of what science contains is an educated guess about what happened given the evidence at hand and then extrapolating what may happen when that data is crunched in sufficiently powerful computer.   Code is still written by humans making educated guesses about what will happen.  Our understanding will continue to develop as it has, but the entirety of human accomplishment should at (most?) times be taken with a grain of salt.  The greatest minds of time have all been proven wrong at some point.  The only reason we’re scared of hurting the planet is that going beyond a recovery point means you can’t live anymore, maybe it is just fear of death.  Maybe it is just self centered crap…

Maybe the cycle of humans rising in numbers will devastate the ecological balance that will, in turn, diminish the number of humans will replace the glacial cycle.  In The World Without Us Alan Weisman puts forward that nature will rebound fairly quickly.  The cities will crumble while flora envelops the boxes architects are so proud of.

With human population cut down to manageable numbers resources will again be abundant.  Over time populations will swell, by and by, a point will be reached where we are outstripping our environment.  Once this repopulation has occurred the climate will slowly fail to support such numbers and then the cycle will repeat.  The climate will shift, extinction will run rampant and humanity will dwindle.  Rather than glacial cycles we’ll experience a reoccurring roast.  Maybe enough time will pass to allow evolution to create new exciting species that can be exploited, maybe not.  Everything changes, from dust to dust.

Introduction

Jacob Tietze

I grew up on farm outside of the Portland Metropolitan area.  The barn was located on the site of a very old farmhouse. The place was built with forged nails.  When the winter months would get really cold we would haul water from the main pump house on the other side of the farm.  You do what you have to do.

Copyright Recycling

While receiving the bulk of my training in ceramics I no longer think of myself as having a primary media.  For the past seven years I have worked to broaden my abilities to include a wide range of skills.  You do what you have to do.  You do what is appropriate.  The main skill to learn is problem solving, system navigation.  It is here, in a space of possibility, where good things happen.

 

Migrant camp outside of Portland

Lately I have been trying to make work for an underrepresented section of our society.  Over the last year I have been designing and building no cost solutions to help solve particular needs related to undocumented immigration and transitional homelessness.   I wonder if these are areas that definitively need government funding.  Privatizing social services can’t work because there is little opportunity to generate profit from groups of people who have no money.  That may be one of the few valid reasons to fund the rest of government.

Fortress America; Space Mexican

I am currently looking to develop desktop manufacturing solutions that will help shift our view of production and labor.  I would like to be part of a system that values local labor.  One that defines employment in terms of who can I hire nearby.  Rather than how I can develop some sort of exotic marketing plan that alleviates the burden of forcing people to look around them first and foremost?  I want to research ways that manufacturing can be inserted into everyone’s garage or living room.  I want to find solutions for my neighbor not for someone living somewhere else.

Aiding and Abedding

There were no good old days.  A connection to something is only as strong as you are willing to make it.  The resurgence in our local communities that are striving for a connection to their own humanity is everywhere.  In marketing plans.  The venerable Foxfire books have a new cover design.  The concept of urban farming is everywhere.  If you produce some of your own food, good for you.  You’re still not a farmer or homesteader or whatever.  You have a garden, nothing more.  Enjoy your gardening; it’s probably good for you.  Just don’t try to make it more than it is so you can feel really good about it.  The farmers market has become pop culture entertainment rather than something that just is.  Accept what you have and who you are and happiness will find you.  You don’t need to look for it.  I am here to remind you that you’re not really bull-shitting anyone but yourself.  Please stop trying so hard, if you want to be happy or content or whatever then stop trying to impress others with your worldliness and connection to the earth.

The burgeoning Indian middle class……

I felt compelled to respond to some of the issues related to Hans Rosling’s TED talk. I am the voice of the several NRI’s (non-resident Indians) that hold a nostalgic image of India when they left their homeland and have seen the burgeoning and accelerated growth and the lightning paced transformations within the broader fabric of the culture which are more visibly registered while not living in the midst of it.

I witnessed the government economic liberalization ‘open-door free market’ policy in the early 1990’s to find a saving grace from India’s high level of debt. We have been seeing the consequences of those reforms, almost over a decade later India has been on a huge economic high-rise with higher levels of income, lower poverty ratios and a flourishing information technology industry. The strength of the middle class is growing at an alarming pace of the current 5% to an estimated 40% of its total population (which is currently at over a billion people) over the next two decades according to the McKinsey Quarterly Journal.  This translates to this growing segment of the very influential educated population having more disposable income with greater purchasing power for spending on consumer goods and non-essential commodities. The multinational corporations have been able to capitalize on this newly created market class.

The profile of the urban middle class is that of freshly graduates or those in their early career path with competitive skills that generate a high remuneration who are highly influenced by the western lifestyle and tastes. They are willing to take more risks with investments veering away from traditional government bond investments and availing of more financing options offered by banks issuing unsecured personal loans without any requirement of collateral security.  Credit card usage had doubled in the last three years and the upwardly mobile demographic is finding convenience with using plastic as a more suitable form of transaction.

http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2011-02-06/news/28424975_1_middle-class-households-applied-economic-research

The new car Tata Nano launched by the Indian company, TATA MOTORS which is priced at a market value of Rupees 1 lakh ( $2500 US dollars) brings more ease to the middle class spending pocket to own a car and be increasing mobile as compared to the earlier reliance on public transportation. However on the other hand the strain it would put on the environment with more demand for fossil fuels and increased levels of pollution. Will nations like India and China follow the same path of the developed nations of being more automobile dependant societies? The difference is that we are now living in an age of greater depleted natural resources. Do we learn our lessons? When and at what costs?

TATA NANO CAR priced at $2500.00!

http://youtu.be/fX64M_1qN0s

As much as the massive middle class population commands freedom of speech, religion and seeks to find more democratic ways of establishing their identity they remain less active in exercising votes and shaping the government constitutional bodies. This apathy in expecting the government to perform its  services causes the stronger socio-economic sector to rely on private agencies to fulfill them. A recent hunger strike carried out by an Indian social activist leader, Anna Hazare for a demand to set up a Lok Pal, an authority that would have the power to bring about stringent checks for the notorious bureaucratic dealings that are a common occurrence within the Indian government. The outcome of this act of activism was….……a compromised statement of intent!  Would this propel future Ombudsmen to work more zealously?

My Eyes Are Rolling While My Heart Is Breaking

Earth breaking through the concrete

“Oh geeze here we go again with the end of the world phenomenon!”  I found myself saying within the first 2 paragraphs of this weeks readings.  Not that the human race isn’t in trouble, but I can’t help but question all of these theories about the end of the world, because that’s just what they are…theories.  And there is where my eyes begin to roll.  I am aware of the facts, the world is changing, humans are assisting in some of those changes, it will affect us as humans.  But I do not think we have enough evidence, knowledge or foresight of how the earth works to predict exactly how it will look, feel and be in the future, let alone how it will end.  Part of me feels we need to stop acting like we know what the earth needs, as it seems a bit egotistical and hypocritical if it is in fact this Anthropocene (the age of humans) that brought us here.  And further frustration arises as it becomes more clear through all of these types of readings that coexisting with the earth just isn’t possible in the future, no mater what we change  about our behaviors and impact on the earth.

Fact: humans need to treat the earth with more respect and care.

Myth: we (humans) are trying to save mother earth.

I don’t think we are entitled to know what the earth needs, what we are really trying to figure out is how WE humans can continue to exist on this planet.  We want to have our cake and eat it too.  As Stewart Brand states “Talk of ‘saving the planet’ is overstated, however.  Earth will be fine, no matter what; so will life.  It is humans who are in trouble.”

I don’t believe we know the earth as well as we think we do.  For instance we still don’t know for sure how the earth came to be or even how we  (life on earth) came to be.  And to top it all off we have really only been around on the earth for a minute part of its existence.   Today it is widely recognized that the earth is about 4.5billion years old and humans have existed for only 20,000 of those years, and within that it was really only since 1948 (63 yrs ago) that people started to be concerned with climate change.  Equivalent to a New York Minute!  Seems like nothing compared to how long the earth has been around.

I am in no way denying that these terrible things could happen (another ice age, or a global drought) I am merely stating we cannot be sure exactly what is going to happen in the future.  I am sure some of these tragic things will happen, some are even inevitable, nothing lasts forever, including humans on earth.

It does break my heart to think of what we have done to this beautiful planet, and to think that our time here is drawing to a close, but I cant help thinking, isnt this all just a part of evolution?  And this thought does bring me some amount of relief, it is inevitable and has been inevitable for tens of thousands of years.

It also seems that a lot of these “solutions” are still invasive, some even seem impossible, and yet they still do not seem to be the answer.  Is the real answer just significantly less – if not no – humans on earth?  If we are the problem, then there is really only one answer…Human Extinction.  The only question then is when.

Introduction: Post #1

I work with narrative and storytelling on a large scale; primarily I do set painting work in the performing arts and occasionally the entertainment and advertising industries.  In the next year, I plan to move from set painting & fabrication into the realm of set design.

Truthfully, I sometimes feel that I lucked into theatre work.  My fine art portfolio was remarkable enough to get me accepted into a very competitive internship program where I had the opportunity to study Scenic Artistry from an extremely knowledgable teacher.

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah and raised in rural Tennessee, I didn’t visit an art museum until I started my undergrad college experience.  As far as theatre was concerned, I vaguely remember seeing a small live performance of The Wizard of Oz when I was in Kindergarten, but did not witness another theatrical performance until my senior year of college.  I was aching to get outside of the Southern states when my internship acceptance came through and I did not hesitate to pack up my life and move to Berkeley, California.  Outside of a week spent in Paris, France, Berkeley was culturally eye-opening and definitely a pivotal moment in my life.  It is where I finally found a profession and a life that fulfilled me spiritually and emotionally.

Creating something large and multi-faceted like a theatre set with it’s collaborative nature creates an energy that is at some times crazed and frantic.  It’s as addicting as the feeling of a surge of adrenaline or perhaps certain drugs.  The rush feeds me.  Watching the curtain rise on opening night is thrilling bordering on orgasmic, knowing that my hands have touched soo many parts of the set and have been a part of soo many other hands making this moment happen.

I guess my audience is anyone who is truly curious and somehow connects with a facet of a show that moves them in some way and/or is anyone who enjoys suspension of disbelief and make believe.

Currently, I have a very dark outlook on the state of affairs of the planet, my country and the economy.  I don’t see the light ahead yet.  I’m not convinced the powers that be are interested in the greater good or slowing down climate change.

As a maker, I feel that I have a responsibility to be mindful with the materials I use and the work I put into the world for the purpose of having an audience.  California has a somewhat high standard for itself when it comes to environmental issues.  I know it was not always so and the air quality among other things suffered greatly there.  Coming from the South where many communities still cannot afford basic recycling programs or much of anything else considered “green”, California’s efforts are huge by comparison and definitely shaped the way I think about my artistic practice in theatre and design.  I hope to use more reclaimed and repurposed materials in my designs and to have a reasonable amount of modularity within scenic elements, hopefully allowing for reuse or further repurposing of materials.  At the very least, it would be nice to have more components that are headed for a recycling facility versus the landfill.

After reading the various assignments for this first post, I became even more disheartened with my abilities to lessen my carbon footprint or to prevent the planet from racing along to what Stewart Brand refers to as the “hot world.”  On one hand we enjoy the benefits of living longer with our increased technology as is evident by the TED talk by Hans Rosling.  Not that all countries have progressed as far as others with infant mortality rates lowering or sanitation, but many people are living longer and multiplying at a rate that seems to be monumentally upsetting the planet’s delicate checks and balances.  After reading it all I just had to sit back and wonder if any real change to the rate of global warming will ever be enough.  Maybe the planet could use a mass extinction, however, that is not what I want.  I’d like to live to a decent old age and if I have or adopt offspring, I would prefer they don’t have to worry about their cities becoming fossils before they reach their golden years.

I hope that my work more often has a strong message of some kind and is not completely frivolous.  However, frivolity sometimes has a place just as the dark needs the light.

 

 

 

 

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Hello everyone,

This is the new blog we’re going to be using. Sorry about the confusion, I had been using Tumblr quite a bit lately and had assumed it would provide all the functionality we needed for group work; but it doesn’t. I can answer any questions you guys have about this in class on Tuesday.

 

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