Posted in Movements by Jessica Bird on February 8th, 2013
Image from I Make Rotterdam.
[…] We all know or suspect that riding a populist, demographically-driven wave is the essence of electability. This era’s politicians (generally) know it’s best not to think too big in terms of urban-improving expenditures. Time is better spent learning how to deftly kick the can of crumbling infrastructure down the road—increasingly potholed though that road may be. “Let my successor manage the impending crisis,” their inner voices might be heard to say, “I’ll lose the next election if I raise taxes to fix x,y, or z let alone build something new.” This attitude is closely related to the one that causes well-established, successful companies like Nortel to go from world leaders to market flameouts almost overnight. Why improve something that the investors think to be a world beater? Behind the scenes, however, key players are running for the exits with whatever spoils they can carry before the whole operation collapses due to inattention. There is an alternative to the destructiveness of this self serving, near-term thinking about our cities: Crowd funded urban innovation. It is not a fantasy. Some cities are already doing it.
Why is crowd funded urbanism different than what we’ve seen in the past? In a way, it isn’t. It is fundamentally old school thinking brought into the digital age. In the farming communities of our parent’s parents, when people saw something that needed doing they pitched in to get it done. That’s the way crowd funded urbanism works. See it. Fix it. New communications tools are shrinking our complex world to the point where direct action is possible even where political action is an oxymoron. Even better, in a connected world we can assemble best-practice solutions in one easily accessible place for everyone’s use. Talk about efficiency.
Take a look at I Make Rotterdam for one example of a crowd funded pedestrian bridge that is a prototype for this nascent, city-changing movement. The public in that city cared enough to invest real money in the project after being inspired by New York’s High Line Park (good ideas are contagious). What’s more interesting is that their commitment spurred local government to get behind the project as well. […] That’s the power of this idea. It is not about finding new ways of taxing people. What it is about is unequivocally showing where people want their communities improved so governments can act. Another example is the U.K.’s Space Hive. Broader in scope than I Make Rotterdam, Space Hive offers opportunities to tackle the needs of communities across the U.K.
Are these projects reinventing the way representative taxation will work a generation from now; or, are they just another example of online art projects that capture our collective imagination? We will find out, but our guess is that the future of cities demands better forms of community representation. These just may be the early models that will evolve to greatness.
>>> You can read the full article on Mesh Cities.
>>> Check out I Make Rotterdam, SeeClickFix, and Space Hive for some great examples of crowdfunded urbanism in action.
Posted in Models, Visions by Jessica Bird on February 1st, 2013
Image from The Detroit Future City Plan.
A new plan outlines how the Motor City can go from grabbing headlines about decay to being a model for a new kind of American urban center. […] In 2010, the Detroit Works Project, a public-private partnership between the City of Detroit and a number of foundations, launched with the goal of rethinking land use by understanding the demographics of the city (today, Detroit has miles upon miles of vacant land). “We understood from the beginning that land use had to be understood, but there were many pieces beyond land use that had to be part of the study,” explains Dan Pitera, executive director of the Detroit Collaborative Design Center and one of the driving forces behind Detroit Future City.
So in 2011, the Detroit Works Project was split into two: one piece worked on short-term planning, and the other focused on longer-term goals. After two years of research and discussion, the Detroit Future City report was released this month. The goal, according to press materials for the launch, is nothing short of a citywide reboot. […] The city framework–which is broken down into sections including economic growth, neighborhoods, land use, and city systems–comes from 30,000 conversations with city residents and more than 70,000 survey responses and comments. “When it was launched, we weren’t revealing a plan or framework because people have been seeing the work develop. It’s more of a celebration,” says Pitera.
We won’t try to sum up the mammoth report here, but Pitera stresses that the key point is that “Detroit is closer to its future than it imagines.” Much of the work that needs to happen is already beginning–now it just needs to be tied to a larger framework. One of the best known examples of Detroit’s burgeoning revival is the urban agriculture movement that has sprung up in response to all the abandoned land. […] The initiative’s creators imagine that these open spaces and environmental systems will sit alongside repurposed transportation corridors that accommodate pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers, all while collecting storm water runoff in swales located in the right-of-way. At the same time, new walkable retail districts and residential developments will keep things buzzing.
The authors aren’t done generating awareness for the project. Pitera tells us that a street team shows up at barber shops, grocery stores–wherever people are–to have conversations with people. Because while Detroit Future City calls for sweeping change on a systemic level, it needs individuals to get onboard too. “In our minds, civic engagement never ends. It’s the way a city should do business,” says Pitera. “People can come in, look at this, and see very realistic but aspirational plans and see themselves in it as well.”
Detroit Future City looks 50 years into the future: the first five years are focused on stabilization of the city, years five to 10 will grow and nurture the city, years 10 to 20 will sustain a larger population, increase in local jobs, and a new and improved infrastructure, and years 20 to 50 will ideally see Detroit regain its position as one of America’s great cities. Is it possible? Sure. Detroit has one big advantage over many U.S. cities: It has already hit rock bottom, and so it can build a resilient, sustainable city from the ground up instead of trying to modify its infrastructure piecemeal–a strategy that will ultimately hurt some of today’s thriving urban centers. […]
Posted in Models by Jessica Bird on January 23rd, 2013
Article source: The Morning Sentinel.
Image by Ian Barbour via Creative Commons
From ”Cow power’ turns manure, food waste into mighty electricity source’ by Ben McCanna
“Every day in rural Penobscot County, a large dairy farm harnesses clean-burning gas from cow manure and food waste, and it generates enough electricity to power 800 homes continuously. The process, commonly known as cow power, has the potential to earn the facility $800,000 a year. It also creates byproducts — animal bedding and a less-odorous fertilizer — that save the farm about $100,000 a year. Cow power is more consistent than solar and wind energy, and it eliminates greenhouses gases that otherwise would enter the atmosphere. The $5.5 million project could pay for itself in five years.”
Posted in Models by Jessica Bird on January 17th, 2013
Image from Aquaduct.
Mexico City, the biggest metropolis in the Western hemisphere, faces significant water shortages, leaving many domestic, agricultural, and industrial users exposed to severe water-related risks. The city was built on the foundations of the Aztec capital, on the bed of Lake Texcoco. Today, centuries later, its groundwater supplies are rapidly diminishing, and it relies on a network of reservoirs and decaying infrastructure to pump in water from hundreds of miles away. Furthermore, urban growth and climate change are pushing Mexico City’s water supply to the edge. Reservoirs were dangerously low during the 2009 drought, leading the government to cut off water in some areas of the city.
While the situation in Mexico City is undeniably alarming, these risks can also create new opportunities for businesses to prosper by delivering innovative solutions to water scarcity. In 2012, four entrepreneurs in Mexico City founded Sistemas de Captación de Agua Pluvial® (SCAP®), a company providing rainwater harvesting solutions. Harvesting rainwater and storing it for later use is an increasingly popular solution to unpredictable and limited water supplies. From a backyard rain barrel for lawn watering to the massive network of rainwater storage tanks that China’s Gansu province uses to provide drinking water to 1.3 million people, rainwater harvesting is being used in a wide range of scales and geographies.
SCAP helps its clients in Mexico overcome unreliable and limited water supply by designing and installing efficient, affordable rainwater collectors. SCAP has already completed a project in Colonia Florida and is planning additional installations in El Pedregal and Mixcoac. By collecting rainwater, SCAP clients can cut back on the cost of water and store freshwater for times of shortages. To better understand water-related risks in Mexico City and how they compare to the rest of the country, SCAP used a preview version of Aqueduct’s forthcoming improved global water risk maps. Aqueduct’s granular and comprehensive maps of water scarcity, supply variability, and groundwater stress (among other indicators) helped SCAP target and inform clients in central Mexico on areas most in need of solutions. Having this up-to-date data in a widely accessible format allowed SCAP to turn water risk into business opportunities—in turn, helping Mexico’s citizens meet their water needs. […]
Posted in Models by Jessica Bird on January 14th, 2013
Photo by Alec Brooks from Urban Milwaukee website.
How a small non-profit in a trailer in Riverside Park rose to become a major player with centers erected in three county parks. “Save the park.” That was the single, not-so-simple goal of a very loosely organized group of concerned residents of Riverside Park in the early 1990s. Little did they know that two decades later, a trio of nationally recognized ecology education centers would grow out of their efforts. Today, school children in three distinct neighborhoods — Riverside Park, Washington Park and Menomonee Valley — boast an Urban Ecology Center where children learn about ecology and their environment through a wide range of programs and activities, including “outdoor laboratories,” a full year of trips for students at nearby schools, after-school programs and preschool programs. […]
The site of the original UEC, Riverside Park, was designed in 1865 by Frederick Law Olmsted as the western anchor of Newberry Boulevard, with Lake Park serving as the eastern anchor. In the years since the park was created, it had fallen into disrepair. With the intent of building an MPS middle school, a square block and a half of homes to the south of the original Riverside Park were torn down, beginning in the late 1960s. That land then stood mostly vacant for decades, with the exception of occasional garden plots. Even before all the homes were demolished, though, MPS changed its plans. By 1991, the entire expanse had become crime-ridden, including the area between what was by then a bike trail (but had earlier been railroad tracks) and the Milwaukee River. It was filled with trash and invasive plant species.
It was time to reclaim the park, but the concerned neighbors weren’t at all sure how they were going to do it. After a lot of thought, they decided to begin by cleaning it up, with the ultimate goal of using the park to teach neighborhood children about ecology and being friends of the earth. Litter and crime would be replaced with learning. A doublewide trailer was placed just north of Park Place and east of the bike trail. […] It wasn’t until 2004 that the award-winning Riverside Park location of the Urban Ecology center opened. […] The center now manages the county-owned portion of the parkland with volunteers. A capital campaign followed shortly thereafter, based on the long list of schools that already had asked to have their students participate in UEC activities. The early goal of saving Riverside Park was realized. “We essentially turned a problem into an asset,” [executive director Ken] Leinbach said. “The land was healed with volunteers, and kids were learning about their environment.”
Just as the Riverside Park location grew out of a desire to save the park, the Washington Park and Menomonee Valley sites were “natural” areas in the city that needed restoration. According to Leinbach, in planning all three locations UEC took certain factors into account: a nearby body of water, woods and fields; proximity to schools; and some measure of wealth in the surrounding neighborhood. “We knew we needed the neighbors’ help to sustain our program economically,” Leinbach explained. The mission of all three UEC sites can be boiled down to “intentionally/institutionally getting kids connected to nature with adult mentors,” Leinbach said. The founders never intended the center to be a model for anyone else. “I think you do something and it can become a model, if it works,” Leinbach said. “You don’t set out to create a model.” But it has turned into one, even internationally. […]
Dennis Grzezinski, a UEC board member, describes three aspects of the center that have contributed to its success: environmental education, a community center and a nature center. The variety of programming is based on just a few primary concepts, Grzezinski said. “Proximity of the students to the center promotes deeper relationships between the students and the educators as mentors or models,” he said. Schools that participate must be within a 2-1/2 mile radius. That makes it easier for the students to return to the center over and over and establish a connection to a natural place that has different seasons, where they can plant bushes and trees and watch them grow over time. […] “This organization … comes from humble, common-sense, low-budget origins,” Grzezinski said. “We do things on a shoestring budget. Environmentalism is about using resources carefully and not wasting them.”
When Leinbach was studying environmental education in graduate school, he recalls thinking that the world is a fragile place and we humans weren’t helping. Through the Urban Ecology center’s three locations, many humans are helping —reclaiming, rebuilding and maintaining fragile, natural places for the long term, and creating a stronger sense of community in the process.
>>> You can read the full article on Urban Milwaukee.
>>> You can learn more about the Urban Ecology Centers on their website.
Posted in Movements by Jessica Bird on January 9th, 2013
Photo by Marty McCarthy
Tropical fruit growers near Tully in north Queensland were dealt a hard blow when Cyclone Yasi ripped apart orchards in the area in February 2011. Many farmers not only lost their fruit for the season, but also the trees on which they grow. But two years on from Yasi locals are now using trellises to make sure their trees stay in the ground next time a cyclone hits.
Peter Salleras owns a plantation in the rainforest north of Tully at Feluga, where he grows an array of tropical fruits using trellises. “It’s an insurance policy we have that we can plant a tree and be pretty confident even if a category five hits we’ll still have our trees there,” he said. “With some species we didn’t lose a single tree whereas in [Cyclone] Larry we lost about 80 to 90 per cent. Supporting the trees in a big wind is a bonus for us but it’s not just about cyclone insurance – it’s the ease of harvest, ease of netting, ease of pruning and ability to control pests better.”
Ten minutes up the road from Peter’s farm is Feluga State School, where students are now using trellises to grow tropical fruits as part of an outdoor classroom. Trina McKiernan works with the students in caring for the trees. “Each family here has their own tree that they’ve adopted,’ she said. “A lot of these kids don’t get the interaction with food… it’s really important [for them] to know that things don’t just come out of a box.” And this understanding is already starting to show in the attitudes of students like school captain Madison Styve, who’s using the trellis to grow a rollinia tree. “I still have quite a lot to do with it,” she said. “I still have to do some trimming and hopefully it will get some fruit on it. It’s not just about putting it in the ground and waiting for it to grow by itself. You’ve got to water it you’ve got to feed it with fertiliser and you’ve got to make sure the conditions are right,”
The work students like Madison are doing with trellises is critical to the region because although trellising is common practice in Australia’s southern states, the structures are rarely used to help grow tropical fruits. Kath Gregory is a local lettuce grower and volunteers at the Feluga State School helping the children care for their trees. “It [trellising] has been tried in southern climates, but not for growing tropical trees,” she said. “I think the most important thing [about trellising] is you can grow a huge amount of stuff in a very small place and the fruit trees are all going to survive a cyclone. In the previous two cyclones a lot of us lost most of our fruit trees with not a lot remaining. But with this system the trees remain alive and you can still pick the fruit. It’s just magic.”
>>> You can find the original article on ABC Rural.
Posted in Movements by Kate Archdeacon on December 27th, 2012
100,000 green-fingered Londoners deliver Mayor’s 2012 food growing target.
The estimated equivalent of 69 Wembley football pitches or 124 acres of disused land in London now brimming with fruit and veg.
The Mayor of London today [Dec 14] announced that the ambitious target to deliver 2012 Capital Growth spaces has been reached, following a four-year scheme to turn disused plots of land into community spaces abundant with fruit and veg. Nearly 100,000 green fingered Londoners have rolled up their sleeves to deliver this leafy Olympic legacy.
The Capital Growth scheme, run by London Food Link, was launched by the Mayor and Rosie Boycott, Chair of London Food, in November 2008. It aimed to create 2,012 growing spaces in London by the end of 2012 with funding from the Mayor and the Big Lottery Fund’s Local Food programme.
The idea is to bring local neighbourhoods and communities together while giving Londoners a chance to grow their own food and green their local area. It is also a response to growing allotment waiting lists, particularly in inner London boroughs, which can be decades long. Capital Growth has worked with landowners and local groups to help identify land for growing and then help people get started in creating successful gardens by providing training and tools.
There are now Capital Growth spaces in every London borough. Food gardens signed up to the scheme have flourished in an extraordinarily diverse and creative range of places, covering an estimated 124 acres of previously disused land. Capital Growth spaces are now growing on roofs, in donated recycling boxes, in skips, alongside canals and in builders’ bags providing healthy food to a range of places including shops and restaurants. The spaces have supported skills and enterprise training, market gardening initiatives and even the development of 50 community bee hives.
Some of the Capital Growth spaces have now scaled up into social enterprises selling produce into cafes, restaurants and market stalls and providing jobs for local people. Other projects that the campaign has supported include larger farms, such as Organic Lea in Waltham Forest that employs 13 full and part time staff doing market gardening under glass houses leased from the local authority. The biggest response to the Capital Growth challenge has come from schools with 687 schools signed up involving 66,000 pupils.
The 2012th space was today announced by the Mayor as St Charles Centre for health and wellbeing in North Kensington. The project, based in a disused courtyard of a hospital, will engage a range of community groups, including youth groups and Age UK, as well as hospital staff to grow their own healthier food.
Posted in Movements by Kate Archdeacon on December 20th, 2012
Reverting to traditional handicrafts is one way to sabotage the throwaway society. In this article, we discuss another possibility: the design of modular consumer products, whose parts and components could be re-used for the design of other products.
Initiatives like OpenStructures, Grid Beam, and Contraptor combine the modularity of systems like LEGO, Meccano and Erector with the collaborative power of digital success stories like Wikipedia, Linux or WordPress. An economy based on the concept of re-use would not only bring important advantages in terms of sustainability, but would also save consumers money, speed up innovation, and take manufacturing out of the hands of multinationals. A modular system unites the advantages of standardisation (as parts can be produced cheaply in large amounts) with the advantages of customisation (since a large diversity of unique objects can be made with relatively few parts). Modularity can be found to a greater or lesser extent in many products (like bicycles and computers) and systems (like trains and logistics), but the best examples of modular systems are toys: LEGO, Meccano, and Erector (which is now the brand name of Meccano in the US).
In spite of the similarities, there is one fundamental difference between modular construction systems such as OpenStructures, Grid Beam and Contraptor, and modular toys such as LEGO, Meccano and Erector. The first group consists of “open” modular systems, where everyone is free to design and produce parts, while the second consists of “closed” modular systems, where all parts are designed and produced by one manufacturer. Closed modular systems produce uniform parts. For instance, all LEGO building blocks are made of plastic. LEGO does not produce building blocks made of wood, aluminium, glass or ceramics. There is a limited range of colours. And because LEGO is a closed system, nobody else is allowed to produce LEGO pieces.
An open modular system has many advantages over a closed modular system. Since anyone can design parts in an open system, it generates a much larger diversity of parts: they can be made in different colours and materials, and none of the producers can set a fixed price for all consumers. And because many designers constantly review, adapt and improve each others’ work, innovation is accelerated. All open software systems described above are arguably better than their closed counterparts, and some of them have become more successful. A closed modular system only has one advantage: the one who holds the copyright makes a lot of money.
Open modular construction does not mean that everyone should make their own consumer products. An object like a coffee maker or a workbench could be obtained in at least three ways. Firstly, the consumer can download the digital design and then assemble the object with parts that he or she buys, re-uses, or makes using a 3D-printer or laser cutter, whether at home or at a fab lab or tech shop. It can also happen in a more low-tech fashion, as is the case with Grid Beam: the consumer buys wood or metal beams, and drills the holes himself.
A second option is that a company buys the license of the design (if it is not free) and converts it into a building kit, comparable to a kit from LEGO, Meccano or Erector. In this case, the consumer would not have to search for the parts himself, but he still assembles the product himself, just like he would assemble a piece of furniture by IKEA. Similarly, a company could offer a more general building kit, which can be used to make whatever one would like, similar to a box of basic LEGO bricks. Bit Beam, Contraptor, Open Beam, Maker Beam and, recently, Grid Beam offer one or both of these options.
The third possibility is that a manufacturer places the object on the market as a finished, assembled product. The coffee maker or the workbench would then be sold and bought just as any other product today, but it can be disassembled after use, and its parts can be re-used for other objects.
Read the full article by Kris de Decker at Resilience or at Low-Tech – the grabs (above) from the article don’t do true justice to the original.
Posted in Movements by Jessica Bird on December 12th, 2012
Screenshot from the Seed Matters website.
An initiative of the Cliff Bar Family Foundation, Seed Matters is dedicated to protecting and ameliorating organic seed, thus increasing the abundance of healthy, nutritious crops that benefit both people and the planet. Their goals are to ‘conserve crop genetic diversity, promote farmers’ roles and rights as seed innovators and stewards, and reinvigorate public seed research and education.’ The Seed Matters website tells the story of seed, about the programs aimed at achieving their goals, and how you can get involved. Oh, and the website is really quite beautiful. – [JB]
We probably don’t think about it when we sit down to eat our cereal in the morning or tuck the kids into cotton sheets at night, but it all starts with seed. Seed matters. And the seed we sow affects the quality, nutrition, cost and environmental impact of all the food we eat and every fiber we wear.
It’s time we sow more good. The last several decades of industrial agriculture have developed seed that is suited to intensive chemical agriculture. While this has sometimes resulted in higher yields, it has come with very real costs. Unintended consequences include air and water pollution, increased pesticide use, greater dependence on fossil fuels, degraded soil health, and the loss of biological and genetic diversity. These are facts.
The success of diverse, regional, and resilient food systems requires a different approach to seed – an organic approach.
And yet, today’s farmers don’t have access to sufficient seed developed for organic systems. Worldwide, 95% of organic farmers rely on seed bred for conventional, high-input chemical agriculture. There’s an alternative. Organic plant breeding can increase yields, improve nutrition, and reduce usage of pesticides, fertilizer, and energy. We invite you to join us – engage and grow the work of improving organic seed systems.
Posted in Models, Movements by Jessica Bird on December 5th, 2012
Screenshot from the BBC News video ‘Greek town develops bartering system without Euro‘
As Greece continues to search for solutions to its national economic crisis, the port town of Volos has adopted an old-school barter system to help its citizens muddle through. Five years into their recession with 21 percent unemployment, some Volos residents who were short on Euros but long on other resources created a local currency (called TEMs in Greek) that is traded based on non-monetary contributions into the online system. People sign up for a TEMs network account, see what services they might offer to other folks in their area who are in need, and start amassing credits that can be cashed in for things they themselves need. TEMs can be used for everything from bakers to babysitters, teachers to technicians. In theory, the value of one TEM is equal to the value of one Euro.
One participant, acupuncturist Bernhardt Koppold, explained, “It’s an easier, more direct way of exchanging goods and services. “It’s also a way of showing practical solidarity — of building relationships.” Maria Choupis, co-founder of the TEMs network, echoed that sentiment regarding the local alternative currency systems: “They are as much social structures as economic ones. They foster intimacy and mutual support.” Speaking to NPR, Volos Mayor Panos Skotiniotis encouraged municipal governments around the world to consider similar programs of their own to fill in where government and the traditional market are failing to adequately serve citizens: “This is a substitution for the welfare state, and that is why this municipality is encouraging it and wants it to grow.” For its part, though, the Greek Parliament is also very supportive, passing legislation to encourage various non-traditional forms of “entrepreneurship and local development.” Thankfully, other governments are listening. Many more Germans have jumped into alternative currency systems since the Euro was launched. More than two dozen systems now exist there. […] The United States, too, has a number of toes in the alternative currency water […]
Back in Greece, the TEMs system is but one of more than a dozen like it around the country. And, as the new thinking and new currencies take root, more opportunities grow. In Volos, daily markets allow people to barter and trade to their heart’s content. Choupis noted, “They’re quite joyous occasions. It’s very liberating, not using money.” By not being limited by price tags, almost anything is possible. Choupis relayed the story of a woman who arrived at a market with three trays of cakes she had made. The woman’s asking price was only one unit per cake, which Choupis questioned: “I asked her: ‘Do you think that’s enough? After all, you had the cost of the ingredients, the electricity to cook …’ “She replied: ‘Wait until the market is over’, and at the end she had three different kinds of fruit, two one-litre bottles of olive oil, soaps, beans, a dozen eggs and a whole lot of yoghurt. ‘If I had bought all this at the supermarket,’ she said, ‘it would have cost me a great deal more than what it cost to make these cakes.’”
No matter the city, keeping resources and economic systems close to home has both a trickle-down and a ripple-out effect. As more and more local governments open their minds and laws to what alternative currencies and sharing economies have to offer, the more resilient, self-sufficient, and sustainable their populations will become. […]