John Thackara | Essays

Eating Spin [August 2008]

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

In The Bubble, my book about design and sustainability, is about to be published in Italian (by Allemandi). The Italian version has evolved substantially from the English language one: it's shorter (154 pages) but also contains three new chapters - on Alimentazione (Food), Presenza (Presence) and Development (Sviluppo). I have 25 advance copies to send to influential journalists or bloggers, so please send me the name and postal address of anyone you think fits that profile.

An “inspiring day of mass action” to shut Kingsnorth power station in the UK includes a brico-armada next weekend of hand-made boats and rafts. Climate Camp is saying no to proposals to build a new generation of coal power stations, and yes to sustainable living. “This is probably the best opportunity we have to really kick-start a huge social movement in this country capable of avoiding catastrophic climate change. It may also be the most amazing and inspirational week of your life. We need you there!” Kingsnorth, Kent, 3-11 August

The British government is in talks with supermarkets about emergency food reserves "in case the infrastructure of the country breaks down”. The exercise is being spun as a response to possible strikes by fuel tanker drivers, but the more likely explanation is that the precarious state of food systems as a whole has finally registered in mud-free Whitehall. Persuading supermarkets to stock 60 days supply of staple foods is better than the three days supply available in today's just-in-time systems - but sheds full of baked beans are not exactly a long-term solution. A more nutritious form of spin in the US is called SPIN_farming - a franchise-ready sustainable farming system for urban locations that can be deployed quickly and on a wide scale. Read more at:

Whilst traveling, do you look obsessively at the ways other people sort and manage their trash? Good. For City Eco Lab, in November, we are collecting pictures of the many ways people deal with their trash in different parts of the world – at home, on the street, in the neighbourhood, or at larger scales. Image quality is not an issue. Please send your pix to nicolas.roesch at citedudesign dot com

As previously reported here, the core activity of a Transition Town is Energy Descent Action Planning (EDAP). Rob Hopkins, who developed the process, describes the capacity of a community to embark on an EDAP as "resilience" - a set of capabilities to which designers can certainly contribute. Just how is the topic of my talk in October at the School of Architecture & Design at the University of Brighton, UK. 7 October, Sallis Benney Lecture Theatre, Grande Parade, Brighton.

What does ‘building sustainably' actually mean? What, to be specific, are the defining qualities of an “eco quartier”? The European Forum for Architectural Policies is holding a conference at Arc-en-Rêve in Bordeaux, at which I will talk about these questions. The event is open to professionals from across Europe, but you have to register. Bordeaux, 9 and 10 October 2008.

We will never achieve “sustainable transport” unless the economics and regulation of land-use are also changed. A new Journal of Transport and Land Use brings multiple disciplines together for the first time: engineering, planning, modeling, behavior, economics, geography, regional science, sociology, architecture and design, network science, and complex systems. This first issue includes papers on Sprawl and Accessibility, and Cities as Organisms.

What should be the design research agenda for sustainability? The proceedings of last month’s conference in Torino are now online:

David Barrie, who led the world's first televised regeneration project, writes to tell me that that the project’s centrepiece, a new bridge, is now open for business. This six million euro structure is one in a series of newly designed public spaces in Castleford, the former coal-mining town in West Yorkshire. A television series produced by Barrrie for Channel 4 is credited with leveraging over 250 million euros of new investment into the town. The series is due to be broadcast imminently.

As designers, can we not do more good in our own backyards than in foreign parts? It is, in principle, great that many colleagues donate their time and expertise to projects such as $100 laptops, emergency shelter, and mobile hospitals. But I can't get it out of my mind that I personally, along with most other US or European citizens, emit as much CO2 in one day as someone in Tanzania does in seven months. And if I go as a tourist, even an eco one, I'll use as much water in 24 hours as a villager who lives there, uses in 100 days. Who needs whose help here? Read more (including Cameron Sinclair’s reply) at:

CALL A FJELL: +47 90 369 389
Is this the next-generation telephony solution I've been looking for as an alternative to physical travel? The creators of Telemegaphone, Magnus Torstensson and Erik Sandelin of Unsworn Industries, have created a sublime piece of communications landscape art - or something along those lines. Telemegaphone Dale is a a seven-metres tall loudspeaker sculpture on top of the Bergskletten mountain overlooking the idyllic Dalsfjord in Western Norway. Dial the Telemegaphone’s phone number and your voice will be projected out across the fjord, the valley and the village of Dale. Hint: my birthday is on 6 August....

Jobs | May 19