John Thackara | Essays

City Eco Lab [April 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.

We have started work in earnest on City Eco Lab, a 'nomadic market of projects' that takes place in November in St Etienne, France. The concept is simple: literally millions of people are active in projects which, in different ways, are the building blocks of one planet living. These projects deal with different aspects of daily life: food, water, energy, mobility, school, and economy. But many of these projects are invisible, even locally. So it can feel, depressingly, as if nothing is happening. City Eco Lab, by making some of these projects visible to the wider populace, starts people talking about ways they might be improved - or about doing similar projects themselves. The live projects we are researching from the St Etienne region (it's an hour right from Lyon as you head south) will be shown side-by-side with best practice projects from other parts of the world. There will also be a tool shed with resources to help people improve their projects: tools for designing, tools for modelling and making things, tools for monitoring local flows, tools for finding and sharing resources.In the middle of this market (it's in a 5,000 square metre former gun factory) will be a campfire zone for encounters between citizens, project leaders, tool makers, and designers. The event is hosted by the St Etienne Cite du Design; its designers are Exyzt and Gaelle Gabillet. Yes, we do want your suggestions for best-practice projects to show next to the St Etienne projects: for now, a short email, a weblink and a pic will suffice:
john [at] doorsofperception [dot] com
Biennale Internationale Design 15-30 November 2008, Saint-Etienne.

The offer of a free Dott 07 Manual is open for one more week. The Manual explores two questions: "What could life in a sustainable region be like?" and, "how can design can help us get there?" Here are some sample spreads: http://www.thackara.com/dott/dottexamples/index.html We will send five free copies to you if you tell us which four other people you will send a book to - someone likely to make other Dott-like events happen. Please send the names of your nominees, plus your full postal address, to: john [at] doorsofperception [dot] com (and please put Manual in the header).

If cheap clothing chains used only bamboo and soyabean fibres, grew these plants 100% organically, and produced only locally, their t-shirts woud still not be sustainable. This is because of what happens when we get a garment home. The average piece of clothing is washed and dried 20 times in its life: 82 percent of its lifetime energy use, and over half the solid waste, emissions to air, and water effluents it generates, therefore occurs during laundering. I learned this in Kate Fletcher's excellent new book Sustainable Fashion and Textiles. Read more at:

Imagine a cashless economy where there's no paper, no plastic, no coins - just mobile banking. iAfrica reports that a virtual currency is is reaching critical mass there as pre-paid airtime is traded to exchange goods and services. At the touch of a button, value can stored as airtime in your cellphone and used to purchase items from your local street vendor. MTN Nigeria is among several companies supplying prepaid top-up cards also allow people living in the UK to buy airtime for members of family back home as a convenient alternative to sending small amounts of money home. Fact: More than 800 million mobile phones were sold in developing countries in the last three years.

"Walking is the Grand Central Station of life; it is the heart of community life, the backbone of fitness, the centrepiece of community security, the glue of transportation, the essence of learning and creativity (from no less a source that the Peripatetics of ancient Greece), the medium of romance, the humility of leadership, the heart of social and economic justice, and the exchange medium of the physical world". Chris Bradshaw, who wrote those words, is fantastically expert on everything to do with informal transportation - walking, and most cycling. He is also the owner of Pednet, the international mailing list for walking advocates and those promoting pedestrian rights.

Darren Sharp writes from Australia to anounce a new report on user-led innovation. It's based on in-depth interviews with leading thinkers on user-led innovation including: Eric von Hippel (MIT), Yochai Benkler (Harvard), Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia), Siva Vaidhyanathan (Virginia), John Howkins (Adelphi Charter), Michel Bauwens (P2P Alternatives) and Mitch Kapor (Linden Lab).
http://smartinternet.com.au/ArticleDocuments/121/User_Led_Innovation_A_New_Framework_for_Co-creating_Business_and_Social_Value.pdf.aspx or http://tinyurl.com/5e7ttc [both 2.4 MB pdf downloads]

I'm getting regular spam from The Survival Food Store with offers of long term storage food for times of emergency. Their copy editing leaves so much to be desired that I'm reluctant to eat their products. But you be the judge on whether or not to "stock up now and be ready when man made or natural disaster strike" (sic).

Severe water shortages in Barcelona have prompted the Catalan government to import drinking water by ship from Marseilles, not that far from where I live in southern France. Barcelona's water company, Aigues de Barcelona, is now installing port facilities in preparation. The seven tankers employed in the water supply will have a capacity of 28,000 cubic metres each; five will be used on the route between Tarragona and Barcelona, and two to transport water coming from the Rhone river in southern France, from Marseille to Barcelona. The cost of these emergency measures is estimated at 1.3 billion euros.
http://www.ansamed.it/en/spain/news/[email protected]

Moving bags, moving people, moving goods: Logistics are life-critical for us all. I was therefore alarmed to read in Supply Chain Standard about logistics in the supermarket industry. On checking the software descriptors of 14,000 product lines, one analyst found one or more errors in the information lines of every single item contained. (A standard description has 200 attributes, but industry customers typically add up to 1,500 extra items of information on their own account). Many supermarkets admit to at least 35 percent data inaccuracy in their product files (says the industry's own in-house magazine). "It's little surprise", concludes the writer, that "retailers end up with little idea of what is in store, in transit, on order or at the warehouse". Supermarkets only have three days supply of food in stock at any one time... or so they think. So I don't know about you, but I'm reminded that this is planting season at my home in France: I need to get back and start digging. Supply Chain Standard January 2008 page 9 Penelope Ody

A summer school in Pollenzo and Torino, Italy, addresses such topics as active welfare (health and well-being) open and safe places (social life and security) food networks (sustainable food systems) and multi-mobility (efficient urban mobility). Tuition costs and hospitality (food and accommodation) are covered by grants offered by the Torino 2008 World Design Capital; students will be responsible only for travel to/from Pollenzo; plus a notional fee of Euro 100.
Deadline for applications is 15 May 2008

In a welcome turn of events, In The Bubble is going to be published in Italian, French, Japanese, Portuguese, and Chinese. I've reduced the whole thing to 100 pages, added three new chapters, and changed the sub-title to "design steps to a one planet economy". If you know of a publisher in a language other than those listed above, who might also be interested, do please drop me a line.

Jobs | May 19