A tragedy of the commons: China’s Yangtze River

An observation essay from The Economist’s Intelligence Unit focus’s attention on how rapid industrialization, together with equally rapid  urbanization, conflict with the goals of “green hydro-based power” and  ambitious bureaucrats, all result in a mighty “muddle” – is this another case of planning’s inability to deal with the complexity of large scale natural and cultural systems ? I  wonder how … Continue reading A tragedy of the commons: China’s Yangtze River

Mayor of Seoul: Forging Ahead with Cross-Sector Innovations

 This essay by the  mayor of Seoul, Korea, recounts his path to government office and explains why social innovation is central to the way that he governs. From the Stanford Social Innovation Review by Won-Soon Park |     SUPPLEMENT TO SSIR FUNDED BY THE ROCKEFELLER FOUNDATION We are living in a remarkable era of connectivity. People living … Continue reading Mayor of Seoul: Forging Ahead with Cross-Sector Innovations

Richard Sennet: The stupefying smart city

From the Urban Age Electric City Conference Richard Sennet’s talk on the different ways a “Smart City” might be performed gives forth alternative ways technology might in fact make opportunities for citizens and participants to create the city rather have it developed “top-down” by architects and bureaucrats, this despite the on-going concern that  through the pervasive surveillance and exclusion that the technologies of the Smart City entail in reducing diversity  and creating boring placeless public space. As Sennet has repeatedly  voiced his views that it  is diversity and openness that create opportunity – see for example WHY COMPLEXITY IMPROVES THE QUALITY OF CITY  LIFE

Throughout the history of technology, new tools have come into being before people know how to use them well. This is the problem we face with today’s new ‘smart city’ tools – the CCTV cameras, motion sensors, and computers capable of processing immense amounts of data. The problem is in a way understandable. It takes a long time and much experiment, entailing failure as well as success, to plumb a tool’s possibilities. This was the case, for instance, of the hardened-edge scalpel, which appeared in the sixteenth century: surgeons required nearly a century to figure out best practices and innovative operations with a super sharp knife. But tools for the smart city come with a sting in the tail. Their application can inhibit experiment by ordinary urbanites in their everyday lives. A large city can be thought of as a complex organism whose innards do not work perfectly in sync, whose parts do not add up to a unified whole. Yet there is something valuable just about these dissonances. They can create opportunities economically, when someone seizes on a market irregularity, while lack of coherent control enables personal liberty, and disorder might make subjective experience rich and multi-layered – at least novelists from Defoe to Proust hoped so. To take advantage of these possibilities, the big city needs to be learnt. The risk is that new technologies might repress the inductive and deductive processes people use to make sense, for themselves, of the complex conditions in which they live. The smart city would then become a stupefying smart city. When a new tool proves deadening rather than liberating in use, our first instinct may be to blame the machine itself. That is what Lyon’s silk weavers in the eighteenth century did; they attacked mechanised looms as ‘perfidious works of the devil’. Instead of blaming the machine, we want to ask how the new urban technologies can be used more intelligently – which is more a question about urban planning and vision than about machinery. What kinds of urban design empower people in the street to experiment with their behaviour, and to draw their own conclusions from those experiments? In the 1930s, urbanists like the American Lewis Mumford and architects like the Swiss Sigfried Giedion worried about machines and materials in relation to urban design. Mumford challenged the urban planners’ uncritical embrace of the automobile; Giedion attacked the architects’ conservative use of new building materials. Digital technology has shifted the technological focus to information processing. This can occur in handhelds linked to ‘clouds’ or in command and control centres. The issue is: who controls such information and how is this information organised? Which in turn raises new issues of urban design. The questions the technology poses are much more profound than which software to buy. In this light, I want to make first a comparison between designs that create a stupefying smart city and designs that envision a stimulating smart city. By drawing this contrast, a formal issue then appears: that of the difference between a closed and an open system. And a social possibility emerges as well: the use of stimulating, open system technology to render the city more informal. My own comments here draw on a decade of research done by Urban Age on the visual and social conditions that can enable urbanites to take ownership over their lives.

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Food Security, Food Gardens and Social Responsibility Investment

This information from Eddie Bisset of  Herbex whose Happy Child Foundation have been involved in helping Khayelitsha home owners with establishing food gardens as part of their on going social responsibility investment.

Benji at the centres veggie garden
Benji at the centres veggie garden

We have been working on a ‘backyard veggie garden’ project in Khayelitsha to increase food security and reduce malnutrition.
This project will be established in Nganini shack land which has over 70% unemployment and zero facilities.

We are in co-operation with Benji of Inity to roll out this initiative.He has identified 15 home owners who are prepared to use their little plots to establish veggie gardens.
The Happy Child Foundation is funding this project with an initial investment of nearly R40,000.
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Yesterday Andre, Nichelle and I went out with Benji and met some of the homeowners involved in the project.
These are all wonderful people with little hope of stable employment.To put you in the picture I’ve used one family’s story as an example.

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Stronger Citizens, Stronger Cities: Changing Governance Through a Focus on Place

A welcome emphasis on actor-network associations and the politics of place rather that the usual focus on the built environment’s morphology , the paving, benches and “littering” the site with street furniture by Project for Public Spaces “If vibrancy is people, then the only way to make a city vibrant again is to make room for … Continue reading Stronger Citizens, Stronger Cities: Changing Governance Through a Focus on Place

Eat Your View | Veenkoloniën Netherlands | Felixx

Integrated research on sustainable agriculture that incorporates realistic acknowledgement of the impediments to the success of this process are seldom voiced in more that banal terms such as “market economy” “farmers markets” etc – going beyond green activists  and  urban hippies day dreams proves more than challenging; Her is one response reported by Damian Holmes … Continue reading Eat Your View | Veenkoloniën Netherlands | Felixx