Silver linings: how design can exploit the virus

Healthy advise for urbanists

The power of the network

A “to do” list for urban planners, architects & interior designers, in response to the coronavirus.

In towns & cities:

  • reduce traffic speeds to 20mph/30kph to discourage speeding on empty streets during lockdown & to keep the air clean, the sound low & the accidents down after the “return”.

On wide streets:

  • broaden footways to improve physical distancing in the short term & encourage pedestrian flow in the long
  • then narrow roadways further with cycle lanes to support physical activity during lockdown & active commuting on the return.

In public spaces:

  • provide more shade, more seats, more WiFi
  • place more seats on broadened footways so calls can be answered & people can convert from moving to sitting down…
  • …and so “I’ll call you back” becomes “Just give me a second to sit down.”

In shops:

  • focus on customer touch, copresence, changing & comfort because everything else can be done at…

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IS the Covid19 pandemic a “grand reset” or just another bump in the endless road to nowhere?

Much is being said about the pandemic and governments responses to it and that it could be the opportunity to rethink the way we live and our reckless pursuit of life and consumptive behaviour that threatens our existence here. Despite more than 50 years of warnings of an environmental tragedy and the threat of global warming, selfish interests in most of us persist and, like new years resolutions that faded before the first week of the year, will we return to old habits and allow vested interests in our every day tools, smart phones, computers, Instagram, Facebook, Google, Amazon etc suck us back into the endless rat race of desire, working to fulfil transient goals and wanton pleasure?

I have been following New World Same Humans, David Mattin’s weekly newsletter on trends, technology, and society for a few weeks now and the questions he raises about the meaning of things is worth a read.

Despite its obvious flaws and contradictions, I like philosopher John Gray’s book “Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals” in which he questions our ability to think beyond our selfish needs and reaffirmed my scepticism in what we as individuals can do in the face of human nature to affect wicked problems like climate change, inequality, poverty and social justice. It resonates with the classic Stoic point of view that the world is an “Immutable Mutable” and one should act on oneself rather than trying to effect change on the world.

You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

This is similar to the ideas of “self-helpers” I once read in my “youth” like Stephen Covey, who time and cynicism and my own slackness, relegate to th e dust heaps of our overburdened bookshelves, now rendered obsolete in these days of Google, Kindle and Netflix. Still, in his book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” one of the concepts he uses to derive his habits is the concept that there is a Circle of Concern, which is the things you reflect or worry about, your health, your kids behaviour, the dog barking, climate change, governments corruption etc., there is another circle the Circle of Influence which is where you are able to focus your efforts on to affect change, generally this is smaller than your circle of concern. By focusing on the things one has the ability to change, the Circle of Control, largely within oneself, one gains strength and willpower and thus ones circle of concern shrinks to the things on can change and as one success, one’s circle of influence grows as one’s confidence and potentially humility and compassion drive one to assist others we sees struggling in our environment.

Rather that fight against what seems inevitable in a “global world” we can act locally while thinking globally, a small change in our own attitudes and behaviour can lead to much larger impacts than we might imagine.

Years ago there was a large graffiti painting on a wall in Main Road, Salt River, Cape Town that read ” “If every man would help his neighbor, no man would be without help.” I wish I had photographed it, it is now gone but the thought lingers………