Why messy cities are more modern

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(Pic: Being Nicely Messy, CRIT, Mumbai) In London, I did this interview with Midtown Big Ideas Exchange:

Q   Do you believe cities are rational or organized and, if so, what makes them this way?

A    Cities are often conceived in a rational way but usually take on a non-rational life of their own – and thank goodness for that. The spatial grid of New York, for example, co-exists with a bewildering array of unofficial activities at street level. The same goes for Mumbai; her city map looks clear enough – but it does not equip the visitor to understand the apparent chaos of daily life on the ground. The best cities combine both: Read More »

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Healthcare in the Next Economy

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Last month I gave a talk at 
UC Berkeley School of Public Health, as part of the Dean’s Lecture Series, with the title, From Biomedicine to Bioregion: The Geographies of a Care-Based Economy. The video of that talk is here. My interview with Peter Jarrett, for their online journal Berkeley Wellness, is republished below.

The philosopher and writer John Thackara, a senior fellow at the Royal College of Art, in London, scours the world for examples of the ways social innovation can improve the health of communities, which he explores in his blog, doorsofperception.com. He recently spoke at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health about his new book, How to Thrive in the Next Economy. He explores the ways sometimes small steps can make a tremendous difference in solving some of the most intractable challenges in delivering health care.

What are the most serious challenges facing health care?

It’s a multi-dimensional crisis in which trillions of dollars are spent treating the symptoms of illness rather than its causes. Read More »

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No organism is truly autonomous – including us

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An interview with Jonny Gordon-Farleigh, the editor and publisher of STIR magazine.
 
Current and back issues of the magazine are available in the online shop

Jonny Gordon-Farleigh: Your new book, How to Thrive in the Next Economy, explores practical innovations in sustainability across the world. What stories would you pick out as the most instructive for the scale of change we need to see?

John Thackara: The sheer variety of projects and initiatives out there is, for me, the main story. No single project is the magic acorn that will grow into a mighty oak tree. We need to think more like a forest than a single tree! If you look at healthy forests, they are extremely diverse—and we’re seeing a healthy level of diversity in social innovation all over the world. Many people say we need to focus on solutions that scale, but to me that’s globalisation-thinking wearing a green coat. Every social and ecological context is unique, and the answers we seek will be based on an infinity of local needs. Read More »

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Recoded City

Recoded City

I wrote this preface for a new book called Recoded City: Co-Creating Urban Futures by Thomas Ermacora and Lucy Bullivant.

I write these words outside the portakabin control room of Shambala, a summer festival in England. On the wall is the street plan of what looks like a mid-sized town. Fifteen thousand people have indeed filled a vast field with tents, yurts, sound stages, composting toilets, drinking water tanks, hot tubs, food vans, cellphone charging stations, yoga enclosures, a barber shop, a meadow filled with aromatherapists, cash vending machines in a caravan, and pagan circles around wood-burning stoves.

Surrounding Shambala’s downtown core is a densely-packed suburbia Read More »

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Are positive stories enough?

“The world is in dire need of a narrative adjustment; that’s why we write” (Hamid Dabashi)

Since How To Thrive In the Next Economy was published in the autumn, my 29 conversations about the book have prompted all kinds of feedback. One question has cropped up repeatedly: In a world filled with melting ice caps, war, species extinctions, and economic peril, how can I possibly argue that the small-scale actions I write about can transform the bigger picture for the better?

My answer: It depends how you frame the picture. Read More »

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Bioregionalism By Design: Short Course at Schumacher College, England

Western Cornwall, Penwith Bioregion

Doors of Perception is helping to lead a  two week course at Schumacher College which runs from 25 April to 6 May.

In myriad projects around the world, a new economy is emerging whose core value is stewardship, not extraction. Growth, in this new story, means soils, biodiversity and watersheds getting healthier, and communities more resilient.

These seedlings are cheering – but something more is needed for the whole to be more than the sum of its parts. A compelling story, and a shared purpose, are needed that people can relate to, and support, whatever their other differences.

A strong candidate for that connective idea is the bioregion. A bioregion re-connects us with living systems, and each other, through the unique places where we live. It acknowledges that we live among Read More »

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From Bike Chain to Blockchain: Three Questions About Cooperation Platforms and Mobility

Should transport systems be designed to save time – or calories? Who should own mobility sharing platforms: private companies? cities? us? What kind of ecosystem is needed to support the sharing platforms we want? These three questions are the focus of a workshop in London  on 25 November. I’ve asked a three friends to join me on a panel: Tessy BrittonCo-founder of Civic Systems Lab and Participatory City; they just published their research report Designed to ScaleBlaine Cook,  formerly lead developer of Twitter, now a founder of collaborative text editing startup Poetica; and (by Skype) Trebor Sholz, co-curator of last week’s already-celebrated conference on platform cooperativismThis post frames three questions we will discuss – hopefully, with you, too. 

Thomas Lommée multivan-in-action

(Above: Multivan concept by Thomas Lommée)

Taxi. Pick-up. Delivery. Assistance. Vendor. Security. Rental.

Seven functions, one vehicle. The signs on that one small van describe a new way to think about mobility: the use of multiple mobility ‘assets’ to support a wide variety of services.

In the concept of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) the van, when coupled with a Read More »

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“It’s already happening”- a message to COP21

STREE.  REPORTAGE SUR LE SITE DE GAL CONDRUSES DANS LE CADRE DE LIEGE EN TRANSITION.  Photo Michel Tonneau

STREE. REPORTAGE SUR LE SITE DE GAL CONDRUSES DANS LE CADRE DE LIEGE EN TRANSITION. Photo Michel Tonneau

With fewer than three weeks to go until the start of COP21, the UN’s climate negotiations in Paris, a question arises: Will this gathering make the slightest difference?

For Rob Hopkins, editor of a new book from Transition Network, 21 Stories of Transitionanswer is yes – but a different kind of yes than the global leaders meeting in Paris probably have in mind. He wants decision makers to reimagine their role as being ‘community enablers’ whose task is to deepen, connect and extend initiatives that are already out there.

A huge upsurge in transformative local projects is evident around the world, argues Hopkins; the priority is not for global leaders to start things off from scratch – still less, to tell people what to do.

Although Hopkins says we should not expect a ‘Great Change Moment’ at COP21, he does compare our situation Read More »

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Between a rock and a soft place

Today, Plymouth University very generously awarded me an honorary doctorate.  Here is my short statement to this year’s graduating class in Design, Architecture and Environment.

I nearly failed to get here yesterday, and I want to tell you why.

The road from my house to the city passes through a spectacular gorge. Several weeks ago, after some especially violent rainstorms, stones and debris started falling onto the road.

Soon, an impressive crew arrived to stabilise the rock face.

One team of engineers made holes in the rock face with a huge robotic drill. Four yards long, it was mounted on the arm of a digger. They put large pegs in the holes, and made them secure with exotic polymer composites.

Higher up the rock face was a team of climbing engineers. Clad in bright red rubber suits for protection, they draped Read More »

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