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  • Who's the Neanderthal Now?

    Community, Industrial Design

    I am watching the Science Channel right now; it’s a special on Neanderthals (particularly interesting considering I’m reading Galapagos).

    It’s now believed that, contrary to past assumptions, Neanderthals were not the slow-witted brutes they are usually portrayed as. On the contrary, their brains were probably larger than ours, not smaller, although their bodies were stockier and built for power, not speed. They ate a lot of meat, and hunted in close proximity to their prey, using thick, heavy spears to track animals in forested areas.

    As the planet warmed up, the forests became thinner and a new species emerged: modern man. We were built different from Neanderthals; our bodies were lighter, more agile, and better suited for hunting on the plains. We had smaller brains but lighter, swifter tools - projectile spears that flew farther and faster than Neanderthal's clumsy weapons.

    The Neanderthals could have watched modern man, even adopted their weapons and hunting strategies, but in the end, they would have faced a dismal truth: they were simply not built for survival in this brave new world. They had evolved themselves into a corner, and “as their habitat collapsed around them, so did they.”

    It was not the superiority of modern man that wiped out a brutish, lesser animal. The environment changed, and the Neanderthals were incapable of adapting to change with it.

    After watching this episode, I am struck by its relevance to our current state of affairs. Many art...

  • What is Equitable Development?

    Community, Environmental Design

    As you may or may not know, I have been doing some exciting work with Ma’at Youth Academy in Richmond, CA.

    MYA, as we call it, empowers youth through environmental education, and right now, we’re working on a “Youth Vision and Framework” for the City’s General Plan. Our students have met with the Mayor, attended a Leadership Institute sponsored by Urban Habitat, and are eager to share their opinions about development with city leaders. Most of all, they constantly inspire me with their resilience. Many of them go to more funerals in a year than I’ve been to in the last ten, yet they never lose their passion for social justice. I wondered last week if it was the violence my students face that makes them yearn for a better world, when one of them was quoted in the Contra Costa Times.

    The connection between environmental and social justice is nothing new to me, but I must admit, it was Omar Freilla who really brought the message home for me. He put into simple terms something I had known in my heart all my life: no matter how much we like to think so, there is no “away.” There is no away we can throw trash to. There is no away we can hide our slums in, no away we can send our poor, huddled masses of our unemployed, our undervalued, our under-appreciated. We cannot send them east or south or west or north and pretend they are not there.

    Freilla talked about the low-income areas of the U.S. that bear the brunt of the high-income ones: New York’s South Bronx, Sa...

  • Live and Let Live

    Environment, Environmental Design

    I have come to believe there are two kinds of gardeners. The first kind is constantly plagued by pests. Slugs eat her lettuce, white flies devour her broccoli, and birds steal her blueberries. She sprays her plants with every known pesticide she can find, chases the birds away with screams and tantrums, and generally tears her hair out over every berry eaten or hole made in her lettuce leaves. It is an ongoing war, with this gardener and her plants on one side, and the pests that plague them on the other.

    Then, there is the second kind of gardener: the kind who plants enough for everyone.

    The primary difference between these two gardeners is their world view. The first sees a world of scarcity: every berry lost to a predator is a berry that should belong to her. The second gardener sees a world of abundance: although she too has slugs and aphids and birds, she plants extra, and there is always more than enough for everyone.

    How amazing is nature, that functions on an ROI of a hundred or more? One broccoli seed can not only produce four or five heads of broccoli but, if let go to seed, the plant will produce hundreds of seeds for a hundred more plants. Most beautifully, it does this all with sunlight, carbon dioxide, soil nutrients, and water; it produces no toxic waste in the process, and when its life cycle ends, it gives back every nutrient it’s taken and then some. Has anything humans created ever matched this amazing process?

    I have not been gardening long - about t...

  • I sat in on a FLOW meeting last night and found it very interesting. They asked participants to read “A Story of Two Idealists,” by Michael Strong, from the FLOW website. The story is about two people, Julian and Patrice, who want to “save/change the world” - your typical “idealist,” comme moi, you might say.

    The story goes: Julian works at all these non-profits, making no money, fighting City Hall to no avail. He eventually becomes a school teacher (again, making no money), and essentially resigns himself to being a cog in a machine that he has zero control over. In he end, he becomes disillusioned with the inefficacy of the school system, and though he makes differences in a few people’s lives (comme, no doubt, George Bailey a la It’s a Wonderful Life), he can’t take it anymore and quits teaching.

    Patrice, the second idealist, gets involved with FLOW, which aims to use capitalism/free enterprise/the system, whatever you want to call it, to make a difference. She learns to turn swords into ploughshares, I guess. Presumably, Patrice, because she is making a good living and changing the world through micro-entrepreneurship and international sustainability groups, doesn’t fall victim to the disillusionment that Julian does. She sees her work actually amounting to something, and it makes her a happier person.

    Now, I understand the logic of these stories. They remind me, actually, of a speaker I heard at the D.C. Green Festival, who said (and I’m paraphrasi...

  • Global Warming, Polio, and AIDS

    Community, Communication Design

    I am starting to feel that all the solutions to carbon sequestration (and, incidentally, other global “problems”) have been tainted by our planet’s experience with polio.

    Now, what, you ask, does global warming have to do with polio?

    The poliomyelitis virus was a singular, non-adaptive enemy. Single cause, single effect. Our immune systems love this kind of attacker: the virus is introduced, and an antibody is produced, protecting us from all future attacks. Thousands of years of evolution have given us the benefit of this seemingly “perfect” immune response. Jonas Salk actually relied on this to develop his vaccine, which, like other vaccines, effectively “tricks” our bodies into thinking they have contracted a disease, so it will produce antibodies to protect us from future infections. So simple, yet it saves millions of lives.

    In truth, vaccines have done us wonderful good, but they have conditioned us as a species to expect magic-bullet solutions to larger, systemic problems for which there are no magic bullets, save the elimination of our very culture.

    AIDS, for example, is a complex disease, caused by a virus that is not only adaptive and prone to mutation, but also uses our immune systems against us. Every day, the scientific community is thwarted by this enemy, that is always one step ahead of our adaptive capacity. Add to the biochemical nature of the disease the dozens of ways it can spread from host to host, and the cultural barriers that hamper ...

  • Is Gas the New Grain?

    Environment, Industrial Design

    My Ecological Economics professor told us a story in class from - of all things - the Bible, about Joseph. It came to mind again as I was reading an article in the Christian Science Monitor.

    Joseph, if you recall, held a position as Pharaoh’s adviser. Pharaoh had a dream of seven fat cows followed by seven lean ones, which Joseph interpreted as a kingdom-saving premonition: Egypt would have seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Joseph advised Pharaoh to store up grain during the coming “fat” years, to insure against the “lean” ones, so that his people would not starve.

    Now, the Christian Science Monitor mentions Joseph’s story as historical reference to climate change patterns, but I think the real lesson (if we’re talking about environmental responsibility) is in the behavior of Pharaoh in the story.

    You see, Pharaoh wasn’t stupid. He knew that in the lean years, everyone would have to come to him for grain. At first, the people gave him all the gold they had. When they ran out of gold, they traded their livestock for grain. When they ran out of livestock, they traded their freedom. And that, the story goes, is how Pharaoh amassed the army of slaves he needed to build the pyramids.

    Pharaoh knew what was coming down the pipeline, but instead of sharing the information, he capitalized on it. I mean, if insider trading can secure you massive amounts of slave labor, why share the wealth? It’s not like you have a moral obligation as the lead...

  • Why Sustainability is Like Surfing

    Environment, Environmental Design

    It occurred to me recently, living a sustainable life is very similar to big wave surfing. And, living a restorative life is like surfing... Maverick's. 

Maverick's is perhaps one of the most challenging point breaks on earth. It's about a half-mile offshore, first of all, so you have to paddle for twenty minutes just to get to it. It's cold, dense seawater, not light and warm like its Pacific cousin, Waimea. There are sharks - including Great Whites, who frequent the nearby Farallon islands. Where it crashes, there is a maze of underwater caves and crevasses ready to snag your leash line. You have to be at the very top of your game to surf Maverick’s, because if you don't, when you wipeout, there is a very good chance you will be dead in the water.

The thing about greatness is, you must be at the top of your game every time you step up to the plate. There is a reason why so few companies are sustainable, and even fewer are restorative. It takes an incredible commitment to paddle for twenty minutes in a freezing cold ocean, just for the chance to get one ride that might last 30 seconds, that might, in fact, end your surfing career (not to mention your life) if you make one small mistake during those thirty seconds. Yet people do it. People do it every day Maverick's is surfable. Why?

The ride. It's all about the ride. Knowing that for a moment, you were riding a force of nature. That you were held in the hand of something so much greater than you, more eternal than you, th...

  • hello everyone!

    Community

    Well, to be honest,this is the first time i have actually came across DESIGN 21, and i honestly feel that this is a GREAT orgainsation, one that manages to make an impact in people's life! ((: Design 21 not only engages the public but also make us want to be a part of it, to make a difference with design!

    i haven really explore much, but i know, i will soon!

    I am sure a good design is one that not only looks good but one that the world would benfit from. Afterall, designers were born to make this world a better place, werent they? three cheers designers!

  • While I type this entry, a young woman - only a few meters away from me - is just about to insert a needle into her arm, in order to inject heroine into her blood circulation.

    She is a mother of a 16-month-old boy and a guest at my house. And I know about her drug problem. Since she is just next room, I can hear her preparing the fix.

    This isn’t just a fiction or a creative briefing. It's reality. Right now. My question to you, dear community: how can design solve a problem like this one? Are we too naive? Don't we need something better than that?

  • GLOBAL WARMING AND THE ARCHITECTURE

    Environment, Environmental Design

    Global_20heating1_0_177_

    La búsqueda del contenido en arquitectura tiene urgencia mayores a buscar continuidad en una ciudad en crisis*, estudio postergable frente a amenazas venideras; el calentamiento global es el hecho irremediable que producirá el cambio mas significativo en la arquitectura desde el modulor. Todas las arquitecturas geniales en ciudades costeras como Nueva York, Sydney, Tokio o Sao Paulo quedaran inutilizadas, su readecuación destruiría los planteamientos con los que se esperaba funcionaran, lo estático de las mentes constructoras pasara la cuenta al mundo, es el momento hoy de pensar nuestros futuros edificios y principalmente aquellos que esperamos sigan funcionando en 200 años. Del agua viene la vida, el 70% del planeta esta constituido por ella, la brecha entre un barco inmóvil y arquitectura será cada vez mas reducida, aunque algunos seguiran diseñando edificios para siglos que ya pasaron. la pregunta es; ¿puede ser hoy, la toma de deciciones en el diseño de un edificio alusivas al calentamiento global consideradas como "contenido en arquitectura"?, dado la falta de este en la arquitecturas de moda y vanguardia como minimalismo (entendida en como "revival" de la estetica moderna, figurativa y funcional pero carente de ideales)

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