Plans for Salem’s Harbor Power Station: Realpolitik or Missed Opportunity?

July 9, 2012 at 7:54 pm | In cities, green, health, innovation, jane_jacobs, land_use, leadership, NIMBYism, politics, power_grid, real_estate, resources, silo_think | Comments Off on Plans for Salem’s Harbor Power Station: Realpolitik or Missed Opportunity?

Last year, when I was still in Victoria BC but considering a move back to Boston’s North Shore, I read about the impending closure of the Salem Harbor Power Station and immediately thought,”Wow, what a fantastic redevelopment opportunity!” Suffice to say that my optimism may have been premature.

Bedeviled by a Dirtball

The Salem Harbor Power Station is one of the region’s dirtiest coal- and oil-burning power generators. For six decades, the plant has occupied sixty-two acres of prime waterfront real estate, cutting residents off from all other historically and economically significant maritime uses on shore. Its hulking facility, topped by two smokestacks that pierce the skyline, has visually dominated the coastline not only for its Salem neighbors, but also for folks in Beverly and Marblehead.

(Photo, above, from Dominion’s website)

Zombie Infrastructure

And it has spewed tons of pollutants into the air. As the Denver Post put it in an article about these many long-in-the-tooth dirty power plants, “Utilities dragged feet”:

These plants have been allowed to run for decades without modern pollution controls because it was thought that they were on the verge of being shuttered by the utilities that own them. But that didn’t happen.

Indeed. The Salem station was one of those zombie economy necessities that refused to die: a lot of people shrugged and accepted it as an unavoidable evil that had to be borne. After all, the region is famous for being bedeviled, right? The struggle to force either a clean-up or a closure of the Salem station was epic – but now it’s finally happening.

Or is it?

There’s a dearth of information about how the situation went from “the plant is closing” = “really new opportunities” to “the plant is dead” = “long live the plant,” but some weeks ago, the latter option grew in strength when the station’s current owner, Dominion, began negotiations to sell the property as-is to New Jersey-based startup Footprint Power. The latter wants to operate a natural gas-burning power plant at the site. Admittedly, natural gas burns cleaner than coal or oil – but wait! There have been hints that the backup fuel could be …diesel oil. Because, you know, depending on the markets, natural gas might become too expensive and we’d have to go back to something a little dirtier.

It seems zombies are hard to kill dead.

Why has there been no recent public input on the plans?

On June 26, Andrea Fox of Green Drinks of Greater Salem moderated a discussion of current plans for the station. The three presenters – Healthlink‘s Jane Bright, State Rep. Lori Ehrlich, and attorney Jan Schlichtmann (whose work has often focused on environmental issues) – questioned the plans now on offer. Schlichtmann in particular pointed out that, while there was a surge of interest initially in what would happen to the site, the recent negotiations between Dominion, Footprint, and Massachusetts politicians have effectively put a kibosh on any further public input. The Green Drinks discussion was essentially meant to breathe some life into the conversation. It seems that as soon as the corporation(s) decided on a course of action, the people rolled over and went quiet.

The lone voice speaking in favor of Footprint Power’s plan was Shelley Alpern, a Salem resident and member of SAFE – the Salem Alliance for the Environment (but she made it clear that she wasn’t speaking on SAFE’s behalf). Alpern’s cred as an environmentalist goes way back, so it was surprising to hear her question the vision for a sustainable redeveloped waterfront site and instead pleading Footprint’s case.

The arguments at Green Drinks revolved around the following:

  • how much will it really cost to clean up the brownfield site? Some put the price tag at $75m, others argue that this number is inflated and meant to scare people into accepting Footprint’s option, lest the alternative be “the padlock” (meaning the site just gets shuttered and turns into a decaying eyesore versus a toxic waste spewing eyesore). See also Speaking alternatives to power
  • is the lifecycle of natural gas really that much better than coal or oil? Sure, it’s cleaner (somewhat) and currently cheaper (somewhat), but no one knows how the markets are going to shape prices in the future, near or far. And what about the externalities and costs consumer don’t directly see when the natural gas is extracted, such as the enormous environmental cost of fracking? What about the dangers of putting pipelines, which will inevitably break down and leak, through watershed areas? There are already pipelines running from Nova Scotia in Canada, through Beverly, and into Salem. What’s their “lifecycle”?
  • will Footprint Power keep its promises? Some stakeholders have been told by Footprint that a natural gas-burning plant might need to use diesel fuel as a back-up; some were told that the existing plant might have to stay on for some time (vs being dismantled). Other stakeholders have heard no such thing when they sat down with Footprint – but we’re dealing with corporations, and with energy corporations, to boot …not exactly always the white-hat guys.
  • what of the missed opportunities to develop something truly amazing?

That last point – missing opportunities because vision is lacking – strikes me as the most compelling. Rep. Ehrlich made the case in a Marblehead Reporter op-ed on May 14, 2012, Vision still lacking at Salem power-plant site (also available on her website, here). The column sparked a flaming letter-to-the-editor in response, Get over the aesthetics; think clean energy, whose author compared opposition to off-shore (and backyard) wind turbines to a kind of la-la-land NIMBYism that wants a “pretty” picture without facing the inescapable reality of our energy needs. His point was that Ehrlich and those who think like her are in la-la-land because we pussy-foot around the fact that we still need to get our energy from somewhere, while he is a realist who understands that Footprint’s proposal is the region’s best bet.

I think it’s a false choice.

Macro / Micro

Consider for a moment perspective. What the critics, especially Ehrlich and Schlichtmann, have is a fine-grained, close-view perspective. It reminds me of Jane Jacobs‘s analysis of neighborhoods at the street level. She looked at the details and decoded what she termed a street ballet, understanding that how people use a thing (a street) – and how they are able to use it – determines the whole, irrespective of how much planning-from-above tries to predict outcomes. This was pretty much in opposition (at the time) to the thinking of professional planners, who believed that streets must be rationally planned (preferably according to the needs of the automobile) and that buildings, placed according to mostly “ideal” reasons, would determine uses. If Jacobs had a micro view, the planners of the day had the macro view.

It strikes me as ironic that the micro-view is actually the Big Picture “vision” view, and that the macro approach, which tries to account for a larger perspective, has a blind spot about the “users” or people on the ground. The Realpolitik view defaults to the macro – and I count Alpern’s approach here. Expert knowledge about hydro-fracking regulations in Bulgaria and Pennsylvania is good to have, but it’s not enough to impel local people to act differently. Local inertia is a strong force, and if you build another power plant, you will have another power plant. For another sixty years. But if you give the people who actually want change the power to control their destinies, they can move the rest of us out of our inertia. That’s the claim mocked by the letter writer who thinks a power plant alternative is la-la-land thinking – but what is the alternative? Another planned-from-above mega-project that repeats many of the same patterns established by the old project?

Deep waters, old uses

Schlichtmann made the truly relevant point that Salem’s history was built on maritime industry. The current site of the Salem Harbor Power Station is Salem’s only deep-water port – what passes for the city’s tourist harbor is a shallow pond, incapable of harboring bigger vessels. The original coal-burning plant was built on that prime spot because of the deep harbor, which allowed ships to offload coal. It’s an incredibly shortsighted move willfully to dismiss an opportunity to reclaim that harbor for what it represents (Salem’s fantastic seafaring history). All around the industrialized world, cities are reclaiming waterfront that was savaged by mono-uses (waterfront freeways, power plants, factories, etc.), and reintegrating them into a more sustainable urban fabric. Why should Salem shut itself out from that renaissance?

Well, because we need energy. But consider this: ISO New England has said that there’s no longer any need for a power plant in Salem. As Ehrlich noted in her column, “The old plant is barely running, and ISO, the region’s reliability-cautious grid operator, said that power production on that site is no longer needed. Why such an enormous plant?”

More references

For more images of the Salem Harbor Power Station, see Healthlink‘s photostream, here.

For an informative PDF, see Repurposed Coal Plant Sites Empower and Revive Communities.

Sierra Club, Victory! Salem Coal Plant Announces Closing.

ArchBOSTON forum discussion (brief) here.


December 13, 2011 at 10:58 am | In innovation, justice, politics | Comments Off on Stop SOPA

I’ve censored the following, in protest of a bill that gives any corporation and the US government the power to censor the internet–a bill that could pass THIS WEEK. To see the uncensored text, and to stop internet censorship, visit:

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Uncensor This

Retail realities

October 6, 2010 at 11:28 am | In ideas, innovation, victoria | Comments Off on Retail realities

Yesterday’s post about ordering New Glasses online prompted Robert Randall to comment with some questions and thoughts about the future of retail.

My first response was to point out that I posed those very questions way back in December 2006 in my article, Consuming Downtown. This is hardly a new problem, and if local retailers haven’t woken up to the dangers that online retail poses, they must be dreaming.

Looking at my New Glasses conundrum: I’m not in a position to pay the bricks-and-mortar surcharge on stylish-looking glasses at this time, and if an online retailer can provide the service and the product at a considerably cheaper price, I’ll take my business there. However, if a bricks-and-mortar retailer offered the right shopping experience, maybe I’d dig deeper and pay the surcharge after all.

So what can a bricks-and-mortar store do to draw in customers?

Perhaps Victoria is a “special” case with plenty of people who still shop traditionally, because I don’t get the impression that traditional outlets here are hurting. Yet. But if a retailer were to continue doing business the old way, then starts to hurt, and then complains about the new ways muscling in on his/ her business (as Robert’s friend seemed to have done with regard to LensCrafters) – if that happens you have to wonder what the retailer was thinking.

It’s really not an either / or thing (either bricks-and-mortar or online).

If a bricks-and-mortar eye-wear store wanted to draw me into its store, it would first have to make sure that it has an absolutely Wow!gorgeous online presence. Glasses are items I might shop for only every couple of years, which means I’m not comfortable just “popping in” to the store to look around. A specialized store where I’m likely to shell out a few hundred dollars only every few years is a bit like a commercial art gallery: there’s a lot of threshold resistance because I don’t want to encounter over-eager or overly-snobby sales people, and I don’t want to be reminded that I can’t afford this or that, and that my choices are therefore limited to really generic looking crap. In my case, this means I’ll want to do my initial browsing online, to see if this store and I could possibly be sympatico. It should then be a bonus that, living in the same city, I can actually walk into the store to examine the goods up-close.

If the store wants to hold my attention, it should avoid offering everything. I despise most eyewear stores because they sell too much stuff that would never look good on me. I need instead to know that if I go in there, I’ll find something I can like. It’s a waste of my time to go from store to store looking at 15 gazillion variations of the same “vanilla” frames (the “mall” experience), all of which don’t speak to what I want to express. If you’re going to offer 15 gazillion types of frames, put them online, for god’s sake, but don’t “display” them in your store (use your online site for that).

Instead, concentrate your in-store displays to highlight specific looks, with a seasonal focus on collections and on what’s hot as an overall look: eyewear is fashion, forget about selling it as science or some impossibly rarefied, hard-to-produce item. With today’s optical labs, lens quality just shouldn’t be something the consumer is supposed to worry about. Top quality should be the standard, a given. And if it’s not given, you’ll hear about it because I’ll be bringing it back for a refund.

Let’s take a look at a local bricks-and-mortar store that succeeds as an online retailer, too, because of the way it has managed to carve out a very specific niche: Baggins Shoes on lower Johnson Street in Victoria, BC. Baggins (established as a store in 1969) bills itself as having the world’s largest selection of Converse shoes, which (along with Vans, Heelys, and Dinosoles Shoes) it sells online as well as in its – yes – bricks-and-mortar store. Baggins sells a lot, but it drills down into depth, with an exclusive focus on a certain kind of shoe. Luckily for Baggins, those shoes come in 15 gazillion variations, which means they never sell vanilla, but instead sell specialized flavors of a particular “hip” brand. Baggins leverages social media, too (their blog is dead, but check out their Facebook page, Youtube, and Twitter streams), …and yet its physical retail experience is treasured by many. See, for example, Elizabeth McClung’s blog post on her buying experience at Baggins, Crisp Lesbian Lolita Gothic: or “How my clothes control people.” (Bonus: click through for a photo of Elizabeth’s sales person, holding a pair of Rosie the Riveter sneakers.)

If I ever buy a pair of Converse shoes, you can bet I’ll buy them at Baggins. And if I ever saw as zingy a blog post about an optical / eyewear shop as McClung’s post about buying sneakers at Baggins, I’d take my business there. Especially if they had a good website where I could shop virtually first, trying glasses on virtually and seeing the price before I commit.

Dirty Wall Project: slums and cities

September 24, 2010 at 11:59 pm | In cities, guerilla_politics, housing, ideas, innovation, land_use, local_not_global, philanthropy, street_life, urbanism, victoria | Comments Off on Dirty Wall Project: slums and cities

I saw an amazing photograph in the temporary gallery Ryan Kane of the Dirty Wall Project has set up on Fort Street.

The photo is one of many that Kane is selling to raise funds for his venture: it’s a flat, saturated, picture-edge-to-picture-edge frontal view of one small piece of a slum in Saki Naka bordering the rail line. Its complexity makes Where’s Waldo look minimalist.

Monday Magazine published an interview with Kane last month. An excerpt from the introduction:

You’ve heard of guerrilla gardening and guerrilla marketing, but what about guerilla volunteering? The concept to “see a need and fill it” without worrying about paperwork, bureaucracy or religious bias is exactly what 28-year-old Kane Ryan strives to do with his one-person, not-for-profit organization called the Dirty Wall Project. Ryan just recently returned from India where he was working in the slums of Mumbai, organizing health camps, distributing tarps for the monsoon season, funding emergency surgeries and building a school for the children living in the Saki Naka slum community, among other initiatives. All of the money he raises—75 percent of which comes from here in Victoria through fundraising events, private donors and by selling his travel photography—goes directly to the Dirty Wall Project. Ryan pays for his own travel, food and accommodation out of his own pocket by working odd jobs during the months he returns to Victoria. The Dirty Wall Project is proof that one person can indeed make a difference. (source)

If you’re in Victoria, make sure you get to 977A Fort St (formerly Luz Gallery).

I can’t find an online version of the photo that grabbed my attention this afternoon. Here’s a substitute, which hints at the complexity:


Visit Ryan’s site, or check out his photo book, Dirty Wall Project (on Blurb). See a need and fill it, make a donation.

What about widgets?

July 2, 2010 at 10:45 pm | In business, creativity, futurismo, green, ideas, innovation | 3 Comments

I go to my local YMCA a lot, and every time I’m there I think about energy use: how much energy I could be generating, how much I’m using, how much others are using.

My “plus” membership entitles me to use the sauna and steam room, and I get towel service, too (yes! – love that, because it means less shlepping and less laundry at home!). I use the steam room regularly – since we’re having an unseasonably cool summer it’s welcome, even in July. However, the ladies change room has poor air circulation, and in the summer (even a cool one like this) it gets hot in there. Furthermore, every time we users open the doors to the steam room or the sauna, the escaping hot air contributes to heating the changing and shower area, and the upshot is that the Y is running additional oscillating fans in our change room.

So, to recap: the steam room uses energy, the sauna uses energy, the blow dryers provided by the Y use energy, and now the fans – meant to give the illusion of cooling all this heat that we’re producing through our energy use, also use energy.

Meanwhile, when I’m upstairs on the elliptical trainer – along with scores of others on treadmills, stationary bikes, stairmasters, and rowing machines (it’s a pretty swell facility!) – I could be generating energy, couldn’t I?

Which brings me to…



I’m in love with shiny new technology products (even if I can’t afford them), and long ago drank the Kool-Aid regarding social media platforms and the importance of ‘markets as conversations.’

But lately those things have begun feeling “bubbly” – that is, not too-too solid enough. Today, the spouse sent along an article by Andy Grove, How to Make an American Job Before It’s Too Late. In my mind, Grove’s arguments tie in with Jeff Rubin‘s criticism of globalization, and they also relate to what bothers me when I’m at the Y thinking about energy use.

It’s all about what we’re making (another social media platform that lets us communicate?) and where we’re making it (if it’s not another Foursquare, is it a widget and who will scale it?). As Grove observes:

Startups are a wonderful thing, but they cannot by themselves increase tech employment. Equally important is what comes after that mythical moment of creation in the garage, as technology goes from prototype to mass production. This is the phase where companies scale up. They work out design details, figure out how to make things affordably, build factories, and hire people by the thousands. Scaling is hard work but necessary to make innovation matter.

The scaling process is no longer happening in the U.S. And as long as that’s the case, plowing capital into young companies that build their factories elsewhere will continue to yield a bad return in terms of American jobs.

When I think of energy use at the Y, I’m thinking not of platforms that let me tell you what I think about energy use at the Y. I’m thinking of widgets that would make it easy to measure energy use, for example, so that it becomes less risky for individual users (home owners or building managers) to install efficiencies. The next step – staying with Andy Grove’s call to arms – means thinking about what happens after some tinkerer in a garage invents a measuring device. Where does it get manufactured, and who gets to be employed doing so? Jeff Rubin argued that the cost of oil will eventually force countries like the US to re-introduce manufacturing at home because it will just get too expensive to ship raw materials from one continent to another, and the finished product to yet a third.

While I sweat in the steam room, I might think about what it would mean to have efficient “air curtains” installed just outside the steam room and sauna doors – air curtains that capture the escaping heat when doors open, and recirculate that heat for hot water use. But how or why would anyone install such a thing – even if it readily existed, although you could adapt and reverse engineer the air curtains that some stores use – without having widgets or gadgets capable of calculating, predicting, and (most importantly) measuring, to provide immediate feedback to calibrate energy use? If you don’t have the feedback (measurement), it’s just …hot air!

As I blogged a while back in Creating Value Through Sustainability, Eric Hespenheide said it best: “You measure what matters, and what gets measured, gets done.”

We’re desperately ignorant most of the time of our energy use, if we bother to think about it at all. I’m pretty sure I’m a weirdo in taking three consecutive Bikram yoga classes and then stopping because I thought the energy footprint of that type of yoga is outrageous. (And I also thought the hot room was a gimmick.) Doing hot yoga, you need to be clean (showered) before you start (hot water, towels, soap) because even incipient bad BO is going to knock out the others as you start to sweat like mad. After the class, you need to launder whatever you wore (no way you’re wearing it again unwashed) and you need to shower again (more soap products, more hot water, more towels/ laundry). The amount of energy needed to heat the yoga room to the required temperature is crazy, as are the HVAC requirements (unless you very quickly want a moldy building). (And incidentally, where do the Bikramites and others get off doing competitive yoga? Maybe I’m missing something…)

But enough of yoga and sports.

We need to measure what we use. “You measure what matters, and what gets measured, gets done.” To do that, you need tools.

Who’s building the tools? On a big scale?

Manufacturing today takes place elsewhere, not in North America. Grove again:

The job-machine breakdown isn’t just in computers. Consider alternative energy, an emerging industry where there is plenty of innovation. Photovoltaics, for example, are a U.S. invention. Their use in home-energy applications was also pioneered by the U.S.

Last year, I decided to do my bit for energy conservation and set out to equip my house with solar power. My wife and I talked with four local solar firms. As part of our due diligence, I checked where they get their photovoltaic panels — the key part of the system. All the panels they use come from China. A Silicon Valley company sells equipment used to manufacture photo-active films. They ship close to 10 times more machines to China than to manufacturers in the U.S., and this gap is growing. Not surprisingly, U.S. employment in the making of photovoltaic films and panels is perhaps 10,000 — just a few percent of estimated worldwide employment. (source)

I bet any tinkerer in his/ her garage working out the kind of measuring widgets I’d like to see every homeowner and building supervisor have at his/ her fingertips is going to end up getting the widgets manufactured in China, too. Just read Grove’s section on Advanced Batteries to see where we’re heading. He argues that “abandoning today’s ‘commodity’ [battery, or television] manufacturing can lock you out of tomorrow’s emerging industry.” That is, innovation needs an ecosystem – and we’ve got a pretty good one on the social media platform front, but it could be looking better when it comes to widgets. If you drop in on your local gym, you can even see that for yourself.

Open Government, Transparency: it’s what we need

June 8, 2010 at 10:55 pm | In ideas, innovation, johnson street bridge, leadership, politics, victoria | Comments Off on Open Government, Transparency: it’s what we need

As residents of Victoria British Columbia continue to struggle with a closed, secretive city council that (with the exception of one councilor, Geoff Young) prefers to do its business behind closed doors or from a lofty perch of Sonya Chandler- or Lynn Hunter-style “know-it-all-ism,” here’s a story from the local daily that illustrates just how far Canada (as a country) has to go before it reaches the level of transparency and open government that the people of the United States have come to expect from government: Washington leaves Campbell red-faced, by Times-Colonist reporter/ columnist Les Leyne.


On Jan. 4, the NDP opposition submitted two identical freedom of information requests. One went to the state of Washington, one went to the province of B.C.

The request was for records relating to joint cabinet meetings held a few months earlier, led by Gov. Christine Gregoire and Premier Gordon Campbell.

The B.C. government issued a fairly detailed news release after the October meeting headlined “B.C., Washington State Partner on Cross-Border Opportunities.”

But the NDP was curious about the framework and some of the intricacies of the various policies discussed.

On Feb. 3, the New Democrats got a note back from Gregoire’s office. It offered all the requested documents for a grand sum of $63.60.

The NDP paid the bill and on March 3, two months after filing the request, it got 300 pages of documentation from the state government.

The striking thing, for a B.C. observer, is that not a single page has been whited-out or censored.

The 10-centimetre stack of documents contain everything you’d want to know about the work that went into discussing Olympic readiness, climate-change initiatives, border issues, H1N1 plans and more.

There are e-mails, minutes of meetings and “confidential drafts for discussion purposes only.”

The governor’s response even includes the expenses of the state officials who worked on meetings leading up to the joint cabinet session.

What did the Opposition get from B.C. officials when they submitted exactly the same request?

Absolutely nothing.

In the US, data is owned by the people because the government is by the people, for the people, of the people. The people paid for the production of the data in the first place, and the people have a guaranteed right to access it. In Canada, data is not owned by the people. It’s owned by the Crown (the Queen), and we have to beg for it. Sure, we can have it, but the bureaucratic culture isn’t on board.


It’s scary to me just how backwards City of Victoria staff in particular and local politicians in general are when it comes to embracing openness and transparency – and genuine public engagement.

For a shining alternative example, click on image (above) – link goes to a great Youtube video with Anil Dash, currently with Expert Labs.

Gentrification 2.0?

June 5, 2010 at 11:22 pm | In affordable_housing, architecture, cities, homelessness, housing, innovation, jane_jacobs, land_use, social_critique, vancouver | 2 Comments

The title of my post is semi-serious, semi-ironic. I’m ambivalent about gentrification: if it means unslumming, I figure it’s good; if it means homogenization toward a single class (typically privileged) at the expense of economic diversity, it’s probably not-so-good, right?

When I write “Gentrification 2.0,” I’m saying that I’m not sure how this particular example – The Woodward’s Project in Vancouver – will play out. It’s 2.0 insofar as it’s not unslumming in Jane Jacobs’s sense, nor is it private market gentrification. It’s an interesting hybrid.

Canada’s National Post newspaper has started a series of articles about the Woodward’s Project. The reporter is Brian Hutchinson, who focuses on the neighborhood (Downtown East Side) and the social implications of putting a spiffy mixed-use high-rise development into its center. This is an unusual development, however: it has “125 fully equipped apartments reserved for low-income singles, and 75 spacious units reserved for families; 80% of the family apartments are rented at below-market rates” (source), while at the same time it also boasts market-rate condos valued at over $1million and provides the better-off residents with rooftop luxuries that afford (to use a word Hutchinson used) “bacchanalian” excess.

I wrote about the Woodward’s Project after taking my daughter to lunch in Vancouver for her birthday. It’s a fascinating project, and I’m looking forward to reading the entire series. Hutchinson is “embedded” at Woodward’s for a whole month.

PechaKucha Night Victoria, Vol. 2

May 24, 2010 at 10:19 pm | In architecture, arts, creativity, ideas, innovation, local_not_global, victoria | Comments Off on PechaKucha Night Victoria, Vol. 2

Three months ago, on February 25, 2010, Elisa Yon and some friends helped instigate Victoria‘s first PechaKucha Night. That was Vol. 1, and it was a blast.

Now, get ready for Vol. 2, happening this Thursday, May 27 at the Victoria Event Centre.



I know I’ll be surprised by Vol. 2, just as Vol. 1 surprised me with Victoria-based presenters who had fascinating stories and experiences and talents to share.

But here a few I’m particularly looking forward to: architects Keith Dewey of Zigloo (houses made from shipping containers) and Ayrie Cunliffe (who will perhaps tell us about tree houses?, not sure…); Manjinder Benning of Karmetik (“…a think tank of artists and engineers exploring a digital renaissance, seeking to question and redefine the boundaries between music, the visual arts, and technology” – read more or check out Wired Magazine‘s video of the Karmetik Machine Orchestra); designer Tara Tyreman, who also designed the poster (used as illustration, above) that advertises Thursday’s Vol. 2; Quinton Gordon of the amazing Luz Centre for the Photographic Arts; and Rhonda Ganz whose blog is all about getting rid of stuff.

That list, by the way, represents fewer than half the participants, so I know I can expect double the interestingness alluded to via the above links.

The event starts at 7:30pm, but doors open at 7pm. Judging from the throng that attended the first event, my advice is to get there early.

The brilliant folks at Anonymous Advertising put together a fun video, filmed on the spot (during intermission) at the Vol. 1 event: 10×10 (10 audience members who speak for 10 seconds each), which gives a sense of how energizing that first evening was. Check out the other videos (Vimeo) of Vol. 1 presentations – great stuff.

Follow PechaKucha Victoria on Twitter for updates. Can’t wait to see Vol. 2 in action!

Notes on walking architecture

May 21, 2010 at 10:40 pm | In architecture, cities, futurismo, ideas, innovation, jane_jacobs, land_use, ubiquity, urbanism | Comments Off on Notes on walking architecture

It’s not everyday that you see Guy Debord and Steve Jobs in the same presentation, is it? Courtesy of Matt Jones‘s People Are Walking Architecture, or Making NearlyNets with MujiComp, it’s not only possible, it makes sense. (Read the full document on Scribd.) Jones makes the case for building “smart city networks by making inviting, intelligent products,” hence the juxtaposition of critical thinkers and people who make “inviting, intelligent products.”

Going through the 59-page document, a few pages that attracted my attention especially:

p.15, Archigram were basically right, a sentence inspired by Chris Heathcote’s Cheer up, it’s Archigram. Why Archigram (about which I’ve blogged here)? “Essentially they were user-centric designers, working with technology to create humane exciting environments with technology …with a liberal dash of 60s psychedelia…” (p.14). Archigram’s architects thought about enabling behaviors, not just about buildings. Cool. (Jones even calls them interaction designers.)

Archigram envisioned the car as the “ultimate symbolic technology of personal freedom,” but as Jones points out, that didn’t quite pan out. Today, we’re more likely to see mobile technology (phones, etc.) in cars’ symbolic stead. (p.16)

Car = 20th century; mobile phone = 21st century. (p.17)

Hence the jump to Steve Jobs – and back (in time) to Guy Debord, who defined psychogeography as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” (p.18)

Jones points to smart phones as the gadget that lets users manipulate the experience of psychogeography from an individual perspective: “…a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities…” (p.20)

Cities are now “linked and learning” (Sir Richard Rogers, British architect who designed Paris’s Centre Georges Pompidou), hence people are walking architecture. It’s back to Archigram, see? Architecture should enable behaviors, and what we have today are gadgets that enable behaviors relating to how people experience and shape, in a feedback loop, the urban experience. The urban experience is still informed as well by buildings, but who hasn’t also found that it’s informed by behaviors – often experienced as negative, like traffic jams, congestion, and bad infrastructure? Today – and into tomorrow – those behaviors will be more and more fine-grained, as people carry tiny mobile devices that allow ubiquitous computing, which in turn shapes the city as much as cars, roads, and other infrastructure did.

People are walking architecture, shaping the urban-scape as they move through it, devices in hand.

Next up, Jones covers Eliel Saarinen (“Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context …a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan”) and Clay Shirky (Situated Software), and a bunch of other things (MujiComp; porch computing; doorways; nearly nets).

And then he gives Jane Jacobs the last word (which I appreciate, if only because every other person mentioned in his presentation is male):

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” (p.58)

Jane Jacobs, last word

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