December 10, 2019

Interesting Things on the Internet: December 10th 2019

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November 27, 2019

Blog All Dog-eared Pages: Radical Cities by Justin McGuirk

Radical Cities by Justin McGuirk was an interesting exploration of a collection of South American cities, looking at a very different set of approaches and cultural perspectives to how cities could/should/might evolve, when compared to the typical US/European-centric view.

Here are the passages I marked while I was reading it.

Page 7
[Housing estates] sins were catalogues and generalised: treating people like ants, making cities ugly, replacing variety with standardisation, repetition, repetition, repetition. Citing 'failure', governments used these sins as an excuse to stop building social housing, relying on the private sector to fill the gap and allowing their neoliberal policies to make cities more unequal places.

Page 15
Indeed, the very process of branding-based cultural regeneration was complicit in the neoliberal attitude to the city,
where the ultimate motive is always rising land values and profit.

Page 26
As Urban Think-Tank puts it: 'The totally planned city is ... a myth. Therein lies the historic error of urban planners
and designers and of architects: they fail to see, let alone analyse or capitalise upon, the informal aspects of urban life, because they lack a professional vocabulary for describing them.'

Page 50
This organisation is building more houses than the volume housing industry in the region — whole communities built around giant swimming pools. A cooperative founded on people power, and consisting of tens of thousands of equal members, it sounds like a socialist revolution made manifest. It builds its own schools and hospitals and has its own factories and security force. In fact, it sounds almost autonomous, like a state within a state. The movement is called Túpac Amaru.

Page 58
Needy families were marshalled into working parties to build their own homes. This recourse to collective action was followed by another brilliant move that doubled Túpac Amaru's efficiency: it built its own factories for producing bricks and steel, obviating the need to buy building materials.

Page 59
'[...] We don't want to be in competition with the government. Because it is the state that has the obligation of guaranteeing health, education and work to the citizens. So the organisation works with the state but we focus on the people with most needs, people who don't have easy access to a school or a hospital or a house. Túpac Amaru is wherever there is a need.'

Page 75
That was the genius of PREVI: it was designed as a platform for change. The houses were not the end but the beginning. As frameworks for expansion, they evinced one of the key principles of the barriadas, which is that a house is a process and not a static object. Of course there was a tradition of the working class modifying their modernist offerings, as Le Corbusier discovered to his chagrin in Pessac, but it was never intended. Here, even though some of the architects tried to stipulate how the houses could grow, growth was the whole idea. It was potentially revolutionary.

Page 90
Does Aravena see himself as an idealist or a pragmatist? 'I'm not changing the conditions, I'm accepting the conditions. So you might use words like "pragmatic," he says, 'But it's also arrogant to an extent, because we're so confident in what we're doing that we don't need to change the conditions and we'll still prove to everybody that things can be better. And if we succeed in that there will be no reason for not changing things right here and right now.'

Page 127
The notion of conveniently located, self-built, adaptable housing has been rejected in favour of the construction industry's profits.

Page 140
The city fabric is badly run down. Driving across town, you're likely to take one of the sunken expressways built by Robert Moses, New York's own master builder, in the 1950s. The underpasses and overpasses that carve up the city are the legacy of Venezuela's heyday as the richest country in Latin America. In addition to being choked with traffic, they are also prone to flooding.

Page 146
In 2003, Brillembourg and Klumpner tested the idea of bringing what are known as dry toilets or compost toilets into the slums, where there are most often no sewerage systems. They designed the toilet as what they called a House Core Unit, the starting point for a self-built house. It was a pragmatic proposal but one that, implemented across the barrio, had the potential to dramatically improve the living conditions of its residents. The more idealistic position to take would have been to lobby for the installation of proper infrastructure, but, given how unlikely the chances of success, U-TT considered that almost an abnegation of responsibility. 'Considering ideal conditions is a waste of time,' they wrote in their 2005 book Informal City; 'the point is to avoid catastrophe.'

Page 166
The right to the city is not just a question of housing — as it stands, most of the residents of Caracas have already met their own needs in that regard. The right to the city is also a right to mobility, a question of how long it takes to get an invalid to a hospital. [...] The answer to a divided city is integration, and there is no integration without transport connections.

Page 170
Are they grateful to Chavez for the cable car? 'It's not a present', says one man. 'We elected him to do things like the Metrocable. He should have done a hundred of them.'

Page 209
By the end of [Antanas Mockus Sivickas's] two terms the homicide rate fell by 70 per cent, traffic fatalities dropped by 50 per cent, water usage was down 40 per cent, tax revenues had tripled and the city's finances were coming back into the black. A much-loved figure with approval ratings in his first term of sometimes 80 per cent, his greatest single achievement was to make Bogota feel like a city with a future.

Page 210
But the thing about Mockus is that his policies rarely left a trace, not a visible one anyway. Mayors normally measure their legacy in infrastructure and other tangible works. They like to cut ribbons. But Mockus's legacy was inscribed in the minds of Bogota's citizens. It was internalised. His was an intervention in the moral DNA of the city.

Page 224
As Penalosa was fond of saying, 'An advanced city is not a place where the poor move about in cars, rather it's where even the rich use public transportation.'

Page 226
What was unique about Mockus was that he redefined the role of a public administration, so that it moved beyond matters of law or the urban fabric and charged itself with resetting the belief systems of the citizenry. Mockus understood intuitively that the common good is achieved not through fear of authority but through a sense of ownership and that a sense of belonging to a city emerges through sharing the same rules and developing the same good habits.

Page 239
Fajardo described the process of running for election as 'getting the city in our skin.' What he meant by this was that he and the other members of Compromiso Ciudadano familiarised themselves with the real conditions of the city by walking from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. 'I don't know how many times I went around Medellin — on foot,' he says. 'There were parts of the city that I didn't know, or hadn't been to for years. This was a divided city, where hardly anybody on this side would dare go to the northern side of the city.'

Page 244
For him, social urbanism is partly about a participative way of working and partly about the message your interventions send. The building blocks of social urbanism are what Echeverri called 'integral urban projects' (PUIs). These are not buildings, but projects that incorporate multiple programmes simultaneously, from transport to landscaping, from street lighting to a cultural centre. 'So the definition of an integral urban project is one where many things are happening at the same time,' says Echeverri.

Page 254
At the end of his successor Salazar's term, which continued some of Farjardo's policies, the [High-school] dropout rate was down to 20 per cent. And the reason for that? 'We built hope,' says Fajardo. 'If you looked in 2004 at what kids wanted to study, they wanted to be policemen or in the army or studying criminology. Today they want to be medical doctors, economists, engineers and so on. So we showed people there could be alternatives. We still have a long way to go in Medellin, but that's a very powerful message for young people in this town.'

Page 266
For [Teddy Cruz], architectural design is far less important than the bureaucratic systems that determine whether communities are empowered or disempowered. And this is precisely one of those cases, where informal communities have the resourcefulness to build homes out of garage doors but not the bureaucratic tools — a legal address, for instance — to find employment outside of the informal sector.

Page 280
This, really, is the crux of Cruz's project. It is also the reason why I believe he is one of the most astute architects working today. He recognises that social change and the creation of a more equitable city are not a question of good buildings. They are a question of civic imagination.

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November 18, 2019

Interesting Things on the Internet: November 18th 2019

  • Before there was recycling, there was the rag trade. Interesting article about the literal rag trade.
  • Sweet Moderation, Heart of this Nation. "Will this matter, when it comes to the Mayoral election? Not a jot. Rory Stewart’s actual record as a politician will be a minor talking point for a media culture that draws its commentators from such a limited group of people. For them, what will matter is not policy but tone. His public image is part adventurer, part intellectual, all-round nice chap." Not just about Rory Stewart, but a great analysis of class, politics and the media here in the UK. Sadly.
  • Against Economics. A fantastic article, reviewing the book Money and Government: The Past and Future of Economics, and running through how the intersection of economists and politics has failed us.

And an interesting talk on trust, (not) scaling, and decentralized tech from Darius Kazemi:

Eyeo 2019 - Darius Kazemi from Eyeo Festival on Vimeo.

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November 11, 2019

Interesting Things on the Internet: November 11th 2019

  • "Very few white-collar workers at P&G really do anything..." There is so much of this around. It's one of the reasons that Julian refers to DoES Liverpool as a home for corporate refugees, because we are (mostly) "set free to tinker and explore."
  • Clare, Kelman, and Working-Class Art with Professor Simon Kövesi. "The UK establishment seems to accept poverty as the British respond to rain: with a shrug and a closing of the door."
  • Politics is for Power, Not Consumption "If you feel unfulfilled, melancholy, paralyzed by the sadness of the news and depth of our political problems, there is an alternative: actually doing politics." A good reminder that retweeting and getting annoyed with social media and the news isn't being political
  • Maintainers III: Infrastructure and climate. Great write up of the Maintainers conference from Laura, particularly for the section on Chuck Marohn's keynote: "Chuck moved on to an example of two adjacent blocks which were jumped over by post-war growth. One block was still basically small shacks; another tore down what were considered slums, and built a taco drive-through. This looks like growth, a positive thing. However, over time the small businesses change, but there's still a range of small operations. The taco joint is now neglected, and on a journey to become - as this is America - probably a used car lot, and then eventually a derelict site (which a developer will request a tax subsidy to build on). And yet the taco block is worth only $600k now, despite all the public infrastructure which enables it; the 'blighted' block of run-down businesses has a total value of $1.1m. The old stuff, after a century of neglect, is outperforming the recent shiny new building. "
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October 28, 2019

Interesting Things on the Internet: October 28th 2019

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September 30, 2019

Interesting Things on the Internet: September 30th 2019

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September 23, 2019

Interesting Things on the Internet: September 23rd 2019

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September 02, 2019

Interesting Things on the Internet: September 2nd 2019

  • The Case for Climate Rage. This is excellent. when women like my colleagues point the finger, it is not at one company or even one industry. The oil, coal, and automotive industries all play a role, the utilities, too, the PR flacks and lobbyists who carry out their vision, the politicians who cave. It’s a lot of people, but it’s not all people, it’s not “humanity.”
  • WeWTF. The only innovation WeWork has managed is the one persuading investors that it's a tech company rather than a property company.
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August 19, 2019

Interesting Things on the Internet: August 19th 2019

  • Interoperability and Privacy: Squaring the Circle. A good article from Cory Doctorow about Facebook and its monopolistic walled-garden tendencies. This (and similar messaging systems like WhatsApp or Signal or...) reminds me of the mess of interoperability we had with mobile phone networks in the 90s, when you could only text people on the same network as you. It needed fixing then, we'll need to fix it now.
  • A Walk In Hong Kong. First-hand report of what the Hong Kong protests are like, from Maciej Cegłowski. We had a group of visitors from Hong Kong to DoES Liverpool the other day, and talking to them most would have been in the protests had they still been at home and some considered not coming on the trip.
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August 16, 2019

More Good Tech for More Good

Some thoughts on Chris Thorpe's recent blog post for The Catalyst - Sector Tech: talent, tools, data and reuse. I've got massive respect for Chris' work and I'm looking forward to what The Catalyst get up to.

I think the focus on helping organisations to become more "of the web, not on the web" is great. Helping them understand how working in the open will let them share standards and software with each other will stretch all their budgets further, and build solidarity (at a time when it seems more adversarial because less funding means that if you win, I lose).

Working out how organisations can bring some level of digital in-house is also, I think, important. It's something I wrote about a while back.

There's a tendency at the moment for doing good through the medium of the digital agency. I can understand why: it lets you help a bigger range of other organisations (rather than picking one);it's what a lot of the people setting them up understand; and it's natural to want to work alongside a load of your technical peers rather than colleagues who don't fully appreciate the amazing work you're doing (I'm not really conveying what I mean by that - it's not that I think non-technical colleagues wouldn't be impressed or thankful for your work, but it doesn't validate what you're doing in the same way that the respect of your peers does).

There's definitely a place for agencies but I don't think they'll achieve the digital transformation that they're after, or that the client organisations need. Not compared with embedding bits of digital into the DNA of the organisation.

The Internet makes it easier for isolated digital people embedded in other orgs to be less isolated, but I don't think it's enough.

We should be encouraging organisations to support their digital staff by getting them to blog about their work, and present it at meetups and conferences.

Experimenting more with flexible working, and finding ways to share staff with similar organisations will also help, especially for smaller organisations which don't need a full time coder or UX designer.

Maybe we can encourage them to let staff work from co-working spaces like DoES Liverpool once-a-week or once-a-fortnight. That would give them a wider network of other digital folk to bounce ideas off and keep their digital skills fresh.

That sort of approach could also help when training people up. Maybe programmes like OH's Catalyst or university tech/digital courses could provide students to organisations to help them with digital, but also embed them part time in DoES Liverpool too to help with the how-tech-is-done-in-the-real-world experience. It would need more support than placements in tech firms, because you need more guidance in what's useful or good tech to adopt rather than just the new shiny when you start out, and non-tech firms won't be able to provide that in-house. Maybe that's a paid mentoring role for one of the freelancers in the co-working space?

And none of that has touched upon the opportunities to bring physical computing and digital fabrication into the equation. That's another huge opportunity, and something for me to think about more. I'd love it if part of MCQN's income came from building open-source connected devices to help charities and social enterprises.

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