The diminishing returns of technology are insidious, and they are ever with us. By this I mean the slow erosion of the quality of life, despite the impression that technological wonders only make our lives better.
by Hillete Warner
Global Innovators is a 10-part series that celebrates the remarkable work of social innovators from outside the English-speaking world. Twice a month, we will be profiling the stories of inspiring community pioneers from across three broad cultural clusters: change enthusiasts from Italy, France and the Spanish-speaking world. The series, based on the recently launched multilingual editions of the Enabling City toolkit, will focus on a rich variety of themes that explore 'enabling' frameworks for participatory social change.
“Open” and “participatory” are words that seem to have become almost synonymous with design lately. From open source software to co-creation, the process of collective brainstorming is stronger – and more inspiring – than ever. Yet one element that is often overlooked in the process of collaborative design, one that we don’t maybe think much about, is something essential to the process itself: “open” communication. Cultivating the art of effective communication requires a capacity to listen empathetically, a strong sense of emotional intelligence, an insatiable curiosity and, of course, a willingness to share.
The result is what is often called “collective intelligence,” the skilful blending of diverse insights and ideas into a coherent whole. So just like successful ‘open design’ is helping us make the shift from closed to open systems of production, learning what makes ‘open communication’ successful can help us shift the emphasis away from the celebration of individual insights to a creative process developed for and by the commons. For almost a decade, Cristiano Siri has been working to encourage just that. We spoke with him today to learn more about how he went from being a user experience designer to a participatory process facilitator, and what inspired him to investigate the path towards personal and community resilience along the way.
Enabling City: Cristiano, your work is known for bringing people together and bridging inter-sectoral divides. What are some of the formative experiences that have defined your work over the years?
Cristiano Siri: I first started as a user experience and service designer in Italy, and later decided to train as a participatory process facilitator in Italy and abroad. For the past ten years, I have practiced, taught and disseminated the art of listening, of co-creation, and community-building. These experiences are what compelled me to co-found The Hub Roma and to be a founding member of CoDesign Jam, an event format that organizes regular co-design gatherings (such as the Global Service Jam) here in Rome.
At the moment, however, my main project is finding my true ‘mission’ in life. In May 2013, my backpack and I will set out on a “mission finding” journey to explore places where people are prototyping new ways of living through resilience, relationship-building and inclusive community practices. I am inspired by job titles like: Transition Host, Transformation Doula, Community Gardener and Healer, Global Cross-Pollinator and Resilience Agent. I will visit eco-villages, intentional communities, transition towns and groups who are using different sharing economy models to learn from their stories and see how I can use the values of active listening in support of resilience-building.
EC: What motivated you to make the jump from being a user experience designer to becoming involved in co-design, co-working and the world of social innovation?
CS: I entered the “working world” fresh out of school and quickly realized that the workplace culture was encouraging us to pursue our tasks individually, that we were being separated into silos. Even in a creative environment, the value of listening to one another was missing. I wanted to do something to create a culture shift, to encourage the cross-pollination of skills, experiences and viewpoints so that they, in turn, could be applied to the emergence of eco-logical solutions. I found these engrained work habits to be stifling opportunities for co-working, so I created workshops to introduce co-design to as many stakeholders and team members as I possibly could. What emerged was an experience of deep engagement, one that gave way to new forms of collaboration and communication.
Then, in 2009, I met Dario Carrera and Ivan Fadini who invited me to join their team and open The Hub Roma with them. This was my first encounter with social innovation. Through my involvement with the project, I realized that the skills I had developed could be wonderfully employed to support a community of social innovators, people who are working to substitute negative externalities with long-term, positive ones.
EC: That must have been a rewarding, if challenging, transition. What have you learned from working with social innovators in Italy?
CS: In Italy, we are currently hearing the loud crackling sounds of a collapsing social, cultural and economic system. A large number of citizens are suffering from this collapse but, to this day, the institutions and the entrepreneurial system have failed to provide any tangible solutions to move the country forward. Luckily, citizens are leading the way by self-organizing and prototyping change through innovative social practices, showing us that change is indeed possible.
The practice of ‘social innovation’ is still new in the country, but I believe the strength of this community is precisely its ability to offer tangible, new ways to address old (but very real) needs. There is no support from formal institutions, and much remains to be done to network these co-design initiatives more broadly. The Hub Roma was established for precisely this purpose: to offer spaces and events that encourage encounters and networking while providing visibility to social innovators. We also use the space to explore relevant and common themes through public workshops, like our recent event series called "Money 4 Good" where we explored alternatives to the current financial model.
EC:As a seasoned facilitator, what are some of your favourite ways of bringing people together?
CS: To create positive change, I like to invite all stakeholders into the same room to facilitate the emergence of a shared view of the system they are in. This experience enables a shift in the participants' ways of thinking and acting so that, together, we begin to co-create and prototype solutions that have the collective long-term interest in mind. To do this, I use principles, methods, and tools from the Art of Hosting, Theory U, and Appreciative Inquiry. This is my favourite process design sequence:
- Listening practices (eg. Council Circle, Sensing Journeys, Open Space);
- Practices to collectively envision the system (eg. World Café, Multi Stakeholder Change Lab);
- Co-design and co-creation practices (eg. Design Jam);
- Prototyping practices.
EC: When blending these approaches, what are the values that guide your ‘open communication’ work?
CS: I will let my guiding values emerge from four quotes that I love:
Every leader is continually making an invitation, but often they are unaware of the invitation they are making. Some leadership is an invitation to shut up and some leadership is an invitation to speak up. We focus on the invitation it takes to get people to a conversation where they are willing to participate as fully as they can.
Mary Alice Arthur – Art of Hosting Steward
Not just any talk is conversation. Not any talk raises consciousness. Good conversation has an edge. It opens your eyes to something, it quickens your ears. And good conversation reverberates. It keeps on talking in your mind later in the day; the next day, you find yourself still conversing with what was said. The reverberation afterward is the very raising of consciousness. Your mind has been moved. You are at another level with your reflections.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
And those who where seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.
EC: You mentioned the importance of bringing communities together and creating a system of mutual support. How can we encourage ‘networked’ co-design to thrive?
CS: To empower the emergence of a global community of change makers, I first like to focus on developing a process that supports, at the local level, the:
- Visibility of innovative local experiments and prototypes;
- Sharing of experiences (both successes and failures);
- Wisdom and capacity to adapt models to different contexts;
- Ability to listen to emerging signals, even when they are weak and local, to predict global changes in advance;
- Capacity for dialogue, and
- Connections that can be fostered between local initiatives and global institutional reform.
This dynamic is already developing and accelerating and I believe the most important factor, today, is that social innovators are aware they are no longer alone, that there is a multitude of them changing the rules of the game and giving birth to a new paradigm.
The rest will depend on how well we respond to the signals we hear when we actively listen to the world around us.
Enabling City is an organization that explores social innovation in the areas of urban sustainability and participatory governance. This series is based on Enabling City's toolkit and the recent launch of its French, Spanish and Italian editions. Visit the website or follow Enabling City on Twitter to find out more about the project.
Today, 50 million Americans are uninsured, while millions more of us keep jobs we hate in order to pay rising insurance fees. Medical bills cause half of all bankruptcies and millions of evictions. Doctors often pay more attention to insurers than to patients, and America’s infant mortality rate ranks 34th.
Americans have been griping about medical insurance for over 100 years, ever since Teddy Roosevelt proposed a national insurance plan in 1912. Obamacare is already being diluted by insurers. But griping is a drag. Power is fun. Let’s take power. When corporate medical insurance ensures profits while blocking health care, it’s time to replace it. Not only this, but it’s time to quit waiting for Congress and take direct control of health care, starting in our communities.
Sixteen years ago, I realized that Congress would never extend Medicare to everyone because legislators are bought off by insurance companies. So I started a genuinely nonprofit health co-op in Ithaca, New York.
Health insurance companies enjoy healthy profits. Photo credit: Leader Nancy Pelosi. Used under Creative Commons license.
The Ithaca Health Aliance began when I set up a display in public places and said, “Let’s each pay $100 per year into a fund. As the cash pile grows, we’ll pay for an increasing variety of common emergencies like broken bones, stitches, and burns.” Medical emergencies are called “non-elective” care since people rarely choose to crack, slice, or burn themselves.
On the first day, we had $300. During the next several years, the fund grew gradually to nearly $1 million. We compensated our members for 12 categories of emergencies -- anywhere in the world -- to specified maximum amounts. Upon our modest surplus income, we started a member-owned free clinic. The co-op was not a pyramid scheme because the payment menu both expanded or stabliized with member enrollment. We could estimate how frequent these injuries would happen to our member base, then calculate maximum payments for each category.
The system proved itself so well that it was endorsed by Ithaca’s Chamber of Commerce, Health Department, county legislature, mayor, Health Planning Council, the chairman of the New York State Senate Insurance Committee, and by our members from 47 states. Though an outside-the-box plan, we were permitted to continue by the NYS Insurance Department.
Members elected a board of directors yearly, who decided when to expand payment categories and amounts. Every payment to members was listed on the website chronologically. We also listed every denial of claim (for categories not yet covered).
For the first seven years we grew steadily then leveled off to pay lawyers to satisfy NYS regulators. They agreed to allow us to continue if we enrolled only NYS residents. NYS has a law for minor medical plans (5422a).
Our potential to become a national model of genuinely nonprofit health security, within a community-financed health system, began to attract national attention. Yet co-op insurance is not a new idea. Eighty years ago, one third of Americans were members of fraternal benefit co-ops, like the Moose, Elks, and Odd Fellows. Members pooled pennies per week to build community hospitals and clinics, orphanages and old folks’ homes, and to pay lost wages due to sickness. Their success and wealth caused corporations to muscle into the territory, pushing for laws to limit the right of fraternals to insure.
Concerned citizens in North Carolina rally for health care reform. Photo credit: TW Buckner. Used under Creative Commons license.
So, today, most insurance law is written by and for insurance companies. Whereas a grassroots co-op grows incrementally, most insurance regulations mandate comprehensive coverage that requires high premiums to support large staff. Thus, price of entry into the poker game is high.
When starting a Philadelphia health co-op, I was blocked by the Pennsylvania Insurance Department. In response, I wrote the book A Crime Not a Crisis, detailing collusion between state legislators, regulators, and insurers to keep profits high. Since then, I’ve launched the League of Uninsured Voters (LUV) to rally Americans to kick insurers aside, while building a health system devoted to people. Even were Medicare extended to everyone someday, Americans will need to be organized to fight to keep it.
By contrast, the grassroots co-ops, based on generosity, will create a national nonprofit infrastructure that’s essential for a national health plan that’s affordable, democratic, and humane.
Most recently, I’ve been organizing to build the first Patch Adams free clinic, a passive solar earthship surrounded by greenhouses and orchards on a large vacant lot in a low-income neighborhood. We’ll serve one another in the spirit of love, justice, and fun.
Here are the basic elements:
- Make a simple plan affordable by all: $100, $200, or $300 per year.
- Incorporate as a tax-exempt organization: 501(c)15 or as a co-op.
- Find pioneer members.
- Put money into a tax-exempt bank account.
- Find pioneer healers for discounts.
- When $10,000, start a broken bone fund, maximum 5 percent of total in fund.
- When $20,000, set a maximum for broken bones and add emergency stitches.
- When $30,000, add first and second degree burns.
And so forth. Your member-owned free clinic can be started inexpensively. To enable other communities to start their own health co-ops, I wrote the book Health Democracy which explains, step-by-step, how we successfuly expanded categories and payment maximums.
The first page of H.R. 3200, also known as the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. Photo credit: Listener42. Used under Creative Commons license.
When corporate laws become a cage for us to die in, it’s time to break the lock. Here are guidelines for model legislation:
1) Charge a maximum $300 per person per year (adjustable annually for inflation). Our intent has always been to make co-op membership accessible to the lowest-income residents. We have sought to prove that small amounts of money, multiplied by large numbers of people, can fund nonprofit systems that serve better than for-profit systems. Our small health plan has already enabled people to buy lower-cost, higher-deductible standard coverage. Yet, since even $100 per year is more money than many can afford, we invite donations to a fund which donates memberships.
2) Pay claims without requiring a deductible. Community ownership of a health system means more than just paying medical bills; it means funding free clinics, providing preventive care and/or health education, advocating for healthier cities, and so on.
3) Pay claims billed by any credentialed health provider anywhere. Because we pay only for specified non-elective care (emergencies), we do not need to leverage provider discounts and can afford to pay any doctor. We are not a preferred provider network.
4) Enroll members without collecting information about gender, age, ethnicity, income, or personal/family medical history. Such information enables insurers to discriminate against people likelier to need their services
5) Permit members to vote for board of directors annually and to initiate referenda. Essential to the democratic process, voting allows members to restrain their governing body.
6) Require that board members reside within the county where the organization is incorporated or within counties adjacent. Local boards are potentially more accountable because board members must preserve their community standing. Alliance members can lobby board members on the street.
7) Require that all board meetings take place in the county where incorporated. This makes access easier for the majority of members. Several general members who have attended board meetings have become candidates for the board.
8) Pay administrative employees not more than twice the state’s livable wage, regionally adjusted. Staff-driven organizations divert money from the original mission to ever-expanding salaries and benefits. Alliances are operated by people motivated by generosity rather than greed -- people who are more keen to accumulate gratitude than consumer goods.
9) Do not hire commission agents. Selling memberships on commission encourages shortcuts that undercut service and honesty.
10) Maintain a website which presents bylaws; covered categories and maximum amounts paid; current balance sheet (including general fund total, income and expenses by category/month/year, detailed expense sheet, list of each payment and each denial of payment by member number); time and place of next board meeting; minutes of board meetings; statements by board candidates. The Internet has become an essential tool for communicating with members, for bringing in new members, and for keeping the organization honest and accountable. No other health plan lists its payments and denials of payment.
11) Maintain a listserve for members which facilitates publication of monthly reports and electronic voting. As above, e-mail enables two-way communication with greatest ease and least cost.
12) Enroll at least 51 percent of members from the county where incorporated and adjacent counties. This retains maximum democratic control by enabling more members to attend meetings and serve on committees.
13) Publish conspicuously and in bold-face type not smaller than 10-point type, on the first page of any literature, that "This organization does not operate under the supervision of the Insurance Department. This is required in NYS for compliance with section 4522.
14) Publish quarterly reports to the state’s insurance department, detailing compliance with the above. We prefer that a state’s insurance department look over the shoulder of the co-op sector to assist in the credentialing of health alliances.
15) Publish atop the list of covered categories, in bold-face type not smaller than 14-point type, that “This Fund is not a major medical plan. It covers only the categories listed below, to the maximum amounts specified.” We do not encourage people to drop their major medical coverage if they can afford to keep it. Members should be reminded that, as the co-op is small, they may need help beyond our capacity.
16) Comply with HIPAA regulations. Whether required to protect privacy or not, we prefer to do so. Privacy is so important that we feel the federal government itself should not have access to member records. Members are to be notified when government copies their records.
Paul Glover is the founder of 18 organizations and campaigns, including HOURS, Philadelphia Orchard Project, Citizen Planners of Los Angeles and League of Uninsured Voters. He’s author of six books and a former professor of urban studies at Temple University.
An interesting bee hive design and management philosophy to consider for those wishing to help rebuild bee populations and have onsite pollination for gardens and farms.
- Where Are The Regulators After The Historic Gold & Silver Price Drop?
- 12 (Misguided) Commandments of Gold Bugs: Barry Ritholtz
- Travel Surveillance, Traveler Intrusion
- Tata Faces Crisis as $20 Billion Spent on Water: Corporate India
- In Love With My Planet
- Bees “restored to health” in Italy after this spring’s neonicotinoid-free maize sowing
- Researchers Develop a Self-Filling Water Bottle that Harvests Water from the Air
- Antarctic Methane Could Escape, Worsen Warming
What happens when you temporarily close areas to cars and open them up to bicyclists and pedestrians? People come out in droves to ride, play, walk, interact with their community and activate their shared space. Ciclovia, a temporary closure of roads to cars, takes this concept to the next level by blocking off entire thoroughfares. Originating in Colombia in the 1980s, Ciclovia has been so well-received that it has spread to countries around the world including Australia, Brazil, Peru, Canada, Mexico, the U.S and more.
Los Angeles has put its own twist on Cyclovia with CicLAvia. Since 2010, CicLAvia has successfully held five road-closing events, each one attracting over 100,000 participants. Most recently, CicLAvia opened a 15 mile route between downtown Los Angeles and Venice Beach to cyclists and pedestrians for a day.
Challenging the stereotype of the car-centric Angeleno, CicLAvia demonstrates the desire of people from all walks of life to get out of the cars and into the streets.
“CicLAvia is successful because people are eager to interact with the city in a way that is impossible to do by car,” says CicLAvia’s executive director Aaron Paley. “They can set their own pace, decide their own means of participating, and enjoy businesses, cultures, architecture and other Angelenos in ways that are not possible when confined to a car.”
Paley notes that there’s a pent up demand for this kind of event in a city so dominated by the car and with such a paucity of real public space.
“Los Angeles is essentially an urban ocean with many neighborhood islands,” he says. “Trying to travel to other islands by foot, bike or public transit and explore what they have to offer is not as easy as it should be."
CicLAvia offers a way for people to leave their neighborhoods and become more familiar with surrounding areas. “People see what other parts of the city have to offer in terms of culture, business, cuisine, entertainment, outdoor space, etc.," says Paley. "They are encouraged to return, and they now know it is possible to do by bike, public transit or other non- vehicle means.”
The CicLAvia team works closely with city officials, the transportation department, the police department, emergency officials and business owners to ensure that CicLAvias are safe, well-organized events. There have been no arrests made in any of the CicLAvias and according to Paley, crime is down during CicLAvias. He also points out that many surrounding businesses see a post-CicLAvia increase in business as well as a new customer base.
According to Paley, the biggest challenges when organizing CicLAvia are logistical: making sure the permits are in order, coordinating with public agencies on street closures, making residents and businesses along the route aware that they may have limited access to their driveways, etc.
For those interested in organizing a Ciclovia, Paley stresses the importance of forming strong partnerships and relationships with city officials, government agencies, law and emergency personnel, and local business and community stakeholders.
“Ultimately,” he says, “the success of CicLAvia comes from all of these entities combined with the support and involvement of participants the day of the event.”
The next CicLAvia is scheduled for June 23, when Wilshire Boulevard, one of the main thoroughfares in Los Angeles, will be closed to traffic for the day. Ideally, Paley would like to see monthly CicLAvias throughout Los Angeles County. “We’d like to touch upon diverse communities, geographies and cultures,” he says, “and connect us all as owners and imaginers of our city streets.”
- Financial transactions tax: UK launches legal challenge
- Alchemists of Wall Street at it again: Arcane-sounding names hide big risks
- ‘Sorry, officer, I’ll watch my speed next time’: Dubai adds Lamborghini and Ferrari to police fleet
- To Central Bankers: You Are Golden Toast On A Silver Spoon
- Robert Hirsch: Peak Oil as seen through the eyes of Arab oil producers
- Tesla: General Electric Motors
- Depleted North Atlantic cod stocks are unlikely to recover, according to study
- Giant Snails Advance On Florida
When the bond market finally does crack, it is going to be one epic nightmare that is going to make 2008 and 2009 seem like a picnic. It will be a different kind of a crisis; but it will be an enormous crisis. These people that are bullish about stocks and bonds and the bond market, they do not understand anything.
- Nicole Foss – Relocalising the Trust Horizon
- 'Catastrophic' budget laid out by Philly schools
- Ireland’s cash-strapped borrowers face ban on vacations, limits on food spending
- Canadian deposits safe under bail-in, but no guarantee: Carney
- Media tycoon David Black’s proposed Kitimat refinery gets Chinese backing
- Terence Corcoran: Systemically Dangerous Government Institutions (SDGI)
- Has gold hit bottom? As big investors rush out, consumers rush in
- Tariff Hikes: 'Tax On Everything' Raises Opposition Ire As Retailers Warn Of Price Hikes
- Who Said The Hydra Would Take It Lying Down
- Supercomputers could generate warnings for stock crashes
- Ice Ice Baby
- Gold Reveals Global Economy on Thin Ice
- World’s largest OTEC power plant planned for China
- Deepwater Horizon: Surviving the oil spill
- Superstorm Sandy Shook the Earth
19 ways to reduce your food container waste by reusing and upcycling.
We've been closely following the tightness in supply in the physical bullion market this week. Premiums began spiking, and now it's becoming harder and harder to find metal in stock to purchase regardless of price.
- Expert: HFT Has Gamed the System - There’s No Room for Traders Anymore
- Score: Banksters Two, Gold & Silver Zero
- Why Boston’s Hospitals Were Ready
- U.S. banks issue mortgage rebate cheques that bounced
- Full List of Bankers at White House Meeting Thursday
- The Euro Legacy: In Greece, Children Pick Through Trash Cans For Food
- Spain's Recession Forces Breeders To Send 70,000 Purebred Horses To Slaughterhouse in 2012
- The Biomass Power Plant that Runs on Single Malt Whiskey
- Engineers use brain cells to power smart grid
- Chevron Defies California On Carbon Emissions
- Fascinating Account Of Two Families Living Off The Grid For Two Decades
Project M, one of the first design-for-good initiatives, will celebrate its tenth anniversary with a special session in Greensboro, Alabama this June. The session will include a reunion of the growing network of changemakers proving the power of design to uplift and change lives.
In 2003, designer John Bielenberg founded Project M to teach young people to drive positive change by thinking wrong. “We’re all victims of our synaptic connections,” says Bielenberg. “Our brains usually follow pre-existing synaptic paths to solve problems. But that produces predictable solutions. Thinking wrong disrupts those heuristic biases to generate completely unexpected solutions you couldn’t come up with otherwise.”
Since thinking wrong can lead to doing right, Bielenberg has made a point of running his Project M sessions in communities that have pressing social, environmental, and economic challenges. Among other things, in the ten years since its founding Project M has raised $35,000 for access to clean running water, organized a cross-country tour on bamboo bikes to promote sustainable bamboo farming in America’s Black Belt, delivered disaster relief supplies to Katrina-stricken New Orleans, and founded Pie Lab and Bike Lab, two social enterprises that strive to create jobs, community cooperation, and economic growth in one of the nation’s poorest counties.
But the value of M can’t truly be measured by its projects. Over the years, thinking wrong has shaped a generation. “Project M is about the M’ers,” says Bielenberg. “These people produce cool projects, that’s true. But what M really does is produce these incredible, inspiring people. They come to M, they think wrong, and it changes them. They go out into the world and bring that attitude with them, and they spread it to others too. It’s like a retrovirus for creative good.” And the virus is spreading. Project M has helped to spark the growing movement of design-for-good initiatives around the world, alongside others such as Project H, D-rev, Windhorse International, AIGA’s Design for Good, and many more.
M’s decennial celebration also includes an ongoing series of profiles featuring M’ers and their accomplishments. The retrospective includes Ben Barry, founder of Facebook’s Analog Research Lab; Kodiak Starr, White House Creative Director of Digital Strategy; Brian W. Jones, founder of Dear Coffee, I Love You; Dana Steffe, founder of The Map Project, and many more. These fearless, creative, and inspired M’ers will attend the special reunion in June, ready to inspire 10 more years of thinking wrong about the greatest challenges of their generation.
by Nidhi Gulati and Scott Shafer
Most park activities and uses are categorized under recreation and leisure, and are therefore “optional,” Jan Gehl, urban designer and proponent of pedestrian and bike friendly cities, says in his book “Life Between Buildings.” Because they are optional, they are prone to be skipped when it becomes inconvenient to include them in our daily lives. As the country progressed in the early 20th Century, the land was divided and connected by ribbons of roadways; life became highly compartmentalized for the middle-class American.
Each activity and its host location became a destination in itself. This destination status doesn’t help the optional nature of routine leisure and socialization and the places that provide for them--third places, which are separate from home and work--as urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg calls them. However, the decline in importance to third places is not universal, and the human desire to socialize and congregate is bound to show itself when the right opportunities exist in the built environment.
Trocadero Iconic Urban Park in Paris. (Photo: homeaway.com)
In times of economic crises, each development or proposal needs hefty backing by surveys, use data, market analysis, and funding strategies. It is for these reasons that existing opportunities, retrofits, incremental solutions, and short-term pilot projects famously known as Tactical Urbanism, Guerilla Urbanism, or DIY Urbanism have made heads turn. While on the look-out for such opportunities and low investment or risk alternatives for creating newer prospects for socialization, I came upon the Park, Recreation, Open Space and Greenway Guidelines by NRPA, which notes the benefits of parks: “The purpose of parks was not solely to cater to leisure, but to provide a “natural” setting in the community to achieve larger social goals.” Of course they are meant to achieve larger social goals, but the real question is, do they?
Neighborhood parks, more so than their larger counterparts in the park system, are available amenities (spaces pre-labeled or zoned as public open space) in almost all cities in the US. In instances where they do not act as social foci, they still remain ready opportunities to be transformed into Places. The reasons we believe they are place-making opportunities are, for one, the sheer count in our urban fabric. Some guidelines recommend that subdivisions and neighborhoods have a neighborhood park or a “pocket park” every quarter to half mile. Another reason for this is that a majority of neighborhood parks are five to 10 acres in size, and walkable distance from one end to the other. The guidelines also suggest that each park host a variety of informal activities (unlike recreational centers), and should serve as the foundational building blocks of the urban park system.
Hyde Park shapes the city of London. (Photo: travelingday.com)
Journalist and activist Jane Jacobs certainly recognized Neighborhood Parks as places with social benefits in her book “Death and Life of Great American Cities”; but she also pointed out that, just because they are meant to provide those benefits doesn’t mean all parks do a good job. The world is full of very heavily used parks to completely unused ones, or worse still--those suffering from undesirable use or users. As a people watcher, Jacobs notes in the same book that the way a park is designed and located within the neighborhood has major influence on how it is used or abused. Her list of characteristics of successful parks includes intricacy, centering, sun, and enclosure. None of these desirable elements is surprising, but we also have to look at these through the eyes of a tactician. Changes can be made to parks without involving permanent infrastructure or fancy fixtures. What we do need is a million “zealous nuts,” as Fred Kent of Project for Public Spaces points out in his approach to creating places of meaning, and a list of elements and ideas that consider human need and comfort. With this in mind, we observed people in 18 parks in our city, College Station, Texas (including one dog park in particular), to find elements of design and non-design that make them conducive to lingering, gathering, and socialization.
Location: This idea combines centering and enclosure on Jane Jacobs’ list. To be marketed as a destination in the very limited 24-hour day in our busy lives, the park needs to sell itself; just like any business that needs customers, location becomes vital to its sustenance. A central location, undamaged, untouched, or intersected by a major thoroughfare makes parks more inviting to walkers, bikers, and drivers. Location is the constraint that most tacticians face, in which case they must strive for centering (visual) and ease of access. Tearing down the highway, like San Francisco did, and adding a new sidewalk that leads to the park--or painting stripes on the road--can be creative ways to open up a park’s usage.
Memorial Park next to a freeway in Pasadena, Texas (top) and the walkable Discovery Green in Houston, Texas (bottom). (Photos: Google Earth)
Link It: Put it along a path and people will linger. When parks are on the way to something else, a more prominent destination or a necessary one, they become receptacles of spillover activity. A rest stop on the way, given the public nature of these facilities, is easily done when the opportunity exists. Trees and enticing benches slow down passersby, which make for exciting people-watching in busier cities with heavier foot traffic.
The High Line linear park runs along the historic New York Central Railroad, linking Manhattan’s West Side. (Photo: inhabitat.com)
Prospect and Refuge: People like opportunities to view things, to be aware and to see without being seen. Gently sloped bowl-shaped areas contain visually stimulating activity, but create a mild enclosure, which is inviting to people. American urbanist and people-watcher William Whyte details this in his study of small urban spaces in New York City by indicating that people stay away from settings that provoke feeling trapped. Re-create a bowl-shaped storm water detention facility or lawn into a DIY park--easy to look into and easy to exit.
The trails in Buffalo Bayou Promenade in Houston, Texas--a combination of prospect and refuge. (Photo: archidose.org)
Take the Fence Down: Open the park to the public. This strategy changed the fate of Bryant Park. The fence should be the first thing to go unless absolutely essential, like if a section is reserved for dogs. Even though it may not be opaque, the idea of having to walk an extra quarter mile just to find the gate is more effort than most want to put into the optional activity. Open it up. The fence keeps the bad people away is a myth; those who are bad will find ways to get in, regardless.
Dolores Park in San Francisco, California, is open to the public. (Photo: members.virtualtourist.com)
Edges and Safety: In his recent masterpiece “Walkable City,” urbanist Jeff Speck hits the nail on the head by writing that “Public spaces are only as good as their edges.” The edge is similar to a fence or a wall, but has a subtler boundary, like a low-rise mound, row of trees, or a simple strip of grass between the street and the space. It is a psychological edge that counts more towards perceived safety--a mere change in surface has equally strong capabilities as a wall or a creek, based on what purpose it fulfills. In one of the parks we looked at, people enjoyed sitting in groups on a concrete drain channel at the foot of a fence next to the edge of the trail.
Varieties of seating and edges are at the Boston Waterfront. (Photo: sasaki.com)
Trim the Tall Shrubs: Despite how pretty the foliage may be and how colorful the flowers are, tall dense vegetation can be detrimental to the life of the public realm it boarders. It operates like a solid wall that blocks views into and out of the area, and discourages use. People sometimes fear criminal activity that may be concealed from the life on the street outside. Tall trees are great, small shrubs and flower beds are perfect; skip the middle ground.
Clear views of Hill of Tarvit at Fife, Scotland. (Photo: bbc.co.uk)
Inducers: The more reasons people have to visit a place, the more likely they are to fit it into their lives. Additionally, the more types of people the space caters to, the more potential it has. To make public spaces more attractive to people, give them a reason to be there. Maybe children have lots to enjoy there, or the dog needs a walk, or there is a place to play and practice music. Having things in common forms the basis for most relationships during a person’s lifetime, so when people with similar purposes or motives come together, the chances of them socializing improve significantly. We call this idea induced socialization.
Dogs act as an inducer of socialization among owners at historic Kenwood Dog Park in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo: historickenwood.org)
The Understated Space: Let human instinct shape the activity, rather than the space. Sometimes it is the under-design that brings more people back than the over-design. People like choices and the option to do different things in the same space to break up the monotony; hence, every neighborhood park should have under-developed areas in addition to the things that the designers deem worthy of being placed there. The intricacy and the lack of it are both influential in the social life of parks.
People gather in the open park space in New York City’s Central Park. (Photo: juliacreinhart)
Keep it Clean: Nothing beats cleanliness in public spaces, and the notion that someone cares is paramount. Maintenance and upkeep are the two most important aspects of sustainable landscapes. City parks departments don’t get enough funding to redesign these facilities very often, so the cleaner it is, the better for sustained use. Also, the simpler the design, the easier it is to maintain. It is the usability that keeps them relevant, and there is usually no shortage of community volunteers to assist with clean-up efforts.
Volunteers work in the park in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo: gw.govt.nz)
These ideas are a small contribution to the list of solutions for retrofitting, renovating, and rebuilding parks into the social foci they deserve to be. Please feel free to share your thoughts with us.
10 awesome reasons to have paracord on you in the form of a stylish bracelet.
From The Atlantic Cities -- bike corrals: "New York City is busy gearing up for the long-delayed launch of its bike-share program on an undisclosed date in the next few weeks, with some 5,000 people signing up for annual memberships in the first 28 hours that they were available. In the meantime, the city keeps quietly pushing ahead building new bike infrastructure for people who have bikes of their own already. The latest addition is a first for the city, and possibly even the country. In the Manhattan neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen, bike parking corrals, rather than parked cars, are being used to protect bike lanes. Three new corrals were just installed alongside the bike lane on Ninth Avenue in response to community requests for more bike parking."
From The London Times -- safer cycling in Europe: "Safer lorries could soon be arriving on Britain’s streets, saving the lives of hundreds of pedestrians and cyclists, after the European Commission proposed new designs for HGVs (heavy goods vehicles). Under the changes manufacturers would be allowed to create more rounded, aerodynamic cabs of lorries to allow for greater visibility and eliminate dangerous blind spots, a lethal problem highlighted by the Times Cities Fit for Cycling campaign."
From Gothamist -- the six best bike rides in New York City: "When the city's first bike-share program prepares to kick off next month, NYC will take it to the next level as a formidably bike-friendly town, to the joy of many (and chagrin of a few). And while CitiBike aims to be a commuters' tool over a recreational one, there are plenty of long, spectacular and scenic rides in and around the city to remind you that sometimes the best part of going from point A to point B is the journey itself, especially when that journey doesn't involve spending a lot of time underground with this guy."
From LAist -- the 10 best bike rides in Los Angeles: "While Los Angeles isn't exactly revered as the most bike-friendly city, it's trying. And it's gradually improving. More sharrows are marking streets, more residents are shrinking their carbon footprints and ring your bells—there's even a Bicycle Master Plan. So saddle up, Los Angelenos. We crowdsourced, huddled with the pros and did some pedaling of our own to bring you the 10 best bike rides in Los Angeles."
From The Atlantic Cities -- biking around the globe: "'I know that I am taking a great risk and might never again see my native land. But then, the grim shadow of death is ever at one's elbow, and my chances of not getting through safely are not sufficiently great to deter me from making the experiment.' Those were the words of Annie "Londonderry" Kopchovsky, who in 1894 set out to circumnavigate the globe via bicycle and win a $5,000 wager that a woman couldn't perform such a feat within 15 months. Now a new short documentary film, The New Woman: Annie 'Londonderry' Kopchovsky, tells her story."
From Streetsblog SF -- San Francisco gets a bike traffic counter: "San Francisco will get its first bicycle traffic counter within the next month. The SF Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors sealed the deal yesterday on a bike counter for Market Street between Ninth and Tenth Streets. Bike counters, which have been installed on major cycling streets in cities like Copenhagen, Portland, Seattle, and Montreal, help the city get an accurate count of bike traffic and promote bicycling by showing that number on a digital display. Every time someone bikes by, the number ticks up. SF’s bike counter will show daily and annual counts of how many people have biked on eastbound Market approaching Ninth."
- Market Manipulation, News, and Leverage
- 2 Reasons Gold Crash Is Scary
- Richard Russell - Gold Plunge, Billionaires & A Market Crash
- West Coast LNG industry gripped with gold rush fever
- How the Gold Market Was Crashed - But Most Importantly, Why? Leveraged Default? And Silver?
- The Price Smash – Who, What, How and Why?
- After the Gold Rout: Blame Central Bank Manipulation, Says GATA’s Powell
- NPR: Congress Quietly 'Overhauls' Law Against Congressional Insider Trading
- Orlov: Understanding Organizational Stupidity
- 'A tide of squatters’ spreads in Spain in wake of foreclosures
- Global Gold Outlook Report
- How Empires Fall
- None of the world’s top industries would be profitable if they paid for the natural capital they use
- Small in size, big on power: New microbatteries the most powerful yet
- Investors Bet On Breeding Success
- Key ingredient in mass extinctions could boost food, biofuel production
With the financial experts claiming, some gleefully, that gold has "lost its safe haven status" in the aftermath of its biggest tumble in 30 years, many commentators thought (hoped?) that the dramatic price drop would steer people away from gold ownership. To my eyes, the past week has all the earmarks of a high-gloss propaganda campaign complete with well placed anti-gold stories in the media and the careful use of language aimed at sowing doubt about gold's ability to be a store of wealth.
But for those who consider gold a store of value, the recent gold slam is a gift: an invitation to purchase more sound money with fewer units of paper currency. In other words, a sweet deal. Gold and silver on sale and the world is taking advantage.
- The U.S. may have a lot less gold than widely believed
- Replacing these missing reserves would be extremely costly and disruptive
- Understanding this, the recent market manipulation begins to make sense (in a tradable way)
- Why physical ownership is of paramount importance now as supply is increasingly tenuous
If you have not yet read Part I: Unintended Consequences Are Increasing World Demand for Gold, available free to all readers, please click here to read it first.Exactly How Much Gold Do We Have?
There's growing concern that a lot of official gold has been leased out into the market and that sooner or later, as happened back in the late 1990s, one or more parties, perhaps bullion banks or a metals exchange, would run into difficulty trying to meet a physical gold delivery commitment.
For a short video on the mechanics of gold leasing, click here.
If a lot of gold has been leased out, someday it will have to be rebought, and difficulties may emerge if the gold cannot be rebought in sufficient quantities without creating mayhem within the financial system by causing a very large hike in the price of gold.
Important: The amounts of gold leased by central banks is a very closely guarded secret, and we do not have direct information on them, which means we have to try and back-calculate these amounts by other means.
A recent and thought-provoking study regarding gold leasing was done by Sprott Asset Management in March. After accounting for all known flows of gold into and out of the U.S. over the past 22 years, the Sprott team arrived at a figure of nearly 4,500 tonnes of gold that cannot be accounted for.
Here's the summary flow chart...
Giysi Takası, which means clothing swap in Turkish, celebrated its 1st anniversary with a day-long swap, skillshares, and performances on Saturday, April 6th at Mixer Art Gallery in Tophane, Istanbul. The swap was referred to as a maker's party, because 400 young adults not only enjoyed the event's offerings but also actively participated in its creation, along with the 13 volunteer staff. Shareable helped support this event through its seed grant contest this year.
Giysi Takası is a Turkish non-profit organization that encourages people to swap their used, in good condition clothes to nurture a more sustainable community. They began swapping clothes in Istanbul but will soon be spreading swapping events to other cities in Turkey, as well as an upcoming one in Berlin. Giysi Takasi has already encouraged many people to create their own swapping organizations.
A unique aspect of the event was that attendees didn't spend 'even one penny' during the event. Each participant brought at least one item, up to maximum of ten, to support the clothing swap and skillshares, which earned them a coupon for each item brought to use as currency instead of money. Coupons were exchanged at stations to join skillshares, get clothes and make drinks. The stations are described below.
Sew DIY - Bring or use any sewing tool and change, reshape or resize the clothes you swap.
Stencil Print - Paint your motto on your clothes with a stencil! Stencil & graffiti artists, PISIT, will help during the skillshare. Stencil, clothing paint, spray paint, scissors, clothes are all worth one coupon each.
Swap Tunnel - A clothing swap will continue all day. Bring max 10 items, washed and ironed, anything but underwear and swimwear is accepted! Attendees go back and forth between the DIY skillshares and the clothing swap at any time.
Graffiti Wall - Bring a white t-shirt and help us cover a huge wall with these t-shirts. A graffiti artist CINS will paint the wall with his wonderful art. At the end we'll dismantle the wall, and you'll take your t-shirt with a piece of art on it. White t-shirts, spray paint, and cardboard are each worth one coupon.
Let's Make Sangria! - Bring these ingredients to make party drink or use a coupon: 1 bottle orange juice, lemonade or mineral water or 1 kg of oranges, lemons or apples traded for one coupon or two coupons for wine.
One of the many students that attended, Cemre Kilisli, said “I have too many clothes at home. It's great to bring them here so they can be reused. I liked being able to trade clothes efficiently – it's a beautiful event.” Making coupons valid for all the party activities enhanced resource circulation and diversity of offerings. Radio Uber played for 7 hours to create the party atmosphere with their fun music. At the end of the day, the remaining clothes were donated to the needy.
Swap coordinator and founder of Giysi Takası, Nazli Odevci reflected, “It was a great success in my opinion, it actually showed us that we can have fun and produce by gathering everyone's skills together.”