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Doors of Perception: September 2008 - City Eco Lab Preview

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  • Eric Britton
    DOORS OF PERCEPTION REPORT City Eco Lab Preview September 2008 by John Thackara CITY ECO LAB PREVIEW This two-week-long market of sustainability projects opens
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 2, 2008
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      City Eco Lab Preview
      September 2008
      by John Thackara

      This two-week-long market of sustainability projects opens in 70 days from
      in St Etienne, France. We have set out to design a scalable, reproducable
      event, at the level of a city-region, that will materially accelerate its
      transition to sustainability. As with Dott07 in North East England, citizen
      co-design of projects are at the core of the City Eco Lab experiment.

      In the food zone, projects to do with production, distribution, storage, and
      composting will surround the biennial's best restaurant, Cantine 80km. (It's
      called that because 80km is the limit beyond which transported food has to
      refrigerated). The Cantine will feature Green Maps to help visitors identify
      and contact suppliers directly. Nearby, Debra Solomon will present the Lucky
      Mi snack wagon from the Netherlands, including its high-performance
      sprout-growing module. Also in the food zone, visitors will be able to
      vegetables using locally-sourced pots, and babies will make bread. Francois
      Jegou will present scenarios for enhancing AMAP, the French network of of
      community-supported agriculture systems; and we'll see how AMAPs compare
      the new spin-farming idea from the USA - and alternative trade networks for

      Casino, a big supermarket chain, will present its state-of-the-art green
      labeling scheme. St Etienne's architecture school will launch Soupe de Ville
      which is based on ingredients grown within city limits (some by the
      themselves). Visitors will also be able to compare small, medium and
      large-scale composting solutions: these include the beautiful pots of the
      Daily Dump system from Bangalore; London's SEED foundation proposal for a
      neighbourhood green waste service in which the celebrated Rocket composter
      accelerator is used by a new social enterprise; and a high-tech,
      industrial-scale system in Clermont Ferrand.

      City Eco Lab's mobility zone will be mainly about bicycles, and especially
      their potential use to de-motorise the distribution of 7,000 items of
      about the city each day. Prototypes of new bike-based services will be
      presented by Les Cousiers Verts and by La Poste. Plans for a city-wide car
      share system conceived for poorer people, will be shown - and compared with
      Dott07's Move Me project presented by David Townson.

      The central area of City Eco Lab will ask: what exactly is an "eco quartier"
      (neighbourhood)? Live projects on show will deal with energy, water and
      mobility. A team led by Justine Ultsch at St Etienne's city hall will
      ways to re-open Le Furan, the city's built-over river. Tools to capture and
      clean rainwater will be on show, next to a description of Melbourne's
      extraordinary plan to turn that whole city into a water catchment, and
      Rotterdam's vision of itself as a water city. A unique array of dry toilets
      will be on show, together with proposals from an Australian designer, Dena
      Fam, of ways designers can make them physically and culturally more
      attractive. A community-wide energy dashboard will be demonstrated by
      Restalo. Half way through the event a town hall meeting, convened by the
      Maison du Quartier,wil discuss what to do, and how, with the ideas and
      scenarios emerging from the City Eco Lab marketplace.

      Continuing the water theme, plans to remove 60 dams from the Rhone will be
      presented by the World Wildlife Fund's Martin Arnoud. Designers Hugo Bont
      Olivier Peyricot will demonstrate their proposal for large scale urban fish
      farming. The artist gardener Emanuel Louisgrand will recreate elements of
      stunning l'ilot d'Amaranthes gardens from Lyon.

      Next to the Eco-Quartier zone will be the "Germoir" (Nursery) co-designed by
      the rural design collective Pomme_Z. Here, school students from the region
      will work on live projects to reduce their schools' environmental footprint.
      Five schools are involved in this Defi Eco Design, which is based on
      Eco Design Challenge for schools in the UK. Defi Eco Design is the trial for
      larger programme that it's hoped will be launched in 2009.

      In addition to these daily-life zones of City Eco Lab, a large Cabane a
      (Tool Shed) will contain some of the resources citizens will need to start
      their own projects. The Tool Shed will feature books and films 9in English
      French); a database of environmentally high-performance materials; a
      of software platforms; templates for new economic models; a map of skills
      available within a 100km radius of the event; and a range of environmental
      monitoring instruments and off-grid media tools.

      City Eco Lab will also feature a Club des Explorateurs (Explorers Club) in
      which a wide varietry of groups will meet to discuss practical ways to
      or scale up their projects. Companies, community groups and grassroots
      projects from across the Rhone-Alps region will participate - often together
      with international visitors. The Explorers Club will be located next to to a
      Salle des Cartes in which a wide variety of resource maps will be presented
      a team from The Why Factory led by Winy Maas and colleagues from TU Delft
      in The Netherlands. 15-30 November, St Etienne, France.

      The biggest challenge we face in City Eco Lab is the explosion of public
      events, media channels, reports, platforms, trade shows, and government
      initiatives, at all levels, to do with sustainability. Paul Hawken's
      WiserEarth web portal, alone, alone lists over 100,000 non-profit projects
      organisations. In the UK, the Transition Towns movement is growing virally.
      Across Europe, thousands of other initiatives are bubbling away beneath the
      radar of mainstream media and education. This explosion of energy and
      diversity is great, but does beg the question: are any more new initiatives
      needed? if so, what kind? and who will pay for them? Doors of Perception
      host a discussion among city managers, policy makers and design producers
      during the design biennial in St Etienne. If you think might want to join
      meeting, plan to be there for Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 November.

      The Italian edition of In The Bubble will be launched at the Architecture
      Biennale in Venice on Saturday 13 September. The Biennale, which is
      directed this year by Aaron Betsky, will feature site-specific
      manifestos, landscapes and "scenes of an architecture beyond building".
      The book moment on Saturday follows my lecture at the Dutch Pavilion
      in the Gardini.

      "Sustainable development will necessarily bring profound changes to how we
      design our cities and their architecture. How does this apply to
      and urban design?" I've been asked to address this modest topic in my
      talk at The European Forum for Architectural Policies at in at arc-en-reve
      Bordeaux on 9 October. It's open to professionals from across Europe, but
      you do have to register.

      Other news

      John Michael Greer's new book The Long Descent is a welcome antidote to
      the armageddonism that often accompanies peak oil discussions. "The decline
      of a civilization is rarely anything like so sudden for those who live
      it" writes Greer, encouragingly; it's "a much slower and more complex
      transformation than the sudden catastrophes imagined by many social critics
      today." Greer finds it helpful to look at Russia's recent journey - from
      superpower status through collapse, contraction, stabilization, and recovery
      as one example of where the rest of us may be headed. "Despite economic
      collapse, urban populations did not turn into starving mobs roving the
      landscape. Instead, as existing supply chains broke down, local
      jerry-rigged new ones, and the backyard gardens of the Soviet era went into
      overdrive to keep most Russians fed". The changes that will follow the
      of world petroleum production are likely to be sweeping and global, Greer
      concludes, but from the perspective of those who live through them these
      changes are much more likely to take gradual and local forms. "This will
      them harder to notice, but paradoxically easier to meet".

      The French have a nice word, "decroissance", or de-growth, to describe a
      growing movement to right-size global and national economies. The movement
      defines degrowth as "a voluntary transition towards a just, participatory,
      and ecologically sustainable society". The movement's Declaration is light,
      to put it mildly, on how de-growth will be implemented - but it's an
      interesting manifesto.

      Another Declaration has been published in the US - this one about food.
      Leading US voices in the movement for sustainable agriculture systems have
      published "Declaration for Healthy Food and Agriculture." A 12-point set of
      principles reorients American food away from corporate farms and long-haul
      delivery to local producers and land stewardship. The declaration is a
      its organizers are soliciting public input for 90 days and will then deliver
      a final document to US policymakers in time to shape debate over
      the next farm bill.

      In Brazil, customers open bank accounts, make deposits, and pay bills at
      lottery houses and small retail outlets. In the Philippines, urban migrants
      send money to their families in rural areas using mobile phones. Both of
      activities are described as "branchless banking" in a new report; it
      the use of technology, such as payment cards or mobile phones, that enable
      transactions remotely. The report's publisher, CGAP, describes itself as
      leading independent resource for objective information and innovative
      solutions for microfinance" - but I could not help noticing that CGAP
      is housed at the World Bank.

      Dmitry Orlov, a writer about life after oil, has sold his beachfront house,
      bought a boat, and is sailing up and down the east coast of the US. "It's a
      lifestyle choice, plus a way to minimize costs and maximize available
      he says. If you, too, fancy a "just in case" boat, an online guide by Ian
      includes suggestions to suit every pocket. Me, I'm probably best-suited
      to inflatables: "they are very stable and great load carriers - their one
      downside is that they are harder to row, especially upwind, because
      of their high windage".

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