Run

Herb Elliot was a great athlete, who won the gold medal in the 1500m in the 1960 Olympic Games, and dominated middle distance running in his time. Interviewed recently, he had this to say on the Western lifestyle:

Now we have the society where the kids don’t run anymore. I used to run to school. I used to run to catch the bus, I used to run everywhere.  The Herb Elliott of today is driven everywhere. And by the time the kids are 15 or 16 or 17 years of age the African kid’s got 10,000 miles in their legs that our kids haven’t got.  So I think we can address that but it reflects our style of life at the moment.

In terms of health, fitness, enjoyment, socialization, independence, economics, there's so much to be gained - not to mention the carbon footprint. This is just one of the ways that a low carbon lifestyle can be richer.

Parents will worry, and do need to weigh risks - but think about real risks, rather than headlines about rare events. And what better way to channel our natural concern and desire for children's safety than to work on making our cities and neighborhoods into great places to run and cycle?


Online chat today - Sunday 12 Aug 2012

Quick update: there's a lot going on behind the scenes - don't let the quiet blog fool you - and big plans are brewing. For a start:

We have a monthly online chat, starting in a few hours day from the time of posting. Depending on your timezone, it's:

Date: Sunday, 12 August 2012. (Monday morning in Asia & Oceania.)
Time: 10pm GMT (UTC if you prefer)
USA: 3pm PDT (Pacific) & 6pm EDT (East coast)
London: 11pm
Australia, East coast: 8am Monday 13th AEST
New Zealand: 10am Monday 13th NZST
Your time zone: ask the Time Zone Converter - convert from "22 /10 pm" at  "UTC/GMT" (top of the list of zones).
Topic for this month: Introductions, open Q & A. There's lots to talk about, but mainly we want to connect and say hi.
How to log in: The details are on our IRC page - see the section Using IRC. Hint: the web method is easy.

Next month we'll announce it more widely, and we'll get more specific. Put it in your diary for next month (2nd Sunday), and we'll confirm closer to the date.

Pondering Batmania – part 1

I'm staying in the world's most liveable city, allegedly. I like it here, but I refuse to believe this is as good as it gets.

Melbourne, Australia has been popping up on "most liveable city" lists since 1990, and the most recent version of The Economist's liveability ranking puts the town on top again.

(Random trivia: Melbourne was founded by Batman, and Batmania was one of the proposed names for the city - so I like to use that. Pardon my juvenile sense of humor. John Batman was no hero, though... But I digress.)

Melbourne certainly has good points - it has a lot of cultural activity, great cafes, and perhaps the best public transport in Australia, in that it works, is kind-of  frequent, and has integrated ticketing. (Melbournians  complain a lot about their public transport, but I've lived in Sydney and Jakarta, and Melbourne is way ahead of both.) There's a reasonable amount of green space, the water in the bay is clean and clear (if you pick the right beach, away from stormwater drains) and you can cycle with less fear of death than in Sydney. It's also the social entrepreneur capital of Australia, which is great if you're a passionate changemaker.

But it's expensive if you want to live near those great cafes, and has sprawling suburbs if you don't want to pay those prices. It can be hard to be without a car, though not as hard as Sydney or American cities. And like most Australian and North American cities, the carbon footprint is huge.

And then... Sydney is also in The Economist's top 10, which makes me question the whole exercise. Sydney is my hometown, and I'm glad to be away from that beautiful, congested, expensive city, and I regularly run into other Sydneysiders who feel the same way.

Are these cities the standard we want to aim for? Surely we can do a lot better, but how do we get there? I'm all for protesting for more bike paths, and voting for candidates who support public transport, but we're making slow progress on these things... when we're not going backwards.

Suburbia, highways and McMansions are helping to drive dangerous climate change, and they're often creating stressful places to live. We need a major change in awareness, in expectations, and in the conversations we have about our cities - whichever part of the world we're in.

Where would you start? Where will you start? Leave a comment below, or on the Facebook page for Appropedia. And stay tuned - the conversation continues...

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First International Meeting for Sustainable Construction in the Dominican Republic

On a run of four presentations in three days, I wanted to share the most visually stimulating one from ENICONS First International Meeting for Sustainable Construction in the Dominican Republic.

I had the pleasure of presenting with some amazing architects to an audience of engaged architects and change makers.

Please feel free to ask questions since the presentation is mostly pictures. In addition, the majority of the technologies presented do have Appropedia links to more information.

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Better places to live

The Sustainable Cities Institute describes a positive vision for cities, towns and neighborhoods. It's one of many sites and communities advocating better places, places designed to human scale and with our planet in mind.

There's also Peter Calthorpe, an urban designer who emphasizes economical use of space to create better places. He advocates transit-oriented development with well-ordered transit nodes, to make travel convenient and sustainable, and greatly reduce the need for cars. He also talks about urban design's key role in fighting climate change. He's part of the New Urbanist movement - which has an approach and an aesthetic which is sometimes controversial, but which has a clear vision for what it takes to make a city sustainable and livable.

Other "city thinkers" are designing buildings and cities with dense housing interspersed with large amounts of green space - Singapore is a leader in this approach and has become a desirable city to live in. Proposed developments in Kuala Lumpur take the idea further, with tall buildings that narrow down at the bottom to allow more space for greenery.

Visions for the future aren't all about high rises. Peter Newman describes the Danish "dense-low" tradition - compact, walkable communities of 2-3 storey buildings and plenty of open space.

This is just scratching the surface. StreetsWiki is a great source for more ideas about making a great city - sadly it's no longer active, but we're making an effort to reach out to that community, to support and continue the work.

There is no shortage of ideas, but there's a need for better coverage and presentation of these ideas in a way that policymakers, journalists and voters and can use to inform themselves.

We have the ideas and experience to tackle this, and we're looking for partners in the urban design and planning fields. Please leave a comment below, or contact us.

Wiki profiles

We're doing a series of wiki profiles on this blog. We look at the goals of these wiki projects, what has worked, and what hasn't.

Most are wikis that (like Appropedia) cover sustainability - often a very specific subtopic of sustainability - and they form our green wiki blog series. We hope that better understanding will lead to greater collaboration.

Education is also a focus for Appropedia, so as well, we'll be looking at wikis and wiki programs dedicated to education, including students who edit Wikipedia and receive credit.

We also have a table of wikis in the fields of sustainability and international development - 113 at last count, with data including size and activity. Sadly, most of them are inactive. Setting up a wiki is easy enough - establishing an active wiki community is a whole different matter.

If you're part of a wiki team or wiki community that hasn't been mentioned here, please leave a comment, or contact us at @appropedia or on Facebook.We'd love to learn about your project - or perhaps do an interview.

And if you're a green or development wiki that is not in the table - click edit and add yourself.

What does a “post growth” future look like?

Yesterday I wrote about why Appropedia has “rich” in its mission statement. Today, Donnie Maclurcan has written a much more eloquent post on the kind of prosperity and the kind of future we are committed to: Post Growth Futures Are Here. I won't quote from it - I recommend reading it in full. If you need a shot of optimism, read it, bookmark it and ask how you can help bring this future about.

You'll notice a hint there, about the new Post Growth Institute project, How, on Earth. Stay tuned - we're looking forward to an exciting and major collaboration.

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Silent collaboration: low tech is also awesome

After those words of appreciation for tech, here's a nice balance. It's high tech by 20th century standards, but text chat is pretty basic tech in 2012.

In Collaborating in Virtual Silence, our friends at the Post Growth Institute describe their silent online meetings, held at least once per month. The meetings are held on Skype, but exchanges are typed, not spoken.

Having typed meetings makes our lives easier when it comes to transmitting information amongst the group. With an agenda already established via email, each of us bring pre-typed, dot-point updates and discussion items to meetings. This saves a great deal of time as pre-written text can be inserted quickly by copying and pasting...

Silent Skype eases the processes of decision-making and establishing next steps. Throughout the Skype chat we have a practice of typing ‘ACTION ITEM’ and ‘KEY RESOLUTION’ in capital letters as a way of noting these important moments...

silent Skype (is) a more viable method for people living and working in areas with slow Internet connections.

In a world of overwhelming noise, could silence be more powerful than we ever realized?

More benefits are described at the original post - worth reading if you have online meetings to run.

E.F. Schumacher would approve - they've chosen the appropriate tech for their needs, and in this case it's not the highest tech available.

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Why “rich” and sustainable?

An Australian friend looked closely at the front page of Appropedia and saw:

Sharing knowledge to build rich, sustainable lives.

He said "Oh, rich - you got that American thing happening." When I stopped laughing, I told him why we use the word rich.

In developing countries, we've sometimes found a perception that sustainability is being foist upon them, to block them from having wealth like that of wealthy nations. Something like, The rich folk are already rich, and we want to be like them, but now they're telling us we have to be "sustainable" instead. You can imagine the resentment. This isn't entirely imagined, either - think of the worry about the impact of many Indians driving efficient micro-cars, when we the wealthy world's job is to worry about the multiple enormous cars belonging to families in our own communities (and to think about the kind of leadership, the kind of "wealth" we're modeling).

That's not the sustainability we want. Appropedia stands for a fair and just sustainability. Moreover, we know that with the appropriate choices in technology and design, with access to medical care, with water, sanitation and transport, richer lives are possible. A small, well-designed passive solar house is a pleasure to live in - superior to a poorly designed mansion. Healthy soils yield fresh, abundant, delicious food. This is the prosperity we're talking about.

These are the riches we envision for the world.

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Technology is awesome

One. I'm in Melbourne on a train to the city as I type this, chatting with Paul (more about Paul another time) who I've never met, and who is  14,000 km away in Costa Rica. We're discussing Appropedia.

Two. The Appropedia Foundation was founded in 2007 - and none of the 3 founding directors had ever met in person at that stage. I'm not recommending starting a legal entity with people you haven't met face-to-face, but it's worked well for us.

Three. One of the admins and significant contributors to Appropedia is truly hardcore in taking action on climate - he refuses to fly to climate conferences. He commutes by foot and bike, and points out that the "100 mile lifestyle" is far more important for the environment than the "100 mile diet". Yet he works with a global community without flying, without even leaving town.

How awesome is modern technology?

What other amazing things could we do with technology if we decided they were important? Say, if we decided to divert a trillion dollars in fossil fuel subsidies to low carbon energy research and implementation? Because we're currently using other kinds of technology to cause a drastic increase in greenhouse gases. But I digress.

Technology is awesome.

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Appropriately big?

Appropriate technology is a concept we believe in - it's really the unifying theme of Appropedia. It's about understanding the context, and choosing the technology (or technique, design or process) which is most appropriate to that context.

E.F. Schumacher, in Small is Beautiful, also talked about intermediate technology - neither primitive and unproductive, nor high tech and expensive or polluting. But is that the same as appropriate technology?

Having a fixed idea about the "right" scale of the solution or the "right" level of tech is a problem. Small-scale intermediate technologies can be wonderful - especially in remote settings. Other times, there's a lot to be said for the efficiency of scale, especially the large-scale infrastructure in cities. Doing things at scale means being able to afford expertise, monitoring, and backup systems. And the person living in a compact, walkable city, sharing a (very large) public transit system, getting their water from a (large) water utility and buying green power from their (large) electricity supplier, may have a smaller footprint than someone living close to nature with small-scale solutions, with solar panels and (because they're so remote) a car. (There's a big dose of "it depends" in such a comparison.)

Small is beautiful, yes. But let's not be fixated on small for every solution. I wouldn't want Appropedia to become solely for DIY enthusiasts building their own home-scale tech. As a living appropriate technology knowledge base, with an active community (including many students) Appropedia can bring together wisdom on many issues - including not only home greywater systems, but also the big infrastructure and planning issues we face. The appropriate approach is to take each approach on its merits, without an ideology favoring big or small scale.

Small is beautiful... but sometimes big is also quite good looking.

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