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 StreetsWiki is a great source for more ideas about making a great city – sadly it’s no longer active, but we’re making an effort to reach out to that community, to support and continue the work.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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Education search engine

I recently needed to search for academics in a particular field of sustainability. Standard web searches weren’t focused enough, so I looked for an education custom search – but couldn’t find one.

Now, I can easily search all .edu sites by putting site:.edu in Google. Or search all US, UK and Australian education domain sites by using site:.edu OR site:.ac.uk OR site:.edu.au in Google. But I wanted to search as widely as possible, so I built my own custom search engine.

This tool covers many countries, and many sites for universities and other educational institutions. It include universities from countries such as Canada, France and Bulgaria which don’t have education domains (e.g. Queens University is queensu.ca). So it was a fair bit of work, finding lists of universities, manipulating the layout and adding them to the search engine, but the result, for me, is a useful search tool.

Here it is. I hope it can be useful for someone else as well.


Note: you can also find this custom search easily by going to Appropedia and looking up “Education Search Engine“.