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…

From the cradle of civilization to global collaboration

The birthplace of civilization (at least based on the clearest evidence we have) was in population centers based in abundant agricultural lands, at the crossroads of moving groups of varying ethnicities:  the Fertile Crescent, i.e. the eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia.

This was an exciting development in human development. Cities are culturally dynamic and innovative places. At a critical time in our history, seeking to change the direction of civilization and commit to a zero-carbon or negative carbon economy, we do well to remember this.

Most observers agree that the way forward for Canada lies in achieving a more effective innovation economy, but there is considerably less understanding of the role that cities play in an innovation economy. The reality is that cities are ever more important as sites of production, distribution and innovation around the globe.

via Conference Board Speeches and Op-eds > Innovative economy vital to take cities into the future.

On the other hand, people outside the cities are more connected than ever. So while a city’s face-to-face interactions are great for innovation,  we can still keep track of a project like the Factor-E Farm, where innovative appropriate technologies are being developed in an off-the-grid context that’s forcing them to hard work and creativity to achieve their aims.

There’s no need for a a fiery debate about whether off-the-grid or cities are better. Each have their advantages, and there are different choices for different people – and a thrivable future means having choices. But off-the-grid technologies and the social, creative energy of cities can work together. Social technologies that enable collaboration – of which Appropedia is one example – can bring together the creative forces of cities and physically isolated people.

Not sure if that was coherent or a ramble. But share your thoughts in the comments.