2013 Non-Sequitur: Where Things Felt Right … Until They Didn’t

2013 in review, yay! Nature, happiness, joy, triumph of the soul, financial and spiritual freedom, a life of blissful … Wait, never mind. Let’s cut the crap. Some of my decisions worked out in the end, some didn’t. All of my decisions were a result of naivety and experience, knowledge and ignorance, broad mind and dogmatic preconceptions. There may be stuff in here that’s useful in a wider sense, but these were the things that worked (and didn’t) for me. You may find that spending major holidays in the forest isn’t your thing – in which case, my advice below cannot be held responsible for your mosquito-induced misery to come.

So, here goes:

1. Spend All Major Holidays … And Any Other Days in Nature

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“Not all those who wander are lost.” Mr. Tolkien, how did you just so perfectly express the entire philosophy of my life? Photo taken by Anthony Dewar, the only person in this world, who can magically transform me from an awkward squirrel into a somewhat elegant human-being. Canada Day in Copeland Forest, 2013

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Oh no, never mind, here’s that awkward squirrel again. Photo is still by Anthony Dewar. Christmas in Copeland Forest, 2013

Want to understand design from functional, aesthetic and experiential perspectives? Let’s start with the idea that we can experience all these phenomena, the objects and the events of the world, as they show up during your walk through a forest. The experience of the world ‘just as it is’ often requires significant attention, the quieting of the mind, the relaxation of the body, and the suspension of preconceptions. These are the skills you will learn not by studying ‘about’ nature, but learning ‘from’ nature during your walk in a forest. Once a designer can fully intake the unfiltered experience of sun and wind, light and shadow, damp and dry, fragrant and fetid, patterns of function, aesthetic, and experience begin to emerge. This is the beginning point for designing objects, spaces, systems, and experiences that engender and facilitate thoughtful solutions.

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Even nature needs leaders: The desire for community is a constant of human psyche

Can you imagine the string of nightmares you’d stir up if you wanted the sewer pipe in front of your house repaired and you had to call the Federal Sewer Pipe Repair Department in Washington, D.C., to make an appointment? – Kevin Kelly

Thomas Lee, Rachel Bussin, and I got into the research of urban villages a while back. Something that really drew me to this topic was the phenomenon of small communities. No, not this kind of phenomenon, but a clearly explainable set of conditions present in many small towns, that are transcended into bigger context of a city with a retained charm of closely knit community. I almost forgot about the research my colleagues and I have done last autumn, when I happened onto this post by the oh-so-inspirational Carl Hastrich. Although, reading it is an absolute must to proceed with this post, here is an excerpt from Kevin Kelly’s “Out of Control” book, that really drew my attention:

  1. Do simple things first.
  2. Learn to do them flawlessly.
  3. Add new layers of activity over the results of the simple tasks.
  4. Don’t change the simple things.
  5. Make the new layer work as flawlessly as the simple.
  6. Repeat, ad infinitum.
Looks like, the equivalent to this method in Life’s Principles belongs in the Integrate development with growth strategy, more specifically build from the bottom-up.

A great example of such planning was given by Sherry Ritter during one of her presentations. The paper wasp queen is responsible for reproducing and setting up the initial nest. The queen paper wasp will start building a nest by attaching a central strand to the sheltered structure. The rest of the comb is built off of this central strand. Once the queen has built several cells, she will begin to lay eggs in the bottom of each cell. These eggs will develop into either male or female larvae. Once the larvae are old enough they will build tops to close off the cell. There they will remain until they become pupae. The workers are responsible for expanding the nest and feeding the larvae.

When Thomas, Rachel, and I were setting a plan of attack, our main strategy was going to the very roots of what the community was about, starting with the very essentials of it hundreds of thousands years ago. We looked at the development of community throughout history to understand the major factors that make it successful. And, of course, what kind of designers would we be if we didn’t put it into a visual diagram?

Diagram of community development through historic periods. Inspired by Greg McInerny and Stefanie Posavec visual representation of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (I swear, purely coincidental subject matter!)

Well, so if we apply the methodology of Kevin Kelly to this diagram, we have to redraw it completely! Instead of one node birthing fairly homogeneous branches – if we equate it to city planning, The Federal Sewer Pipe Repair Department will be in black – we would take the very core of community, when tribes populated the Earth, and draw a new layer over it keeping the very principle of an underlying simplicity. Sounds great!

However, there is something in this sequence that is a bit vague.

Balanza Verde: Decentralized approach to waste management system of Lota

Students of Escuela Adventista walking through piles of garbage on one of the main streets of Lota. Children – the future of Lota – are concerned with the amount of waste on the streets of their city. Photo by: Isaías Irán Barra Barra

Centralized waste management system for decentralized city

Solid waste collection and disposal in Chile are the responsibility of municipal governments. Cities must meet certain national norms or standards set by the National Health Service, an autonomous administrative unit of the Ministry of Health responsible for administering and enforcing the national public health requirements. Since 1980, municipalities have been allowed to contract out the collection, transportation, and disposal of solid wastes to private enterprises.

HIMCE waste management truck – centralized system. Photo: http://www.himce.cl

Lota was able to secure a contract with Empresa HIMCE in 2008 for the removal of solid waste and its transportation to Coronel landfill 12.5 km from Lota. The contract between the municipality and the enterprise specified frequency and extent of coverage and types of waste to be collected (i.e., residential street waste, street cleaning, industrial services). These oversized trucks come into the city, collect unsorted garbage on streets that are paved and accessible, and leave to dispose of garbage in a landfill. This system breeds improper waste disposal by the citizens of Lota and the company; lack of community engagement in the cleanup process; and aggravation of the problem after the February earthquake, when even more people had to move into temporary housing.

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Lota Verde: Biomimicry approach to cultural findings

Where there is a challenge, there is always an opportunity.

Since the downturn of Lota’s economy that began in 1997 with the closure of its coal mines, Lota has become one of the poorest cities in Chile. To top off the already shaky situation, Lota has been hit by a massive earthquake – magnitude 8.8 – in February, 2010. Disaster came as a wake-up call to the municipal government that has begun to devise a plan for the refocusing of Lota’s economy from a mining town with an unclear future to a culture and heritage rich community with great vision.

Lota is a city with an abundance of natural resources and closely knit communities. What a great soil for economic growth! It is only a matter of bringing out these treasures of Lota and presenting the local stakeholders with the tools that can help facilitate the economic development in the area.

Lota is a city with abundance of closely knit communities

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