Blog Archives: admin

Bernanke’s and Broadmeadows Dilemma

I was at an exhibition opening last night out in Broadmeadows, which is an outer suburb of Melbourne that has been chosen as one of 6 regional centers that will be developed around Melbourne to ease the pressure on the CBD as the populations grows. The Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab organised 8 different design studios from 4 different universities to participate.  Over 100 students from Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Industrial design and other disciplines created work that aims to confront the massive problems our cities, and particularly the suburban fringes of our cities face in the next 30-40 years.   Problems of the end of cheap energy, transport, food supply, water supply. Fundamental and critical issues.

In the past week the most powerful man in the economic world, the US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, commented on the unusual uncertainly that the world economy is experiences currently.  The predicted bounce back in economies over the world since the recession is not occurring.  No one quite knows why.   One possible, perhaps even probable reason, is that we are hitting planetary limits on growth.  The supply cheap energy and technological progress we have relied on for the past 200 years is not keeping up with our growing demands.   The standard explains this:

“The problem (one of the problems) is that we can’t see the forest for the trees. People still think that the great recession was a problem with the finance system, triggered by a housing crash. But that’s just a proximate cause. The underlying cause was the oil crunch and the next great recession will occur within a matter of years as a result of another crunch, as the IEA, US military, and others have predicted. But the likelihood is that recession will be blamed on another proximate cause and everyone will try to carry on as if infinite growth is possible, as if the rules haven’t changed. Bernanke didn’t mention oil once in his testimony to Congress.”

The reality of this is both exciting and scary.  Scary because it means the established economic models and frameworks are clearly operating in the dark. Exciting because as the head of  VEIL mentioned last night, when your view of the future is uncertain, the only thing to do is to design it.

“Any discussion of design needs to release that we are facing a critical period in human history, I think we are facing a industrial revolution of  scale greater than any other in human history.”

Consider the above to the current discourse around elections in Australia, where unreality’s of phantom immigration problems, and half arsed-green spin dominate proceedings.

We’re in a whole with little illumination and our politicians and media long ago lost their abilities to lead.


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The Empathic Civilisation

The video below is a superb and enlightening discussion around empathy.  We all understand that as Humans we have empathetic emotions we wince when we see someone fall over, we get upset when our friends cry.  What is now being discovered is that this empathy is actually wired into our brain, and like many aspects of our brain it can be nurtured into greater fulfillment, or it can be minimized.   Promisingly it suggests an entirely more optimistic version of the fundamentals of humanity than the cold rational selfish thinker that the enlightenment cast upon us.  As Freerange is concerned with how we are all going to live together in the cities of  the future, this new model of the human brain is exciting as it starts to explain why the otherwise stressful urbanity of cities is also so compelling.

Not to mention that this mode of communication is a superb.

Care of The Royal Society of Arts.

“Bestselling author, political adviser and social and ethical prophet Jeremy Rifkin investigates the evolution of empathy and the profound ways that it has shaped our development and our society.”

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Cities of desire and anxiety: urban impressions from Japan

Part 1. Exoticism and the city

Travel can be a strange and inexplicable thing. Every time I return to Japan, I’m constantly intrigued by how fascinatingly different it is as a place on most spheres of life; i.e. culturally, socially, economically and architecturally. As an unashamed tourist armed with my brochures, maps and pamphlets, I’m inevitably drawn to Japan through an exotic eye and it is this exoticism and the idea of what that means for the architecture of cities that I’m most interested in illustrating throughout the following parts.

Part 2. Gardens

As a city, Kyoto is well contained within its semi-enclosed basin topography. The street grid and buildings are located mostly (if not all) on the flat and for this reason one can immediately gain an appreciation for how the tree-covered hills frame the city and add legibility to the north, east and west. I was told that the belt of greenery is more or less a reflection of the municipal government’s intention to preserve the surrounding hills for cultural and historic reasons – in some cases dedicated temple grounds. Most of the temples and its gardens inhabit areas of sanctuary to the north, east and west – between the wooded hills and city proper: a no-man’s land for spiritual connection, but close enough to the city to sense its physicality. In each axial direction, subway lines work in tandem with the seamlessly efficient bus system infrastructure to provide connections to the various tourist experiences. At first instance, Kyoto seems like a virtual city of gardens: a ‘Tourist world-city’ where experience is seemingly specifically engineered for the enjoyment of its visitors. To my surprise, not far away from my mother’s apartment was the ‘Garden of Fine Arts’ designed by architect Tadao Ando and completed in 1994 (see fig. 1). It’s a curious enclave just off the main road in Kamigamo, consisting of a series concrete ramps that lead visitors through a journey of viewing large recreations of well known art works (apparently the recreation of Michelangelo’s Last Judgement is approximately the same size as the original in the Sistine Chapel), carefully reproduced on large porcelain panels: it claims to be the ‘world’s first outdoor art garden’ (see fig. 2).

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Half Caste Broadcast

Combining tricksterism with earnestness is a tough tough ask, and I’d like to take my hat off to Toi Iti and Maori TV for achieving a rare feat of historically accurate emotionally moving political satire.

Half Caste Broadcast.

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Freerangers do good!

Two freerangers, Barnaby and Byron (the two b’s!) have been announced as joint winners of a design research competition at Sydneys UTS.  From the Australian Design Review website.

The three winning projects are The Architecture Drawing Project, by Bryon Kinnaird and Barnaby Bennett from Victoria University Wellington – a project exploring the different modes of architectural drawing; (in)human habitat, by James Gardiner, RMIT (SIAL) PhD candidate – a proposal that looks at using the built environment to preserve ecological habitats; and CityBreeder, by David Pigram and Iain Maxwell, Canberra University and GSAPP Columbia/AA London graduates – a propsal that reshapes the urban design model as an open-source, real-time interactive platform capable of adaptive growth.”


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Are bad jobs at bad wages better than no jobs at all?

In the spirit of provocation I am referencing an article here by American uber economist Paul Kruger where he makes an argument in Praise of Cheap Labour.  The entire article can be read here. I have pasted a sizable excerpt below.  To me the crux of the provocation comes not from different priorities about human needs, but from a different view on reality.  Many people that might be called anti-globalization folk share a idealist view of the world, seeing through a prism of how things should be and how people should be treated.   I don’t mean this as a veiled criticism, its an invaluable position.  But it is one that contrasts strongly with the utilitarianism of many economists (I’m excluding the obviously corrupt ne0-liberal groups here that just spout their own terrible idealism) who have a deep understanding of the present vast inequalities and are able to argue that what might look like terrible-ness to our eyes is infact improvement for people.  I can’t bring myself to entirely support the position that cheap labour is necessarily a good thing, but I do entirely encourage reading articles as this as they do fundamentally challenge what are often the safe but naive intellectual positions of the left.

Global poverty is not something recently invented for the benefit of multinational corporations. Let’s turn the clock back to the Third World as it was only two decades ago (and still is, in many countries). In those days, although the rapid economic growth of a handful of small Asian nations had started to attract attention, developing countries like Indonesia or Bangladesh were still mainly what they had always been: exporters of raw materials, importers of manufactures. Inefficient manufacturing sectors served their domestic markets, sheltered behind import quotas, but generated few jobs. Meanwhile, population pressure pushed desperate peasants into cultivating ever more marginal land or seeking a livelihood in any way possible–such as homesteading on a mountain of garbage.

Given this lack of other opportunities, you could hire workers in Jakarta or Manila for a pittance. But in the mid-’70s, cheap labor was not enough to allow a developing country to compete in world markets for manufactured goods. The entrenched advantages of advanced nations–their infrastructure and technical know-how, the vastly larger size of their markets and their proximity to suppliers of key components, their political stability and the subtle-but-crucial social adaptations that are necessary to operate an efficient economy–seemed to outweigh even a tenfold or twentyfold disparity in wage rates.

And then something changed. Some combination of factors that we still don’t fully understand–lower tariff barriers, improved telecommunications, cheaper air transport–reduced the disadvantages of producing in developing countries. (Other things being the same, it is still better to produce in the First World–stories of companies that moved production to Mexico or East Asia, then moved back after experiencing the disadvantages of the Third World environment, are common.) In a substantial number of industries, low wages allowed developing countries to break into world markets. And so countries that had previously made a living selling jute or coffee started producing shirts and sneakers instead.

Workers in those shirt and sneaker factories are, inevitably, paid very little and expected to endure terrible working conditions. I say “inevitably” because their employers are not in business for their (or their workers’) health; they pay as little as possible, and that minimum is determined by the other opportunities available to workers. And these are still extremely poor countries, where living on a garbage heap is attractive compared with the alternatives.

And yet, wherever the new export industries have grown, there has been measurable improvement in the lives of ordinary people. Partly this is because a growing industry must offer a somewhat higher wage than workers could get elsewhere in order to get them to move. More importantly, however, the growth of manufacturing–and of the penumbra of other jobs that the new export sector creates–has a ripple effect throughout the economy. The pressure on the land becomes less intense, so rural wages rise; the pool of unemployed urban dwellers always anxious for work shrinks, so factories start to compete with each other for workers, and urban wages also begin to rise. Where the process has gone on long enough–say, in South Korea or Taiwan–average wages start to approach what an American teen-ager can earn at McDonald’s. And eventually people are no longer eager to live on garbage dumps. (Smokey Mountain persisted because the Philippines, until recently, did not share in the export-led growth of its neighbors. Jobs that pay better than scavenging are still few and far between.)”

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Comic genius

I’m going to post the dark side of tricksterism soon, that of corporate tricksterism, when the fine art of creative chaos is turned against unwitting populations.  As an intro to this please view the scathing, but hilarious video on the BP Oil Spill below.

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Take our jobs.org

This is subversion at its best.. US comedian Stephen Colbert has joined forces with the United Farm Workers Union to poke fun at anti-immigration activists by tackling the issue of immigration reform through the satirical campaign ‘Take Our Jobs’.

‘The union launched a campaign called Take Our Jobs, showcased on the website www.takeourjobs.org, to highlight the reality that illegal immigrants in agriculture are not taking jobs away from U.S. citizens and other legal residents.’

Tom Karst – The Packer.com

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Awesome Pro-Whaling interview

Have a watch of this interesting interview with Pro-Whaling representative.

Then read this article in the NZHerald.

Awesome.

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Weird apple contraption

The other day I was at a friends place and there was a strange little vice like contraption sitting on the coffee table. We all started hypothesizing about what its purpose might be. Something to do with honey extraction… a drill of some kind, a spool holder for threading wool or something… Until finally someone had the sense to go ask what it was and get a demonstration. It was far more specific and odd than any of us thought.

An apple corer and spiral cutter. Weird. It’s amazing to know that someone designed and mass produced these, maybe a good way to disprove the theory of supply and demand, who would demand this product?!

Check it out

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