I attended the Just Food Conference 2013 in March, where chef Tamar Adler give a talk entitled, “Cooking: The Missing Piece in the Sustainability Puzzle.” She talked about how she struggled to convince her friend to buy fresh food and cook. “Convenience” was the undertone: all sorts of sources in our culture echo the assumption that it’s more convenient to buy fast food on the way home from work, or pop a TV dinner in the microwave, than shop for fresh food and create proper meals at home.
Dictionary.com defines “convenient” like this:
We shouldn’t let the word “convenient” stand alone. Instead, whenever we use the word “convenient,” we should ask ourselves: “convenient for what purpose?“ Our cultural language expresses that convenient food options are the options that get food into our mouths as fast as possible. In other words, the purpose of food is strictly to satisfy physical hunger. But… is that really the only thing food is about?
Give up the notion of control in urban planning. Cities are dynamic, emergent systems; thus we have to view them through the lens of systems thinking. Let's instead adopt the notions of leverage points (Donella Meadows) and trim tabs (R. Buckminster Fuller).
The "third framework" of citizenship is place governance: citizens as co-creators of democracy. We must create ecosystems of civic engagement, where interaction between citizens and government is fluid rather than event-based.
Last year I came upon an article announcing work by a Stanford team on the first fully biodegradable semiconductor circuits. The article focused on applications to medical devices, but then I thought: what scale of biodegradable computing could we go to? Could we have biodegradable laptop computers and phones? I’m not the first to ask this question, of course; an article on spider silk in computing pointed out that “engineers would still need to figure out how to make biodegradable batteries, interfaces, and everything else in modern-day electronics” before we’d see the rise of biodegradable general computing devices. Given that all living things already have “biodegradable batteries, interfaces, and everything else,” though, it’s certainly physically possible.
I wonder if biodegradable computing might look rather different in the specific context of cities. I’m imagining networks of low-cost, low-power biodegradable sensors scattered about the urban landscape, measuring air pollution, water quality, and more. Want to quickly gather environmental data in a neighborhood? Take a bag of these sensors, scatter them around, and you won’t have to go back to pick them up; they’ll report data for a few weeks before they decompose, nourishing the earth. This idea seems to me a bit more near-term than a biodegradable cellphone, though engineers would still have to work out the biodegradable power and wireless communication.
Well, we can daydream every once in a while… right?
Photo “better compost” by normanack, on Flickr.