16 January 2007

Massive Change and the City

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Massive Change
In conjunction with the Massive Change exhibit that recently ended in Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the City of Chicago Department of the Environment organised a one-day symposium that brought together experts in urbanization, energy, evolution, information, wealth and politics.

The symposium explored the impact of urban life around the world, and laid out visions for a sustainable urban future. Sustainable cities will be built from a mix of the disciplines these changemakers are armed with.

David Zaks and Chad Monfreda of WorldChanging asked each of them the same question: What tool, model or idea do you see as being the key to bright green cities?

The experts included Bruce Mau, creative director of Bruce Mau Design, Inc. and a founder of the Institute without Boundaries; Jimmy Wales, founder and Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation; John Todd, founder of John Todd Ecological Design and president of Ocean Arks International; Sadhu Johnston, Commissioner of the City of Chicago Department of Environment; Hazel Henderson, an evolutionary economist, futurist, syndicated columnist and consultant on sustainable development; Dayna Baumeister, a biologist in the field of biomimicry, an educator and design consultant; Gunter Pauli, a sustainability educator and entrepreneur who founded and directs Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives (ZERI); Mary Czerwinski, an expert in interruption science and human-computer interaction, who leads the Visualization and Interaction (VIBE) Research Group at Microsoft; and Gregg Easterbrook, a contributing editor of the Atlantic Monthly and the New Republic and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute.

I recommend you to read all answers but in the context of this blog, the reply by Microsoft’s Mary Czerwinski is quite relevant, yet also a bit puzzling. In her answer, Czerwinski only scratches the surface, doesn’t go as deep as the other experts, and does not refer to Bill Gates’ huge commitment to sustainable change.

“There is a group at Microsoft that is trying to work on this problem, going into cities like Bogota, Colombia and seeing what kind of technological solutions can be used there. What Microsoft has done on the product side has been to do a ton of ethnography where they go down and live with families in developing countries and really try to learn how they use technology and where the holes and gaps are in the technology. Then they come back to the product team. They share these stories with them. In fact, they blog them as they go, which is really nice. Then they try to develop solutions based on the user problems that they actually identified. There have been some product solutions that have been released. Really cheap computers running really simple versions of Windows have already been released and have been very successful. We have prototypes now in India where illiterate women living in shanties can hook up with employers as maids, so the user interface is completely text free. The tool behind all of this is the ethnography, and figuring out what people really need.”

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