Friday, 28 November 2014

Approaching One Hundred - and Biting Through

The stampeding horses create a turbulent and luxurious supply of oxygen for the skull-fire, but now and again the wild beasts pause for water, and the air stills and the raging mindstorm subsides to mere smoldering.  There is time to look around.

Gosh! This blog will soon be seven years old!  The hundredth post is nigh! A brief review suggests that some of the past may still be useful in the present, or even later, so while the horses are becalmed, an opportunity to provide some shortcuts backwards, just in case:

The Eleven Most Read
Economics of Enough Blog Posts 

A diatribe against the shallow nonsense of corporate networking, and a plea for authenticity in our exchanges with others

A more analytical piece which uses an example from the UK property market to illustrate how meeting the short term requirements of financial markets results directly in outcomes that are bad for ordinary people and the places where they live

Derived from a presentation given to the International Water Association, eleven 'top tips for scenario planning

A theory of social and economic change in four-and-a-bit diagrams, justifying the ethical position 'On being a good grain of sand'

An argument from deep inside the economics of enough, summarised for and presented to the Schumacher Institute conference in 2013 and entitled 'Beyond Consumerism: A Design Challenge'

A pair of poems, the first of which was set in the Olympic Stadium in 2012 and appeared in the magazine Smoke.

A short prose poem explaining why I shall not be writing the book 'Deshopping Society'

A piece examining a striking result arising from some elementary economics on supply and demand in the UK energy market, the only explanation for which is a political process utterly in thrall to the wishes of big corporates 

A poem, second in a still-to-be-completed trilogy, contrasting some yearned-for or hoped-for human behaviours with the commodified simulacra we currently endure

A sketched  proposition for an aggressive, dramatic and self-funding policy to save thousands of lives each year in London by banning all commercial diesel vehicles from within the M25 from 2023

Magic Eleven
I dreamt, at a UCL seminar, that London would be a sustainable city in 2062 if there was more singing and less shopping.  The talk became a chapter in a book, as well as this blog, and last week saw the publication of 'Sustainable London? The future of a global city' in which, in the concluding chapter, the editors Rob Imrie and Loretta Lees re-print the essay and write:

'These ideas [of care and inclusion] are embedded in Fell's (2012) persuasive outline of an alternative, progressive way of re-conceiving London's future, based, in part, on a context of care, in which a flourishing and inclusive society depends on significantly different, de-materialized relationships emerging to those shaping contemporary social and political agendas.

For Fell (2012) a sustainable future for London means questioning the logics of development and modernization.  It should not mean business-as-usual development, which is not able to respond to, or even recognise as part of its modus operandum, the complexities of creating a caring and nurturing place for all to live.  

Instead, people-sensitised approaches to London's sustainability ought to include appropriate guarantees of individuals' welfare, the provision of good quality social housing, public transport, education and health and the development of a caring, collective future for Londoners rather than one mired in so-called preparedness and individualism.'

At which point, the restless whinnying of sated equines signals the end of the pause and the resumption of oxygen-red flow.  And, if not yet singing, I'm certainly humming...

Trains, planes and mischievous elves

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking at 'London Infrastructure Plan 2050 Event: Circular Economy', organised by London Sustainability Exchange as part of Mayor Johnson's consultation and held on the top floor of City Hall.

The synopsis I'd provided in advance was:

"Throughout the modern era, infrastructure and the economy upon which it depends have been (thought of as) linear.

Roads, canals and railways took goods and people from A to B; the economy was conceptualised as a machine with inputs that related directly to outputs; the future was estimated on the basis of straightforward equations so that schools and hospitals and other ‘social’ infrastructure were delivered through ‘predict and provide’.

The past may work for a while, but it locks us in to its way of thinking – and it leaves us trapped by dead Cost Benefit Analyses and in possession of unaffordable ‘white elephants’.

Now that economy and society are understood as complex, adaptive systems; now that the ICT revolution is in full swing; and now that mega-projects have become almost impossible to justify, we need an infrastructure that is flexible, adaptable, plastic, bendy and small-but-easy-to-emulate.  Rather than predict what infrastructure we’ll need, David Fell will speak about what our infrastructure will need to be like.”

My actual presentation didn't mention cost benefit analysis, or equations, or possibly even ICT, which is probably a good thing.  I did say, however, that the economy used to be thought of as being like this:

but now it was probably better to think of it being more like this:

and this presented quite a challenge for infrastructure planning and design.

I also discovered that a wonderful organisation called 'More than Minutes' were capturing proceedings in graphical format; and, since I had the privilege of giving the opening address, they decided to draw me:

In fact, they captured the whole thing:

The best bit though was that, in trying to exemplify what I was blathering on about with this flexible adaptive infrastructure stuff, I spoke of drones, and how quickly they'd gone from being hostile devices that killed people in rural Pakistan to being benign devices that were going to deliver our Christmas presents.  Soon we wouldn't need lorries, I suggested, and Santa's elves would probably pilot the drones.

And they drew that too:

After all that I need some fresh air, which was outside surrounding all this:

For a moment I thought I heard the harmonised hum of tiny engines and happy helpers...

...but it must have been a trick of the tail.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

When the universe speaks

“What time is it?”

2.15 sir

“In the morning?”

Yes sir.”

“And you’re ringing me again.”

Yes sir.  The alarm in your office has gone off again.


Yes sir.  There appears to be a fault.

“A fault?”

Yes sir.

“Your’re ringing me at 2.15 in the morning to tell me that my security alarm has a fault?”

I’m sorry sir, but our contract requires us to notify you whenever the alarm activates.

Which it did, on three further nocturnal occasions, in the hours remaining before I was due to begin my morning journey to Belfast.

So perhaps I was a little tired.  And I was certainly out of my comfort zone: I fly so rarely, as you know.  But I couldn’t have foreseen the choice by an anonymous individual of the Piccadilly Line and this morning for their Personal Decision to Exit Life.

Deprived by the suspension of the Piccadilly Line of my obvious route from Hammersmith to Heathrow, and having set off with ‘just enough’ time, I improvised the Paddington/Heathrow Express solution, and crossed my fingers.  This seemed to work – I caught the necessary train with 2 minutes to spare – until, at Terminal 1/2/3, the train doors developed a fault.  For one, two, three, four minutes we sat there.

So when I swiped my Boarding Pass across the electronic eye at the security zone, I was refused entry, it being 9.24.  My last opportunity to access my flight had expired, according to the sympathetic but powerless British Airways employee, at 9.20.

“And the next flight is?”

At 12.50”.

“And to change my booking would cost?”

A lot.

I stared at the woman behind the desk.  Then the fabulous arches of Terminal 5.  Then the painfully blue sky outside.

The universe had spoken.  I decided to listen.