India is Crafting 21st Century Jugaad


The Hindi term jugaad roughly translates to “a type of frugal innovation or creative hack” and can be found throughout India. It’s not so much one thing as it is a conceptual approach to problem solving which stems from years of poverty and maltreatment of the lower classes (and castes) in the country. With that in mind, it hasn’t stopped wealthy corporations from seeing the benefits to such creative thinking and quick, iterative, approaches to addressing everyday problems. It’s proof that even those stuck on the fringes of society can contribute valuable knowledge (so let’s educate them more so their genius can further flourish)!

Travel through rural India and jugaad is everywhere. It’s the rickety truck powering an entire village’s electricity, or the makeshift TV aerials fashioned from coat hangers. It’s seen in the country’s garishly painted trikes, also called ‘jugaads’, that sometimes carry 20 people despite often being powered by a noisy water-pump motor and patched together from spare parts like old motorbike pieces and wooden planks.
The can-do approach is also personified by the thousands of white-capped dabbawallahs who somehow wheel precarious stacks of stainless-steel tiffin boxes safely through the chaos of Mumbai’s streets each day to deliver hot lunches and afternoon tea to the city’s 200,000 office-workers. Their estimated error rate is one delivery in 16 million, so it is little wonder FedEx has visited them to discover the secrets of their phenomenal reliability.

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How Road Diets Improve Traffic Flow

Urban planners know adding streets won’t make traffic any better, indeed adding capacity for more cars does the opposite: it makes traffic worse. The problem is that the average person (and politicians) don’t know this little quirk of urban planning. As a result we still build sub-urban areas to cater to old notions of traffic design instead of letting urban planners implement smarter, better solutions.

So what’s a solution to bad traffic? Road diets.

Today, we now know that bigger roads and extra traffic lanes do nothing to solve congestion. In fact, it tends to induce even more traffic. So we didn’t fix the congestion issues, and on top of that, we built wide roads that are relatively unsafe.

Transportation planners in the 21st century recognized that many of the roads that were overbuilt could be redesigned to calm speeding and add space for newer multimodal transportation options. And thus, the road diet was born.

The Last Great Generational War

economic chart

Baby boomers ensured that the economy, the planet, and their children are now all in a worse condition than when the boomers were born. This is common knowledge if you’re not a baby boomer and may come as a shock for those who of you born before 1964. All the talk these past few years of avocado toast and the generational anger towards millennials might just be projection. Regardless, the facts about the boomer’s destructive behaviour is evident and now the global population needs to address it.

How can we explain this calamitous, pathological selfishness at the root of the sustained crisis of Boomer mismanagement? Leaning heavily on the fifth edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), Gibney insists that Boomers, as a whole, are self-evident sociopaths “characterized by self-interested actions unburdened by conscience and unresponsive to consequence, mostly arising from non-genetic, contextual causes.” Boomers have repeatedly put the gratification of their own immediate, generationally specific desires above consideration for the long-term consequences doing so would have for them, the country, and their children. Their manifest sociopathy distinguishes them as a singularly antisocial group, devoid of the lowest-common-denominator feelings of collective responsibility for maintaining a livable society for all.

What’s so good about all of this? Well, it means we can finally stop playing the blame game and get on with focusing on what matters. Plus, knowing the problem means we’re on our way to a solution. And in the end, maybe what we’ll experience as a society is a return to thinking of others and not how we exploit them.

Perhaps then a generation will come to mean something less arbitrary, less focused on a descriptive category superimposed onto one group of people or another, telling them who they are based on what they own and how they earn a paycheck. Perhaps then to be part of a “generation” will mean just that—to feel a collective, affirmative duty to cultivate the as-yet-unwritten force of possibility to make the world anew that comes with being born, the generative potential to shake loose the grip of what has been on what the people could be.

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How Oslo Builds for a Sustainable Transit Future

Oslo: The Journey to Car-free from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.

Oslo’s transition from car-focussed to people focussed transportation is well underway and is causing ripples around the world. Other cities are noting how the scandinavian city works with locals to get them out of their cars and onto the streets. Last year we saw how they started to ban cars downtown and it benefited everyone. Oslo is now full tilt into supporting bicycles by providing infrastructure to encourage cycling in hopes to get people out of cars and fully packed trams. If Oslo can support year-round cycling then there’s no reason other northern cities can’t do the same.

In addition to population pressures, environmental concerns are also driving the city’s newfound commitment to bikes. Norway may be famous for its pristine fjords and forests—it doesn’t take long for Aas and I ride to hit Oslo’s thick pine-tree edge as we ride along the water—but air quality in its cities can be remarkably poor, thanks to winter temperature inversions. According to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, air pollution causes 185 premature deaths in Oslo alone each year. Transport accounts for more than 60 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. Replacing more car trips with bikes would help clean that up, and in other cities too. This is why Norway is endeavoring nationally to reduce car use and fossil fuel consumption, with huge incentives for electric vehicles and a nearly $1 billion investment in bike highways around the country.

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Big Boxes Have Failed us; Supporting Downtowns will Save us

bus

We’ve all heard about how downtowns have failed in smaller cities while big box stores like Walmart succeed; what we don’t really talk about is why and what’s the solution. First we need to establish that suburban big box stores are horrible for people and the economy (which is easy); then we need to address those core issues. The folks over at Strong Towns do exactly that and recently published a great piece exploring how the costs of running a big box operation from the perspective of a city is high. The solution then should be easy: reinforce local economies for success.

And we should also recognize where our wealth really comes from. It comes from our downtown and our core neighborhoods (those within walking distance of the downtown). It certainly doesn’t come from people driving through those places. It doesn’t come from people commuting in. It doesn’t come from tourists or developers or the potential of land development out on the edge. Our wealth — the wealth built slowly over generations — is slowly seeping away in our downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods.

Put these things together — the need to build resilience and the historic wealth that still remains in our core — and the strategy becomes too obvious to ignore: We need to piece our economic ecosystem back together. We shouldn’t spend a penny on the mall — we should be willing to let it fall apart and collapse if the market can’t support it. But we should support those investments in the core that are already paying our bills.

And here’s the really sweet thing: the downtown doesn’t need millions of dollars of investment. There are some trying to force that down the city’s throat, but we don’t need it. It’s already the most successful area in the region. We just need to start reconnecting things.

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