Monday, December 27, 2010

The Wall Street Bull Crocheted All Over: Public Art Without Permission

A photo from Marina Galperina's post on Animal New York.

I have mentioned previously how the guerilla crocheting movement and guerilla art in general as an example of a new sense of ownership of the streetscape and public spaces in our cities which is fueled by the ease with which we can now own and personalize online spaces.

A couple of days ago New Yorkers were surprised to find Wall Street's Charging Bull sculpture completely covered in a fitted crocheted outfit!

According to Animal New York, the work was created by Agata Olek who has taken the guerilla crocheting action to a whole other level! According to Animal New York, Olek did the work as an homage to the original installation of the Charging Bull by Arturo di Modica in 1989. The Charging Bull's wiki site tells the story of the sculptures guerilla art installation. di Modica installed the piece in front of the Stock Exchange without permission from the city as an ode to the "strength and power of the American people" after the stock market crash in '87. The police impounded the sculpture and there was a huge public outcry. It was then permanently relocated at it's current location.

While Olek's piece was only briefly in place and di Modica's work nearly didn't survive, The Charging Bull and it's new attire both are a testament to the power of creative ownership of public space and the potential of individuals who chose to gift their craft to their fellow citizens.

Illegal Graffiti: Microsoft Gets Busted

It's fascinating to see a major corporation resorting to guerilla advertising tactics to reach people. San Francisco's Prop G laws severely limit public advertising displays and this isn't the first time a big tech company got into hot water by subversively getting their message out in SF neighborhoods. In the "Not-So-Real-Estate" IDEO Pattern I wrote for IDEO, I referenced the example of an Intel advertisement that was affixed to an abandoned Disney Store on Market Street. It was considered illegal advertising and they got fined. You have to hand it to them for being creative!

Photo by Jessica Lum via MissionLoc@l

Now MissionLoc@l (big ups for neighborhood journalism!) reports that Microsoft admits to hiring an independent agent to chalk an ad on the Valencia Street's sidewalks. The problem is, they are not so easily removed, as you can see from the photos. Supposedly a similar incident involving someone who was hired by an agency that was hired by Microsoft ended in the individual getting arrested.

In an age where we are bombarded by messages from every direction, there is always a desire to limit the volume of messaging in public space. But increasingly, we expect to be able to communicate in urban space with a large audience instantly, just as we have grown accustomed to in the online space. It will be exciting to watch the battle play out.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Shared Space for the Amateur Scientist, Hacker, and Maker

A biofuel algae experiment at Genspace. Photo by: Dave Mosher/

We've looked at a lot of shared spaces for collaboration whether they are for the epicurean or the entrepreneur. Now we can add amateur scientist. Recently's David Mosher featured a piece about how a "DIY Biotech Hacker Space Opens in NYC." Genspace is the world's first government-compliant community biotech laboratory, "for a $100-per-month membership, anyone can use the space for whatever experiments they dream up."

With all of the complexities of navigating the regulations of urban real estate, you can imagine that setting up a biotech lab that is open to the public in one of the most densely populated cities would be a major headache, however, as Mosher points out, "biosafety officers approved it as compliant with the Center for Disease Control's biosafety level 1 regulations. That's a big difference between Genspace and DIY labs crammed into closets and garages across the country." Even the FBI had to get involved in this one.

Making sophisticated equipment available to everyone is a lofty goal and potentially an expensive one, so Genspace's founders got resourceful. "The small space is made of found parts. A sliding patio door, Plexiglas panels and old wire screens enclose the lab, and stainless-steel restaurant tables serve as lab benches," and they got most of the lab equipment donated.

After a little more digging I also ran across BioCurious, a similar venture that is starting up in the Bay Area. Check out the video on their successful Kickstarter fundraiser.

Co-working, incubator spaces don't have to be purely for the desk job crowd. There so many different varieties of these spaces/communities, that it is hard to keep up! I'm really excited about Noisebridge here in San Francisco. Tucked into a nondescript second floor space on Mission Street, Noisebridge describes themselves as, "an infrastructure provider for technical-creative projects, collaboratively run by its members. We are incorporated as a non-profit educational corporation for public benefit. We teach, we learn, we share." It's also exciting to see that TechShop is taking off here in San Francisco as a dedicated digital tool resource and workshop for makers of all kinds in the Bay Area.

As I described in the previous post regarding Chris Anderson's Wired Article on Crowd Accelerated Innovation, public space could learn a lot from the online video revolution that Anderson is championing. Public communal spaces like Genspace no doubt have a crowd who come together. And by bringing people together to share resources and knowledge in a common space they foster a visibility among members, light. And lastly there is no doubt, desire as this wouldn't happen without a lot of passion from hard-working community members and leadership.

Perhaps the continued development of these incubator/co-working spaces are the urban environment's "in real life" version of the online video explosion.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Crowd, Light, Desire: What Public Space Can Learn From the Online Video Revolution

In the January Wired magazine Chris Anderson (from TED not Wired) outlines how and why the online video revolution is creating a new form of crowd accelerated innovation, entitled "Film School." In it he explains that through video, by showing someone rather than telling someone, many communities of performers, makers, artists, scientists and amateurs of all kinds are creating a global innovation lab that is rapidly accelerating the advancement of the endeavor of each of these communities. It's fast. It's accessible. It's an easy way to learn from your peers. And it strongly encourages each member to up their game! He uses the example of Jon Chu's League of Extraordinary Dancers (LXD) as an example that culminated in a phenomenal performance at this year's Oscars.

While I the article isn't available online, Anderson explains much of this phenomenon in this TED Talk:

I am particular intrigued by the 3 drivers that Anderson sees as critical to online video, or any collaborative circle, enabling an acceleration of Innovation.
1) You need a Community. A Sizeable group with common interests.
2) You need Light. All of the members have to be visible to one another.
3) You need Desire. Passion of individuals fuels the pursuit of great things within the group.

So what could public space learn from these three drivers? In Chris' lecture he uses a public space where two break dancers are performing as the example of a small amount of "light." In the public square, you are only visible to those who are present in the space with you. But in online video... you get the idea. The fact is, public space does have one advantage. You simply can't beat face to face interaction.

Anderson points to many of the revolutions in collaborative circles of the past. And most of them involve a common location. Until the opensource movments and online video, it was all about location! He references the trade routes of Asia, the coffee houses of 17th century Europe, the 20th centuries urban slums, and all of these were about proximity.

With all of the plaza's limitations, could there be a hybrid of public space and online video as a platform for innovation where you have the advantage of being surrounded by your peers in person in your community and the ability to see the global innovation lab online at the same time? Anderson's own TED is a great example. They have created a tight knit community and a commons (the stage) for them to gather around. The genius of TED's recently popularity is the viral spread of the online videos and the ability to replicate TEDx in your own community anywhere in the world. Now if we could only combine the networking and sharing that happens at TED with the global presence of the online videos. Basically, shouldn't we have a place to watch all this together in our communities? It should be a public, communal space that is supported by our municipalities. It would replace television and radio as our govenrment mandated source of information. It would be a place for debate, and a place for advancement of ideas and abilities.

I imagine this in the form of a hybrid park/megaplex where people can perform/collaborate and watch video from around the globe. Movie houses are losing out to other media channels precisely because they lack the convenience of on-demand and the ability to be participatory in the way that online media is.

People do love the idea of the lone genius in the bedroom. But the bedroom is lonely!

On-Demand Life

Another colleague of mine, Sandy Speicher passed along this link about Self-Storage by Mail from Springwise. Thanks, Sandy!

As we have been discussing on-demand consumption of goods, services and experiences and the on-demand shared use of real estate, we now have an answer to all of the stuff we already possess and don't always need in our presence. Enter who allow you to send them all of your excess possessions which they will store in their warehouse until you need them mailed back to you.

Images from the homepage.

Taken to the extreme, we could imagine a future where our lives are completely on-demand and on any given day we have only what is immediately necessary and efficient before us. Combined with a shared consumption of on-demand automobiles, tools, real estate, along with an ability to store excess items, our daily lives could be incredibly lightweight, flexible and nomadic! It does beg the question of how we would manage all of this movement of items to and fro, but there is no doubt an app for that on its way.

I find my experience traveling with colleagues around the world frequently as an extreme use of this lifestyle. We keep work tools (projectors) and daily life tools (a clothing iron) stored in our hotel in Sao Paulo, but next month we might need them redistributed to our next location. The Springwise post refers to this lifestyle as that of the "Transumer". They reference a Trendwatching post that defines Transumers as:

"consumers driven by experiences instead of the ‘fixed’, by entertainment, by discovery, by fighting boredom, who increasingly live a transient lifestyle, freeing themselves from the hassles of permanent ownership and possessions. The fixed is replaced by an obsession with the here and now, an ever-shorter satisfaction span, and a lust to collect as many experiences and stories as possible.* Hey, the past is, well, over, and the future is uncertain, so all that remains is the present, living for the 'now'."

With so much of what we carry around with us being paired down to only the essential, we could be freed to be where we want to be, when we want to be. And our lives could be freed up to focus on the experiences we collect rather than the possessions.

Now, if can just figure out how we are going to manage all of this movement to and fro so that we aren't spending all of our time "demanding" our On-Demand Life.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Epicurial Entrepreneurial Space

My friend and IDEO colleague Peter Bromka passed along the article "A Kitchen-for-Rent Is a Lifeline for the Laid-Off" from the New York Times on The Entrepreneur’s Space in Queens, a 24/7 commercial kitchen available to local epicureans.

The regulations and tremendous expense of having your own commercial kitchen are an obviously enormous challenge to overcome if you want make money from your passion to cook food for others.

As Fernanda Santos points out in the article:
"The kitchen, rare in its approach, solves many problems. It offers cooks space they do not have at home, is fully equipped and complies with the city’s health code."

And it's the power of a collective sharing of resources:
"The place has also fostered an informal network, where cooks combine purchasing orders for things like butter and olive oil to save money, or rely on one another as taste testers."

It reminds me of La Cocina in SF's Mission district who's mission, "is to cul­ti­vate low-income food entre­pre­neurs as they for­mal­ize and grow their busi­nesses by pro­vid­ing afford­able com­mer­cial kitchen space, industry-specific tech­ni­cal assis­tance and access to mar­ket opportunities."

I'm also reminded of the long successful Mission Street Food, where a group of ambitious, creative young chefs who lacked their own legal commercial kitchen rented out a Chinese restaurant on Mission Street for one night a week. The proceeds from the evening were donated to local charities. There were many nights where the line at MSF was half a block long. The concept was so successful that it has yielded the permanent establishment in their foster home, the Lung Shan Restaurant, called Mission Chinese Food. A permanent cohabitation of two restaurants in one where the Lung Shan Restaurants were trained by the Mission Street Food's Danny Bowien in new techniques using new, fresh ingredients.

If your only limitation in starting your own restaurant is actually getting the restaurant itself, a little creative real estate sharing might just make access to a quality space the easy part. Having a network of like-minded people to share resources and knowledge makes it all the more powerful.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Marketplace for Experiences

Another variation on the collaborative consumption kick is Skyara, an online marketplace that allows anyone to share/sell unique experiences. Some of the unique engagements featured on the site include: Having tea with entrepreneur Ron Conway and MC Hammer (free), skeet shooting with the founder of MySpace (free), and a lot of wine country tours (~$150). And there is a link to request experiences you are interested, keeping the conversation between those who buy and those who sell alive and kicking.

What will be next in these online collaborative platforms? Sharing software (I need an AutoCAD license for 2 months)? Sharing expensive but infrequently used items (I need a large crystal punch bowl for the weekend). Sharing venues (where am I going to host a party for 300 peeps!). Sharing artwork (I need an original Banksy print to impress, but next month I'll probably get tired of it and want something else.)

The possibilities are endless...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Urban Space Designed for Collaborative Consumption

As a follow up to yesterdays post Who Will Tend My Garden, I ran across some videos related to a new book by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers which captures some of these trends in what they call Collaborative Consumption. airbnb and Getaround, which I've discussed before, are superb examples of this phenomenon of pooling resources from individuals to yield a service that is available on demand for everyone to consume.

WHAT'S MINE IS YOURS from rachel botsman on Vimeo.

While there is much innovation in the reinvention of collaborative consumption business models, it's less clear how urban space will be reinvented to except these new platforms. So much of what makes collaborative infrastructure work is location specificity. How will we reinvent our neighborhoods and public spaces to enable these shared resources and experiences?

Here's more video of Rachel discussing Collaborative Consumption:

Watch live streaming video from alldaybuffet at

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Who Will Tend My Garden?

I was recently having a conversation with some colleagues about the pros and cons of Farmville, the enormously popular Facebook game that lets you "farm with your friends." And, while I have zero interest in ever playing Farmville, it's sensational success does make me wonder what is yet to come in these socially potent online games.

One interesting take on the next big thing for Farmville is from gaming expert Jane McGonigal awhile back at (click her image, the third one, to see her audio quote). McGonigal's research at Berkeley and the Institute for the Future envisions a future where the boundary between the physical and online world of games is blurring, and if she succeeds in her game designs, gaming may be a ubiquitous part of our everyday lives.

In the short audio on The Times website, McGonigal mentions a new platform called Groundcrew and suggests that it is something "like Farmville, but for the real world." She points out that people playing Farmville "are constantly being asked to water your neighbors crops or feed their chickens, but what if you could water somebody's crops in the real world. What if you got alerts when you passed by an urban garden and were able to actually stop and help real urban crops."

Now we're talking! A game like Farmville exploits our willingness to be collaborative, especially in virtual worlds, for the mutual benefit of the group. The idea that this positive quality of games could be lent to the real world to do actual good is profound.

Groundcrew defines their platform by pointing out that, "Customers use our software to organize action: from running city-wide games to helping elderly people in their homes to responding to disasters around the world, you will get to be a part of it." Whether in use as a game, something very "serious", or something in between, the willingness to spontaneously collaborate is extraordinarily powerful, and enabling it to erupt spontaneously and adapt quickly through mobile technology could be a useful workaround for the challenges of organizing for change in the slow-to-adapt urban environment.

Lastly, I've also just found, an online platform that connects gardeners looking for land with those who have land to share. These collaborative sharing platforms are popping up everywhere and for every purpose! This doesn't have quite the same spontaneity and collaborative nature that McGonigal and Groundcrew propose, but it may be that some collaborative sharing does require a more formal and longterm agreement between those who have and those who need.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

More Fun With Video Mapping

Thanks to Jen Panasik for pointing me to this one. Another retailer uses this fantastic technology to create an engaging street experience.

Thanks to Wilfred Castillo for pointing me to this phenomenal display of the Prague clock tower, as seen over 600 years. Stunning.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Online and Physical Retail (Slowly) Merging

Last night I went to visit the San Francisco location of AllSaints, and in it I was intrigued by the installation of an iPad in an "antiqued" wood and metal frame amidst the merchandising in their Union Square store. While the iPads definitely stand out dramatically from the style of AllSaints decor, the juxtaposition seems to work.

What's more intriguing is the fact that we are getting ever closer to a meaningful merger of the online and brick and mortar shopping experiences. It's a small step, but just by moving the online experience closer to the merchandise and enabling it through a much friendlier interface (not a clunky computer keyboard and monitor) it somehow makes it more engaging as an embedded part of the shopping experience. Unfortunately the content of this iPad app was the AllSaints website and nothing more. It didn't recognize that the user was in the store or offer anything that you couldn't see at home!

Imagine if it could connect me to relevant merchandise in the store based on what I had already purchased or was currently considering. What if the online selections activated some highlighting technique in the merchandise in the store. The inability to really feel materials and truly see the item is what prevents so many people from using online stores even when they do shop online for other things like electronics or media.

It is as if we are witnessing an early relic of proto-pervasive retail technology, but it still feels that an opportunity has been missed and we've got a ways to go.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Le Truc's 'Bustaurant' Takes the Food Cart to Another Level

Wired Magazine's Underwire blog wrote on Tuesday about the Le Truc bustaurant in SF's SoMA which quite a next step in the ever-evolving nomadic foodie cart phenomenon.

It's another fine experiment in working around the rigid constraints of the regulations that make restaurants a challenging venture in many cities. As the article suggests:
"Street-food people are crafty,” said Dan Sider, ombudsman for San Francisco’s planning department. “Le Truc has got something that’s pretty unique. They worked with the planning commission and lobbied for a particular set of rules that would allow for their bus to exist.”

And it solves for a lot of the challenges of wanting to be in multiple locations in a city that loves to dine out and experience something different with each experience:
"They also plan to set up for dinner (and maybe al fresco movies) in a second location a few blocks away near San Francisco’sSouth Park neighborhood, home to many dot-com startups over the years."

"As if that weren’t ambitious enough, the Le Truc crew has been working with the city’s planning department to gain a spot in the mobile food truck Narnia that is the Upper Market/Castro area."

Best of all Le Truc is using an online system to streamline the ordering process for the nomadic diner:
"Le Truc has developed a point-of-sale system similar to those in some upscale convenience stores and gas stations: Rather than overwhelming the kitchen staff with questions and orders, patrons sidle up to the kiosk outside the bus, browse the menu according to dietary specifications, and order their food electronically. An online version allows orders from computers or mobile phones — when the food is done, the system sends a text."

And Le Truc's computer recognizes repeat customers and rewards their loyalty with discounts!

If you've dreamed of owning a restaurant but find the infrastructure to support such a complicated venture to be overwhelming, there is a wealth of inspiration in the food cart revolution's workarounds.

Thanks to Underwire's Allison Davis for the great article and permission to quote and relink here!

Interior of Le Truc "bustaurant" Photo by Jon Snyder/

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rent Your Neighbor's Car

If Zipcar and Airbnb made a baby it would be named Getaround. The San Francisco startup
takes the distributed rental model to another level completely, allowing car owners to rent their cars on an hourly basis to other locals. It's an efficient use of resources that otherwise sit idle, it reduces strain on parking and the environment, and it's yet one more example of the collective benefit of a platform that enables individuals to lend resources.

Zipcar got a lot of attention for creating a useful iPhone app that added to the value of their already solid offering, but now Getaround is setting a new standard for bringing the on demand convenience of an online experience into the urban environment via mobile technology. Renters can locate and request cars using their iPhone and a carkit which a vehicle's owner can easily install allowing renters to unlock their car and drive it off. Getaround insures the car and the owner can make money on an asset that would usually take up parking space. I signed up for the beta and eagerly await what's to come.

The Collective Memorial

As I am contemplating the loss of my grandmother last week, I was reminded of the power of the communal engagement with the Temple of Flux at this year's Burning Man and the unique way that it enables collective mourning. So I thought I'd share.

It’s increasingly common for memorials to allow people to engage with the structure as a means of sharing loss as Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial was among the first to depart from its static predecessors considerably. But few of them take that experience to the level that Burning Man’s Temple did this year. Allowing people to share in a communal expression of grief openly in public initiated many powerful moments: people struggling to hold it together as they write on the walls; not a dry eye to be found as many are moved by stories that you know so little about contributed anonymously; complete strangers consoling one another. It’s a level of honesty and openness and exposure that we rarely allow ourselves to experience in most public spaces, but it was pervasive in the canyons of this years Temple. It’s a collective grief and a collective celebration of the ability to move on.

What’s so amazing about The Temple of Flux was the complete lack of guidance and rules around how to engage with it. In years passed people often left offerings to remember those they lost in the past year, but this temple was designed to receive these offerings in thousands of unique ways. For the most part, people left offerings that were very thoughtful but there were an extremely rare number that clearly were event announcements or tags and really shouldn’t have been up there. No one ever policed the Temple to my knowledge, and it simply evolved as thousands of residents of Black Rock City contributed in their own special way. You can’t predict how Burners will engage with your work. The best experiences on the Playa are a raw platform which only comes to life when Burners carve out their own way of engagement. If only there were memorials and communal ways to share in this way in our cities' public spaces.

Temple of Flux time lapse and burn from John Behrens on Vimeo. Skip to 3:30 to see a timelapse of the Temple burn.

Check out the Temple 2010 blog as well.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Online Experience Meets the Brick And Mortar Facade

Treating a street-facing facade as an animated canvas is definitely an exceptional way to create a spectacle for a retail setting. You could even imagine a version of this type of technology enabling a bridging of the online and b&m store as it is projected on the facade perhaps even being manipulated by purchase popularity or pedestrians on the street below. It's hard to imagine an engaging experience at this scale could have been conceived before we were inspired by the spontaneity and quick generation of an audience that we experience online.

Thanks to Gretchen Addi for sending this to me.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Changing Way We Shop

I love this opening paragraph from a post from PUBLIC Bikes' blog as they announce their holiday pop-up store in the Gap store in SF:
"It’s no secret that the way we shop for stuff has radically changed. Credit (or blame) the web for most of the changes, but the fact is we can now shop for almost anything, anytime, anywhere in the world. Digital colossi like Amazon, Craigslist, and Groupon are a part of everyday life now. Etsy allows us to buy hand made one-of-a-kind goods with a click. Even as virtual shopping has become mainstream, there has been a bit of a renaissance in the other direction. Farmers’ Markets are everywhere. Local crafts fairs and street vendors are back in fashion. Every week there’s another lunch wagon pulling in our neighborhood offering some seriously non-digital street food. The last few years have brought wholesale changes to retail."

It sums up the changing way we experience our public space in so many retail engagements and tees up the value of installing their holiday pop-up retail in an established yet admiring apparel chain flagship. We have come to expect the juxtapositions in the digital domain, but now thanks to temporary but mutually beneficial relationships and a little creative thinking, it's happening in real life.

Check out the PUBLIC Bikes post here.

PUBLIC Bikes was invited to install a pop-up retail space in
the middle of the Gap store on Powell. They get more exposure
and Gap gets some extra traffic and buzz. Everyone wins.

The Library, After Books

I've been thinking a lot about this article from Suzanne Labarre on Fast Company, A Library Designed for the Post-Print Era, about a new library at the University of Amstredam that has chosen to forgo that mainstay of every library since the Middle Ages, the book. What is left? The designers have decided it's a study hall.

While I think communal space dedicated to studying, working and collaborating together is far too rare in most cities and schools, I have to wonder: Is that all that's is left of a library-sans-books, a study hall?

How do I serendipitously trip over a book that someone else left on a table?

How will I bump into a really exciting adjacent yet tangential book as I peruse the shelves for something specific?

There are any number of ways that I could discover something new in a library, and while they may be rather random, they are often very meaningful.

With all of the new ways that we can share, create, and discuss content in the digital era, will there not be new programming of the space that is dedicated to that digital content? New behaviors?

The stacks were ugly and extraordinarily inefficient. While I could be nostalgic and romanticize them, I won't. I applaud the foresight it takes to invest in a significant move away from an outdated technology, and it will no doubt continue to happen in the near future. But I hope that this shift will ignite a reinvention of the library typology. Books are inefficient, and they will likely become rare in the coming decade. But what we replace them with should have the same meaningful experience surrounding it. And the halls in which we read books should be replaced with something that celebrates and enables learning in the same way that libraries did for all the years they existed.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Where's That Art Gone to Now?

My friend Maggie Andrews found a piece of art work printed onto a plywood tablet which was left in her bike basket on the street. An artist/designer named Aaron Lawrence left it for someone to find, and since then it has been roaming the streets of many cities. It's a really fun way to share your art that is more dynamic and surprising than hanging it in a gallery. The city should constantly surprise us with gifts like this!

I think this might be Aaron's website. It will be fun to see where this work shows up next!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Learning from Burning Man

With so much travel of the last few months, it has taken quite a while to begin to fully comprehend the week I spent at Burning Man (nearly 2 months ago!) Here goes:

The Playa

If Las Vegas provided inspiration as the preexisting hyperreality of Venturi's Postmodernism (and the suburban sprawl that followed in the wake of Learning From Las Vegas), than Black Rock City should be our new analog for an inspiring image of the dynamic new way we will engage with our urban environment.

There is no more extreme example of fleeting, participatory, and DIY urban development than Burning Man's Black Rock City. Every city, economy, and civic development effort could learn from the small town’s annual and ever brief existence.

Everyone engages with the hexagon sculpture in their own unique way.
The deceptively complex Fibonacci spiral form
of ANIMUS Collectives Honey Trap allows for unique engagements.

While I chose to spend a week in the scorching, dusty desert for many reasons (I was a “virgin” this year), among the more tame rationalizations was the opportunity to experience this extremely dynamic city form for myself. If you haven't been, I hope you will join me next year. You may have preconceived notions of what Burning Man is, and when you arrive it will hold up to some of them, but it is as diverse as the 50,000 inhabitants that contribute to it.

Like every city, it's a system that people contribute to and take away from, but Black Rock City takes that economic construct to another level. Everything is free with the exception of ice and coffee, and yet somehow Burners seem to disprove every conservative economist's appreciation for the value of scarcity and competition in a free market economy. The quality of what people bring with them to share is exceptionally high! From the extraordinary scale and craft of the art in The Playa, to the pancake and soft serve ice cream camps, to the massive concussion of beats provided nightly by world-class DJs at Root Society, it all proves that if the only motive for providing to others is to be awesome and share the awesomeness to make others happy, than the caliber of what people produce will be, well, awesome! As they say, "The Playa provides."

Obviously, Burning Man has a lot of advantages over real, static cities. For one, the self-selection process to become a citizen, namely the ~$250 ticket price, means that the populous is eager to take part, and relatively well off financially. That eliminates a lot of the challenges most cities struggle with around poverty and disproportionately distributed resources. Also, Black Rock City's economy, while briefly self sufficient, is by no means sustainable as it is completely dependent on Burners' hometown economies and the capital that we all bring with us to the desert in the form of food, equipment and whatever we chose to gift to others. Lastly, Black Rock City does not exist for long enough to cave under the weight of a lot of the traditional urban burdens and fall into decline. That being said, it would be nice to imagine traditional cities taking a few cues from the city that is, for one week, the fourth largest in Nevada.

We live in a time where many of the new behaviors that I want to highlight in this blog are challenged by the snail's pace with which our urban context generally accepts change. Raising capital, navigating approvals regulations and permits, and the basic reality of altering buildings and infrastructures that are built to last- it all amounts to huge obstacles for change in the city. Black Rock City is different. The BRC Department of Public Works is a group of mostly volunteers that can set up the city’s layout and lightweight infrastructure in a couple of weeks and take it down just as rapidly before it finally returns to a blank desert a few months later. It's the ultimate in grassroots urbanism. Everything that exists at Burning Man is there because some individual or group wishes it to be so. Because it will only be there briefly and you have to drag it with you from home, most everything is relatively lightweight and quick to set up. Somehow there is everything the citizens need, despite the harsh conditions and the fact that those who provide are doing so voluntarily. The Playa does indeed provide.

Pablo's Paella (Thanks in part to the Tuna Guy)

Burning Man is what San Francisco would be if we were to project all of the trends in local and sharing economies out to their greatest degree. I constantly felt as though I wasn’t contributing nearly enough to the greater good. Pablo, a member of my camp, provided a paella for 40 people after we hunted down someone who had the right propane tank for our paella stove. The ‘Tuna Guy’ living 3 “doors” down, was happy to oblige us with a partial tank as long as we 1) brought him a plate of paella and 2) we would try his freshly caught tuna sashimi. What was more amazing: the fact that we could get phenomenal sashimi 3 hours from Reno or the fact that this guy just handed us a propane tank? It was the hyperbolic version of knocking on the neighbor’s door for a cup of sugar. In fact, most people spend their entire time knocking on the entire city’s doors and receive something of quality in return nearly every time.

Pablo on the Piano sculpture that was randomly in the middle of the Playa.
This would make a great crosswalk on The Embarcadero.

I have no doubt that some of what has defined San Francisco’s emergent local and sharing cultures is in part inspired by the myriad Burners who call The City by the Bay home. I try to imagine the San Francisco of the future by projecting out from Black Rock City. What if I could knock on the door of that house party on Bryant Street on a Friday night and the complete stranger that answered the door would be expecting me, or anyone for that matter, and offer me a drink. What if Dynamo Donuts were free, but they sustained themselves on the fact that every other location they themselves frequented was free too? What if giant neon-lit art cars wandered up and down Folsom Street between all of the clubs on Saturday night, and anyone could hop aboard go where they please? What if the city was as fleeting as BRC? Imagine if my street address back in San Francisco was both a street number as well as a date and time?

Obviously all of the previously mentioned deficiencies of Burning Man's sustainability would eventually kick in and bring the city to a halt. But why do we have to save the power of passionate collectivism for one week in the desert? Maybe we could do it one week a year right here in the city. Here is a random sample of moments that illustrate the extreme adapative, temporal, mobile and participatory nature of BRC:

Taking turns winding each of us up in the communal swing

Art work anyone can climb on
The Helix Spire was brought all the way from Seattle
by architect Erich Remash

Strangers collaborate.
It would be phenomenal to see this in any public space, but in the middle of the desert late at night it was epic! This sculpture of steel tube and lit cubes allowed 4 different people to
program a sequence of audio and colored lights together from separate consoles.

Strangers space out together.
The Light Sculpture at the 9:00 Plaza was a stunning display
Not sure if it was the artist's idea, but someone got the bright idea to watch it from beneath via 3D glasses. Everyone followed suit.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pop Up District

The pop up store phenomenon continues to take on new proportions as it increasingly becomes a standard in the most popular urban shopping districts. Fred Dust sent me this photo of The Detox Market on Abbot Kinney Blvd in Venice, CA where no less than 4 different pop up stores can be found in one neighborhood. Eager to take advantage of the struggling real estate market, pop up retail spaces stores are able to stay open exclusively during the holiday season and then disappear again when it's not It's also a solid way to fulfill a niche market without having to over commit.

Imagine an entire neighborhood where the commercial district had no long term leases and rotating retailers were the norm. Every weekend of shopping would deliver something new. Redefining tired downtown blocks could be a great way for small cities to support smaller, more fledgling entrepreneurs while activating underutilized space. A pop up strip mall.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Friends of the Urban Forest

My next door neighbors just had a tree planted in the sidewalk in front of their house by the Friends of the Urban Forest. It was exciting to see the little project evolve over the last few weeks.

FUF is just one more bright spot in the ever increasing movement to take a collective ownership of our public right-of-ways through individual action.

According to their website FUF's mission is "To promote a larger, healthier urban forest as part of the urban ecosystem, through community planting, maintenance, education and advocacy. Friends of the Urban Forest is a non-profit committed to the belief that trees are a critical element of a livable urban environment."

The process to plant a tree on your own is pretty simple, and the one permit required from the city seems to be a relatively small obstacle to allowing individuals the opportunity to redefine the boundary between their home and the community around it.


And After:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Samba School in the Street

Following the mayhem on the streets of San Francisco the other night, I was reminded of an evening in Rio two weeks ago where we had the opportunity to listen to some samba under the stars on a short side street in Rio. While it was way more chill and a little bit more pre-planned than the impromptu Giants World Series party, the samba block party was a master study in deploying the least amount of infrastructure to sustain a band of mostly non-electric musicians, a hand full of people grilling and serving refreshments, and a suspended tarp to keep dry as many people as possible. Many people were singing along to the tunes while most were standing around socializing. Either way it is exciting to see a public street so well activated by people with a common interest.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Not-So-Real-Estate on Fast Company

The IDEO PATTERN I wrote, titled Not-So-Real-Estate has been featured today on Fast Company. Nine Examples of Branded Environments That Mimic the Web's Fluidity. Check it out!

Here is the IDEO PATTERNS website. Also, here is the intro post for New Public Domain, which dives a little deeper into some of the online behaviors that are inspiring new behaviors in our urban environment.

Taking Over the Streets

Something epic happened at the corner of 22nd and Mission last night. The celebration of the Giants' World Series victory flooded the streets with revelers who have never had the chance to celebrate such a win in SF before. It eventually got a little too rowdy as people began throwing bottles at police and cop cars. But before the mattresses were set afire and the bottles began to fly, there was about an hour of genuine happiness that was enjoyed by complete strangers who had a common celebration to enjoy together. It no doubt aggravated anyone who was foolish enough to turn onto the street with any other intention besides joining the party. At one point I saw DJs setting up turntables and contributing tunes to the mix. It was as if SF's Sunday Streets, the event where a street like 24th is blocked off to vehicles and everyone wanders peacefully, was suddenly initiated by de facto order from a small crowd, and almost everyone agreed to join in. I'm curious why 22nd and Mission took off as opposed to other intersections. Many parties erupted all over the City, but this one reached a fever pitch.

If there ever was a reason to think that San Francisco's proposed Sit-Lie Ordinance, Proposition L is a complete joke, this is it. The Street is public domain, and while the activities individuals chose to engage in may not be advantageous to everyone else who is there, any attempt to prevent someone from having a basic presence in the street is absurd and unenforceable (rioting and attempting to injure others is a different story). We should all be allowed to enjoy what little public space we have in the way that we see fit, even if it occasionally disrupts the lives of others. We all make sacrifices when we share.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Voting Booth Anywhere

I'm quite fond of my voting place which sits proudly in the garage on the corner 1 block from my house in the Mission. These little voting stations in random homes all over San Francisco ensure that everyone has a convenient place to vote in their neighborhood as citizens volunteer to give away their private space for one Tuesday for the sake of the greater good. In fact when you sign up for your driver's license in SF, the form asks if you would be willing to host a voting place in your residence. It's just one more small example of how we can temporarily make better use of under-utilized space by reprogramming it and opening it up to the public.

Remember to vote today!