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!