Produce locally what’s physical, export what’s virtual

John Robb on building resilient communities in a still fairly mainstream way:

[Jane Jacobs showed that a city produces wealth] by finding ways to locally produce the things it is currently importing. Within a global environment where physical distance is becoming increasingly expensive (fuel and overhead) and virtual distance is becoming increasingly free (bandwidth and scale factor), the imports to replace will increasingly be food, energy, and manufactured products.  Produce these locally.  The most valuable exports will be virtual.

…These communities should be specifically designed to attract two types:

  • the globally competitive telecommuter that will draw in wealth from global sources and
  • the food, energy, and micro-manufacturing entrepreneurs/workers that will build the innovative economic ecosystem required for local production.

Fascinating take on how “glocalization” should work. Wondering and how would this apply within a sector – such as food, where one of the biggest questions now is what the right combination of local and global systems should be – and for those communities where the vast majority are in food production and wealth comes from exporting food?

[via David Hodgson of IFF]

Go west

After John’s visit to San Francisco, Jennifer and I continued the conversation we had started about what is it about San Francisco that makes it so interesting for sustainability. I remember Jennifer saying when she first got here that she felt a real sense of pioneering and possibility, even a few hundred years after the pioneers headed out West. Some thoughts we had:

People want to create. SF has a strikingly high concentration of people wanting to create – if every other person in LA secretly, wants to act (or direct…), here every other person seems to have a start-up dream of some sort. It is very charming somehow. Related to this, people think “design” in the sense of identifying and meeting an untapped need – as opposed to other cities where people might primarily be looking for ways to do things more efficiently and effectively.

People think big. Maybe it’s the potential reach of IT, but ambitions are big. Google’s mission: “To organize the world’s information.” Facebook: “To make the world a more open place.” Not small things. Related to that, VC Paul Graham has a nice essay about the different “ambition” messages cities give out. Cambridge, MA is “you should be smarter,” NYC is “you should be richer,” but the Valley is “you should be more powerful.”

But people also think local. There seems to be a real appreciation for local shops and artisanal products of all sorts – and not just chi-chi ones – and a relative lack of chain stores except in just a couple of concentrated neighborhoods – to a degree I’ve not seen in any other major city I’ve lived in.

… and they feel closer to nature, because they are. It does seem to make sense that seeing water and/or hills from so many places in the city, and very often you are walking up or down noticeable slopes, makes people more aware of the fact that we are on the Earth. Not to mention the omnipresent earthquake danger. Easier to forget that in the concrete valleys of Manhattan.

But not to say that SF has it all over London though… London (and the UK) is, as my friend James’s friend Paul nicely says (as I coincidentally discovered when I Googled “London versus Silicon Valley”), the “beating heart of so many social movements, from anti-slavery to fairtrade, universal suffrage to 3rd world debt cancellation.” It is far more more diverse, both nationalities and professional backgrounds. And let’s not forget that London has its very own Silicon Roundabout.

Which is just to say that SF and London are simply complementary – and this nicely mirrors SustainAbility’s own set-up.

Stumbled upon in the Northeast


Was waiting outside a restaurant when I overheard an acoustic version of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme coming from a nearby cafe-cum-live music venue, which then segued into a bit of Britney, Chumbawumba, NKOTB, Spice Girls and more – and lo, it was an adorable Boston-based quartet called Stepanian, the kind of music that makes you should be outside with friends on a summer evening.
Continue reading

Good to know

So there’s a chunk of society that’s hugely lucky to be able to decide where to hang their hats. The companion website for Richard Florida’s book Who’s Your City? How the Creative Economy is Making the Place Where You Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life offers a tool that walks you through ten things to consider when deciding on a city. (Very surprisingly, where your loved ones are isn’t one of them.) It told me I should either consider staying in London or moving to Boston or San Francisco.

While searching for that site I came across a rather more quick-and-dirty version. The answer was similar:

You Belong in London

A little old fashioned, and a little modern.
A little traditional, and a little bit punk rock. A unique soul like you needs a city that offers everything. No wonder you and London will get along so well.

It’s a walkable day in the neighborhood

Carbon gluttonously, I love driving. Road trips. Open highway. Freedom and power are yours at the turn of a key.

But I love walking as well, and driving to do errands isn’t so exhilarating. Having ended up living in large cities for the past dozen years, I’ve come to depend on having every amenity practically within arm’s reach.

I’ve sensed that this dependency on being right in the middle of things has only increased over the years, but have not been able to back this up with quantitative data, until I happened upon Walk Score [via Alex Steffen at WorldChanging, who has a lovely name for a given location’s walkable area: the walkshed].

Walk Score is a particularly nifty Google Maps mashup that measures the “walkability” of addresses in the US, Canada and UK, using Google Maps’ business listings. They define “walkability” in terms of being able to get by without a car. So living in a mountain cabin may be walkable, but by quite a different definition.

How it works:

  1. You enter an address.
  2. Walk Score looks for the nearest of each of the following: grocery stores, restaurants, coffee shops, bars, movie theaters, schools, parks, libraries, bookstores, fitness centers, drugstores, hardware stores, and clothing & music stores.
  3. Walk Score calculates the distance to each amenity and runs the whole thing through its algorithm to come up with a “walk score” on a scale of 0 to 100, where 100 is the ultimate Walker’s Paradise.

Excited beyond belief, I sat down to calculate the Walk Scores of the 13 US and UK dwellings I lived in up to mid-2007, plus, for good measure, the 7 apartments I stayed in while working in DC from fall 2005 to winter 2007.

Then I thought I should do a graph with walkability on the y-axis and my life in years on the x-axis, and then plotting my level of satisfaction along with it. But am lazy, so will eyeball the results and observe that:

  • The scores ranged from two 26s (the low end of the second-to-least-walkable category, Not Walkable) for Springfield, Virginia and Phoenix, Arizona, to two 100s in the Upper and Lower East Sides of Manhattan.
  • Unsurprisingly, walkability scores shot up after I left home and the suburbs to go to college and work in big cities.
  • Despite my love for amenities at my doorstep, there wasn’t much correlation between walkability and my own satisfaction within a city – maybe because the differences were fairly minimal. There would have been in Bangkok (Thong Lor: yay!, Soi Japanese School: Not so yay), but Walk Score supports only the US, UK and Canada.
  • 100s are part of the reason Manhattanites can’t live anywhere else in New York City.

I am loving Walk Score. The results pretty well reflected my intuitive sense of the relative walkability of each place. For one, it distinguished correctly between my place and my brother’s: just over five minutes’ walk apart, but in quite different blocks with his being much closer to the more residential, commercially fancier Madison and Park Aves and to Central Park. Beautiful, but a bit further from everyday amenities.

Of course these are scores based on fairly current information. It would be interesting to see how scores change over time. Our Brooklyn apartment would not have been so walkable even 3 years ago.

Looking forward to testing this in London.

Brooklyn, but first Boston

[Originally posted on a now-defunct blog]

I’ve been wandering around the streets of New York grinning in excitement and am now hanging out with Maggie at her apartment in Inman Square. Less than three days after I flew into NY, my roomie Josh and I found a lovely apartment. After we signed the lease there was no need to stay in Manhattan, so I’ve Fung-Wahed up to Boston to see Maggie and Ev and a few Fletcher folk, do some errands, and get my boxes.

Fletcher everywhere. In New York: After signing our lease on Saturday, we went for brunch with Parker (at whose and Seiji’s apartment we were crashing – is that grammatical?) and Paul at Pastis, the bistro in the Meatpacking District that the Sex and the City women were always going to. Diner grub with Alissa and Josh in Williamsburg. Coffee with Jane W. in Union Square. Pizza and Magnolia Bakery cupcakes with Seiji and Gail in the West Village, followed by Belgian beer with Dan and Corinne in Greenwich Village, followed by my quick exit due to an unpleasant in-stomach encounter between cupcake and beer. In Boston: Coffee with Eiden at Diesel, where we ran into Maria S. Drinks with Steph, Wyatt and Wolfe at Orleans. Pizza with Steph and Tom H at Emma’s. Tomorrow, breakfast with Alissa at Renée’s.

Back to our apartment. It’s a beautifully kept, sunny, shiny place in Boerum Hill, a bobo neighborhood in Brooklyn. It’s the neighborly-cafe-bar-bookshop fantasy I had in wishing to live in Brooklyn, and which I’d figured was probably unattainable in our price range. It’s across the street from a laundromat and a drugstore… steps away from a supermarket and rows and rows of cafes, bars and restaurants… 10 mins by bus to the Park Slope organic food co-op, which runs 80% on members’ labor and as a consequence you can get groceries for just 17% above wholesale… 20 mins walk to the BAM Cultural District and the lovely Olmsted-designed Prospect Park… and most astonishingly, four feet from the subway station.