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Jens Martin Skibstedt explains that everyone understands that cars are killing us and that bikes are much, much better, but still people prefer to drive. Skibstedt looked at cars and bicycles from a design and lifestyle perspective to try to understand what cars have that bikes lack. Basically, cars make it possible for people to make a more nuanced statement about themselves than a bicycle does. A car has an identity. Bicycles communicate less about who you are. A car, made of hundreds of little components and pieces, is understood as a single object, while bicycles show their parts and even brand the parts independently one from another.

He showed one really great slide depicting a grid of cars all photographed from the same angle and all painted white. I would never be able to tell the name of even two bicycles standing side by side or explain what they mean as status or design objects. But every one of the white cars was both recognizable and full of meaning and connections.

Skibsedt set out to design bicycles which would overcome these shortcomings. The company is called Biomega (watch out, the website makes noise). Here's a picture of one the bikes they designed.

Notes from the talk:

We have known that cities and cars are incompatible since the 1950s. Our cities were not designed for the quantity of cars that we have in them and urban traffic will triple in the next 50 years.

Lifestyle and design are hugely important to people, despite how frivolous we may think that is. All human societies have used design and lifestyle to express themselves. It's as close as we get to mating dances. It's all about how to get laid.

Cities are not only about life but also death. Air pollution kills more than malaria.Copenhagen sees the bicycle as a solution to this problem.

Steve jobs refered to the personal computer as a bicycle of the mind, referring to the fact that a human on a bike is one of the most efficient movers in the animal kingdom. Bikes are 40% faster than cars at peak hours in the city.

Why do cars still dominate most major cities?

Lifestyle and design. Prestige. Bikes can tell you something about a person (soccer mom, courier) but has nothing to do with brand, doesn't really express who you are. There are 30 kinds of 4x4, which are all functionally similar but they represent very different lifestyles. (Hummer vs Jeep vs Land Rover)

We need to have that for bikes. It's not about function, it's about design.

These are the four areas where bicycles need to be improved to compete with cars: Visibility, Drivability, Integration, and Durability.

Visibility: Bikes basically all look the same.

Driveability: Cars are easier to deal with, less fiddly. Less complicated for the user. You don't have to wrangle a U-lock before you can get into your car. Make bikes simpler and more drivable.

Integration: When you see a car it looks like one thing, but on the bike, you see many different things. Different brands on every component. It's a multiple object.

They took inspiration from the typical Copenhagen bike, nimbus motorcycle, mountain bikes, and principles from cars.

These principles can be used for any industrial design object.

We can also do this with busses and trains, communal transport. Think of the London bus, Paris metro entrances.

How do we build a mythology around bikes like we do around cars.

Michael Schindhelm used to manage Berlin's 150 million-euro Opera budget. Then he went to Dubai and led the cultural council there. I might read his book, Dubai High. Now he is in Hong Kong helping figure out what to do with this 40-hectar hunk of undeveloped land called West Kowloon.

I learned that opera has the biggest cultural budget in Berlin. I'm not surprised.

Schindhelm explained the context of Hong Kong a bit and told us about the project, then gave us the four things he learned from this experience. This talk was partly about the role of culture in urban planning, but also about how to play that role once you understand that it exists and is needed.

My favorite thing that Schindhelm articulated is the idea that it is a mistake for a city to try to build its cultural identity as an international hub. Go Local. Be true to the identity of the city you are. For new cultural developments, appreciate the local culture and talent. Use what is there. I think that this is true not only of big urban planning projects like the ones he works on, but for anything. I felt that Krakow was doing a good job at this. Portland, Oregon the same.

Consider scale thoughtfully. Don't start too big.

Adjust speed. Take your time. Culture takes time to grow. Think about the development of talent and culture and community before the development of buildings, which are fast and easy to build in comparison.

Go Public. Talk to the citizens. Consider the human dimension.

Schindhelm explained that architecture's impact on the culture of a city should not be underestimated. Architects were among the first designers to go global. The Sydney opera house (40 years old) and Bilbao's Guggenheim are examples of cities using architecture as a kind of branding tool. This is absolutely true. The second I see the Guggenheim building I think, "Bilbao."

Architecture is the tangible part of urban planning. Culture is more intangible. It's easy to build a museum. It's harder to figure out what to put in the museum.

Hong Kong has about 7 million people. It used to be predominantly Cantonese-speaking but more are more the city is becoming Mandarin speaking now. Half of HK is a special economic zone. The metro area has a population of 53 million. The city is economically mature and it's huge and growing. China is building a train network which will bring 40 million people a year to downtown Hong Kong. Yet Hong Kong lags far behind other cities culturally, meaning that it has fewer arts venues, museums, galleries, and artists than New York or Paris.

The city is dense and expensive, but there are 40 hectares of unbuilt land called West Kowloon. 3 billion dollars has been given to cultural development for West Kowloon. 40% of Kowloon will be a park. 40% of the 60% of the land which will be built up will be for museums and culture.

Schindhelm worked on the culture master plan with Rem Koohlhaas. As part of the project, they conducted interviews over many months with 40 people in the city to hear their concerns and ideas.

Originally the plan was about consuming culture, not creation. This evolved sot that studios and rehearsal spaces and schools were added to the plan.

They also looked to the local culture for inspiration. The local flavor. Every city started as a village. HK as well. There are 800-year-old walled villages within HK. The way these walled villages form part of the city served as an inspiration to their work. They also looked at the landscaping of the surrounding countryside and the vibrant street life is an essential part of this particular city.

Cantonese and Mandarin culture had to be considered. Cantonese opera (video link) is popular but underfunded, housed in crappy venues, and has not been modernized. One goal of the project is to change this.

80 public presentations of the proposal were done before the gov't made a decision. Now the master plan development is done and the first competitions have started to design the buildings. The Cantonese opera will be the first one built.

HK has more freedom of speech than the rest of China. The city wants to become the most important center of Chinese contemporary art. The museum's exhibit will be based on the collection of Uli Sigg, who is the biggest collector of contemporary Chinese art in the world. Herzog & de Meuron from Basil will design the museum.

Priya Prakash, Changify (link is a video)

Priya Prakash used to be the design lead for the Asha device, which is a pretty cool little phone designed specifically for emerging markets. She has since left Nokia and is working on a project called Changify.

The basic idea of the project is... well, it was actually kind of complicated to understand. Neighborhood citizens use the app to take pictures of problems they see in the neighborhood (dog poop, vandalism, potholes, whatever) and discuss ideas for solutions with other regular citizens. When a solution is thought of, you can take that and create a project. Other people can like your project and contribute to it. Contributions can include money, time, space, materials, etc.

On top of that, local businesses and city councils are sold subscriptions to the service so that they can contribute money to these projects and participate in local loyalty advertising campaigns.

If you finish a project, you get points which can be used as money in the local businesses which participate.

Positioned in the same ecosystem as Kiva and Kickstarter and Indie go go

They hold events to teach people how to use the app, use a "community engagement toolkit" and put together neighborhood loyalty program around their points system with local businesses.

Goal:"Create better neighborhoods."

Inspiration for this project: Payday loans brokers The Brixton pound Victor Papanek--how to design for the real world Air BnB A Pattern Language Christopher Alexander and others talks about the city as a collection of patterns The Great Wall of China funded by lottery

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