December 29, 2011

The Future of Liverpool?

For a long time now I've been bouncing round ideas about "visions of the future". Not because I've any grand aims to become a futurologist but because I think it's important to ruminate on how things might, or could, turn out.

Initially I thought it would be good to hold a one-day conference on the future - call it "20:20 on 2020" and invite people to present short, Pecha Kucha- or (slightly longer than) Ignite-style presentations where they'd give a 20 slide, 20 seconds-per-slide glimpse of a possible future life in (roughly) the year 2020.

However, compelling presentations of the future require a visual artistic ability that I, and I suspect many others, are sorely lacking - and what's more important is the narrative about how the future would work rather than a few pictures. Plus a conference would take an awful lot of organising and fund-raising that I don't have the time for at the moment.

So, a couple of months back, I found myself revisiting the idea, but this time as a writing exercise. That seems more universally accessible, and allows it to run over a longer period of time - hopefully garnering more interaction and involvement from people, whilst also using the existing infrastructure of blogs, twitter, etc. to minimise the overhead of running the project.

I still didn't have the time to take it further, but a recent conversation on twitter with Maria Barrett and Esther Dix has at least tipped me over the edge into making the idea public. I haven't got the bandwidth to drive it forwards, but if I can find four or five volunteers who want to help make it happen then I think it could be game on. If that sounds like you, then drop me line...

Anyway, onto the idea...

The It's Liverpool campaign, particularly for a council marketing project, is a really good idea - let the people lead the marketing and show why the city is great. It's a great way to promote the city to outsiders. What it doesn't do though, is help the people in the city to work out how they want the city to evolve.

That's where It's Liverpool 2020 comes in :-)

2020 might not be the right date, and it won't be a hard requirement to target it, but basically it's a blog post exercise to encourage people to write an article on their blog about a possible vision of Liverpool in 2020. The guidelines would be deliberately vague - it could be a short story as easily as it could be a list of projects and initiatives. Though it was set in 2015, the second-half of my Barcamp talk will give you an example.

There'll be a website, but it'll just point to posts on other people's blogs, and maybe show tweets tagged with #il2020.

Then there'll be a handful of volunteer curators who'll pick out their favourite pieces, which will be featured on the il2020 website, or in an ideal world we'll pique the interest of the Echo or Seven Streets and they'll be reprinted in a series there.

The idea is to keep the tech minimal and out of the way, as it's the writing that's important. The volunteer organisers will basically be doing bits of promotion; checking submissions and adding them to the website; and curating the submissions (and obviously, not everyone will have to do all of those roles).

I think that would be a really useful project to run, but there's plenty of scope to scale things up if it seems worth our time/effort... It would be nice at the end to compile a Newspaper Club newspaper containing the posts and distribute it round the city... We could find out who's in charge of the Council's ten year plan and present the ideas to them... It could spark some Social Media Surgeries to show people how to start a blog, so they can participate... maybe we could even hold some outside the city centre (at Toxteth TV or KVFM or wherever) to find some new voices...

Worst-case scenario: a few people write some blog posts about the future of the city.
Best-case scenario: some of the actual inhabitants influence some of the direction of the city; the group of volunteers go on to run more stuff, including more regular Social Media Surgeries; we introduce a load of new voices into the online debate about life, society and whatever in Liverpool.

What do you think?


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December 28, 2011

Jonathan Meades on Regeneration

Uncomfortable watching for anyone in Liverpool or Manchester in places, but an excellent dissection of the regeneration industry. Hat tip to Mike Chitty for sharing it.

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December 26, 2011

Blog All Dog-Eared Pages: Shaping Things by Bruce Sterling

Although I went to the launch of the Italian version of Shaping Things by Bruce Sterling way back in 2007, it wasn't until recently that I owned a copy, and only last weekend that I started reading it. I'm sad to say that it wasn't the Italian version, but at least that meant I could understand it...

It was a very quick read, and I haven't dog-eared many pages. However, that's not because there's nothing useful in the book - just that it works best read as an entire work, rather than as excerpts. If you've any interest in design or products then this is a good manifesto for how they should become more sustainable as well as more futuristic.

Page 22
Everyone can't be a designer - any more than everyone can be a mayor or a senator

Page 23
[...] with enough informational power, the "invisible hand of the market" becomes visible. The hand of the market was called "invisible" because Adam Smith, an eighteenth-century economist, had very few ways to measure it. Adam Smith lacked metrics. Metrics make things visible.

Page 95
Suppose that I'm trying to create a new kind of object, to shape a new kind of thing. I don't want to be burdened with the weighty physicality of the old one. I want a virtual 3-D model of the new one, a weightless, conceptual, interactive model that I can rotate inside a screen, using 3-D design software.

Then I'm not troubled by its stubborn materiality...

The dog-ears don't add much I'm afraid, and this last one I included because I think it shows one of the common mistakes that non-product-designers (and I include myself firmly in this camp) make when getting into making physical objects. The digital it's-all-about-the-new-tools-and-digital-fabrication mentality rarely survives its first encounter with reality. The new tools do unlock new ways of working, but they don't mean you can ignore the physicality of the materials and avoid iterations and prototyping in the real world. That said, Shaping Things is definitely more good than bad.


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December 21, 2011


Ten years. A decade. There's everything to say, to tell, yet at the same time no words.

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