All posts tagged Food
OK, latenote for last week. The highlight was perhaps a great conversation with various representatives of Canada's Social Innovation Generation partnership (SIG), who were in the neighbourhood (well, Stockholm) and were kind enough to swing by Helsinki for a chat.
They're doing really interesting work scoping out what they call the "change lab" model, preparing the ground in Canada. We were visited by Cheryl Rose (Associate Director of Waterloo Institute for Social Resilence and Director, Program Development for SIG), Tim Brodhead, (JW McConnel Family Foundation, SIG, MaRS Discovery District), and Sam Laban (Education Program Manager, SIG). We have lots of visitors to Sitra and HDL, and always enjoy and learn from the discussions and connections, but rarely has a group been so well-prepared and asked such perceptive and insightful questions.
I'm intrigued by Canada, having never been but idly marking it as a kind of mirror/inverse of Australia (vast, sparsely-populated, resource-rich, echoes of empire, Anglo in bits, fine cities, incredible landscape, great cities etc. etc.—and it is of course completely different, I'm sure). And we've been delighted to see the thinking emerging there—as noted previously, their summary of lab-like iniatives ("Labs: Designing the Future") is definitely worth a read—and so we're really pleased to open up this diaglogue. It looks like I'll be visiting Canada in return, this November, which I'll update you about nearer the time. Thanks to Cheryl, Tim and Sam for popping in.
Bryan had to rush off after lunch with the Canadians, heading over to Derry. After noting the preponderance of wind turbines in the Irish countryside ...
... he took part in the Academy of Urbanism's Annual Congress on The Resilient City, and he reports that It Was Good. The level of conversation was excellent, and the very particular context of Northern Ireland perhaps lent the affair a seriousness and motivation that is often lacking in similar events.
Bryan pointed me at one project—a comprehensive regeneration plan for Derry-Londonderry [read the full PDF or summary PDF]. It looks to have a good strategic edge, which foregrounds what I'd call the real drivers of cities (economy, culture, community) but views them holistically alongside some necessary strategic interventions (improving health, approaching sustainability) and then draws in secondary or tertiary matters like infrastruture, buildings and so on. Have a squint at the diagrams on page 7 and 8 of the shorter PDF:
Meanwhile, lots of work on Brickstarter. I've started designing the first 'alpha' version of the web service, which we'll share some details of shortly. As ever, we're using the website as a kind of token in order to open up wider, systemic issues—but you have to build the thing in order to flush them out. So it's been very interesting, and very rewarding, to finally be discussing the details of the various interactions we want to explore i.e. crowdfunding versus voting? What do we mean by voting? How do we balance a democratic model alongside crowdfunding? How explicit do we make the council? How to do a slow reveal on the dark matter so as to enable a low barrier to entry yet subtly unpack it over time such that the project proposals are robust enough to be taken seriously? All this and more emerging over at brickstarter.org shortly.
I love getting to this stage of a project, as everything starts to come together. With a project straddling governance and democratic models, crowdfunding and emergent community actions, sustainable development across use of shared space, shared resources, energy and so on, it actually helps crystallise the project considerably. Then our job is to draw out the shifts in this otherwise imperceptible dark matter implied by such a product or service, such that we might enable their productive reshaping. (I also happen to love spending hours in Photoshop and Illustrator, frankly. For the strategic designer, the challenge is always to balance the lure of exercising your craft skills with the requirements of the strategic, systemic view. But one enables a better view of the other, and vice versa.)
Kalle's been doing some nice background research on 'food profiles' for other cities, for Helsinki Street Eats. We'll have a set of cards emerging for different cities shortly, to enable productive comparison with Sydney, looking at the regulations, governance culture, scene on the streets, and so on. We're also now in discussions about how and what we can fund in this area—more on that shortly.
I've also been helping out with the organisation's imminent reorganisation in our building. With Bryan, we've been leading a renovation of one of the floors, but again, really we're looking at the organisation's culture, the way we work, and interract, and so on. (Again, the balance of crafting a specific output with the wider strategic, cultural view.) We have a 'bootcamp' with the management team next week to draw up the first sketch of a new organisation.
And two good lunches. First, Bryan and I with Artek's Ville Kokkonen (design director) and Anna Vartiainen (marketing director). Artek are one of the genuinely great Finnish brands and operations, founded by Aino and Alvar Aalto (a bit of background). Their 2nd Cycle concept is a particular favourite in the Sitra office, indicating a form of "resilence" in which the firm buys back its own products and re-sells them, a simple concept that gracefully indicates the ongoing value of good design and production, as opposed to "throwawayism".
Secondly, I had a good catch-up with Tommi Laitio of the powerhouse that is Demos Helsinki, covering many topics: Baana, Brickstarter and beyond. In particular, we discussed the forthcoming event that Demos are curating at the World Design Capital pavilion (or "paviljonki" as it's known here), where we've invited Marcus Westbury of Renew Newcastle/Renew Australia fame to speak, on an afternoon/early evening session about urban development dubbed "City 2.0" (read a previous conversation with Marcus here.) More info on Facebook, and if you're in town, do come on down. (By the way, a tilt-shift time-lapse of the WDC Pavilion going up. It's designed at Aalto University's Wood Program.)
Oh, and it's the Helsinki-originated increasingly global sensation that is Ravntolapäivä (Restaurant Day) this weekend (May 19th) (for background, read our "Helsinki Street Eats" book-let). Make sure you visit Kalle's coffee stall—"Gaffebaari"—in particular!
Finally, some quick linkage: Brickstarter was mentioned in another scene-surveying post about crowdfunding urban development, this time at ArchDaily; John Thackara asks whether we need an Arne Jacobsen of urban food systems, and "Making Planning Popular: A Manifesto" (related to "Sub-Plan".)
And a little more controversially, an interesting take-down of the open data and transparency movements and a reaction to the perceived over-spending on buildings and infrastructure in Valencia, Spain, homing in on Santiaga Calatrava. Sadly, there's little public controvery here about the proposed (or is it?) road tunnel under central Helsinki, which is apparently still sitting on the city's plans somewhere, and has been for years—or is at least alive in the minds of the current generation of city planners. Not only is this a ridiculously outdated idea ("sell by" circa 1970) it is apparently preventing or otherwise hindering other projects from happening. The local media is asleep at the wheel on such matters, as far as we can tell. More here if/when we get it.
Oh, and I forgot to report: Vappu, a couple of weeks back, was a blast. Very special indeed, and no way near as bacchanalian as I had been led to believe (caveat: I went to bed early.)
This week, the weeknote is really brought to you by Adelaide and Melbourne Design Lab, rather than Helsinki Design Lab. I've been in Australia all week, and have only the vaguest ideas as to what's been happening back home! Justin's in town, which is good, and he, Marco and Bryan have been knee-deep in our internal organisational strategy work, as well as keeping our Low2No food projects ticking over.
One thing; our Design Exchange operative #1 - Sara, embedded at City of Lahti - has got a new site live for the 'Radanvarsi' urban development around the train station in Lahti. The site is for the project competition, and citizen participation around the development in general. It's all slightly beta - of course - but will begin filling up from now on. (PS. Note, we're looking for another strategic designer in this progreamme, as part of Helsinki Department of Social Services - apply here.)
But as the team were slaving over a hot organisational strategy stove (?!) in a Helsinki which had momentarily turned its back on spring, I was in sunny - very sunny - Adelaide.
I was there for a quarterly meeting of the Integrated Design Commission Advisory Board (more info on the board here). The IDC, led by Commissioner Tim Horton, and part of the office of South Australian Government Architect Ben Hewett, is one of the most interesting design interventions in Australia. It's also one of the few other organisations worldwide also working as a strategic design capacity for core public institutions.
It grew directly from the work of one of Adelaide's Thinkers in Residence, architect Prof Laura Lee, and sits right at the heart of government - part of the Department of Premier and Cabinet. It's charged with aligning design disciplines, industries and efforts across the state. In practice, this means focusing initially on planning, architecture, urban design and other built environment issues - but given the state's manufacturing history, this also means some interesting incursions into industrial design, via prefabricated housing. In this respect, it's a little different to our mission - though we're often covering similar ground. But their work essentially concerns gluing back together core disciplines and perspectives that our societies have allowed to wander too far apart; which is certainly developing a similarly holistic view to that pursued by our Studio process.
(Tim and I often reflect on the ideal proxmity from seat of power, for a strategic design function. You need to be close to effect genuine change, clearly, but not too close as to be a political football. The IDC team seem to have it about right; see also Ben's work as Government Architect, and the major announcement of a City Design Review Panel, which was happening last week; a huge step forward to get qualitative assessment at all stages of the urban development process. As Planning Minister John Rau said of the announcement "If we are going to encourage more South Australians to live in the city, then excellent design is critical.")
Amongst other projects, the IDC team are at the heart of the 5000+ project, which is intended to be a replicable model for citizen participation in urban planning, or more broadly, discussions as to what Adelaide is for. This is particularly interesting as regards Brickstarter and Low2No, but worth checking out in general. IDC have even successfully taken the HDL Studio format into their work - which is exactly what we hope happens by publishing blueprints in such detail - which builds on several conversations we had when I was originally in Australia, pre-Sitra.
I think Adelaide is a great little city, as it happens ("little" in comparison to Sydney and Melbourne, both of whom tend to look down their noses at it, as is the way of such things. Adelaide, like Helsinki, is a good population size for a city; it's the distribution that needs a little work.)
Like most Australian cities, it's slowly beginning to develop a sense of its own urbanity, despite a good half-century of suburb-dominated misteps, and that is good to see. The work of the IDC, and the several other initiatives in the city, will be key to ensuring a vibrant and productive urbanism emerges. It was great to see evidence of 'emergent' innovation filling the numerous gaps left over by 20th century urban policies, such as this fabulous pop-up lobster taco stall and winery, occupying a vacant parking lot. From totally dead gravelled non-space to fine lobster tacos and some of the world's best wine, and 'one-in-one-out' by 7pm on a warm Friday night. (Please excuse the dark mobile phone video, but it captures something of the mood.)
One paper the IDC delivered to the board was SGS Economics' review of the economic impact of the Renew Newcastle intiative, revealing an extraordinary 10:1 multiplier effect of Renew Newcastle, as well as other 'shared value returns' on investment. (Though when assessing these 'economic impact of cultural initiative' papers, I'm always reminded of my friend Justin O'Connor's note that no-one ever asks for a 'cultural impact of economics' study, which would surely reveal the opposite of a multipler; a divider, even?).
And before our meeting in Adelaide, I caught up with Marcus Westbury in Melbourne. Marcus created the Renew initiative - first in Newcastle, NSW - and Renew Australia is now based in a good retrofit of an industrial unit in Brunswick, Melbourne. It was great to catch up with Marcus; he and I worked together on The Edge in Brisbane, and he's such an original thinker (and doer) in terms of genuinely shaping cities. Notes to follow on that chat over on our Brickstarter project site. (There's a Renew Adelaide, as it happens.)
I was in Melbourne for a crazy 36 hours courtesy of the University of Melbourne School of Design, and particularly the architecture department. I met some very bright urban design masters students for lunch, gave a public lecture (thanks to all who turned up; Twitter was pretty effective at getting a few hundred in a room with not much notice.) Ditto a lecture at Arup Melbourne the following lunchtime, part of the Innovation Forum series now curated by Stuart Candy.
Back to Adelaide, and meetings with TACSI's Brenton Caffin, around where might 5000+ go next, and IDC again, advising on how to handle discussion around smart city strategies, before an incredibly useful phone conversation with City of Sydney about their exemplary recent tender for food trucks.
It was great to hear about their approach, which Helsinki - and many other cities, for that matter - can learn much from. We're trying to broaden the conversation around street food here in Helsinki - including with the City, as previously noted - and these kind of case studies from other cities are often very important in terms of shaping opinions. Again, more details soon, as this one warrants a post of its own over at Low2No.
Week 157, and a touch of 158 if we're being honest, was mostly about getting things out the door. Almost by coincidence, we finally launched new websites for the Design Exchange Programme and Brickstarter, made some cosmetic tweaks to this very website, and published a 98 page book on street food in Helsinki. It was a lot, but a long time coming!
The Design Exchange (DEP) website is where you can track the progress of our embedded designers. The goal of the DEP is to move one step closer to policy by design. This entails enhancing the capabilities of the public sector: new abilities to frame problems, iterate solutions, seek feedback, and communicate clearly.
There's a quick intro to the programme and I've also shared a bit of the background of how the DEP came to be. When I look through our files on that topic, they stretch back to late July 2010. Although we had discussed it internally as a 'what-if', the concept first appeared in the Clues cards (especially the one about Tailor Made Municipal Services) and came up again during the Ageing Studio discussions.
Perhaps it's no surprise that Petri Lehto, a member of the Ageing Studio, has been one of the driving forces behind bringing the DEP to life and we're grateful for his collaboration, as well as that of the many other people involved at our partner organizations.
At the moment we have only one placement up and running, with Sara Ikävalko working at the city of Lahti to develop a new participatory process for a competition they are hosting there.
We're getting closer to having more placement opportunities open. When that happens we'll advertise them here on the HDL site as well as the Design Exchange site, so be sure to check back if you're a Finnish-speaking designer interested in working in the public sector.
In a nice twist of symmetrical history, the same week that we launch a project which took cues and clues from friends at MindLab, saw another group, the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, looking to HDL for advice on their own explorations of a new lab. The report is quite informative, and we're happy to be a reference as they look for the best way to put "complexity, networked collaboration and design" to good use.
Next up was Brickstarter, a project we're developing that seeks ways to turn NIMBY into YIMBY (yes in my backyard). How might we reorient community action from no full-stop to "no, but how about..." or even "I'd really like...!"
As Dan explains in the introductory blog post, our thinking and work on Brickstarter is beginning to pick up, so we needed a place to bind these thoughts together into a big ball of ideas. The Brickstarter blog is a mix of notes from our field trips, quick dives into terms and concepts, and eventually some case study research. Some themes:
Community decision-making; new engagement tools; long-term investment in sustainable infrastructure; participation and representation; prototyping as research, iteration as planning; user-centred redesign of governance and legislation; different relationships between citizens, businesses and governance; potentially even prototypes of political systems...
To give you a concrete example, What's different about this shady courtyard on Tarkk'ampujankatu...
And this one on Tehtaankatu...?
It's hard to see with the trees full of life in the summer, but the biggest difference between these two courtyards is that features a garden and the other a parking lot. Otherwise they're about the same size, in the same neighborhood, and have the same solar orientation. They're essetially the same from a contextual point of view, yet one group of owners has decided to use the space for parking and another for a garden.
With Brickstarter we are trying to understand how these decisions get made, and eventually to developing a platform that enables them to be made with greater levels of participation. Why? Because we think that new tools will allow communities to make decisions like this with higher social equity, in a less devisive manner than typical NIMBY dynamics, and with heightened attention to opportunities that consider the long-term.
Recently there has been an uptick of interest in 'meanwhile' or temporary usage of sites. We see this as positive development, and in a certain way Brickstarter is our attempt to look at how the verve of these grassroots efforts can be grafted onto the institutions that shape everyday life. One of our hypotheses at the moment is that there is a missing interface to government. What would that look like? Figuring it out will require our usual dip into strategy, but it’s likely to also involve building product(s).
Helsinki Street Eats, the book which was our third release this week, has similar ambitions. We wrote the book to begin asking questions about the extremely positive developments of Ravintolapäivä and the Camionette. On it’s own a festival like Ravintolapäivä is a nice urban experience that happens a few days a year, but the next morning it's gone without a trace. With a bit of work on the dark matter, these experiments can be looked at anew as prototypes of a future regulatory, business, and social context.
The book was a way to crack open that question, and now we’re slowly but surely sketching out a way for those ideas to take root. If you’re the type who is into books and publications, I wrote a post about the ways we experimented with print-on-demand in the production of Helsinki Street Eats.
Otherwise there’s not much to say beyond get your copy here!
Beyond these launches, we're still working on internal projects. Parts of that effort is about to wind up soon, which is good because we have our hands full at the moment—as you can probably tell!
This post is part Low2No project update and part design how-to delving into simple customization of the Print On Demand books as a format. First, the update. Low2No is about creating pathways for our current, high carbon economy and culture to transition to a neutral carbon footprint. An important aspect of that is what and how we eat.
Especially for a place with the northern climate and high meat & dairy consumption habits of Finland, food production and consumption are key concerns when you're interested in carbon.
We've been looking at street eats as an example of "everyday food", the stuff that's close at hand such as late night snacks, kiosks, bakeries, food trucks, and the like. In fact, let's take a slightly modified excerpt from the Low2No site:
Street food describes systems of everyday life. In its sheer everydayness we discover attitudes to public space, cultural diversity, health, regulation and governance, our habits and rituals, logistics and waste, and more. What we find most interesting is the intersection of all of these aspects: how they come to a balance and tenor that enables and encourages specific kind of outcomes in a specific place and time.
Street food can be an integral part of our public life, our civic spaces, our streets, our neighbourhoods. Street food can help us articulate our own culture, as well as enriching it by absorbing diverse influences. And it can enable innovation at an accelerated pace by offering a lower-risk environment for experimentation.
Street food can do all of these things, but it doesn't necessarily.
This book is an attempt to unpack what's working and what isn't in Helsinki, and sketch out some trajectories as to where it could go next.
The full 98 page book is available for download, and you will also find links on that page to buy a printed copy from Lulu.com, a print-on-demand publishing service.
Readers of this blog may already know that we're a bit obsessed with formats. We are given to nerding out on the minutiae of publishing online and in print, which is probably no surprise since as a team we have direct experience in producing magazines, newspapers, books, radio, websites, buildings, and various other media. (Aside: this makes us an unusual public sector team, to say the least.)
It's nice to go all-in on a book and obsess over every tiny detail from writing to printing, as we did the In Studio: Recipes for Systemic Change. With this most recent publication on Street Food we were interested in exploring a format that would be more ephemeral. One that could change and evolve as our work on the topic does; a paper document that could have different version numbers; and one that felt easier and more casual. We also wanted to self-service distribution model.
Print-on-demand seemed to fit the bill, offering flexibility along most of those axes, but print-on-demand books tend to be… dull. The easiness of the format shines through. How could a print-on-demand book be a bit more special—could we find some relish to serve it up with?
Surprisingly, there still does not seem to be an option that surpasses Lulu. I say surprisingly because the Lulu experience is quite terrible. Their tools are limited and the workflow is awkward. As one small example, you can set the country of publication only after you've published a book. According to Lulu all published books apparently come from the United States, at least at first. Blurb is another popular print-on-demand service and their quality is higher, but their document sizes are limited and it's mostly for photo books.
Over the past months Dan and I sketched lots of (sometimes ridiculous) ideas, including at one point the thought of laser cutting Lulu books into new shapes. Stepping back from that precipice, we've settled on a basic combination: a full-color 98 page print-on-demand book paired with an offset print fold-out poster, all bound together with a rubber band.
The books come straight from Lulu and the rubber bands can be found at any office supply shop and countless online sources so that only leaves the poster for us to source through a traditional print house.
The poster is designed to fold down into A5 format so that it fits neatly within the book. Right now we're waiting for the actual posters to come back from the print house, but they will be printed on 60gsm paper which means they're a good 25% thinner than standard printer paper, making them easier to fold up.
The binding pushes the poster out a few millimeters which creates a natural 'tab'. We discovered this on accident while making a prototype, but it was a nice discovery since we wanted to have a quick way to thumb to the Finnish language summary.
When we give out copies of the book they'll come with the poster and rubber band, but if you order a copy online or download the PDF you'll find the contents of the poster included as normal pages.
Because print-on-demand does not have any setup costs or minimum print runs, we can also offer the same book in multiple flavors. As we started working on the cover it was hard to settle on a single image, so we decided to let the user decide. There are four copies of the book available for download/print. All of the contents are the same, but you get to pick your own cover. My favorite features a scene of Kauppatori from 1901. What's yours?
Although the writing and research for this project has been on slow burn for about nine months now, the production of the book was pretty quick. Dan and I did all of the work in house, tossing files back and forth with occasional but insightful comments from Marco and Justin. One of the positive side effects of taking longer than expected to deliver this project was the opportunity to shoot extra photos around town, so it's richly illustrated.
The larger team included Ville and Nuppu of WeVolve on interviews and research; an investigation into the supply chain and geography of a typical hodari (hotdog) by Aalto University student Tea Tonnov; photography by the indefatigable Kaarle Hurtig; and tips and ciritique from too many people to mention.
Hope you enjoy! Hyvää ruokaa!
That pile of snow from last week? Still there. And not only that, it's snowing as I type, so the thing is growing.
Dan remarked the other day that during this time of year it feels like everyone is booting up new projects. Could the surge be detected in the number of domain name registrations? We've booked one this week, with another to come once we settle on a name for it. Buying a domain name is a good inflection point. It means the project has solidified enough to be developed in public.
They come and they go. The domain name for a quick project from a couple years ago will be expiring soon, so we've moved it to this website for posterity. The permanent home for our Clues to Open Helsinki is now in the HDL dossiers. The grunt work of moving the project from one website to another was a nice opportunity to revisit the work and be reminded of the extent to which many of our current interests were there in nascent form. Food? Check. Community decision making? Yup. Design exchange? Sure enough!
During the last couple months we have been slowly building up two projects about food and community decision making, and this week they took the leap from more or less fuzzy interest areas to specific proposals. We forced ourselves to sit down and draft a one page description for each project.
Despite the awkward term—and please let us know if you have something better—we like one pagers around here because they are a simple way to bring a level of rigor in one's thinking: big ideas, small page. Here's how we do it.
Working simultaneously in Google Docs or huddled around a Word document on a laptop, we take turns drafting sentences, phrases, and fragments. At an early stage the one pager is mostly about why and what, and the who, how, and when to be covered by a cursory sentence. Or left out for the moment.
It's hard to resist the urge to drop the document into InDesign and start fiddling with layouts and font sizes to make room for more words on the page, but point of writing the one pager is to work within rigid boundaries and take advantage of the fact that the format forces you to make tough decisions. To really test yourself, try using a bullet list or two. If you're as allergic to corporate speak as I am, this will be a true test of your mettle.
But bullet points were invented for a reason: done right, they should be distilled versions of your main points. In our case, it's also part of writing to our audience. The kind of people who we need to read our one pagers tend to be used to, even expect to see, bullet points in the documents that glide across their desk. Dan calls this method designing, which is a tactic that all of us on the team practice innately.
By the end of HDL Global 2010 we had drafted something like 39 different versions of the one page description that went out to everyone from invitees to press people. Those all grew out of a single document, so the process left us with a family tree of explanation.
With luck, the two single page documents that we drafted this week will grow similar trees as they develop. Here's the first couple paragraphs of the current draft of our document for 'Brickstarter', a project about community decision making:
Brickstarter is a 21st century social service. It enables everyday people, using everyday technology and culture, to articulate and progress sustainable ideas about their community. Brickstarter is a platform to turn possibilities into proposals into projects.
The interface between citizens and institutions can be slow, awkward and cumbersome. For years, this was just the way things were. Yet the tools and media that people now use to orchestrate their everyday lives rapidly outstrip those used by most municipalities, ministries, and other institutions.
Brickstarter takes advantage of social media and mobile apps in order to address this disconnect, by developing a more articulate, more responsive, and more representative platform for citizens and institutions to work together.
What's missing here is an articulation of how Brickstarter connects community matters to dark matter but, you see, that's in a bullet list further down the page.
Yes, the food booklet is still coming. In fact, that should be available for download by tomorrow. The Print on Demand Service tried to design a cover for us, but we've decided to go a different direction.
The good part of friday was spent in Kalasatama in a workshop about food entrepreurship. The session culminated in three, at at times four, people around a laptop drafting the one page description of the project that we spent the day sketching out. It's trending in the right direction and now we need to work quickly to ensure that we can meet an ambitious timeline.
Sitra has been active on food topics for a while now, most recently by supporting the development of the wholesale market with an eye towards local and organic products. That was work on the 'platform', and our upcoming efforts will be building an 'application' to take advantage of that platform.
To close, an interview with Jonathan Ive in the London Evening Standard. He describes himself as "interested in being wrong." I think I like those words more than the things he and his team produce. The interview is full of good stuff, including this:
We struggle with the right words to describe the design process at Apple, but it is very much about designing and prototyping and making. When you separate those, I think the final result suffers. If something is going to be better, it is new, and if it’s new you are confronting problems and challenges you don’t have references for. To solve and address those requires a remarkable focus. There’s a sense of being inquisitive and optimistic, and you don’t see those in combination very often.
Three polite words that begin with F: frozen (temperatures), and freedom (from fossil fuels), and food. Let's see how these unpack.
Now that winter has set in, we are regularly experiencing temperatures in the range of -10º celsius. This makes for treacherous sidewalks but otherwise adds lots to the quality of life in the city: cross country skiing, sledding, new things on the ice, and plenty of light reflecting off the snow.
Recently Dan, our colleague Karoliina, Nina the intrepid interpreter, and myself spent a day in Hamina where it was also very frozen. Located 1.5 hours east of Helsinki, Hamina used to have two industries: a port and the paper mill but the later closed down in 2008.
Luckily for them, the mill premises found a new tenant who values cheap energy and the location's essentially limitless supply of cool Baltic water: Google purchased the property in 2009 and set up a data centre shortly thereafter.
Although the Google story is interesting, it's not the core of why we went to Hamina. We were there to learn about the way that the city has successfully fostered green energy, both as an energy source and as an industry. Early indicators point to Hamina as a positive example of how a community de-industralizes itself with as little long-term pain as possible. They paid attention to larger structural changes in Finland's economy and reacted decisively to find a new way forward. Google's data centre was one positive outcome, and the other is WinWind who manufacture wind turbines. In parallel with these new developments in the local economy, Hamina's municipally owned energy company also courageously set up a modest wind farm.
We wanted to understand how this happened. How does a community make decisions about its future? Or in other terms: how do communities make shared decisions from a shared value perspective?
Shared decisions are those which are bigger than any one person. Things like building a new road or rail, cordoning off a nature reserve, or passing a law. And shared value is measured in financial as well as social and ecological capital. Although the term is borrowed most recently from Michael Porter, the basic concept is by now quite generic—you might even argue that figuring out shared value is the challenge which underlays all others.
Our trip to Hamina was the first bit of research into this. How did they get the idea to build a wind farm? And how did it get negotiated in real space, with real euros, real local politics, and real personal opinions? How did Hamina decide to open its port area to new industries? How did Hamina propose for itself a new future?
In the coming weeks and months we'll be visiting other communities that have made—or failed to make—shared decisions as we try to better understand how we might help these processes flow more easily and productively.
One of the areas of focus is a phenomena called Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) and how we might crack open more opportunity for Please In My Back Yard. In essence, we're interested in how communities balance the right to express negative opinions with the civic obligation of participation in the public realm, in local economies, in politics, in society. So how do we make it more meaningful and easier for people to engage in shared decisions? That's what we'll be focusing on in the area of work we've been calling Brickstarter internally.
Justin, Marco, and Johanna spent most of Friday in Lahti working with the city planning department there as part of our Design Exchange Programme. Things there are off to a good start with an ambitious timeline. We are also working on a new website for the exhange participants to share their experiences regularly.
Internally at Sitra we continue apace with work on tools, systems, working culture, and spatial resources. The first three involve lots of meetings in conference rooms, the latter involved one meeting in a design studio. It's also worth noting that there's a new Sitra.fi website!
Dan was over in London this weekend giving a presentation at The Design of Understanding. It's a safe bet that you can expect a write-up of some 10,000± words from him in the nearish future.
As always, an update on the food work. We spent a bit of time in Tukkutori with Elina and Ville, sharing notes on what we're up to and the same from them. Tukkutori is Helsinki's wholesale market and will be opening to consumers in the fall. Lots of exciting stuff planned there and we're seeing how we might be invovled, particularly with an eye towards strengthening the pathways for good ideas to grow up to be good businesses and good regulations and policy.
And yes, some mockups for print. The food booklet we're working on may or may not come with a poster.
Roll call! Johanna is mostly pitching in on Synergize Finland projects, Justin is holding down the fort in Boston, Marco is in Moscow giving a talk at Skolkovo, and Dan is somewhere in Australia running at a breakneck pace with a full slate of talks, workshops, and meetings there. For more on that, follow Dan's Twitter account or look for the mentions of @HDL2010. And this leaves me, alone in Helsinki, spending the day out and about and writing.
Between bouts of project planning and other exciting administrative duties we've been continuing to drive our research into the street food of Helsinki. Below is a snippet of that, one of four narratives that we open the booklet with. They're meant to give snapshots of different key moments in the development of Helsinki's food culture. As you might guess, we're much more interested in the stuff around the food than the victuals themselves.
The woman shifts nervously from foot to foot outside the restaurant’s doorway. Above her, a green neon sign sputters into life, casting the restaurant’s name in flowing script across the elegant square, although the sun seems to have no intention of disappearing anytime soon. Still, it was late, and he was late.
She dares not go into the restaurant without him. This is not simply a matter of etiquette, or timidity on her part; it’s the law. In Finland, women are not allowed in restaurants unless accompanied by a man, so she waits. She finds this faintly offensive, as she’s heard that the reasoning is that women in a restaurant or bar on their own could only be there for one thing, and it wasn’t the food.
Dancing isn’t allowed either, for similar reasons; this she finds more ridiculous than offensive. There had been some progress, however: after the Helsinki Olympics, Alko, who set such rules, had deigned to allow the introduction of something equally licentious: the bar stool.
That the new owner of the restaurant is a woman, Mrs. Paukka, is an irony also not lost on her, but it makes no difference. For all her progressive attitudes, the woman had never been to a restaurant before, just as no-one in her family had. But she’d heard about Mrs. Paukka’s new menu—in particular the crispy fried Baltic herrings—and had pestered the man about going for weeks.
The sharp new kiosk across the square, owned by the restaurant and the only one in the country with an alcohol license, is full of men sitting, smoking, drinking, eating gelato, workers from banks and docks alike gathered around the small tables under the trees. She feels their eyes occasionally upon her. The woman pulls a copy of Kaunis Koti from her bag. She’d just bought the magazine from the R-Kioski on Korkeavuorenkatu, and had intended to save it for the tram ride home, but it would prove more useful as a screen to hide behind for the moment.
A skid of leather shoes on the cobbles behind her, accompanied by “Anteeksi, olen myöhässä!” …
Simultaneous to the writing, we're also doing some light data mining. I spent part of yesterday doing a bit of very light scripting to help us more easily pull data from the local restaurant website, Eat.fi. That process looks like this:
We wanted to make a simple point: at the moment when drinking activity on the typical weekend is spiking, food availability is crashing. Restaurants stop serving food and there is very little of a night time economy to speak of. So we made a diagram showing the opening hours of all 569 restaurants in central Helsinki. That's the red line of this diagram:
The blue line is interpretive, a sketch. It's not based on data at all. As we evolve this diagram we'll figure out a way to handle the discrepancy between these two (one based on data and one anecdotal observation) but for now it's shaping up as a way to illustrate the point. The fact that the red hoop and the blue hoop scarcely overlap is one (small) part of the reason why saturday morning the streets are dotted with puddled of vomit and why alcohol related injuries and assaults are high.
Of course this has a direct impact on the individuals whose health is impacted or who are the victims of violence or property damage. It also indirectly effects the efficacy of Helsinki's tourism strategy that seeks to make this a globally competitive destination. So here too the details matter.
As you can see, to make at point that sits at the intersection of governance, business, and culture we're starting to pull together a range of different sources as well. Mixing ephemeral narratives with the historical development of the market and its regulation from 1900 onwards; bits of data with rich imagery; interviews with close observations.
We've been moving between conversations and interviews with organizers and activitists like Olli Sirén, who has been the public face of Ravintolapäivä or Tio Tikka, who started Helsinki's only current food truck to The Public Works Department, who Dan and I visited this week.
In our booklet we're pulling together a bit of the history, current evidence, and indications of where there is untapped potential for innovation. Ultmately we are looking into the past before speculating about the next hundred years of everyday food in Helsinki and how we can make them even better. And in that regard we're focusing on how the dark matter, all the bits that situate food within our everyday lives—or not.
Notes rather than thoughts/links this week, if you don't mind. First up, a few meetings.
Bryan and I caught up with Ville Relander, the City of Helsinki's PM for their Food Culture Strategy. Many, many ideas spinning out of that one, as food culture is one of the most exciting and rapidly moving development areas in Finland. Equally, food is a way in to so many everyday systems: local culture, logistics, entrepreneurship, national identity, immigration, sustainability, service culture, retail, smart systems, production, industry, popular culture, urban planning, health, education, waste, the relationship between urban and rural; it's all in there. It's a key area for us, in terms of systemic change. We look forward to working with Ville on this.
(Incidentally, we met at Kluuvi, the newly-opened complex in the city centre, which is worth a look. Not least the excellent Eat&Joy Maatilatori (farmers' market) in the basement.)
Sitra also hosted a visit from Fundación Chile, one of the few organisations with a similar remit and position to ours. As part of the visit, Bryan and I met with Francoise Tirreau Glasinovic and Alejandro Tocigl.
It happened to be a rather beautiful autumn day, so we took Francoise and Alejandro for a walk around the harbour from Ruoholahti to Moko on Perämiehenkatu. Although there are key differences, the similarities between our organisations are manyfold. We talked for a couple of hours and we were probably only just getting going. Key areas of interest included different tactics for overcoming the tendency of project teams towards silos, or conversely towards proliferation of project ideas, and how to measure multiple forms of 'capital' from investments and projects, such as those suggested by concepts such as shared value. And so in turn, how to decide what to do in the first place! Many thanks to Francoise and Alejandro for dropping by and for the great conversation—we will continue the dialogue.
The strategy and budgeting process rolls on, and fills many of the gaps left between these conversations. We're knee-deep in it, but the end of the beginning is in the sight. It was good to hear that we (Sitra) had a very well-attended external stakeholder day recently, providing strong input from outside. Bryan and I will be working with our colleague Tuula to ensure all these conversations turn into useful tools for the organisation.
In between all that, it was a week of engagement through events. Marco was in Taipei for much of the week, at the 2011 International Design Alliance Congress, presenting Low2No and taking part in a panel on urbanism. Justin was at DMI Design Management Annual 36: Design at Scale, in New York (and good to hear from Justin that old friends Jake Barton and Nicola Twilley were on top form.) Bryan took off for Buenos Aires for the Centro Metropolitano de Diseño for various events, including giving a talk at the Design Festival, and general scouting. I was holding the fort in Helsinki all week, but will report back on last week's Tallinn conference shortly, and prep for next week's trip to Sigtuna for a Mistra gathering.
I did however give a talk at Nokia on Friday, to their design team (Marko Ahtisaari invited us, after we attended Joi Ito's talk a few weeks back.) Interesting times at Nokia, given the announcement of their new phones the day before. It remains to be seen whether this is a comeback, but there are always some smart cookies there, and the Lumia/Asha/flexible concept phone combo has already changed the conversation around the company. Thanks to Matt George for hosting, and organising a good crowd.
While out and about, no doubt preparing for Snowtober, Justin also snapped this pic of In Studio in situ at MIT Press, in Cambridge Mass, which means of course that you can buy it there. As reported last week, it's getting out there. Do keep your feedback coming in—it's invaluable learning for us.
At DMI NYC, Justin had given a quick welcome/overview to DMI Helsinki in 2012. On related matters, congratulations to Cape Town, winner of World Design Capital 2014.
Helsinki is next year's WDC, and as with the Finnish winter, we are beginning to sense its imminent arrival. Preparations and planning are beginning to transform into activity, and it will be fascinating to see what it feels like on the street. I remember being impressed with how Victoria's State of Design festival was so vividly present in the city of Melbourne, rather more than Sydney's Design, say (no fault of the very capable Sydney Design organisers by the way; just some key differences in levels of funding and particularities of urban fabric and culture.) It wasn't so much painting the town red as turning the city over to design for a couple of weeks. It's a challenge to sustain that for an entire year, but the programme for Helsinki WDC look to be nicely diverse at this point.
More to follow on Sitra's involvement with WDC Helsinki.
And following last week's links to reports from inside Occupy New York, this from inside Occupy London, by Madeleine Bunting in today's Guardian. From "architecture of consciousness" to "key symbolic public space".
The air is increasingly crisp as autumn falls upon Helsinki. And yet summer is not giving up without a fight. This week we enjoyed one of the warmest September days on record. It does feel warmer than last year about this time.
We have been taking advantage of the weather by getting in a few last exploratory walks for lunch or mid-day coffee. As winter sets in the radius of lunchtime possibility closes down and the daily rituals change. We try to take as much advantage of the warm months as possible, often working in cafes, libraries, or other nooks around the city for half the day or so. As it cools off we'll be spending more time in the mothership.
Beyond the niceties of a good lunch, food has been a focus lately because of a bit of work we're doing. Street food, in particular, though we're taking a rather wide interpretation of the term. More on this soon, as we are preparing a slim publication on the topic. But the gist is that we're interested in how food cuts right to the nexus of so many interlocking systems. While it is deeply cultural, ephemeral, and literally a mater of taste, food is also an essential current in the hard flows of economics, health, and logistics.
As we pursue ways to positively affect the systems that shape daily life, we are searcing for entry points. The essentialness of food makes it a great candidate to act as a tangible pivot or hinge which allows us to research, observe, and design simultaneously at a very minute level where execution is direct and feedback loops are quick, as well as more abstract and systemic levels which on their own lack immediate feedback. More on this as it develops.
University of Helsinki have recently published a video. It features a herring and it is a nice video.
From food to space. The other topic on high rotation within the team is community decision making. How do we make decisions together? And more specifically, how do we make decisions when it's not possible to agree to disagree, such as when there's a chunk of the city involved. A park, a disused lot, a nice corner, a store front. That kind of thing.
Although this is a very nascent topic for us as yet, we've been doing some sketching. This one in particular is a quick study of the 'hidden' courtyards of Helsinki. Although the city is full of wonderful interior courtyards, they're mostly out of sight and really quite out of mind. How could these spaces become more of an asset to the city?
Both of these projects are orbiting around ideas that we explored with Clues to Open Hesinki, a pack of 'postcards from the future' that we created with the help of OK Do last spring. And while both the food and the courtyards have come back onto the radar through their own paths, it is interesting to reflect on the fact that they were also amongst the dominant themes of the conversations we had when developing Clues. I suppose I should say that it's gratifying, actually. The small bet we made with that project is now repaying its dividends and proving to be useful preliminary research for two projects which have their own focus at a new scale of ambition.
A small note about the book: I've updated the page to include information about where to find it in book stores. Currently there are only two, but I'm hoping to have time to work on expanding this list a bit. If you have suggestions for appropriate shops in your neck of the woods please leave a comment here.
Other projects: Justin continues to tweak the Low2No website, which is overflowing with details about the project; Marco had some promising meetings relating to the exchange, as well as work related to World Design Capital; Dan has been wrapping up some essential elements of groundwork for the smart systems aspects of Low2No as well as writing about food; I was out half the week on a mini-break and then handling the technical bits of the Low2No site; and Johanna is handling logistics and administration steady as ever.
To close this weeknote I'll leave you with a link to MindLab's wrap up summary of their How Public Design? event that Marco and I enjoyed last month. Have a look—we'll be doing the same, perhaps after a visit to the Helsinki Baltic Herring Fair.
Helsinki is now basking in full summer, with a couple of days touching 30 degrees this week. The city is glorious like this, with every inch of street, park and pavement full of life, and islands like Seurasaari become impossibly appealing places to spend a Sunday afternoon. Like opposing points of a compass, Helsinki can be differently beautiful in hot sun/midsummer and deep snow/midwinter—it's the bits in between we have to work on.
Or work in, perhaps. We are all horribly aware of the month-long summer holiday slowly approaching, in much the same way that Christmas creeps up on British workers. Both are looked forward to, of course, but both compress time either on either side, leading to an increasingly frenetic rush of meetings and proposals.
This week is no exception. Personally, my work on Low2No is beginning to pick up pace, meaning meetings with various people inside and outside Sitra—including a chance to catch up with our partner Irene Cassarino from Experientia, and researcher Tiona Zozul from Harvard Business School—as well as making the most of Justin being in town. Both Justin and Marco were heavily focused on Low2No this week, though also helped guide our other various project ideas into our other various programmes, before Marco disappeared for a well-earned week of R&R in southern Italy and Justin took off to hold the fort back in Boston.
Bryan knocked off some significant milestones in completing the first in what will hopefully be a series of HDL books, exploring the process and potential of strategic design in this context. More to follow on all this, when the time is right.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article about Helsinki for my old employer Monocle magazine (see forthcoming July/August edition on liveable cities) and in doing so I spoke with both Mayor Jussi Pajunen, and the City's project manager for their 'food culture strategy', Ville Relander. Both emphasised how the City's burgeoning food scene has become a weathervane of the changing Helsinki, and perhaps Finland, which has also played to our own interests in food as an area of potential systemic change with regards to sustainable well-being—at least when food is viewed as a deeply cultural and complex field of interdependent networks and supply chains, which affects everyone and all places, one way or another.
So on Wednesday, Bryan, Justin and I went to visit Ville up at his temporary HQ, the city's old wholesale markets amidst the urban regeneration of the Kalasatama area. The markets are a core part of the city's food culture strategy, with the idea that they become a social space as well as a place to source ingredients, perhaps akin to London's Borough Market, Melbourne's Queen Victoria Market or Barcelona's Mercat Santa Catarina, but refracted through the prism of Nordic cuisine and public space.
The main slaughterhouse building is an incredible asset, with a sturdy yet elegant, long low form that is perfect for re-appropriation, and some horrifying/appealing features such as the sikasirkus (yes, that translates to 'pig circus') for transporting pig carcasses through the building. The place still smells fairly porky, but has huge potential.
Ville is clearly an asset too, of a very different kind, and he spoke with enthusiasm and insight about the City's approach to food. The City of Helsinki has significant impact on the food business, not least due to the fact that tens of thousands of hot meals are served every day in the City's kindergartens (päiväkoti in Finnish)—where most kids go to pre-school—and so its aspiration to make half of this kindergarten food organic by 2015 could impact positively on supply chains across the region.
But the City can equally impact the street and its food too. As noted previously, we're researching this area very closely—currently, The Saga of the Camionette, and What It Means for Helsinki. Watch that space.
This also means we're diagramming furiously of course, both for the aforementioned book and also generally, trying to find ways of suggesting a strategic design approach that connects 'the päiväkoti and the camionette'.
Which leads me to a brief note on whiteboards (to follow up our previous on Post-its). Given our rhetoric around 'designing the conditions' around systems, it's only right that we look at our own working environment from time to time. And this last week's iCloud announcement from Apple, combined with our ongoing fascination with services like Square, had Bryan and I trading ideas back and forth, not just about new public and private services made possible by such advances, but also our own workspace.
Accordingly, we've been developing our internal 'knowledge management' systems (hacking together Tumblr, Dropbox, Basecamp, Twitter, Facebook and various other more bespoke systems), the hardware we use (including gearing up for more video, perhaps saving you reading all these words every week), and conjuring up entirely new approaches to sketching and scheduling on our floor-to-ceiling whiteboards.
It's interesting how bespoke this all is—how workflows, tools and culture are hardwired into the particularities of teams and places—and that despite attempts to systemise this, bespoke feels right.
Anyway, if the whiteboard system works for more than a few weeks, we promise a full exposé at a later date. If it doesn't, forget I ever mentioned it.
As June begins we've been working on a number of small bits: helping some of them grow into slightly less-small bits, and eventually real projects. In other words, sketching, discussing, calendaring, prioritizing.
On Thursday we had the luxury of spending an entire day to look at only two issues. That much time dedicated to such a limited agenda is nice and by the end of the day we were all exhausted.
What else? Some quick hits:
Dan was at Aalto University to give a presentation in the Pragmatic Utopias seminar
We at Sitra launched a new website in beta form. This has been a long time coming and we're excited to have it as a more fluid way to share our work. You can read about strategic design in English and in Finnish (and more content will be available in English in the fall).
HDL can now be found on Tumblr, where we are blogging things that look interesting and related to strategic design. If this experiment works out we will figure out a way to bring some of that content onto this site as well, but for now it's in a separate sandbox at helsinkidesignlab.tumblr.com.
So let's face it, if you're reading this site and you just thought about clicking that link for the Tumblr blog, then perhaps it's time that we make our friendship official. Luckily, Facebook is here to help us Become Friends. In other words: HDL can now also be found on Facebook, where you can can give us a thumbs up if you're inclined. Or generally follow along with what we're doing.
And finally, the Strategic Design Unit has been talking a lot about street culture, and in particular the way that food helps set the tone of the street. This was aided by a visit to Camionette, Helsinki's first food truck. Tasty.
March is a good name for this month. That's what it feels like: a march. Summer is already just around the corner but there's a lot to be done between now and then. These past two weeks have mostly been about sharing.
Sharing with other teams at Sitra, sharing with the world via writing, and sharing with similar organizations who are developing new ways of working on comlex problems.
Marco and I continue to work with the Synergize Finland team as they will be using the Studio model this May. I gave them a brain dump on what a Challenge Briefing is, what role it plays in the studio, and how you structure a similar document. They're off and running on briefings for their studios and it will be cool to see the concept reflected back to us through their experience with it. Marco has been recruiting designers to play the role of studio lead.
During the past two weeks we've also submitted three article for publication on three continents. Two of those discuss the Studio model in greater detail, and the third looks at strategic design vis-a-vis the practice of architecture. We'll post links here when they are available—I believe the first will be the forthcoming issue of Volume Magazine on Ageing.
It feels great to have these deadlines behind us, and I wish I could say that the typing hands can rest now, but no! We soldier on with another big deadline for a draft due in the middle of March. This one is a self-imposed deadline to more thoroughly document the Studio model and our three studios last summer.
"In a world of constant change, [design is] the ability to imagine, the ability to take close assessments of where you are versus where you want to be, and figure out how to move from here to there. Design was a nice thing to have in the last few hundred years in a world of stability, but really the form of productive inquiry underlying design is now critical in a world of constant change.
Basically we're living in a world now where our skills have about a 5 year half life. when I started out doing stuff it was a 30 year half-life, so today we have to be at any age able to pick up brand new skills... The studio is one of the most concrete ways of working with the real, working with the concrete, letting the imagination fly, and then collectively with folks around you and mentors actually produce new knowledge."
We were out and about too. I gave a talk to Aalto University's Creative Sustainability course. Marco was in London to participate in the Ecobuild conference and share some of our experiences with Low2No. Afterwards he and I spent a morning catching up up with Nick Mabey at the HQ of E3G. They've just published Degrees of Risk which I haven't had time to read, but knowing Nick and his team it's should be thorough and insightful.
Degrees of Risk is the output of a multi-year process working with climate scientists and security experts to flesh out a framework for moving to a risk management approach to climate change, in contrast to the singular focus on migitiation. Doing so implicates a much wider array of decision-makers, from security to infrastructure, each with established ways to plan for future risk. The framework is an intensely clever way for hacking the climate debate to put it into terms that a larger group of people—everyone—gets: risk.
And now for an abrupt transition: from climate risk to sea ice. Under an unusually bright Sunday sky, I went for a walk on the sea ice last weekend to do a bit of research on Helsinki food culture.
One of the delightful things about northern cities is the degree to which their geography changes during winter. Helsinki comes alive with recreational opportunities all across the frozen sea. Suddenly the isolated boat gas station becomes a winter cafe, with a new arrival path across the iced-over harbor. Remote coffee shops have new streams of guests who come to roast sausages on outdoor fire pits. Or have a curling match. This won't last for too much longer, given the warm weather we've been having, so I'll have to wait for next year to corral my colleagues into starting the Sitra Curling team.
Week 102 closes with a steady hum—and the clickety clack of more writing.