Tag: urban

Blog entry

Makers for Productive Cities

Two terms now trending in design are "makers" and "smart cities". I've written previously on the latter—asking, "Who own's a smart city's intelligence?" And we have spent much of the past year thinking about the former—developing the Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform with Panurban, a strategic design consultancy based in Paris. In November I tried to connect the two: giving a talk called "Makers for Productive Cities" for the Citisense conference, organized by the World Bank ahead of the annual Smart City Expo in Barcelona.

Partly the aim was to demystify the whole idea of "making" and show that it is less something new, and more part of a longer-term continuum of the human drive to make tools (most recently, the Back to the Earth and DIY movements). And partly we tried to tell the story of AMP—which has been an amazing journey: networking the energy, drive and intellect of the many young people who have participated in the makers' collective plus hundreds more in Agbogbloshie who are not online.

Watch the talk for an overview of the five lessons I shared from our experience: 

1. It's your nature, to be a maker.
2. Making today is manu-digital.
3. Making as a process is community-driven.
4. Maker spaces are emergent.
5. Maker cities are mesh networks.

Plus it was a welcome chance to give shout-outs to some of our friends and the awesome groups doing amazing things that inspire us: the Creativity Group at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana (founded by Jorge Appiah); the WɔɛLab hackerspace in Lome, Togo (founded by Sename Koffi); and Maker Faire Africa (founders include Emeka Okafor, Jennifer Wolfe, Erik Hersman and a bunch of other incredible people); and Open Source Ecology in the USA and world-wide (founded by Marcin Jacubowski). (There are also video highlights from a panel discussing the "Internet of Everyone" as counterpoint to the "Internet of Things".)

We're in the final stages of prototyping the AMP makerspace. Will post updates as possible.


In/Formal Kiosk Culture

Africa today has among the highest rates of urbanization on the planet. In the twin cities Accra and Tema, the human settlement closest to the earth's geographic origin 0-0, this urban growth puts pressure on networks of electricity, transportation and ecology.

Tema is a new town built from scratch for 250,000 people. Sixty years later, the population is 2-4X that size, and coupled with Accra reaches several million.

The construction industry in Ghana is part of the informal sector — mobile or semi-legal kiosks and containers that retrofit automobiles and electronics, fabricate furniture, building materials, dresses, hairstyles, food...and which sell mobile phone credits on every street corner — the basic unit of information in Africa.

Official policy is to excise the cancer of the informal from the city. But micro-enterprises not only provide jobs; they are also where – out of necessity – improvisation is automatic. These are sites of innovation.

Meanwhile innovation has stalled in Ghana's building industry over the past forty years - a period during which innovation was forced from the top down; that failed.

This project inverts that model. The informal sector is already innovating: accessible information is the catalyst for accelerating that innovation. This is social design R&D, and it has to be from the bottom-up.

One example is bamboo lifecycling. Grow bamboo on undeveloped land in the city, use it to self-build bigger and higher-performance micro-architecture that approach zero cost, and burn as cooking fuel when the buildings expire. This means money typically spent on construction can be used instead on things like solar panels or shared wifi. Bottom-up means using tactics of the informal... like planting bamboo on land we don't own, and prototyping not in isolation but with people who work in the informal sector.

The paradox is that -economically- cities provide jobs but -ecologically- construction of the city is proportional to destruction of nature. The limiting constraint in many African urban ecologies may now no longer be capital, but rather access to information: How to simultaneously expand economic and ecological densities sustainably.

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