Living Mix: a cascade of social and cultural "alternatives", from adult-free playgrounds to an airforce that serves nature
Sometimes, in a week, the plenitude of small-scale “alternatives” - reframings of current reality that open up new practical options - is just overwhelming. So here’s a buffet of them, as they’ve fallen into our media laps over the last few weeks. We’re calling it a Living Mix - the future already here, beginning to be better distributed. Enjoy, be inspired, copy and improve if you can.
Above is the promotional video for New York City’s first ever adventure playground - for kids, that is… Run by play:groundNYC, they stand in a strong tradition of city adventure (which they write about on their website) beginning in Denmark. It addresses the developmental challenge for children and play in big cities. Kids need to be left alone to improve their skills for life through exploratory and rough-and-tumble play (as all the good science tells us). But where can this happen in an environment of cars, mobility, alienation? The solution is to build “grounds of play” that carefully manage the relationship between risk and security - enough freedom for play to be education, enough distant “parenting” of the space, to ensure an underlying safety.
A Bombing Raid… with 900,000 seeds
This is an image of a Thai bomber plane strafing its own country in 2016… with nearly a million “seed-bombs”, aimed at reforesting vast areas of the country (see video to the left).
Digging in a little, we discover that there is a whole new field of “precision foresting” opening up, according to this McKinsey report. The shift from “traditional” to “precision” foresting seems to involve both good and bad - the aim for greater productivity, but with a much bigger amount of bio-data from the growing environment. (See John Thackera’s blog on this site, on design principles and the bio-region, showing how much a sensitive measuring of the flows of the environment requires a complex technological response). There is a “virtuous race” going on between nations and reforesting - see this recent effort in Ethiopia.
We need “Palaces for the People”, investing in social space
We have profiled Eric Klinenberg’s Palaces for the People book already in these pages - but we’re delighted to find this excellent podcast (player below) from the fascinating show 99% Invisible.
Having spent a lot of time thinking about the power of social infrastructure and physical places, Klinenberg asked himself this question: what would have happened if we had responded to broken windows not by sending in so many police officers, but instead by fixing the windows?
It turns out, someone at the University of Pennsylvania had been asking a similar question. This person teamed up with the city of Philadelphia which has tens of thousands of abandoned properties and empty lots. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society started an exciting social science experiment, and for more than a decade have been making simple interventions to randomly selected blocks. If there was an abandoned house they would board up the building to prevent squatters or potential drug dealers from using the property, and mowed and maintained the yard.
The results were staggering — they achieved almost a 40 percent decline in gun violence around the abandoned properties that had been treated. What’s more, they hooked up heart rate monitors to people living in those neighborhoods and they found that heart rates spiked high when residents walked past an un-kept property. Stress-related diseases are especially high in poor neighborhoods that have a lot of abandonment, but when people walk by a property that’s been taken care of, their heart rate hardly changes. They also noticed that when crime reduced in the blocks with intervention, crime levels didn’t jump in other nearby neighborhoods as predicted.