Architects Who Blog: A grand time at AIA 2012 in DC

If you have never read Life of an architect by Bob Borson (@bobborson) or Coffee with an architect by Jody Brown (@infillnc), you are in for a treat. Visiting their sites inspires me every time. They reveal what it’s like being an architect, what we do, how we think, and what matters. I’d say they tell stories about being an architect, the culture of the profession, more than blogs about architecture.

In other words, it’s the life of an architect. Or like having coffee with an architect. Aha!

Architects Who Blog #AIA2012

Even more thrilling is the chance to present with them, as I did last week at the American Institute of Architects national convention in Washington DC. We called it: “Architects Who Blog: Connecting Online for Influencing, Educating, and Inspiring about Architecture.” Here’s the slidedeck.

Besides their passion, Bob and Jody are smart, funny, and authentic. They are in short the real deal.

Now why is that so amazing? As architects, we are visually-oriented. That’s cool, maybe obvious, and frankly it simplifies life in many ways. Being surface-oriented is encouraged. (Now I sound like Jody, whose byline is “Architecture + Angst.”)

Architects use images more often than words to express ourselves. Bob and Jody use both. Neither claims to be a good writer (although they are). They in essence write like they talk, which always draws me in. When I read their blogs, I feel like I know them. I want to talk with them, as do many others judging by the comments.

Don’t let that humble spirit fool you. They are both heavy hitters in the architecture blogging category, with millions of visitors to their sites, and thousands of followers on twitter and facebook.

What did we talk about? First, Bob Borson…
Bob showed his world headquarters (his couch), his reach (every country except Iceland, it seems), his progress over time (2 million+ visits, up to 200 comments on a post), and his topics (advocacy, career, personal, humor, community outreach.) He recreated the story of his presentation here.

Two stories stuck with me. Bob interviewed his young daughter about what her dad did for a living. Roughly, being an architect is fun because we draw and talk all day. It takes a long time to design a house, about five hours, and about five days to build it. And it’s expensive, say $300. She would like to be an architect because it’s a good job.

Bob also uses his blog for another passion, the Architect Playhouse Design Competition, an offshoot of Dallas CASA. The charity benefits abused and neglected children. He received entries nationally and internationally. His jury selected two winning submissions, and he is seeking support for construction.

Jody Brown made us laugh a lot… at ourselves

Jody is fearless. For instance, a recent post is entitled: “that awkward moment when I show you my portfolio.” This week, it’s “Shit architects say.” If he’s not killing architecture’s sacred cows, he’s at least making us laugh at them.

Jody explains that initially when he played it straight, his mom was the only reader. So he showed his true self, in all his awesome ideological snarkiness and took dead aim at the culture of being an architect. The clothes, glasses, fussiness, insular snootiness, and starchitects are favorite targets. The sillier it gets, the more I identify with it. Jody helped me see how truly hilarious we are. Need a kick? Read this blog.

Here’s two images that completely broke up the crowd, huge laughs.

According to Jody: Architects need to be part of the conversation. Period.

The crowd and how we get it done
Fellow architects who came to our presentation were the best, thank you much. Your questions were thoughtful and your prolific tweets extended our reach far beyond the convention center. I think we got as many tweets as some of the general sessions. People asked about advertising (Bob has done just enough to cover his direct costs), images (use your own or creative commons images), platforms (wordpress, but you can start at tumblr or posterous), and how we fit it into our lives.

Instagram Photo 
  • Folks waiting on us to start, via Jody’s view from the dais.

All of us struggle to find time to post. I know you have things to say. I want to tell you that it’s important for you to speak up. Architects have left too much open territory online, we are far too quiet. When we do write, it’s usually marketing or one-directional, rather than building relationships, a network, or a reputation as a clear thinker. It is now, folks, time to claim that space. We can’t just talk via design, we need to speak with our voices too.

Jody and Bob post more often and manage to write much faster than me. I’ve taken breaks twice, at great cost to my site traffic. Bob is slowing down. Jody is thinking about it. It’s hard.

I think we can do a tag team. You write a while, I’ll pick up the next stage, and some others can join in. Eventually, we will get a critical mass of architects who blog. Leave comments when you read. Your thoughts keep us writing, and make us better.

One more bonus, I’ve been saving social media sites at my diigo site for urbanverse, aia-sm. That’s over 70 links. There’s another 700 under socialmedia, 80 or so on blogging, and try key words: twitter, social networking, bloggingtips, and blogginghowto, which start in 2009. The most recent ones are aia-sm.

Closing thoughts

I can only say that the AIA convention was far richer because of my online colleagues. Seeing many of you in real life for the first time was the best reason to be there. Genie, Gena, Laurie, Neal, Collier, John, Tara, Cormac, Jonathon, Andrew, Bryant, Craig, Mark, Sybil, Susan, and so many others, I was thrilled to meet you. Especially thanks to Steve Mouzon for making the effort to come by the convention just to say hello. What a delight!

A grand week, folks… people, places, and ideas, a feast.

  • Pictured: Jody @infillnc, Bryant @turnageb, Genie @ebarchdesign, Collier @collier1960, Jonathan @mondo_tiki_man


Welcome to the Real Urbanverse. To start: the future of architects

Welcome to the real Urbanverse

This week, I’m presenting at AIA national convention along with two of my esteemed architectural colleagues, Jody Brown @infillnc of North Carolina and Bob Borson from Texas. We’ll be sharing our best blogging and social media tips. There’s a huge flaw in this scenario: I have hardly been posting during recent months.

In honor of the event (which frankly got me in gear), welcome to the new location for Urbanverse. Thanks for stopping in.

Similar to the posterous urbanverse, my trouble-free starter blog, I’ll cover the intersection of architecture and architects, cities and sustainable design, especially with an eye to the future. Sometimes I’m in the story. Most of the time, I’m an interpretor, part-guide, part-scout exploring the urbanverse, an unlimited zone of ideas, images, and people.

Let’s get going. Here’s a topic near to my heart that deserves a closer study, the future of architects (and professions, experts, creative fields, built environment, design schools, they are all related).

An intelligent conversation about architects

Over the past couple of years, an avalanche of criticism slammed architects. We are whiny, navel watchers, the worst profession for getting hired, fetish-driven egomanics, and cheap (even cheating) employers. We’ve created unhealthy, unwelcoming car-obsessed cities full of oversized, energy guzzling ugly buildings. The architecture profession is a place of haves and have nots, frequently practiced for passion more than profit.

Actually that last line is true.

Too much of what is written about architecture combines sensationalism with short-term thinking and amounts to whining or piling on or both. When does the fact that the architecture profession is changing become old news? When do we get bored with one more essay on

  • terrible experiences (low or no-pay interns, disconnected architecture education, stuck in the backroom, lack of respect), or
  • terrible design (starchitecture superficiality, bland buildings which are not architecture, unwalkable districts as unlivable, unhealthy, and un-green)

before we make serious changes? Before we agree to resolve and act or agree to shut up, quit reading or producing these truly unnewsworthy pieces, and move on? When can we say enough of this limbo-land of public thrashings?

Are we stuck?

No profession can advance if it clings to entrenched topics. Either we act to improve by exposing our conversations as ideological, chronic debates with no attempt at movement or solutions, and then agree to collective misery. Or we make changes at the heart of the problem. We pull things apart, look at the environment and technology which we can expect in the next 10, 20, 50 years, and figure out what we bring to it.

Because what I see beyond short term negativism is equally poisonous denial. Let’s call it self-preservation of the status quo. Case in point: recently I heard three deans whom I respect deeply describe the future of architecture schools with a completely optimistic outlook: high demand for their programs, attracting the best of the best students, and offering inspirational projects and travel. While they acknowledged resource limitations and a lack of jobs for graduates, their programs, they could say with certainty, are safe. They saw no imminent danger (or at least none that they were willing to confess in this public forum).

Frankly academics are not any more to blame than any single person or group among us, nor do they alone have the cure. It’s a collective situation that we have accepted and even promoted. When does the way that we have fashioned our roles become the ticket to our demise? Where is the acknowledgement of the sea change the profession faces? Moreover, the built environment and the planet? How can we hope to lead if we are so myopic, so focused on baseline scenarios? Or do we imagine that the threats are just so mindboggling that the only option is to forge ahead as planned?

How do we contribute to the creative universe? Do we consider the range of alternative conditions and influences? Are we ready to see emergent possibilities, and invent the most relevant, poignant, beautiful, resilient solutions? Have we taken assessment and made a conscious choice to shape the function of the architect in the 21st century?

Or are we accepting these cheap punches as though they didn’t happen, as though they didn’t matter? Are some of them more poignant and urgent than others?

Isn’t it about time for some intelligent conversations? Not doom and gloom, and certainly not a bed of roses. But the ability to look at the territory ahead and see how we can most fleetfootedly adapt and contribute.

“When one faces the fold [of transformational change], one is relieved of the intellectual dishonsty involved in holding either branch of the fold as a single-point forecast. One is relieved of the naivete of callow optimism, even as one is spared the amoral defeatism of the all-knowing cynic.

“You have looked at the dark side; you have seen the very real risk; and stil lyou are able to move ahead constructively.” Jay Ogilvy (2011)

What’s my proposal?
Architects are a gentle, genteel group, as a rule. And we’ve come a long way based on society’s need for our services. I’d say that comfortable platform is in trouble. Automation and a massive recession gave all corporations the right to not hire while still staying afloat. Architecture is even more paralyzed, at the extreme, I think it’s fair to say. (and statistically verified.)

Here’s a few ideas about practicing architecture, primarily from a western-centric perspective. I’ll supply more detailed back up eventually.

  1. There may be half as many traditional architects in the next fifteen years.
  2. Contrary to much conversation, you can become reasonably wealthy as an architect.
  3. Licensing and the accreditation process are becoming irrelevant for most practitioners.
  4. When people complain about cities, they blame architects, among others.
  5. There are people who are practicing as future architects today.

I’ll use futures methods to reconsider the profession of architecture, and include some of my experiences and those of many colleagues. By the time we move through the analysis, you might agree with the statements above. Or we will know where we disagree. Eventually, none will surprise you.

At that point, you and I will be looking ahead. We might even be ready to act. Most critically perhaps, we will be more comfortable with the unknowable and uncertainty of the future. The future architect is comfortable with a universe of constant change and able to act responsibly and creatively.

Urbanverse at AIA
First, I’m heading for Washington DC to chum around with some 20,000 of my colleagues at the American Institute of Architects annual convention. If you are there, please come look us up:

  • Thursday 17 May 2012, 2:00-3:30 pm. Architects Who Blog, Room 204A

Be there!

Speak Your Mind

In the meantime, chime in. I’ll welcome long and short posts.

What are the biggest problems in architecture and for architects? Do you have the career of your dreams? What opportunities will emerge? What do you care about? Does architecture matter?

I’ll be responding to ideas, and incorporating in the next postings.

  • Use #futureofarchitects on twitter.

Thanks much for reading the entry blog on Welcome!


Martin Luther King #mlk #futrchat



“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it… History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” Dr Martin Luther King Jr

Few expressed the problem of sitting on the sidelines as eloquently as Dr King.

(Image: University of Connecticut)

Urban Futures, Language of #Architecture: How will you change 21st c #cities?

Yesterday, I presented to the Introduction to Architecture class of 2017 at the University of Kansas School of Architecture. What do you suppose they will find when they graduate? What world will they work in over the next forty or fifty years of their career?

Most importantly, what will they each do to change the trajectory of cities? What will they design and build? Where and how will they live?

View more presentations from Cindy Frewen Wuellner

How do you think about the future?

I talked with them first about how to think about the future. I figure that college freshmen are unlikely to be exposed to futures thinking and methods. They got a sampling – types of change, the S-Curve, various macro-history theories of change, and how to apply it to their lives and work. Probable, plausible, and preferred futures with the broad thinking of STEEP scanning and the depth of causal layered analysis.

What do you think might happen?
Few, maybe none had heard of megacities. Really. When I said cities of 10 million or 3 billion more people by 2050, I wonder what that meant to them. Aging, urbanization, various countries growth projections might have just been whah whah whah. They were bright, following along, but i wonder now how those numbers might have been made more real. yet, frankly, it was for context. I’d rather give them the firehose and then they can pick up what has meaning.

Limits to growth I think made more sense. Peak oil, water shortages are realities that they have already heard about. Surely, yes? 21st century living centers on rising prices in food, water, and energy. And this is their century, really even more than mine. I’m a half century person – half in the last millennium, half in this one. Their lives will be entirely spent in the 21st c. They are the first generation to say that.

We talked density, bigger houses, different kinds of transportation. Its fascinating, yes? It will be, I hope they believe that. or maybe I was deep into my own little slice of infinity by this point? seeds, baby, they were absorbing seeds in their brains that will sprout when watered. I’m hoping…

What kinds of cities will you make?
More than anything else, I wanted them feel their place in the world, in space and time, the intersection. And a lot of it is understanding what choices are being made by others, and what choices you make, the contributions, knowingly or unknowingly. Some of it’s scary, I already made that point, probably 1000 times over and some is shockingly cool. Right now, there’s people who are creating, building, living the future today. Astonishingly inventive. this third part is probably my finest…

1. The city as language

Mythic, metaphoric cities. language is more than words, it’s visual, experiential. Living cities, beauty with meaning, people first, making cities more human, less mechanical.

2. The social city

Where IRL meets virtual, means people/you are the manipulators. The dumb city gets smart and social. the explosion of mobile phones brings the internet into the streets. Augmented realities give maps, twitter, sensors, and layers of information. its transformational. NYC phantom city tour, don’t miss that. Heads up display like Vinge’s Rainbows End. For architecture and cities, the implications are huge.

3. Co-creating the city

With the Underbelly Project in abandoned subways in NYC, the artist JR who covers whole walls of favelas with gigantic haunting women’s faces, people that make their cities more inviting by volunteer, clandestine gardening and benches, beyond graffitti. Art that enlightens and inspires. Media facades that make surfaces explode with color, patterns, ideas.

4. Steady state cities

How do we measure quality? We talked triple bottom line, the idea that cities are more than economic engines. They are people first, and should be environmental producers, not consumers. most livable, lovable, walkable, greenest, and all of it affecting the choices we make.

5. Urban diplomacy

How does a city like LA with 17 million people, 200 municipalities, five counties, five watersheds co-exist? Who owns the water? Who owns the skyline? the sidewalk? who makes transportation choices.

Linus Pauling legacy
When I was at the University of Kansas in the dark ages, 1970s, Linus Pauling, the Nobel prize winning physicist, told us ten ways we could destroy the planet. Population, nuclear, air pollution, starvation, water shortages, flooding, poisoning the oceans, trash. Yes, he swore we could create Death by Trash. He blew my mind.

I gave a feast, a firehose of ideas to a shiny group of bright people with fresh minds in a reasonably functional room on the third floor of Strong Hall. Where will they be in 2050? And what will they build?

Many thanks to Dean Gaunt
Thank you, Dean John Gaunt, for trusting me with your class of new architecture students. I enjoyed the experience and hope you and the students gained.

Future of Design #futrchat follow up


Last Thursday, I co-hosted the tenth Association of Professional Futurists (APF) futrchat on twitter. Since we set up the Profuturists posterous blog, I haven’t been cross posting those chat blogs here. I should have, especially given this month’s topic, the Future of Design. Maree Conway was my co-host and Design Intelligenceserved as the first geo-host. They were simply fantastic, thank you both!

futrchat experience
In one hour, ninety people from eleven countries posted over 800 comments. Participants came from many backgrounds, futurists, foresight professionals, architects, designers, planners and emergent thinkers of all types. Big business like IBM and Cisco, media like Architecture Record and Reed Construction Data, and institutions like American Architecture Foundation, American Institute of Architects, and International Interior Designers Association came. Plus a slew of brilliant individuals.

And we had a blast. It’s hard for me to describe the onslaught of asynchronistic, collective intelligence experienced at this firehose wide-open pace. You simply cannot digest it all during the chat. Now the ebook seems very calm, orderly. and takes only a bit of time to skim. In contrast, the futrchat experience is not orderly; it’s flat-out chaotic. Yet relevant, useful ideas emerge. You can find patterns and threads. It’s a window into many other worlds through links and exchanges. And ultimately, it simply gives you insights and perspectives from so many people that would be otherwise impossible to access without extreme effort.

We covered design in the broad sense of design and design thinking that applies to objects as well as organizations and issues. One of the questions even dealt with economics – Can design shape future economics? 


Future of Design ebook

Here’s the ebook of the conversation. I generated a table of contents and list of links that were mentioned, indexed participants names/twitter accounts at the back and highlighted some of the best comments, although not all, there’s many others that are equally valuable.

You can read the Future of Design futrchat in the cool ebook format (which I recommend as a higher quality reading experience, and regrettably cannot be embedded here) or by pdf below.

Thanks to all that came to the Association of Professional Futurists futrchat. Next month’s futrchat will be Thursday 18 August 4:00-5:00pm ET/NYC; 9:00pm BST/London; Friday 6:00am Sydney. It’s open to all.

More resources
Before the event, I posted a blog about the future of design on the Profuturists posterous.
After the event, I posted a follow-up blog on the Profuturists posterous.
Previously on this blog, I’ve covered design futures.
And I have a number of links about design on delicious that are worth seeing.

Your ideas — 
If you had been there, or if you were there, what would you say about the future of design? Do designers need to be futurists, or do we even have a claim in that space? Are futurists necessarily designing? Is design innovation essential for us to survive on this planet? What do you think?

image: Seed Cathedral  detail, UK Pavilion Shanghai Expo 2010 by Thomas Heatherwick architect
Bourdeaux Water Gardens by Catherine Mosbach 

Download this file


The Future of Disasters – Futurists Twitter Chat Thursday 4:00-5:00 EDT #apf #futrchat

The Association of Professional Futurists (APF) is hosting its sixth twitter chat on Thursday, 24 March, 2011 from 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. EDT. hashtag: #futrchat. You can find information about the first five here(education, money, work, transportation, big questions.)

  • Note: due to Daylight Savings Time in the US, London is 8:00 pm Thursday and Sydney is 7:00 am Friday.

We are excited to announce a new APF posterous site, Profuturists to explore, document, and engage with each other beyond the monthly twitter chats. Please subscribe, monitor it for conversations, meet other futurists and forward thinkers, and add your thoughts. 

  • March topic: The future of disasters

This month, a cascade of disasters hit Japan. An earthquake begat a tsunami begat a nuclear breakdown. Each seemingly was more devastating that the previous. By some strange twist of fate, every major disaster escalates into a perfect intersection of terrible circumstances. The world watches, horrified and helpless. Australia, Brazil, and New Zealand were already 2011 victims, while Haiti and Indonesia remain in fresh in our memories.


What can we expect of disasters in the future? Can we anticipate disasters with any level of useful accuracy? The biggest question is: how can we be most prepared?

In other words, can disasters be tamed?

Are disasters all about cities?

Writing about the effects on cities, I said that disasters are a way of life in the 21st century. The cost of lives and property increases exponentially in densely packed communities. And still, small town destruction like the tornado that nearly obliterated Greensburg, Kansas can also capture worldwide attention.


Disasters go far beyond our concern with large cities. The mountains of rubble in Port-au-Prince or Christ Church become symbols, as does the baby that is miraculously saved. We open our hearts.

While the loss of ancient Troy or Atlantis wreaked terrible chaos for their people, no one witnessed it 24/7 on global media. Today, a disaster’s magnitude stretches far beyond a personal or regional tragedy. We all watch transfixed and suffer together. The twitter pictures and tweets describing one person’s struggles spread the experience like a drop of iodine in water. To ease their pain, we share it. The tragedy engulfs the world.

The empathic experience

Our attention to disasters springs from our humanity, from who we are. We fear being destroyed and feel great empathy for others’ losses.

While the modern era celebrated rationalism, the 21st century embraces meaning and emotions. We are each a whole self, not separate parts of mind and body. According to Jeremy Rifkin, the embodied experience and our participation with each other “is the key to how human beings engage the world, create individual identity,… and define reality and existence.”

Technologies bring us closer together, we can see and hear the events, and we experience them viscerally. 9/11 might have been the first globally-shared trauma; Japan’s earthquake is the most recent. With increasingly frequent disasters of greater magnitude, more infrastructure and possessions to lose and far more people in harm’s way, we collectively join the tragedy, everywhere, all at once.

The conversation about disasters shapes the way that we prepare. Who influences it- the loudest voices, most credible, most powerful? How are resources allocated? What is excellent preparation and response? Or negligent response? Why do some places recover and others collapse? Guy Yeoman, APF futurist, posted some useful references.


The future of disasters

As we see these disasters and their devastation with increasing force and frequency, will we learn? What will be the larger impact of Japan’s quake/flooding/nuclear trifecta? Or Haiti, New Orleans, or Indonesia’s catastrophes? What about the recent floods in Australia and earthquakes in New Zealand?

Can we reduce the severity of events or losses? Can we afford the protections that mitigate damage? How will we decide who or what gets protection and what does not? Will early warning systems improve? Will we abandon some cities, admitting they are not fit for human settlements, feeding the wave of disaster refugees? Will people learn to be smarter or more fearful? Are disasters a new form of overly consuming fear? Are our empathic actions sustainable or will people choose isolationism?

At a personal level, do you live in harm’s way? How well prepared is your city or your family? Do you consider disaster risk when relocating?   


Please Join Us – an open tweet chat


You are welcome to join the APF #futrchat and voice your views about the future of disasters. We’ve hosted chats on the future of education, the future of money, the future of work, the future of transportation, and big questions about the future. These chats are fast and intense.  

Jennifer Jarratt and I will co-host, asking the formal questions and follow ups. Please ask questions that come to you, add links (if they pertain and are not promotional ads), and teach, inform, persuade, enlighten, or provoke us.

What do you think about the future of disasters?  

Join us on Twitter by searching for #futrchat. Please use #futrchat in your tweets, and the Question #, as Q1, Q2, Q3 etc.

As alternative to, you can use tweetdeck and search for futrchat (may work faster without the hashtag symbol). Or here are two sites where you join the chat.

Images: baby saved in Japan, UK Daily Mail; disasters by country, CRED; Greensburg Kansas.

Big Questions About the Future – Futurists Twitter Chat Thursday 4:00-5:00 EST #apf #futrchat

The Association of Professional Futurists (APF) is hosting its fifth twitter chat   on Thursday, 22 February, 2011 from 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. EST. hashtag: #futrchat. You can find information about the first four here  . (education, money, work, transportation)  

  • The topic is: What big  questions  do we need to ask about the future?

Do we need to wonder about Big Questions?

Initially, I was not a fan of this question for a twitter chat; it’s too unruly, too vague, too, well, BIG, to be addressed in a twitter chat. I discounted its 140 character potential.

Then I read Australian futurist Maree Conway’sblog post. “We need to go to a sort of future space, where we move beyond our knowledge of what’s happened and what’s happening now to explore what’s possible.”

Maree calls this future space the realm of “what if.” Those possibilities, instead of problems which assume something is missing or wrong. “What if’s” imagine alternative futures and open our minds to transformational change. By inquiring about the future in a curious and exploratory way, we see beyond today’s realities.

That’s an exciting proposition that promises to expand my futures images. Count me in.

Jugular Questions About the Future

Arno Penzias, Nobel prize winning physicist, says, “I went for the jugular question.”


What is a jugular question? Those are the most powerful questions, the why’s and what if’s, not the litanies of everyday life. For example, it’s not what you had for breakfast but


  • in 1930, you had bacon and eggs
  • in 2000 you had whole wheat toast and a banana
  • in 2040 you may eat hydroponic oranges; bananas for breakfast are a distance memory.

The Big Question would be: What values and conditions will shape food in 2040?

Big Questions address how things change, the meaning and purpose, the sweep of social change manifested in our lives. Jugular questions matter; they are systems and values, strategic questions about ethics, choices, and consequences that expose biases and assumptions. Who cares and why? Rather than who’s to blame or what’s wrong.


Big Questions create ripples.

Marilee Goldberg says it’s “when a question is asked inside the current paradigm that can only be answered from outside it.” Big Questions break open our assumptions, and create new sets of ideas, ripples in the water.

Maree details avery clear list of characteristics. Big Questions make us think differently about the future. They stir things up. And they are memorable; they stick with us and haunt us.

We’re not talking about today or even this year. What Big Questions should we ask about 2020, 2030 or 2050? What questions open our minds to future possibilities? Try to imagine you live in 2075, looking back to those years.

  • What Big Questions would we need to ask?
  • What is your jugular question about the future?

Please Join Us – an open tweet chat

You are welcome to join the APF #futrchat and voice your views about Big Questions. We’ve hosted chats on the future of education, the future of money, the future of work, and the future of transportation. These chats are fast and intense. I always learn enormously, like scanning futurists’ brains.

Maree Conway and I will co-host, asking the formal questions and follow ups. Please ask questions that come to you, add links (if they pertain and are not promotional ads), and teach, inform, persuade, thrill, or terrify us.



What do you think are the Big Questions about the future?

Join us on Twitter by searching for #futrchat. Please use #futrchat in your tweets, and the Question #, as Q1, Q2, Q3 etc. 

As alternative to, you can use tweetdeck and search for #futrchat (as I do). Or here are two sites where you join the chat.

Future of Transportation – Futurists Twitter Chat Thursday 4:00-5:00 EST #apf #futrchat #transit

The Association of Professional Futurists (APF) is hosting its fourth twitter chat  on Thursday, January 20, 2011 from 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. EST. hashtag: #futrchat. You can find information about the first three here . (education, money, work) 

Is 21st c transportation just more of the same?


During the 20

th century, transportation innovations exploded. You might even call it the century of transportation. We not only invented new types of vehicles; we created new infrastructure and new lifestyles celebrating them. Technology transformed from walking and animals to bikes, boats, trains, cars, trucks, buses, planes, and spaceships. I even adore some oddities like dirigibles and segways.

High speed transportation is sexy, no doubt about it. We have a love affair with these coolest new gadgets. And it’s cost us immeasurably. Cars in particular caused new development to stretch further and further from city centers. And they use fossil fuels. Both are now seen as huge mistakes.

Embedded as transportation is with energy and politics, arguments in the US may wage battle well into midcentury. Meantime developing countries aim for that middle class image, wanting cars before decent housing and causing traffic jams that last for days. But that’s now.

We want to talk 2020, 2030, 2050 – what will be our needs, what constraints, and what options will we have for transportation?  What does mobility mean in twenty or thirty years?


Backlash and penalties

Slow cities, car free cities, transit oriented development, walkability, smart growth, density, and so many other urban trends tie to strategies to reduce the influence of the car on our lives.

One massive debate is: better cars or live car-free? In fact, better cars such as electric do little to reduce greenhouse gases unless we have power plants that produce renewable energy.

It’s easy to see transportation as a topic of things; vehicles are objects. However, they are deeply integral to our daily lives, affecting how we behave, our friends, where we live and work, how healthy we are, even our personal identities. Are you a walker, a rider, a driver, a co-user, or a telecommuter?


Transportation 21

st century style

How will we travel in 2030 or 2040? What is the impact of the internet, telecommuting, and social media? How will augmented reality, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence change transportation options? How will transportation be different in mega-cities, smaller cities, towns, rural, across the globe, or into outerspace?

What new technologies could transform the way that we travel and commute? What is the impact of life safety, security, and crime on transportation? What new infrastructures are worth the expense and trouble to build? Will sharing bikes and cars go mainstream? Will there be a crash or a wimper after peak oil? What aboutautonomous vehicles, robotics, and road trains? And (wincing), what’s holding back flying cars and jetpacks?


Will transportation transform our lives as it did in the 20

th century? Will we become smarter about choices and their consequences?  Will we choose to ‘un-tech’ our mobility?  Will we choose to stay still?

I bookmarked almost 200 links on the future of transportationhere and 140 on transithere

Please Join Us – an open tweet chat

You are welcome to join the APF #futrchat and voice your views on the future of transportation. We’ve hosted chats on the future of education, the future of money, and the future of work. These chats are fast and intense. I always learn enormously, like scanning futurists brains.

Jennifer Jarratt and I will co-host; Jennifer with intriguing questions and I with ideas, more questions, and retweets. You can do the same, add links (if they pertain and are not promotional ads), and help us think more clearly, more vividly about the future of transportation.  

What do you think about the future of transportation?

Join us on Twitter by searching for #futrchat. Please use #futrchat in your tweets, and the Question #, as Q1, Q2, Q3 etc. 

As alternative to, here are two sites where you join the chat.

Images:Nissan Torii,Shweeb monorail 



21st century cities: D is for Disasters

This month, I’m writing a series: the ABC’s of 21st Century Cities. In previous entries, I explored Artificial Intelligence, Backward Futures  and Co-creation. Today is disasters.

and Brazil are suffering deadly disasters; I hope you recover rapidly and fully.


One year ago, Haiti was devastated by a 7.0 earthquake. Over 300,000 people were killed. The core of Port-Au-Prince was virtually leveled. One year later, less than 5% of the rubble has been removed. One million people remain homeless, living in tent cities.

The first disaster happened on January 12, 2010. The second one is ongoing. It’s a double crime – unsafe construction and terrible response.

For 21st century cities, disasters are a way of life

Do you have a nagging sense that there’s an uptick in disasters? It’s true. There are four times as many natural disasters as twenty years ago. The trend is still climbing.

No one is immune. Fifty poorer countries led by India will suffer the most deaths. A recent report estimates we will see one million deaths a year by 2030 . Industrialized countries will pay more in economic and infrastructure loss, estimated at $157 billion annually.

Disasters are reshaping our human geography.

  •     Over one billion people  in over 100 countries are at risk of becoming climate refugees; 98% live in developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Middle East (pictured Lilypad2 Refugee Floating Island).
  •     The current number of climate refugees is 50 million people, mostly displaced by flooding. By 2050, the UN estimates as many as 200 million climate refugees.
  •     People will migrate to places with food, water, security, education, health, and jobs, away from floods, disease, famine, drought, and conflict.
  •     In the US , the predicted hurricane damage on the gulf coast by 2030 is $350 billion , equal to a Hurricane Katrina every 7 years. New York and Miami  hold the highest risk for massive infrastructure damage.
  •     NBC news reporter Ann Curry’s tweet helped doctors and medicine land at a Haitian airstrip.  Is twitter a robust grassroots communication network ready to serve in disasters?

Have you been caught a disaster?

If so, were you ready? It’s more than just individual procrastination; we even vote to avoid fixing infrastructure.

  •     Elected officials get cheered and then re-elected when they respond to a disaster, as they should. But amazingly, when they beef up infrastructure, they lose elections. For every $1 spent in preparation, we save $15 in recovery.

“The benefits of prevention are not tangible; they are the disasters that did not happen.” Kofi Annan

  •     Nature or humans? Imagine if Haiti’s construction had been quake-resistant? In New Orleans, Katrina wasn’t the killer, a failed levee was. The two are so deeply intertwined, it’s always both.
  •     Mississippi and Alabama, each devastated by Katrina, refuse to enact building codes. Florida suffered 40-50% less damage and fewer deaths.
  •     Some recoveries take half a century, like Berlin. Others leap forward, like London. Still others take centuries and even millennia, like Rome.
  •     Flooding may steal the great coastal cities from future generations; there may not be future “Romes” to serve as historic markers of today.

Can we rebuild better than before?

Some cities revitalize and thrive after a catastrophic event. Others collapse, becoming a shadow of their most robust past. Jared Diamond believes collapse occurs when a society fails to adapt to new ecological or economic environments.

In other words, to recover, a city has to clearly imagine a revitalized future in a dramatically altered landscape and have the capacity and resources to act.

  •     The best time (if there is such a thing) to experience a major disaster is when your country or region is on a growth cycle. The worst is when your city’s in decline already.
  •     Will disasters become the reality tv of tomorrow?
Rotterdam is a miracle of resilience
After a catastrophic flood in 1953, Rotterdam leaders decided to rebuild beyond anyone’s imagination. Forty four years later, the Maeslant Barrier opened. It is an engineering marvel, designed to withstand a 10,000 year flood event.
  • Gumption. Building on Boyd’s OODA decision-making loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act),Vinay Gupta identifies Drive as the missing link between orientation and deciding to act, in other words, leadership and vision.
  • Wrong-mindedness. The most difficult problem is not inaction but wrong-minded action. Is New York rebuilding a 2050 future or a 1950 rehash?
  • Mindfulness. In contrast, after the 1989 earthquake destroyed the massive Embarcadero highway, San Francisco tore it down and re-established access to the bay from the adjacent neighborhoods. They chose a new, unique future.
  • A future of parity. For New Orleans to build a levee system for a 500 year flood event the estimate is $70 billion. The current repair to the levees is costing $15 billion for a 100 year flood. The entire city’s future remains unstable.

Images of the future

A number of organizations are fully mobilized such as the UN’s Resilient Cities program and Architecture for Humanity. Here’s a few still in the future.

  •     Communication networks include our mobile phones. Flying disaster relief robots support a local network.
  •     Video games can aid in preparation and emergency response training.
  •     Sensor networks provide real time data on locations of people and resources.
  •     Mobile hospitals will be flown into remote locations, such as solar airships.
  •    Temporary housing is being designed as prefab or created locally with salvaged materials.
  •     Future housing will be created on-site via 3d printers.
  •     Modular solar power enables off the grid energy.
  •     Geoengineering attempts to turn back atmospheric change to avoid the most extreme consequences of global warming.
  •     Sensors for emergency alert systems continue to improve

 Disaster-ready future cities

Several trends help: localism for food, distributed power especially the use of solar energy, walkable and biking neighborhoods w/ shops and services, DIY initiatives for making things, bartering/trading/sharing networks, communication networks such as twitter and other mobile devices, and so on.  A global push for city response plans, strengthening infrastructure, implementing building codes, and building higher and away from oceans is critical.

  • The 9/11 Report described New York as a failure of imagination. Can imagination help us?
  • The strongest efforts come from within a community. Someone steps up; some vision captures hearts and minds. People begin a million small actions towards recovery.
  • If a catastrophic event hits your city, are you ready? Is your neighborhood? Your family? How will you be safe? How resilient is your city?

Disasters destroy normal. Many cities and communities find their true mission, and rebuild even better. It can be a moment of deep reflection and learning, committing, and inspiring.

The next post, E is for Education. I am failing at my goal to post daily so I will try some new strategies. Thank you for reading, tweeting, commenting!

Images: Disaster historic statistics, Haiti tent city, Rotterdam Maeslantkering, Pakistani flood refugees, Lilypad2 floating city, flying disaster relief robots, video games.


21st century cities: C is for Co-creation

Here’s my January series: the ABC’s of 21st Century Cities. In previous entries, I explored Artificial Intelligence  and Backward Futures. Today is Co-creation.

“People don’t want to consume passively; they’d rather participate in the development and creation of products meaningful to them.” Toffler

What is Co-creation?

Co-creation is so new to city applications that we have to cobble together multiple terms to frame it.

  •     According to Bernd Nurnberger  (@cocreatr), co-creating is “a capability and willingness of a team member to shift roles as driver or passenger, so that the team does reach shared targets.” Future co-creation emerges from open communities where interaction and improvements occur spontaneously.
  •     Collective intelligence   is defined as “the capacity of human communities to evolve towards higher order complexity and harmony, through… variation-feedback-selection, differentiation-integration-transformation, and competition-cooperation-coopetition.” Design charrettes and Gov2.0 such as Open Cities and CityCamps are formal community development efforts and employcrowdsourcing.
  •     Collective wisdom considers “multiple opinions and forms of intelligence. Wisdom in groups is demonstrated by insight, good sense, clarity, objectivity, and discernment rooted in deep caring and compassion.” We connect on political, social, and economic strategies and understand psychological, spiritual and cultural roots.

Co-creating and collective intelligence/wisdom are forming a hybrid movement, a calling to reclaim our participation in groups as positive, useful, healing, life affirming. We alter the way that we see the world in order to solve problems together.

Have you ever considered your city as a place that feeds your soul? And the souls of everyone? That is the mission of co-creation.

What is co-creation for cities?

Design professionals and planners have explored public participation methods for decades, without moving into co-creation.  Co-creation in cities is grounded in two fundamental theories, systems and anticipatory learning.

  •     From Draper Kaufman’s rules for complex adaptive systems: “Everything is connected to everything else. Real life is lived in complex world system where all subsystems overlap and affect each other. You can never do just one thing.”
  •     Anticipatory action learning begins with questioning and is open, inclusive, environmentally sensitive, dynamic, reflective, and occurs in real time. It aims at deep authentic understanding of issues and points of view and frequently leads to transformative change.

How will it work?

Christopher Alexander calls emergent forms of design and construction the timeless way of building. “It is the process which brings order out of nothing but ourselves; it cannot be attained, but it will happen of its own accord, if we will only let it.” Designing a city can be like creating a story; then make a city that fits, not the other way around.

  •     Co-creation depends on new models based on networks, flows of ideas and resources, connections, places, and people. Furthermore, the process is emergent, generative, analytical, dynamic, and reflective.
  •     Co-creation blends human dimensions with technological innovation.
  •     Initially, you will play with virtual representations of cities in data-rich, learning, self-improving game-like virtual environments.
  •     Future co-making and co-constructing, as done in the past and in informal developments now, will be based on adaptive quality of life solutions and responsiveness to people’s needs and aspirations.

How can it happen?

According to Chris Anderson, when rival dance teams challenge each other via Youtube, “crowd accelerated innovation” creates “an upward spiral of invention.” The dancers form a global laboratory of continuous innovation and self-improvements.

Although city development is a long way from dance teams, can you see how the pattern works?  From a collective imagination, designs are grounded in place, drawn from and by the community and experts. As you design, you publish, and others build on it, constantly improving locally and virtually.

Several urban trends fuel this paradigm.

  •     New urbanism and transect patterns reshape urban patterns reduces gaps between buildings. The city assumes a more organic feel.
  •     Prefab and self-constructed cities take the movement one step further. Cory Doctorow illustrated this scenario in Makers.
  •     Automation, social technologies, resource limitations, prefabricated and self-constructing parts, and the huge collective global imagination will make formal processes obsolete.
  •     Cities need to attract people. We will comparison shop different cities and know the differences.
  •     We are more aware of the consequences of lifestyle choices in part due to sustainability debates and will insist in more responsive development.
  •     Some cities will continue to build in formal patterns and structures.

When co-creation creates better cities, makes designing cities better, developers, bankers, experts, and government officials will agree. Eventually traditional processes will be seen as too cumbersome and slow. We will clamor for a simpler way. Successful cities will employ all their resources to become exceedingly beautiful, responsive and charismatic including the killer app: co-creating.


Lessons from slums

Informal developments or slums grow like herds of wildebeests racing across the landscape of Rio, New Delhi, and Lagos. A sanctioned construction site creates discontinuity. Then one informal dwelling begins, then another and another. Soon a mass of dwellings swarm across the terrain. And once there, they stay.

Dharavi slums in Mumbai have tightly woven patterns with frequent open social spaces.

  •     The community is vibrant, dynamic, interactive, and constantly tinkering with built environment.
  •     Like Venice centuries before, the density of the place creates its own emergent form that only its residents know.
  •     While the Mumbai slums are terribly dangerous examples of life safety and few formal rights, the architecture is feeds the community.

In contrast, public housing in LA does nothing to spark social life; you might say the same thing about traffic congestion, strip malls, and bland subdivisions. When we supply unhealthy boxes for people to live in, they lose their sense of worth and connectedness.

  •     The key to co-creation is weaving together resources of users and experts. We all constantly adapt and improve. No building is ever done.

“To use a building is to make it, by physical transformation or by inhabiting it in ways not previously imagined or by conceiving it anew.” Jonathon Hill

City stories and other radical acts of reclaiming place

Like the informal development in emerging markets, DIY/co-created cities reveal people’s concerns and their solutions. Daniel Pink calls this phenomenon “high concept, high touch.” In the modern, information era, people used their left brain, rational thinking. In the 21st century conceptual age, we tune into our right brain, creative ideas.

We need to put storytelling back into our cities.

  • Underbelly Project, New York City artists took an abandoned subway and secretly created artwork on the surfaces. The installation was open for one night to a select few.
  • German Guerrilla Bench appears to be a transformer and opens into a bench.
  •     Sydney Opera House Media Façade portrays the future of media installations. With a projector, you can add messages and images across the face of a building.
  •     Guerrilla Gardening in median strips and other unclaimed spaces beautifies forlorn streets.
  •    Container City stacks shipping containers into a stunning mixed use village.
Would you want to co-create a neighborhood or district?

Is a co-created future one that you would welcome? On the one hand we just want our cities to work well for us, to live  in an area that is beautiful, healthy, and suits our lifestyle. Yet seeing a group of people around the world improve cities again and again. Having the city, designers, and developers working as partners would be thrilling. A constantly better place to live. When we see the city as a whole, we begin to understand deeply grounded interconnections. We stop wasteful development patterns and use limited resources including ourselves towards the greater good. Far from a Pollyanna approach, it’s survival. In our healthiest, most sustainable, life affirming forms, cities and people will be constellations of connections, linked through unanticipated discoveries.

Next article, D is for Disasters.

Images: VM Mountain Dwellings by BIG on ArchDaily; Give a Minute Chicago Civic Engagement Project on Sustainable Cities Collective. More reading: participation,co-creating.