Lately I find myself continually referencing an article from The Urbanist magazine (published by SPUR*) called “Adapt, Transform, Reuse”. It outlines how a city can modernize to accommodate an evolving population, while still honoring and preserving historical architecture and aesthetics.
“New buildings can help reinforce older urban forms and old buildings can be re-imagined to serve new uses. It is the juxtaposition of old and new that gives cities their interesting corners, their urban surprises, their texture.
Imagine a city where time has stopped — no new buildings are allowed to be built, and the ones that do exist must retain their original use. Such a city would lose its vitality due to lack of change.
Imagine another city where no old buildings or forms are retained— everything is torn down and built new. This second city would also lack vitality but for another reason — because it has no history, no soul.”
In an era of keeping costs to the bare minimum and profits to the absolute maximum, developers notoriously cut corners with simple, cookie-cutter, ugly design and uber-cheap materials. This makes for really ugly, soul-less cities and communities.
So, clearly, there is an opportunity and need to create beautiful integrations of old and new. The question is simply (haha) how much old and how much new. ”People have passionate feelings about their environment, sometimes expressed as a love for the buildings or landscapes that currently surround them, other times as a desire for change.” You will be hard-pressed to find design solutions that make everyone happy.
Nonetheless, assuming there is compromise from both historians and modernists, The Urbanist article outlines key ways that we can bring new life to old buildings to accommodate the ever-changing city:
So, there you have it: Honoring historical architecture and design 101. Yep, old and new can co-exist. Modern hip design can accentuate historical city-soulful design, and vice-versa. I’ve heard that The Urbanist‘s publisher SPUR* has done a great job at helping advise developers and the city planning commission to ensure we keep these principles in mind. I’m so grateful San Francisco has such a kick-ass organization doing great work.
SPUR actually just opened a San Jose brick-and-mortar headquarters as well. Oh, if only they had done that in the 1970s, I bet we wouldn’t have the atrocity of ugliness and paved-over prime farmland that is Silicon Valley. Better late than never!
And, if we could get suburbia (aka the land of Maxi-Malls) to adopt these principles as well…
For details and more examples on the methods above, read the complete “Adapt, Transform, Reuse” article from The Urbanist.
I’m going to go on a limb and say that Education and Learning Systems – reform, methodologies, and application to all sectors – are going to be at least partially the holy grail for saving this f’d up world (does that sound negative?).
When the world’s systemic problems are so complex and solutions are even more elusive, it’ll depend on much more effectively sharing knowledge among those working in each sector to devise high-impact strategies, and designing new education platforms and methods to disseminate this valuable information to those who need it: the media, those with capital, and, ultimately, the commons.
Until then, I think all of this change-making will keep going a bit slowwwwwww. Through intelligent dissemination of knowledge, we can empower the 99% and accelerate progress! I hope that someday Catalyst Commons can expand and grow to help in that regard.
Who else is working on new learning systems for this purpose? I would love to learn more.
I wrote this in 2011, but am posting it here after being inspired by Antoine Moore’s comments to “How to become a Change Maker? Can you be transparent & co-creative AND make money?“
I’ve been a part of the extended “Next Edge” community for over a year, and something is seriously wrong when this incredible pool of hyper-intelligent, accomplished, generous individuals are typically making much, much less than they did or could in the corporate world.
It makes perfect sense that the prevalent single-bottom-line society would pay well since it’s all about the money, but c’mon.
There are undoubtedly many reasons for this trend fact that most do-gooders are poor, but these come to mind right now:
- The industry of “change-making” (read: improving the world vs destroying it) is undercapitalized. The End. Ok, there’s more…
- People who voluntarily leave the high-paying corporate world to “do good work” are obviously not as driven by money and therefore don’t demand equivalent pay.
- Many of us who’ve been in the space for a while are traumatized by difficult fundraising experiences, and therefore undersell ourselves to just close the deal. “Hey! For the bargain price of $89,999, our team of six will work full-time for a year!”
- The community of change-sector consultants and workers are a kind of extended group of friends who are tight-knit, friendly, and typically spiritually and/or emotionally and/or psychologically aware. This is not an easy environment to demand ask each other nicely for more money, even if we know we’re worth it.
- Foundations, impact investors and individuals don’t have systems or metrics to analyze change-sector funding opportunities and their impact. Thus, they resort to “blind” charity-vibed contributions (regardless of whether they are literally charity donations or patient capital donations investments). Thus, the “change-making industry” is [sub-]consciously viewed as one big monster charity initiative instead of a lucrative business opportunity. Sure, there likely won’t be a major exit like a venture capital investment, but there is still money to be made doing good. Thus, founders and execs often make less because they’re seen as quasi-social workers who notoriously have made and sadly may continue to make peanuts.
I’m sure there are other insightful reasons why too. These are at the top of my head from reading and meetings lately. David Hodgson et al’s plans for “Project X” may help remedy this – at least for consultants. It’s a great idea, and I hope they succeed for all of our sake.
Note: David’s “Project X” changed models and is now more of a cross-organizational think tank.
Yesterday I arrived in Haleiwa, on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. I’m staying for a week with Ele Fong, a California native who recently relocated to this much more relaxed, tropical environment, and who offers a room in her airy house listed on AirBnB. As a first welcome, we went to happy hour at Luibueno’s Mexican Seafood & Fish Market, and unexpectedly talked about her calling to make an impact in this world.
It all began for her while majoring in cross-discliplinary Gender Studies at UCLA, where she had a visceral (negative) response learning about the mistreatment of women and children around the world, and its correlation with socio-economic status. This was like the seed or, as she says, the passion in her heart. Over the next more than 10 years, she made up her mind to explore various jobs around this humanitarian theme: counseling children (she has a masters in counseling), working at shelters in San Francisco, ministering weddings, and more… At one point, she sold tea for a commercial Japanese tea company, a time she says she was the most lost.
But then, she recalls, in December 2008 relaxing in her Larkspur home by the fireplace, it hit her so crystal clear in her body and heart that she would create a revenue-generating business around tea that would fund a school and programs for women and children so they had viable alternatives to human/sex trafficking.
The business would be called the Goddesses of Tea, and it would spotlight and empower all the women around tea: growers, makers, distributor buyers, and drinkers — because tea allows the drinker to embody all the goddess characteristics of a woman: to quiet yourself and relax, connect with spirit, and nurture yourself and others. Funds from the tea business would then support programs on-the-ground in the countries that produce tea – directly impacting these impoverished rural regions and providing safe, economic alternatives to selling yourself or your children for cash.
Bam, just like that, the seed passion turned into a concrete vision and, as she says, doors keep opening and things unfold bringing her closer to making this dream a reality. Next up are rev-generating tea tours, where she will bring small groups with her for eco-educational tours as she develops more relationships with the tea growers and makers in Asia, and identifies where the future schools may be. (I also have to give props to my uncle Fu-Tung’s business Teance, as she just visited with his business partner Winnie as part of her research. Small world!)
ANYWAY. Hearing about how her vision came to her in a flash with no thinking at all reminded me of how I dove into sustainable agriculture. At the time, I was actually painstakingly trying to develop a travel program for malleable American teenagers, so they could be exposed to other cultures and perspectives, when I had my “flash crystal clear calling”. In July 2002, I was en route back to the States after living in London when I had a layover at JFK and skimmed Fast Food Nation and Kitchen Confidential. Aside from seeking out organic foods in London from a purely non-chemical freshness perspective, I had never even thought about farmers. And yet, reading about the demise of ethical and environmental food production and quest for quality ingredients in these two books, I knew without a doubt that I was going to create an organic farm-to-restaurant co-op in San Francisco.
Literally the day after I arrived back home, I went to the Green Street Farmers Market (now the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market) and signed up seven organic farmers right off the bat. That week, I signed up five more organic farms and within two weeks I had enlisted chefs from 17 of the top restaurants I had always loved. It was oddly too easy. By the end of August, the Om Organics co-op was started.
That’s the funny thing. It seems that finding your vocation (which literally means “a call” or “a summons” in Latin) can’t be found with effort or by trying to think about it. It is truly like divine crystal clarity that hits you over the head with inspiration to do something specific, and having things weirdly and magically just fall into place.
As Abraham says: “Inspiration comes forth from within. It’s what the light burning within you is about, as opposed to motivation, which is doing it because if you don’t do it, there will be negative repercussions…Inspiration is having the clear picture of what I am wanting — and letting Universal forces come into play to get the outcome.”
It’s a beautiful thing and a comfort to know that you just have to be clear-headed, heart-centered, and open to listening when your calling may come, and somehow everything you have done up until that point will oddly be perfect prep for your intended work. Eleanor Roosevelt was right on in her quote below, although sometimes a good vacation away from your routine is all you need to be smacked over the head with your vocation.
Recently, my friend Eugene Kim publicly launched a business he has been pilot-testing for the past year called ChangeMaker Bootcamp. It’s basically six two-hour training sessions over the course of six weeks where up to 12 participants learn (and then practice on their own time) principles to “work effectively in groups.”
The premise (which I wholeheartedly believe myself) is that in order to work in the “change sector” or for positive change in general, you can’t be a self-centered, self-serving shmuck. You actually need to learn a new way of doing business from the conventional dog-eat-dog corporate world, and instead – as the ChangeMaker Bootcamp site says – practice:
- Asking generative questions
- Strategic doing
- Listening and synthesizing actively and in real-time
- Navigating group dynamics and difficult conversations
- Designing and facilitating group engagements
- Working transparently
The price for the Bootcamp is $695.
While totally agreeing with the bullets as best practices and “must-learn” topics, the price tag made me question if this could fly.
Is Eugene already well-known and respected as a consultant from Blue Oxen Associates and Groupya? Absolutely. Would some of his past clients vouch for his awesomeness that warrants $695 for one-on-one training? I have no doubt.
And yet, recently Eugene posted on his Facebook wall that he had received some “hostile feedback” from a “surprising source” about the Bootcamp. He and I also had a friendly email exchange about my misconception that because it was called a “ChangeMaker Bootcamp”, I assumed it would contain all the topics to truly become a change maker business person – ie business operations, marketing, financials, etc.
Later in the day, Eugene posted a wonderfully humble and proactive blog post in response to all the constructive criticism from his friends: “Things I Need To Do Better.” In it, among other things, he says he’s considering changing the name, and:
“My twist is that I’m working transparently. I’m sharing the lessons I’m learning — both good and bad — here and as close to real-time as possible. If you watch the exit interviews of past participants, they’re pretty candid about what could be better. I want people to see this, because I want others to learn from my experiences.”
This all reminded me of a conversation I had with two wonderful instructors of a new Laban-based movement workshop for women I did last year (my brother will guest-blog about Laban soon ). There were about 30 of us participating in this brand-spanking new workshop from two very accomplished instructors, and it was very clear that our feedback and ideas were part of their creative process, and therefore shaping the workshop content. It was great. Fun, inspiring and useful in our daily lives. And, totally worth the $400-600 that everyone paid. All but maybe one or two were excited about a follow-up workshop session in the near future.
But then, the future came a few months later, and only one or two of the 30 signed up for the $110 follow-up, so it was cancelled. I talked with a few of the women who didn’t sign up, and everyone (off the record) basically said the same thing: Why should we pay $110 for content that we helped create?
The two fabulous instructors obviously created the core content, and yet we all (including I) felt like $110 was pretty steep despite our paying hundreds more before. Why?
Two key tenets of the social/enviro/self-care movement in the world are transparency and co-creation/collaboration. Both of which are awesome. But, how transparent is too transparent? And, how much should you (as the leader or service provider) need your future customers to come up with your amazing product or service?
I think that, unfortunately, our society is still in a place where we only want to pay top dollar for conventional for-profit not-so-transparent businesses and services. Our society likes the idea of having some brilliant design team come up with a magical product or service and then present it in all its glory to the world to buy. It’s nice to know how the creators did it, but do we really care? Do we want to know how many screw-ups and prototypes it took to create that kick-ass electric sports car, personal activity tracking device, amazing workshop, or other such hot valuable thing? I’m going to say No. If we’re going to pay $X00, $X,000 or $X MM for something, it better be rocking when we get it. I believe that is just how we think.
So, this concept of being transparent about your inherently mistake-laden creative process and requiring your future customers to help you fine-tune your product or service simply doesn’t seem to make sense…if you want to make as much money as conventional single-bottom line businesses. Or, does it? Is there a way to have it all? I’d love to learn about who has done this…!
Tonight I went to a cool social dinner called Innovate Berkeley. It is a monthly meetup where Urban Innovation Exchange (UIX), the HUB Berkeley, and the Office of Economic Development bring folks together, with no real agenda but to enjoy a delicious dinner from a local chef, chat amongst yourselves, and hear a very short talk by an interesting “featured innovator”. Jennifer (I believe), the Sustainable Business Coordinator for the City of Berkeley, explained what a potent combination it is to simply bring the business sector, academia, and the government into the same room.
Tonight the “featured innovator” was Mike North, “celebrity PhD engineer” (really?), who used to host a show on the Discover Channel called Prototype This!, and who is now doing some really cool work with his organization ReAllocate, which “engages world-class engineering and design talent to work real-world problems.” In a way, it’s like Kickstarter where you post your “real-world problem” and hopefully attract smart people to contribute their brainpower for your project resolution.
Already, ReAllocate has done some interesting work crowd-sourcing ingenuity for food storage systems in rural Alaska, clean water systems in Nepal, and a low-cost treatment for children with club feet across the world. Until now, it’s clearly been mostly mechanical engineering projects, but how cool to find a way to tap engineers of all types, designers, economists, and whomever else to help solve your change-making business problems. (Would love to crowd-source the mastermind engineers and designers of the world to figure out how to quickly/easily/cheaply set up infrastructure and operations for regional food aggregation and distribution, and low-cost customized and/or modular equipment for smaller scale farmers, but that is a dream for another day.)
As Mike explained: What amazing things you can do when you engage the community to validate and co-design solutions. So, that’s Great Idea #1.
Great Idea #2 came up while eating delicious food from Hugh Groman (owner of Phil’s Sliders, Hugh Groman Catering & Green Platters) and chatting with Alan (aspiring Maker entrepreneur), Polly Armstrong (CEO of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce - yes, I just linked to their Yelp page! They want to turn the Chamber into an Innovation Community Center, how cool), and Bob Fukushima (landscape architect & San Leandro food justice advocate).
Cutting to the meat of the conversation… Question: what do these all have in common:
- Local businesses who can’t stay in business paying staff as much as minimum wage.
- Restaurant owners who hire 10 part-time staff so they don’t have to pay health benefits for 5 full-time staff, even when managing 10 staff is much more burdensome.
- Service people working multiple part-time minimum wage + tips jobs as a standard.
- Farmers who don’t know profit margins or cost-benefit analysis re: which channel to sell their products through, and running ragged juggling order processing, truck deliveries, and staffing for the myriad channels.
- Grocery stores that can’t afford to manage fresh flower inventory and therefore put all the inventory costs and liability on the supplying farmers, who then go out of business.
- Produce distributors whose margins are so tight, they milk supply and demand dynamics by marking up scarce product prices more than 200% when it’s actually available for half the price to buyers through other channels.
Answer: If each of these businesses had a CFO to help with basic financial analyses of their operations, at least half – if not most – of their problems would disappear. Obviously, the business model in itself has to be sound. And, just crunching the numbers certainly won’t ensure your business success. But, at least with a CFO-type person helping to identify profit centers, helping cut “dead wood” (read: activities or operations that are bleeding the operation dry), and calculating optimal pricing and inventory based on actual historical/market data, these enterprises would have a much higher chance for survival.
What would it take to disseminate CFO skills applicable to these fundamental industries, and fast? How hugely impactful that would be. The government’s Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) were created to do this, but they are falling far, far short.
How to develop new ways of teaching business and financial skills to the masses? Informal learning networks, I’m going to say, layered on community development networks, oh yes!
First off: What is Corporate Personhood?
Long story short, the US Constitution entitles Americans to various rights, but due to a type of “loophole” in the Constitution’s wording, corporations are also considered a human person, and are therefore granted the same right as individual people. This then has been shown to enable corporations to legally do bad things. Bad things = business doings that hurt people financially, environmentally and/or socially. (Want more info on Corporate Personhood in the form of an entertaining movie? Watch The Corporation.)
The Missed Opportunity: Horrible ‘branding’ to fix this.
So, I went to the Temescal Festival last weekend, and there were five smart and passionate people working the Move To Amend booth. Sure, there were some people curious enough (like me) to ask them what they were all fired up about. But, many more walked by cautiously, confused what had gotten the booth workers’ knickers in a twist.
Activists are in no short supply in the SF Bay Area, and most people are not psyched to stop and learn about every single issue and sign a petition.
When you’re trying to engage regular people, why not use wording and branding that is blatantly obvious? Working to improve the world, let’s make our job easier, not harder.
An example of a great campaign (imho) with easy-to-understand, accessible wording was around getting companies to label GMOs. The main efforts were the Just Label It and Right To Know campaigns. Sadly, it ended up not passing in California, but didn’t it get a ton of great press and votes? (Answer: Yes.) There’s a reason… It was easy-to-understand.
Food for Thought when targeting regular people:
- Brand your campaign in words that people totally new to the issue will understand.
- Set up your site, so a new visitor can learn in one glance what the issue is and why they should care.
- Don’t assume people know wtf you’re doing and why. Assume they don’t.
- Just sayin’.
Seems people are learning the most from films (and online media) these days. With this in mind, here’s some good starter curriculum about what’s going on in the world… There are obviously MANY more than this, but I’ve only included those I recommend as far as general education and which I know about…
These are serious but entertaining reality checks:
- Margin Call: 2011
“fictional” story about the financial crisis of 2008
- Gasland: 2010
fracking and our water supply
- The End of the Line: 2009
the seafood industry, and the damage below the water’s surface we can’t see
- Tapped: 2009
environmental & economic repercussions of bottled water
- Food Inc.: 2008
agriculture & food
- Who Killed The Electric Car?: 2006
why they died and are now coming back
- The Inconvenient Truth: 2006
- The Future of Food: 2004
agriculture & food
- The Corporation: 2003
what goes wrong when the Constitution treats corporations like individuals
These are inspiring/happy coverage:
- Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry: 2012
artistic freedom, free speech & China
- Pina: 2011
movement & dance
- Making Mirrors mini-documentary: 2011
Gotye & the creative process
- I am: 2010
what’s wrong & what we can do about it
- Exit Through the Gift Shop: 2010
street art ‘movement’
I’d love to know which films cover:
- Renewable energy obstacles/status
- Textiles and clothing/retail industry
- Construction and building industry
- Urban planning
What - while I’m posting the SPUR post, the PBS News Hour segment “Money $ense” aired a short piece about teaching musicians how to be business people. Heck yes. It has never seemed sustainable for such grand, expensive productions (sitting on expensive real estate), such as opera, symphony and ballet,to operate on donations and grants and expensive ticket prices. There are so many things wrong with that equation when so many people say that we need to make the arts more affordable and accessible to the ‘common man’. What if there were a way to fund the arts via market-based solutions and new business models. Oh yes…
The need for new business models and more business skills doesn’t only apply to musicians and artists either. My younger sis, Stephanie, has always expressed her wish for more business courses in medical school. Presumably, many doctors will want to start their own private practice, but they are not prepared at all to do so. How about we set them up for success from the get-go?
How many other needed professions in the world could use a business model and/or business training revamp?
As the Money $ense segment describes: Artists (and doctors and…) need skills in marketing, communication, sales, management, fundraising and bookkeeping, in addition to their craft.
For some reason, the PBS site only has the earlier “Starving Artists” episode posted. Maybe they will later post about how to help them not starve… Here were a few memorable quotes:
- From the guy who used to run telethons for PBS, and who now teaches business classes at Juilliard: “[Music] is an art. And it’s also a business… There’s no way around it.”
- Artists are now “required to create their own jobs, and design their own careers”.
- From the Allentown Symphony Conductor about young artists’ survival (majorly paraphrased): “Artists have a talent and magic about them, which is why they are attracted to it. Now, they have to learn to translate that magic into [financial] support.”
I love the idea of turning the whole perception and business of arts and culture on its head. It’s way too valuable and essential to a happy society than people maybe realize.