Posts tagged with: design

At Acton University last week, Anthony Bradley gave a lecture titled, “Beyond the Sustainability Complex.” In his lecture, he explored Christian stewardship and addressed some very common fallacies about sustainability.

Bradley began with this statement: “Being less bad is not good stewardship.” As Christians, we are not called to damage the environment less than our neighbor, but we are called to do good. The main way that we attempt to be “less bad” is through recycling. Bradley spoke at length about the misconceptions surrounding recycling.  It is “downcycling.”  Over time, this process reduces the quality of the reused material and the end product. Bradley gave the example of aluminum cans: a brand new can has a certain ratio of aluminum to other metals and chemicals, but after the can is recycled the ratios change and the new can is of a much lower quality than the first. Eventually the metals can no longer be reused and they are thrown away. Although the material’s life-cycle is lengthened, recyclable products eventually find their way to a landfill. Another issue with recycling is the waste that, ironically, the procedure of recycling produces. According to Bradley, “the process of recycling damages the environment.” Whether cardboard or metal, this course of action creates much new waste. Bradley suggested that it might be better for the environment to throw recyclable products in the landfill.

Recycle Reduce Reuse Bradley explained that “sustainability” is the intersection of ethics, economics, and ecology and went on to say that much of the discussion on “sustainability” focuses on waste; the focus should be on design. Bradley cited a book, Cradle to Cradle, and explained that we should create products that are modeled after nature as there is no waste in nature. There is a movement to create products that mimic nature, called “biomimcry.” Bradley gave the example of creating ceramic dishware whose biological and chemical composition is similar to that of shells; once a plate or a tea cup has served its purposes it can be thrown in the sea in a cradle to cradle cycle.

What does Bradley suggest we do about the problem of waste and sustainability? Innovate! Whenever there is a problem, there is an innovator who finds a solution. Bradley encourages anyone worried about sustainability to discuss and research this idea of cradle to cradle products.

If you’re interested in hearing Bradley’s lecture, you can purchase “Beyond the Sustainability Complex” here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Wired magazine had a lengthy feature in 2004 on a new brand of transit design, specifically the kind that eschews signage and barriers, preferring instead more subtle signals.

In “Roads Gone Wild,” Tom McNichol profiles Hans Monderman (now deceased), “a traffic engineer who hates traffic signs.”

Monderman’s point of departure is that human interaction (e.g. gestures, eye contact) are preferable to explicit signage or signals that indirectly excuse us from conscious concern about our fellow travelers. “The trouble with traffic engineers is that when there’s a problem with a road, they always try to add something,” Monderman says. “To my mind, it’s much better to remove things.”

Monderman's Drachten Intersection

Drachten's busiest intersection after Hans Monderman.

Monderman’s design philosophy is to embrace chaos, and it’s effective because it allows for a kind of spontaneous ordering to occur. As McNichol writes, “The approach is radically counterintuitive: Build roads that seem dangerous, and they’ll be safer.” It is counterintuitive, but it is in accord with what we know about human nature.

Human beings, when faced with danger, instinctively and naturally slow down and assess the threats with heightened sense and attention. Indeed, self-preservation is a constitutive element in the natural law.

There is still an element of planning in Monderman’s designs, but what is remarkable about them is that they embrace what we know about human beings in toto and not for the purposes of some engineered abstraction (such as homo automobilus or some such).

The kind of planning that allows for free and spontaneous interaction and creates space in which this can happen within the larger framework of the rule of law, in markets as well as traffic intersections, end up being the best because they account for the complexities of human nature. The kind of planning that relies on rigid rules and regulatory edifices, whether on Wall Street or surface streets, tend to incentivize the objectification of human interaction, in which we treat each other as simple means, obstacles, impediments, or resources to be plundered.

Recognition of the other as having dignity, as well as the corresponding power to do us good or ill and their own responsibility to act accordingly, is constitutive of a superior design approach.

This kind of approach works, as I’ve said, because we instinctively recognize the worth of other human beings. The same reason that a bus filled with people must wait for a single person to cross an intersection is the same reason that the rule of law must limit majority rule, or absolute democracy. The rights of the individual must be respected, even when the majority must otherwise wait or acquiesce. A bus full of people on their way to a destination must often first wait for a single individual to go on their way.

In political economy, as Lord Acton writes, “The true natural check on absolute democracy is the federal system, which limits the central government by the powers reserved, and the state governments by the powers they have ceded.” And in traffic economy, the true natural check on absolute democracy might well be the spontaneous order arising out of a seemingly chaotic intersection.