Category Archives: Adaptation

Traffic Safety: Regulation vs. Self-Organization

Drachten picture from spiegel nov 2006 European traffic planners are moving away from signs and regulations to increase traffic safety. Rather than legislating space for cars they are requiring drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists to think about what they are doing rather than obeying signs. This approach appears to fit many resilience principles – for example – allowing many small disturbances makes the overall system more resilient.

In a Nov 2006, Spiegel magazine article Controlled Chaos: European Cities Do Away with Traffic Signs:

“We reject every form of legislation,” the Russian aristocrat and “father of anarchism” Mikhail Bakunin once thundered. The czar banished him to Siberia. But now it seems his ideas are being rediscovered.

European traffic planners are dreaming of streets free of rules and directives. They want drivers and pedestrians to interact in a free and humane way, as brethren — by means of friendly gestures, nods of the head and eye contact, without the harassment of prohibitions, restrictions and warning signs.

A project implemented by the European Union is currently seeing seven cities and regions clear-cutting their forest of traffic signs. Ejby, in Denmark, is participating in the experiment, as are Ipswich in England and the Belgian town of Ostende.

The utopia has already become a reality in Makkinga, in the Dutch province of Western Frisia. A sign by the entrance to the small town (population 1,000) reads “Verkeersbordvrij” — “free of traffic signs.” Cars bumble unhurriedly over precision-trimmed granite cobblestones. Stop signs and direction signs are nowhere to be seen. There are neither parking meters nor stopping restrictions. There aren’t even any lines painted on the streets.

“The many rules strip us of the most important thing: the ability to be considerate. We’re losing our capacity for socially responsible behavior,” says Dutch traffic guru Hans Monderman, one of the project’s co-founders. “The greater the number of prescriptions, the more people’s sense of personal responsibility dwindles.”

In 2004 Wired Magazine had an article about Hans Monderman:

Hans Monderman is a traffic engineer who hates traffic signs. Oh, he can put up with the well-placed speed limit placard or a dangerous curve warning on a major highway, but Monderman considers most signs to be not only annoying but downright dangerous. To him, they are an admission of failure, a sign – literally – that a road designer somewhere hasn’t done his job. “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.”

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Emergent Adaptation: Street Use

USSR aerial Kevin Kelly, author and former editor of Whole Earth Review and co-founder of Wired as well as board member of Long Now Foundation, has a website Street Use that “features the ways in which people modify and re-create technology”, or examples of what William Gibson described as “The street finds its own uses for things.” Examples include community payphones, Prison Knives, Soviet household innovation, and IEDs.

Similarly, Jan Chipchase blogs on Future Perfect about how people adapt technology, based upon his user research for Nokia.

Other writing on grimmer technological adaptations are:

Building more resilient neighborhoods

Elena Bennett writes:
If, as Alex Steffen argued recently on World Changing, increasing neighborhood resilience is important, how can we go about ensuring that our communities are resilient as possible? Steffen writes, for example that, “Communities which have been designed to be walked and biked rather than driven can better withstand a disruption in the supply of gas.”

The Orion Grassroots Network has a new member, an informal organization that could increase neighborly communication, effectively making communities more resilient. The organization is called the Professional Porch Sitters.

The group was started by Claude Stephens (a.k.a. Crow Hollister) in Louisville, KY, who writes:

“There are no dues, no membership requirements, no mailings, no agenda, no committees, no worries. PPS believes that the radical act of sitting around sharing stories with no specific agenda is critical to building sustainable communities….To become a member you simply need to say you are a member and agree to sit around with friends and neighbors shooting the breeze as often as possible or practical. Preferably on a porch but that’s not critical…

Television and air-conditioning have moved far too many people off their porches and into their homes where they quickly become isolated from their communities. We believe that sometimes the most effective course of action is to sit down and relax while sipping lemonade and sharing stories.”

National Public Radio’s show All Things Considered recently had a story on the merits of porches which mentioned the Professional Porch Sitters in which they write:

“Porches, debate and democracy go together.”

You can find out more about starting your own chapter of the Professional Porch Sitters at the Orion Grassroots Network

Pop-up seasonal housing: adaptive architecture

tideaways planeBuilding long last durable buildings is one way of approaching green building. Another approach, which was discussed in the TechnoGarden scenario of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, is designing ephemeral buildings that are there when needed and removed when they are not, allowing other uses of the land.A new adaptive architecture approach to the design of Irish seasonal houses has been developed by MacGabhann Architects. The project called Tideaways is part of Ireland’s contribution the Venice Biennale architecture exhibition. They propose houses and develops that are designed to respond to changing seasons and housing use.

In a Guardian article Vanishing trick for Ireland’s second homes (Sept 6, 2006) Owen Bowcott writes about the project:

The Tideaways designs refined by the MacGabhanns envisage rows of three terraces on the coast located inside existing communities. The first row would float on pontoons and could be towed to a harbour when unoccupied. The row behind would rise and fall, on hydraulic rams, with the tide; in winter they could be sunk down to ground level, disappearing into the landscape.

The third row would be permanent and would provide homes for long-term residents of the village. The houses, timber or metal-framed, would be mainly two bedroom bungalows.

“Our model would ensure there was less impact on the landscape and better planning in villages. We have not built these yet but the Irish government has been very supportive.

“The proliferation of holiday homes has the potential to destroy the very landscape that attracts people in the first place. Despite being in use only 10-20% of the year, these buildings are visible 100% of the time.”