Category Archives: social design

Arup Hosts NYC2050

Last Thursday February 24th Arup hosted its’ first NYC2050 event at Green Spaces: an eco and social entrepreneurial co-working space and hub. The event brought together professionals and students from design, technology, and sustainability industries with a vested interest in shaping the future of New York.  The purpose of the event was to bring together a cross-section of stakeholders from various areas and to facilitate an interactive conversation on how to co-design and co-create a better New York in 2050.

The event began with an overview of ground-breaking Arup projects to showcase our  global leadership and investment in innovation. We then kicked off the conversation with a panel of visionary experts drawn from a range of sectors. The panel included Aaron Koch, a senior advisor with New York City Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, Sonali Sridhar, a senior interaction designer formerly with the Open Planning Project and currently with R/GA, Jackrit Watanatada, a managing partner with KJK Climate Investments, Molly Wright-Steenson, a Princeton PHD candidate and digital strategist, and Sarah Rich, a writer/editor and co-founder of Longshot Magazine and the Foodprint Project.

Panelists highlighted the challenges and opportunities that New York City may face heading into 2050.  Sonali Sridhar shared some compelling maps that highlight the challenge of educational and racial disparity, and the promise of integration.  Molly Wright-Steenson raised the issue of obsolete infrastructure, and the opportunity offered by ubiquitous availability of data, which can be visualized and communicated to lead to productive decisions. Jackrit Watanatada spoke about the importance of small scale change at the local community level and taking small steps towards positive change, as opposed to relying entirely on large-scale institutions. Sarah Rich talked about the uneven distribution of fresh, healthy food and the opportunities presented by mobile devices and innovative distribution mechanisms to connect people with food. Aaron Koch concluded the panel with the City’s predictions of impacts of sea-level rise and the need to design and develop solutions for the challenges ahead.

Following the rich future overview by the panel, we led the audience into ‘NYC Wizard’ an interactive planning exercise focused on brainstorming improvements to the five boroughs inspired by plaNYC.  Participants were asked to highlight their top three priorities among the 10 goals outlined in plaNYC, and then to consider projects they would initiate to address and deliver on the goals.  Stuart Candy, who provided great support as a facilitator and time keeper- asked participants to report back their ideas in short bursts, or ‘Future Flashes’, in the form of public service announcements or news reports. The outcomes ranged from focusing on the efficient treatment and delivery of water to the creation of an indoor living machine in Central Park which would produce 20% of food for city residents. One group looked at creating incentives for interdisciplinary teams to address future housing needs in new, original ways.  Another group decided to take on the earlier climate change predictions by creating a sea wall with ecological benefits and heat island effect improvements around the five boroughs, fully equipped with new transport networks which included barge and kayak alternatives. Finally, one presenter caught the attention of the audience and drew impressed sighs when he announced that in 2050 the air quality, and light pollution would be greatly improved within the city: “its 2050, I’m standing in Times Square, and I can see the stars”.

Organizers of NYC2050 (Francesca Birks, Mayra Madriz) hope to host more focused thematic workshops which continue to draw on the rich professional talent and social capital of the cities where Arup has a presence. Change in New York and other cities will be driven by the intersection of various professions.  As a leader in integrated design, Arup can play a key role in designing and setting up a framework to facilitate and guide the creativity which leads to better cities in 2050.

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Future Communities

Arup Foresight and Arup Healthcare have been working closely with Help The Aged to support their launch of a research report on Future Communities for an ageing society. The half-day conference will take place at Arup London on the afternoon of March 10th and will address topics ranging from climate change and ageing, disaster preparedness, housing for tomorrow, assistive technology, intelligent transport systems and health in a changing world. The importance of inclusive design will definitely be an undercurrent of the conference and hopefully a discussion around what more Arup and Help The Aged can be do to encourage, design, and create a future which is more ageing-friendly.

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Enabling Ageing

A summary of one of the panels I chaired at the 9th International Ageing conference on Reshaping Environments to Enable Older People. The line-up included 6 different talks:

- Reshaping the Environment to Promote Seniors’ Independence: Themes and Observations from the case management literature. Beverley Kelley spoke about the ability to meet the needs of the person through their environment and the imporatnce of positively influencing the health career of adults. What if we were to treat our healths as inidivual health careers? Would we be more diligent? Beverley Kelley also pointed out that much of the case management literature neglects to mention family members and their role as care givers.

- Refuge Island? Is it safe to cross? Yue Li with the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute spoke about pedestrian crossings and how something as simple as the design of a refuge island could prevent premature death and promote wellbeing and independence for the ageing. In 2004 37% of all pedestrian fatalities were among elders compared with 13.4% of the population. In the EU tje incidence is higher at 46%. Yue Li expressed the importance for universal design for all seasons and winters in particular in countries like Canada, where winters are often the toughest test. It was also interesting to hear that people’s compliance to traffic rules is related to temperature with extreme cold often resulting in violation of pedestrian traffic law. 80% of people will try to make the double crossing when it is very cold, 73% when it is hot, and only 56% when it is fair.

- A study on the Solution for the Hearing Disabled Person’s Behavior Limitation at Sandy Beach: Shimpei Kato has observed the physical barriers to those who are hearing impaired. Most environments only address mobility impairment. Shimpei Kato took a look at the ways in which visual cues could be set up to better alert both the hearing impairment and others within the vicinity that could be of help to them.

- Designing a Supportive Living Environment for Older People with Dementia and Thermal Comfort and HVAC Design for People with Dementia: Joost Van Hoof talked about prolonging the stay at home. Those who suffer from dementia are particularly sensitive to their environments. Research on dementia indicates that a person’s perception of capability is more important than cognitive functioning. And while Joost did not imply that the home is the entire cure, he did show how design could prove a useful ally in the attempt to care for those suffering from dementia; something as simple as creating very clear sightlines could allow the carer to always keep tabs on their partner. Joost also showed some 3D visualizations of an ideal dementia environment to allow the audience to see the difference that design can make.

He also talked about temperature and thermal comfort and how dementia sufferers are particularly sensitive to temperature variation. He pointed out the need for nurses and engineers to work with each other to create better thermal comfort for demented patients.

- Accommodating Sensory Aspects of Ageing in the Design of Dwellings: An architect by training Camilla Ryhl addressed the importance of not only giving those suffering from sensory impairment access to fantastic spaces and architecture, but also giving them access to the amazing sensory experience. Moving beyond the need to satisfy functional requirements for the sensory impaired, Ryhl inspired her audience with the importance of making the sensory experience euqally accessible to all.

- Age-Friendly New York City: Findings and Lessons: Ruth Finkelstein shared her research findings of what it is like to grow old in New York City. Many of the older generation decide to stay and grow old in New York because they love the city. NYC is in the process of trying to implement the WHO Age-Friendly cities initiative and spoke of the need to plan for multiple identities and particularities of population. She reminded the audience that just because people get older does not mean they lose their identity as the public often assumes with older individuals. New York City plans to release their Age-Friendly NYC report on September 15th.

All in all the most important take-aways from the conference was the ability of environments and design to influence the experience of ageing, the potential for the grey and green agenda to be equally integrated in all future design and planning, and the need to make ageing a mainstream issue and not a sideline conversation. It was encouraging to hear at the senior officials meeting that there are governments making progressive decisions to enable better ageing of their societies, but as in most cases, for their policies to take real effect, the ageing discourse needs to move beyond government circles to the private sector.

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9th Global Conference on Ageing

Next week Montreal will host the 9th Global Conference on Ageing . The focus of this year’s conference is on ageing and design. The conference has been organized by the International Federation on Ageing. IFA’s President and Co-Chair of the Conference, Irene Hoskins, has said about this year’s programme that “it reflects the importance of ensuring enabling and supportive environments, a key priority set out in the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA)”.

The three-day conference will also include an exposition on ageing featuring some of the latest products and services being developed in the area of enabling environments. Arup’s Director for Global Foresight & Innovation, Chris Luebkeman, will be speaking at the pre-conference event with senior government officials as well as at the Conference’s Opening Plenary session entitled “The New Paradigm: Ageing and Design” on the evening of September 4th.

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Social Design


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“The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%.”

—Dr. Paul Polak, International Development Enterprises

I came across this design book during a critique session with a few design students from Central St. Martin who are working with us to imagine the future of eco-resorts. From May to September 2007 the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Design in New York held an exhibition called Design for the other 90%. Products were developed in particular for the 4 billion people on the planet who live on less than $1 a day. The designers came from leading universities, design consultancies and non-profit organisations in the developed world. Design for the other 90% explores several projects which reflect the growing movement and desire among designers, engineers, students and professors, architects, and social entrepreneurs to design low-cost solutions for the other 90% of our population.

Perhaps further proof that sometimes design can really matter.

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Democratizing Design and the Future

‘The future will be less about predicting it and more about collaborative designing it’ Democratizing The Future, Josephine Green, Philips

In the Foresight group we spend a lot of time thinking about future trends, or which trends will be influencing our future contexts. However, there is something to be said about looking back and taking stock of what came 5000 years ago and not just five minutes ago.

At the Building Center in London, Leszek Dobrovolsky, of Arup Interchange, Transport Architecture and Planning, gave a talk on imagining the bridge between reality and the imagined future. He described how the design of interchanges could have a significant impact on a city and the immediate community surrounding the transport node. The erection of a transportation hub in a place with no former access could lead to better economic prospects for its people.

He also encouraged us to think beyond our familiar Western cultural considerations; to try to think about the fact that design will increasingly have to address growing populations in developing regions of the world (a fact our latest DoC research has made reference to a few times) Regions, which might aspire to reach the heights of a Paris, London and New York, may be better off studying the progress made by the likes of other developing countries and cities like Bogotá which have been very successful in their implementation of extremely functional and less expensive bus systems.

Of late the word ‘design’ has saturated a range of glossy magazines, but what became evident in Leszek’s talk, is that the future of design has to be grounded in solving real problems such as access to jobs. A large proportion of the global population’s economic and social development is resting on this future to become true.

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Social Design Events

Two more events I wish I could be attending. Conflux is an annual New York festival for “contemporary psychogeography, the investigation of everyday urban life through emerging artistic, technological and social practice.” At Conflux, all types of artists, writers, urban adventurers and the public gather for four days to explore their urban environment. During the festival people converge on the city from a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures ” to re-imagine the city as a playground, a space for positive change and an opportunity for civic engagement. ”

And the second, is Dwell on Design & Community, an event dedicated to building community in the modern world. Community seems to be BIG these days. Two days ago I attended a Futures Analyst Network conference and the “c” word came up there as well. What I like most about community is that you cannot own it, the pleasure comes from having access and belonging. Included on the roster of topics, such essentials as, “Learn how to green your home”, and an introduction to outdoor pop-up communities.

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Social Design

“Design is people”. Jane Jacobs

There are some design groups doing some interesting social work. I came across Design 21, a socially conscious design network whose mission is to inspire social activism through design. Design 21 is a social network that connects people who are interested in exploring ways that design can positively impact the world. This reminds me a lot of Bruce Mau Design’s Massive Change.

In case you were wondering (and pulled from their website).

Q: What is Social Design?

A: It’s design for the greater good.

We want to use the power of good design for greater purpose.

We believe the real beauty of design lies in its potential to improve life. That potential first manifests itself as a series of decisions that result in a series of consequences. The practice of social design considers these decisions on a greater scale, understanding that each step in the design process is a choice that ripples out into our communities, our world and our lives. These choices are the result of informed ideas, greater awareness, larger conversations and, most importantly, the desire to do good. Social design is design for everyone’s sake.


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