Join the-dots-thinking, the irrelevance of governments and …the irrelevance of governments

20 October 2011 – Speaking to Tim Horton at last year’s Built Environment Meets Parliament conference – and reading Lynne Blundell’s extensive and insightful interview with him in this issue – is like mainlining on ideas addiction. It’s an exhilarating experience found now and then among the best thinkers in the property sector . It comes from the understanding that the built environment has the power to change so much in our world. Bring a sense of design – or rather redesign – into all the components and, well, … anything can happen. Such as surviving the 21st Century.
See this for instance: The company run by the enigmatic architect Nonda Katsilidis assembled 63 prefabricated apartments in a constrained site in one of Melbourne’s CBD laneways in 20 days (news of which was brought to you first, here at The Fifth Estate). This is a game changer, clearly. But Horton explains how. And “how” goes much further than might at first be apparent.

Think about finance and risk. The two are like symbiotic twins. One is a function of the other. Eliminate the risk of cost overruns, time overruns, time lost from bad weather, the cost of ensuring your workers are safe on construction sites; eliminate the risk of industrial action, the waste inherent in cutting things up and assembling them on the spot, the mechanics and complexities of getting the trades to coordinate their input, let alone talk to each other, and you might start to get Horton’s drift.

Some of the leading bankers in the country (we won’t mention which bankers…and no, not that “which bank”) get it, and the glint in their eyes says they can see an opportunity here to shave the cost of finance because if you pre-fab everything, then you can turn the semi-artform of erecting a major building into a widget-making process.

We know what the 20th Century and the post-war mass production era did with controlled, industrialised manufacturing processes, don’t we? It created efficiencies, cut costs and eventually gave everyone their own toast and indoor fan, for $12 (whether that’s a good thing is highly debatable; at least it’s egalitarian).

Today, Horton is the Integrated Design Commissioner for South Australia, and his unique role stems from South Australia’s decision, some time back, to install Thinkers in Residence. Whoever thought of that? Whatever reputation Adelaide has as an elegant and restrained city, it’s actually got a history of pushing boundaries, right back to Don Dunstan’s day, and it has a history of trying radical new ideas. Think of The Multi-function Polis: failed,  but it’s the concept, and going through the process of concocting up brand new schemes, that leaves its mark on the psyche, and lays the tracks for others to use and extend.

Ideas are never wasted.

The global green agenda

If governments are hesitating on the green agenda, many of the globe’s big companies missed the memo, says Newsweek in its annual Green Rankings for top companies.

“Top-ranked companies are approaching green projects with increasing tenacity, even in this weak economy. Corporate sustainability, it seems, is here for the long haul: it makes sense not just for the sake of the planet, but for business.”

Thomas Lyon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, says in the article: “Big companies have decided that this is a long-term play.

“For corporate executives, what matters is that waste cuts into profits, and that reducing wasted energy, for example, curbs greenhouse-gas emissions while bolstering the bottom line. We face a future in which resources that were once taken for granted — water, land, minerals, fossil fuels — will be limited and costly. Preparing now to succeed in — and even profit from — that difficult future could make all the difference.”

Mark Vachon, who leads the Ecomagination program at GE, No. 63 on the U.S. list, says: “We don’t expect a clear-cut policy in the US any time soon. .But that doesn’t mean we ought to put our pencils down. In fact, having business lead in this space might be exactly what we should do.”

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Naomi Wolf-is arrested in the Occupy Wall Street movement

The spring, the spring

Watch out: what goes down in the US is contagious here. Read this entertaining and revealing article from Naomi Wolf in The Guardian on her arrest in the Occupy Wall Street movement:

Last night I was arrested in my home town, outside an event to which I had been invited, for standing lawfully on the sidewalk in an evening gown.

Let me explain; my partner and I were attending an event for the Huffington Post, for which I often write: Game Changers 2011, in a venue space on Hudson Street. As we entered the space, we saw that about 200 Occupy Wall Street protesters were peacefully assembled and were chanting. They wanted to address Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was going to be arriving at the event. They were using a technique that has become known as “the human mic” – by which the crowd laboriously repeats every word the speaker says – since they had been told that using real megaphones was illegal.

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