Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Audacity to Play and Create at "Work"

Charles and Ray Eames were masters of design at its purest sense. They found new ways to solve problems and experience the world. For decades, their studio produced innovations, products, and environments that we still experience today.

Watching this trailer reminds me how important it is to allow time for creativity and new experiences within our day to day working lives. How even just closing the laptop and taking out a notepad and pen can help us harness our ideas to reach new heights.

One of their famous works helped shape my perspective on the world and still influences how I design and solve problems today.


Staying on Beat.

An article in the "Managing Yourself" section of the Harvard Business Review website this week struck a chord. The article is entitled "How to Recover Your Core Rhythm" and speaks to our necessity as human beings to a) sleep and b) find an adequate rhythm of exercise, work, and relaxation. The author, Tony Shwartz, explains that we tend to be most productive with mental sprints rather than marathons and that by exercising your body in this same manner will help with relaxation and mental clarity.

Managing and staying on beat is difficult and is something I've been working on since starting school while working full time. The author tells the familiar story of flying cross country just to go immediately to work and waste time being unproductive and tired all day. This happened to me just last week and served as a kick to encourage me to find a balance and rhythm.

Below is my rough map of an ideal day. This will take some refining but is a start.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Where's everyone going?

Human beings are moving away from rural areas to cities at a higher rate than any other time in recorded history. The UN estimates that by 2030, 60% of the world's population will live in urban environments. One big reason for this movement is the lack of economic resources in rural areas that makes it difficult for people to start businesses, find jobs, and compete in a high tech global market. Cities provide a buzz, an access to more people, sharing more ideas, more frequently than in rural areas. Innovation thrives in cities and it's no surprise that if faced with the choice, many people will seek opportunity and connections.

If greater opportunity exists in cities, why do rural communities still matter?

This flight from rural areas comes at a time when the world's population is growing faster than ever before. As population rises, cities grow in size, and the innovation and economic opportunities that come from urban centers multiplies - more and more natural resources will be needed to meet these demands. Rural communities matter because they act as the stewards of the natural resources all humans depend on.

In remote and seemingly removed communities throughout the United States, there is a culture of stewardship emerging, and with it, an opportunity for a productive and substantial economy based on the active management of the natural resources that are crucial to the systems we are a part of.

What is a stewardship economy and what does it look like?

To Nils Christophersen of Wallowa Resources, an organization based in Enterprise, OR, a stewardship economy provides business opportunities that support community resilience, family wage jobs, and the active and sustainable management of natural resources. A market application based in Wallowa County takes the form of an integrated biomass campus that utilizes forest restoration byproducts that traditionally have had not market value to make densified wood products that are helping to heat the local high school, saving the community over 100,000 dollars per year.

Rural communities can't do it alone. (Urban communities can't do it alone.)

I recently attended a fundraising event in Portland held for Wallowa Resources, who's mission is to "... develop, promote, and implement innovative solutions to help the people of Wallowa County and the Intermountain West sustain and improve their communities and their lands." Aside from raising money for the organization, the goal of the event was to raise awareness of the issues and innovations occurring in rural and isolated communities throughout Oregon and the interior West. Rural communities face very similar issues that urban areas do and these issues can often be overlooked due to their seeming isolation and their scale. What rural communities have, is a strong connection to ecosystems and the ways in which their decisions directly impact the function of their landscapes. When decisions are made in urban areas that effect the health of landscapes, feedback is delayed as it tends not to be the immediate surrounding  landscapes that are impacted. 

As urban communities breed innovation and technology, rural communities harbor much knowledge of ecosystem functions. As population grows and there is more demand for natural resources, there will need to be an increased share of knowledge between rural and urban communities to properly address issues that arise. 

Perhaps, there is an opportunity within the flight from rural communities. If cities are going to be increasingly populated by former residents of rural areas, there is the possibility that these people will bring  knowledge of ecosystem services and appreciation for landscapes to decisions that are made in urban cores, strengthening the connection and in turn the health of all of our systems. 

How can this be achieved?

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Power of Diversity

This past week I was in a small unincorporated community in Trinity County California for work. The community, like many rural communities in the west, has been impacted by the loss of its main industry, timber. This week made me think of the role that diversity plays in our systems and in the ability of people to make change in their communities.

Throughout the week I saw examples of how important diversity is. A major reason why this community was so negatively impacted by the loss of the timber industry is because there was a lack of economic diversity in the region. Before the timber market failed in the 1990's, jobs relating to the timber industry equated to more than half of the total jobs in the county. Also, much of the other businesses in town were indirectly supporting people in the timber industry and when this industry left the region, it sent ripples throughout the community, effecting every business in town.

The failure of the timber industry was a directly related to new regulations in the federal government protecting endangered species on National Forest land and resulted in an 84% decline of timber harvests from 1986- 2001.

I learned two new terms this week which are appropriate for this conversation, communities of interest and communities of place. The latter was a main driver for the collapse of the timber industry and the implications it had on local communities. Communities of interest are groups of people who have coordinated and common goals surrounding an interest. The two communities of interest in this story are the timber industry and the environmentalists. These communities each had very targeted views. For years, the timber industry advocated and lobbied for the ability to continue timber harvests on National Forests. With growing concern for endangered species anthe industry's impact on the health of the forest, the environmentalist community was able to raise money and litigate against the interests of the timber industry. Each community of interest had power and yielded it to effect dramatic change on the landscape and nearby communities.

The views of the communities of interest lacked diversity and therefor targeted all their efforts on one or few possible outcomes. The timber industry used it power to ensure that it could take timber off the forests without regarding issues around landscape level ecosystem health and endangered species habitat. In return, the environmental community used its power to ensure that these actions were stopped without regarding the impacts this would have on the families and not realizing that an abrupt change to timber practices would actually decrease the health of the forest.

Enter collaboration and the community of place.

I have the privilege of working with some amazing collaborative groups who are working to address the issues that stem from the power that communities of interest yield. These collaborative groups are all unique and all share a common story; a group of diverse stakeholders who used to not speak to one another got together to help solve really tough and divisive problem. These groups are bringing environmentalists and members of the timber industries together along with members of the local community. By doing so they are ensuring that diverse viewpoints and needs are heard so that best practices can be developed. This will help to ensure that drastic shifts don't happen as a cause of targeted interests.

The key here to me is how crucial it is that diversity be honored as a way to create a more sustainable future. Not only the diversity of people and all their individual intricacies and gifts, but of communities and their interests. Diversity throughout all levels can help to promote a stable and resilient approach to solving problems. By honoring diversity, we can help to give more people the privilege of helping to build a sustainable future. 

My goal is to remember that diversity itself comes in many different forms within the people I interact with everyday, the places I work, the interests I work on, and the communities I choose to be a part of.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Oregon + Imagination = ?

On Tuesday October 4th, I attended an event called The Oregon Imagination Conversation!  OoooOOOooooooo....

The event was held in the auditorium at Ziba design in NW Portland and is part of a nationwide effort put forth by the Lincoln Center For the Performing Arts to help reintroduce imagination into society in order to help solve the issues we face. Over the course of this effort, each of the 50 states will have its own Imagination Conversation.

Our conversation was moderated by Frances Bronet, the Dean of the University of Oregon's School of Architecture and Allied Arts. She led us through a series of five questions pertaining to the state of imagination in Oregon and what issues and opportunities we saw. 

For each question, we conversed in small groups for 10 minutes then had 10 minutes to discuss with the entire room before moving on to the next. The conversations were lively and after reporting just once as an entire room, it was clear that trends, regarding where imagination was needed and who needed it the most, were beginning to take shape. 

What exactly does imagination mean in this context?

For many at this event, it meant the Arts and the need for more art classes in elementary and high schools. For others it meant the need for Oregonians to be able to shake mental models and imagine new ways of doing things, like for instance, finally admitting to ourselves that our tax structure really doesn't work, so that we can move the hell on on and imagine something better (not my words).

The second question asked was, "what issues do we see and what opportunities are before us?"

One issue staring everyone in the face that afternoon was the lack of diversity in the room, both cultural and generational. In my opinion, this may be the biggest single issue holding Oregon,  specifically Portland back from real change. (I'm consciously not touching on the rest of the state as that is a topic near and dear to me and deserves it's own post.)

What I perceive a big part of this issue to be is a lack of connectivity and solid outlets to plug into for the local minority population and the population of young people moving to Portland in droves. Every Portland-centric talk I've been been to in the past few months has referred to the need to connect with "that population living past 82nd ave" and "all these young people moving to Portland who are underemployed."

With every great issue comes great opportunity. Right?

What I see here is an opportunity to bring a city with a strong sense of place, an ability to allow people a good quality of life, and a strong natural resource and creative economy together to help imagine what Portland could be. How can we use the collective intelligence of these communities?

How can we build a system that brings imagination together with resources, connections, and the ability to execute? What would this look like?

The final question that everyone was asking at the end of the event was "how can we keep this momentum, how can we turn this in to action?"

The Oregon Imagination Conversation, like many good conversations, left me with more questions than answers and I hope to report back soon on what happens next.

For more information on the Oregon Imagination Conversation and to track what happens next: 

You can visit the facebook page and follow the conversation on twitter with #imagconv