Friday, January 21, 2011

Mapping Local Knowledge

One of the case studies in the The Slow Design Principles (PDF), by slowLab's Carolyn Strauss and Alistair Fuad-Luke, involves the mapping of knowledge about an area in unique ways by local people to facilitate awareness of local resources and local identity:
 With its project series, ‘Slow Ways of Knowing,’ the design collective slowLab has developed an urban design tool to capture local knowledge and elicit public contributions to urban planning debates in their localities.  Through empirical observation, sensory awareness and intuitive imagining, people are invited to connect with the histories and patterns that a given site reveals. To capture local knowledge and public imaginings about the evolving identity of the neighborhood or surrounding area, they are encouraged to annotate local area maps with their thoughts, memories, sensations, fantasies, drawings, and design gestures. By thus revealing unseen or forgotten aspects of those places, generating awareness and participation, the projects remind people of their own part in and responsibility to the life of their localities, and are encouraged into ongoing creative investigations. (slowLab, 2006-present)
As a volunteer for eco-awareness collective Edmontonians Supporting A Green Economy, this idea has intrigued me for awhile, and I've wondered how it could be used in a practical way to faciliate environmental awareness or other activist uses in an urban location. For example, could a process like this be used to identify guerrilla gardening sites, or locations of fruit trees harvested by groups like OFRE? Could it be used by a built-heritage-preservation group to create a self-directed walking tour of local architecture and historic homes? Could this process be used by community groups in mature core neighborhoods where activism and revitalization are needed  to map what makes their areas special so unique sites and qualities will be preserved? As it happens, there are some great projects out there where people have done exactly that, although they haven't always used the term "slow design" in doing it.

A group in Tokyo created a low-tech crowd-sourced map of urban gardens and put it online, and one of the originators of that project (Chris Berthelsen of A Small Lab) is also doing similar work he calls the Kokonohanashi  project (the word translates from Japanese as "talking about here"). He summarizes the goal of the project:
How can we construct low-cost, agile, fine-grained (and also scalable) ways - 
(1) for people to begin to discuss and interact with the spaces they use, and the 
other people that use them? 
(2) to record, share, the living histories of places (memories, experiences, 
The crowd-sourced maps generated during crises like the recent Australian floods are an example of how web-based applications can be used to rapidly create a map based on a particular need or interest. Crowd-sourced cycling maps like that at are another great example of web-based slow mapping.

Closer to home, citizens of the Halifax Metropolitan Region in Nova Scotia helped blogger Waye Mason create a map of neighborhood names (which only exist informally in many older North American communities, unlike in Edmonton where the Federation of Community Leagues have formalized and mapped the naming of neighborhoods since practically the founding of the city). That project was, in turn, inspired by a similar project for the Toronto Star website compiled from public data and crowd-sourced input by data journalist Patrick Cain, whose website is an eye-opening tour of what is possible in creating maps from different kinds of information. Such collaborative neighborhood maps seem like a good first step toward creating even more information-rich slow mapping projects to capture the unique local identities of those cities.

So, how would YOU like to see slow, collaborative mapping techniques be used in a practical way in your community? 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Monthly Slow News Summary

Once a month or so, I'll do a roundup of interesting Slow news stories and blog posts that have come across my radar. (They'll usually be ones that I've tweeted or have made their way into the Slow Weekly auto-newsletter in the sidebar, but those can be difficult to find weeks after the fact.) Here's what's cropped up since mid-December.

The New Year always brings a rash of trend reports, and apparently Slow Design is what's next:

On Slow Travel:
  • Slow Travel: The Next Trend? 
  • How To Go On A Volunteer Holiday

On Slow Architecture:

On Slow Fashion:

On Slow Food:

On Slow Living:

On Sustainability:
  • Oh dear. Problems with Long-Term Carbon Capture & Storage in Saskatchewan suggest it doesn't stay underground.
  • project of 1-line rebuttals to 136 arguments by climate deniers with science backup. 
  • notable new book: The New Normal: Agenda for Responsible Living - by David Wann ('Simple Prosperity') 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Traveling to Japan (and Wabi-Sabi's Relationship to the Slow Movement)

My husband and I have just started planning a two-week visit to Japan, as our gift to each other for our 40th birthdays. It's our first international trip together, since living thousands of miles from our extended family means that almost all our travel budget goes toward trips home to Nova Scotia.

The route our tour will take is roughly outlined in pink. 
Of course, fifteen days is far too little time to truly immerse yourself in a culture as different from ours as Japan's, but it will have to do. As our starting point, we've chosen a whirlwind tour (mostly by train) from the experts at Japan Travel Bureau that will give us some time at each stopping point to explore the things that interest us most. It obviously won't be a textbook slow-travel trip, but we hope to incorporate elements of the slow-travel approach into it, by using our flexible time to learn about regional history, crafts and foods, and experiencing at least a couple of days of the trip as a typical Tokyoite might (We are going during mid-May, after the national holidays in early May are over, so that should help.).  I'm excited to observe an existing bicycle culture and widespread public transit use, and interested to see how else (or even if) Japan is moving toward sustainability in other areas. Witnessing the cultural juxtaposition of Fast & Slow and the small-space living innovations that you see so prominently in huge cities like Tokyo will be amazing. 

We'll be spending 4 days in Tokyo; 1 day admiring the area around Mount Fuji; 1 day each in hot spring resort town HakoneTakayama with its unchanged Edo-period streetscapes, and feudal town Kanazawa; 2 days in Kyoto, where the handicraft centre is definitely on my list; 1 day each in Nagasaki and Hiroshima; then finishing up with an extra day in Tokyo. (Our flying days make the total 15 days.) We hope to wedge in daytrips to Nagoya to visit a friend from grad school, to the peony garden at Tsukuba, and to the Ghibli Museum and the Sayama Forest (to say we're fans of animator Hayao Miyazaki would be an understatement).

(One friend has joked with me that a tightly-scheduled tour is how the typical Japanese tourist sees their own country. Having witnessed the hordes of bus-tour travellers in the Canadian Rockies and on Prince Edward Island, she may have a point.)

Planning the trip also has me thinking about wabi-sabi and its relationship to the Slow movement. To my mind, the best primer for a Western audience that I've read on the Japanese concepts of wabi & sabi and their application to homes and lifestyle is Robyn Briggs-Lawrence's The Wabi-Sabi House. It's a richly satisfying read, and has had a huge influence on my thinking. As I wrote when I reviewed it,
The concept of wabi includes harmony, balance, simplicity, and humility; sabi translates literally as "the bloom of time". Taken together, the words describe the beauty of everyday, functional objects that we cherish because they are well-used, patinated, handmade, and tied to memories. It's living in the moment, modestly and authentically.
Of course, this is a vast oversimplification of a way of life that's difficult to explain in few words. It also leaves out the huge influences of seasonal rhythms, local availability, resource scarcity, and population pressures in a closed society that shaped the philosophy, not to mention the spiritual influence of Zen Buddhism. 

Seasonal. Local. Handcrafted. Can you see why I connect wabi-sabi with the Slow movement? So naturally, one of my goals during the trip is to deepen my understanding of wabi-sabi.

By the time of my trip, Briggs-Lawrence's followup book Simply Imperfect will have been released in North America (You know what's on my wish list.). I'm also, after reading others' reviews, aching to read The Unknown Craftsman - one of the few other books in English about the topic that hasn't been singled out as a cliched cultural mishmash by knowledgeable reviewers, in large part because it is translated from the essays of a Japanese expert. 

I'm also currently reading Just Enough: Lessons in Living Green From Traditional Japan by architect Azby Brown, in which he explores late-Edo-period Japan as a model sustainable society and looks at technologies and strategies that can be adapted for modern use, many of which are no longer used in modern Japan. It's a densely written cultural history, with brilliant hand-drawn illustrations. I'll be on the watch for examples of what I've read in that book, too.

Also on my to-read list, besides the usual travel guides: Dave Barry Does Japan, at hubby's insistence; Will Ferguson's Hitching Rides With Buddha; and Lafcadio Hearn's 1896 collection of Japanese folklore Kokoro

So, for readers who have lived or travelled in Japan: Can you think of anything I should add to my reading list? Is there anything we should try to experience (or anything we should avoid)?

Everyone else: can you think of more ways to slow down a whirlwind tour?