Thursday, May 27, 2010

Juliet Schor, "Plentitude", Seattle Town Hall

Hey there. I went and saw Juliet Schor, author of "The Overworked American" and "The Overspent American" on Monday at the Town Hall (not the literal town hall, "Town Hall" is an organization) down on First Hill in Seattle, where she talked about her new book Plentitude. Basically, what she wants is a sort of decentralized, green, industrial economy where quality of life in the community is also assured by progressive 'New Urbanism' style planning, meaning high urban density and other ideas. This would be achieved through slowly growing it under the radar screen of the big industrial economy. While I agree with most of what she says I have to take issue with the way in which the transition from alternative technology that's mainly stuff like houses and gardening to alternative technology that will actually manufacture things will take place. Her idea focused on these things called "Fablabs" or Fabrication Labs, which are high technology centers where people can design various products, like chairs for example, then program the machines to make small numbers of them on demand. There are several problems, but the big one I see is that total decentralization of manufacturing is bound to be really inefficient. Why not establish regional, yet large, high technology centers constructed according to the latest principles of environmentally friendly design and the latest productivity advances, then have the workings of the place, from how labor is divided up to what work itself looks like be turned into a showpiece about how things could be? Another problem with fabricating different things that people need is that above a certain level of complexity there are issues with not having engineers working on it. Folks can do a lot of things, but for certain products I'd rather have the input of someone who's an expert. However, this difficulty can be surmounted if engineers are employed by the regional factories to respond to the interests of the community and help them to formulate what they want, instead of dictating to them.

All in all a good talk, synthesizing a lot of things, and I hope to eventually look into some of her books to follow up on all of it.

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