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Entries in ethics and publics (2)



And just to round off the week, BIL, the counter to TED: an open stage for ideas and stories, admission by donation, anyone can do one.  The main BIL website shows that besides California, a lot have happened in Tunisia.  Spaces are donated and so are typically warehouses, disused caverns of stations, theatres and other marginally appreciated volumes.  There is one happening now in Vancouver, the unconference 'fully participant powered'.  This is crowd funding done by turning up, by participating – the line between speaker and listener blurred, the conference driven by contributors.  

As Michael Cummings said this morning on the radio, TED has jumped the shark, by which I take it that TED has become so establishment, so controlled and directed that the anarchic BIL has popped up to fill the void.  We'd all like to listen to interesting people talking about what they are doing; I don't want to have to apply to attend a symposium and then pay a lot of money to go in person.  One can watch each talk on line, but one still has to pass along a credit card number.  Smart people can only talk to rich people?  What is the point of that?

On Site review was established as an open venue where anyone could write for us if they had something really interesting to say: the only gatekeeper was the theme for each issue, and me, of course, but I can count on one hand the number of submissions that were, after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, turned away, and not for the ideas, but usually for their inadvertent racism, or their total ignorance of history.  Somehow, On Site review never attracted shameless self-promoters or corporate types – there are plenty of other, more successful venues for that kind of architectural discussion.  So I can see how BIL attracts participants that aren't even interested in being a TED talker, although the format is much the same.  Someone stands up and speaks.  Pecha Kucha for everybody.  Now that is another open stage thing that was taken over by expensive admission tickets, sponsors and rules.  Like Detroit Soup, I hope BIL never attracts corporate interest.


Detroit Soup: very, very resilient

Detroit Soup is a program, started in Detroit but expanding to other cities and countries, that sets a monthly potluck dinner and charges $5 for soup, salad and bread. Everyone votes for a project that has been pitched that evening and the gate money becomes the pot handed out to the project with the most votes. The projects are community-based, creative, involve local people and small, small enough that $1000 is terrific seed money to get going with.  

From the website

Detroit Soup from Dandelion on Vimeo.

There has been a BBC program on this week, 'Can Soup Change the World' where one of Soup's founders, Amy Kaherl, explains it all. She is a down to earth, calm, massively competent person wearing normal clothes. (cf. Resilient Cities, below) This is her project, hers and a number of other people collaborating, volunteering, working and benefitting from these micro-grants.  

It is interesting to compare this program with Resilient Cities (polar opposites yet both hoping for the same results): there is just one small diagram for Soup that uses four words that do not appear anywhere in the Resilient Cities material: Art, Urban Agriculture, Justice and Social Entrepreneurs.  Detroit has hit rock-bottom and stayed there now for at least a decade: the city is bankrupt, discussions still go on about selling its art collection, people lose their houses which are promptly gutted so they can't be squatted in but neither can they then be fixed up, neighbourhoods look much like New Orleans' Ward 9 after the water receded.  This is the kind of place where innovation, creativity and self-starting projects find fertile ground.  Any project, no matter how small, is needed, not just wanted as a nice idea, but needed.  And as Detroit has bigger things to worry about, does not stand in the way of either Soup or its crowd (literally)-funded projects.  

To me, this is true resilience: flexibility and commitment from below, not from some corporate model of transnational cooperation that focusses on expensive infrastructure – the Halliburton model: a service company that operates far beyond its remit when 'resilience' activities are needed. Soup is something else.  everything about it appears to be provisional – the Jam Handy warehouse they use, the pot luck dinners, the donated bread from a local bakery, the micro-economy they swim in, the youth of the participants, the seriousness with which street kinds, homeless people, struggling single mothers, guys who never take their touques off are considered, listened to and treated.  There is no hierarchical structure; everyone is valued, everyone is fed.