Sunday, May 22, 2011

Another platform approach to developing local economies

Our food friends up in NYC have developed Smorgasbord, a Brooklyn Food Flea Market. Not sure how I feel about the association with flea markets--their "catch as catch can", of-varying-quality connotation, but I'm excited to see how Smorgasbord is focusing their effort on being the connective tissue between the regional growers, purveyors and producers who are concerned with food access, nutrition and sustainable growing practices. Instead of waiting for policy makers to make connections and do something about it, local experts are seeing both a philosophical and economic opportunity to provide an alternative to the current marketing structure that usually keeps these groups separated. Smorgasbord is offering a nice glimpse of a bottoms-up, systemic approach to local food production and distribution. Given their claim of building a democratic approach to eating and buying food, I'll be interested to see how they reach out to different consumers communities as their project evolves. They're not explicit how their established market place will be able reach as many people as possible.

In their words:
"Here are our goals with Smorgasburg: directly connect local/NYC purveyors with regional farmers/producers; make good, fresh, affordable food accessible to as many people as possible; provide purveyors and farmers with a platform to sustain their businesses; and create a market that makes eating and buying food fun, democratic, and easy."

Good luck Smorgasbord!

Monday, May 16, 2011

ReadyMadePGH: A Local Service for circulating clothing

After four months of research and planning we've prepared our roadmap for ReadyMadePGH. In the coming weeks, we will start prototyping the key features of the touch points; start communicating publicly; and be on the look-out for a storefront that can act as HQ.

ReadyMadePGH is a local system of services, activities, and events to circulate (re-cycle and repurpose) clothing within the local community. This project was inspired from fourteen years of holding small-scale, home-based clothing swaps and considering what impact these social exchanges could have when taken to a larger, community scale. In a nutshell, "We adopt your pre-loved clothes and create opportunities to get them into new, hopeful hands."

The ReadyMadePGH prototype has two over-lapping goals. The first is to understand the needs and behaviors that support high volume circulation of pre-loved consumer goods. The other is to understand how relationships take hold and deepen when we focus on the social interactions which are the backbone of the service. We see this project as both a community building tool as well as pragmatic public service.

When we swap, trade, barter, share clothing, not only do we keep needed and usable resources in play and out of our landfills, but we create real opportunities to have direct, meaningful contact between each other and our communities. Reuse systems rely on collective effort to work and create impact. Because of their collaborative nature, they have an inherent social component (whether explicit or not), which we believe is worth considering as an opportunity to build and deepen community ties. Services traditionally focus on efficiency and effectiveness as measures of success. These are reasonable goals. We want to understand, if we elevate the social aspects of re-use, can we not only increase the efficacy of a service, but also help to establish and deepen relationships throughout the community.

If prototyped in ways that encourage active participation and collaboration, these systems can provide opportunities for meaningful experiences for and between the people that use them. By tapping into and celebrating people’s shared efforts, needs and motivations, we can create social situations out of very functional matters. We can make spaces for people to share and workshop ideas; engage with like-minded people; enhance face-to-face time between makers and consumers; capture stories that celebrate clothing and the people who wear them; and even consider the legacy of what we make, consume, and discard. By prototyping a re-use system that focuses its attention on the social aspects of sharing and exchanging, we believe ReadyMade can help us understand how to design services that not are only efficient and effective but are meaningful and sustainable ways to share ideas and create personal connections within the local community.

Over the past couple of years, a quiet, powerful evolution in collaboration has been happening and gaining momentum throughout our society and economy. We are relearning how to create value out of shared and open resources in ways that balance personal self-interest with the good of the larger community.* Specifically we are seeing a rise in alternative or informal marketplaces (share, barter, swap, trade, etc.) where people are collaborating around the exchange and reuse of personal resources. From Rentoid (tool rental) to (accommodation sharing) to (green space swapping), like-minded people are coming together to meet, exchange and profit from these marketplaces. Motivations vary. Some collaborate for practical reasons such as ridding themselves of unwanted goods or to turn a quick profit. Others participate for socially minded reasons or to support forward thinking practices such as sustainability or community development. With the rise in hyper connectivity, it is becoming easier and faster to connect and organize with people who have similar concerns, goals, and tastes. Given this confluence between our shifting values around sharing resources and the myriad tools we have to connect in real time, the timing feels perfect to explore how to support a system of reuse that at its core focuses on relationship and community building practices.

In two weeks we will hold co-design workshops with the community to develop some tangible ideas for collecting clothing over a 3-4 month period using pop-up, mobile and guerilla tactics.

*"What's Mine Is Yours: A Rise in Collaborative Consumption." Rachel Botsman, Roo Rogers.