Why changing our city-dwelling ways is the only way to keep our cities.
We’ll be brief today, because our video spotlight isn’t. But it is as culturally relevant and compelling as they come: It’s a talk by World Changing founder (and TEDster) Alex Steffen, given at the Danish Architecture Centre, where he makes a radical case for sustainable cities with 20 proposed solution spaces, each the domain of great urgency for change.
Long as it may be, the talk is altogether excellent — if there ever was a blueprint for a healthy planet still inhabited by our urbanite species, Alex Steffen has just laid it out.
Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.
How to one-up the Greeks and what Shepard Fairey has to do with Copenhagen circa 1891.
Libraries have a special place in history as a hearth of culture that kindled the greatest feats of science and the grandest works of art. Yet today, they’re in danger of being left precisely there — in history. As our collective use of libraries dwindles in the digital age, five brave efforts are innovating the concept of “the library” in ways that make it as culturally relevant today as it ever was.
PENTAGRAM FOR L!BRARY
Almost nine years ago, NYC design studio Pentagram got involved with the Robin Hood Foundation in an inspired effort to build new elementary school libraries throughout NYC’s five boroughs — the best architects were to build them, private companies were to fill them with books, Pentagram were to design the inspirational atmosphere and craft the entire identity for what became The Library Initiative.
But they found something interesting — even though the libraries were mostly located in high-ceiling old buildings, shelves could only be as high as the kids could reach, leaving a lot of space between the top of the shelves and the ceiling. Pentagram saw this space as a canvas to fill with something wonderful, so they partnered with a handful of top-notch designers to create murals that are just that — absolutely wonderful.
Today, these inspired murals can be found in more than 60 libraries across the five boroughs, featuring the work of designers and illustrators cherry-picked by the Pentagram team — from a series of photographic portraits by Dorothy Kresz, to a visual interpretation of words through silhouettes by Rafael Esquer, to books hidden in images in the iconic illustration style of Christoph Niemann.
Needless to say, we love the idea. Design is only as valuable as the change it ignites — in our understanding of beauty and truth, our conceptual and aesthetic literacy, yes, but also in our greater social sensibility. And harnessing the power of design to enhance “literal literacy” by turning libraries into cooler, more inviting hangouts for kids, well, that’s just pure beauty and truth.
So for today’s refresher purposes, his fantastic TED talk should get the job done.
We’d love to see Jay open up his library to those with the greatest urgency of fostering the spirit of human imagination — children. Because whatever is behind the doors of our cultural library, a school bus should be in front of them.
THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS ON FLICKR
It’s always a delight to see the stiffest and most traditional of institutions embrace fundamental elements of today’s social spirit.
Go ahead, get nostalgic over ages you didn’t really live in to remember. It’s okay, we did too.
LIVE FROM THE NYPL
Turns out, you can actually talk in libraries. Some even hand you a mic — at least if you’re on one of the NYPL Live panels, a fantastic talk series by and at The New York Public Library. The events are available as free audio podcasts on iTunes, with short video highlights viewable online.
We were recently taken with NYPL’s REMIX event, an excellent discussion titled Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. Moderated by cultural historian Steven Johnson and sponsored by Wired, the conversation between Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig and now-legendary street artist Shepard Fairey, whose Obama “HOPE” poster became the most iconic political design of all time, offered a fantastic discourse on the intersection of creativity and “fair use” — a particuarly timely discourse amidst the AP’s preposterous lawsuit against Fairey.
Watch the full program online for brilliant insight into the absurdities of today’s copyright legislature and the unnecessary ways in which it hinders the inevitable mergence of today’s mashup culture.
Web entrepreneur, activist and digital librarian Brewster Kahle, possibly the most influential figure in today’s digitization movement, is out to gift the world with universal access to knowledge.
Since 1996, his Internet Archive has amassed an enormous collection of cultural artifacts — text, audio, moving images, software, even archived web pages — offering permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars and anyone else interested in the cultural anthropology of our civilization.
We really need to put the best we have to offer within reach of our children. If we don’t do that, we’re going to get the generation we deserve — they’re going to learn from whatever it is they have around them.
Inspired by an inscription above the door of the Boston Public Library — Free To All — Kahle set out to, essentially, “one-up the Greeks” by building a hub of culture that puts Egypt’s Library of Alexandria to shame, using technology to bring all of the world’s knowledge to as many people as want to make use of it — everything that was ever published and meant for distribution available to anyone who ever wanted access to it.
Kahle’s TED talk is an excellent introduction to the many facets of this monumental movement, which will no doubt reshape today’s relationship with history and tomorrow’s conversation with today.
Explore the Internet Archive and, while you’re at it, consider that the very act and opportunity of doing so makes you the envy of the Platos and the Gutenbergs of history. And, really, how incredible is that?
What a 102-year-old Spanish man has to do with motion typography and the secret of happiness.
We’re going constitutional today — Brain Pickings is after the pursuit of happiness. And we’ve uncovered three gems that attempt to unravel the quintessential human mystery: What is happiness, and how the hell do we get our little hands on it?
Generally — and perhaps cynically — speaking, the goal of marketing is to show us all the ways in which we fall short, stealing happiness away from us only to sell it back to us at the price of the product. So when it comes to branding, there’s no greater feat of identity than owning the construct of happiness itself. Which is exactly the branding platform Coke has been building for the past decade.
But cynicism aside, Encounter, Coke’s latest spot from Madrid agency McCann-Erickson and director Andy Fogwill, is a delightful bag of mush, the kind that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside despite your every instinct to cringe at the underlying marketing ploy.
You may not be any more inclined to drink Coke now, but maybe you’re just a little bit more likely to, you know, go live the happy life. And isn’t that daily little bit all it comes down to?
Back in 2006, we were fortunate enough to study under Dr. Martin Seligman, not only a renowned TEDster but also former chairman of the American Psychological Association elected by the largest margin in history. More importantly, Dr. Seligman is the founder of the Positive Psychology movement, a nascent branch of psychology concerned with the empirical study of positive emotions, strengths-based character, and healthy institutions.
The Authentic Happiness program is Dr. Seligman’s primary brainchild, a research-driven cluster of positive interventions aimed at increasing our level of happiness — our ability to feel more satisfied, to find more meaning in life, to be more engaged and present in the moment — regardless of our circumstances.
We couldn’t recommend the program enough — it’s free to join and easily the best thing you’ll do for yourself all year or, perhaps, ever. So go ahead and head over to the Questionnaires Center for an accurate assessment of where you fall on the happiness spectrum right now, what your greatest psychological strengths are, what you need to work on and how.
There may not be a blueprint for happiness, but these are the most powerful drawing tools and the widest canvas you’ll ever find.
TED ON HAPPINESS
What’s a Wednesday without some shameless chest-beating? Yep, we have a new episode on TEDify, a TED-based quest for the most sought-after piece of existential human truth, that most fundamental question: What makes us happy?
See the full list of speakers and catch up on the TED talks sampled here — take it from a cynic, happiness can be synthesized, but it requires that you unearth all the right elements to ignite the reaction. And we happen to think TED is the proverbial periodic table.
We’ve got a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays, offers the week’s main articles, and features short-form interestingness from our PICKED series. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.
Brain Pickings has a free weekly interestingness digest. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week's best articles. Here's an example. Like? Sign up.
donating = loving
Brain Pickings remains ad-free and takes hundreds of hours a month to research and write, and thousands of dollars to sustain. If you find any joy and value in it, please consider becoming a Member and supporting with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:
(If you don't have a PayPal account, no need to sign up for one – you can just use any credit or debit card.)
You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:
Brain Pickings participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. In more human terms, this means that whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on here, I get a small percentage of its price. That helps supportBrain Pickings by offsetting a fraction of what it takes to maintain the site, and is very much appreciated.