Designer, urbanist, etc. Director of Strategic Design at Vinnova, Swedish govt’s innovation agency. Visiting prof UCL Bartlett IIPP + Design Academy Eindhoven
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Afternoon walk, Enskede 15 May 2020

Dear readers —

Many thanks for subscribing to the Slowdown Papers. A few days ago I published a third batch of Papers, numbers 1941.

This third set was written over the last few months, starting in the long Swedish summer holiday through July. I then took a couple of months of refining, editing, organising and researching, knocking them into some sort of shape. As I note in the first paper, which reflects a little on the writing itself, at least some of this set is partly built out of the many essays and articles I’ve written elsewhere during this time, as well as the many speeches I’ve given (and thanks to all of you who asked me to write and speak—such things also force me to organise my thoughts. …


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Afternoon walk, Ljusterö 20 July 2020

Waiting it out will not deliver a just transition; Venice, Paris, Detroit and Melbourne as future cities; Slowdown cities can address social justice, health, and climate upstream and integrated

“I have read that the period of upheaval that journalists have begun to refer to as ‘the Apocalypse’ or more commonly, more bitterly, ‘The Pox’ lasted from 2015 through 2030—a decade and a half of chaos. This is untrue. The Pox has been a much longer torment. It began well before 2015, perhaps even before the turn of the millennium. It has not ended.

I have also read that the Pox was caused by accidentally coinciding climatic, economic, and sociological crises. It would be more honest to say that the Pox was caused by our own refusal to deal with the obvious problems in those areas. We caused the problems; then we sat and watched as they grew into crises. I have heard people deny this, but I was born in 1970. I have seen enough privilege of the rich than the basic necessity that it must be if civilized society is to survive. I have watched as convenience, profit, and inertia excused greater and more dangerous environmental degradation. …


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Afternoon walk, Ljusterö 20 July 2020

How the tumbling meadow in Linda Tegg’s ‘Infield’ installation for ArkDes suggests reforesting cities, looser urban landscapes, and replanting meadows at home.

At ArkDes, the Swedish national centre for architecture and design, the Australian artist Linda Tegg’s installation Infield creates a meadow in Exercisplan, the concrete car park outside the museum’s front doors. Intended to be shared by thousands of visitors over the summer, the Covid-19 crisis has meant that the space was largely populated by geese instead, at least at the start of the summer. As the geese have had the place to themselves, with an apex predator removed, they spent a few weeks slowly fraying the edges of Tegg’s meadow, much to the chagrin of irate local curators. They raised their goslings in and around it before the call of nature took them all elsewhere. …


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Afternoon walk, Farsta 14 June 2020

Small green pieces of urban farms, repairing vacant lots in in Los Angeles and Brooklyn

Lest the remove to Jarman’s small pieces of isolated beach suggests a self-sufficiency too easily elided with individualisation, a form of privatisation even, the emphasis on loosely joined becomes a fundamental patterning dynamic.

At core, we understand that all these systems and cultures are connected — that ‘off-grid’ is not possible, technically and politically. This, too, should be understood as a participative process. …


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Morning walk, Enskede 15 July 2020

Beyond wilderness and ecosystem services and towards shared spaces; Gardening and scale, complexity, and uncertainty; Death to summer lawns; Derek Jarman’s garden in a desert in Eastern England, Erskine’s in an Arctic Sweden; Deploying strategic chickens.

Outlining a ‘convivial conservation’ in their recent book, The Conservation Revolution, Bram Büscher and Robert Fletcher write of the need to “do away with conservation’s long-standing infatuation with wilderness and associated ideas of ‘pristine’ nature”, whilst also moving beyond what we might call the ‘Acceleration’-era ideas of ecosystem services.

With ecosystem services, natural systems are rendered as a form of quantiable ‘natural capital’, meaning that they can effectively still be plundered in extractive mode. Similarly, though they do not refer to a Slowdown in the Dorling sense, Büscher and Fletcher propose a movement well beyond Acceleration-era capitalism. …


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Morning walk, Ljusterö 20 July 2020

What we might learn from John Evelyn’s Fumifugium, from 1661, about the use of green infrastructure to defeat pollution; And what we might learn from nature-based infrastructures of the last 50,000 years

2020’s ailments are deeply rooted, yet have somehow all manifested themselves in the air we breathe. Or whether we can breathe at all.

The smoke from January’s Australian bushfires produced the world’s worst air quality, confining inhabitants of its major cities to their homes, whilst those in small coastal towns huddled on beaches, waiting to be rescued. September’s West Coast USA wildfires paint the towns vermillion, thickening skies refracting the sunlight into a blood-red backdrop, These places also end up with the world’s worst air quality.

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‘An ominous map shows the entire West Coast with the worst air quality on Earth as historic wildfires spew smoke’, The Insider, 11 September 2020

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Afternoon walk, Enskede 23 June 2020

The scale of things, and an emphasis on the small details of everyday infrastructures; The incompleteness of cities ensures its making and re-making; An alternative architecture framed at the scale of interaction design.

Formal architecture is barely present in Olalekan Jeyifous’s work, just as the close crop reveals little in the way of expansive landscape. It is all detail, filing the frame with objects rather than buildings, with greenery more than people. This may be important, as it implicitly asks a question of proportion, suggesting a swing towards urban form based around biodiversity first, and all else follows. I’ve often framed our Swedish Street mission as a way of re-foresting Swedish cities. Perhaps we need to get the point whereby we wonder whether we can see the city for the trees.

So with the idea of extending Klinenberg’s social infrastructures, we must open up a broader definition of the ‘infrastructure of everyday life’, recognising that the terms “social infrastructure” or “public life” may still be caught in the trappings of a human-centred epistemology (for all we understand, after Peter Wohllenben, that trees are social beings too.) …


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Morning walk, Enskede 8 May 2020

Or, the 15-metre city outside your front door is as important as the 15-minute city around you; Allowing the street to decide what it wants to be; How to get to the 15-minute City.

This careful emphasis on the small scale, and the slower dynamic, suggests an engagement with the most potent of spaces that surround us. As suggested previously, the street is the basic unit of city: all systems converge on the street, all culture plays out there, one way or another.

Yet the urban planning cultures of the Acceleration-era tended to largely ignore the street, in favour of overpasses and underpasses, flyovers and roundabouts, all dedicated to speeding up, and scaling out, pushing the city’s edges out to the range of the car moving as rapidly as possible. …


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Morning walk, Granö 28 July 2020

Revisiting EF Schumacher’s intermediate technologies framework from ‘Small is beautiful’ (1973); Susan Leigh Star’s boring invisible infrastructure; Jeremy Till’s ‘interconnected living agents’

The various spaces and infrastructures described in these Papers try to sidestep the growth versus de-growth debate, instead pursuing an alternate form of renewable growth—a slow growth, a dynamic characterised by garden or forest, perhaps, both literally and metaphorically. This kind of slow growth is predicated on care and engagement, on multiple forms of value, concerning circular processes, collective work and outcomes, resilience and longevity, and an understanding that local systems are part of global systems.

These dynamics are productive, but generative rather than extractive, and renewable resources. Equally, there is significant machinery in Jeyifous’s visions, just as the buildings that sit at the core of the cooperative or collective housing models of Kalkebreit, Nightingale, and La Borda are produced via industrial processes, rather than by hand (although there clearly is meaningful ‘sweat equity’ in these projects too). …


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Afternoon walk, Ljusterö 20 July 2020

Olelakan Jeyifous and Simon Stålenhag offer competing visions for Slowdown mood-worlds.

Ben Highmore’s evocative phase “mood-world” provides a way in to describing these aesthetics, patterns, infrastructures and scenarios as they are forming, given the word-pair’s usefully open sense of pliability, contingency, and movement.

Interestingly, bearing in mind Van Eyck’s playgrounds, Highmore used the phrase when theorising the cultural importance of waste-grounds and bomb sites in post-WWII Britain, often adopted as scrappy, improvised and somewhat dangerous playgrounds. The waste-ground constitutes an “affective landscape that played host to a mood-world that was sometimes morose or despondent, sometimes indifferent or disdainful or preoccupied, sometimes resilient or defiant, sometimes joyful and exuberant, and sometimes resigned. …

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