Gender and urban space

In her book Redesigning the American Dream, Dolores Hayden makes a compelling argument about the relationship between gender inequality and urban development. Specifically, she observes that the patriarchal Victorian notion that “a woman’s place is in the home” has had lasting influence on women’s access to urban space:

“Because the working woman was no one man’s property…, she was every urban man’s property. She was the potential victim of harassment in the factory, in the office, in restuarants, and in places of amusement such as theaters or parks. While the numbers of employed women and women in active public life have increased, many of these spatial stereotypes and patterns of behavior remain.”

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Kicking off the Energy Challenge

The IU Energy Challenge (EC) is a contest in which campus buildings compete to reduce their energy and water consumption. I helped organize the first Energy Challenge (which included 12 residence halls) as part of my masters’ capstone project in Spring 2008. Since then, the Challenge has been run nearly every semester and has grown to include academic buildings and greek houses. It has been estimated that from 2008-2011, the Energy Challenge saved over $1 million in avoided utility costs. This fall, 82 buildings across campus signed up to compete.

Since I haven’t been involved in the Challenge since the first running, it has been fun, surprising, and somewhat surreal to encounter its ongoing development and presence on campus. This fall, I decided to drop by and check out the kickoff event energy fair that happened on Oct. 21.

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The enemies of climate

Bill McKibben’s recent article in Rolling Stone has left me with new lingering thoughts about the challenges of climate change mitigation. His assessment is not pretty:

“I can say with some confidence that we’re losing the fight, badly and quickly – losing it because, most of all, we remain in denial about the peril that human civilization is in.”

Denial in the political sphere is more than apparent this election year. Many Republicans in congress continue to not only deny the existence of global warming, but are openly and vehemently against science–and this includes many members of the House Science committee. Romney does not officially deny climate change, rather he considers it a hilarious joke. While Obama and other Democrats take the issue more seriously, we still remain far from achieving federal carbon regulation or international committment. McKibben recounts the failure of the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference and notes that Obama did attend this years environmental summit in Rio.

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Wasting water

According to Roseland, “on average, United States water consumption is more than double the average for all OECD countries“. Similar to electricity, household water consumption is often taken for granted because it’s so cheap. But while there is a growing consciousness around the cost of electricity and its connection to climate change, I’d guess that the average consumer is much less aware of the financial and environmental costs of water consumption. Water may be abundant in many parts of North America, but there is significant infrastructure and energy required to treat it and supply it to homes. Roseland points out that one of the reasons water seems cheap, is that in most places a portion of water supply and sewage treatment costs are paid through tax revenues, rather than showing up on the monthly bill.

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Big Red Eats Green (& bikes)

Big Red Eats Green is an annual fall food festival that takes place on the IU campus. Its sort of like a mini Taste of Bloomington, except with a focus on sustainable food sources and targeted towards students. I stopped by this year’s event back on September 6 and was very impressed.

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Economics, sustainability, and the steady state

Of all ideas associated with sustainability, the most controversial are those that recommend a slowing down of economic activity. While many people can get behind initiatives like recycling or energy efficiency, the idea that we should actually reduce overall production and consumption tends to raise a giant red flag for many.

For example, some of my prior work has dealt with the ecological impacts of the electronics industry and its rapid rates of obsolescence. Specifically, my colleagues and I have tried to imagine ways of designing products that can be maintained and updated over time rather than discarded for the newest model every two years. When talking about this work, I often reach a point when someone says, “wait, are you saying you want people stop buying things? But won’t that just put companies out of business/put people out of jobs/RUIN THE ECONOMY!?”

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After several years of inactivity. I am excited to reboot this blog. Most of the previous posts here were from my days as masters student in interaction design circa 2006-2009. Now that I’m back in school (pursuing a PhD in HCI), it seems like a good idea to take up blogging again as a way to regularly reflect on my studies. Also, this semester I’m enrolled in course on Sustainable Communities (SPEA V515), which is taught by Bill Brown, IU’s Director of Sustainability. This blog will serve as the primary platform for discussing my readings in that course. So you can expect a heavy dose of sustainability-related content, with some occasional design and HCI thrown in. Hope you enjoy.

Performing Identity on Facebook

I recently read an inspiring article by Jeffrey and Shaowen Bardzell from Sept/Oct issue of interactions magazine. The first part of the piece examines the nature of avatars, or digital representations of self. The authors point out that avatars are increasingly important as the interface element through which users interact in online applications, ranging from profiles on Facebook to 3D characters used in virtual worlds like Second Life. Drawing on Goffman and Turkel, the Bardzells make some strong points about the relationship between avatar and user identity. Specifically, they recommend that designers understand avatars as subjectivities as opposed to representations: “A representation is a static signifier… a subjectivity, in contrast, is a living force, an agent that both acts in the world and is constituted in the world through action.” Read more »

User-centered Internet Policy

As a new President takes office, the online world is full of speculation about the future of Internet policy in America. Hopes are high, given that President Obama is considered to the most tech-savvy political candidate to date; in fact many are touting him as the first politician to really get the nature of web 2.0. A recent memo from John Horrigan of the PEW Internet project offers Obama some thought-provoking suggestions for technology policy that are motivated by an interesting analysis of the evolution of internet use.

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“Friends” with Benefits

As is often the case regarding new technology, early research about social networking sites (SNS’s) has tended to lean towards either one of two extremes. On one side, utopist techno-enthusiasts predict that SNS’s will enable a more connected, democratic, and productive society. And on the other end, alarmist critics assert that MySpace is eroding the social morality of the Generation Y. For me, both perspectives often seem out of touch from the actual experience of using applications like Facebook or LinkedIn. In contrast, Ellison, Stamp & Steinfiel’s recent article in interactions presents a positive, but realistic description of online social networking that particularly resonates with my own experience. Based on their study of Facebook among college students, the researchers from Michigan State summarize of a few of the most salient aspects of social networking.

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