Efe Kurnaz © Unsplash

Common Futures by Architect Joni Baboci

January 28 2022

The future of manufacturing and the global economy will gradually be open sourced. Fueled by the potential of DAOs and coordinated crowd-funding, liminal projects like open-source architecture, or open source 3d models, could become a mainstream approach to production and construction. Doing something for free meant sacrificing the potential for financial gain in exchange for some intrinsic value that an individual gained by investing her time in valuable work. Innovating in open source projects is more than just sharing code. It’s mostly about fostering a community of followers and contributors that can not only provide code, but also funding opportunities to grow and secure open source projects. The first organization to foray into this space is Gitcoin – a DAO that wants to finance an open source, collaborative and economically empowering internet. Through the platform, stakeholders can vote on funding proposed projects, as well as generate and distribute learning resources and materials with the ultimate aim of building the digital public infrastructure of tomorrow. To date more than 50 million dollars has been invested towards the development and improvement of open source software, with more than 300,000 developers around the world involved with the project. 

Helmet © Gitcoin

This structure is a crucial step in imagining a circular open source organization of the economy. A community driven by the open source philosophy and collaborative spirit of wikipedia applied to the physical economy. Corporations and factories would operate on the principle that projects should be governed and funded by the community as a whole. At the same time excellence would be financially compensated and individual ability would be fully recognized and celebrated. A strange amalgamation of capitalist principles and communal organization that seems uncanny because of the cognitive dissonance it emulates. We have been educated to think of ideologies as extreme ends of the spectrum and as such completely irreconcilable with one another. Technology and community might however allow a governance system where the best elements of each system are mixed and matched by various digital organizations around the world until a golden mean is identified and serves as the basis for a common future. 

The open sourcing of public goods is at the heart of a future circular economy. At its basis this refers to an economy built on principles of sustainability and participation – an economy which enables collective conservation and improvement by sharing global knowledge, activating regional resources and enabling local craftsmanship. It is a global economic model that aims at preserving biodiversity, increasing resilience, and ensuring a long-term flow of natural resources and material cycles through the entire value chain. In a way it is similar to how open source infrastructure powers the economy of the world wide web. A more incentivized provision of the right infrastructure might create the context in which a local circular economy flourishes. 

It is not inconceivable to see block-chain based solutions to waste management, recycling and repurposing. One such solution might track waste produced by businesses or even individuals, creating a significant level of personal responsibility. A shared and public digital record, might enable companies to source their materials from responsible suppliers and individuals to reduce litter and inspire change at the community level. Some companies are already attempting something similar by providing carbon credits traded on digital commodity exchanges. There are also attempts to approach climate change adaptation and mitigation through similar platforms. FAO provides a number of interesting ideas and aspirations in it latest report on blockchain, climate change and agriculture (who would have thought there would be such a groundbreaking combination just ten years after the technology was launched): 

Van Wassenaer, L., van Hilten, M., van Ingen, E., van Asseldonk, M., 2021. Applying blockchain for climate action in agriculture: state of play and outlook. Rome/Wageningen, FAO and WUR.

"Blockchain technology can help improve transparency and accountability of climate change adaptation and mitigation activities and impacts in a wide range of verticals in agriculture. In supporting adaptation strategies, blockchain creates opportunities for new value chains and platforms for smallholder farmers through rural credits (through tokens), crowdfunding, crowd lending and microinsurance. Blockchain can also help in tracking the investments and outcomes of improved management practices for climate change adaptation. For climate change mitigation, the technology can lay the foundation for a global carbondata community that enables better monitoring and evaluation of climate change mitigation activities and supporting the development of the carbon market."

From the book © A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander
From the book © A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander

Community 

At the heart of all good collaborative open source projects there is a community. A group of like minded individuals who contribute for the intrinsic value of bringing forth a product which often cannot be realized by a single individual. A similar mindset might apply to kickstarting the economy of the future. In this context I believe there’s a case to be made that Christopher Alexander, Jane Jacobs and other “qualitative” urban thinkers are echoing a deeper complex order, which we are not yet able to comprehend and might never be able to decode. I suspect however that there are fantastic opportunities in merging desirable urban patterns, sustainable circular economy and various levels of community control. This could transform communities from lethargic participants in tokenistic public consultations, to proactive agents of change - which access the deeper order of cities by excelling at community-driven local interventions. A distributed but well-coordinated exercise in urban acupuncture which might allow cities to access that higher order that Alexander hints at without the need to fully comprehend it. An organized and coordinated distribution of local governance might have a much higher effect on cities than current cartesian attempts of imposed order and legibility. 

In the context of East Asian philosophy and East Asian religions, Tao is the natural order of the universe whose character one's human intuition must discern in order to realize the potential for individual wisdom. This intuitive knowing of "life" cannot be grasped as a concept; it is known through actual living experience of one's everyday being. 

One could envisage a future city or economy which governs itself through a network of local DAOs, each with its own locally voted organic patterns. An attempt at a real implementation of research by design. A city which grows organically through the distributed decisions of local cells, as well as the synergies and conflicts generated by them. An organized conditional expression of urban features that enable flexibility and responds to changing circumstances. Such an approach would transform plans from static documents to a tended set of conditional rules and patterns which would express themselves selectively based on local factors and desires. 

A tolerant, diverse and engaged community can coalesce around an identity andincrease the sense of ownership as well as active collaboration. Apprenticeship andmentoring programs are crucial in cultivating community and educating a newgeneration of makers. Alexander in one of his patterns discusses the university as amarketplace rather than as a closed off insulated building:

Alexander, Christopher, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein, Max Jacobson, Ingrid Fiksdahl-King, and Angel Shlomo. 1977. A pattern language: towns, buildings, construction., Pg.232

"The original universities in the middle ages were simply collections of teacherswho attracted students because they had something to offer. They weremarketplaces of ideas, located all over the town, where people could shop aroundfor the kinds of ideas and learning which made sense to them. By contrast, theisolated and over-administered university of today kills the variety and intensity ofthe different ideas at the university and also limits the student’s opportunities toshop for ideas."

Alexander’s ideas become even more relevant in the context of fostering a community: amarketplace of higher education, where everyone can give or take a course in somethingspecific in which he or she is a scholar - even at a very young age. It also signals aswitch from emphasis on teaching to emphasis on learning by generating anenvironment that fosters professional collaboration and growth while preserving andeven democratizing academic excellence.

From the book © A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander

Building in Public 

The publicness of the open source community often means that products are not launched at the end of the process. Rather they are co-created in tandem with users. Building in public has been a feature of open source software for decades but it has lately trickled to the physical economy through platforms like kickstarter. Crowdfunding allows makers to illustrate their ambitions, and then include the feedback and ideas that are generated from fans and future customers. The process is about engaging, educating and involving as many people as possible in the creative process. It’s a perspective that not only makes better things, but also allows people to network and collaborate with their peers. It opens up new opportunities for a global network of makerspaces where anyone can join in learning skills, building projects, collaborating (remotely or in person), sharing ideas, meeting like-minded makers and ultimately starting their own project. 

Designers and crypto-natives will play a key role in reimagining the future of cities. The creative community has always been attracted to independence and the localist mindset. In Europe, Freetown Christiania or Metelkova enforce clear but permeable barriers around their communities. Typically these communities hold individual freedoms in the highest possible regards - at the same time these same freedoms can not have a net negative effect on the community. What might start out as an urban island of total freedom - mostly known as artists hangouts with a flourishing drug consumption scene - might transform them into the focal points of digital activists. These few permanent urban spaces might provide a constant location for virtual conversations that have been brewing for decades. These beta versions of decentral cities could provide a safe space for Millennials and Zoomers to discuss their financial plight. Despite being the most educated generation and having had native access to the internet they are the poorest generation of the century; with the global economic system and financialized real-estate providing an insurmountable barrier owned by what Andrew Leonard calls the “me” generation: 

Leonard, Andrew. “Curse of the Boomer Hegemony.” Salon.com, 10 Dec. 2009, 

"There's no stopping the "me" generation. In the '60s they got all the good drugs, inthe '70s all the sex, in the '80s all the money, and now, in the waning days of theaughts, they won't let go of all the jobs. It goes without saying that during the nextdecade they'll gobble up all the good healthcare."

Complex Ecosystem Approach 

An alternate approach in envisioning an ecosystem that can drive novelopportunities might be a switch from the typical waterfall approach to an agileone. In imagining the circular economy maybe we should not be thinking aboutone particular proposal, zoning matter, or industrial sub-sector, but rather atsetting up an interconnected network of synergetic elements with no single pointof failure and multiple intermediate outcomes.

In such an ecosystem the recyclable waste outputs of one business might be the inputs of another thus creating an industrial symbiosis improving both economic and sustainability outcomes. These cross-dependencies can create a complex and highly interconnected network which works with very little outside intervention: akin to an ant colony or a city – a self-organized system with the governance structure as a mentor, enabler and curator of the whole. 

In a large sense, the tragedy of the commons is nothing more than a tragedy for mankind. When you combine individual greed with communal interests, you often get a situation where the good natural instincts of people are compromised. This might happen even subconsciously to a certain degree. Individuals often feel that their individual decisions do not have an outsized impact on their environment. Add to this the fact that the tragedy of the commons emerges when there is a relatively long lag in consequences and you get a situation in which things are not easy to diffuse. One might think that not paying the taxes for one year might not have a big impact on getting governmental services, but the moment every individual starts thinking and acting on that idea, public funding starts to collapse. One interesting approach and solution to the the tragedy of the commons is provided by Taleb and Ostrom and typically defined as a problem of scale rather than one of incentives: 

Taleb, Nassim N. Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life. London: Allen Lane, 2018

"The “tragedy of the commons,” as exposed by economists, is as follows—the commons being a collective property, say, a forest or fishing waters or your local public park. Collectively, farmers as a community prefer to avoid overgrazing, and fishermen overfishing—the entire resource becomes thus degraded. But every single individual farmer would personally gain from his own overgrazing or overfishing under, of course, the condition that others don’t. And that is what plagues socialism: people’s individual interests do not quite work well under collectivism. What Ostrom found empirically is that there exists a certain community size below which people act as collectivists, protecting the commons, as if the entire unit became rational. Such a commons cannot be too large. It is like a club. Groups behave differently at a different scale."

Ultimately all of these tools provide a fantastic existing framework on which to start building a new economy. An economy based on the individual, on local production, on sharing and craftsmanship. An economy based on advanced manufacturing and therefore a system which might not sacrifice excellence and comforts we are used to in the goods and services we consume everyday. An economy that rewards giving and sharing, but at the same time provides the right financial incentives for each contribution. Finally an economy which empowers individuals and allows them to actively participate in the governance of the system they are the protagonists of. Building such a framework is not easy, but it is becoming simpler by the day. The imminent advent of the circular economy might probably not be a consequence of technological innovation but rather a consequence of a paradigm shift in how we collaborate, coordinate, cogovern, codesign and most importantly, how we think about ourselves.

Credits

This research is made possible by the generous contribution of our Partner ENI.

Bibliography

Open-source Architecture, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open-source_architecture

Find and Download the Greatest 3d Models For Your 3d Printer., https://cults3d.com/en

Van Wassenaer, L., van Hilten, M., van Ingen, E., van Asseldonk, M., 2021. Applying blockchain for climate action in agriculture: state of play and outlook. Rome/Wageningen, FAO and WUR.

Alexander, Christopher, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein, Max Jacobson, Ingrid Fiksdahl-King, and Angel Shlomo. 1977. A pattern language: towns, buildings, construction., Pg.232

Leonard, Andrew. “Curse of the Boomer Hegemony.” Salon.com, 10 Dec. 2009, www.salon.com/2009/12/10/boomer_hegemony/

Cook, R., How complex systems fail. Cognitive Technologies Laboratory, University of Chicago. Chicago IL, 1998

Johnson, Steven. 2001. Emergence: the connected lives of ants, brains, cities, and software. New York: Scribner., Loc. 824-827

Taleb, Nassim N. Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life. London: Allen Lane, 2018.,

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