Wednesday, 25 February 2009


Recently I’ve been posting a lot about growing trends for pop-ups and guerilla activities. Increasingly, these niche events are gathering operational momentum through the development of online communities accessed predominately through Facebook, blogs and mobile organizing tools. Secret-ish societies are forming to host underground events that are available only to a select crowd of people in the know, and are providing personalized individual experiences just for you and a select group of friends.

Not always entirely legal, in that they don’t always comply with licensing and fire code legislation, or are cash only, they are becoming an increasingly popular option for a good night out or intimate online experience.


Kilburn The Underground Restaurant is a popup restaurant in London that has just caught my attention. Held in the chefs house, her blog acts as menu and chronicles the trials and tribulations of running a fine dining establishment in your front room. The blog is a great read, and based on reviews/photos, a pretty decent meal. Quite interesting that her paypal account, originally used to process guests payments, has been blocked – but luckily has taken over this service. Now that it has started to get a bit of mainstream press I can only hope the exposure doesn’t kill it off. If you are in London, you better get in quick to experience the next Mexican themed meal.

(Note - You could also try a similar set up at the Secret Ingredient on Facebook)


Secret Cinema started up in 2008 as a way to view films in a themed location with a select group of people. Quickly sponsored by Nokia, the group is now staging monthly film extravaganzas in secret locations around the UK. Sign up for updates, but Tell No One!


Black Cab Sessions puts your favorite musicians into a black cab to record a song. They are simple and intimate moments with incredible artists as they sing their way through a city. This session with Brian Wilson is a must see. (Thanks Annette!)

Wednesday, 18 February 2009


Before the economic collapse of the world as we knew it, there had been a little early freakshow interest and media coverage on the growing Freegan movement in the UK. Freegans are urban foragers who stalk the overflowing bins of supermarkets searching for tasty food just past its sell-by date.

Though they share some values, Freegans are not to be confused with Urban Foragers, who hunt through parks, gardens and roadsides for edible plants and berries to make a meal.

Sky Full of Bacon 07: Eat This City from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

Once held up as radical examples of alternative lifestyles, they are now part of a growing movement of people seeking separation from the mainstream capitalist market economy. They join a growing group of people who are living a lifestyle based not on buy buy sell sell, but on barter and trade, on skill share, and on a currency of goodwill.

Called a Shareconomy, a Goodwill Economy, a Moneyless Economy, or Freeconomy, these people are forging a new way of living more communally or “off the grid”.

A Goodwill Economy can work in a number of ways. The simplest is through basic barter and exchange – I need a cake and I have a pair of shoes, you need some shoes and have a cake. We swap. We are happy. Hooray.

This is a long proven model that works in localized and engaged communities worldwide. In co-operatives and community farms food is often exchanged for physical labor. Between groups of friends clothing is pooled and exchanged to update wardrobes. What limits this as a more formal economic model is the direct relationship between the two parties – if our needs don’t align, then it doesn’t work.

As societies become larger and more complex, the model of barter and exchange limits expansion and growth. The introduction of a standard measurement or currency allows for greater scope for exchange of goods and services. Once we measured the worth of goods and services in gold weight – for example, a pair of shoes is worth so many grams in gold. Over time, this has evolved into our modern system of currency. Though modern paper money and coinage is, in itself, practically worthless, it is given value through the belief of that which is represents. So a five dollar bill is merely the idea of something given the value of five dollars.

What goodwill economists are experimenting with is changing the ideology of the currency. Instead of paying for a cake with dollars and cents, or trading it for a pair of shoes, the cake becomes worth a value of goodwill. This goodwill can be traded for other goods and services, or stored and accumulated for later use.

This still sounds like money right? Well it is, kind of. It performs the function of currency, but also has a collective effect of working to build social capital.

Robert Putnum, expert in social capital and author of Bowling Alone, writes about how more socially engaged communities perform acts of kindness and community action with a trusting belief that these gifts of goodwill will be returned at some undefined point in the future. Not valued in monetary terms, the act of giving time to community pursuits and taking part in communal activities are critical ways to sustain a more healthy and engaged community.

In a goodwill or share economy, these acts of kindness and generosity generate status for the individual, and contribute to a more efficient community. In a goodwill economy, wealth is redefined through active participation in your community, being rich means accumulating goodwill status through your engagement with others. These are communities defined by trust, participation status and personal experience.

Wikipedia works on the principles of a shareconomy rewarding the community as a whole for the input of individuals. Web based recommendation and rating models, as popularized by Amazon or Ebay, reward engaged users with higher status and build connection and trust among the community.

Goodwill economy websites have potential to combine similar status models with online banking hybrids to track personal progress. People are rewarded with greater opportunity the more they meaningfully participate, to create insular economies of highly engaged individuals on a broad and complex global scale.


The hub for international Freeconomists is – you go to the site to give and get given – build up goodwill, engage with a global community of like minded individuals, and feel good about spending up big! is a site that uses community status to generate an economy of sleepovers and short stay accommodation. Couchsurfing founder Joe Edelman has recently launched his new venture, a mobile tool designed to mobilize crowds with individual missions and messages. Joe has aims of using Groundcrew to create a new goodwill economy of mobile experiences generated by a community of engaged individuals. is a highly anticipated new site from the Portable Content crew that acts as
“an online fashion portal and brand that takes designers, stores and consumers online. As an entry level it allows style and eco-conscious people to upload their clothes and swap them with other people from around the world.”
Even the Freegans, early radical activists against over consumption and economic excess, are now touching a mainstream audience more broadly concerned with living a socially engaged and sustainable lifestyle.

Who would have thought that digging around in bins would be a precursor to a new age of social engagement and enlightenment!

Monday, 16 February 2009


Elizabeth Gilbert talks about the creativity and genius - Essential viewing for anyone involved in the creative process - thanks Andy and Chris for the heads up!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Fairey Tale

Shepard Fairey, the creator of the Obama HOPE image, and artist behind the OBEY street art, was arrested in Boston on Friday night at the opening of his new exhibition at the ICA.

He was arrested for outstanding warrants for damage to public property, a charge he has already faced 15 times. In addition to his arrest, a new concern must be his attorneys ongoing discussions with the associated press over the use of their image as the inspiration for the Obama poster. They want credit and compensation.

Shepard Fairy talks about his poster for Obama

His work is all over the streets in Boston and Cambridge, in a combined gallery/stealth/sponsored street campaign – similar to the Tate Modern exhibition of street artists last summer. My understanding is there are commissioned works on the streets of Chinatown sponsored in part by the gallery and part by the local business association as well as a number of major pieces that have gone up in secrecy over the two cities in the last few months. One giant piece I noticed on construction hoarding in Cambridge was taken down the next day – my assumption was that it was removed due to its controversial imagery – I have since heard rumor that the owner of the construction site was notified that it might be worth something...

I’m not sure how I feel about that guy profiting from what was meant to be a public piece of art. Yet I see that it was clearly his property to do with what he chooses.

The value of street art as a commodity raises an interesting conversation - The infamy of Banksy, his recognition as a mainstream artist and a cache of celebrity buyers, has pushed street art into legitimate and sellable art form. This has had a game changing effect. No longer is a mural seen as a nuisance to be washed off, now its seen as a gift to be protected (many Banksys across London are protected by sheets of plastic screening), a value add (in the case of the Liverpool pub a Banksy mural was auctioned with the building thrown in!), or an opportunity to pilfer and profit (pieces of wall removed with angle grinders and the stolen piece auctioned on ebay for twenty thousand pounds). They have become tourist attractions with Banksy tours and guidebooks to the city available.

Yet the location of these pieces, outdoors and all weather, painted and postered and usually publicly accessible, make them at their core, transient and temporary. Somehow the protection of these public pieces seems false, and people profiting from them seems unfair. That said, the Last Supper was painted on a wall made, in part, of beaten earth, and if that hadn’t been protected and maintained, we would be missing one of the worlds great artworks.

So what’s best? Protect and preserve the works artificially? or let them fade, be defaced, and lose them to the rigors of the public realm?

Now, in addition to stealth bombing works, there seems to be growing opportunity for artists to partner with local governments, business associations and developers to place artworks in public open air galleries and sanctioned spaces.

The Brisbane City Council Electricity Box program has been running since the late 90’s/early 2000's (?) and is a great example of local government providing a public gallery space for artists that has been a launching pad for many rising Australian art stars.

Mentioned above, in Summer 08, London’s Tate Modern partnered with Nissan Quashqai to host a group of international street artists in an exhibition that extended beyond the gallery to the facade of the building and the surrounding streets. Like the current Fairey exhibition, the artists extended their reach even further out into the city with pieces located all over the city.

A short film by one of the featured artists: Muto by Blu

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

Quashqai Ad

The Quashqai campaign claimed the urban environment as its playground – an increasingly common theme in advertising – see anything by Sony Bravia, or just about anybody working in mobile. As mobile and locative applications increase in usability, the extension of new and interesting urban applications is enormous.

As an urban designer and community builder, I am super positive about any message that challenges people to more meaningfully engage in the world around them, that challenges citizens to use the public spaces of our cities, and that engages in active political discussion about how our urban environments grow and evolve.

With ongoing cooperation between artists and designers, big business, local governments and business associations there is great opportunity to implement exciting collaborations that challenge people to adventure and exploration. The chance for artists to access meaningful funding opportunities is also an added and often overlooked necessity.

With creative visionaries like Sheppard Fairey exploring new ways of working across industries and funding platforms he is leading a charge of artistic enterprise and political dialogue. By engaging artistically, politically and publicly he is reaching out to a more engaged world. Lets hope he can sort out his legal issues asap!

Saturday, 7 February 2009


The craze for pop-ups has spawned temporary restaurants, stores, cinemas, landscapes, magazines and hotels.

A recent evolution in New Zealand saw YellowPages team with local businesses (all listed in YellowPages obviously!) to create the Yellow Treeehouse – a pop up restaurant located 10m up a tree.

All in all it seems to be both a terrific example of a branded popup, interesting design exercise, and good restaurant: Word of mouth buzz – check! Architecturally inventive – check! Decent food – check! Like Melbourne’s’ Greenhouse by Joost or Londons Flash by Bistroteque , it is the popular new kid on the temporary block.

However, as an interesting twist on the traditional popup, Yellow Treehouse also offered a popup job. A job to present the process of design, construction and running of the restaurant through video and daily blogging.

Tracy Collins was selected from a pool of applicants with experience in presenting, project management, restaurants and piano accordion and her job has been central to the message of the campaign. Tracy gives a very likable 2.0 face to the campaign, in a professionally structured and edited way.

I heard about this amazing project when my flatmate Matt spotted it in the Rodney Times. I’d set the goal of challenging myself this year and thought ‘why not?’. I auditioned, then got a call a couple of days later saying I was shortlisted. I turned up thinking there would be ten of us and there were only three. Wow. Two days later I got the job. Yay!

The timing was great. Just the other week I was sitting in an Indian restaurant thinking I really need more work before Christmas as money was a bit tight. Obviously someone is smiling on me. Otherwise I’d be playing my accordion which I do professionally (honestly) which is great but has its ups and downs. I also do a bit of presenting and have trained in Film and TV make up. This project couldn’t have come at a better time but is definitely going to be a challenge. Not only do I have to find all of the people we need on Yellow but once the restaurant is built, I’ll be helping run it. Brilliant eh?

In another pop-up job opportunity, The Queensland Tourism Board has recently launched The Best Job In The World Campaign.

They are calling for applicants for a job to live on Hamilton Island (above the Great Barrier Reef) for six months. The job carries a salary package of AUD$150,000 for a six-month contract.

They are looking for someone:
with an adventurous attitude, passion for the outdoors and good communication skills. A broad range of experience is considered and Tourism Queensland will be selecting applicants based on: - Enthusiasm for the role, Entertainment value (personality and creativity), Presentation skills (being media-friendly), At least one year's relevant experience.

If you think you fit the role there is still 14 days before application close.

You will however be facing competition like Osama Bin Laden – The Guardian reports - The people at Queensland's department of tourism were still a little taken aback when the world's most wanted man sent in a video explaining why he was the perfect candidate to act as caretaker of Hamilton Island in the Great Barrier Reef.
In the 30-second clip, which is available on YouTube, a prankster with a questionable sense of humor has overdubbed footage of Osama Bin Laden and used subtitles to make his case for the job. "I enjoy the outdoors and sandy areas," the subtitles read. "I've got experience with videos, delegating tasks and experience with large scale event co-ordination."

Osama has been showing up in other strange places recently – most notably joining Idi Amin in a (risky/questionable?) campaign for the Samsung i450 Music Phone.

The association of Osama with these campaigns – both unexpected and intentional – shows an interesting shift in his pop mythology as he continues to elude capture for his crimes. Like the Branson/Guevara pairing, its sure to be controversial.

Now it will be interesting to see who and what pops up next!

Data Representation

I like data. And really like it when cold hard fact is represented in engaging and inventive ways. Like any story well told, the representation of data is key to getting a message across.

Once of the most powerful ad campaigns of recent years was the 2005 “Meet the World” flags campaign - created by FCB for Grande Reportagem. The concept uses flags of different nations to visualize data relating to social and political issues of that country.

Recently, Microsoft have released a new music package called Songsmith.Songsmith generates musical accompaniment to match a singer’s voice. Just choose a musical style, sing into your PC’s microphone, and Songsmith will create backing music for you. Then share your songs with your friends and family, post your songs online, or create your own music videos.

Johannes Kreidler has used Songsmith to derive melodies from Stock Charts.

In an oldie but a goodie from TED – (Thanks Andy!) You've never seen data presented like this. With the drama and urgency of a sportscaster, statistics guru Hans Rosling debunks myths about the so-called "developing world."

With more and more sense data (GPS, mobile, wifi, RFID etc) becoming available, the ability to track flows, movement and transfers in real time is becoming increasingly significant.

I worked with the SENSEableCity Lab at MIT last year on a project to engage people in real time representations of movement tracking data for bicycle use in the city of Copenhagen. Below, WikiCity Rome, one of the labs earlier projects uses cell phone and other sense data to make meaningful real time representations of what’s happening in the world around us.

In the brilliant BBC series, Britain From Above (Thanks Davey!), GPS data traces are used to track shipping and flight paths across the country. The striking visuals used in this program demonstrate the charming qualities of data to meaningfully engage people with the world around them.