Uber for Elders


I know countless folks – Millennials and Baby Boomers alike – who regularly use the ride hailing services Uber and Lyft. The apps are free to use and are highly convenient. If you aren’t familiar with them, let me give you a very brief overview of why they are all the rage right now: to start, the apps are free. You connect your checking account to them and each time you get a ride, the app retrieves the fare from your account. Secondly, with the touch of a button you can quickly send a vehicle your way ASAP, assuming you live in a fairly metropolitan community.

Uber and Lyft are just plain easy. That is, if you have technology skills and a smart phone to use them on. I just pass “mustering” when it comes to technology, as I was born in the age of analogue and didn’t take a sip of digital water until well into my 20s. But what if you’re older and never became accustomed to the wonders of this handheld connected age? The elderly didn’t grow up with Facebook and their thumbs aren’t quite used to hitting miniature buttons, let alone keeping up with the latest apps. But it is exactly this demographic that could really use these ride hailing services.

Lyft, which has historically been overshadowed by its older, shinier cousin, Uber, is making a fight for the limelight with its newest initiative. The company has partnered up with a non-profit health care system – the largest in the United States – called Ascension, to provide rides to and from its hundreds of facilities and hospitals. (more…)

An Era of Change Yet to be Named


I enjoyed the privilege of co-curating a tour of the Luther: Art and the Reformation exhibit with my Studio/E family and our dear partners at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) recently. Next year is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant movement and Mia is hosting the largest gathering of Luther-related objects ever seen outside of Germany.

While the exhibit is an incredible dive into the seismic shifts between the Catholic Church and those who broke off with it, my focus was more on the underlying forces and the nature of the seismic shifts in and of themselves. In fact, as we end 2016 I’d argue that we’re experiencing some pretty sizable tectonic plate shifting ourselves; life-altering technologies, the rise and fall of major institutions, incredible innovations and painful reactionary voices all at once.

You see, 500 years ago the folks who went through those times didn’t call it the Reformation, the Enlightenment or any other moniker. They most likely called it “just getting through … just maneuvering through interesting times.” Likewise, I’m guessing that in a few hundred years people will look back at us and say, “oh those people, they lived through the [insert provocative academic title]”.

Naked Civics has always been devoted to those designs that move us forward — be they physical, institutional or explorations of how we design our thinking. Designs that go beyond any one sector, designs that are aimed at a particular human condition. These days it’s clear that many of our institutional designs are stressed, stuck and in some cases breaking apart. Likely places to look are instances where we focus more on how things are delivered rather than why they are created. We especially lose track of for whom we create and taking their needs into consideration. (more…)

Turning Waste into Water


One of the largest cities in Denmark, second only to the capital of Copenhagen, is the first in the world to power its water treatment plant with sewage and waste. I’ve heard about this process before when it comes to household waste from your local garbage dump, but this time I’ve run into a different kind of waste: the stuff that comes from your local sewer. Yes, that kind of waste.

Truly one of the unsung marvels of the Roman Empire, sewage systems that take human waste from your home to somewhere far from your home has become a huge benefit to human health. I’ve written about the dire straits that millions face when they live without these systems and its detrimental effects on drinking water. But to date, this waste at best gets treated and the water is recycled. Perhaps that’s about to end.

The Marselisborg Wastewater Treatment Plant in Aarhus, Denmark is turning wastewater and sewage into fresh water by creating electricity out of biogas. The process includes extracting carbon from waste and sewage and mixing it into what New Scientist calls a digester, which is filled with bacteria. The carbon and bacteria produce methane that, when burned, creates electricity. And this electricity is being used to power the entire plant. (more…)

Seeing Bike Paths in a Whole New Light


Have you noticed how popular biking has become amongst city-dwellers in the past few years? I live in a city that is particularly accommodating to bicyclists so it’s possible the influx has caught my attention more than folks living outside of Minneapolis. But this seems to be happening the world over. Bicycle boulevards are popping up in downtown streets that provide a safe path for bikers; miles and miles of paths now connect cities to the suburbs; and buses and other forms of public transportation are becoming increasingly easier to transport your bike around on.

Europe has brought a whole new light to the bike path … literally. Pruszków, Poland is now home a solar-powered bike path that glows a beautiful blue once the the sun goes down. If you follow this link to Tech Crunch you’ll see what I mean — it really is a pretty sight.

Created by the engineering firm TPA sp. z o.o, which focuses on technology of the future, Poland’s bike path is hitting the design world news sites by force. Now the name may be a mouthful but the idea is simple. In fact, it’s so simple that reading about it now I can’t help but think that glow in the dark bike paths are downright obvious.  (more…)

The Pathway to Righteousness


Photo from Projekt Waterfilter

Around the world, 800 million people do not have access to clean and safe drinking water. This is more than a big number; there are big consequences in the form of disease and infection. Making clean drinking water available is one of the most basic of human needs, so making headway means big improvements down the line. But the fact of the matter is that no one solution is going to healthily quench the thirst of the many millions who are suffering. So each step down the path to clean water for all is one less step we need to make.

A German nonprofit called Enactus has built a rudimentary but highly effective filtration system for communities without access to clean water – primarily those in developing nations. Waterfilter is a reservoir made out of a mixture of clay and local resources like spent coffee grounds and rice husks that, when heated, captures contamination from the water while dispensing clean water.

Though fairly crude, the cistern has a 99.9% success rate of water purification, and the use of local resources is important, as it makes production sustainable and accessible. Waterfilter’s website has a clear and what I would consider a compelling vision: To empower people to provide access to safe drinking water with the strength of entrepreneurship. (more…)

Humane Design in the Face of Inhumanity


All it takes is a briefing of TIME’s list of the 25 best inventions of 2016 to realize that, despite what the newspapers, radio and TV tells us, we live in pretty good times. Not perfect times, mind you, because there is plenty of improvement work to be done. While empirically speaking, this is one of the safest times on more places on the planet than ever, but through our global digital environment we have easy access to the many (too many) horrors that we still inflict upon one another.

It’s an understatement to say that 2016 was a rough year on refugees, so it is really nice to see TIME give a nod to a design that works to protect them. The UN Refugee Agency and the IKEA Foundation joined forces to create Better Shelter – a social enterprise with a mission to improve the lives of the millions around the world who are displaced by armed conflicts and natural disasters.

Better Shelter dreams of a day when everyone has a safe place to call home, no matter where in the world home is. Until that day comes, the company is working tirelessly on spearheading a movement to provide shelter for the millions who are displaced. (more…)

Putting the Power in Kids’ Hands


The kid in us loves gadgets, but when it comes to actual kids and digital gadgets, they’ve been swimming in that pool since birth. At least that’s the case in much of the developed world.

Of course, not every kid is so lucky to be able to put wearables and technology on their holiday wish lists. For too many kids around the world, theirs is a wish for a simple meal so that they can survive another day. According to UNICEF, 16,000 children die every single day from causes we can prevent, like malnourishment and disease. In total, malnutrition takes about 3 million children’s lives each year globally. But now there’s a way for kids to use their technology for good and touch the lives of starving children around the world.

UNICEF (The United Nations arm famous for providing humanitarian aid to children in developing countries) collaborated with a design studio called Ammunition to create the Kid Power Band – a wearable that empowers kids to help the children in need. (more…)

A Microscope That Fits In Your Pocket

Bacterial infection. Rod-shaped bacteria, 3D illustration

Tuberculosis isn’t a disease we hear about too much in the United States, even if we experience almost 200,000 cases per year. It’s an infectious disease caused by bacteria that manifests itself in the lungs. It also manifests itself in developing countries, particularly those in Asia and Africa.

To diagnose the bacterial infection one must conduct a blood test and survey it with a microscope. Blood tests can be administered essentially anywhere – it’s the microscopes that cause some concern. In this TED Talk you’ll learn that microscopes aren’t designed for field-testing. For one, if you remember from science class, they are really heavy. Not exactly the kind of equipment one would throw in a backpack while trekking to a remote village. Secondly, they are costly.

Weight and cost restrictions don’t do much for accessibility, which is tough because it is precisely the places that need access to better health care that also run rampant with TB. (more…)

Giving Food Waste a Second Life

Food Waste

I live in Minnesota – a state known for its brutally cold winters. But this past weekend, in early November, our temperatures reached 73 degrees Fahrenheit. Compared to my wedding 25 years prior (known more widely as the Great Halloween Blizzard of 1991) this weekend’s weather is a pretty conspicuous indicator of our warming world. Which is why I love seeing great ideas put into action now, and I mean right now. 

A town in England is taking the lead here.

The southwest British town of Keynsham is en route to being run almost entirely on food waste. You know the stuff – the leftovers you bring home from a restaurant but never get to, the lettuce that browns way too fast, the meatloaf that you couldn’t convince your kids to eat. Food waste, by the way, is a problem almost as big as melting glaciers. Forty percent of the food grown in the United States ends up somewhere other than someone’s stomach.

My first preference is to find ways to bring food about to be wasted into the hands of people who live with food insecurity. However, sometimes the scraps and spoilage mean that food can’t be used for eating. But that doesn’t mean that the food can’t be used. (more…)

Get a Cut, Nourish your Head

Round bookshelf in public library

Getting kids to read a book isn’t always the easiest trick up a parent’s sleeve. As a dad of two girls, I know this from a bit of experience: Getting kids started on a life of literature oftentimes has a rocky start. Lucky for the parents and teachers in Ypsilanti – a town just outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan – an unlikely figure has taken the helm for getting children to practice their ABCs.

At The Fuller Cut barber shop, kids get $2 off their cut if they pick up a book and read to the stylist when they are getting their hair done. Now, haircuts don’t typically come out of kids’ pockets, but a $2 savings is big – like two candy bars big.

According to this NPR piece, barber Ryan Griffin was inspired by a literacy program he heard about in New York, so he brought some books from home to the shop and gave it a go himself. Weeks later, and after some word of mouth, his chairs were filled with children stumbling over words and he started receiving book donations. A week after NPR ran the first article they published a second one updating readers on the Read-to-a-Barber program, which has unsurprisingly gained attention in all corners of the world; from California to Australia and a stop off in Germany along the way. That’s a pretty big footprint for a little barbershop. (more…)