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Faithful forwarder Laurel refers us to this article in the Boston Globe about happiness studies – will new data about what actually makes people happier change our policies as well as our thinking? This quote from it caught my eye:

Others have begun to think about how happiness data might change where people live. For example, the trade-off between house size and commute length is familiar to every suburbanite, but as Cornell economist Robert Frank has pointed out, the two things affect our mood in different ways. While we quickly adapt to a bigger house and start taking it for granted, research suggests that a long, trafficky commute is something we never adjust to, and that even grows more onerous with time. Work like this could give added heft to arguments for policy measures like higher gas taxes, and for zoning laws that concentrate housing and cut down on traffic and commuting distances – arguments that now tend to be cast chiefly in environmental terms, but which also might push people toward decisions that make them happier in the long term.

This echoes discoveries made in the World Without Oil game. People engaged in the game made similar discoveries: when the oil shock made their commutes more painful in the wallet, people began to rethink the exurban lifestyle. One wonders if serious alternate reality games might be a way for researchers to cross-check their happiness studies?

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Krystyn Wells is now seeing the serious challenges and expectations from World Without Oil come to reality over the past couple of weeks. Serious game, indeed.

The Facebook tweet above by Krystyn (who was Pachinko_Chance in WWO) made me realize something new about the World Without Oil game: it was a kind of Rorschach Test about the health of the country. The game did a lot to lay open the extent to which oil and petroleum-fueled energy has oozed its way into the fabric of our lives, and I’ve written about that extensively in past blog posts, and about how this oozing has become painfully clear in the year since the game ended.

The sign of things to come

The sign of things to come

But as Krystyn indicates, maybe the game also laid open the extent to which trouble was brewing, not directly petroleum-related. Commentators on the game noted how it tapped into the subconscious or the mythological. When you read stories like this one, which is full of foreclosures and belt-tightening and slipping-down lives, it reads like today – and remember, mind you, it was written back in May 2007, when there was no credit crisis, no mortgage crisis, no foreclosures, just sunny skies and prosperity forever and people thought $3 a gallon was some sort of dark fantasy.

Maybe we need to have a crisis game like WWO every year – and build something that we can pick apart at the end, and trace its various narrative threads back to the real-life cracks in the infrastructure that inspired them. And then see what we can do to fix those cracks before they spread and threaten to bring everything crashing down. Photo by respres via Flickr.

The Next Slum?

The Next Slum?

The single most disturbing thing that arose in the World Without Oil game had to be the disintegration of law and order, especially in the suburbs. WWO players realized that if only 20% of the families in a neighborhood left (because it no longer made sense to commute, for example), it caused a chain reaction that led to increased crime – a situation compounded when communities were hard hit by budget shortfalls and a contracting economy, and thus shrinking and overstressed police forces and services. And the crime led to more people leaving the neighborhood, which led to more crime, and so on. And scenes like this, from player Warnwood.

Which is why it’s utterly disturbing to hear that our players predicted this correctly, and that the process has already begun – catalyzed of course by the subprime mortgage crisis. You can read all about it in this article in The Atlantic magazine.

In Europe, I am led to believe, the most desirable property is typically closest to the city center. Something to think about? I’m within walking distance of two downtowns, myself… Photo by robertpogorzelski via Flickr.

Uptick in auto arson, by KalwithoutoilThe truth can finally be told. Those weren’t anarchists torching cars in Kalwithoutoil’s video for Week 4. That was a smokescreen (so to speak) to cover up arson fraud. And reality slips another few notches closer to fiction.

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Image from Kalwithoutoil video

Streetfilms and the New Digital History EducationOne of the core messages of World Without Oil is that happiness does not depend upon petroleum (but unhappiness may). Think, for example, of a highway gridlocked with solo drivers, each of whom would identify “loneliness, isolation” as the thing that is making them the most unhappy.

Here’s a perfect example of what we’re talking about: check out what the New Digital History Education blog has to say about the Ciclovia idea, and then watch the video by StreetFilms. There are elegant solutions to a world with less oil.

James Howard Kunstler on the Colbert Report.The Colbert Report takes on James Howard Kunstler, who is the John the Baptist figure of peak oil – a voice that’s been crying in the wilderness for a long time, that is. For all the talk about Kunstler’s new book, “World Made By Hand – A Novel,” nobody seems to be talking about it as a fictional work – as with the World Without Oil game, it’s a veneer of fiction painted on a cold hard potential reality. Watch the Colbert report segment.

Amid all the economic doom and gloom, you might have missed the little wire service blurb about the gas station clerk in Nitro, West Virginia (I am not making this up) who was caught selling gasoline to family and friends for 0.1 cents a gallon. We saw a lot of this sort of thing in WWO. It may seem relatively minor (although this clerk apparently pumped $50K worth before being caught) but it has a deeper significance: WWO players pinpointed this sort of fraud as the reason that any gas rationing scheme would likely fail in the U.S. – the lure of the black market would just be irresistible.

Check this out. Mita refers us to Rebecca Solnit’s ode to Detroit, rebirthing. Is this what will happen to most, if not all, of our cities as they reach the end of their growth arcs and begin to tumble back to the green earth?

It was the world's first serious alternate reality game, a cooperative pre-imagining of a global oil crisis. Over 1900 players collaborated in May 2007 to chronicle the oil crisis with their own personal blog posts, videos, images and voicemails. The game ended after simulating the first 32 weeks of the oil shock, but its effects continue, as game designers analyze its unique gameplay and we all watch the continuing drama with global oil prices and supply.