October 17th, 2012
10:53 AM ET

Lowline: proposal for the world's first underground park in NYC

By Julia Lull and Brittany Rivera, Special to CNN

New York (CNN) - In crowded cities like Manhattan where most people work and live in high-rise buildings, there is a desire for green space and fresh air. Rather than create another park above the ground, two designers have proposed the LowLine, what they call “the world’s first underground park.”

The project, founded by Dan Barasch and James Ramsey, would take the old Essex Street Trolley Terminal located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and convert it into a subterranean playground, complete with sunlight.

After a friend and former MTA employee told Barasch and Ramsey about the amount of unused space underground, they decided to build something that would use the free space in the city, rather than add to the already dense skyline. FULL POST

Post by:
Filed under: Design • Environment • The Next List • Video
October 12th, 2012
07:00 AM ET

My Question: What Do You Want To Make?

Editor's Note: Jim Newton’s full 30-minute profile airs on CNN’s “The Next List” this Sunday at 2 P.M. ET. He is the founder and chairman of TechShop, a membership-based workshop for do-it-yourselfers that provides access to tools, equipment and instruction.

By Jim Newton, Special to CNN

When I started TechShop in 2006, there were about 200 projects I wanted to make. I needed a maker space like TechShop so I could get access to the tools and the space to create. I already had the ideas. I also knew a lot of people who would jump at the chance to be part of a place like that.

As TechShop has grown, now with six locations and about 4,000 members, I've been astounded by the ideas that members walk in with. We've seen ideas for electric cars, a needle-free diabetes meter, a baby warmer that could save 100,000 infants' lives and even a diamond-making machine. Literally, everything from jewelry to jet packs have been created at TechShop. Most members have an idea of something they want to make, and come to us and join our community to build it.

When I meet people who are not yet members of TechShop, I like to ask a simple question: "What do you want to make?" The typical response is "Oh, nothing. I wouldn't know where to start," or "I'm not handy ... I don't know which end of a hammer to hold."

Then I'll press further. "Isn't there something that you've wanted to make that doesn't exist? For your house or car, a gift for someone, or to improve your life or someone else's?"

That's when an interesting thing happens. They light up and say something like, "Well, there is this one idea I have." They will describe the idea in great detail right down to color, variations, and the brand name they have given it.

I find that most people are very passionate about something specific they want to make, but they don't know how to do it. Some of these ideas are small and personal, and others are world-altering ideas.

TechShop's mission is to coax people to think about their ideas and help them bring those ideas to fruition.

I believe that unlocking these ideas is how we can help change a person, or help change the world. So my question to you, right now is: What do YOU want to make?" As you go about the rest of your day, take a look around and ask yourself:  If you had the resources and ability to make something, what you would do?

Post by:
Filed under: Science • Tech • The Next List • Video
Cut the bureacuracy – how Boston innovates
October 11th, 2012
07:14 PM ET

Cut the bureacuracy – how Boston innovates

Editor’s Note: Nigel Jacob is the Co-Chair of the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics. Jacob was featured in The Next List's 30-min profile on Jennifer Pahlka, Founder of Code for America, and her efforts to help cities cut through bureaucracy and innovate.

By Nigel Jacob, Special to CNN

The last several years has seen a wave of innovative tech experiments in governance and governing. These experiments in civic innovation have the potential to profoundly change both the interface between the public and the public sector, and how government delivers service to the public. Paraphrasing Clay Shirky, these innovations represent the experimental wing of modern politics and government.

One of the causes for this wave of experimentation is the effect that the modern web is having on the expectations of the public. The advent of consumerization, cheap computation and mobile tech are changing how people think about city living and the role of the government in it.

These new expectations include:
• the expectation of good/great design
• a sense that people should be able to connect on their own terms: BYOD
• a feeling that people should be able to just solve problems themselves: DIY City
• a greater intolerance for systems that don't work OR that don't get better quickly

This situation presents numerous challenges for government (and indeed any institution) in responding to this change in expectation. Often in the civic innovation community we focus on the kinds of tools and technologies that government uses to deliver service and connect with people. However, a more fundamental problem that limits government's attempts to innovate is the culture of risk aversion.

Finding ways to change this culture is hard. It is our contention that the culture of risk aversion arises out of a lack of a model of managing the risk associated to innovation in local government. City officials are being asked to innovate in an environment that has no model for managing risk and in particular what happens if the innovation projects fails. These officials risk their reputations among their peers, superiors, elected officials, the public, the press, etc. The net result of this is that potentially innovative projects get stalled. From this perspective bureaucracy can be seen as the default means to manage risky projects: slow them down until they go away.

What need a cultural overhaul in government. This can be accomplished via collaborative partnerships with groups or individuals that have effective, lightweight ways of innovating, and thus managing risk.

This is part of the approach we have pursued in Boston. We call our approach “New Urban Mechanics” and we work to aggregate the risk of innovation by being the "Dept of Yes" and creating a safe place in City Hall to experiment and, yes, to fail (on occasion).

The Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics is a civic innovation (co)laboratory that works to develop partnerships that can deliver innovative experiments in civic engagement and new kinds of city services. This work is very much inspired by our Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who was once nicknamed the "Urban Mechanics" because of his singular focus on the details that make cities livable (schools that graduate your kids on time, streets that are smooth, neighborhoods that are safe to walk in after dark).

Code For America (CfA) has been a key ally of ours. They bring a wide range of innovative tech skills and perspective that we have been able to tap to push forward some very interesting products / projects. The talented fellows that CfA supports have the capacity to infect local government with a civic innovation "culture virus".

In our experience, there are lots of innovators in local government. However, up till now most of them have gone unnoticed and un-resourced. By partnering these city officials with a group like CfA, we can unleash a new generation of innovators both inside and outside of government and reinvent American government.

Please Follow us, Like us, and check out our photos!

Post by:
Filed under: The Next List • Video
How I learned to make underwater robots
October 10th, 2012
12:21 PM ET

How I learned to make underwater robots

By David Lang, Special to CNN

With the presidential election coming up, it’s hard to go anywhere without hearing an opinion on the candidates' plan for the economy, specifically manufacturing jobs.

Despite all the bad economic news the past few years, I couldn’t be more excited about the potential for manufacturing in this country.

My optimism isn’t based on macroeconomic reports or expert opinions. In fact, it’s entirely personal. Our OpenROV, an open-source underwater robot, recently raised over $110,000 on Kickstarter, the crowdfunding platform for creative projects. This experience has jump-started our micro-manufacturing company as we move into a small facility in Berkeley, California.

For me, this project has become a surprising new career. After unexpectedly losing my job last year, I was forced to rethink my entire life direction. I came to the stark realization that all I was qualified to do was sit in front of a computer screen. Instead of scrambling back into the rat race and trying to find another job behind a desk, I decided to focus on a more fundamental skill set: actually making things.

In the months after being laid off, I immersed myself in the growing Maker Movement by spending two months taking every class I could at TechShop, a members-only workshop in San Francisco. I took woodworking, laser cutting, welding, computer-aided design and manufacturing, and everything in between.

Rather unexpectedly, the side project I had begun with my friend Eric Stackpole began to gain momentum, and now the project is a full-time job.

The better news is that my "Zero to Maker" story is becoming more common than people realize. New tools and machines - 3-D printers, laser cutters, open-source micro-controllers - along with online communities and maker spaces are democratizing the means of production.

Now, anyone with an idea can quickly prototype an idea. And websites like Kickstarter make it easy for those ideas to develop a community of supporters (these ideas are beautifully articulated in Chris Anderson’s new book, "Makers").

Our OpenROV project, for example, has professional and amateur ocean engineers contributing from all over the world.

It doesn’t take an engineering background or industrial design degree to join the new maker economy. Everything I’ve learned, from how to use the machines to setting up a micro-manufacturing operation, has been on-the-spot and just-in-time. There’s a community of makers ready to get you up to speed. It’s an affordable and accessible way to re-skill yourself. We’re all learning together.

When I started, I worried I was at a permanent disadvantage because I had never used a soldering iron. Now, I'm worrying about how we're going to fill all the orders for our robots. It's a much better problem to have.

Post by:
Filed under: Robots • Science • Tech • The Next List • Video
October 9th, 2012
10:48 AM ET

Jim Newton, patron saint of do-it-yourselfers

Editor's Note: Jim Newton’s full 30-minute profile airs on CNN’s “The Next List” this Sunday at 2 P.M. ET. He is the founder and chairman of TechShop, a a membership-based workshop for do-it-yourselfers that provides access to tools, equipment and instruction.

Why you might know him: Newton is a serial entrepreneur, a maker and a hacker. He’s just opened a sixth TechShop, this one in Round Rock, Texas, so more tinkerers, artists, entrepreneurs and lovers of all things handmade can have access to the tools to build whatever they can dream up.

Why he matters: Newton is opening up a world of innovation by giving people the tools, the workspace and the confidence to make things they’ve always dreamed of making. He’s creating hubs for invention and creativity where people can come to inspire and be inspired.

Quotable Newton: “This is kind of innovation as recreation,” he says. “You just do it because it’s fun.”

TechShop by the numbers: There are six TechShops open right now: in Menlo Park, CA, San Francisco, CA, San Jose, CA, Raleigh-Durham, NC, Detroit, MI, and now Round Rock, Texas, near Austin. Three more are planned for  Brooklyn, NY, Pittsburgh, PA and greater Washington, D.C.  There are currently about 5,000 TechShop members nationwide.

In his own words: “Everybody has creative abilities but people just don’t express them. I mean, I see people come in here that are afraid to try anything. We give them some classes and some encouragement. And they have some success with their projects. And you see them just change. You see them light up. You see them say, 'Wow, I really can do this.' This is stunning. They’re stunned.”

Something you might not know about Jim: He worked as a science advisor on the popular Discovery Channel show "MythBusters." He’s taught robotics and is a former Battle Bots competitor.

What they did on summer vacation: The Newtons (Jim, his wife Barbara and their three children) took a 60-day long car trip across America to visit iconic landmarks.

Surprising Fact: They are still speaking to one another.

Newton’s Dream? To open a TechShop in every major city in the country. That way he’ll have access to a world-class workshop wherever he goes.

Please Follow us, Like us, and check out our photos!

Filed under: Innovation • Internet • Tech • The Next List • Thinkers
October 8th, 2012
11:12 AM ET

Japanese artist gives statue monumental abode

Written By Heather M. Higgins, CNN
Video Edited By Nina Raja, CNN

New York - On October 8, the world’s largest celebration of Italian-American heritage will travel up New York's Fifth Avenue in honor of the exploration and the courage that inspired Christopher Columbus’s discovery 520 years ago.

However, just three blocks to the west, residents and tourists have a rare opportunity to discover Columbus for the first time - at a whimsical art installation that has already caused intrigue and irritation within the community.

“When will you ever get the chance to have this face-to-face experience with the monument, the statue of Columbus,” said Nicholas Baume, director and chief curator of the Public Art Fund, a non-profit with a mission to bring dynamic, contemporary art projects to New York City.

“I think it’s a way of creating an intimacy and turning the public into the domestic in a very unique way," Baume continued. “And I think it’s a work about imagination, turning a fiction into a temporary reality.”

Japanese intervention artist Tatzu Nishi’s first major U.S. work, “Discovering Columbus,” places a 13-foot-high icon in the center of a modern American living room six stories above one of the city’s most bustling intersections.

This fresh vantage point offers dramatic views of Central Park and Midtown Manhattan from four loft-style windows. But more importantly, many see this exhibit as a teachable moment about Columbus, the statue, and the circle itself.

Post by:
Filed under: Art • History • The Next List • Video • World
October 5th, 2012
04:15 PM ET

Sparking innovation in cities, one geek at a time

By Jennifer Pahlka, Special to CNN

Editor's Note: Jennifer Pahlka is the Founder and Executive Director of Code for America. Watch The Next List’s full 30-minute profile of Pahlka this Sunday at 2 p.m. ET

Code for America seems to have struck a chord with many people. It’s easy to understand the value of bringing young tech and design folks into government and having them learn from each other because, whether they give it a lot of thought or not, their relationship with government is pretty important.

Our program seems to promise to fill a need they didn’t necessarily know they had, or create a possibility for something better when they had thought change was impossible.

But beyond the notion of promise, what is the real need for cities to innovate? There are many answers to this question, and the one I hear most often is that the public sector must keep up with the private sector.

When interacting with government feels outdated, it sends a signal to citizens that their government isn’t benefiting from the efficiencies that private companies have found in recent years. It's not taking advantage of the new networks of participation that we see all around us. As the pace of change accelerates in our daily lives, that gap can grow, and it can result in an erosion of trust.

It is what fuels many communities to defund local government, turning off streetlights and no longer maintaining infrastructure. The public is convinced their money isn’t well spent, and the results often guarantee that it’s not.

Cities must also innovate because they are in crisis, at least financially. Multiple revenue sources are being reduced (including support from federal and state programs), need for citizen services is increasing, and their workforce is retiring and leaving them with fewer workers but huge pension liabilities. Twenty-six municipalities have gone bankrupt since 2010, and more are likely to as it becomes harder and harder to push off inevitable financial meltdown.

There’s an upside to this, in that the crisis is forcing conversations about innovation. As Rahm Emmanuel said, “never let a good crisis go to waste.”

I’d argue that cities also are in a renaissance of ideas, growth, and optimism. To me the real reason cities must innovate is that the existing model of providing services doesn’t scale. There are big important things we must fund together; it just doesn’t make sense for everyone to take their own garbage to the dump every week, or for each house to capture and use its own water.

But we ask government to do so much, including things we can do for ourselves, for our neighbors, for our community. When a neighbor helps a neighbor with a trapped animal instead of calling city services, or when a community cleans up a park for a fraction of the cost of having public servants do it, the model starts to scale again.

The trick is figuring out government’s role in encouraging and coordinating these actions, and to the extent that digital technology has gotten pretty good at coordinating collective action, government must get good at technology too. Not the big enterprise technology of the 1990s, but the lightweight, simple technologies that real people actually use. The technologies and interfaces that connect us to our networks and help us do things together.

Governments, and citizens partnered with government, need to learn how technology can teach us how to act like citizens.

Please Follow us, Like us, and check out our photos!

Filed under: Geek Out • Innovation • Social change • The Next List • Thinkers
October 2nd, 2012
09:47 AM ET

Jennifer Pahlka: Lover of geeks, keeper of chickens

Editor's Note: Watch Jennifer Pahlka’s full 30-minute profile this Sunday on CNN’s “The Next List” 2 P.M. ET. She’s the founder and executive director of Code for America in San Francisco. She lives in Oakland, California, with her daughter, Clementine, and their chickens.

Why you might know her: Her TED Talk has over half a million views for starters, and she is also founder of Code for America, which teams web developers, designers and entrepreneurs with local governments to help make cities more efficient and create positive change.

Quotable Pahlka: “We proudly use the word ‘geek.’ We call ourselves a Peace Corps for geeks… there’s just something about that word that most of us embrace.”

Why she matters: Pahlka has created a prestigious fellowship that pulls the smartest people from the tech world and has them work with local governments to make them more efficient. She believes that government should run as smoothly and as open as the Internet. A web site or app that might normally take a city several years to plan and millions of dollars to execute can be done by her fleet of geeks in just months at a fraction of the cost.


Filed under: Geek Out • Internet • Tech • The Next List