Sustainism: the new Modernism?

In their book ‘Sustainism is the new modernism’ Michiel Schwarz and Joost Elffers link many different developments together in a manifesto for Sustainism.
by Barbara Koole

In their book ‘Sustainism is the new modernism’ Michiel Schwarz and Joost Elffers link many different developments together in a manifesto for sustainism. The book is for a large part a graphic representation of their ideas about the new era they believe the world is entering. They think that sustainism will define the 21st century. We only have to realize that many different developments that are taking place are actually all part of the same interwoven new way of thinking. As they put it, the world is in transition from Modernity to Sustainism- towards a world that is more connected, more localist, more digital and more sustainable. This new world is both globalized and local, ecological as well as technological. I find their take on the connection between technological developments and the green economy refreshing.  But in general the book doesn’t contain information we haven’t heard before, it’s just a new collection with a lot of new graphic designs.

Open source information on the internet in specific is a very remarkable community driven phenomenon that is taken into account by the authors. Everyone uses open source websites or software like Mozilla Firefox, Wikipedia or Openoffice. But actually the ideas behind open source information are very similar to the ideas of social and environmental movements: it’s all about being inclusive and making resources accessible for anyone.

An offline translation of open source ideas is a Fablab. Fablab is short for ‘fabrication laboratory’ and is a space with machines like 3d printers, laser cutters and anything else that can help to turn concepts into reality. The aim of a Fablab is to share knowledge and make almost anything. The concept started as an idea of Neil Gershenfeld, professor at MIT. Currently there are fablabs in many cities around the world, among which Amsterdam. The Fablab in Amsterdam is located in the waag, right in the middle of the city center. Two days a week the lab is open for anyone to use. CITIES loves the concept of sharing equipment with an urban community.

This shift to a new way of thinking also occurs in the field of urban planning. We, as urban nerds, believe that just like modernism, sustainist urban planning is based on key principles. The most important thing for a sustainist city planner are connections: connecting to local communities to enable them to influence the planning of their streets, neighborhoods and towns. But also connecting to a global, online network of experts and learn from other experiences. According to the economist, Amsterdam is considered the leader of the pack with its Amsterdam Smart City platform that connects citizens, institutions and business. Modernist principles were different; based on top-down governance, planning and functionalism. Although there has been a lot of criticism on modernist planning, like Brasilia and the Bijlmer, every paradigm is a response to the previous one and as a conclusion the suspection is that sustainism will follow the same trajectory.

For mor information: Fablab, Sustainism, The Economist

About the author

Barbara Koole


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