Tag Archives: ideas

TED Talks Worth Watching

10 Jun

The annual TED conference is an event where people from various disciplines get together to share knowledge and ideas.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader.

The annual conference now brings together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).

Last month it was announced that local event planner and overall awesome person Susan Cope had successfully applied to host a TEDx (Independently Organized) event in Buffalo this fall.  As the planning continues and we get closer to the actual event, I’ll post some of my favorite TED presentations and help you get in the mood for an awesome event.

At a point in our national and global history where we face transformational economic and cultural challenges, we need to fundamentally change our consumption patterns, the way we interact and launch a foundational change in our practical wisdom.  These talks tell us why and how.

Capt. Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation first discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — an endless floating waste of plastic trash. Now he’s drawing attention to the growing, choking problem of plastic debris in our seas.  If you don’t know what the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is, here ya go:

It is roughly the size of Texas, containing approximately 3.5 million tons of trash.  Shoes, toys, bags, pacifiers, wrappers, toothbrushes, and bottles too numerous to count are only part of what can be found in this accidental dump floating midway between Hawaii and San Francisco.

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Losing the Plot

26 Feb

Yesterday morning I read a piece on Buffalo Rising that was written by a young mother who had recently moved to Buffalo from Los Angeles (or Chicago) with her husband, and they have two adorable kids. Alas, I wasn’t very pleased with the article, but left it alone to think about it. I didn’t want to jump all over it.

I think I’ve gelled the issue into this – what does “connecting with the city” have to do with riding out the recession? I suppose she explains it with the bit about Richard Florida calling suburban sprawl the “downfall of the smaller American cities”. OK, let’s take that as given. Buffalo, however has been in a downfall since what, the 60s? Its downfall, incidentally, has more to do with “Charlotte” than “Amherst”. To blame it on sprawl is to miss the bigger picture altogether. Through annexation or metropolitan government, it wouldn’t even be an issue. We have New York law to thank for that.

Think of ways to link your kids to the city. There are soccer clubs, art lessons, music, all available in the city, and for a heck of a lot cheaper than other areas. Wouldn’t it be nice for your kids to meet other kids from different backgrounds, who go to different schools and have different perspectives?

How is it different for my kids to hang out with upper middle class kids from the city as opposed to upper middle class kids from Clarence? Why is it implied that kids in my area don’t come from “different backgrounds” or have “different perspectives”? The sentiment is fine, but it has nothing to do with the recession and seems like yet another city person tsk-tsking at us suburban folk for being Stepford families. If only we’d expand our horizons! Well, maybe the city kids could expand their horizons and attend music classes at the facility on Transit where we go.

I mean, the rest of the piece is a set of ideas for upper middle class people in Buffalo to spend their money locally or in the city rather than elsewhere. The bit about becoming more politically engaged and involved is good, and true. But we need to stop kidding ourselves that privileged wealthy folk in Buffalo are significantly different in any meaningful way than privileged wealthy folk in Orchard Park, Clarence, or Amherst.

If you want to “connect” with people not like you, doing something for the community or for the less fortunate is going to be more valuable than deciding where to spend your money.

To come back to a theme I haven’t written about in a long time, all of WNY is in this boat together, and what raises up one area will raise up the others. If the city’s doing well, the suburbs will too, and vice-versa. The notion that the suburbs will somehow be abandoned tomorrow in order to fuel a righteous return to the city is as likely as Tony Masiello bringing peace to Gaza.

The gloom and doom we hear about all the time is very real and more fundamental and serious than whether your favorite restaurant closes, your kid plays soccer in the city, or the grocery store is hiking prices – I’ll note that Wegmans, one of the best reasons to live in WNY, has recently lowered prices on loads of stuff.

It’s great that people move to Buffalo from bigger cities and realize that you don’t need to be in a world-class city to enjoy a world-class quality of life here, provided you’re well educated and can find a job, or have the resources or connections to make one for yourself.

It’s not about, “hey how can we spend money in the city”. It’s about “hey how can we make this area better for everyone”. How can we attract businesses and the people who come with them?

I guess I thought the piece was somewhat superficial, although well-intentioned.

(Photo courtesy Jade19721 @ Flickr)

Buffalo First?

27 Nov

Maybe it’s time to take the buy local angle in a new direction.

I was preparing to write a post on the proposed bailout of the automotive industry.  While I was doing some research about the impact of auto plant closures on rust belt cities, I came across this little gem.

Whenever the City of Lansing, MI buys something or hires companies to provide service, it will first look to companies who hire, buy their raw materials and contract other services within the city limits.

The official executive order can be found here.

Why not use the purchasing power of government to bring business into the city?  The City of Buffalo is not managed by executive order but, this might be an idea for the Common Council to take under consideration.

It’s not a mandate, but it does encourage local service providers and manufacturing companies to at least establish a nominal presence in the City of Buffalo.  Strenghtening our urban core is a must if we are to grow as a region, right?

You can tell me this idea is bullshit, but at least it’s a idea…

Abolish the Thruway Authority

10 Nov

The state DOT, which manages not just highways, but airports, seaports, and some public transportation, has an annual budget of $7.4 billion.

The Thruway Authority, which manages the Thruway and Erie Canal, has an annual budget of over a billion dollars, and a little over half of its money is collected through tolls. I’ve written extensively, critically, and dismissively of the Thruway Authority, and I won’t repeat those here.

The obvious solution is abolition of the bloated, inefficient Thruway Authority. The problem is – if you incorporate it into the State DOT, it will cost money to maintain and service, and the money has to come from somewhere. Most likely, your pocket through gas tax hikes or similar.

But there’s another way.

In the past, I’ve suggested that the Thruway take a hint from Toronto’s 407 and make toll collection something that’s done at highway speeds. But that’s expensive and probably not necessary.

Instead, many European countries share the cost burden of highway maintenance through sales of stickers.

Austria (for vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes), the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland and Hungary have toll motorways (some motorways, though, are toll-free). Payment in those countries is done in the form of “vignettes”, or stickers being affixed to the car’s front window, which are valid for a certain amount of time. The time is always one calendar year in Switzerland; in Austria and Hungary cheaper vignettes with shorter validity are also available. Slovenia introduced vignettes on July 1, 2008. Due to the fact that the vignette with the shortest time-frame available is valid for 6 months and costs € 35, vignettes have been met with fierce opposition.

Naturally, we could follow the Austrian model where 10 days of travel cost € 7.70 of unlimited travel on that country’s highways. The Swiss system is an annual charge of SFr 40. If caught without a vignette, the Swiss charge you a SFr 100 fine, plus the cost of a vignette. The Austrians are stricter, charging between € 400 and € 4,000 for a missing sticker. Given that it now costs almost $20 to get from the Major Deegan to the PA line, a $10 sticker for 10 days’ worth of highway travel is a bargain.

Vignettes could be sold at welcome centers entering New York or leaving bordering states. They could be sold online, in advance, or, as they are in Hungary, even via cell phone text message:

The point here is that the roads need to be paid for, and it makes sense for the people using them to pay for them. People could avoid buying the stickers by using secondary roads, so it’s completely optional. We could abolish not only the entire Thruway Authority, but most of its associated, dedicated toll-collecting costs. We could get rid of its obnoxious exclusive contracts with towing and wrecker services on the Thruway. But something different should at least be examined.

(Photo of Swiss Vignette by g-trieber @ Flickr.com)

Co-Working comes to Niagara Street

22 Feb

About a week ago, I wrote about an innovative idea being used in other cities called “co-working”. Freelancers can pay a relatively low rent and get space to share, so that they can have a proper office when home or the coffee shop just don’t cut it, so they can have access to conference rooms when needed, and so that there is easier interaction and collaboration with like-minded or allied professionals.

In comments, I learn of just such a place opening soon at 327 Niagara Street at Virginia.

Developer John Krytus writes:

Included will be:

– 24/7 access
– a private 10×10ish office (semi-furnished)
– high speed wireless
– (at least) one conference room and a second conference “area”
– common lounge area with comfy furniture and fireplace
– kitchenette (complete with great self-serve coffee)
– parking
– a view of City Hall
– easy on/off of the thruway

My current plan is to keep the rents very reasonable ($225ish) and slowly raise them to wherever the market sets it.

Coincidently, our plan actually calls for a Panera Bread meets Spot Coffee kind of feel.

My hope is that there are people out there that not only work independently, but that also need to meet with clients in a professional setting.

For local small business people and entrepreneurs, this is a great opportunity.

Co-Working

15 Feb

Never heard of it before, but it’s a way for freelancers, coders, and others who generally do their work alone to trade over to a collaborative atmosphere with other like-minded, similarly employed people.

Here’s one I read about in Montreal. My high school French enables me to understand that it costs $300/month for unlimited access, and less for less frequent 9-5 access. Plus, wi-fi is included, as are access to two conference rooms, a lounge, and a kitchen.

Since the future of this region rests in large part on entrepreneurship and small business creation, something like this in downtown Buffalo might be a fantastic idea.