mstem

Recent blog posts by mstem

Designing the User-Friendly City

What happens when a tech-minded entrepreneur is unexpectedly chosen to lead a big city government bureaucracy? Gabe Klein was an unconventional pick to head the District of Columbia's Department of Transportation when he was hired back in 2008, by then-mayor Adrian Fenty. He'd been a Zipcar executive. He helped found a local boutique food-truck company. He grew up in a Virginia ashram called Yogaville. But he had never worked in government. Over the next 23 months Klein implemented a program of transformative innovation, rapidly rolling out bike-sharing, new bike lanes, streetcar plans and next-generation parking infrastructure. Now Klein is a year-and-a-half into his second unexpected job in government, as the head of Chicago's Department of Transportation under Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Aaron Naparstek rolls the pre-talk film on urban cycling.

Political Tech vs. Civic Tech

The campaign post-mortems are pouring in, unveiling the computer magic behind the Obama campaign. We should probably be thankful that the conversation has evolved from 2004-2008's obsession with social media into a newfound lay interest in data aggregation and empirically valid testing. I'm learning a lot reading these articles.

Designing Urban Food Systems in Shanghai

I've joined the Media Lab's Changing Places group for a week in China to design the future of sustainable cities in Shanghai.

China presents enormous challenges and huge opportunities, all at a dizzying scale. 300 million Chinese, the population of the entire United States, will move to urban areas over the next 20 years. 20 of the world's 30 most polluted cities are in China. Only 1% of China's 600 million urban residents have access to clean air, as measured by EU standards. Anyone serious about climate change, human welfare, and other challenges of the 21st century must consider China's role.

How to Grocery Shop in Shanghai

Another update from China. Thanks to the Great Firewall, I'm stuck in a Web 1.0 world of email and blogging.


Our group spent the day conducting ethnographic interviews of food sellers and consumers in a wide variety of contexts. We met with restaurant managers, supermarket shoppers, rice shop owners, and sidewalk crab hawkers. We interviewed people from several age brackets, to learn about the unique but also shared habits and concerns regarding food in China.

It's hard to understate the level of concern around food safety. The elderly we spoke to actively avoid eating outside of the house, at any time, because of safety concerns. People who raise their own chickens and eggs take comfort in knowing that the food is not only fresh, but also safe.

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