Viewed from the scale of human society, environment design is the scalable way to change the way people act. We spend a lot of time thinking about intentional design changes (half of politics). I don’t think we spend enough time thinking about “the changes we don’t know we are making”. One of the clearest examples of that to me are 2nd and 3rd order impacts of technology. FOr example, Alexis Madrigal has a series about the shipping container that details the many impacts that a steel box had on the world. In short, it changed:
- Ship design (redesigned to accomdate standard sized cargo)
- Drastically lowered cost of goods
- Port design (dealing with larger, standard sized ships and items below)
- Labor markets (drastically decreasing the number of workers needed at ports and in warehousing)
- Water front real estate near ports (warehouses for staging goods became less important as the container could be packed for one recipient, and routed at th port to that recipient).
As a Brooklyn resident, #5 is one of my favorite examples. The shipping container changed the real estate market in Brooklyn, creating a ton of cheap warehouses to be demolished or converted to new retail. THe shipping container set Brooklyn waterfront on a 50 year journey from the most affordable neighborhood in Brooklyn (and all the artists, musicians, and warehouse raves that enabled) to one of the most expensive areas of the city.
So what are the shipping containers of the future? What are the things that will remake jobs, and land, and consumer habits, and real estate? Change the way we live?