Links Roundup: Sachs, Fútbol, Inequality, XPRIZE, and More

+ Kari Kohn

Housing Norms in Japan

It may seem sad that Japanese families slave, scrimp, and save to build a home, only to see their investment rapidly vanish over the ensuing 15 years. In this light, some of the avant garde houses seem like fatalistic last hurrahs – follies to the futility of home ownership in Japan. Resigned to their predicament, but needing somewhere to live and raise a family, it’s little wonder that Japanese clients reclaim control and quietly rebel in the best way they can – through design.

Who Guards the Guardians in Fútbol?

But the Olympics and the World Cup stand alone among sporting events as global cultural celebrations that allow individual countries to show off for a worldwide audience. FIFA and the International Olympic Committee have a moral imperative to ensure that the countries awarded such an honor provide all of their citizens, immigrants, and visitors with basic human rights (including freedom of sexual orientation, which, incredibly, is not codified in the UN human rights doctrine). Both Qatar and Russia fail that test.

So if FIFA and the IOC won’t step up, then it’s on us to force the changes—and by “us,” I mean everyone who consumes or makes money off the World Cup or the Olympics. Star athletes like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Michael Phelps, or Usain Bolt could send shock waves through the system by publicly protesting Russia’s anti-gay policies or the lack of workers’ rights in Qatar. Global corporations could starve the proverbial beast by refusing to pay for sponsorships or advertising. And while it’s true that making it everyone’s problem could actually create more apathy, fútbol lovers across the world can make their own small difference by raising awareness about the issues in both countries and urging local leaders (such as the USOC) to demand that something be done.

The Power of XPRIZE

It depends on how well the competition is designed. The question has to be framed in the right way, the targets calibrated just right. The foundation has been trying to bring some science to the art. Is the target both achievable and audacious? Is it easily measurable? Are the logistics manageable? When it works, there’s nothing like it—you get this incredible return on investment. I think the number for the original Orteig Prize of 1919—the one that Charles Lindbergh won in 1927 by flying from New York to Paris—was that Orteig spent $25,000 to get other people to spend $400,000 trying to win it.

Jeffrey Sachs on Cities

Yet technology will be only part of the story. Cities need to upgrade their governance, to allow for a greater role for poorer and more marginalized communities, and to enable much more effective coordination across city lines when a metropolitan area is home to many individual cities. Metropolitan governance is therefore crucial, as smart cities require networks that operate at the metropolitan scale.

...A wise political doctrine known as subsidiarity holds that public-policy challenges should be assigned to the lowest level of government able to address them, thereby ensuring maximum democratic participation in problem solving and the greatest opportunity to tailor solutions to genuine local needs. While some issues – for example, a national highway or rail system – require national-level problem solving, many key challenges of sustainable development are best confronted at the urban level.

Inequality in Silicon Valley

On top of those perhaps deliberately depressed salaries and the high cost of existing housing are a raft of California “green” laws—enthusiastically supported, as one might expect, by the valley’s tech elite in a post-manufacturing economy—that make life there even more expensive, and family-friendly housing even less attainable. Renewable-energy mandates drive up utility costs, and environmentally driven land-use restrictions and “smart growth” plans have made the construction of new single-family homes in the valley all but impossible for everyone except those affluent enough to own a large-lot teardown.

Social Norms and Urban Design

The eminent sociologist Erving Goffman suggested that life is a series of performances, in which we are all continually managing the impression we give other people. If this is so, then public spaces function like a stage in the same way that our own homes and living rooms do. Architecture, landscaping, the dimensions of the stage, and the other actors around us all offer cues about how we should perform and how we should treat one another.

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