How Slums Can Save The Planet


Some people see a squatter city in a city like India and the desperation overwhelms them: rickety shelters, little kids working or begging, filthy water and air (think Slumdog Millionaire). Stewart Brand, on the other hand, sees these places and is encouraged. A pioneering environmentalist, technology thinker, and founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, Brand has certainly had a unique life. He has founded a number of organizations including The WELL (an online community for intelligent, informed people from throughout the world) the Global Business Network (which explores global futures and business strategies informed by the sorts of values and information which Brand has always found vital), and the Long Now Foundation (an organization committed to promoting long termism and better thinking). Besides the accolades that may appear on his resume, this dude has lived a heck of a life. He is no spring chicken either, coming in at a healthy 74 years of age (but he looks much older). He attended Phillips Exeter Academy and then went on to study biology at Stanford. He then enrolled in the Army, where he was a parachutist and taught infantry skills. After his service ended, he studied design and photography in San Francisco. Around that time, he also participated in a legitimate scientific study of then-legal LSD. Brand could very well give an awesome talk on that experience alone. If this next part isn’t strange then I don’t know what is: he and his wife live on a 64 foot working tugboat (pictured above) that was built in 1912. He does all his work in a grounded fishing boat 100 yards away.

From reading about Brand’s work and his life, I guess you could say I was expecting something pretty interesting from him when I viewed his TED presentation on squatter cities. However, I found myself somewhat disappointed. He was a little dull to be plainly honest. I thought he would amuse me with an off-beat personality and just generally be a corny guy. But, he seemed normal and plain. I guess the only thing worthy of note was the subject of the talk itself (which is really supposed to be the first thing you look at in a speaker. However, I think the deliverance of the talk is just as important. Especially if the audience consists of students). Anyway, his talk centers on how the movement from rural areas to slums is actually a good thing for poor people and the environment. His counterintuitive thinking focuses on the fact that since these people are so desperate, they become more creative and collaborative to survive. The result (in Brand’s eyes): slums are the solution to poverty. Below is a link to his talk on TED:

Again, it is an interesting talk but if he came to Bucknell, I would have a problem with his level of connection with students. He’s older and little dry so it might be boring. However, the content of his talk could potentially be engaging and spark a great Q&A session. My overall rating for Brand is a B which I would bump up to an A- if he threw in stories and lessons learned from his younger years.

3 thoughts on “How Slums Can Save The Planet

  1. Ha ha, the WELL was like the beginning of the Internet and “geek” culture which combined technology, design, and commerce. Ever heard of it? Did you research it at all for the post? You didn’t have to, just wondering if you were curious and where curiosity leads you.

    • I did a quick Wikipedia search if that counts as anything. It seems like it was more popular in the 1980s and 1990s. I would imagine that the emergence of blogs actually hurt the WELL in that people who might have signed up for its services instead created their own websites or blogs for free. Fun fact: The WELL was a major online meeting place for fans of the Grateful Dead.


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