New Tomorrows: Report from TED@MotorCity

Posted by: Emily McManus

TED Motor City

On Sunday night, January 9, in Detroit, TED presented TED@MotorCity, an evening salon supported by Lincoln under the theme “New Tomorrows.” Above, host Gary Bolles, right, interviews Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist.org — which is now, he said, the seventh most visited site on the web with 60 million unique visitors a month. He thinks deeply about what large numbers of people can do in networks — vet charities, reward good journalism, create change. As he said, “You get people from the bottom up to work together, and that creates one big surprise for the people in power.”

TED Motor City

Thomas Goetz of Wired talked about the network of data about our own bodies, the medical data we often don’t have access to or don’t understand — and how we can tap this data to make ourselves much healthier. He showed us Wired‘s clever redesign of a lab report on a simple blood test, in which the lab’s mysterious abbreviations become information you can use to make smarter choices. (For a similar project, watch Alan Siegel’s TED Talk on simplifying legal forms.) The idea is to use information to create feedback loops that reward good decisions (like showing the real value of choosing an apple versus a doughnut). Because, as he put it, “Better health is not a science problem, it’s an information problem.” Watch an expanded version of this talk given at TEDMED 2010.

TED Motor City

Dale Dougherty, founder of MAKE Magazine and the impresario behind the Maker Faire movement, gave an exuberant overview of the state of modern making — the drive to craft, create, build, take apart and rebuild that’s happening in garages and lofts all over the world. And Detroit, Dougherty pointed out, was formed by makers. Now, local makers and hackers are using buildings left behind by big industry to start their own energetic enterprises. From the audience, @tunie tweeted: “You can tell he’s a Maker because he is grinning ear to ear while he speaks!”

TED Motor City

John Gallagher is the architecture critic for the Detroit Free Press and the author of Rethinking Detroit. And he addresses the question that the national news has been batting around: “What are we going to do about Detroit?” As the auto industry shrinks, the city has excess capacity, to be sure: massive empty buildings, abandoned homes, underused roads. We can see this as a catastrophe, he says — or as a canvas for bold new ideas about city living. He tours us through Detroit’s thriving urban farms, and shows creative urban projects happening now in Detroit and inspirations elsewhere.

TED Motor City

A gorgeous poem from Jessica Care Moore is accompanied on cello by Cecelia Sharpe. She ended with this line: “I see ideas everywhere. Do you?”

TED Motor City

Closing the program, Lisa Gansky gave a bracing overview of “the mesh” — new businesses and models that allow us to share goods and services in innovative ways. Because, as she says, in some situations, having access to a particular thing is better than actually owning it. You’ve heard of Zipcar; she talks about Whipcar, a peer-to-peer car-sharing service. Meshed business is about taking advantage of our connectivity, our unparalleled ability to share. And she sees a special role for cities; as she says, “Cities are platforms for sharing.”

And with that, we went to the reception. Here, Dale Dougherty talks with Lish Dorset, Maker Faire Detroit liaison and a writer for Craft.

Dale Dougherty and Lish Dorset

Read more coverage of TED@MotorCity from the NYTimesDetroit MoxieSlayter Creative … the Tunieblog … and Christopher Johnson. If you blogged the event and don’t see yourself here, drop me a note in comments below!

All photos by Santa Fabio. See more (they’re gorgeous) in the TED@MotorCity Flickr set >>

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