The Euro­pean dream appears quite sta­ble. Chi­na may be head­ing for a bump in the road if its pop­u­la­tion ever demands democ­ra­cy. Rus­sia had a peri­od of fast growth (with pre­cious lit­tle ben­e­fit for most Rus­sians) but what hap­pens if Vladimir Putin is becom­ing a mil­i­tary adven­tur­er? Europe looks to have those trau­mas behind it. Nor has it become an Amer­i­can-style plu­toc­ra­cy.”

Europe still has lots to learn. A French friend recent­ly attend­ed a Cal­i­forn­ian recep­tion packed with bril­liant French engi­neers work­ing in Sil­i­con Val­ley. He came home think­ing: “What would it take to bring those peo­ple back to France?” That’s the sort of ques­tion Euro­peans need to ask: how to con­vert their won­der­ful idea net­works into Apples and Googles? Lon­don, Europe’s de fac­to busi­ness cap­i­tal, with its bud­ding tech sec­tor, may be find­ing an answer. If it does, the rest of the con­ti­nent will try to copy it, because non­stop cross-bor­der learn­ing is still the secret of Europe’s suc­cess.”

The first para­graph and the sec­ond here are odd­ly dis­so­nant to me. Isn’t the finan­cial­i­sa­tion of Sil­i­con Val­ley (and for that mat­ter, London’s Tech City) a sure sign plu­toc­ra­cy comes rid­ing in on the back of “Apples and Googles”?

(via Why Europe works — FT.com)

Jane Jacobs and London’s Old Street area

I’ve been read­ing The Death and Life of Great Amer­i­can Cities at a leisure­ly pace since octo­ber or so. (A tem­po that seems to suit the book fine. Jacobs makes me want to slow down and see.) I came across this pas­sage dur­ing a ses­sion with the book this week­end and some­thing about a recent vis­it to Lon­don clicked.

After explain­ing how large com­pa­nies do not need to be in cities because they are to a large extent self-suf­fi­cient and thus do not have to rely on ser­vices out­side them­selves, Jacobs goes on to say:

But for small man­u­fac­tur­ers, every­thing is reversed. Typ­i­cal­ly they must draw on many and var­ied sup­plies and skills out­side them­selves, they must serve a nar­row mar­ket at the point where a mar­ket exists, and they must be sen­si­tive to quick changes in this mar­ket. With­out cities, they would sim­ply not exist. Depen­dent on a huge diver­si­ty of oth­er city enter­pris­es, they can add fur­ther to that diver­si­ty. This last is a most impor­tant point to remem­ber. City diver­si­ty itself per­mits and stim­u­lates more diver­si­ty.

(My empha­sis, by the way.)

The day before Play­ful ’09 I spent some time at BERG, Tinker.it! and Real­ly Inter­est­ing Group. Noth­ing fan­cy mind you. I mean, they lent me a chair and a bit of table, plus inter­net. It wasn’t like I actu­al­ly worked with them (although I’m sure I would enjoy it!) It was a nice expe­ri­ence, but most of all, it was hum­bling. I was struck by the spare­ness of the space they were in, the lim­it­ed facil­i­ties at their dis­pos­al, the lit­tle room they had for all the peo­ple present.

Let me just say it was as lit­tle or less than what I’ve seen com­pa­ra­ble groups in the Nether­lands have to make do with.

And this is the thing. Over here, many of the star­tups I’ve encoun­tered seem to believe they first need more and fanci­er facil­i­ties before they can make it big time. The Sil­i­con Round­about crew I men­tioned ear­li­er make a glob­al splash at a reg­u­lar basis, despite the lim­it­ed (that I observed) resources at their dis­pos­al.

How­ev­er, and this is where the quote from Death and Life comes in, per­haps I was look­ing at it the wrong way. Per­haps the Shored­itch star­tups are more effec­tive than their Dutch coun­ter­parts not just because they do more with less (and because they are, clear­ly, insane­ly tal­ent­ed and hard work­ing, “rid­ing the wave of inno­va­tion, 24/7”, right guys?) but because they are in Lon­don. A city at a dif­fer­ent scale than Ams­ter­dam or for that mat­ter the greater Ams­ter­dam area, the Rand­stad as we call it around these parts. A city with a more diverse ecosys­tem of ser­vices and things, small­er ser­vices, more spe­cialised ser­vices, ready to be employed by com­pa­nies like BERG and RIG and Tin­ker, enhanc­ing their abil­i­ties when need­ed.

The city, in this case, not as a bat­tle suit, but more like a huge drug store stocked with a huge range of phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals that aug­ment then this trait, then the oth­er.

Opgehokte raven

Geweldig nieuws uit Groot-Brit­tan­nië – de konin­klijke raven zijn opge­hokt. Onlangs las ik een mooi artikel in mijn favori­ete blad Fortean Times, waarin werd verteld hoe de zes raven van de Tow­er of Lon­don door de Yeo­man raven mas­ter wor­den ver­zorgd en bescher­md. Een oude voor­spelling zegt dat als alle raven de Tow­er ver­lat­en het Britse koninkrijk ten onder zal gaan. Nu staat de vogel­griep voor de deur, dus gaan Bran­wen, Hug­ine, Munin, Gwyl­lum, Thor and Baldrick op stok! Iets wat de raven mas­ter liev­er niet doet:

Although we don’t like hav­ing to bring the Tow­er ravens inside, we believe it is the safest thing to do for their own pro­tec­tion, giv­en the speed that the virus is mov­ing across Europe.”