"The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God." -St Irenaeus of Lyon

Friday Forum: On Smart Development

Over the past week, I’ve haphazardly opened a discussion about intelligent ideas for working within a range of engineering design scenarios.  I guess it is clear what I have been thinking about as I have been working all summer.

I think engineering design is a process that has to diversify its portfolio relative to how things get done.  In some instances, the current protocols work pretty well.  In other instances, the current protocols totally fail.  The problems remain in the eye of the beholder.  However, a bigger problem is an attempt to force a one-size-fits-all solution where it is likely such a solution will not work.  Particularly as we discuss development in today’s world, we are generally having conversations about food, water and energy.  Now, it is intriguing to note that these three questions do not exist exclusively in the developing world, but we face these questions as well in the developed world.

Yet I think it is better to treat the developing world from a “ground-up” paradigm rather than a “top-down” paradigm.  Knowing what we know about the limitations of existing solutions, can we do better to fit within the developing context?  Can we look at the present practices in the area and try to think outside of the box?  Some interesting things have been accomplished through so-called “frugal engineering,” and I think it’s notable that these interesting things have come about as engineers begin their designs by looking at the context in which the engineers are working.

However, as we consider context, it is equally important to consider trade-offs.  For instance, I generally support eating local, particularly out of one’s own backyard garden as I think it is a good thing to have a lived connection with your food.  [The sense of a lived connection with food is also part of the reason why I generally support cooking at home.]  However, I do think that in areas of particularly high population density (such as the Eastern seaboard of the United States) it may be much harder to eat locally than it is to eat locally in the Midwest.  Additionally, people who eat locally may find unexpected trade-offs, particularly if their desire to eat locally comes from a desire to reduce one’s so-called environmental footprint.

All too easy in design it is easy to become blinded by the criteria that matter in the moment.  Moreover, when speaking about development, we often refer to choices that effect how people live their lives, in which case we should be careful about embracing an assumed position from the outset.


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