Saturday, November 26, 2011

Two Links - French Blog Post on Planned Obsolesence and Anchorage Post with Title 21 Housing Design Horrors

I ran across the French blog with a good post on Planned Obselecence  because it has a link to my post on Victor's Lebow's quote in the Story of Stuff.  It documents more on how corporations design products to encourage hyperconsumption. 

Planned Obsolescence: How Companies Encourage Hyperconsumption

Like many of their professors, students at the Sorbonne had become used to going to buy their ink cartridges from a small shop on a nearby street. With no manufacturer affiliations, it carried shelves full of ‘generic’ cartridges that worked with printers from big name brands like Epson, Canon, HP and Brother. But that small shop soon faced a very big problem: some new printers only recognise ‘proprietary’ consumables that they can detect by matching their hardware signature against a signature in a chip on the cartridge. Anybody hoping to get round that by using a syringe to top up their existing cartridge with new ink was soon caught out because the chips can also track ink levels. But try seeing things from the manufacturers’ point of view: print cartridge sales can represent up to 90% of their turnover, so it’s not hard to see why they want to prevent consumers from going elsewhere. This process of trapping consumers in an endless cycle of buying more by supplying products that soon become unusable or beyond repair has taken on the almost cult name of ‘planned obsolescence.

This is just the beginning.  It also talks about light bulbs, iPads, and the 'lift cartel' (elevators in American). This is part of the underlying problem that Occupy is about - the way large corporations gain control over our lives and income. 

During the depression people's consumption dropped and corporations had the problem of how to sell more to people who already had enough. The OWNI post says there were three lines of solutions:  Technical, Design, and Legal. 

The Technical line:
"technical: built weaker, less durable products that are impossible to repair;"
brings to mind our recently worn out bread machine.  The motor still worked, but stopped turning the dough after the first rotation.  The repair shop owner apologized when he told us he can't get the part we need any more. All that metal, the motor, the power cord, everything, has to be tossed because one small part isn't working.  (We left it with the repair man, hoping he might find ways to use some of it, but at least that he knew a way to recycle it if he couldn't. 

Large Scale Designed Mess

In Anchorage, the Assembly passed a revision of Title 21 last year that changes all sorts of standards for design and construction of housing which would address a similar problem - builders who cut corners to build ugly, treeless projects with erosion problems, minimal and unusable outdoor space.

But the mayor hired a former Assembly member at $60,000 to come up with changes that would make the development community happier.  The mayor has dropped most of the consultant's recommendation, but still  has offered a series of about 38 amendments to implement the development industry's wish list which would overturn many of the most critical improvements already approved.

Photo from Mt. View Forum used with permission (link to see more)
These amendments go to the Planning and Zoning Commission in December and then to the Assembly.  Mt. View Forum posted about Title 21 back in 2009 with a series of photos that show what shoddy Anchorage construction looks like.

The photo caption at Mt. View Forum read:
"Does it get any worse? Yes! Four-plex apartments, street sides windowless, entire area between buildings and street 100% paved, no landscaping."
Do you really think it's too hard for apartments and office to hide their dumpsters from street traffic?  How about 25 foot setbacks for buildings from creeks and only 10 feet for other parts of the property?  I'm hoping to write more on this soon, but let me jump the gun a bit to get Anchorage folks not only aware of this, but alarmed enough to start calling their assembly members.  Here's what the Planning staff at the Muni wrote about the 25 foot setback:

After considerable research, discussion, review and compromise with the T21 subcommittee, the provisionally adopted 50-foot setback is much lower than what is recommended in scientific literature and used in other cities. For comparison, based on scientific data the standard recommendation is 300-feet3. In most communities, stream setbacks average 100-feet nationwide. In Alaska: Soldotna has a 100-foot setback, the Mat-Su Borough has a 75- foot setback, and both Juneau and Homer have 50-foot setbacks. Stream setbacks are necessary to control floodwaters, provide water quality treatment by capturing and filtering pollutants, protect base stream flows to reduce threats of flash floods, maintain stream stability preventing channel migration and maintain stream health for fish and wildlife habitat. Anchorage’s existing 25’ setback came about because of politics, compromise and what was acceptable in the mid 1980’s—it was not based on scientific or practical findings. The consultant’s amendments reduce the role of setbacks from even current code, as illustrated following page 56 below. As proposed, allowing additional uses within 10-ft of streams threatens the very effective vegetative buffer for water quality and flood control. Vegetation along stream banks serves many purposes. Trees slow water velocity and hold the soil in place with their root system stabilizing stream banks. Overhanging vegetation regulates water temperature, provides shading for salmon, and contributes insects and other nutrients in the stream. Ground-cover vegetation filters stormwater runoff removing sediments and pollutants before entering streams.
This is from a list of the changes with staff comments put together by former Planning and Zoning Commissioner John Weddleton.  I've posted the whole document (21 pages) at Scribd., but they group opposing the changes, FreeTitle21, passed out a more concise version (4 pages) Tuesday night at the Assembly meeting.  Free Title 21's concise version, more a list of recommendations and reasons to reject most of the amendments,  is also at Scribd.


  1. Steve. Another point to make is the hours and hours of public comment from communities all over Anchroage that went into the development and approval of Title 21 before it was put into Coffee's hands. Mr. Coffee by the way has been given another $60,000 grant to lobby for the port project.

  2. Thanks, Nan. There are so many points to make. But it's important to compare the earlier, intensive, extensive, and inclusive public process followed by what would appear to be the building industry's lobbyist, working in private, and paid well by the tax payers of Anchorage to undo the Assembly's prior endorsement of the agreements hammered out in the public process.


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