#EnterTheNewNormal – Virtual Open City Series 01

Virtual Open City was an adaptation of our monthly open houses to keep the conversation flowing on the future of living, food, work and manufacturing. Typically, we would expect about 30 people streaming in at various times over at our physical playground in the far west of Singapore.

After receiving over 270 people tuning in from countries such as Australia, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, South Korea, United States and Vietnam. We realised that the possibilities of digital connection had been slightly taken for granted – if not for the restrictions on travel and social distancing measures. It may also go on to show that human beings naturally gravitate toward in-person, physical human connection.

In 5 hours, we hosted 9 sessions discussing the relevancy of current operating systems during this minimal viable global catastrophe.

Here’s a round up of Audacity’s first Virtual Open City: #EnterTheNewNormal on 17 April, 2020. Full videos to each session are now available on Youtube here.

Opening the session, was Mistletoe’s founder Taizo Son, who shared ideas for new OS possibilities – cementing our commitment to achieve our focus area agendas.

Emergence of the living classroom

On the education front, the learning environment is also changing. With knowledge readily available online and children having the choice over what they want to learn, teachers are changing their roles to become facilitators. Instead of schools, learning will no longer be confined to boring four walls and screeching of fidgety chairs – think ‘living, roving classrooms’ or a space for children to be a maker of whatever they want.

Technological inclusivity

Participants brought up important considerations for improving the social support system as the city enters the circuit breaker – highlighting that the elderly and vulnerable who are not as digitally equipped may feel lonelier.

Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Kiat announced on 26 May in his Fortitude Budget that it includes funds to help students and senior gain digital accessibility.

The theme #EnterTheNewNormal also sparked a series of participant-led discussions on alternative city designs and empowering Generation Z to rethinking manufacturing and choosing economic progress over wellbeing:

Building Resilient Food Systems

An open discussion about our food system – its vulnerabilities and challenges, creating autonomy with decentralised food production, combating climate challenges with enhanced biodiversity and food circularity.

We were fortunate to have guest panelist Dr. Jonas Joerin, Co-director of Future Resilient Systems (FRS) – a research programme established by ETH Zurich and Singapore’s National Research Foundation join the discussion on Building Resilient Food Systems. He shared the works of a resilient food system with examples of how decentralisation and a circular economy contributes to wellbeing in suburban areas while alleviating stress on developed cities. Closer to home, he raised the importance of creating direct links between consumers and farmers so that there is a better appreciation of our food sources to build on a circular economy.

“We have a disconnection between consumers and farmers because we get our food from NTUC and Cold Storage to buy food and we don’t really know or care where the food comes from… this can only be improved if there is a direct communication between consumers and farms.”

Dr. Jonas Joerin

Our diets have also been have been skewered by heavy influences of globalised food trends and what is sold at the supermarket. Nithiya Laila, a native crop activist, chef, culinary anthropologist and host of Channel News Asia’s Edible Wild series shared wonderful insights on how we can increase the biodiversity of our diets and knowledge of native crops by using nature as a portal to the history and culture.

Michelle a member of Urban Jungle Folks tuned in from the audience to share her thoughts about urban farming in Singapore and gave us a surprise tour around a communal garden space. Set up by her and other urbanites, they are also committed to advocating the growing native crops.

Other important aspects of food circularity such as the hurdles of dealing with food waste, decentralised urban farming and permaculture were also discussed. Watch the recorded session of Building Resilient Food Systems.

Manufacturing a Conscious Future

What is conscious manufacturing to you? Production cycles, decentralisation, minimisation of carbon footprint? What links can we make in the current challenges of manufacturing to find a holistic approach that contributes to a sustainable future of manufacturing?

Technologist and project orchestrator Shane Kelly (@apexenogeny) led a session that beautifully featured the symbiotic eco system of projects within the Audacity community. Even though the panelists represented a diverse set of projects and hypotheses, their impacts were mutually beneficial. Using a values-based problem solving approach to recognise the ‘Pleasantries of Production’, panelists probed audiences to question their consumption habits whether it is the things we use or the spaces we live in.

What are the first, second and third order effects caused by the means of production? What can we do to consider how resources (energy and water) are being used in our living spaces? How can we leverage alternative sources of energy from waste and our environment?

“I believe that if people have the accessibility to design and produce what they want and need, it will lead to a happier and inclusive community. In addition, with consumers getting the opportunity to be a creator/maker and being directly involved in the manufacturing cycle, will provide an opportunity for greater understanding and appreciation for the space they live in and the things they need.”

Nihal Tamag, our in-house philosopher, architect and designer representing Audacity’s Microfactory shares his vision of a decentralised model of production:

Decentralised advanced manufacturing (model of production) coupled with additive manufacturing allows for just in time manufacturing. The use of waste streams/products such as coconut husks and coffee grains, or biopolymers and bioplastics such as sugar cane and corn starch to 3D print everyday use items opens doors to the possibility of being weaned off oil-based materials.

“Imagine we can print extra furniture just in time for an extra dinner guest or a weekend gathering over the weekend then grind it back into pallets for, to make something totally different… or we can print a biodegradable planter that dissolves over growing season into the ground that also provides nutrients back into the ground.”

Wouter van Hest, our resident additive manufacturing expert aims transform the linear manufacturing system to a fully closed loop one.

The parallels between additive manufacturing and climate adaptive manufacturing is showcased in the idea of Modular Planter boxes that is designed and built according to the growing characteristics of a crop that an individual can grow in an urban space. Shuen Hwee, one of the youngest member of the community who leads the Climate Adaptive Manufacturing project, is looking at how advanced manufacturing systems are being structured through the lens of decentralised production and its impact on minimising carbon footprint. She is currently exploring technologies that captures carbon and water vapour from the atmosphere to use as resources.

Over at Project SHEA (a joint initiative between ECOLABS and Mistletoe) Rithika and Krithika looks at bringing about change in the design of future cities with the concept of sharing and conscious living to sustain the ecosystem. By focusing on people and planet to redefine profit, the idea is to change our mindset towards more sustainable behaviour for resource efficiency and social inclusiveness.

The project looks to solve the issues that derived from lack of shared urban spaces, people living in silos, no social cohesiveness, and shortage of resources (which in turn leads to deforestation, climate change, excessive use of resources, and urgency to buy more instead of necessity.) This unsustainable behaviour of excessive consumption is a recipe for social and income inequity.

With Project SHEA they aim to move towards easily accessible renewable and decentralised solutions universally that can be made available at an economic price.

The question is… what if communities could build together?

A minimum viable global catastrophe

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly helped the world shift its focused to the kind of technologies that is important for the new normal. We hope this inspires you to start conversations with other like-minded individuals who share our vision too.


[This is a working post… catch up on all the videos from Virtual Open City here.]

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