Loving Logistics

Recall UPS’ “We Love Logistics” advertising campaign from last year:

The advertisement provides an illustration of a particular utopia, a corporate dream of the urban as a bundle of transportation networks that optimize the efficient exchange of objects and things.

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Fast forward a year later.  Last month FedEx – UPS’ biggest competitor – announced that it will provide grant funds of $ 1.4 million (in addition to previous grants) over the next two years to EMBARQ (the World Resources Institute’s Center for Sustainable Transport) to provide “technical expertise on sustainable transportation projects that improve quality of life in cities…Through workshops, field visits and direct consultation, EMBARQ transport planners and FedEx global experts will team up to provide support to [multiple] developing cities in fuel and vehicle technologies, vehicle asset management, and real-time user information systems.”

As part of the grant program, FedEx has created a fellowship for promising staff in EMBARQ’s Mexico, Brazil and India offices,whereby fellows attend 10-day workshops at FedEx’s corporate headquarters in Memphis, Tenn., receiving leadership and technical training from senior FedEx staff. The seemingly seamless and mutually enhancing effects of such coalitions is expressed by one of its India office fellows: “FedEx is interested in moving packages as efficiently as possible, while urban transport providers seek to move people as efficiently as possible. Many of the operational concerns facing FedEx and the organizations that EMBARQ India works with – route design, crew scheduling, fleet management – are essentially the same.

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Meanwhile, it seems that Google might benefit from similar quasi-philanthropic research mergers as its seeks to irrigate [ever broader] territories with [logistical] potential (*).  The company has run into problems installing its new “super-speed” internet project in Kansas City.  The design problem concerns how its fiber optic cables are to be physically hung from existing utility poles within the city.

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Moving to the southern hemisphere, we encounter the IIRSA – the Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America, or what Greg Lindsay refers to as “the largest infrastructure project you’ve never heard of: An $83 billion, decades-long effort by a dozen South American nations to tilt the continent’s economic axis from North-South to East-West (and from the United States toward China).

[IIRSA Project Image via Co.Exist]

Chasing the IIRSA project is the The South America Project, a coalition of South American designers researching the potential effects of the IIRSA proposals and testing alternative design scenarios for the continent’s emergent infrastructure.

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In the most recent Terragram interview, we encounter another type of logistical design coalition.  Here designer Casey Brown talks about his research interest in the “meta” or “macroscopic” landscape, by which he means the larger physical patterns and forces acting upon a region, nation or collection of affiliated landscapes.  In the course of the interview, Brown is asked if there is a risk of his macro data mining and statistical distillations (what he generates as senior researcher for P-Rex) to be manipulated or “data wrangled” to suit proprietary and institutional desires.

Interviewer Craig Verzone asked this question based on Brown’s description of his current work for Toyota, a client who came to P-Rex for logistics consultation, a selection based on reading their urban diagnostic research published in Drosscape.  Rather than the designers chasing a received or pre-formatted agenda, clients and corporations are coming to them based on the agendas revealed through proactive research questions.   Quite arguably, P-Rex has succeeded in generating disruptive hypotheses and subsequent business singularities.  Yet at the same time, Brown acknowledges that although it is better to be in on these conversations rather than outside them, he admits that “we cannot control data or what they do with it”.

Thanks to R. Holmes and S. Becker for conversations leading to links within this post.

One comment

  1. Nice point to focus on in the Brown interview; I wouldn’t exactly disagree with his answer — certainly agree it is both useful and important to “be in on these conversations”, but I also think Verzone’s question still has some bite. Our perception of scientific research’s conclusions is rightly colored by consideration of its funding sources, and I see no reason that this shouldn’t hold true for research on the “macroscopic” landscape, as well. That does nothing to take away from the excellence of what P-REX is doing, or the importance of the work they are doing in finding ways to fund a research agenda, but I do think it’s an argument for the importance of a multitude of institutions and funding sources. (And Berger’s position in academia, of course, lends P-REX some of that independence.)

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