reverting to "creature-of-the-night mode" as a friend puts it. watched a bit of a--dare i say it--cool program on PBS, about designing more economically-friendly spaces and things. PBS has the program website here and there's a seperate more informative one here.
what i watched was mostly on designing buildings to be more efficient. the gist of it was that cities and skyscrapers are generally quite effective places for people to live and work, when compared to less densely-populated areas. they interviewed architects from a big firm that's designed Bank of America's new headquarters in midtown Manhattan, as well as the usual expert types. Brad Pitt did narration. it was very PBS.
anyway, then they started talking about the way buildings are built in the US as opposed to in Europe or Japan. the companies building American buildings are generally not the ones running the building even a year after construction ends, whereas in other countries there seems to be a great deal of emphasis on how the thing will function 10 or 50 years down the line. initial costs are a concern over there, but they're considered along with annual costs, environmental impacts, community effects, and so on.
it strikes me that this isn't only true of American builders--that they're more concerned with making their products cheap up front than the product's lifetime cost. i can see this happening all around me.
it's a problem both of consumers and of producers: American consumers are interested in the cheapest product that does the job right now, and less so with how long it lasts or how well it works 20 years from now.
these are generalizations, but a good example is aluminum bike frames: they're very popular, have a limited lifetime, and can only be repaired by the manufacturer. when your alu frame breaks, the solution is to call up the maker and have them send you a new one. not that many people ride alu bikes long and hard enough to break them, so the makers don't have to replace a lot of frames. and the consumer doesn't care, outside of the inconvenience of being out of a bike while the new frame is in transit. on the surface, alu frames are good for everyone.
but beneath that, there's all kinds of problems. firstly, this cycle isn't good for cycling as an idea. i reckon the reason more folks don't ride alu frames to the point of breaking is they don't like riding them much, and i reckon a good number of those folks would ride more and ride happier on a steel frame. second, these frames aren't free, even if the consumer doesn't pay for them. there's a cost in labor, resources, and energy that isn't immediately obvious.
i'm interested in the more holistic approach, even if it means remaining a niche producer forever.