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#networkedurbanism: turning waste into resources

CATEGORY: ⚐ EN + networkedurbanism

Inventoring in Amazon warehouse

Earlier this year we introduced to you #networkedurbanism, now that the “studio report” book is almost ready, we are publishing a series of posts showing some of the projects that the students have developed during the 2010, 2012, and 2013 studios at the GSD.

In this second #networkedurbanism post we present to you three projects that deal with the ever more urgent theme of waste reduction, recycle and re-use. These projects took the city of Boston and Harvard’s institutions as a test field for their development but you can easily image the impact of their ideas in any urban environment: turning waste into a new resource and correcting the waste management cycle to reach a cradle-to-cradle level of efficiency.

Krystelle Denis and Ziyi Zhang saw a wide margin of improvement on the way the “Harvard Recycling and Surplus Center” is managing and inventorying wasted resources in the campus. The facility collects and distributes unused items to different non-profit organizations and other collectors, but in order to store new surplus room must be made, and the old surplus that is not collected is trashed and ends up in landfills.

Inventorying is an essential part of the facility work, keeping track of what is in stock allows users to know what is available, but it is also a very labor-intensive and time-consuming task, and the Recycling and Surplus Center is looking for a way to optimize it. is a project that aims to simplify and optimize the inventoring process through digitalizing and redistributing it. Their idea is to split the process into two parts: online inventorying and offline inventorying.

tagmesaveme presentation board

Offline inventorying is performed by the Harvard Recycling and Surplus Center: using an app, they quickly photograph and upload each item to the online public database where they are assigned a unique ID and displayed.

Online inventorying is then performed by the community on the website, using a technique called human based computing, website users tag items (a rapid process of attaching words which describe the item), in this way the workload of the inventorying is distributed to a larger community of online users. Items, then, can be easily found using a database keyword search engine and “once a user finds the item, they can “save it” or claim it online, allowing them to locate it within the facility using the unique ID provided.”

During the studio this team obtained a grant from the Harvard Office for Sustainability to develop the project, you can read about the whole design process in the #networkedurbanism post.

Curbed City

On September 1st, every year, the streets of Cambridge are littered with abandoned furniture left by students moving out of their former houses. The waste produced on that day corresponds roughly to the 5% of the city’s annual waste. Christopher M. Johnson and Jean You reported that city’s and university’s governing bodies are “plagued with misaligned interests exposed through their resource allocation and differentiation of waste streams,” and waste is merely a byproduct of inconvenience.

Their project, Curbed City, intervenes within the system to capitalize on existing behavioral patterns and “make a spectacle of it.” Curbed City project began as a platform to reduce wasted furniture on September 1st, the furniture disposed on that day has a high value and it’s generally in good conditions upon disposal and incoming classes frequently purchase the same items.

It further developed as program to improve Cambridge’s waste system, which “work efficiently when treating all items as waste, yet they failed to address the greater needs of the community.” The final target of the platform is to “revolutionize not only how we freecycle furniture, but how we view the city and its use of goods and commodity patterns along with the notions of furniture and the realms of personal and business relationships, art, and even pop-up events.

This project is currently being developed with the City of Cambridge Department of Public Works, you can read about the design process in the #networkedurbanism posts, and here there is another video.


Jennifer Corlett and Kelly Murphy focused on a specific Bostonian product which consumption produces more than 136.000 kg of waste every year in the city of Boston only: oysters. Shellfish, oysters specially, have always been a “cornerstone in New England diet,” but what happens to oyster shells once they have been discarded? 90% of them are currently landfilled, they report, and it is just because Boston has not a place for them yet.

Aquaplot objective is to reuse oyster shells to sustain oyster reefs and reestablish a healthy harbor ecosystem. How? They make it clear: “By establishing a city-wide oyster gardening program that can close the gap in the oyster waste stream by creating demand for discarded shells. Oyster gardening can simultaneously restore native oyster reefs, improve local water quality, and reconnect the people of Boston with their waterfront.

Oyster gardening, as proposed by the authors of aquaplot, is a great opportunity for Boston, within oysters broken cycle lies an opportunity for the city to address two key problems: oyster shells disposal and oyster reef decline. The link between the two problems is an exciting opportunity to improve the system, with benefits spanning from environmental, to economic, and social realms.

Discover more about the project in their final presentation, and on their posts on #networkedurbanism.

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