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GOAT Salon: Q&A with Allison Arieff

Our next GOAT Salon is on Wednesday, September 20th. Learn a bit about our guest, Allison Arieff, editorial director of SPUR.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I write about design for the New York Times and am the editorial director of the urban planning think tank, SPUR — but my greatest sense of accomplishment may come from growing tomatoes in my backyard in San Francisco. I have a rock-climbing, graphic novel-drawing 11-year old daughter and a graphic designer husband. I am addicted to reading novels. My favorite form of procrastination that doesn’t involve Twitter is baking fruit galettes.

What will you be talking about for this upcoming GOAT Salon?

How about the ideas highlighted in my NYT piece called Solving All the Wrong Problems? If the most fundamental definition of design is to solve problems, why are so many people devoting so much energy to solving problems that don’t really exist? How can we get more people to look beyond their own lived experience? In other words, when everything is characterized as “world-changing,” is anything? So I’d like to talk about that as well as one of the big ideas that drives this tendency: the so-called “beginner’s mind” — one infamous design consultancy says people hire them because they are “unburdened by expertise.” I am obsessed by the fact that corporations pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to an entity that admits it knows nothing about their problem. How did we get here?

How did you land at SPUR after founding Dwell, changing your focus from individual homes and buildings to urban planning?

After Dwell, I worked at IDEO, mostly on projects related to the built environment. I then was editor at large for Sunset magazine and for GOOD, writing about things like urban agriculture, suburbia and the sharing economy before it was called that. In 2011, SPUR needed someone to work on their magazine, The Urbanist, and I signed on for that and just continued to do more stuff at SPUR, becoming Editorial Director after a year or so. More broadly, I got a little tired about writing about single family homes and wanted to expand my horizons. I just got a lot more interested in the street, the neighborhood, the city. The design of single family homes is really nice for the people who live in them but I came to realize that it doesn’t do a thing for everyone else. I’m more interested in exploring architecture and design that can benefit the greatest number of people.

Are there any patterns you’ve noticed in the Bay Area regarding where people live and work and how they commute?

Why yes, and they are not good. This year SF and Oakland had the dubious distinction of being ranked as the first and second, respectively, worst cities for commuters. San Francisco had the highest average gas price! I’ve spent the last 2 years researching the future of the corporate campus and released a report on the topic, “Rethinking the Corporate Campus.” What is illustrated in this report is how so many companies are stuck in the 50s, building car-centric campuses in suburbs which causes terrible traffic and results in lousy placemaking. Just think of your answer to the question: What does SiliconValley look like? Your first answer might be: gridlock on the 101. The recently opened Apple HQ for all its talk of innovation, is the poster child: it’s got a near 1:1 ratio of office space to parking and though 13.000 jobs will happen there, no additional housing was created in Cupertino to help with demand. And the median home price in Cupertino is now $1.8 million. I could of course talk your ear off on this subject. In the meantime, here’s my NYT encapsulation of the issues covered in the report.

Please join us to ask Allison more questions about her fascinating work! Reserve your seats here.