Of Artists and Entrepreneurs: The Second Renaissance is Now

“Autonomy, adventure, imagination: entrepreneurship comprehends all this and more for us. The characteristic art form of our age may be the business plan.” -William Deresiewicz


Imagine you are a painter for a moment. In front of you is a blank canvas, sitting desolate on its stand, awaiting your spirit to infuse it with life. Right beside you are your tools. A paintbrush and a palette, with no more colors than a rainbow. It’s a simple set up - but altogether, combined with the human imagination and an ability to execute, has the ingredients to create a piece of work with the power to inspire and impact the course of history.

Whether you are a painter, sculptor, musician or movie director, what artists do is take an idea and manifest it into reality. From Michelangelo sculpting the David, to Quentin Tarantino writing, directing, and soundtracking a film, these artists are taking a vision that existed nowhere else but in their own mind, and actualizing it into reality through their work.

This process of dreaming and creating is typically associated with artists, but it is precisely what every entrepreneur has ever done. The only difference being the medium, which for the entrepreneur is not a canvas, but rather, the world around us.

The archetype is Steve Jobs. Imagining a day where a computer would be part of everyone’s life is a dream; the world we live in today validates the execution of that dream; and the design and elegance of Apple products is simply the aesthetics inherent in every great piece of art. For without beauty and awe, innovation would be soulless and unable to captivate an audience.

But the examples extend far beyond the late Steve Jobs. We have entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey; prolific ideators who dream and create, in the same fashion as artists like Banksy and Thom Yorke. These individuals are all luminaries, playing different instruments in the same concerto.

Now today in 2013, the hero’s journey is beginning to feel more like Star Wars than The Hobbit. Thanks to the rise of computers, the things we make seems to have no bounds. The canvas has given way to the tablet, and the plethora of modern day tools continue to increase in power and complexity. It has created a rich ecosystem for individuals to imagine, work and build. With resources available online and in the cloud, it is now possible to create something on Tuesday and have it reach millions by Wednesday.

This prolific period feels familiar. If the first Renaissance was characterized by the fusion of art and science to liberate mankind’s thinking, we must then be in a second Renaissance; one characterized by the same interdisciplinary school of thought, only with a business nuance that accelerates art into action.

Renaissance 1.0 took the canvas and the pen, and showed a world that could be. Renaissance 2.0 is taking the world itself, using new tools to tangibly redefine modus operandi. From Google to Facebook, to the projects on Behance and Kickstarter, we are high tide in a modern day evolution. Caffeinated by technology and motivated by the giants whose shoulders we stand upon, the formerly starving artist is now destined for the cover of Fortune magazine. These are the coders and the hackers, the hippies - who follow through on their to-do list, and they are rocking our world and lifting us out of the Industrial Age, into a Creative Age of abundance.

It is imperative we understand the origins of this innovation taking root, especially if we want to grow more of it. For at least in regards to our education system, we are standing at a crossroads between what was, and what could be. With MOOCs, the Khan Academy, and the whole nine yards attached to this next epoch of schooling, we will collectively be re-imagining the learning experience. In doing so, we must recognize what is essential and what is redundant.

Deciding what to juice our minds with and what to outsource to the machines has no definitive answer. However, rote memorization, knowledge regurgitation, and anything inside-the-box will only have depleting effects on a growing creative class. We need more artists and entrepreneurs, engineers and programmers. People that dream, and know how to make that dream come true. This is what our education system needs to embrace, this is what our Renaissance is all about.

The irony of all this - if the past is any indication of the future - is that the innovation in education, to teach the skills behind creativity and execution, will not come from the bureaucrats but rather the innovators themselves. Just as a painter teaches painting, and a pianist teaches the piano, it will be an entrepreneur who dreams, designs and builds the platform that can effectively teach entrepreneurship. But the time is here and now, with cell phones outnumbering toilets in the developing world, we must democratize this novel art form and empower individuals to paint their own canvas.

The seeds of Renaissance 2.0 have been planted, with a little bit of water and sunshine this planet can flourish. But as Buckminster Fuller once said, “you never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” The transitionary phase we find ourselves in is similar to an artist going from draft a to draft b, or an entrepreneur going from beta-testing to public launch. It’s a recursive loop that builds off what came before and progressively improves. We must innovate our way to more innovation. We have the technology, but as the old saying goes: it’s not the tools, it’s the craftsman. We need to do this right, education is too important for the greater good. So as we re-learn how to learn, it’s time to teach the things that matter, and embrace the art of entrepreneurship.

 

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Hold your breath at Marble Arch!

Air pollution up to five times over the EU limit in Central London hotspots

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  • Dirty air is an invisible killer, but an effective one.
  • A recent study estimates that more than 9,000 people die prematurely in London each year due to air pollution.
  • This map visualises the worst places to breathe in Central London.

The Great Smog of 1952

London used to be famous for its 'pea-soupers': combinations of smoke and fog caused by burning coal for power and heating.

All that changed after the Great Smog of 1952, when weather conditions created a particularly dense and persistent layer of pollution. For a number of days, visibility was reduced to as little as one foot, making traffic impossible. The fog even crept indoors, leading to cancellations of theatre and film showings. The episode wasn't just disruptive and disturbing, but also deadly: according to one estimate, it directly and indirectly killed up to 12,000 Londoners.

Invisible, but still deadly

Image: MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images

London Mayor Sadiq Khan

After the shock of the Great Smog, the UK cleaned up its act, legislating to replace open coal fires with less polluting alternatives. London Mayor Sadiq Khan is hoping for a repeat of the movement that eradicated London's smog epidemic, but now for its invisible variety.

The air in London is "filthy, toxic", says Khan. In fact, poor air quality in the British capital is a "public health crisis". The city's poor air quality is linked not just to thousands of premature deaths each year, but also to a range of illnesses including asthma, heart disease and dementia. Children growing up in areas with high levels of air pollution may develop stunted lungs, with up to 10% less capacity than normal.

Image: Transport for London

ULEZ phases 1 and 2, and LEZ

Khan has led a very active campaign for better air quality since his election as London Mayor in 2016. Some of the measures recently decided:

  • Transport for London has introduced 2,600 diesel-electric hybrid buses, which is said to reduce emissions by up to 40%.
  • Mr Khan has pledged to spend £800 million on air quality over a five-year period.
  • Uber fares will rise by 15p (20¢) to help drivers buy electric cars.
  • Since the start of 2018, all new single-decker buses are zero-emission and all new taxis must be hybrid or electric.
  • Mr Khan has added a T-charge on the most toxic vehicles entering the city. On 8 April, the T-charge will be replaced by an Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), contiguous with the Congestion Charge Zone.
  • The ULEZ is designed to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide and particulate matter by charging vehicles who don't meet stringent exhaust emission standards.
  • By October 2020, a Low-Emission Zone (LEZ), applicable to heavy commercial vehicles, will cover most of Greater London.
  • By October 2021, the ULEZ will expand to cover a greater part of Central London.

Central London's worst places for breathing

Image: Steven Bernard / Financial Times

Heathrow (bottom left on the overview map) is another pollution hotspot

What worries experts is that despite considerable efforts already made, levels of air pollution stubbornly refuse to recede – and remain alarmingly high in locations where traffic flows converge.

It's not something you'd think of, given our atmosphere's fluctuating nature, but air pollution hotspots can be extremely local – as this map demonstrates.

One important lesson for all Londoners: don't inhale at Marble Arch! Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are five times the EU norm – the highest in the city. Traffic permitting, quickly cross Cumberland Gate to Speakers' Corner and further into Hyde Park, where levels sink back to a 'permissible' 40 milligrams per cubic meter. Now you can inhale!

Almost as bad: Tower Hill (4.6 times the EU norm) and Marylebone Road (4 times; go to nearby Regent's Park for relief).

Also quite bad: the Strand (3.9), Piccadilly Circus (3.8), and Hyde Park Corner (also 3.8), Victoria (3.7) and Knightsbridge (3.5), the dirty trio just south of Hyde Park.

Elephant & Castle is the only pollution hotspot below the Thames and, perhaps because it's relatively isolated from other black spots, also the one with the lowest multiplication factor (2.8 times the maximum level).

On the larger map, the whole of Central London, including its relatively NO2-free parks, still shows up as more polluted than the outlying areas. Two exceptions flare up red: busy traffic arteries; and Heathrow Airport (in the bottom left corner).

Image: Mike Malone, CC BY SA 4.0

Traffic congestion on London's Great Portland Street

So why is Central London's air pollution problem so persistent? In part, this is because the need for individual transport in cars seems to be inelastic. For example, the Congestion Charge has slashed the number of vehicles entering Central London by 30%, but the number of (CC-exempt) private-hire vehicles entering that zone has quadrupled over the same period.

Cycling has really taken off in London. But despite all pro-cycling measures, a wide range of other transport options and car-dissuading measures, central London is still a very congested place. Average traffic speeds on weekdays has declined to 8 miles (13 km) per hour – fittingly medieval speeds, as the road network was largely designed in medieval times.

Narrow streets between high buildings, filled to capacity with slow-moving traffic are a textbook recipe for semi-permanent high levels air pollution.

The large share of diesel vehicles on London's streets only increases the problem. Diesel vehicles emit lower levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) than petrol cars, which is why their introduction was promoted by European governments.

However, diesels emit higher levels of the highly toxic nitrogen dioxide (NO2) than initial lab tests indicated. Which is why they're being phased out now.

As bad as Delhi, worse than New York

Image: Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

By some measures, London's air quality is almost as bad as New Delhi's.

By some measures, especially NO2, London's air pollution is nearly as bad as big Asian cities such as Beijing or New Delhi, and much worse than other developed cities such as New York and Madrid.

The UK is bound to meet pollution limits as set down in the National Air Quality objectives and by EU directives, for example for particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide.

  • Particulate matter (PM2.5) consists of tiny particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter emitted by combustion engines. Exposure to PM2.5 raises the mortality risk of cardiovascular diseases. The target for PM2.5 by 2020 is 25 µg/m3. All of London currently scores higher, with most areas at double that level.
  • Mainly emitted by diesel engines, NO2 irritates the respiratory system and aggravates asthma and other pre-existing conditions. NO2 also reacts with other gases to form acid rain. The limit for NO2 is 40 µg/m3, and NO2 levels must not exceed 200 µg/m3 more than 18 times a year. Last year, London hit that figure before January was over.

Google joins fight against air pollution

Image: laszlo-photo, CC BY SA 2.0

Elephant & Castle, London.

Studies predict London's air pollution will remain above legal limits until 2025. Sadiq Khan – himself an asthma sufferer – is working to make London's air cleaner by measures great and small. Earlier this week, he announced that two of Google's Street View cars will be carrying air quality sensors when mapping the streets of London

Over the course of a year, the two cars will take air quality readings every 30 metres in order to identify areas of London with dangerous levels of air pollution that might be missed by the network of fixed sensors. An additional 100 of those fixed sensors will be installed near sensitive locations and known pollution hotspots, doubling the network's density.

It's all part of Breathe London, a scheme to map the British capital's air pollution in real time. Breathe London will be the world's largest air quality monitoring network, said Mr Khan, launching the scheme at Charlotte Sharman Primary School in the London borough of Southwark.

Up to 30% of the school's pupils are said to be asthma sufferers. Charlotte Sharman is close to Elephant & Castle, as the above map shows, one of Central London's air pollution hotspots.

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