Poverty is the majority condition in this world, where billions live on a few dollars a day or less. They have many pressing needs and problems in urgent need of solutions, and yet the world's best designers spend all their time solving the problems of the richest 10 percent of humanity. A new exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York
aims to shift that emphasis. Called Design for the Other 90%
, it focuses on affordable, elegant designs that address the needs of the world's poor -- inventions like the rolling water drum
, that helps women and children in the normally back-breaking chore of hauling water; the nested pot cooler
that uses evaporative cooling to help farmers keep their vegetables fresh longer; and charcoal made from sugar cane bagasse
, that reduces deforestation pressures in places where food is still cooked over wood fires. Not all these designs will stand the test of time, of course; some will never catch on and many will be outdone. But isn't it refreshing to see ingenuity put to higher purpose than, say, the the latest MP3 player or the various gewgaws in the Sharper Image catalog?
By the way, if you're intrigued by the kind of thing highlighted in the design exhibit, allow me to suggest the 1998 book, Gaviotas
, by Alan Weisman, about a village in the Colombian llanos founded by a group of environmental engineers led by the visionary Paolo Lugari. If you've already read Gaviotas
, you might be interested in Weisman's newest title, The World Without Us
, in which the journalist tries to envision a post-human planet.