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What Burning Man Can Teach Us About Reinventing Society

Black Rock City, Nevada, the site of the annual weeklong Burning Man event, sets the context for our community’s radical form of creativity.

The world is currently on the cusp of a creative renaissance fueled by technology and human ingenuity. Increasingly, we see new opportunities for personal expression driven by urban planning: spaces for citizen action, the arts, and entrepreneurship. Tech culture has blended with grassroots art culture to form new possibilities. At the heart of this atomic collision is an unlikely force: celebration.

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These Bamboo Bikes Fight Poverty in Zambia

It is early morning in Lusaka town, as the Zambikes store in the town center opens. Manager Paul Mulenga wheels bikes onto the concrete display...

It is early morning in Lusaka town, as the Zambikes store in the town center opens. Manager Paul Mulenga wheels bikes onto the concrete display slab. He has already answered at least five phone queries and is rushing to take a group of kids on a tour to the factory.

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The morning hours at Maya Pedal were filled with the sounds of grinding metal for the bicicuchilladora, a bicycle-powered cutting machine. The simple appliance, powered by a bicycle drivetrain, has at its heart a concrete cylinder, with columns of two-inch-long blades spinning within a plastic tube. Once used to move people, its bicycle parts now mince plastic in preparation for recycling or turning compost.
Maya Pedal co-founder Carlos Marroquin mastered the feat of connecting bicycle drivetrains to new mechanisms long ago. His organization, established in 1997, has created at least 16 different kinds of pedal-powered machines, or bicimaquinas, using recycled bikes and parts, perennially improving their designs to be more useful and affordable for farmers.
The bicimaquinas make a tangible difference for campesino villagers. The bike frames, handlebars, and drivetrains conserve time, money, and labor for farmers across the region. The bicimolino corn mill and bicilavadora washing machine save energy—both physical and fossil—for women who once completed these tasks by hand every day. Hand-powered alternatives demand time and effort, and the cost of fuel puts gas-powered ones out of reach for most.
The bicibomba water pump has the same benefits. Still, it can run as high as USD 300—nearly a month’s income for the average rural Guatemalan—and can thus require collective ownership, financing mechanisms, or otherwise a convincing return on investment. This price results largely from the labor invested by workers at Maya Pedal. The machines themselves are made from the refuse of bicycles: chains, gears, cranks, and handlebars, combined with common scrap metal and plastic.

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