One day in the future, will we look back at the events in 2017 with a sigh of relief or a gasp of horror? We knew and we acted? Or we knew and failed?
When I was a young child (1950s-1960s) there were no seatbelts. We rode around in the back seat without a care in the world, listening to my grandfather behind the wheel intoning “I think we can! I think we can!” in the spirit of the Little Red Caboose as he chauffeured my sister and I up the hill to their house every Sunday afternoon.
We always made it up the hill.
When my children were young, cars routinely had seatbelts but there was no law requiring people to wear them until 1983. We could still get away without wearing them in the back seat until 1989.
Fast forward, thirty years later, and now it’s second nature for most everyone who jumps into a car to put on their seatbelts.
Can we do the same behavior modification to save our planet?
First, we don’t see the connection between our personal consumption patterns and the larger, scarier reality that we are directly contributing to the inevitable planetary wreakage.
Second, if we do see the connection, we probably don’t feel our solitary actions will make much of a difference. So, why change?
Third, many of us believe our quality of life will suffer and the “sacrifices” will be too great.
Fourth, there surely must be a technological fix hiding somewhere given all of the creative geniuses populating Silicon Valley and elsewhere.
The short answer: It’s up to me, you and anyone else reading this blog, to change our consumption habits just as we changed our driving habits. Now, today. In every way. Lets put on our seatbelts!
“I think we can, I think we can” said the little Red Caboose. I think we can change our consumption habits and conserve, reduce, recycle, simplify, live with less, share more, and build a world where every child will make it up that hill.
A professional colleague/friend warned me today …
“Try explaining to your children why you didn’t vote for Clinton if el Trumpo gets elected. If you believe that it doesn’t make a difference if he gets elected and appoints one or more Clarence Thomas types to SCOTUS you don’t really care about the future. You of all people should recognize the potential for long-term damage that POTUS can do by appointing another Thomas or Scalia.”
Aside from the false notion that I “believe it doesn’t make a difference” if Trump gets elected, I agree that I certainly owe my children (ages 43, 39, 36) an explanation for why I’m voting for Jill Stein, the first time I’ve voted for a Green Party candidate.
I owe them an explanation and an apology for waiting so long (beyond the Planet’s expiration date, I fear!) to stand up and act consistent with my values.
We all agree that a Trump Presidency would be catastrophic. On my travels in Spain (April), Italy (June) and Greece (July), when anyone learned that I was an American, they almost always asked my opinions about the election and expressed alarm about a possible Trump Presidency. I share their alarm, but I reject the binary-thinking that a vote for Stein is a vote for Trump.
The candidates win or lose their campaigns, while the voters cast their ballots. I reject the notion that my vote for Jill Stein will cost HRC the election. If Clinton loses, then her campaign autopsy should consider many factors. I’ll list a few.
There will certainly be many other factors to consider postmortem, if Clinton loses in November, but realistically the polls and common wisdom point in her favor. The list of Republicans who are voting for Clinton is growing daily.
So why am I NOT voting for Clinton? Why can’t I bite my tongue, pinch my nose, or do whatever else it might take to vote for the lesser of two evils?
I always knew I couldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton. I knew it in 2008 and my opinion hasn’t changed. I’m not a Bernie or Bust groupie. I abhor group-think in any form. Just because Bernie Sanders now endorses HRC and urges his supporters to vote for her, doesn’t persuade me in the least to follow his recommendation. I think for myself.
After it was clear that Trump would be the Republican nominee, and HRC would be the Democratic nominee, I considered my options and decided that I could vote for Jill Stein. Here’s my calculus.
I’m voting in New Mexico, a safe state for Dems. If I voted in a swing, battleground state, my calculus would be quite different. HRC is very likely going to pull off a very big win in N.M., even bigger now that many Republicans are jumping their sinking ship and announcing their support for HRC. My vote for Stein will help bolster the Green Party’s standing in 2020, and might send a message to the Democratic Party that they no longer stand for my values.
I’m not a one issue voter. And I don’t demand 100% perfection from any candidate, contrary to what some friends have alleged.
I was an enthusiastic Sanders supporter, contributing $25/month to his campaign before any of my friends on-and-off Facebook acknowledged that he might actually pull off a win. His positions didn’t align with mine 100% but he was much, much closer than any other candidate, and I felt he could be “educated” on issues, such as Black Lives Matter and Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
I’ve been watching HRC and her campaign very carefully these past few weeks, secretly hoping that she would give me some reason to vote for her — not perfection, but some small kernel of hope that I might have been mistaken all these years about her.
She gave me nothing. The DNC gave me nothing. Both confirmed for me that my decision to vote for Jill Stein is the only decision I can make consistent with my values.
Consider the following:
3. I’ve come to the conclusion that we (all of us on the planet) have run out of time. We have the answers, we don’t have the political will power to effect the radical change we need. We don’t have time for the status quo and incrementalism that a Clinton Presidency promises to give us. In my view, HRC represents a nail in the coffin of the war on climate change because of her positions on fracking and oil & gas. She represents a nail in the coffin of a sane and just foreign policy in the Middle East and around the world. She represents a nail in the coffin of a sane economic policy for Americans and everyone on the planet. She just doesn’t get it. Those are the three big issues and she gets an F in all three.
So I’m voting for Jill Stein because I must act and vote consistent with my values. I don’t expect miracles if Stein is elected, but I don’t expect a continuation of the status quo either. If Jill Stein’s deeds and actions match only a sliver of her rhetoric, then she will be a better President than either HRC or Trump. And she’ll be the first woman elected President in the United States, the first Green Party candidate elected, and the first sane candidate elected to the highest office in the land who is unbeholding to the corporatocracy.
I won’t tell you how to vote, but I hope you will get out and vote.
At the International Making Cities Livable Conference in Rome, I presented a paper about how to make Gaza a livable community. Two colleagues in Gaza and I collaborated on this paper earlier this year. They were not present in Rome because Israel would not allow Yaser (an environmental engineer) to leave the Gaza Strip, and Italy rejected Eman’s (an architect) request for a Visa.
So with a heavy heart, I began the presentation by telling the audience about these travel restrictions and reminding them how privileged we are to travel and sit together to talk about building livable communities. My presentation included five lessons.
Lesson #1 – Include the people from the community in building a livable community.
I shared some brief facts about the Gaza Strip. It’s relatively small, only 139 square miles or about the size of Detroit or twice the size of Washington, DC., with a rapidly growing population of 1.8 million people in 2014 and a density about equal to Boston. Unlike Detroit and Boston however, the Gaza Strip has been isolated from the rest of the world for nearly 10 years.
Travel in and out of Gaza is very restricted. I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to return for the past 2+ years. There’s a “youth bulge” in Gaza with 51% of the population under the age of 18. There’s a high literacy rate (96% in 2011) and the majority of the youth speak 2 languages, if not more. But 85% of the 677 schools in the Gaza Strip are running double shifts, and some are running triple shifts.
Unemployment in the Gaza Strip was 44% in 2014. Food insecurity is high (80% of households receive assistance) and 39% live below the poverty line. OCHA estimates that roughly 20% of Gaza’s population need treatment for mental health conditions.
Lesson #2 – Communities are not on a level playing field; they begin the path towards a livable future from very different baselines.
I shared some caveats (warnings) about our paper because many of the reviewers have told us our recommendations are good but won’t succeed until some preconditions are met, including the end of the blockade and occupation of Gaza. We agree, of course. We believe Israel’s occupation will end, either by design or by default, but we must not wait until that day comes.
Our recommendations for a Livable Gaza are premised on the belief that Palestinians can plan and prepare today for a Livable Gaza, absent any resolution of the serious political challenges that exist.
Lesson #3 — Don’t wait until every impediment has been removed to begin building a livable community.
Then I discussed our methodology. The Gaza Strip has been studied and examined by NGOs, by the United Nations, by sociologists, and a whole plethora of professional disciplines. The focus of most of the research has been how to prioritize projects to sustain the population and repair the damage caused by nearly 10 years of a brutal economic, political and cultural siege, as well as 3 military assaults. My colleagues and I decided to filter this research through a new lens — Kate Raworth’s economic doughnut.
Raworth’s economic doughnut situates a livable community in a safe and just place between the planetary boundaries and the social boundaries.
The planetary boundary is the environmental ceiling which humans must not exceed in order to maintain earth’s life support systems. That includes such things as climate change, freshwater use, chemical pollution, biodiversity loss, and land use changes. The social boundary is the bedrock of human rights which we must not fall below. That includes such things as food, water, jobs, health, energy, voice, education, etc.
Where is Gaza within the economic doughnut?
The Gaza Strip has exceeded the environmental ceiling: (1) climate change vulnerability – rising sea levels and significant warming, (2) freshwater use is just a memory (UN predicted the aquifer would be unusable by 2016 and irreversibly damaged by 2020), (3) land use change – military operations have flattened entire neighborhoods, buffer zone policies restrict agricultural production, (4) pollution – more than 100,000 cubic meters of raw sewage are dumped into the Mediterranean from Gaza every day. The Gaza Strip has fallen below the social foundation: (1) public health (2) education (3) energy (4) water (5) food (6) jobs (7) shelter (8) voice.
Can a livable community be created from such a deficit? Of course, the immediate needs must be addressed and met. That is the focus of the international NGOs and many governments that are trying to keep the Gaza Strip functioning, but they are not focused on building a livable Gaza. They are focused on survival.
Yaser, Eman and I wrote about our potential vision for what a livable Gaza might look like, but I didn’t describe that during the presentation. I told the audience that the “process” of building a livable community is more important than our “vision”.
Lesson #4 – Process is more important than the vision or the goal.
The three biggest challenges to building a livable Gaza are:
There must be two tracks working simultaneously but separately towards building a livable community in Gaza. One is already underway, and has been working for decades since the establishment of the State of Israel and the forced expulsion of many Palestinian refugees to Gaza in 1948. This track includes 12 UN organizations, 36 international NGOs and 31 national NGOs working in the occupied Palestinian territories. They are monitoring the facts on the ground, distributing aid and resources, and financing development projects such as housing, schools, hospitals and other vital infrastructure. The express purpose of these organizations is to keep Gaza from falling below Raworth’s social foundation, but they are failing miserably.
The second track must address the three biggest challenges, unencumbered by the planning and actions occurring on the first track.
Building a livable community requires the active support and engagement of community leaders; but in the absence of political engagement and leadership, it’s important to remember that there are many different types of leaders, unelected and elected, at all levels (household, neighborhood, associations, districts and on up.) Many actions can be undertaken today at the local level to build a livable Gaza, regardless of what’s going on in the political sphere. We believe it involves three key components.
The youth are at the center leading a broad community discussion, gathering the resources, and preparing the plan. The youth should be acknowledged as the change-agents for this process. Most came of age after the last election, have experienced multiple wars and tragedies, and many have never left the Gaza Strip. The future belongs to them and to their children.
Lesson #5 – Recommendations must be sensitive to the challenges.
Our current concern for a livable community needs to be replaced with a new and broader concern for ‘environmental sustainability and justice’ in Arabic – ءدل
Justice is the cornerstone for good governance and a sustainable community. The Gaza Strip could be the turn-around example that shows the world by example, how to transition from the brink of collapse to a safe and just place for all life.
Please send me an email to request a copy of our paper. LoraLucero3@gmail.com
The International Making Cities Livable Conference in Rome spanned 4 days and was chock full of ideas, information and energy. I met people from Canada, the U.S., Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Italy, Turkey, England, Ireland, India, Slovakia …… and even someone from north of the Arctic Circle. Really!
There’s certainly a yearning for this type of information, but I wish there had been 3 or 4 times the attendance.
I summarized Day #1 here. Here are a few of the key take-away messages for me from the rest of the conference:
A livable city must work well for children. Children don’t have the same opportunities to play, socialize and recreate as I did when growing up in Minnesota in the 1950s. Lamine Mahdjoubi from Bristol, UK pointed out how children have vanished from the public realm, living lives of isolation at home in front of their computers and TV. The children in the Mediterranean countries are particularly suffering from obesity because of this rise in sedentary lifestyles.
A strong, healthy town knows how to leverage public-private partnerships. Mayor Brainard of Carmel, Indiana, USA, explained that when he ran for election, he knocked on many doors to ask people in the community what they wanted. When he synthesized all of their comments down, he realized they were all wishing for a livable community. So he’s succeeded in creating the Carmel Arts & Design District where he’s leveraged public-private partnerships to implement many of the design principles we know make livable communities. He shared amazing before-and-after photos, explaining how tax increment financing (TIFs) have succeeded in putting much of the parking underground. He’s a firm believer in the use of round-abouts too, so much so that the local newspaper made a cartoon of him. Carmel has added 187 miles of bike trails in the city, and between 14,000-15,000 people use them every day. Wow! I was thinking of Chuck Marohn from Strong Towns as I listened to the Mayor.
Old people and the youth are the indicator species for a livable community. If it works for them, it works for everyone. I didn’t know much about the age-friendly movement, but was pleased to hear a panel discussion about it on Wednesday. Phillip Stafford from Bloomington, IN, USA shared some depressing statistics about our aging population in the US, and noted that our market economy has commodified old age. The disastrous planning of the past few decades, along with unbridled capitalism (the market economy), have actually put most of the aging population in homogeneous sprawling suburbs where they’re stuck, isolated and can’t remain independent. However, there’s a glimmer of hope with a recent APA publication on the topic.
Stafford recommends we focus on collaborative consumption where the aging population has many assets to share including: time, talent, and treasure. By treasure, he wasn’t suggesting their pocketbooks, but rather their community gardens, house share, tool share, car share. How do we make these shareable assets known and connected with others?
An architect from St. Petersburg, Russia discussed how to create a new classical urban fabric by sharing some of the projects he has worked on. In 1984, I visited St. Petersburg (then known as Leningrad), Moscow, Alma Ata and Tashkent and recall the Soviet-era buildings that were such monstrosities. Retrofitting those ugly utilitarian blocks will require new ideas, and new architects, such as Maxim Atayants. What impressed me as much as his design ideas, was his talent as an artist and his obvious passion for his work. I Googled him and found some of his sketches here.
“Urban designers and architects are a big problem … creating machine-like cities, computer-like cities, Internet-like cities.” Stefano Serafini, a philosopher and psychologist, challenged us (me?) to think outside of our design silos about our communities. I found this interdiscplinary presentation was one of the strengths of the conference, but I’ll have to read some of his ideas here to try to grasp what biourbanism is all about. Honestly, alot of it was over my head.
I was very pleased that he referenced the work of my friend from Albuquerque, architect and planner Besim Hakim.
Besim’s book — Mediterranean Urbanism “brings together historic urban/building rules and codes for the geographic areas including Greece, Italy, and Spain. The author achieved his ambitious goal of finding pertinent rules and codes that were followed in previous societies for the processes that formed the built environment of their towns and cities, including building activities at the neighborhood level and the decision-making process that took place between proximate neighbors.”
Human health and the built environment — go hand in hand. I thought about the environmental engineers I’ve met in Gaza. Mariano Bizzarri from Rome shared alot of statistics showing the links between the built environment and health. It was all a bit overwhelming for me to absorb, but I hope to learn more about this topic if his paper is posted on the conference website. The bottomline is that we easily understand the relationship between the natural environment and human health & disease. There’s a direct corrollary between smog and air pollution and breathing problems. However, now there is more research being published about the impacts of the built environment and human health.
The most alarming fact shared at the conference came from Michael Mehaffy, Executive Director of Sustasis Foundation. “At the current pace of development, we will build more urban fabric in the next 50 years than we have built in all of history.” OMG!
Clearly, we’re doing a lousy job of building livable communities now. At this pace, do we have time to unlearn the bad lessons, repair the damage, and move forward on a better path? The Habitat III conference will be in Quito, Ecuador in October this year. “Habitat III” is shorthand for a major global summit, formally known as the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. I’m going to learn more about that and see if there’s an opportunity to participate.
Mehaffy talked about the need to change our models of global development, change the tools we use in this process, and also change the rules. What we’re building today is functionally segregated and resource inefficienct — the “crack cocaine” of economic development is the origin of sprawl. He mentioned the work of Christopher Alexander and The City is Not a Tree. I didn’t really understand it until I found this pdf.
Many of the points Mehaffy made (rather, all of his points) resonated with me from my education and experience as a city planner, a land use lawyer, and an observer of urban life and politics. I’ve been talking for years about the professional silos and group think that pervades the planning and urban design professions. Mehaffy was speaking rapidly, and every point he made deserved some thoughtful elaboration. He ended by saying there’s no need for cynicism and despair that only serve the powerful. “We” need to take the power.
Yes! I want to be on his team.
(Caveat: There were other presenters who contributed dynamite presentations. My head is still swimming. I hope the conference organizers will share everyone’s papers and powerpoint presentations.)
Rome is an excellent location for an international conference about making cities livable. If my first impressions are any clue, this city has a mixture of both what works and what doesn’t (yet) work as a livable city.
On the positive side, I count the historical buildings, monuments and architecture, along with the great public transportation, delicious food, and very kind people. On the other hand, the graffiti is a big distraction (it’s on every surface visible to spray paint). The homeless sleeping under the bridges, and the urban poor are clear reminders of the inequities that exist. I rode a city bus to the end of the line on the far west side of Rome and saw poor neighborhoods that most tourists won’t see.
An Italian architect who helped make the local arrangements for this conference lamented that his colleagues didn’t even bother to show up. “They could learn so much from IMCL speakers,” he said, “but instead we [architects] are making life worse and worse in our cities.”
The four days are jam-packed with presentations. Participants (I’m guessing 100+) are a mix of architects, urban designers, planners, policy folks and elected officials from around the world, and the venue (Pontificia Universita Urbaniana, Vatican City) is well-equipped for the program.
I presented a paper about Gaza on the first day (more in a future blog post) but my two colleagues from Gaza are not here. Israel wouldn’t allow Yaser to leave the Gaza Strip, and Italy wouldn’t give Eman a Visa to enter the country. (More here about the travel restrictions.)
Suzanne H. Crowhurst Lennard, IMCL Co-Founder and Director, opened the conference with words that easily resonated with me about what’s wrong with our city-building today. There are two competing value systems at work, she said. The first is based on GDP, where the city is seen as an economic engine, and its function is to fuel growth and raise the standard of living; while the second is based on the Quality of Life. In this model, the function of the city is the “care and culture” (Lewis Mumford) of people and of the earth.
Some of the highlights from her presentation: Extreme capitalism creates a consumer society where we find hundreds of ghost cities in China; vertical sprawl in cities like Hong Kong (the least affordable housing in the world); and New York City with its “safe deposit boxes in the sky” (investors are stashing their $$ in high-rises, seen as good investments). In Tokyo’s housing, there are high levels of hikikomori — people who suffer from severe social withdrawal. Some estimate there are more than 700,000 hikikomori in Japan. Teenagers will not leave their bedrooms for days, weeks, even months at a time while their meals are left on trays outside their door. High-rise living can be detrimental to physical and mental health, and we see higher rates of obesity and related chronic diseases. Paris has a population of 20,000 people per square kilometer in 6 stories, but now is considering adding high-rises to its skyline.
Suzanne summarized the IMCL Principles of TRUE URBANISM: (as opposed to new urbanism?)
“Profit is privatized
Loss is socialized”
Richard Jackson, a physician and professor of environmental sciences at UCLA, shared some provocative thoughts when he asked “will we merit gratitude from our grandchildren?” Dr. Jackson says the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) has been right about everything it has projected for the past 20 years with the exception of one thing. The pace of change is occurring much faster than the IPCC experts thought it would. He used many of the same climate change slides that I have used when I talk about climate change —- but one stood out for me. The IMF tells us that the fossil fuels industry is subsidized to the tune of $10 million/minute!! Estimate of $5.3 TRILLION for fossil fuels, much greater than our total expenditures for healthcare. (At that point, my blood pressure was rising.) He said there are 20 Attorney Generals in the U.S. filing a lawsuit against Exxon, similar to the tobacco litigation of the 1990s.
Are we guilty of child abuse? Maybe, but certainly we are guilty of child neglect by our acts of omission — our failure to protect our children and grandchildren from the ravages of climate change, and subjecting them to a life of inactivity, in large part by the way we’ve built our cities. There’s a lot of research out about the impacts of the built environment on our children’s health. I’m going to look for the May 2016 JAMA issue when I return home. Finally, Dr. Jackson mentioned British Columbia’s carbon tax which has dropped carbon use by 16%. It’s working and others should follow their example.
Father Alejandro Crosthwaite, Dean of Faculty of Social Sciences, Pontificia Universita San Tommaso, Vatican City, addressed how the Pope’s Laudato Si relates to city planning. I read the Laudato Si last summer when it was released, see here. Father Crosthwaite said The Holy See was shocked with the impact of the Laudato Si, especially among non-Christians. A number of good questions followed his presentation. Someone observed that the church hierarchy has been slow to teach and speak about the Laudato Si, another thought the Vatican needs a good marketing campaign to spread the word. Father Crosthwaite acknowledged that a lot more needs to be done and applauded the laity for taking the leadership around the world. The “structures of sin” didn’t come from outer space, they came from each of us as individuals, and so we need to do this both as a community and as individuals. Key for the Pope is “dialogue.” The Vatican city-state is now carbon neutral. They bought a forest to offset the carbon use within the Vatican as well as transitioning to solar energy. The Vatican also works closely with the United Nations, influences the meetings and discussions about climate change.
Richard Economakis, architect and professor at the School of Architecture, University of Notre Dame, shared a presentation entitled “Streets of Hope: Outlining an Urban, Environmentally Responsible Approach to Housing EU Asylum-Seekers”. I want to visit some of the refugee camps on the Greek Islands and was keenly interested in how Richard proposed to meet the challenges presented by this “migration of biblical proportions”. He mentioned that IKEA is producing housing for refugees using PVC components, non-degradable materials and designed to last 2 years. The Swiss government rejected IKEA’s housing as a fire safety hazard.
Professor Economakis stressed the “principle of repurposability” – meaning that designing and building human settlements for the refugees should consider the future reuse or repurpose of the structures once the refugees have moved on. Richard and eight of his graduate students prepared a Master Plan for the creation of temporary Refugee Villages to serve as processing centers for the refugees seeking asylum in the EU. He was kind enough to give me a copy. I hope I can find a way to send it to my colleagues in Gaza.
Statement of Intent
Let us build modest homes to serve as temporary shelters for the dispossessed in those ports and towns of their arrival. We must do so responsibly, using natural materials which have no carbon footprint, and in such a way that buildings can easily be torn down when they cease to be useful, without significantly impacting the environment – or else they should be able to stand for generations. Let us arrange the houses to form real communities of hope, villages that dignify the waves of tired men, women and children while they wait for their asylum requests to be processed. When the crisis abates and the refuges have moved on to new places and new lives, these towns may serve the hosting nations by being converted into affordable neighborhoods, academic villages or resorts.
Are there ideas here that might be applicable to the Gaza Strip? I think so.
The International Making Cities Livable conference is in Rome this year, only a hop, skip and a jump from Gaza.
The conference might as well be on the moon, as far as my colleagues in Gaza are concerned. I wrote about the travel blockade here.
Earlier this year, Eman and Yaser (an architect and an engineer) joined me in cyberspace to write a paper about how to make Gaza livable. We submitted our paper to the conference organizers, and it was accepted. Al-hamdulillah!
I’m on my way to Rome to deliver our paper. . . . . alone.
I feel an awesome sense of responsibility to ‘get this right’ and to give a strong and convincing presentation on Tuesday. I’ll only have 20 minutes, with an additional 10 minutes for Q & A. My powerpoint presentation has been vetted and improved with the help of a good review by friends. Thank you!
My goals for this conference:
The conference organizer writes:
If we do not change the way we plan and construct our cities, the social inequity we are fomenting is likely to cause a “precipitous collapse” of the global industrial civilization, according to a NASA-funded study, a collapse that cannot be avoided by improved technological efficiency. Even the World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, warned that a failure to tackle inequality risked huge social unrest.
The UN, as well as Pope Francis’s wise and visionary encyclical, Laudato Si‘, and the Islamic Climate Change Declaration urge the world to take action NOW to combat climate change and social inequity.
Our paper mentions both the Pope’s encyclical and the Islamic Climate Change Declaration. If you’d like a copy of our paper, please send me a message with your email.