The Practical Radical

Lost in Translation b/w Canada and USA

April 29, 2010
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?

April 29, 2010 – 11:10 AM

In compliance with the “Timely Notice” provisions of the Federal Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act of 1998, the Auraria Higher Education Center located in Downtown Denver is issuing notice of a violent crime that occurred on the Auraria Campus.

REPORTED OFFENSE: At approximately 10:13 a.m. today (Thursday, April 29, 2010), a handgun was discharged in one of the South Classroom Building’s women’s restrooms. The discharge is believed to have been accidental and no one was injured from the handgun. Auraria Police advise that there is no ongoing threat to the campus community.  The handgun was discharged from a stall in the women’s restroom, approximately four inches above the floor and the bullet lodged itself into the drywall.

I do admit that I often find myself culturally confused, both between Canadian and the US culture, but as well trying to get a handle on Coloradan culture.

Case in point re Canada/US – accidental firearm discharges are not something I have found or heard about commonly on Canadian campuses (not to say there is no violence – Ecole Polytechnique is one example), nor does it happen often in women’s bathroom stalls.

As for Colorado — between the liberal “laws” on marijuana (read my previous post on this) and the conservative gun laws … well, one gets whiplash just trying to keep up. Even for one such as myself who revels in “paradox”.

Signing off … a confused Canadian.


College of Architecture and Cooking

April 26, 2010
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What stands for great education at the University of Colorado? Read on.

One of the most popular courses at the Environment and Design building in Boulder is given by Shawn Edmonds. Why you ask? Well, he is a great teacher, does fun and challenging projects, and … he cooks.

Shawn is a trained gourmet chef and has been able to integrate his skills as a chef with design and architecture. At the last class of his course he cooks his class up a three course gourmet meal. And then he relates it to design.

For example, the final project for the students was to design an urban farm. So, he asked all the students to suggest products that could come from the farm for him to make. So – the ice cream was linked to the cow, the berries as a crop – and so on. He as well gave a mini-lecture.


This is an outline of ingredients and how they relate to
design. Each of the maincourse dishes related to a
principal in design that the students studied.


The appetizer – goat cheese, asparagus, golden beet
and drizzled with balsamic vinegar …


Dessert!!

It is quite amazing to meet someone who is so skilled in not one but two professions, and brings those passions to the classroom.

Them’s great eats and great education!


Higher education will play a catalytic role in Africa

April 25, 2010
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The newly launched State of the Urban Youth Report clearly states that education is the key to leveling the playing field for youth in the developing world. What we now have to focus on is what forms of education. One clear suggestion is what they call “tertiary” education – that being education beyond the regular grade 1 – 12 system – training, apprenticeships, college and university.

Who delivers it, how can we get more of it, how can we assure its quality are all questions we must ask.

Here is a repost of an article from the World Bank on that issue:

World Bank Discusses Education In Africa – Spring Meetings

Making Higher Education World for Africa’s Competitiveness

WASHINGTON, April 24, 2010—Higher education should play a critical catalytic role in Africa’s economic growth, according to African policy makers and experts from the public and private sectors gathered today at a crowded seminar held under the umbrella of the World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings.

“We have made a lot of progress on primary education, but we can’t stop there,” said Obiageli Ezekwesili, World Bank Vice President for Africa. “Africa’s population is seeing a ‘youth bulge’, and so we simply cannot avoid tertiary education—it has to be the bedrock of Africa’s development.”

Ezekwesili, herself a former education minister from Nigeria, highlighted some of the challenges in expanding higher education in Africa. These include the need to strike a balance between democratization of access to higher education and the quality of education provided; and to ensure that higher education turns out graduates with the right skills for the job market.

“We cannot continue business as usual—education must meet the needs of the economy,” she said.
Africa urgently needs doctors, nurses, agriculturists, engineers, administrators, lawyers, and business leaders, according to Christopher Thomas, who manages World Bank education projects and analysis in Africa. Yet higher education faces financing constraints, and graduates often remain unemployed.

“There are no easy answers to the question of how Africa’s higher education institutions can grow and thrive,” said Thomas. “But we do know that good policies, strong political will, resources, leadership, and public-private partnerships are necessary.”

Ministers of education from Burkina Faso, the Gambia, Senegal, Mali and Mauritania, who remained at work late into the evening in their countries to join the seminar remotely, all agreed that the basic issue was that all countries needed a base of human resources, although needs varied in each country.

“In the Gambia, we went for thirty years after independence without a university,” said Mamadou Tangara, Gambia’s Minister of Education. “We are facing a huge resource gap, and we cannot emphasize enough the role of higher education in development. Higher education policies of today will determine our society of tomorrow.”

Ezekwesili noted that the private sector had a major role in expanding access to higher education in Africa. In Ghana, public universities were at one time so stretched that they had to admit as many as 1,500 students in a single class with no teaching assistants. But with the rise of the private sector, about 50,000 more students were enrolled in universities in Ghana in 2007.

Peter Okebukola, a Nigerian regulator, suggested three other steps to boost enrollment. “We should also think about setting up open and long distance universities, expanding degree programs beyond universities to polytechnics and other non-degree institutions, and encouraging multi-campus universities,” he said.
Speaking about quality and relevance, Prof. Teuw Niane, the Rector of Gaston Berger University in Senegal, stressed the importance of professors being adequately qualified to teach students, and of connecting regularly with private companies to make sure that young graduates have more access to employment.

Many participants agreed that students who can afford to pay for higher education should be asked to do so. “Parents and youth must be willing to make some sacrifices,” said Joseph Duffey, of Laureate, a private company that seeks to make higher education affordable and accessible through a global network of partnerships.

“It is clear that sharing costs is fundamental,” said Ezekwesili, “Those who can pay should pay, but there should be a mechanism to help promising students who cannot afford to pay.”

The other side of the coin, according to many participants, is that both public and private institutions need to be more accountable and transparent, offering measurable results to parents and students. For example, information such as the number of their graduates that find jobs within a year of graduating should be available to the public.

Participants also discussed the need for quality assurance and regulation. “Accreditation should measure output but reward innovation,” noted Patrick Awuah, President of Ghana’s Ashehi University. “Accreditation can easily stifle innovation,” he said. “For instance, universities should not be evaluated only on the basis of the paper libraries, but also their electronic libraries.”Boukary Savadogo, Division Chief, Science and Technology Education, at the African Development Bank, emphasized that education must be approached in a holistic way, recognizing the connections between all levels from primary to tertiary.

“Tertiary education is a sine qua non for Africa’s development,” concluded Ezekwesili, “We all recognize the importance of a resurgence of tertiary education in Africa.”


8 things I wish everyone knew about email by Seth Godin

April 23, 2010
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Seth Godin is a well know blogger who get’s it right a good percentage of the time. Read on about 10 (I added two at the bottom) email smarts:

  1. Change your settings so that email from you has a name, your name, not a blank or some unusual characters, in the from field. (ask a geek or IT person for help if you don’t know how).
  2. Change your settings so that the bottom of every email includes a signature (often called a sig) that includes your name and your organization.
  3. Change your settings so that when you reply to a note, the note you’re replying to is included below what you write (this is called quoting).
  4. Don’t hit reply all. Just don’t. Okay, you can, but read this first.
  5. You can’t recall an email you didn’t mean to send. Some software makes you think you can, but you can’t. Not reliably.
  6. Email lives forever, is easy to spread and can easily show up in discovery for a lawsuit.
    Please don’t ask me to save a tree by not printing your email. It doesn’t work, it just annoys the trees.
  7. Send yourself some email at a friend’s computer. Read it. Are the fonts too big or too small? Does it look like a standard email? If it doesn’t look like a standard, does this deviation help you or hurt you? Sometimes, fitting in makes sense, no?
  8. And a bonus tip from Cory Doctorow, who gets more email than you and me combined: When you go on vacation, set up an autoreply that says, “I’m on vacation until x/x/2010. When I get back, I’m going to delete all the email that arrived while I was gone, so if this note is important, please send it to me again after that date.”

From Practical Radical: I would add two more –

9.  If you wouldn’t say it face to face, don’t say it in an email.

10.  Sit on it. I often have a drafted email that i don’t send for a day or more, especially if it is to do with an emotional   or really important issue (which are often one and the same).


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Nairobi Reflections

April 23, 2010
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The Nairobi Notebook blog post from americancity.org is a thorough overview of Kibera and the work of UN-HABITAT and the residents there.

If you are interested in more information on some projects going on in Kibera, go to the map kibera site to see how they are working with residents to tell the untold story of Kibera through maps.

Above are some maps before and after the mapping was done by Mikel Maron from openstreetmaps. Unplanned settlements like Kibera go from being seen from above as corrugated roof after corrugated roof, to what it really is, which is a home from those that live there that has streets, churches, clinics, etc.


And now that we have finished Earth Day, answer me this ..

April 23, 2010
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How to get free stuff on Earth Day

April 22, 2010
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If you want the free stuff – mostly in the States I am thinking, click here How to get free stuff on Earth Day. Personally, I think I am going for the Babies R Us free reusable tote bag plus 25% discount off all the clothing and shoes you can fit into the bag. That will make a good gift.

Yes, Earth Day is way over commercialized and just plain cheesy – big noise, small impact. Still, it plays a part, and no, i won’t give you list of 15 things you can do. How do i know what you can do?

I will give you a non-Earth Day two-part challenge (whatever you do, DO NOT do these on Earth Day!):

1. Make every day/minute/second ethical decisions about your life, no matter what your station is in society.

2. Learn, read, learn, log on and read, more about the issues so you have the context to make your own informed ethical   decisions.

No matter how close we are to disaster, we will make the world a better place incrementally, with small decisions that collectively move us to big ones.

Have a happy Earth Day!

p.s. Here is what i have read that gives me context for my ethical decisions.  (taken from a great website)

  1. The poorest 40 percent of the world’s population accounts for 5 percent of global income. The richest 20 percent accounts for three-quarters of world income.
  2. More than 80 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where income differentials are widening.
  3. Almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day and at least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.



Images may appear blurry from far away … Pot and the USA

April 21, 2010
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Actually, images are blurry close up as well, especially when you try and figure out the US in regards to marijuana.

One would assume that the US, barring a few aberrations like Berkley, is a pretty conservative place. Or at least, the conservative voices hold huge sway within the country. So, in regards to anything to do with the legalization of marijuana, you would think that there is no way this would happen.

Well, you think wrong.

Case in point – Colorado. Seems today was a “pot smokers” holiday in the US. At the University of Colorado in Boulder there was a smoke in – which meant lots of people buying, selling smoking and wearing anything and everything with pot leaf images on them – from t-shirts to frisbees to mardi gras like necklaces.

And there were police – everywhere. Last time I saw that many police was at the Olympics.

So, nothing new here, right? Kids smoking dope at school – been happening since the 60s. What is new is the laws that have gone into place which have basically legalized pot here – this happened in Colorado in 2000 – even though it is still a federal offense to posses and traffic pot. Now you can apply to dispense – as in like a pharmacy dispensary – medicinal pot. So, not a few hundred meters from the police, who were watching over those rowdy pot smokers, was a dispensary.


The Dr. Reefer.com dispensary

So, is it easy to apply to be a dispensary? It is dead simple. Basically you have to what any small business would do – apply for a business license, tax number, etc. Then you find customers and sell.

Are there a lot of dispensaries and users? Well, within a 5 mile radius of where I am staying there are 21 dispensaries according to weedmap.com – click here to see the map. Denver has some 250  and Boulder more than 100. In regards to users, more than 66,000 people have applied and are allowed to purchase medical pot, and currently there’s a six-month waiting period.

All you have to do to use medical marijuana is have a doctor approve your need to use it – basically phone the number on this lovely little brochure I was given, go in for a check-up and that is it.

So whether your close up, or far away, it’s pretty blurry all round. Maybe there something I can take for that ..


I am not an environmentalist …

April 14, 2010
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Ok, admittedly a rather dramatic statement from someone who was a senior manager of an environmental agency for 17 years. I often used it as a opening statement in speeches and presentations – it got peoples attention – and in meetings – it pissed people off.

I first noticed this affliction when I did my first real environmental activity and went on a “wilderness trip” to the Queen Charlotte Islands (now called Haida Gwaii) with a number of young environmentalists in kayaks. To make a long story short, i was often miles behind them, and almost didn’t make it across a stormy Hecate Strait (I remember the waves as 5′ – that might have been exhaustion though.) My try at being an “urban” environmentalist met with a similar fate – composting the heritage strawberries  brought about my ban from working in the community gardens. These two experiences (and there are many more)  made it clear to me that if I was  going to make it in this movement I was going to have to find my own niche.


Kayaking Haida Gwaii (me taking photo from behind)


A relaxing moment …

I found my answer through focusing on the “people” more than the “green” part of the environment agenda. What jazzed me was less what physical environment needed saving, but more a question of who did not have access to a healthy environment, and what were the social and economic conditions that kept them from that environment. In Vancouver, where my agency was based, the answer became obvious – it was those on the other side of the tracks in East Vancouver, or in a more global sense, those on the proverbial other side of the tracks in the developing world. They were the ones who did not have access to a healthy environment, an environment that no amount of kayak trips would give them.

So, with this expanded focus, I and EYA slowly and sometimes painfully changed how and what we worked on (see my Master’s thesis The Environmental Youth Alliance: An Exploration of Complexity Science to be understand how this changed happened in EYA). We moved from the richer Westside to the poorer Eastside of Vancouver; we partnered with marginalized communities such as aboriginal, gay and lesbian, immigrant, and street youth, and asked them what they needed for a healthy environment.  We began to expand our focus from the developed world to the developing world. We also committed to working where our new partners lived – the urban environment, and not the remote or rural areas.

Along the way our friends changed.  We gravitated away from traditional environmental agencies, and made links to social justice/human rights groups, urban environment groups, etc. This is not to say I or EYA left our environmental roots – there were many in the agency who were true environmentalists – we just assured that whatever we did was seen through a lens of social justice.

Much has changed in the 19 years since I started with EYA. Environmentalism has grown from being defined by the saving of wilderness areas, to incorporating social justice and economic issues. There is a growing realization that the phrase”urban environment” is not an oxymoron. I would argue that cities, which now house over half of the worlds population and growing, have an environment just as important and as diverse as any rainforest.

So, am I an environmentalist? Guess it’s all in how you define it.


Of Graffiti, Space and Youth

April 4, 2010
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Rio is a gorgeous city – stunning really. The city is up against both the mountains and the ocean. The people are vibrant. The music amazing.

Yet one thing that I missed that my 12 years old son, Liam, noticed immediately was the graffiti. It was everywhere. The last time I noticed graffiti was in Rome, where I found the incongruence between the ancient monuments such as the Coliseum with the proliferation of graffiti everywhere quite striking. The graffiti in Rome struck me as a way that youth were trying to take back a city they did not feel part of. The graffiti had an angry, gritty feel to it. The young against the old – an urban inter-generational argument of sorts.


Graffiti in a Rome Subway

What was different with the graffiti in Rio was that though there was seemingly an equal amount of it, the graffiti was, according to Liam, “#$%^ awesome”. These were truly graffiti artists, a cut above the scrawl that I saw in Rome. At Liam’s behest we took a quick urban safari and took photos of the different graffiti, some pictured here. From this safari I learned a lot about graffiti culture such as what “toying” is  (“toying” or writing over someones graffiti is a way to show  disrespect for inferior work); that EVERYONE has a tag, dad; and that you have to be careful not to toy or copy a gang’s tag. Complicated, illuminating and yet another thing I as parent had to get a handle on.

In stepping back and reflecting, there were are two things struck me about the graffiti. First, on my two experiences with graffiti – the angst filled graffiti of Rome vs the graffiti art of Rio – I think the difference between the two cities has a lot to do with the demographic context within which the graffiti was being done. Italy, as is most of Europe and the developed world, is demographically much older; compared to Rio where, like in much of the developing world, there is a much larger percentage of the population which is youthful. You can see this in the age pyramids below, where the bulge for Brazil is from 0-25 years old, and Italy where the bulge is between 30 and 50.

My experience in some developing country cities is that though youth often face oppression, there is also a growing realization that they are the majority, and, if the country is moving in a positive direction and they are able to engage meaningfully in everyday life, they are the ones to benefit first and their is a sense of hope.[1] In the developed world youth make up a much smaller percentage of the population and  they have a level of say in their city equal to their numbers. This lack of power and influence can breed discontent and often leads to violence. We have seen  some of this urban violence in Europe in the last few years, often  by youth from immigrant communities who are in the majority, but have little power within in their society. See an excellent article done by Jackie Amsden on the violence in France in 2005 – Fires, Festivals and Franchise – Youth Citizenship in France.

Second, it strikes me that graffiti is an important way for youth to claim their space within their respective cities. Research has shown that cities are not an inviting or engaging space for youth – in fact planners often design cities to “manage” the youth “problem”. Urban design is often focused on assuring youth activities such as skateboarding, biking, or hanging out are discouraged. Often recreation space and services for youth are in short supply. Through graffiti youth are able to symbolically claim their space and mark their territory so to speak. It is  important to note that some cities and international agencies recognize that space for youth is in short supply, and so are working to create space which can  engage their burgeoning youth populations. For example, UN-HABITAT and local governments have  developed programs such as the One Stop Youth Resource Centres, which are youth led and initiated, and focus on providing a safe and generative space for youth to work.

So, in the end, I come back to where I started – Rio is a beautiful city. What is less obvious but arguably more important for the long-term sustainability of the city, is that it is the cities youth who in large part are responsible for bringing about this beauty. They are its principal inhabitants, and through public demonstrations such as graffiti we can see both what they are capable of today and what promise they can bring for tomorrow.

[1] Having said this, if the country is not going in a positive direction, then youth can as well be the ones who bring violence to the streets. The violence following the Kenyan elections is an example of this.

* this post can as well be found on the Sustainable Cities blog


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