The Practical Radical

Nairobi Reflection #4 – Up with Hope! Down with Poverty

July 17, 2010
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This is an update from the Up with Hope folks working in Kenya.

Some brief background – the genesis of Up with Hope was the Environmental Youth Alliance‘s project with the Soweto Youth Group in Kibera, a slum in Nairobi with a population of almost 1 million people. Three EYA folk, interns Sean and Justin and manager Karun, worked with SYG headed by Sammy Ataly to build a waste management/recycling centre.

The Kibera Waste Management Centre


Open Letter to Vancouver City Council

July 15, 2010
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RE: A call for Improved Participation of the Public in City Planning and Governance

July 14, 2010

Dear Mayor and Council,

I am writing this letter to you in regards to the recent incident in council involving residents from the West End. Many of us have to come realize that this incident was not solely an issue of foul language, but an issue of respect and the rights of the electorate to be heard and their opinions taken into consideration. From my experience this is not a new issue, but one that has been present in the City of Vancouver for many years.

I called in to Bill Good’s show on CKNW regarding the issue of public participation in planning processes and Frances Bula stated:

“It isn’t working and it hasn’t been working for a long time. I have covered council for 15 years … and out of that time 99 of 100 decisions council goes ahead and does what was planned at the beginning even though hundreds of people sometimes show up. It is not a good process.”

I agree with this statement. In my 20 years working as a senior manager with a local NGO (the Environmental Youth Alliance), I worked on a range of planning processes from the South East False Creek development (mid 90s), to RTD’s planning and building of the Skytrain line (in this case our work to specifically try and save the (previously) largest green space in East Vancouver, the Grandview Cut). In many cases the processes we were involved in were drawn out, with little access to timely and important information. To be fair, there have been some examples of participatory processes and programs that have worked, yet by-in-large, as Frances says, these processes have been less than satisfactory.

With the advance of participatory technologies, especially spatial technologies, it is no longer acceptable to limit consultations to presentations at council, design charrettes and community events.

I would propose that we should learn from this incident, and that council take quick and decisive action to bring about meaningful public participation in city planning and governance. I would suggest the following actions:

  1. Build upon and expand the “Open Data, Open Standards and Open Source” process. Though it is important to make city data more accessible, it is as well important to  increase the capacity of the community so that they can use this data to better participate in planning processes. This can be done in a cost-effective way through training, education and awareness raising.
  2. Build upon and learn from the work the city has historically done. I know from my own experience that programs such as Sustainable Cities Mapped! A Youth Community Mapping Toolkit for Vancouver is a good example of community engagement in planning. I know there are many more that can inform council.
  3. Continue to explore new examples of how cities are engaging their citizens in planning. There are many excellent examples of cities doing this such as San Francisco’s, and openstreetmaps.
  4. Put in place policies, procedures and resources which will assure that urban planning will become more participatory.

In conclusion, though this incident clearly has had a negative impact on the perception of the openness of city council, it is important that council move quickly to demonstrate that this is not the case. This can be done through the city recommitting to open governance especially in the area of planning, combined with a concrete plan and set of actions which demonstrates how this will happen.

Thank you for your time.

Doug Ragan, MM, PhD (candidate)
College of Architecture and Planning
Community Development Specialist
University of Colorado

phone: 6044184440

Pradical Blog posts on Participatory Planning

High touch/Low Tech – On the Front line with Map Kibera
Nairobi Reflections

Participatory Planning Resources

Brazil Youth Atlas (EYA/SCARP)
Bridging the Digital Divide (World Urban Forum V)
Capable Cities in British Columbia- Key Informant ReportCreative Tools
Civic Engagement of Young People
Immigrant and Youth refugee guide (EYA)
Peers Asset Mapping Guide (EYA/PEERS)
Finding Home (EYA/Worldview Strategies)
Mapped! A Youth Community Mapping Toolkit for Vancouver
UMAP (University of Colorado)
UN-HABITAT Asset Mapping Toolkit (draft)
Youmap (City of Vancouver)

Spicing it up on Youtube

July 14, 2010
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If you haven’t seen the shirtless old spice guy videos, they are hilarious. Here are a few of the video responses to stars and other prominents as collected by Chad Catacchio of The Next Web.

Ryan Seacrest

Tweeted on June 30 to Shirtless Old Spice Guy, and he responded today…

Ashton Kutcher

Tweeted today in support of Kevin Rose, and Shirtless Old Spice Guy responded…

Rose McGowan

Tweeted today in response to Alyssa Milano’s tweet, and Shirtless Old Spice Guy responded…

Ellen Degeneres

Tweeted on July 1 to Shirtless Old Spice Guy, and he responded today…

Justine Bateman

Tweeted today to Shirtless Old Spice Guy, he responded…

Apolo Ohno

Tweeted on July 8 to Shirtless Old Spice Guy, who responded today…

Kevin Rose

Tweeted on June 30 to Shirtless Old Spice Guy, who responded today…

Biz Stone

Tweeted today, and Shirtless Old Spice Guy responded…

Jason Calacanis

Tweeted today and Shirtless Old Spice Guy responded…

Guy Kawasaki

Tweeted today, and Shirtless Old Spice Guy responded…

Somewhere (way) Over the Rainbow

July 10, 2010
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I am excited by mother nature’s bounty as much as the next gal or guy. Now, I may be more restrained in my response, but the feeling is still there.

Yet, I feel that maybe I need to express myself more forthrightly – let go a bit – give a bit of shout, if not a scream.

A case in point. There’s this guy who saw a double rainbow – one of mother natures true mysteries – close to (but not quite) as amazing as the Northern Lights/Aurora Borealis.

So what? Well it seems that not only were the rainbows amazing, but so was his response. Basically he lost it – in awe – tongue-tied. And for his grand expression of awe, and the videotaping and subsequent release of that video on YouTube, his video went viral, and he started up a whole new business.

Here is the initial video:

Here is the follow-up news story:

and here is his garage band double rainbow song!:

So has does this link to my concern over my diminutive emotions? Well, I saw the same (if we put physics and time aside) damn rainbow in Ecuador 13 years ago!

My way-cool Double Rainbow in Ecuador - 1997

Perhaps if I had the same response I could have been rich! famous! Clearly YouTube did have something to do with it, but perhaps a few copied video tapes, and bam! I’m rich and famous and would be having someone else write silly blog posts like this.

So, I promise from here on in to get in touch with my emotions, my inner awe. Believe me you, you’ll know when I see a double rainbow next time around.

p.s. this is my favorite rainbow song – Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s Somewhere Over The Rainbow.

The low down on the loo

July 8, 2010
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Let all toilets be happy toilets

Though it isn’t sexy, toilets and sanitation are key to the physical and mental health of a community. This has been driven home to me countless times.

When I was working on the HABITATJam, a 2-day online preparatory forum sponsored by UN-HABITAT and IBM leading up to the World Urban Forum in Vancouver in 2006, toilets and sanitation were a much talked about subject. The 70 Actionable Ideas follow-up report to this forum identified some best practices in this area such as the concept of Ecological Sanitation (EcoSan) in slums which is a system that separates human waste, provides sanitation services at low cost to poor inhabitants, and recovers waste for reuse in agriculture.

More concretely i learned of the practicalities of toilets in Kibera with a youth group there. They were showing me some of the work they had been doing in creating a recycling centre (great CBC documentary); but they as well showed me the newly built toilet blocks that were built their. They were going to be run as a business, kept clean, and most importantly safe and open to all. (Sammy if you are reading this maybe you can give a quick update on how they are going).

I as well was lucky to be present at a presentation by David Kuria, a social entrepreneur, architect and Ashoka Fellow from Kenya. He is working to bring “toilet malls” to downtown Nairobi. He is passionate about the issue:

…the first thing you see, beautiful thing, is a toilet. When you come to the city of Nairobi, you’ll be shocked. And the next thing you’ll be asking is what is this? It’s a public toilet. We are putting toilet monuments just to try and bring back the importance to our people of public convenience and public toilets.

You can hear an interview with Kuria, or read the transcript.

Lastly, an article came out recently through the USAID Urban Health Updates blog regarding the social side of public toilets, specifically as places where violence is perpetrated on women. Horrific stuff. With slums now being one of the fastest growing forms of human settlements globally, all efforts must be made to provide these basic needs to people. For humanity sake.

Kenya’s slum women risk health to avoid violence

Kenya's slum women risk health to avoid violence NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya’s poorest women risk the deadly diseases related to poor sanitation because “endemic” sexual violence in the capital’s sprawling slums keeps them away from its communal toilets, a rights group said on Wednesday. About 60 percent of Nairobi residents, or some 2 million people, live in shantytowns with limited access to water, sanitation and other vital services. Sewage runs though ditches and pathways are littered with ga … Read More

via Urban Health Updates

REPOST: The yellow face, it burns us. Stay in your dank cave and guard your precious.

July 6, 2010

Some mistakes .. sorry.

Just read an article in Time Magazine making a balanced argument regarding whether this heat wave in Eastern North America is climate change. PLEASE people, its climate change, OK? Yes, there is the most recent headlines regarding some dutch scientists who juiced some data on sea level rise in Holland (they reported that 55 percent of the Netherlands is below sea level, when its only 26 percent). In their defense, scientists are scared s#itless of about what’s going on as much as anyone else. They goofed. It doesn’t discount the REAMS of data suggesting otherwise.

I digress. Maybe humor will get people to buy in. The place to go for that … the Onion.

repost from The Onion


‘Keep-Cool’ Tips

Much of the U.S. remains in the grips of a record heat wave. Here are some handy tips to help you stay cool and safe in this dangerously hot summer weather:

  • Purchase a Celsius thermometer to enjoy summer temperatures that rarely exceed 35 degrees.
  • Grow a coat of dense fur. While this may sound far-fetched, the fur will actually insulate your skin and protect it from the heat.
  • The yellow face, it burns us. Stay in your dank cave and guard your precious.
  • Seal all doors and windows, then flood your home with refreshing Lipton iced tea.
  • Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers will chill you to the very bone.
  • If you leave pets in the car with the windows rolled up, be sure to stop by the parking lot every 30 minutes or so to baste them.
  • Remember: Heat rises. Fall into a deep well.
  • Put out any fires in your home to reduce heat.
  • Under no circumstances should you pay heed to emergency requests from power companies to limit air-conditioner use. Run your air conditioner at full blast until you brown out the entire region.
  • Keep your dentures, hip brace, diapers and wig in the freezer when not in use.
  • Heat is a manifestation of infrared radiation, the low-frequency part of the electromagnetic spectrum that is emitted by aliens. To prevent exposure to these Venusian mind-control waves, wrap head in tinfoil.
  • Keep cool with delicious Frosty Fritz-brand frozen ice-cream treats.
  • If possible, cause the sun to collapse into a singularity, or “black hole.”
  • Avoid “hot” programming like Cinemax After Dark.

K’naan – The Dusty Foot Philosopher Steps up

July 5, 2010

Most rappers would be considered a sell out if they let their song be used by Coke. Not K’naan.

“I have a lot of friends who are from either side, Mos Def and those guys who are in the conscious lane. I know other friends who are in the make-money lane. But for me, I see myself as someone who can speak to both audiences,” he said. “That to me is important, to never claim a position too smart for the listener. I think it’s important to reach everybody.” (read the complete CNN article Somali rapper bucks hip-hop code of violence). His interview with CNN as well demonstrates the basic humbleness of the guy.

I first got to know of K’naan when i was organizing the youth program for the World Urban Forum in 2006. What I learned was that he was both a principled artist and a pretty good businessman. He never did play at the WUF (unfortunate, as we had a great lineup and over 5000 people attending), but one of the EYAers organizing the WUF, Kevina Power, and a EYAer turned Hip Hop blogger/writer Tara Henley helped out on an amazing concert tour in Joburg and Soweto. (I don’t have many regrets in my life, but not attending this was one of them).

K'naan in Soweto, June 2005

I later was able to briefly connect with him at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival (of all places) as part of my volunteer work on the media committee. Again, blown away by the guy and his amazing music and poetry.  This is a photo I took of him playing on the mainstage (with the mountains in background … surreal).

K'naan in Vancouver

What moved me about his Wavin Flag was the strong shout out (like my hip hop lingo?) to youth in Africa:

So we struggling, fighting to eat and
We wondering when we’ll be free
So we patiently wait, for that fateful day
It’s not far away, so for now we say

When I get older, I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag
And then it goes back, and then it goes back
And then it goes back

So many wars, settling scores
Bringing us promises, leaving us poor
I heard them say, love is the way
Love is the answer, that’s what they say,
But look how they treat us, make us believers
We fight their battles, then they deceive us
Try to control us, they couldn’t hold us
Cause we just move forward like Buffalo Soldiers

I love the in your face realism of his message – yes, we are proud; yes, we will move forward to a promised future; but damn the struggle is hard. Funny enough, this verse is not repeated in the official Coke song. I guess Coke isn’t THAT radical.

He has an earlier song (In the Beginning) that speaks to this message of the struggle – it is really beautiful and quite moving spoken word:

It’s better to light a candle than to curse the dark
In the eyes of the youth there are question marks
Like freedom
Freedom for the mind and soul
We don’t see them
See them for their worth at all
That’s why we lead them
Lead them to these wars and what is it we feed them
Feed them our impurities and who it is we treat them
Treat them like the enemy humanity will need them
Need them like the blood we spill and where freedom

Freedom for the hearts we fill
Mislead them
They hunger for the love we give
But we cheat them

The cops beat them when all he wants is his freedom
So they defeat them
Whatever spirit he’s got
Beat them

And they teach them that the rest of the world don’t need him
And he believes it’s a disease that he’s heathen
Put up your fists if all you want is freedom

You really have to listen to the song to get the full impact.

It is amazing to see that someone from such a background as his can hit it out of the park the way he has. Gives me some hope for the future.

ps. for those die-hards, here is Wavin Flag … one more time.

Social Networking Gone Wrong

July 1, 2010
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Canada Day – Gone Fishing and Tired Out

July 1, 2010
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I don’t know about everyone else, but I am just pooped out. Tired. Its been a great and “interesting” ride the 8 months, but really, I do not have the energy to go out and celebrate Canada.

It’s not that I am not possibly more patriotic, but with the year being so far bookended by the Olympics and the G8; recovering from a global meltdown; a dysfunctional parliament; and, in Vancouver at least, rainy spring like weather … well … I just am too tired to party and play.

So, I am going to stick around home, surf the web, have lunch, hug the kids, put on a new batch of wine, and … chill.

Happy Canada Day.

* My favorite Gone Fishing song by Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong

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    Practical things that make me radical

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