The Practical Radical

Speed Bump Girl – $15,000 worth of Hype

September 13, 2010
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Speed Bump Girl

Speed kills, and speed is especially dangerous in relation to children. A Canadian organization has recognized this and is working with the École Pauline Johnson Elementary School in West Vancouver, British Columbia to test an innovative way to slow people down.

Dubbed by ABCnews “the Speed Bump Girl“, BCAA Traffic Safety Foundation and have created a 3D optical illusion of a little girl chasing a  ball on the road in front of the school. There has been a huge outcry online about how this image is absurd and dangerous, with many critics writing that the image could make people slam on the brakes or even swerve off the road.

Unfortunately, what is illusory is Speed Bump Girl’s supposed 3D effect, what is not illusory is the projected $15,000 cost for the project.

I went down to École Pauline Johnson just the other day to check out this project. Please watch my video and see what I found.

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)

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

Framing Our World – A Photo Collage

June 30, 2010
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This is a photo collage done for the World Urban Forum in Vancouver in 2006. The photos are part of a larger exhibition focused on youth perspective on the urban environment. The photos exhibition was mounted by EYA and UN-HABIAT. Photos done by KK Law.

Generations of Woodwards

From the roof of Woodwards 1

From the roof of Woodwards 2


Of Graffiti, Youth and Space #2 – Favela Painting

May 21, 2010
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Cross posted from Sustainable Cities: PLUS Network Blog

Favela Painting is a graffiti program initiated by artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn. In 2005 they started a project focused on bringing works of art to unexpected places such as the slums of Rio. Their most current project entitled ‘O Morro’ (meaning ‘The Hill’), is in the central square in the community of Santa Marta, Rio de Janeiro. The graffiti was all done by local painters who were trained by the artists.

This seems to bring together some of the best of Rio graffiti – it reflects that youthful feel, builds on local talent,  beautifies the community, and trains people to boot. Cudos to the artists, and lets hope that projects like this continue on to other communities.

Here are some more shots of the project:

Thanks to This. That. and the Other. blog for pointing out this project.

Ideology Kills Update 3 – Africa Invited, Maternal Policy Needs Clarification

May 8, 2010
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Prime Minister Harper has just invited Malawi and Ethiopia to the G20 meeting happening next week – and if they accept they  will be the first African countries other than South Africa to attend. This generous act brings up complications for the government and the bureaucrats who have to deliver any supposed new maternal programs they are going to create.

In 2005 Ethiopia passed a law that IPAS, a well respected maternal health agency, called a “significant precedent for abortion-law reform in other African nations“. This law, passed in 2005, permits abortion in a broad range of situations: when the pregnancy results from rape or incest; when the health or life of the woman and the fetus are in danger; in cases of fetal abnormalities; for women with physical or mental disabilities; and for minors who are physically or psychologically unprepared to raise a child. The revised law also notes that poverty and other social factors may be grounds for reducing the criminal penalty for abortion.

Sounds great. Sounds like Ethiopia has more progressive policy than the Conservative Party of Canada.

What needs to be clarified is Canada’s stance on their stated non-funding of abortion policy and how it affects funding to nations such as Ethiopia. Are they inviting one of the most advanced countries in regards to maternal health in Africa without informing them that a key component of their health policy will disallow funding? How is this policy interpreted in regards to funding? It is grossly simplistic to say that Canada will fund one component of their maternal health care and not the other.

This again demonstrates the continued foreign policy confusion within the Canadian government and demands a re-think on this key maternal health policy … before it is launched next week.

ps. It is also worth noting that Malawi is one of the countries in the world where the greatest number of maternal deaths occur, attributed in part due to their abortion policies, where abortions lead to “complications such as haemorrhage, infection, infertility and death … overdosing on drugs such as quinine, drinking powdered soaps and using herbs from traditional healers were cited as the most common methods of illegal abortion in Malawi.”

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 …


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!

Nairobi Reflections

April 23, 2010
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The Nairobi Notebook blog post from 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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