Givers, Takers & Winning

Most of us find ourselves these days in need of better negotiating tools, to navigate the big changes imposed by forces seemingly out of our control. Adam Grant has not featured enough in these pages, but here is a small step in the right direction.

In Negotiations, Givers Are Smarter Than Takers

Generosity is a sign of intelligence, and givers are the rising tide that lifts all boats.

In 2010, a Costa Rican diplomat named Christiana Figueres set out to do something that many people saw as impossible. The United Nations had appointed her to build a global agreement to fight climate change. She needed to get 195 countries on board, and one of the biggest challenges was Saudi Arabia. Their economy was dependent on oil and gas exports, so they had every incentive to keep profiting from that rather than reducing their carbon footprint. Continue reading

Rites Of Spring

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Photo © Chiot’s Run / Flickr

A seasonal distraction, more than welcome, and we thank Cool Green Science for featuring Ken Keffer’s primer on North American tree-tapping:

Tree Tapping Isn’t Just for Maples

March is tree tapping season across the upper Midwest, New England, and southern Canada. As the cardinals start to sing again in the northwoods, the long-dormant timbers are also responding to the first signs of early spring.

Sap is stored in the roots over winter, but as temperatures begin to rise, it starts flowing through the xylem layer of the tree.

For a number of species, the sap flow becomes a sweet treat and a renewable resource for those working the sugarbush.

Photo © Eamon Mac Mahon

Tapping Throughout History

The exact origins of making maple syrup are a bit of a mystery. It is clear that a number of indigenous tribes in northeastern North America were utilizing this natural resource, and the process predates European settlers. Continue reading

Another Wonder From Rwanda

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StatsTo the left you can see yesterday’s viewership of our posts, by country. Viewership has recently been low, for obvious reasons. It has made me wonder whether we should take a hiatus. My counter-thought is, if on a day like yesterday, just one person visited this site and found something of value, we should continue. As of today there have been 696,713 views of all of our posts since we started in mid-2011. Yesterday someone viewed a post I distinctly remember writing some months ago, which brought a smile to my face. And just now I was downloading a file using WeTransfer, and this story presented itself, and it seems a perfect companion piece:

Savane Rutongo-Kabuye Embroideries of the Women of Rwanda

tiger_giclee_-_CopyFor 22 years, 15 Rwandan women have been turning their surroundings and their memories into beautiful textile art. Founded in 1997 by Christiane Rwagatare a short time after the genocide of 1994, the Savane Rutongo-Kabuye workshop offered a distraction, a source of income and a creative avenue to those who had been affected. The workshop has gone from strength to strength, and thanks to educator-turned-curator Juliana Meehan, the embroideries of the women of Rwanda have now been exhibited and seen across the US. Alex Kahl spoke to Christiane and Juliana to explore their uplifting story.

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Due to her home country Rwanda’s turbulent history, Christiane Rwagatare lived much of her early life in exile. When she returned in 1994 in the aftermath of the genocide, the country had been devastated. “It was a very difficult time,” she says. In 1997, when she was visiting a relative in the small village of Rutongo, she saw women selling hand embroidered linens on the roadside, and felt an immediate sense of hope and possibility. At this moment, she recalled all that she had learned about art while in Europe, and knew she could contribute something positive. She announced that she would be starting an embroidery workshop, and asked that anyone interested come to the village church the next day. She was shocked when more than 100 women arrived with samples of their work.

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“I must admit that I panicked,” Christiane says. Continue reading

Bag Snaggers, Inc., We Hardly Knew Thee

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Photograph from Alamy

You can count on these pages continuing to feature these kinds of stories, that remind us of what still can and must be done, or simply provide a daily dose of charm:

My Old Nemesis: Plastic Bags

On Earth Day, 2019, when New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, signed a bill banning single-use plastic bags, he said, “You see plastic bags hanging in trees, blowing down the streets, in landfills, and in our waterways, and there is no doubt they are doing tremendous damage.” It is true that nowadays people do see plastic bags in trees. But they didn’t used to—not because the bags weren’t there but because the people didn’t see them. I believe I am the first person who actually saw bags in trees—that is, noticed them in any official way. Twenty-seven years ago, I wrote a short article for this magazine about plastic bags and other debris in the trees of New York City. Once I started noticing the bags, I couldn’t stop, and I soon passed the affliction on to my friends Bill McClelland and Tim McClelland. Noticing bags in trees changed our lives. Continue reading

New Activities For Community Developments

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This trend in real estate development is a breath of fresh air:

Taking the Golf Out of Golf Communities

Around the country, planned developments are adapting and reinventing in order to appeal to a wider range of buyers.

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Hilton Head Plantation is a gated golf community on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina.

MacDonald Highlands is a master-planned community of less than 1,000 units in Henderson, Nev., a wealthy suburb of Las Vegas within squinting distance of the Strip. For years, its main selling point was DragonRidge Country Club, a private 18-hole golf course sculpted out of the desert foothills, with emerald fairways that wind past multi-million-dollar homes.

But lately, the property’s owner, Rich MacDonald, has had more on his mind than golf.

Mr. MacDonald opened the club in 2001, sold it in 2014 and bought it back in 2016. When he did, he said: “I wanted to make sure we have the equivalent of a cruise director. Someone who does fun things, interesting events. We’ve had to adapt quite a bit because the social aspect seems to be the main focus for new residents.”

At existing golf communities around the country, a similar story of adaptation and reinvention is playing out. Continue reading

Getting a Bigger Bang Out of Plastic

Plastic has been on our radar for years, both as an environmental scourge and a raw material for the rising recycle and “upcycle” economy.  Finding these creative uses for an ubiquitous waste material around the world has been inspiring, to say the least.

We hadn’t been familiar with the Precious Plastic model until we met the wonderful women from the Wagát Upcycling Lab. We applaud the community ethos of open source plans to address a global crisis.

Big Bang, Indeed!

Investing With Climate Change In Mind Is The Right Thing To Do

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Damon Winter/The New York Times

He may be late, but better that versus never. Investing with consideration for the environment seemed obvious long ago to some, but not to the decision-makers who most count–those whose investment decisions impact generations to come. Presumably, from the size of fund he manages, one of the most respected investors has decided to do the right thing as best he can, and that may be huge:

BlackRock Will Put Climate Change at Center of Investment Strategy

In his influential annual letter to chief executives, Larry Fink said his firm would avoid investments in companies that “present a high sustainability-related risk.”

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Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Laurence D. Fink, the founder and chief executive of BlackRock, plans to announce Tuesday that his firm will make investment decisions with environmental sustainability as a core goal.

BlackRock is the largest in its field, with nearly $7 trillion under management, and this move will fundamentally shift its investing policy — and could reshape how corporate America does business and put pressure on other large money managers to follow suit. Continue reading

Biophilia By Any Other Name

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LUISA RIVERA FOR YALE ENVIRONMENT 360

It is surprising that neither E.O. Wilson nor his biophilia concept is mentioned here, but still it is an interesting finding. Our thanks to Jim Robbins for sharing:

Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health

A growing body of research points to the beneficial effects that exposure to the natural world has on health, reducing stress and promoting healing. Now, policymakers, employers, and healthcare providers are increasingly considering the human need for nature in how they plan and operate.

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A park ranger leads a hike through the Kahuku unit of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. NPS PHOTO/JANICE WEI

How long does it take to get a dose of nature high enough to make people say they feel healthy and have a strong sense of well-being?

Precisely 120 minutes. Continue reading

Coffee & Redemption

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Eddie Rodriguez taking an order. Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Thanks to Amy Chozick for a great story about coffee, redemption and creative solutions to close out 2019:

The Rikers Coffee Academy

Can teaching prison inmates to make lattes give them a chance at a better future?

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Omar Jhury and Joshua Molina, right, at Rikers Island manning the espresso machine. Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Officer Green wanted her vanilla latte piping hot. “With vanilla on top, not a lot, just a drizzle, and very hot, don’t make it warm,” she shouted to Eddie Rodriguez, who was taking orders. He nodded and wrote Green on the side of a cup. “Don’t worry, I got ya. Extra hot for Officer Green.” Then he slid the cup down the bar where Mr. Rodriguez and the other inmates in the barista training program at the Rikers Island prison complex were adding ice, steaming milk and grinding beans to load into a $3,000 Nuova Simonelli espresso machine. Continue reading

Orlando Is The New Walden

Every day begins with a search for a story to share here, something evocative, sometimes provocative, hopefully useful in some manner. When my own name will go on the post there is some personal connection to the story being linked to, or it is a story of my own. When the there is an important story or an essay that fits our framework but does not require my own personal reflection, I will post using the La Paz Group name instead of my own.

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Community fruit trees provide for everyone. Photograph: http://www.livewonderful.com

Today’s linked story is personal in a very simple way. Since a teenage visit to Walden Pond I have celebrated Thoreau unthinkingly, even considered his exemplary life as a kind of compass relevant to all of us all of the time. I do not retract any of that, but the story below challenges the isolation of Thoreau’s example, and turns our attention to how important community is for many of the same self-reliance outcomes I have celebrated in relation to life on Walden Pond. Thanks to the Guardian for bringing this to my attention:

I didn’t buy any food for a year – and I’m healthier than I’ve ever been

Rob Greenfield gardened, fished and foraged to eat more sustainably and encourage others to do the same. But to succeed, he needed the community

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Rob Greenfield with greens grown in his garden. Photograph: Sierra Ford Photography

For the last year I grew and foraged 100% of my food. No grocery stores, no restaurants, not even a drink at a bar. Nature was my garden, my pantry and my pharmacy.

Most people would imagine I live in the countryside on a farm, but actually I live in a city; Orlando, Florida, a few miles from the centre. When I arrived here, I didn’t own any land, so in order to grow my food I met people in the neighbourhood and turned their lawns into gardens and shared the bounty of food with them. I’m a big believer in the philosophy “grow food, not lawns”.

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Rob Greenfield in his tiny house in Orlando, Florida. Photograph: Sierra Ford Photography

I also needed a place to live for my two-year stay in Orlando and I also found this through the local community. I put the message out that I was looking for someone with an unused backyard who could benefit from my being on the property. After a short search I found Lisa, a woman in her early 60’s with a lifelong dream of living more sustainably. I built a 100 sq ft tiny house in her backyard and in exchange I turned her entire front yard into a garden, set up rainwater harvesting, composting and grew her fresh produce. Together, we helped meet each other’s basic needs through an exchange, rather than using money. Continue reading

Experiential Learning & Social Enterprise

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The waters and mountains of the Inian Islands, near Glacier Bay, Alaska.Lauren Migaki/NPR

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With help from books and YouTube, Abe Marcus (left, pictured with Yasamin Sharifi, center, and Tsu Isaka) has been learning how to operate a coal-powered, hand-cranked forge found on the property. Lauren Migaki/NPR

There is a great story shared yesterday on the National Public Radio (USA) website, told in unusually long form for that outlet, by Anya Kamenetz. I look forward to more stories by this journalist — she relates a story that is as far away from my own experience as I can imagine, but I feel at home in it. The picture to the right, from near the end of the story, hints at one reason. But it is not that. Nor is it the fact that I witnessed the birth and evolution of a similar initiative in Costa Rica.

I taught a field course in amazing locations (2005 in Senegal, followed by Costa Rica in 2006 followed by Croatia, India, Siberia and Chilean Patagonia), but that bore little resemblance to the initiative in this story. All those factors may help me feel at home in this story, but mostly I relate to it as a story told well for the purpose of understanding the motivations of a social entrepreneur and incidentally her commitment to experiential learning.

In Alaska’s Wilderness, A New Vision Of Higher Learning

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Marcus stands in front of the massive vegetable garden at The Arete Project in Glacier Bay, Alaska. Lauren Migaki/NPR

In Glacier Bay, Alaska, mountains rush up farther and faster from the shoreline than almost anywhere else on the planet. Humpback whales, halibut and sea otters ply the waters that lap rocky, pine-crowned islands, and you can stick a bare hook in the water and pull out dinner about as fast as it takes to say so.

This is the place 31-year-old Laura Marcus chose for her Arete Project. Or just maybe, this place chose her.

The Arete Project takes place in the remote wilderness of the Inian Islands in southeast Alaska.
Lauren Migaki/NPR

Arete in Greek means “excellence.” And Marcus’ Arete is a tiny, extremely remote program that offers college credit for a combination of outdoor and classroom-based learning. It’s also an experiment in just how, what and why young people are supposed to live and learn together in a world that seems more fragile than ever. It’s dedicated, Marcus says, to “the possibility of an education where there were stakes beyond individual achievement — where the work that students were doing … actually mattered.” Continue reading

Doing Something, Anything, About Plastic

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A to-scale sculpture of a juvenile humpback whale ribcage made of plastic bottles.
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An artist doing something about it. Whether or not the root problem is solved, we can all be more creative about doing something about the problem. Angela Haseltine Pozzi demonstrates by example. That’s a nice story to start the day with. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for brightening our day:

On The Oregon Coast, Turning Pollution Into Art With A Purpose

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In her gallery in Bandon, Ore., Angela Haseltine Pozzi stands next to an enormous sea dragon sculpted from plastics found on Oregon’s famously ‘pristine’ beaches.
Kirk Siegler/NPR

At Coquille Point along the remote and rugged southern Oregon Coast, the wind is tumultuous and the sea just as violent. Huge waves crash up against the giant, moss-cloaked rocks perched off the beach.

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Angela Haseltine Pozzi founded Washed Ashore in 2010. The nonprofit turns plastics taken from Oregon’s beaches into eye-opening sculptures of threatened marine life.
Kirk Siegler/NPR

This particular stretch of the Oregon coastline is famous for being pristine and wild. But train your eyes down a little closer to the beach and sand as Angela Haseltine Pozzi so often does, and even here you’ll find bits of plastic.

“I think the most disturbing thing I find is detergent bottles and bleach bottles with giant bite marks out of them by fish,” she says.

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A sea star made mostly of plastic water bottles from the 2008 Summer Olympics in China that are still washing up on Oregon beaches today.
Kirk Siegler/NPR

Haseltine Pozzi is a local artist and longtime art teacher who’s made it her mission to collect as much of this shameful garbage as possible. It washes up from Asia, Europe, California and right here in Oregon.

In her gallery in the nearby town of Bandon, where she’d spend summers with her grandmother exploring the wild beaches, she’s now taking these plastic invaders and turning them into jaw-dropping sculptures. The plastic bottle caps, cocktail toothpicks, shotgun shell casings — anything — form life-size garbage creatures of the very marine life threatened by all this plastic. Continue reading

Kate Marvel Has A Way With Words

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Image by Shifaaz Shamoon/Unsplash, Public Domain Dedication (CC0).

We Should Never Have Called It Earth

We should never have called it Earth. Three quarters of the planet’s surface is saltwater, and most of it does not lap at tranquil beaches for our amusement. The ocean is deep; things are lost at sea. Sometimes we throw them there: messages in bottles, the bodies of mutinous sailors, plastic bags of plastic debris. Our sewage.

She is a scientist who explains in language I understand, without dumbing it down too much, something as complex as climate change and its relationship to global warming. She is also funny. I found the blog post above after listening to her on this podcast, just to double check that she is consistently clear, profound and funny. She will be responsible for my staying tuned to this series:

Rewilding Patagonia

Heroes who made it happen, and here is a bit of the story, thanks to Sierra Club:

The Fashion Executives Who Saved a Patagonian Paradise

Tompkins Conservation donations are the largest act of wildlands philanthropy in history

THE MINISTER of public lands was about to arrive, a television crew in tow, so everything had to be just right. It was 8:15 on a summer morning in February, and the office of Tompkins Conservation outside the Chilean hamlet of El Amarillo was hive-busy. The philanthropy’s controller was hunched over a laptop filled with spreadsheets. A supervisor was giving orders to groups of men in blue coveralls. Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, the organization’s president, sat at a conference table toggling between a pair of laptops and her cellphone. Continue reading

A Color, Sans-Charisma, Worthy Of A Mission

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Inside Gustafson’s cabin are shelves lined with samples of ocher and the powdered pigments she makes from them. She likes to keep all processing to a minimum: She hand-grinds specimens with a mortar and pestle and then runs the resulting powder through a sieve. It’s more “personal and connective” that way, she says. Kyle Johnson

In the Pacific northwest of the United States there is a hunter-gatherer renaissance that we have been paying attention to in recent years, if only at our desks. The Willows Inn was the first story we started following, but they continue to come our way, including today. Improbably captivating, this story is about a need to know, and in the process conserve knowhow, about the source of naturally occurring colors that has a history as old as art. Even if some colors are not inherently charismatic (in the eye of the beholder), we take note:

The Woman Archiving the World’s Ochers

At her cabin in the woods of Washington, Heidi Gustafson is creating a many-colored library of one of mankind’s first pigments.

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The archive at Gustafson’s cabin comprises over 400 vials of hand-ground ocher, and she doesn’t have an endpoint in mind. “I’ll keep doing it and see where it leads me,” she says. Chantal Anderson

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“This piece has a lot less iron in it and a lot more clay,” she says of a shard of rock discovered on the sand. “You can use it right away. It’s like a giant piece of sidewalk chalk.” Kyle Johnson

Heidi Gustafson has Whidbey Island’s Double Bluff Beach to herself. But she’s not sunbathing or scanning the waves for whales. Instead, she’s traveled to the northern end of Puget Sound in Washington to crouch, back to the ocean, foraging for ocher at the base of a cliff. Armed with a small magnet and a knife, she stoops low to assess the striations in the rock face, formed by glacial activity hundreds of thousands of years before.

Gustafson considers ocher to be any natural material primarily made up of iron (hence the magnet) that contains oxygen, a definition that she acknowledges is a bit “less strict” than ones used in various scientific communities. Seeking out the material has become, by happenstance, her life’s work.

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An especially low tide reveals a large piece of barnacle-clad red ocher that came from the nearby cliff. “It’s probably between 150,000 and 200,000 years old,” Gustafson says. She often contacts geologists if she needs help dating ocher from a particular site. Kyle Johnson

For years, she has been engaged in a wide-ranging, multidisciplinary exploration of the mineral: collecting samples all over the Pacific Northwest; grinding shards down into pigments she sells to artists through her website Early Futures; making her own art with ocher pigments; and, at her small cabin near the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, creating an extensive ocher archive to catalog samples she’s gathered along with submissions of the mineral sent in from all over the world. While there has recently been renewed interest in creating paints from natural pigments, Gustafson’s focus is on ocher alone — and it extends beyond the material’s artistic uses to its scientific, symbolic and spiritual properties.

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Heidi Gustafson, who has spent the past five years collecting and working with ocher, walks along Whidbey Island’s Double Bluff Beach, off the coast of Washington, in search of the material. She came to scout this area, where she spent time as a child, after recalling its interesting cliff exposure. The beach is a scenic two-hour drive from her cabin near the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Kyle Johnson

Her first encounter with the earthy compound began at a less scenic location than Double Bluff Beach: a Safeway parking lot in Oakland, Calif. Several years after earning a B.F.A. in sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Gustafson moved to the Bay Area to get a masters in philosophy, cosmology and consciousness at the California Institute of Integral Studies. After graduating in 2014, she wasn’t sure what to do. Continue reading

Photos For A Moment Of Inspiration

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The Moment, overall winner and joint winner of the 2019 wildlife photographer of the year for the category ‘behaviour: mammals’. Yongqing Bao’s image shows a hungry marmot, not long out of hibernation, being confronted by a fox in China’s Qilian mountains. Photograph: Bao Yongqing/2019 wildlife photographer of the year

Today, not much to say, other than wow, thanks to the Guardian’s sharing of these photos, compiled by Eric Hilaire. Continue reading

Collapsitarian, No

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‘Wyrd goes ever as it must.’
Beowulf

After some weeks of letting the ideas in this essay settle in, and not reading (until now) any of the criticism of those ideas, it is more clear to me that I mistook Franzen’s position for something familiar, even close to home. Going back through my own postings on this platform, the mistake is understandable. We have been highlighting soft and gradual and mostly (but not all, by any means) comforting approaches to thinking about climate change.

I just revisited this post, thinking that Franzen’s position is like that word I heard 5+ years ago, but Franzen is not a collapsitarian. From my poking around, it is not clear that Paul Kingsnorth is one either. In that earlier post I linked to the About section on his website and it is still as funny ever, but now this:

Occasionally Asked Questions

Who are you?

I am 75% English, 25% Greek Cypriot, 100% European and 0% European Union. I share 96% of my genetic material with chimpanzees and 60% with bananas. I am descended from the Viking Earls of the Orkney Isles. I live with my English-Punjabi wife and our two children in the west of Ireland, where 85% of the men are descended from eastern Mediterranean farmers.

I’m a writer. I mainly write novels, poetry and essays.

Tell me about your writing

My non-fiction takes deep dives into big questions about how we might live in a world losing its cultural and ecological bearings at a rapid rate.

My fiction is mythological, otherworldly and multilayered, and is aimed at adults with at least one underworld journey under their belts…

It is worth reading in full, to see how his views may have changed in recent years, but mainly what caught my attention is the program of courses he has created, which look worthy of promotion, especially as captured in the photos (©Natasha Lythgoe) below and at the top:

The Wyrd School is a writing school unlike any other. Founded in 2018 by Paul Kingsnorth, an award-winning novelist, poet and essayist, with two decades of writing experience, we are home to unique writing courses, talks, and other events designed to bring the human and the non-human worlds back into contact, and to help you produce writing and art from the resulting sparks.

Wyrd is an old Anglo-Saxon word, often translated as fate or destiny. Continue reading

Kids Saying It The Way Kids Say Things

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Thanks to Alex Kalman for the story and to Mmuseumm for the photos:

Children Lead the Way: A Gallery of Youth-Made Climate-Strike Signs

signs-4-BIO.jpgWhen is skipping school more important than attending? When is a child’s design more effective than a professional’s? When are children more responsible than adults? On September 20th, millions of children, led by the activist Greta Thunberg, took to the streets to protest the world’s inaction on climate change. Here are some of the signs made by children who participated in the New York City march. Inspiring and confrontational, these signs provide a visual counterpoint to the individual voices of our children as they plead with the powers that be to act, and act responsibly.

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See the entire collection here.

The Little Things We Can Do

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A hairstreak butterflies in a Florida backyard. Photo © Bill Spitzer / TNC Photo Contest 2019

If you are fortunate enough to have a yard of your own, consider this suggestion by Charles Fergus:

Create Wildlife Habitat Around Your House

By itself, a plain grass lawn is stark and visually unappealing—which is why most homeowners add shrubs, flower beds, and specimen trees. Today, there’s a new movement afoot known as natural landscaping: using native trees, shrubs, and low plants to add textural diversity to a yard while attracting and benefiting wildlife.

Research has shown that seeing wildlife around your home—hearing birds sing, glimpsing brightly colored butterflies and dragonflies, seeing a garter snake slither into a stone wall— makes life more enjoyable.

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Common milkweed growing in Illinois. Photo © Timothy T. Lindenbaum / TNC

Many of us have a visceral need to be in touch with wild creatures and to acknowledge that we ourselves are part of nature, even if we live in suburbs and other settings where housing is dense. Continue reading

Libraries As Architectural Gems

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Winnie Au for The New York Times

We occasionally hail architecture, and frequently hail libraries as essential to our shared humanity, and when we get the chance to hail both at the same time, the world seems in good order:

Why Can’t New York City Build More Gems Like This Queens Library?

The Hunters Point Community Library is one of the finest public buildings New York has produced this century. But it cost more than $40 million, took a decade and almost died.

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The canyon-like lobby entrance of Hunters Point Community Library. Winnie Au for The New York Times

Against a phalanx of mostly dreary new apartment towers, the soon-to-open Hunters Point Community Library by Steven Holl Architects is a diva parading along the East River in Queens, south of the famous Pepsi sign. With its sculptured geometry — a playful advertisement for itself — it’s even a little like the Pepsi sign.

Compact, at 22,000 square feet and 82 feet high, the library is among the finest and most uplifting public buildings New York has produced so far this century.

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Winnie Au for The New York Times

It also cost something north of $40 million and took forever to complete. So it raises the question: Why can’t New York build more things like this, faster and cheaper?

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The library is full of nooks and corners, illuminated by big windows with sculptured walls covered in bamboo.Credit Winnie Au for The New York Times

Opening Sept. 24, Hunters Point is surely what Queens Library officials and the borough’s former president, Helen M. Marshall, had in mind when the project was proposed more than 15 years ago: a crown jewel among Queens branches, at a singular, symbolic spot facing the United Nations and Louis Kahn’s exalted Four Freedoms Park across the water. Continue reading