Biophilia via Oliver Sacks

Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam. CreditKaren Massier/E+, via Getty Images

Being a daily reader of the NYTimes it’s surprising that I missed the publication of this posthumous essay by neurologist and author Dr. Oliver Sacks, who died in 2015. This is especially notable related to biophilia, a subject that means a great deal to all of us on this site, in fact, as Dr. Sacks states, it is an essential part of the human condition.

Oliver Sacks: The Healing Power of Gardens

Even for people who are deeply disabled neurologically, nature can be more powerful than any medication.

This is an excerpt from “Everything in Its Place,” a posthumous collection of writings by Dr. Sacks.

As a writer, I find gardens essential to the creative process; as a physician, I take my patients to gardens whenever possible. All of us have had the experience of wandering through a lush garden or a timeless desert, walking by a river or an ocean, or climbing a mountain and finding ourselves simultaneously calmed and reinvigorated, engaged in mind, refreshed in body and spirit. The importance of these physiological states on individual and community health is fundamental and wide-ranging. In 40 years of medical practice, I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical “therapy” to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens.

The wonder of gardens was introduced to me very early, before the war, when my mother or Auntie Len would take me to the great botanical garden at Kew. We had common ferns in our garden, but not the gold and silver ferns, the water ferns, the filmy ferns, the tree ferns I first saw at Kew. It was at Kew that I saw the gigantic leaf of the great Amazon water lily, Victoria regia, and like many children of my era, I was sat upon one of these giant lily pads as a baby.

As a student at Oxford, I discovered with delight a very different garden — the Oxford Botanic Garden, one of the first walled gardens established in Europe. It pleased me to think that Boyle, Hooke, Willis and other Oxford figures might have walked and meditated there in the 17th century.

I try to visit botanical gardens wherever I travel, seeing them as reflections of their times and cultures, no less than living museums or libraries of plants.

Continue reading

Aana Art Equaling Life-Sized Conservation

Elephants have held highest honors in our family for decades, as symbols for the importance of Nature Conservation, and later infused with the power of Ganesh when we lived in India.

Elephant conservation has taken many forms over the years. When writing about the recent Real Elephant Collective collaboration exhibit that took place in Cochin a few months ago, I realized that art installations using elephants as symbols for big picture conservation have existed for some time.

Having been unable to attend the exhibit personally, Anoodha and the Curiouser team make me feel that I was there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

From South-South To North-North

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The beginning of a ski run on the roof of Copenhagen’s new trash incinerator, which will help heat buildings in the city. Photograph by Charlotte de la Fuente

South-south cooperation has been an important learning mechanism for some time and we have shared plenty of those stories in part because those places are where we work. According to Somini Sengupta Copenhagen Wants to Show How Cities Can Fight Climate Change,  so we now also should be paying attention to the northern counterpart of the cooperation that has been getting all our attention:

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Wind turbines along the strait that separates Denmark from Sweden, seen from the Amager Strandpark in Copenhagen. Photograph by Charlotte de la Fuente

COPENHAGEN — Can a city cancel out its greenhouse gas emissions?

Copenhagen intends to, and fast. By 2025, this once-grimy industrial city aims to be net carbon neutral, meaning it plans to generate more renewable energy than the dirty energy it consumes.

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The Copenhagen Metro. A new line, scheduled to open this year, will put most residents less than half a mile from a station. Photograph by Charlotte de la Fuente

Here’s why it matters to the rest of the world: Half of humanity now lives in cities, and the vast share of planet-warming gases come from cities. The big fixes for climate change need to come from cities too. They are both a problem and a potential source of solutions.

The experience of Copenhagen, home to 624,000 people, can show what’s possible, and what’s tough, for other urban governments on a warming planet.

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Recycling bins in the Christianshavn district of Copenhagen. The city requires residents to sort recycling into eight separate categories. Photograph by Charlotte de la Fuente

The mayor, Frank Jensen, said cities “can change the way we behave, the way we are living, and go more green.” His city has some advantages. It is small, it is rich and its people care a lot about climate change.

Mr. Jensen said mayors, more than national politicians, felt the pressure to take action. “We are directly responsible for our cities and our citizens, and they expect us to act,” he said. Continue reading

The Original “Third Place”

Louie Chin

A friend of mine recently posted on social media about beautiful libraries in Halifax, as well as other favorites, including the Boston Public Library. We’ve written about libraries countless times on this site, both due to their clear cultural importance, as well as their impact within our family. It reminded me how libraries have been part of our lives since early toddlerhood for our sons, starting in Ithaca, where they were born, and in Paris, the American Library (the largest English-language lending library on the European continent) where they discovered authors like Philip Pullman and Terry Prachett. There are no limitations for what libraries have meant to our family over the years.

Thanks to sociologist Eric Klinenberg for this opinion piece.

To Restore Civil Society, Start With the Library

This crucial institution is being neglected just when we need it the most.

Is the public library obsolete?

A lot of powerful forces in society seem to think so. In recent years, declines in the circulation of bound books in some parts of the country have led prominent critics to argue that libraries are no longer serving their historical function. Countless elected officials insist that in the 21st century — when so many books are digitized, so much public culture exists online and so often people interact virtually — libraries no longer need the support they once commanded.

Libraries are already starved for resources. In some cities, even affluent ones like Atlanta, entire branches are being shut down. In San Jose, Calif., just down the road from Facebook, Google and Apple, the public library budget is so tight that users with overdue fees above $20 aren’t allowed to borrow books or use computers.

But the problem that libraries face today isn’t irrelevance. Indeed, in New York and many other cities, library circulation, program attendance and average hours spent visiting are up. The real problem that libraries face is that so many people are using them, and for such a wide variety of purposes, that library systems and their employees are overwhelmed. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, about half of all Americans ages 16 and over used a public library in the past year, and two-thirds say that closing their local branch would have a “major impact on their community.” Continue reading

Accentuating the Positive

It benefits all to highlight the “non-rocket science” solutions to hugely global issues wherever we find them.

All It Took To Clean Up This Beach Was A Fish Sculpture Named Goby

As some rumors swirl around the internet that there will be more plastic than fish by 2050, there are also some great stories about local recycling, like this one about Goby the fish.

This local beach decided to do something simple, instead of placing a ton of boring old garbage cans around the beach, they made a giant see through fish out of some barbed wire and mesh, and added a sign to it that said, “Goby loves plastic, please feed him”. Continue reading

Urban Tree-Huggers

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Women demonstrators protest a plan to to cut down more than 14,000 trees for a redevelopment project in New Delhi in June 2018. CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to Yale e360’s Mumbai-based Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar:

In India’s Fast-Growing Cities, a Grassroots Effort to Save the Trees

In India’s burgeoning urban areas, residents are rallying against the widespread destruction of trees to make way for development. The recent protests highlight a global issue: densely populated megacities in the developing world, which are most in need of tree cover, often have the least.

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Thousands of trees have been cut down in Mumbai in recent years to make way for new housing, wider roads, and a $3.3 billion subway line. COURTESY OF ZORU BHATHENA

The funeral cortege was small. Six people shouldered the bier and others followed, clad in the traditional Indian white. As the group filed past the state assembly building, the armed guards did not give it a second glance. In a few minutes, however, the security forces caught on. The procession winding its way through Mumbai’s government district was not a real funeral: It was a protest. The shrouded body held aloft was not a human — it was the trunk of a tree, one of many, including grand old banyans, cut down for the construction of a $3.3 billion subway line.

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A protester hugs an old tree in Mumbai to prevent it from being cut down for a subway project. COURTESY OF ZORU BHATHENA

Mumbai’s old trees have borne the brunt of new development in the booming city, including road widening, transport projects, and housing construction. The new subway alone is destroying or damaging 5,000 trees, from hundreds of old street trees in the dense parts of the historic island city to more than 2,000 trees in a mini-forest in suburban Aarey Colony, where a rail car shed is to be built. A less visible loss lies in defunct industrial areas, where large plots with old trees and ponds are being redeveloped into residential and commercial towers. “Developers are supposed to replace the trees but no one really checks,” says Stalin D., head of local environmental group, Vanashakti. Continue reading

Trees, Cities & Happiness

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A tree in Riverfront Park competes for grandeur with Nashville’s iconic At&T building. Credit William DeShazer for The New York Times

PlantTreeCity.jpgI just learned of an urban tree-planting initiative on a day when the news shows purposeful indifference about climate change on the part of a powerful country’s elected leader, on the same day when the news also shows that an economist considered a pioneer of environmental economics is receiving a prestigious prize and what he said when he learned of his being awarded the prize:

“Once we start to try to reduce carbon emissions, we’ll be surprised that it wasn’t as hard as we anticipated. The danger with very alarming forecasts is that it will make people feel apathetic and hopeless.

“One problem today is that people think protecting the environment will be so costly and so hard that they want to ignore the problem and pretend it doesn’t exist. Humans are capable of amazing accomplishments if we set our minds to it.”

PlantTreesCity2Let’s decide together to do something, seems to be his message. I learned about this urban tree-planting initiative, news of a president’s abdication of responsibility, and this economist’s optimistic message on the same day I read about a 15-year old climate activist who has decided to do something where she sees her government failing to take action. She has decided at a very young age to do what she can regardless of the daunting odds. So thanks to Margaret Renkl a Nashville-based contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, for bringing this initiative to my attention, as a reminder to do something:

More Trees, Happier People

When cities grow, green space dies. Replanting it has been shown to lift the human spirit.

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A tale of two trees in Nashville. A mature tree in England Park, left, and a newly planted tree at Wright Middle School.

NASHVILLE — The scene in a tiny pocket park outside Plaza Mariachi here on Nolensville Pike last Wednesday was like a tableau from a Norman Rockwell painting, 21st-century style. Surrounded by signs advertising the Hispanic Family Foundation, Dubai Jewelry, the Dominican Barber Shop and restaurants offering Peruvian, Chinese, Mediterranean and Indian food — as well as a Game Stop franchise and H&R Block — was a small sign that read, “Today: Free trees.”

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Photographs by William DeShazer for The New York Times

The arrow on the sign pointed to a pop-up canopy where the Nashville Tree Foundation was hosting its fourth tree giveaway of October. A family standing under the canopy was posing for a photo with the sapling they had just adopted. Carolyn Sorenson, executive director of the foundation, was taking the picture: “Say ‘trees’!” she said.

The tree giveaway at Plaza Mariachi happened to fall on the very day that Nashville’s mayor, David Briley, announced a campaign to restore and enlarge the city’s tree canopy. The effort, called “Root Nashville,” will be overseen by the city and the Cumberland River Compact, an environmental nonprofit, and funded through a combination of public, corporate, foundation and private dollars. Together with several municipal departments and other nonprofit organizations, the initiative aims to plant 500,000 trees in Davidson County by 2050.

Many of these newly planted saplings will replace very large, very old trees that have been lost to Nashville’s meteoric growth — a population increase of more than 45 percent since 2000. As the city has grown, the city’s trees have fallen: deliberately felled by developers to make room for new construction or unintentionally killed as a side effect of nearby building. Just since 2008, the tree canopy in the urban core has dropped from 28 percent to 24 percent, a loss of roughly 9,000 trees a year. Continue reading

Copenhagenize Your City

3872 (1).jpgWho knew you could do such a thing? When did that become a thing? Nevermind, just read the graphs that accompany this story:

Danish-Canadian urban designer Mikael Colville-Andersen busts some common myths and shows how the bicycle has the potential to transform cities around the world (All images: Copenhagenize Design Company/ Mikael Colville-Andersen)

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Global Citizenship Via Suburban Malls

The Garden Court at Southdale Shopping Center, Edina, Minnesota, circa 1965

The Garden Court at Southdale Shopping Center, Edina, Minnesota, circa 1965 Minnesota Historical Society

Ok, we did not expect to get on a two-day roll with this topic, but Ian Bogost makes an interesting case about the role of malls in the development of cultural norms in the USA in the second half of the last century:

When Malls Saved the Suburbs From Despair

Like it or not, the middle class became global citizens through consumerism—and they did so at the mall.

“Okay, we’ll see you in two-and-a-half hours,” the clerk tells me, taking the iPhone from my hand. I’m at the Apple Store, availing myself of a cheap smartphone battery replacement, an offer the company made after taking heat for deliberately slowing down devices. A test run by a young woman typing at a feverish, unnatural pace on an iPad confirms that mine desperately needed the swap. As she typed, I panicked. What will I do in the mall for so long, and without a phone? How far the mall has fallen that I rack my brain for something to do here. Continue reading

State By State Ranking For USA Bicyclists

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PHOTO COURTESY OF MACHIKO THRELKELD

Thanks to Sierra magazine for bringing this to our attention:

Is Your State Bicycle-Friendly?

A new report ranks the best and worst places to hop on the saddle

Do you live in the safest or the most dangerous state for riding a bike? The 2017 Bicycle Friendly State Report Card has the answer.

Each year, the League of American Bicyclists, an advocacy group founded in 1880 to improve street conditions for bikers, releases a detailed ranking that cyclists can use to track where it’s safe, and not so safe, to hop on wheels. The group also monitors each state’s progress toward increased bicycle safety. The rankings are derived from a variety of factors, including five key bicycle-friendly actions, federal data on bicycling conditions, and summaries with feedback on how each state can improve the safety and mobility of bicyclists. Continue reading

Faces, Places & Dignified Conversation

Thanks to Kurt Anderson for bringing this to our attention with this conversation (you need to listen to the interview to have a jolting recollection of dignified conversation, which hopefully serves as a perfect preview for the film), blurbed on Studio 360’s landing page at Slate under the title Sugar Mouth with this simple sentence:

Artists Agnès Varda and JR were born 55 years apart but have a lot in common—and they made a lovely film, Faces Places.

The PRI landing page for this episode is more informative, showing the host with the guests as well as plenty of relevant links and images: Continue reading

Birds + Artists + Spraypaint = Audubon Murals

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A swallow-tailed kite and 12 other birds painted by Lunar New Year.

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Tricolored Heron by Federico Massa a.k.a. iena cruz. Photo: Mila Tenaglia

Murals with birds always capture our attention; we cannot resist linking to such initiatives when they are cleverly conceived, elegantly executed, and perfectly placed. Enjoy this epic series, a fitting tribute to the National Audubon Society:

Where Birds Meet Art . . . After Dark

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Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon

The Audubon Mural Project is a collaboration between the National Audubon Society and Gitler & Gallery to create murals of climate-threatened birds throughout John James Audubon’s old Harlem‐based neighborhood in New York City. The project is inspired by the legacy of the great American bird artist and pioneering ornithologist and is energized by Audubon’s groundbreaking Birds and Climate Change Report, which reveals at least half of all North American birds are threatened by a warming climate. The project commissions artists to paint murals of each of the report’s 314 species, and has been widely covered in the media, including most recently by The New York Times.

Thanks to the Editorial Board of the New York Times for reminding us of this:

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Louise Jones, with her husband, Gabe, working on a mural of an evening grosbeak. Credit Photographs by Karsten Moran for The New York Times

In his final years, John James Audubon, the celebrated 19th-century painter of bird life, lived in rustic uptown Manhattan in a house by the Hudson where some of his final paintings were of urban rats that caught his eye. Continue reading

Biomimetic Yarn-Bombing

Image © 2016 CHOI+SHINE

I’ve long been fascinated with urban space art installations in general, and fibre based pieces in particular. Somehow I missed hearing about the Singapore based i Light Marina Bay Light Art Festival in March, but I’m happy to have discovered it now.

The festival is an annual event, and this year’s theme of Biomimicry and Sustainability strike multiple chords. London/Seoul based architectural firm Choi+Shine created The Urchins for this site specific installation. 

This project is inspired by sea urchin shells, which are enclosed yet light weight, delicate and open.  Their textured and permeable surface interacting with light creates openness, while the pattern’s mathematical repetition brings visual rhythm and harmony.  Against light, the sea urchin natural form reveals one of the most spectacular patterns found in nature. Continue reading

Model Mad, Mayor

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Anne Hidalgo, the Paris mayor, said she was “convinced that together, cities, businesses and citizens will save the planet. Their alliance is critical.” Credit Scout Tufankjian/C40

We started this model mad series of links to share stories of people, and of public institutions, and of private enterprises among others finding creative outlets for expressing resistance to powerful interests determined to undermine environmental responsibility. This governor was a favorite among our readers, so we expect this mayor will join the upper ranks of appreciation:

Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, is also chairwoman of C40, a network of the world’s biggest cities committed to addressing climate change. As mayor, despite strong opposition, she has closed parts of the city — including along the bank of the Seine River — to traffic. Recently, I asked Ms. Hidalgo about her interest in environmental issues and why women are important to the solutions. Continue reading

Urban Cycle Heaven

Copenhagen has recorded 13,100 more bikes than cars in the city centre over the past year. Photograph: Michal Krakowiak/Getty Images

Scandinavia in general (and Denmark in particular) is famous for forward thinking initiates, both socially and environmentally. Thanks to the Guardian for sharing this milestone.

Two-wheel takeover: bikes outnumber cars for the first time in Copenhagen

Denmark’s capital has reached a milestone in its journey to become a cycling city – there are now more bikes than cars on the streets. Can other cities follow? Continue reading

Paris Gardens

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By the year 2020, the City of Paris wants to add 100 hectares of vertical gardens and roofs, with a third dedicated to urban agriculture.The Vertical Gardens by Patric Blanc / Flickr

Greening La Ville Lumière is as good a new objective as we can think of for a city that already has alot going for it (thanks to EcoWatch for the story):

Paris Becomes One of the Most Garden-Friendly Cities in the World

Earlier this summer, Paris quietly passed a new law encouraging residents to help green the City of Light by planting their own urban gardens. Continue reading

Op-Ed: US National Protected Lands at Risk

From the New York Times, president of the Wilderness Society Jamie Williams writes an opinion editorial titled “Don’t Give Away Our Wildlife Refuges.” Perhaps given the global crisis I read the final word as refugees accidentally, so I was expecting something else entirely – maybe animals that are displaced by climate change. Instead, I learned that there is a relatively strong segment of the US Congress and state legislatures that are constantly trying to undermine the country’s system of public protected lands, sometimes in ways that could lead to the park or refuge’s destruction:

Tucked into the fiscal relief package for Puerto Rico this spring was a provision to give away a national treasure that belongs to all Americans — 3,100 acres of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge. The proposal had nothing to do with the economic recovery of Puerto Rico. But it would have handed an important victory to extremists in Congress and state legislatures who want to grab national lands and turn them over to the states to be sold or leased.

Continue reading

The New Green Building Certification on the Block

 

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UWC Dilijan College in Armenia, the first BREEAM certified building. Source: idea.am

The two most recognized sustainable building certifications in the U.S., Energy Star and LEED, now have a new companion joining the movement within home territory. BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology), a 25-year-old sustainability evaluation method officiated by the U.K consultancy BRE, offers a practical and more affordable online self-assessment tool for building owners who want to elevate their commitment to sustainability. BRE is working in collaboration with BuildingWise to focus on evaluations for existing buildings and tackle the estimated 5.6 million commercial buildings in the U.S. that are not being benchmarked using a “scientifically based” certification. Continue reading

10,000 Suns

We have a long fascination with Land Art Installations and urban land reclamation going back to the earliest days of this site.  Learning about landscape architect Adam E. Anderson’s public art project in Providence, Rhode Island was exciting news.

This summer long “botanical performance” takes land that until recently was covered by an elevated highway system and cultivating it with volunteers into a different sort of public space.

Rather than using high maintenance and energy intensive large swaths of turf grass, the installation uses the bio-accumulating (removes toxins) and habitat creating properties of Helioanthus (aka, Sunflower) planted in rows in a series of large circles, leaving paths in-between for intimate exploration. Continue reading

If You Happen To Be In Atlanta

A rendering of the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival Vineyard in the City in Midtown. Credit: AF&WF.

A rendering of the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival Vineyard in the City in Midtown. Credit: AF&WF.

From newly minted bike lanes and bike sharing, to the Rails to Trails  Atlanta Beltline conservation project, each year Atlanta seems to be refining its “livability quotients”.  The Atlanta Food & Wine Festival just made it that much better. As pop ups go, a vineyard is a novel idea!

Each year the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival team and Advisory Council challenge themselves to create educational, engaging and entertaining programming and events for Festival guests. Continue reading