Tuesday, 14 August 2012

He opened with Promised Land.

And everything was perfect. Just as mesmerizing, iconic and moving as I imagined. I know I tell people Bruce Springsteen is mine and Dad's religion, but I didn't know just how true that was until tonight. It's rare that I'm so happy that I weep.
It ain't no sin to be glad you're alive.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

What does a sustainable city look like?

Since I'm still out of the country and missing what I'm sure are some fun tutes for urban sustainability, I'm going to go ahead and do some thinking out loud on the topic from afar.

The second question of the week got my attention:

Do you think urban living is intrinsically ‘unhealthy’ or ‘unnatural’ for human beings?

My first response: I really hope not. I love cities. I love being near other people, being able to come together to create things of beauty and/or purpose. Cities are where humans get creative and do great things. They're where minorities can be majorities in some small space, and where we support each other. The history of urbanization is also the history of technology, education, civil society and government.

Aside from all the nice stuff, we need cities if we're all going to fit on this globe. If everyone moved to the country, the country wouldn't exist anymore. There are around 3 billion more people coming onto this planet in the near future, and they'll mostly live in cities.

Problem is, the connection between urbanisation and increased life quality feeds right into the fact that when people move to the city, the consume more. More meat, more energy, more fuel, more stuff in general.

We know that as a society, we collectively need to consume less stuff and start living in ways that don't degrade the earth systems we all depend on. Half of us live in cities, soon to be 70% (by 2050). We consume more than our share and we can take the lead in reducing. That means taking every efficiency opportunity that comes along, particularly with infrastructure, travel, and all the basic services that keep a city going. Beyond that it gets a bit trickier - there's the problem of shaping cities that are by nature efficient, and what that looks like. In the Australian context, I think density is the biggest fight. We all want our backyards and wide streets. Why are we so afraid of apartments? Can we get away with staying in big houses? (I have a funny feeling we can't, but feel free to prove me wrong)

And what about the stuff we bring into the houses? It's a lot easier to control the emissions and resource use that we see domestically, leading us to focus on water, electricity and so on. But every time I walk into a mall I can't help but think about the impact of all the stuff we buy. Clothes, furniture, electronics - it's all being made somewhere, in most cases not very efficiently and with terrible social and environmental impacts. In the ideal world where life cycle analysis is possible for everything ever (can someone make a smartphone app please?), we'd be able to add the carbon impact of production not to the country making this stuff, but the country consuming it. As long as the USA, Australia and friends keep buying stuff made in China by burning huge amounts of coal, you can bet they're going to keep doing it.

Moving on to the issue of planners vs architects vs graffiti artists etc in creating a city. The city is a collaborative space, and the experience of Canberra makes me a bit cautious of entrusting it to planners and government alone. So many of my favorite urban spaces are a bit of an accident. I feel like Melbourne's character comes from its more ridiculous 5 way intersections and strange little shopping areas that weren't really supposed to be there. Of course both Canberra and Melbourne are far from being 'sustainable cities', and the challenge of retrofitting an established landscape is huge. Is it possible to do some kind of passive design? Set the boundaries for what resources will be available where, and let people have a say in how a space actually looks? For example, if you're trying to improve a suburb, commit to a transport spine and some parks, and let the residents work out where the shops should go?

I really don't know. But I do stick by my gut feeling - cities are a collection of people, and like any collection of people, they can be awful or amazing. We have to have some big conversations to decide which.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Extracurricular activities are fun and now I am sore

Sitting in the library of a Sunday morn having had a couple of fun nights.

The summer program held a variety show (like a talent show but chilled) with some super awesome variety. My favorite act has to be the girl in red silk who did slow motion karate/jujitsu dancing to 'Make a man out of you' sung by Jackie Chan. Absolute respect.
I also joined in, borrowing a guitar from a Yalie to play 'Eyes wide open' by Gotye (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oyVJsg0XIIk). Due to lack of a second microphone for the guitar, I ended up playing unplugged to about 100 people. The lack of amplification ended up having the nice effect of everyone shutting up for a bit and sitting in almost complete silence as I played. Happily, no ambulances drove by on the main street just outside during my 3min.

This is the day that made me sore. Nathalie and I gave up on writing our report in order to go laser-tagging with 28 other people, and it turns out laser tag guns are really heavy. Seriously having problems lifting my right arm now.
Upon getting home I finally found myself some good parmesan cheese (happy day), went and had dinner, watched a one woman theatre piece on urban legends, and headed off to a floating dance party. After an hour of dancing along the streets, we ended up at a non-floating dance party in a courtyard for a while. When I called it quits I was still restless, so I discovered that Gotye's album makes an excellent soundtrack for running at the gym.

Everything now hurts. Huzzah!

Friday, 3 August 2012

Scattered thoughts

So I've been a bad blogger (not a huge surprise) and am now reaching the end of my program at Yale. Some brief observations:

  • My class was super fantastic. Had our last meeting yesterday which involved watching around 10 powerpoint presentations; lots of good ideas in a short space of time. It's amazing to see how differently people approach a problem.
  • I have finally (mostly) mastered the art of not eating too much in the dining hall. The secret: use tiny plates and bowls, and don't use a tray. Your laziness will defeat you and you won't go back for seconds
  • Lesson for eating out: always ask for small. Even if you're hungry. Even if the 8 year olds are eating a medium. Even if there aren't actually size options.
  • Each time I've visited NYC, I've become more tempted to live there. I could go to Columbia and design green roofs, we could live in Harlem. It would be epic awesome, and every day would be good food day. 
  • I really want some parmesan cheese.
  • I still struggle with the merits of bottom-up vs top-down environmental reforms. I think both are important, but I do get stressed by the idea of relying on 'beyond compliance' measures to save the world. It's a rough question in America, but how do we get the government back into the game?
    • Related: Perhaps I could one day work at an org that has .com at the end of their url, but I still find it hard to imagine how that would work. To what extent is my mistrust of the private sector just a reflex? (Don't worry. I know to keep mistrusting them, just wondering exactly how much)
  • If I can keep up my current one-lecture-a-day program, I will be 80% up to date when I get home. Yay!
  • My goal to understand the role of the individual was mildly let go due to the need to write about something I have a skerrick of knowledge about. Still wondering what it is that makes people wake up one morning and say "huzzah for being green!". 
  • As I get back into reading emails from home, I become tempted to sign up for all sorts of stuff in the next few months - seminars, conferences, scholarships. Do I pursue my current mad busy trend or wait and see how I feel when I get home? Will future me get mad for having too much to do?
Looking forward to coming home, but I know I'm gonna get super nostalgic for this place over the next few days. I shall do my best to enjoy them.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Giant roll of photos

Some photos from around the place

Just loved that these guys all dressed to match

Watching a show put on by the college

On the way to Baltimore

In Baltimore!

Washington DC

DC Chinatown

Corn propaganda in the metro

Watching people watching planes

The Vietnam memorial

Being silly at the waxwork museum

This really tripped me out. Couldn't work out if it was wax or someone standing still until I saw how 90s the camera was

It was maybe 31 degrees. This impressed me.


A green roof at Columbia - helps lower city temperatures

The kind of statue that can only come from a dream


Wandering Harlem

Lots of green spaces hidden around the place

Epic dinner

Back at Yale

Touring the Yale teaching farm

Wandering about


One of my favorite parks

(Liz insisted)

The Italian North End

Phew. way too many photos. Consider this the big photographic catch-up!