The Flag of Earth
A strong visual reminder of the most powerful invisible forces governing our lives on this planet, and of the relative insignificance of national boundaries in the face of these cosmic realities:
The Flag of Earth symbolizes the Earth (the center blue disk), the Sun (the yellow disk on the left), and the Moon (the white disk on the right). The Earth and its most important celestial neighbors - the Sun and Moon - are overlaid on a backdrop of the darkness of space.
The Flag of Earth website is administered by NAAPO - the North American Astrophysical Observatory. NAAPO is a not-for-profit organization formed to run the Big Ear Radio Observatory in Delaware, Ohio, and which now runs the Ohio Argus Array.(Thanks to Warren Ellis) (AS)
High Line Park Opens in New York City
The blogosphere has been abuzz with news of the ribbon-cutting at High Line Park, which opened to the public on Monday. The "park in the sky," located on New York's West Side, was constructed on an elevated steel structure that originally carried freight trains through Manhattan's industrial district from the 1930s to 1980. The High Line now provides a very different type of infrastructure: a public place where New Yorkers can get above the city bustle and walk along the promenade, enjoying views of the Hudson River and city skyline
High Line is one iteration of a phenomenon that's becoming more and more regular: the creative re-use of aged/outmoded infrastructure. Promenade Plantée in Paris is another city park built on a former viaduct; similar projects exist, or are under discussion, in other cities around the industrialized work, including Rotterdam, Leeds, Duisberg and Chicago. Hopefully, we will see this trend continue -- as food for thought, the CNU has proposed a list highways that would do well to be re-imagined.
(High Line was designed by James Corner Field Operations, with Diller Scofidio + Renfro. This summer marked the opening of the first of two planned sections of the park; the second is expected to be complete in 2010.) (JL)
Venice Rebrands its Tap Water
According to the New York Times, Italians are the leading consumers of bottled water in the world, drinking more than 40 gallons per person annually.
In Venice, the waste caused by plastic bottles poses a huge problem because of the city’s geography: collection is done on foot at great municipal cost. To encourage citizens to go back to the tap, the city launched an extensive rebranding campaign:
[O]fficials took a leaf from the advertising playbook that has helped make bottled water a multibillion-dollar global industry. They invented a lofty brand name for Venice’s tap water — Acqua Veritas — created a sleek logo and emblazoned it on stylish carafes that were distributed free to households.
Because tap water is often jokingly called “the mayor’s water” in Italy, they even enlisted regional politicians to star in tongue-in-cheek billboards. “I, too, drink the mayor’s water,” proclaims Venice’s mayor, a philosopher named Massimo Cacciari, as he pours a glass.
True, there’s something a little strange about branding natural resources, but (as we noted when London did it) we think it’s pretty savvy for cities to tackle their environmental problems by getting in the green messaging game. And Venice’s strategy doesn’t just involve an ad agency: after identifying the connection between water consumption and trash collection, the city created an umbrella company to oversee the water supply and the waste management system, thereby making it easier to create policies that acknowledge the overlap. (CB)
Introducing Streetsblog Capitol Hill!
Our friends at Streetsblog have been doing an incredible job advancing the conversation about transit, walkable streets and other transportation issues facing U.S. cities by presenting these often-wonky subjects in compelling, layman-friendly articles and videos. Now they're taking their fight straight to Washington, D.C. with Streetsblog Capitol Hill.
The Streetsblog team aims to make this site a go-to resource for lawmakers, Congressional staffers and lobbyists alike (though we imagine that quite a few of these folks already have at least one previous edition bookmarked), and to invite grassroots transportation activists from around the country to take part in the national debate. With these savvy bloggers at the helm, we look forward to a day when cycling infrastructure errors, transportation stimulus dollarsand New Urbanism debates rival American Idol at the water cooler. (JL)
Democracy in the Boardroom
A new tool for corporate transparency may be emerging: last month, the Securities and Exchange Commission proposed to give shareholders the right to nominate alternative candidates to their corporate boards. This stroke of democracy seems only logical -- after all, the boards decide what to do with money that belongs to the shareholders in the first place -- but as the New York Times' Roger Lowenstein explains, American corporations don't typically allow shareholders to substantially challenge the management without an enormous amount of effort.
Of course, as the article also points out, shareholders are often too interested in short-term gains to contribute meaningfully to long-term steering. But add to this proposal strategies that promote longer-term thinking (like eliminating the quarterly report), and you could see a real change in business practices... (AS)
Mapping the Death Penalty
Although only 59 countries still use death as punishment, more than 60 percent of the world's people live in countries where executions take place. To make this issue more visual, GOOD Magazine teamed up with design team Kiss Me I'm Polish and human rights organization Amnesty International to create a color coded map of where the death penalty is being used and where it has been abolished. Looking at this map, it's clear a majority of countries are against executing their citizens and have found more humane alternatives. In December, 2007, the United Nations General Assembly endorsed a moratorium on executions, with more than 100 member nations voting in favor of the resolution. The members of Amnesty International (http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/news/un-calls-halt-executions-20071218) state that this resolution was a clear sign that the international community is trending toward the worldwide abolition of the death penalty:
A total of 133 countries, from all regions of the world, have abolished the death penalty in law or practice and only 25 countries carried out executions in 2006. 91 percent of all known executions took place in six countries: China, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan and the USA. Recorded executions worldwide fell by more than 25% in 2006, with a drop from at least 2,148 in 2005 to at least 1,591(SK)
Vertical Farm Irrigated by Seawater
Vertical farms have long been a subject of high intrigue and debate. Designers and visionaries produce tantalizing images of center-city high-rises bursting with food crops, while pragmatics question whether the benefit of uber-local agriculture is worth the energy that will be needed to produce it. We recently came across this set of intriguing renderings of a vertical farm that uses one of Dubai's most abundant resources: seawater. The design, by Venice, Italy-based Studiomobile, uses seawater for cooling and humidifying, as well as for irrigation.
Of course, the larger issue Adam raised: does even the benefits of this extraordinarily local agriculture warrant using land in cities for farming, when this limited real estate could hold more housing, business, or other urban public services?
Land is one of the primary inputs for agriculture, which is why we don't expect to see corn growing in lower Manhattan. Such spaces are better reserved for people, mass transit, mass entertainment, and businesses that depend primarily on human capital.
The concerns are real. But we're glad that designers seem to be holding interesting in this cutting-edge idea, and working on concepts for vertical farms that use energy and resources efficiently, and that integrate into the urban landscape in a way that complements and enhances, instead of competing. (JL)
An infection is coming, and almost no one has heard about it. This infection isn't going to give you flu, or TB. In fact, it isn't interested in you at all. It is after the wheat plants that feed more people than any other single food source on the planet. And because of cutbacks in international research, we aren't prepared. The famines that were banished by the advent of disease-resistant crops in the Green Revolution of the 1960s could return, Borlaug told New Scientist.
The disease is Ug99, a virulent strain of black stem rust fungus (Puccinia graminis), discovered in Uganda in 1999. Since the Green Revolution, farmers everywhere have grown wheat varieties that resist stem rust, but Ug99 has evolved to take advantage of those varieties, and almost no wheat crops anywhere are resistant to it.
The strain has spread slowly across east Africa, but in January this year spores blew across to Yemen, and north into Sudan (see Map). Scientists who have tracked similar airborne spores in this part of the world say it will now blow into Egypt, Turkey and the Middle East, and on to India, lands where a billion people depend on wheat.
The story also underscores a theme that cropped up earlier this year with news of the swine flu: at these most vulnerable levels, our fates are interconnected, and the health of people and planet is only as resilient as the weakest effort to protect them. In the eyes of a virus, we're all in this together. (AS)
Re:Vision Dallas Moves Forward
In December, we wrote about Re:Vision Dallas, a collaborative project that was generating ideas for creating a sustainable city block in one of Texas' largest cities. Now plans for designing and constructing the block, which is slated to take the place of an underused parking lot across from City Hall, are continuing to develop. After accepting entries from 176 firms from 26 countries, the project's star-studded jury (advised by Worldchanging ally Cameron Sinclair) have announced the winning designs that will influence the final project. Read more about the winning entries and honorable mentions, and see photos, here. (Pictured at right: "Entangled Bank" by LITTLE, Charlotte, N.C. ) (JL)
Re Venice rebranding of its tap water: what about the tourists? The population of Venice is relatively small, and isn't it dwindling? The population of transient tourists must be huge in comparison? I imagine most of the bottled water consumed -- and left on the streets or in the canals -- is from tourists. How will the city rebrand and repackage their tap water for tourist consumption? Can that be done?
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