Saturday, June 24, 2006

Sustainability, creativity, peace, . . .

As well as the World Peace Forum this week (June 23 – 28), Vancouver just finished hosting the UN's World Urban Forum III (June 19 – 23, 2006).

About World Urban Forum
The World Urban Forum was established by the United Nations to examine one of the most pressing issues facing the world today: rapid urbanisation and its impact on communities, cities, economies and policies. It is projected that in the next fifty years, two-thirds of humanity will be living in towns and cities.

Today, I just want to share a few quotes from a speech by John Friedmann. Friedmann is a professor at the University of British Columbia, School of Community and Regional Planning. He talks about "clusters" of assets that are necessary for the development of viable and sustainable city-regions throughout the world.

I thought what he had to say about intellectual and creative assets would be of interest to some of the regular readers here as well as those who question why we should support creative and intellectual endeavours:

The fourth cluster of a city-region’s assets are its intellectual and creative assets, which are the quality of its universities and research institutes and what the Japanese call their “living human treasures,” its artisans and artists, intellectuals and scientists, and all others, musicians and writers, poets and film makers, actors and dancers who embody a region’s creative powers. Small in number, they are nonetheless essential to a region’s future and should count among its finest treasures. The best among them are also the rarest, and to lose them is an inestimable loss to the city. Creativity must be nurtured. . . .

There is much talk today about a so-called creative class that cities should promote. My argument is different. Creativity cannot be commanded, but creative work requires public support. Market forces alone will not suffice. New ideas and artistic creations are often unpopular, and those who create tend to march to a different drummer from ordinary people. Cultural and intellectual elites, their presence insures a city’s capacity for innovation. Professional contacts extend across the globe to other cities, and from these exchanges come new ways of seeing and thinking that add to the city’s liveliness and vigor. It is these elites that are the primary source of informed critical thinking which can be crucial to charting a city’s future.

And finally,

The sustainable city is a possible dream. It means embracing the fact that cities are embedded in their environment on which their future depends. It means
engaging local citizens in the common effort by giving them a stake in the society of which they are a part. It means reaching out to other cities, other regions and strengthening emerging networks. Above all, it means trusting in your own powers to shape the future that lies ahead.

He also touched on globalization and the increasing trend of selling cities as commodities. Interesting and informative.

You can read the entire speech in pdf, here:
The Wealth of Cities: Towards an Assets-based Development of Newly Urbanizing Regions
UN-Habitat Award Lecture
John Friedmann, School of Community & Regional Planning
University of British Columbia, Canada

Saturday, June 17, 2006

As some of you know, I can get a wee bit obsessive. This is particularly true of new interests. My interest is piqued very, very easily. You say there's an awesome, new website? I'll be there – for hours – looking at every nook and cranny. Got links? I'll click them. Is there a site meter? I'll wonder what type and if I can access the stats. An About page? Gotta read it.

So, if you've wondered where I've been lately, I've been researching my latest obsession.

DH and I are thinking about a trip to Europe in the fall. We've always planned on going there - eventually. But so far, life and family commitments have gotten in the way. I suppose we should have gone when we lived in Toronto, before kids, and where the time and travel distance wouldn't have been so great. But, we were interested in other things back then. All of which seem superficial and frivolous now. But hindsight's kind of a bitch that way. Anyways, we put Europe on the backburner and resolved ourselves to going when we retire.

Several things happened to change our minds.

We noticed that more and more of our contemporaries are developing diseases, cancers, heart ailments, and lord knows what aches and pains -- some only debilitating, some fatal. For awhile, it seemed like we heard about someone we know either dying or battling cancer on a weekly basis. The disturbing thing was they were people like us - just as young at heart and full of life. That is, until they were hit with whatever Fate/God/Purveyor of Disease decided to drop on them. Not good. It could have, just as easily, been us. Next, we realized that most of our aunts and uncles have died or aren't in very good shape. There aren't many of the "older generation" left. As a matter of fact, WE're becoming the older generation (it's still hard for my brain to wrap around that fact). One aunt, who loved travelling, is now unable to because of health problems. Then, I thought about my father who died about a year and a half ago. For various reasons and excuses, he never travelled to the places he dreamed about and we regret not making him go or just up and taking him ourselves.

Finally, it smacked us upside the head: WE could be dead, dying or hobbling around on bum knees and feet by the time actual retirement rolls around. It was a reality check about our own mortality and vulnerability.

While I admire the folks who, despite mobility problems, still travel with their walkers and wheelchairs, I'd like to see the sights while I'm still able to hike up mountainsides, scramble over excavation ruins, and carry my own backpack and suitcase. If we go to Naples and Pompeii, I don't want to be seeing it from a tour bus. I want to make the climb to the top of Mt. Vesuvius and look back down at the bay. DH and I are still fit enough and adventurous enough to do it. Now in our late fifties and early sixties, who knows what a few more years might bring. As a consequence, barring any unforeseen circumstances, we are planning a trip to Europe.

And this is where I get to my obsessiveness. I've been combing the internet for accommodations, walking tours, packing tips, flights, maps, reviews, recommendations, and whatever else comes within the crosshairs of my cursor. My bookmarks have exploded in the new "Europe" file I've created. I've downloaded maps of the major sites we want to see. I've plotted various walking routes through Rome. I've been going to bookstores browsing travel guides and maps. I've been reading about the history of the regions we might see. I've been bugging my brother and sister-in-law (who have backpacked in Europe the last three years) for recommendations, suggestions and tips. First thing in the morning, I check out various travel forums. Last thing at night, I check out the same travel forums in case I've missed anything during the day. I've read all kinds of trivia (for example, did you know Michaelangelo didn't use female models for his nudes? If you look carefully at the female nudes in the Sistine Chapel, you'll notice their bodies are all wrong; the hips are too broad, the legs and shoulders are too muscular and the breasts are placed very oddly. I didn't know that before, but I do now. See, I love finding out stuff like this). I've already booked a B & B in Rome and corresponded to the manager by email.

Meanwhile, I think I've been driving everyone around me crazy with all my information gathering and trivia sharing. Luckily, they're accustomed to it. They nod their heads patiently, feigning interest with eyes gradually glazing over. That's okay, it won't dampen my enthusiasm.

Monday, June 12, 2006


World Peace Forum 2006 - Vancouver, Canada, June 23 - 28

Be informed. Read. Look beyond the confines of your own borders. We all live on the same planet. There will always be conflict and problems, but we have the choice to help make things better or worse. We have the choice to care or to ignore the suffering of others.

It's possible to make a difference. You just need to care enough to take action, no matter how big or small.