Friday, 31 May 2013

Post-2015 Goals Released: Eradicate Poverty, Same System - New Catch Words

Seeing that I will be graduating in a post-MDG world, I should have adequate resources available to see what goals were achieved and where, how they were achieved, or what prevented their success. The MDG's have been heavily criticized for not being strong enough or inclusive enough, to answer some of its critics, the goals set for 2030 are focused entirely around the eradication of extreme poverty, measured by people living on less than $1.25 daily.
“Our vision and our responsibility are to end extreme poverty in all its forms in the context of sustainable development and to have in place the building blocks of sustained prosperity for all.”- UN Post-2015 Report
The executive report acknowledges some of the faults of the MDG's and gives itself a large pat on the back for the successes as well, but emphasizes how the 2030 goal agenda shows its teeth more, and will build on the successes of the MDG's. The 12 new objectives cover food and water issues, health, gender equality, environmental sustainability, international trade equality; all bases covered except equality, as argued here. I'm sure I'll have to delete this post once professional criticisms start rolling in. 

Here's what I think about it: Over the past couple of decades we have become better and better at organizing committees, writing reports, setting projections, gathering data, analyzing the best way possible to meet goals, finding stats to prove our success, which our critics will simultaneously use to disprove us. Better at abstractions,worse at shaking hands, using common sense, and reading about the past to see what should be done to ensure the same mistakes aren't repeated. I would like to see a study on the total spent by INGO's, governments, think tanks, development organizations, UN-bodies etc. to calculate how much time and money has been spent throughout the past 50 years. "We need to have these meetings in order to set definitive goals, and reach agreements..." is undoubtedly a strong argument. But when those agreeing to the goals aren't legally obliged to follow through, nor are any of the positions of government stable for more than a few years, the ability to blame others is all too readily available. 

These new goals cover topics that clearly states' have no longer control: end agricultural subsidies? Create an international financial system that promotes fair trading practices? What government has enough power to make these changes? What leader is willing enough to propose these issues in parliament at the almost guaranteed loss of power? The technocrats of the North and of the South have neither the honesty, moral integrity, or leadership abilities to uphold these lofty goals of reformation. I will work, and likely dedicate my life to achieving ends such as these, but unless the people at top want to cooperate, my job isn't going to get any easier. Find the full UN Post-2015 report here (PDF)

Monday, 27 May 2013

Anti-GMO Protests: Righteous Cause or Lack of Information?

May 25 marked the international day of protest against Monsanto, with more than 100 cities globally having hundreds or thousands protest that company for various reasons ranging from its Agent Orange production and subsequent use during the Vietnam War, to current pesticide and GMO uses.
May 25, 2013 Monsanto Protest Paris
Brief History: Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are those species that have had their genetic code altered in some way or other as a means of increasing production, resistance to pesticides, reduce water required for growth, resistance to pests or diseases. GMO production combined with improved agricultural techniques helped to bring millions of people access to food, allows drought-resistant crops to be grown in food insecure places, and importantly, allows for greatly yield to be obtained with smaller land requirements. That is what pesticide and GMO production corporations proudly claim, but indeed there is a cloudy aspect of their uses: primarily that the impacts on humans after use and consumption are widely unknown, as well the impacts on the environment, certain pesticide/herbicides have been blamed for causing Colony Collapse Syndrome, in which entire bee colonies die off or disappear.

The Importance of Fact vs Opinion
 This is not a topic I have studied extensively, and as such am not making any claims of expertise: I believe, like with most technologies, there exist both positive and negative aspects that should be taken into consideration before forming an opinion. While at a protest against Monsanto on Saturday, I heard many fact-like claims, like Monsanto is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers because of increased seed and water prices. After brief research I came upon an article in Nature that proved otherwise. The research found that unfortunately the high levels of suicide existed before Monsanto entered the region. This is one example of common misconceptions that may exist, emphasizing the need for proper research to further understanding of often times complex issues. Seeing that the companies developing the new types of crops patent scientists are faced with considerable difficulty to test the impacts of GMO crops. I have no doubt, that like the climate change argument the "it's more complicated then a yes/no answer" given to the public by the scientific community is frustrating to a public that demands a direct answer, and will ignore anything but one.
Source: Gruère, G. & Sengupta, D. J. Dev. Stud. 47, 316337 (2011).
Why Protest? If I don't know much about the topic, why the hell did I go to a protest against Monsanto? Mostly because I'm perpetuating exactly what I've been speaking out against, taking uninformed opinions! A mega-corporation like Monsanto has its hands in many pots, producing chemicals, putting patents on advanced seeds preventing their widespread distribution, pushing small farmers out of business who don't use their seeds, and of course, widespread use of pesticides when their uses are truly unknown and likely negative. Are these things true? I believe them to be, perhaps from something I've read, or maybe be told by a bird in my ear, and after more research, will give a more decisive answer. Until then, watch for flying rumours, they could really hurt someone!

Friday, 24 May 2013

International Development as Organized Complexity

     When first formally introduced to the extremely wide field of development I was completely overwhelmed by the breadth of the subject: poverty is the cause of many dozens of different issues spread over time and geographic space, both of which only increasing the complexity of the causes and solutions with their size. This series of comprehensible, tightly intertwined issues that cause poverty in a region are an example of organized complexity. Early poverty-reduction methods took the traditional, cause-and-effect approach that reflects the early scientific model, seeing a problem, giving a direct solution ignoring the complexity of that 'single' problem. Most of them, as Dr. Weaver is quoted in The Death and Life of Great American Cities of saying cannot work for issues that involve organized complexity: non-chaotic issues with solutions only found in many simultaneously occurring actions. With this is mind, myself and other future development practitioners must embrace the successful movements of the past, and never lose sight of the complexity of a single issue being addressed.

   This, I fear, is the thing that will prevent my full comprehension of development issues, and perhaps even finding solutions. As a westerner I am born and bred to be a creature of rationale and of reason, and this has created in me a kind of desperate need to find the logical solution to an issue, embodied in logical frameworks and statistical analysis, have huge holes in their all-encompassing, one-solution-to-many-problems approach. There is a way to avoid falling into this trap: full immersion to learn the current ways that organized complexity is controlled (or not), try to comprehend the many working parts that combined create the issue(s) at hand, and supply rational logic only when needed, incrementally to each aspect at hand. As I continue to learn, this will likely change, but as of now I feel this is how long-standing harmful problems can be solved, with minimal western ideological input, which occasionally* has been found to be ineffective.

 I believe the blog,, has covered this topic before, will update when I find the link.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

A True City of Neighborhoods er..Arrondissements

After reading some classic urban planning texts I can't help but continue to ruminate about what makes this city so different, and effective, compared to the younger version of cities I'm used to in North America. 

Some key points first: There is no "downtown" or "Central Business District", the city  is actually 20 mini-districts that spiral outwards from approximately The Louvre. You won't notice walking from one to the other, the borders are sometimes physical barriers (e.g. water), and each one shouldn't be thought of in the same way Canadians' think of the GTA or Greater Vancouver Area, they all collectively make Paris as its known. Each arrondissment (as they are called) takes up some degree of responsibility for its citizens, managing public affairs such as garbage collection, street cleaning, park maintenance, language classes, immigration services, public pools...pretty much everything day-to-day. The larger affairs, like getting accepted through immigration, work permits or legal affairs are dealt with through the larger over-arching 'provincial' municipality, Ile de France. And for arguments sake I'll let you know those small towns surrounding the city border are no more suburban than inside the city: similar densities exist.

What is so different?
Text-book mixed uses in Paris 15th Arrd.
If this sounds similar to Toronto with its many neighborhoods, then why is it that these two cities are so socially and economically different? I do not doubt that there are many dozens of reasons we can whine out about cultural and age differences which no doubt exist, but I argue these are not the main differences. They are pieces of a tool that Europeans have used for hundreds of years out of practical necessity before they even had names: the tools of mixed use planning. Mixed use is something used in (not coincidentally) every single Canadian cities' best 'hoods, it is the complete mixture of residential and commercial spaces, with important places used at night as well as during the day. Mixed use of land covers the entire city of Paris, every street is used for everything, with small construction shops behind closed-up windows, grocers, bars, cafes, fruit stands etc. all below stories of apartments, most not more than 7 stories in height.This is not the entire city, there are areas especially in the 18-20th arrondissements that have overwhelming amounts of high-rise residential apartments, but even these areas have full bottom-space committed to all and any required resources. 

Non-mixed uses like what exists in even the best Canadian neighborhoods, e.g. areas designated specifically for stores, others for industry, others for houses, others for town-houses, for high-rises, creates huge vacuums of space, areas that are unwalkable, uncomfortable or simply unlivable. I think of mid-rise, nice condominiums in Guelph's west end that have been vacant for years after completion: the planners pictures don't match the reality that someone wants to walk to work, school, groceries, and for play (kids=day, adults=night). After the developers' initial payments of installing suburban sidewalks, roads, and piping needs to be replaced, do you think the amount of people living on one suburban street can cover the cost? not even close. It is the people in the sustainable parts of town that need to foot the bill.

Solutions exist, can and are being implemented to help fill this vacuum of space, and to make our cities more economically feasible and enjoyable in general. To do this cities' must be thought of as compartments of areas where humans live, not compartments of numbers that require only one thing at one given time. We are not discreet in our movement, we are continuous, and our construction patterns should be reflective of this. Solutions can be thought of based upon those people in their district seeing how their ideal city would be: not the city in the imagination of a planner who was born, raised, and probably will die in a suburb.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Parisianius Exteriorous

Local Park @ Rue Croix Nivert, 15e
Le Motte Piquette market: efficient use of space
 I can't say factually whether or not people in Paris are outside more often than those in North American cities, there is a much higher population density,  than say in Toronto.
20,741 people/ km sq. in Paris [Institut National de la Statistique et des Études Économiques] whereas Toronto (not including GTA) has a pop. density of 4,149.5 persons/ square kilometre. [Stats Canada]. Which may make it seem like people are outside more often merely because there are more people in a smaller space. This extreme density can be explained by the simple fact that apartments are smaller, families live almost exclusively in apartments - sorry Toronto councillors, families CAN live in flats.

Famous Jardin de Luxembourg, near the Senate

Courtyard in the Medieval Sorbonne campus

Why are they outside? Socially, Parisians do something interesting for leisure that we once did in Canada: they walk. I can remember going for after-dinner walks with my parents or grandparents as a boy, but now it is a rare occasion. On even a moderately nice day it seems that every Parisian flocks to the nearest park, garden, public square, or just to the street to walk. Perhaps like myself they're just trying to get out and stretch their legs because of the crowded apartment sizes (9m2-15m2 is average for singles and couples); but I think there is another reason for it. The people walk because it is enjoyable: the architecture, the street layout, the mixture of residential, commercial, industrial, public space, and educational institutes (see Sorbonne courtyard below). In most Canadian streets in small and large cities alike, there simply is nothing to see when you walk. Most Parisians I have met are eager to come to Canada, it may be a polite gesture, but there is a reason for it: they want to witness our marvelous natural habitats. This is good, we are known for our nature, but most definitely are not known for incredible city life; more up-to-date folks know of Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal, but a large number of people can't name any Canadian cities. Perhaps if they were more enjoyable to be in, more welcoming for walking, and provided more things to see, our cities names' will be more globally recognizable. In the meantime we can all get out on a day off, enjoy some sun or rain, and see what's around our neighborhoods - who knows maybe you'll be surprised.

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Sunday, 19 May 2013

Paris @ Night: Prepare for the Best, Expect the Best

"No Pictures Allowed (Le ballroom du Beef Club)"
The first night of partying here (not coincidentally the day of arrival) I learned a hard lesson: I'm not special. Bouncers can, and will turn you away if you don't represent what the owners want their bar to look like inside and out. Luckily for me I never had that problem, but became very aware of the potential. What can you do here?  Anything you want to do. If you want to party until 7 in the morning or well into the afternoon this is your city. Just like in Canada there are different tiers of nightlife, some younger-crowd, Irish, Scottish, Canadian, Aussie pubs are a good time, if you want to come to Paris and go to something familiar [why the hell you would want that I'm not sure]. Then there is a bohemian district known as Oberkampf, a more localized and 'organic' part of Paris, with gritty bars, interesting people and a solid mixture of ethnic diversity.There are many mention-worthy places I have found so far, and will say one more area, Rue Montmarte/Rue Montorgueil. These two streets have several exclusive clubs, with no cell reception, no pictures, amazing music and really friendly people. Even going alone one will meet friendly people here, get cocktails from award-winning bartenders and listen to funk-swing-electro, impossible not to dance, meet people and party until 6am, and catch the first metro ride home in the morning.
Le Next Bar (website pic)
This atmosphere exists here as a result of several things that I dearly wish existed in Canada: informal rules when necessary, and formal rules that are flexible. In Canada other than dress code regulations you will get let in anywhere, not the case here: and its not a problem to not let you in. Bars will stay open and serve as long as the patrons are in, which allows you to take your time, finish conversations, and be relaxed although the sun is coming up. The strict rules in Canada of forcing people to be finished at 230 : usually only two hours after coming in: : are a source of stress for everyone going out. Let's relax on the rules, create more mystery in nightlife, restrict douchebaggery to several designated places and enjoy ourselves, Canada.

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Saturday, 18 May 2013

Paris, Language, and Stereotypes, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the City

After a month I've decided I should clear up a few things, and give a few insights into what life is like in Paris after a month, with three more to go.

The city. At first glance it looks to have the chaotic undertones of a Mediterranean metropolis, little enforcement of laws, lax road regulations and little state involvement. Upon further searching I have realized this to not be the case at all. Hundreds of years of (semi-modern) city development has resulted in Paris becoming an organic entity, its streets, people, buildings, public systems, political changes, social capital and economy all reflecting an old-growth forest of types with huge biomass, and a strong degree of adaptability.This topic of the city will be the focus of these posts so I won't dwell on it much now.

The language. Having a very basic level of French here is enough to get by here if necessary. Most people I have met are bilingual at the very least, and are looking to speak English anyways as a way of showing off or even to practice their English. I have improved my French already to the degree that I can speak freely with people, as long as I have time to think before speaking, and am much better off if the person speaks no English at all, as they'll see me struggling and just start speaking Eng. = not good for learning the language.

1. Parisians are rude to anyone who doesn't speak French: This stereotype I have found to be completely faulty, and of course with a bias behind it. Anglophones likely have the idea that everywhere, everyone should speak English, and we shouldn't make an attempt to make conversation. If you take this approach, I'm sure you'll be met with some rudeness, and if someone came to my store/taxi/resto demanding I speak a foreign language I would likely be rude as well. They're fine here, just make a slight attempt to speak French, or don't assume they speak English and go full-on.

2. Parisians eat baguette, drink wine all day, love cheese more than their children, and smoke like its not out of style. True. True, but also drink beer. True, love cheese and premium cheese is cheap. true.

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