Former Utne Editor in Chief David Schimke on conflict, compassion, partisanship, and peace
Tuesday, August 28, 2012 3:22 PM
Radical feminist, artist, and media activist Alexis Pauline Gumbs
calls herself, "the cybernetic dream of a one room black reconstruction
schoolteacher." She spreads knowledge, healing, and empowerment through
web-based projects like MobileHomeComing,
a traveling "intergenerational community documentation and education
project" that challenges our culture's heteronormativity, and BrokenBeautifulPress,
which "lifts up black feminist practices throughout history and
transformative community models in the present." Gumbs was named an Utne Reader Visionary in 2009. Keep up with her at Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind.
"wishful thinking" or "what i'm waiting to find in our email boxes"
(with Mendi and Keith Obadike in mind)
dedicated to the black women at Duke and North Carolina Central Universities and you
1. you wake up each day
as new as anyone
there is no reason to assume
you would be supernaturally strong.
there is no reason to test your strength
through daily disrespect and neglect.
you don't need to be strong.
everyone supports you.
2. if you say ouch
we believe that you are hurt.
we wait to hear how we can help
to mend your pain.
3. you have chosen to be at a school,
at a workplace, in a community
that knows that you are priceless
that would never sacrifice your spirit
that knows it needs your brilliance to be whole
4. your very skin
and everything beyond it
is a miracle that we revere
5. we mourn any violence that
has ever been enacted against you.
we will do what it takes
to make sure that it doesn't happen again.
6. when you speak
we are so glad that you
are here, of all places.
7. other women
reach out to you
when you seem afraid
and they stay
until peace comes
8. the sun
how much they love you.
9. people are interested
in what you are wearing
because it tells them
what paintings to make.
10. everyone has always told you
you can stay a child
until you are ready to move on
11. if you run across the street
naked at midnight
no one will think
you are asking
12. you do so many things
because it feels good to move.
you have nothing to prove
13. white people cannot harm you.
they do not want to.
they do not do it by accident.
14. your smile makes people
glad to be alive
15. your body is not
a symbol of anything
16. everyone respects your work
and makes sure you are safe
while doing it
17. at any moment
you might relive
the joy of being embraced
18. no one will lie to you,
scream at you
or demand anything.
19. when you change your mind,
people will remember to change theirs.
20. your children are safe
no one will use them against you.
21. the university is a place where you
are reflected and embraced.
anyone who forgets how miraculous you are
need only open their eyes.
22. the universe conspires
to lift you
23. on the news everynight
people who look like you and
the people you love
for their contribution to society.
24. the place where knowledge is
has no walls.
25. you are rewarded for the work you do
to keep it all together.
26. every song i've
ever heard on the radio
is in praise
27. the way you speak
is exactly right
for wherever you happen
28. there is no continent anywhere
where life counts as nothing.
29. there is no innocence that needs your guilt
to prove it.
30. there is no house
in your neighborhood
where you still hear screams
every time you go
31. no news camera waits
to amplify your pain.
32. nobody wonders
whether you will make it.
everybody believes in you
33. when you have a child
no one finds it tragic.
no map records it as an instance of blight.
34. no one hopes you will give up
on your neighborhood
so they can buy it up cheap.
35. everyone asks you your name.
no one calls you out of it.
36. someone is thinking highly of you
37. being around you
makes people want to be
their kindest, most generous selves.
38. there is no law anywhere
that depends on your silence.
39. nobody bases their privilege
on their ability to desecrate you.
40. everyone will believe anything you say
because they have been telling you the truth
41. school is a place, like every other place.
no one here is out to get you.
42. worldwide, girls who look like you
are known for having great ideas.
43. 3 in 3 women will fall in love with themselves
during their lifetime.
44. every minute in North Carolina
a woman embraces
45. you know 8 people
who will help you move
to a new place
if you need to.
46. when you speak loudly
everyone is happy
because they wondered
what you were thinking about.
47. people give you gifts
and truly expect nothing
48. no one thinks you are
49. everyone believes
that you should have all
the resources that you need,
because by being yourself
you make the world so much
50. any creases on your face
are from laughter.
51. no one, anywhere, is locked in a cage.
52. you are completely used to knowing what you want.
following your dream is as easy as walking.
53. you are more than enough.
54. everyone is waiting
to see what great thing
you'll do next.
55. every institution wants to know
what you think, so they can find out
what they should really be doing,
or shut down.
56. strangers send you love letters
for speaking your mind.
57. you wake up
Alexis Pauline Gumbs penned these words of affirmation in April, 2007, but they are helping her achieve her dreams in the present. Gumbs has committed to training as a doula in an effort to support mothers as they bring life to earth, and as part of her own healing journey. In parallel to this poem's 57 wishes, Gumbs is asking that 57 people contribute toward the cost of her doula training. Each donor will receive a collage based on one wish expressed in the poem.
Becoming a community supported doula is a dream coming true and a wish about to be fulfilled," writes Gumbs. To read more of Gumbs' story or contribute to her tuition, visit Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind.
Image by Diganta Talukdar licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, March 29, 2012 8:35 AM
In Arizona, an African American doctor creates street art to heal the Navajo Nation. In São Paulo, a graffiti artist documents the lives of the homeless and working-class. In New Orleans and Chicago, an artist creates a space for people to share dreams. There’s plenty of cool street art out there, but these three artists use walls, thought, and skill to change lives.
Jetsonorama began wheatpasting large-scale photo-collages in 2009, reports Sarah Gilman for High Country News, after experimenting with photography and small-scale wheatpasting for the two-plus decades he’d served as a physician on a Navajo reservation. His work evolved and last September, as part of 350.org’s EARTH initiative to bring awareness to climate change, the artist wheatpasted giant images of a baby’s face looking up at a cloud-like lump of coal. Writes the artist on his blog:
“everyone i talked with was raised on the reservation. they all identified coal as a cheap source of fuel, especially for the elders. [...] everyone in my small sample identified respiratory problems associated with burning coal in the home. everyone acknowledged that the coal mined on the reservation is used to generate energy off the reservation for surrounding megalopolises such as denver, phoenix, albuquerque, las vegas and l.a. they found this arrangement to be problematic.”
Jetsonorama’s work seeks to heal beyond coal and its effects on individual bodies. Each of his pieces functions as a conversation-starter, creating both dialogue and a source of local pride.
Amidst the rubble of São Paulo Brazil, Bruno Dias celebrates everyday locals, be they homeless, prostitutes, or street vendors. For art nouveau’s Kendrick Daye, Dias’ art “expresses the relationship between physical space and the people of the country.” When the audience begins to recognize a spray-painted image as the homeless man nearby or a face on the wall as a street vendor, we can’t help but wonder what became of those who are not in the photographs near their portraits. In this sense, Dias has discovered a way to document the everyday fates of the oft-overlooked. The artist does not pretend that his portraits begin to solve social quandaries such as homelessness and prostitution, but he does commemorate those most affected by poverty and social struggle.
In post-Katrina New Orleans, artist Candy Chang brought focus back to goals and desires by turning one wall of a decrepit building into a chalkboard. The upper left corner reads “Before I die…” and below it are nearly one hundred places for passers-by to fill in the blank. “Before I die I want to ______________.” Answers range from the daunting, “SEE EQUALITY” to the playful, “Swim w/out holding my nose!” For a city burdened with the task of rebuilding as the rest of the nation scrutinizes, what better to focus on than hopes and dreams for individuals, community, and society?
“Before I die…” is not relevant only to New Orleans, however. Because the work re-centers viewers and creates a forum for local conversation ‒ two things sorely lacking in our plugged-in global network ‒ it seems it would be relevant almost anywhere. Earlier this month, the piece was installed in Chicago. The space (pictured above) was quickly filled beyond the sanctioned blank lines, reports Christopher Jobson of Colossal. And since Chang created a toolkit allowing installation anywhere, “Before I die…” has popped up in countries such as Mexico, Kazakhstan, and Portugal.
Wednesday, March 07, 2012 9:26 AM
A town without bookstores is like a town without churches or bars. Minus the hymnals and happy-hour specials, the best bookshops are vital community centers where patrons can gather, share ideas, and have grand revelations or quiet discoveries. When Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca, New York, began to fail, it tapped into the strength of its community with an inspired idea: cooperative ownership.
Last spring, rather than shuttering its doors, Buffalo Street Books sold shares of the independent shop to 600-plus local “co-owners,” raising more than $250,000, reports Christina Palassio in This Magazine. Less than a year later, the co-op bookstore is thriving.
What makes Buffalo Street Books’ co-op model successful? “The owners and employees of Buffalo Street Books do so much to make the store more than just a store; they’ve turned BSB into a community within a community,” says Chloe Wilson in The Ithaca Independent:
The store holds lectures, writer’s workshops, and reading groups on a regular basis. The store reaches out to Cornell and IC professors and works with them to supply books for their classes. The store encourages burgeoning writers and invites them to share their work. People who go to Buffalo Street Books aren’t just customers or employees, they’re members of BSB’s community.
In an industry already complicated by declining brick-and-mortar sales, answering to hundreds of shareholders has potential to add another layer of difficulty. “The messiness of running a co-op may not appeal to many beleaguered bookstore owners,” Palassio writes in This Magazine. “But with the rise in community-supported projects like [CSAs] and websites like Kickstarter and Unbound…the line between investor and customer is blurring.”
Keeping hometown bookstores alive makes the complications worthwhile. As novelist Ann Patchett told the New York Timesafter opening Parnassus Books in Nashville’s book desert last November, “I have no interest in retail; I have no interest in opening a bookstore. But I also have no interest in living in a city without a bookstore.” Like Buffalo Street Books, Parnassus Books utilizes the support of the community. Its Founder Rewards Program offers perks and discounts in exchange for member dues that range from $75 to $5,000.
In case you missed it, watch Patchett deftly explain the value of independent bookstores on The Colbert Report below. And don’t forget to support your local bookshop. The bars and churches are busy enough, aren’t they?
Sources: This Magazine(article not available online), The Ithaca Independent, New York Times
Image by Quinn Dombrowski, licensed under Creative Commons.
Margret Aldrich is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter at @mmaldrich.
Wednesday, February 29, 2012 3:27 PM
You’ve heard of farm to table. Coming soon: park to table. This spring, in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle, seven acres of underused land will be transformed into the nation’s largest urban “food forest”—a community park planted with a cornucopia of produce that visitors are encouraged to harvest and eat, for free.
According to Crosscut reporter Robert Mellinger, the Beacon Food Forest will be “an urban oasis of public food” offering a variety of edibles: apples and blueberries, herbs and vegetables, chestnuts and walnuts, persimmons and Asian pears.
The sprawling project, while ambitious, draws strength from volunteer groups like Friends of the Beacon Food Forest and from simply letting nature take its course. Built around the concept of permaculture, it will be a perennial, self-sustaining landscape, much like a woodland ecosystem in the wild. Companion plants included for natural soil-enhancement and pest-control will help lower the amount of maintenance needed.
“The idea of planting perennials as part of a self-sustaining, holistic system is old hat to many accomplished gardeners,” writes Claire Thompson for Grist, and groups like San Francisco’s Guerrilla Grafters have already dazzled us with novel ways to promote urban agriculture. “But,” continues Thompson, “creating a system on public land that combines the concepts of urban farms, orchards, and natural forest, and depending on collaborative community effort to keep it going, represents uncharted territory for the now-flourishing urban-farming movement.”
In addition to contributing to your family picnic, the bounteous Beacon Food Forest will feature traditional amenities like playing fields, community gardens, a kids’ area, and public gathering spaces. Check out the full site plan below:
Sources: Crosscut, Grist
Image by Liz West, licensed under Creative Commons.
Margret Aldrich is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter at @mmaldrich.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012 3:52 PM
“There are 13,659 payphones on NYC sidewalks, even though there are over 17 million cell phones,” reads a poster designed by New York architect John Locke. Seeing an opportunity for creative reuse and community building, Designboom writes, Locke is turning obsolete phone booths into mini libraries.
Passersby are encouraged to take a book or leave a book from the improvised bibliothecas, which are reminiscent of the Little Free Libraries born in Wisconsin or the Phoneboox found in the UK. Locke hopes the tiny metro libraries, part of his Department of Urban Betterment project, will encourage an increased sense of local camaraderie, he says via email: “More people in the neighborhood sharing, talking, and just having a heightened awareness and sense of engagement with their surroundings.”
So far, two phone booths have been converted, and Locke dreams of them taking over the city. “I want these to be cheap, fast, and easily reproducible. Ubiquity is the goal. The only costs are minimal—the price of lumber and time on a CNC cutting machine. After that, the shelves slot together and slide right into the booths with no hardware or fasteners required.”
The little phone booth libraries marry whimsy and practicality in every way. Nestled between used copies of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Middlesex, the existing payphone remains fully functional—just in case one of those 17 million cell phones runs out of juice.
Images courtesy of John Locke.
Margret Aldrich is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter at @mmaldrich.
Wednesday, February 08, 2012 3:32 PM
Have you ever wondered how the exuberant energy of elementary school–aged children might be harnessed and put to good use? It seems the Dutch company De Café Racer has found a way, with a kid-powered bicycle intended to replace the traditional school bus.
The bike is pedaled by 1 adult (who is essential for steering and safety’s sake) and up to 10 children, reports Kate Malongowski in YES! Magazine. Designed for kids ranging in age from 4 to 12, the bike can reach a speed of 10 miles per hour, is available in a variety of colors—including blue, purple, red, and school-bus yellow—and has adjustable seats to accommodate its growing riders’ extra inches. In addition, the ride comes with a music system, a canvas cover to ward off rain, and an auxiliary electric motor for when the hills get too steep or the pedal pushers run out of steam.
The innovative cycle is beneficial on several levels, such as reducing pollution and combating childhood obesity, and De Café Racer hopes it will catch on outside of the Netherlands. So far, the company has sold about 25 of the bikes in Europe and has received inquiries from buyers in North America and South America as well.
When Co.Exist spoke with the bicycle’s builder, Thomas Tolkamp, about how he thinks the idea will fare internationally, he said that people from around the globe are intrigued: “We have gotten interest from…all over the world and all people are positive.”
Sources: YES! Magazine, Co.Exist
Margret Aldrich is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter at @mmaldrich.
Friday, February 03, 2012 3:15 PM
Decorated with brightly colored wallpaper and pots of cheery flowers, Giveboxes are festive additions to Germany’s city streets. The small structures, which look like a cross between a phone booth and a gardening shed, hold community-donated items that are free for the taking, says Dougal Squires on Slow Travel Berlin. Clothing, books, shoes, blankets, bags, lamps, glassware, and cologne are examples of the useful(ish) things up for grabs.
The idea for Giveboxes came from an anonymous Berliner known only as Andy or Andreas. (Go to Slow Travel Berlin’s website to hear an engaging interview with the Givebox founder.) Since the first Givebox debuted in Berlin last summer—constructed in an eyesore of a spot that was often used as an improvised public toilet—more have popped up in Hamburg, Vienna, Paris, Copenhagen, and elsewhere, with a miniature version making its way to San Francisco.
Cash-free shopping ventures are popular in many parts of the world, with freecycling and free stores found in North America and Europe. But Giveboxes offer an advantage, writes Chloe Lloyd in E Magazine:
The Givebox cuts out the middleman, hassle and arrangement requirements intrinsic to the better-known “freecycling.” The anonymity of the Givebox also supports the notion that it doesn’t matter who we are giving to as long as there is someone who is in need of goods that we no longer use.
To me, Giveboxes most closely call to mind the charming Little Free Libraries springing up in U.S. neighborhoods, which encourage passersby to leave a book or take a book. Both projects encourage community involvement and reuse, along with a pint-size dose of informal artistic expression.
Want to build a Givebox in your town? Andy/Andreas offers plans, costs, and marketing materials on Givebox’s Facebook page, albeit in German. Let’s find a translator and keep up this communal spirit of giving—I’ve got a rice cooker, a dog-eared copy of The Stranger, and a 1960s red wool coat with your name on them.
Sources: Slow Travel Berlin, E Magazine
Images via Givebox.
Margret Aldrich is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter at @mmaldrich.
Friday, November 25, 2011 1:53 PM
It’s too soon to think about New Year’s resolutions. We still have the remains of Thanksgiving in the fridge, and there are the holidays to maneuver before we reach a bleary-eyed New Year’s Day. But the organizers at 100,000 Aspirations are asking us to pause and offer our best intentions for the world right now.
The beautifully ambitious group is collecting 100,000 aspirations that will be placed in a stupa—a monument to peace—being built in northern Vermont. Sponsored by the Sakyong Foundation, in collaboration with the meditation center Karme Choling, the stupa is “for people of all cultures, religions, and backgrounds to enjoy,” says the Shambhala Times.
Early submissions reveal a variety of good hopes: “I aspire to make sure no child feels unworthy,” writes one contributor; “I aspire to be as happy and carefree as a dog,” says another. And Josh Viertel, president of Slow Food USA, writes:
I aspire to live in a world where there are more school gardens than McDonald’s franchises, where it’s easier to feed our kids fruit than Froot Loops, and where we experience our profound connection to each other and the land through sharing work and sharing food.
You can add your aspiration on the 100,000 Aspirations website (it’s quick), tweet it, or submit a video aspiration to the project. Watch Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron offer hers here:
Sources: 100,000 Aspirations, Shambhala Times
Wednesday, November 23, 2011 4:45 PM
From Brooklyn to Portland, Minneapolis to Austin, people are sharing the love and their homemade, homegrown, or foraged edibles at modern-day food swaps. Too many pickled beets in your pantry? Trade a few jars for a dozen duck eggs. An overabundance of hand-foraged mushrooms? Swap them for lavender-infused vodka.
This week, a circle of cooks, canners, bakers, and urban farmers launched the Food Swap Network, a new online community for those who want to trade their wares and connect with likeminded DIYers. The site is a good stop for first-timers, giving tips on how host a food swap, attend a food swap, and find a food swap in your area, and also offers glimpses into thriving food swaps around the country.
Emily Ho, food writer and founder of the LA Food Swap explains the growing popularity of the nouvelle food sharing movement to LAist:
I think people are eager for the sense of community that a food swap provides. A food swap not only gives members a chance to share delicious handmade foods but also is a wonderful opportunity to meet others who are interested in gardening, food preservation, beekeeping, and other sustainable, DIY activities. As more and more people want to know where their food comes from and start activities like making their own condiments, baking bread, etc., it’s fun to share this experience with others. (Plus, who needs 20 jars of homemade ketchup?)
Sources: LAist, Food Swap Network
Image by Dennis Jarvis, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, October 21, 2011 3:17 PM
“Why would someone spend their limited leisure time shoveling horse-shit into a compost pile?” wonders Jason Mark, co-manager at San Francisco’s Alemany Farm, which hosts community workdays twice a week.
More and more, people are clamoring to join in the urban farming movement and get their hands dirty. There’s no doubt that urban gardening has graduated from fledgling trend to part of our cultural landscape, with vegetable gardens taking root everywhere from tiny backyards, to college campuses, to the White House grounds, to fire-escape terraces. Writing for Gastronomica, Mark lays out the motivations behind the movement and why public participation continues to rise:
The new agrarians are seeking a way to refashion the relationships—ecological, emotional—that have been eroded by work without meaning and food without substance. They are trying to accomplish a kind of restoration of the world…. The farm’s gift is the confirmation of our common need for sustenance, for cooperation, achievement, and creativity, and for a visceral connection to the biological systems on which we depend. The farm reminds us of how, when we join together in the spirit of collective action, we fulfill our individual selves.
Mark points to several specific, personal benefits of urban gardening. First, of course, there’s the food. (Who can’t appreciate the crunch of a Mokum carrot or the beauty in a row of ruffle-leaved lettuces?) But behind this real food lies the honest labor that results in real satisfaction, another key reward. Mark writes:
At the end of a workday, the most common sentiment I hear from volunteers is astonishment at how much they have done. They are delighted to witness the immediacy of their accomplishments. When the day started, the onions were a weedy, overgrown mess; by the close of the afternoon, the crop lines are clean and obvious. Most people’s regular jobs don’t provide such clear cause and effect.
Cultivating farmland where we can provides other simple gifts, too: an artistic outlet, an escape from a self-absorbed society, and a much-needed reconnection with nature—no matter how urban it might be. Mark says this of his beloved, if not bucolic, Alemany Farm:
This isn’t the backwoods of Yosemite. We grow food next to a 165-unit public-housing project. I will never forget one college student I spent an afternoon weeding with. I asked him why he came to the farm. “It’s just great to be out in nature,” he said. I almost dropped my hoe. Didn’t he hear the rush of freeway traffic seventy yards away?
(article not available online)
Image by clayworkshop, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, September 30, 2011 4:12 PM
If you’re feeling saddled by heartache, work stress, a heavy secret, or an unknown future, take heart (and get out your earbuds): The website Emotional Bag Check will lighten your load.
How the site works is simple, reports GOOD, even if your problem isn’t: Click the “Check It” button, type in whatever emotional baggage is weighing you down, and send it into the internet ether. Soon, you’ll receive an email with a stranger’s recommendation for the perfect song to lift your spirits.
Good talks with the woman behind Emotional Bag Check:
“I’ve always liked the metaphor of emotional baggage,” says website creator Robyn Overstreet, a freelance web developer and programming teacher based in New York City who launched the site in February. “Being a literal person, I couldn’t help but think of it literally, as something that you pack up physically and have to carry around with you.” Or, in the case of her site, cast it off onto others.
In the mood to play music therapist rather than patient? Click the “Carry It” button, read the problems of another user, and send an anonymous song recommendation to them, pulling from the massive GrooveShark catalog.
Today I responded to a woman who had just ended a long-term relationship with her girlfriend but still dreamed of raising kids and home-cooking meals with her ex. After some careful consideration, I passed along the bittersweet pop medicine of the Girls’ tune “Laura,” a break-up tale that offers the promise of friendship. What would you prescribe?
Image by kthread, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, September 01, 2011 3:54 PM
Andrew Carnegie built an impressive 2,509 libraries around the turn of the 20th century. Now Rick Brooks and Todd Bol are on a mission to top his total with their two-foot by two-foot Little Free Libraries, reports Michael Kelley in Library Journal.
The diminutive, birdhouse-like libraries, which Brooks and Bol began installing in Hudson and Madison, Wisconsin, in 2009, are typically made of wood and Plexiglas and are designed to hold about 20 books for community members to borrow and enjoy. Offerings include anything from Russian novels and gardening guides to French cookbooks and Dr. Seuss.
Each Little Free Library runs on the honor system, displaying a sign that asks patrons to Take a Book, Leave a Book. “Everybody asks, ‘Aren’t they going to steal the books?’” Brooks told Kelley. “But you can’t steal a free book.”
Fifty libraries have been built so far, with 30 more underway and plans to expand into Chicago, Long Island, and elsewhere. Brooks and Bol have a long way to go to reach their goal of 2,510 libraries, but they’re digging the ride. “At a personal, human level, it’s very thrilling how it excites people,” Bol shared with Kelley. “But on a larger plane, it’s such a nice spark for literacy, art, and community all at once.”
Check out (so to speak) the gallery of charming Little Free Libraries below and visit the organization’s website to learn how you can bring one to your hometown.
Source: Library Journal
Images courtesy of Little Free Library.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011 5:27 PM
Community singing—gathering with a group of acquaintances and strangers to belt out songs from across the eras—was a big deal in the Twin Cities in the first half of the 20th century, drawing crowds of up to 25,000 people to local parks. Today community singing does not, necessarily, sound relevant or revolutionary. In fact, it might seem completely schmaltzy. But singing together has more political and personal impact than first impressions reveal.
Minnesota Community Sings director and activist Betty Tisel is heading up a community singing revival, reports Jim Walsh in MinnPost, and her motivations go far beyond warming hearts. “Doing this work has meant my doing less political activism, but I feel OK about this because the payoff for community singing is that people get refueled for the struggles we have to keep working on together,” she tells Walsh. Tisel continues:
If we’re going to draw others into the work of building a just, sustainable world, that world’s gotta look like a place we would also like to live in. We need joyful, local, participatory culture….This is eat local, buy local, sing local. It helps me “keep on keepin’ on,” and people who have attended the sings tell us that it helps them a lot, too.
The gathering I attended at MLK Park in Minneapolis last night was nothing if not joyful, inclusive, and connecting, and it didn’t have a drop of unintended schmaltz. The 150 people in attendance (a smaller crowd due to stormy weather, Tisel says) ranged from toddlers to the elderly, and whoever sat next to you became your newest, dearest friend. Consummately lead by Minnesota Community Sings executive director Bret Hesla and artistic director Mary Preus, we sang American standards like “This Little Light of Mine;” international songs in Arabic, Italian, Spanish, and Swahili; and antiwar songs including “Tenting Tonight,” which was sung by soldiers on both sides during the Civil War. The lyrics hold up after 150 years:
Many are the hearts that are weary tonight
Wishing for the war to cease;
Many are the hearts that are looking for the right
To see the dawn of peace.
Before the event, which was my first community-sing experience, I invited another uninitiated friend to join me. Her jaded, if good-natured, two-word reply was: Hells no. After participating with the smart, ardent crowd in South Minneapolis, I enthusiastically say: Community singing: Hells yes!
If you’re still not convinced of the power of the community sing, watch the ever-cool Odetta talk about her love of singing with others:
Image from Library of Congress.
Monday, August 15, 2011 4:32 PM
The assumption that human beings are inherently selfish—interested in the greater good only when it serves their own interests—has long-influenced capitalism’s most prominent thinkers (Adam Smith, Alan Greenspan, Gordon Gekko) and served as a litmus test for modern America’s so-called political realists. Employees are best motivated with bags of carrots and a big stick. Without law there is no order, and without the threat of punishment there is no law. We’re all out for number one. Greed is good. Dogs eat dogs.
Just turn on the news anytime of the day or night. The anecdotal evidence is overwhelming.
A compelling counter-narrative is emerging, however. In the latest issue of Harvard Business Review, Yochai Benkler points to “recent research in evolutionary biology, psychology, sociology, political science, and experimental economics [that suggests] people behave far less selfishly than most assume.”
“Evolutionary biologists and psychologists have even found neural and, possibly, genetic evidence of a human predisposition to cooperate,” he writes.
In the piece, “The Unselfish Gene,” Benkler, a Harvard law professor and author of The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs over Self-Interest (Crown Business, 2011), aims to reach executives and managers who he believes must abandon traditional motivational strategies in favor of techniques that “rely on engagement, communication, and a sense of common purpose and identity.” Along the way, though, he points to scientific discoveries and psychological theories that will engage any reader who pines for collective solutions to common problems.
In one cited experiment revolving around cooperative behavior, for example, a majority of subjects consistently behaved cooperatively (some when treated reciprocally, others even when it came at a personal cost). In another revealing set of studies, participants showed that traditional incentives, such as monetary awards and the threat of punishment, actually hampered productivity and discouraged engagement. This can be explained in part by neuroscience that shows that cooperation, when chosen freely, simply makes people feel good.
“No, we are not all Mother Teresa; if we were, we wouldn’t have heard of her,” Benkler says. “However, a majority of human beings are more willing to be cooperative, trustworthy, and generous than the dominant model has permitted us to assume. If we recognize that, we can build efficient systems by relying on our better selves rather than optimizing our worst. We can do better.”
Source: Harvard Business Review
Image by lumaxart, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011 4:55 PM
Public transportation and (welcome) social interaction don’t seem like natural companions, but Los Angeles designer and architect Julie Kim is making the bus stop a more neighborly place—and recording the results.
At a buzzing LA Metro bus stop in Koreatown this summer, Kim set up a coffee table in front of a bench for waiting patrons and covertly filmed what happened, reports GOOD. In minutes, the stylish, hand-built table—complete with a vase of flowers and a short stack of local newspapers—generated kinship and conversation between the diverse riders that gathered around it.
“The number and variety of people milling about—workers, kids, the elderly, of every ethnic group—surprised me,” Kim told GOOD. Watch a quick video of her experiment here:
Kim has more ideas for engaging the public at bus stops, like setting up exercise equipment. What other accoutrements could create meaningful interactions? Perhaps a minibar or a stack of meditation pillows, or how about a collection of secondhand musical instruments to get a bus stop hootenanny started…
Tuesday, July 19, 2011 10:14 AM
Happiness. Well being. Living fully. The good life. If you’re an Utne reader you might call it mindful living. But what does it all really mean? And how do we find it?
The summer issue of ARCADE tries to tackle those questions from a design perspective. Guest editor Ray Gastil introduces a section called “The Good Life Reconsidered” with a short essay pondering what role design can and will play on the road to a sustainable future and a good life. “Design is a way of thinking,” Gastil writes, “and it has an extraordinarily powerful ability to shape the way we live, and in particular, the way we choose to live.”
Sustainability advocates know that they have to present a future that is desired and chosen, not mandated and enforced. If we are open to it, design can harness the power of aspiration and choice, leading to diverse new ways of thinking, whether from the corporate suite or down the street. We can design a smart, green life, but it needs to have rewards.
Following that introduction we get opinions on the matter from a range of voices, like a reminder from Jessica Geenen, program manager for the Energy Efficient Communities program at Puget Sound Energy, that the “word ‘community’ comes from the Latin roots cum, meaning ‘with,’ and munus, meaning ‘responsibility.’”
There’s also a call for “biophilic neighborhoods” from Tim Beatley, a professor of sustainable communities:
I would like to propose…that we significantly update the neighborhood concept to better take into account our growing appreciation for the value and need to reconnect with nature and natural systems, building on the insights of “biophilia,” a concept popularized by E. O. Wilson. In Biophila, Wilson defines the term as “the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms,” something essential for healthy, happy, productive humans and an essential quality of urban life.” Nature, we increasingly understand, is not something optional, but absolutely essential to modern daily life, and not something to be relegated to the occasional visit to some mostly remote place we think of as “nature”—something “over there.”
Those and many more take on the issue of how where and how we live can lead to “the good life,” whatever that may be. What’s your definition of that tricky phrase? And how does your neighborhood, community, and work life lead you toward achieving that definition?
Image by blhphotography, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011 5:29 PM
Are you an Iowan who professes an unshakable love for the sweet corn that comes from your local farmstand? A Mainer who can’t live without your state’s legendary blueberries? A Californian who considers the silky-fleshed avocados plucked from your backyard tree unparalleled? The flavors closest to home are often the ones closest to our hearts.
This summer, vacant lots across South Philadelphia are coming to life with the produce of Asia, reports Ariela Rose in Grid, as refuges from Bhutan and Burma (aka Myanmar) seek to bring the foods of their homelands to their new American state.
Through a project called Growing Home, the empty lots have been converted into five community gardens featuring 72 beds that are tended by 70 different Nepalese and Burmese clans, according to the South Philly Review. There, the refugees have sown seeds that call up a connection to their native soil—bok choy and mizuna, hot peppers and eggplant, fragrant Thai basil and spicy Burmese mint.
“Many of the seeds…used were carried by the refugees, safely sewn into their clothing as they made their journey to the United States,” says Rose in Grid, highlighting the deep reverence these immigrants have for their relationship with farming.
The refugees from Bhutan—ethnic Nepalis—and the refugees from Burma—ethnic minorities—experienced severe discrimination in their home countries and spent years in refugee camps before arriving in America. When Philadelphia’s Nationalities Service Center and the Refugee Social Services Department asked them what would make the difficult transition here easier, a place to work the soil was at the top of the list.
Although garden manager Adam Forbes has been instrumental in getting the project off the ground, he wants the gardens to be a place where refugees can support one another, utilize their farming skills, and develop a sense of community in a strange land.
The feeling of community is quickly building, and both the refugees and Forbes are benefitting. He writes on the Growing Home blog:
At least 30–40 people come out every day to water, hang out, eat some snacks, harvest greens, etc. With our picnic tables now in place the gardens have become a real hang out. We have been having informal English lessons, eating mangoes, sharing recipes, drinking tea, and much more…. My Nepali is getting much better and I am learning a few Burmese words each week.
Sources: Grid, South Philly Review, Growing Home
Image by tonrulkens, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011 4:02 PM
Work finds a way to slip under our front doors and into our personal lives. We check email while making dinner and return phone calls on the weekend; we think about our jobs as we’re falling asleep at night and when we’re washing our hair in the morning. It’s no secret that Americans are overworked. What’s surprising is how overworked we are—and how much corporations benefit from our around-the-clock labor.
According to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute, corporate profits are up 22 percent since 2007, report Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery in Mother Jones, even as jobs are cut and American workers put in longer hours for static salaries. What were once manageable 40-hour-a-week appointments have morphed into “superjobs,” overladen with increased tasks when staff is downsized.
Workers are left scrambling to get everything done at the office and at home, often ignoring spouses, skimping on family time, or avoiding community commitments—shortcomings that may feel like failures. But: “Guess what: It’s not you,” says Mother Jones.
These might seem like personal problems—and certainly, the pharmaceutical industry is happy to perpetuate that notion—but they’re really economic problems. Just counting work that’s on the books (never mind those 11 p.m. emails), Americans now put in an average of 122 more hours per year than Brits, and 378 hours (nearly 10 weeks!) more than Germans.
Take time to check out Mother Jones’ infographic collection “Overworked America: 12 Charts that Will Make Your Blood Boil.” And then, take a look at your calendar…aren’t you due for a day off?
To read more articles on work in America, see our January-February 2011 issue on the topic.
Source: Mother Jones
Image by luxomedia, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, May 26, 2011 1:32 PM
The next time you visit your local library to check out a book, perhaps you’ll leave with some basil, butterfly weed, or sweet pea seeds in your pocket. Seed-lending programs, operating out of public libraries, are taking root.
The concept is simple: Seed libraries allow patrons to “check out” seeds and grow them on their own land. In exchange, the gardener or farmer is asked to donate seeds to the library at harvest time. These will be used by fellow library-goers in the next growing season. “Unlike a seed bank, the libraries are living collections that change every time a gardener returns seeds,” Organic Gardening writes.
The Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library, housed in the Richmond Public Library near Berkeley, California, celebrated its one-year anniversary this month and has nearly 400 users. Carefully cataloged by type—herb, flower, or edible—and degree of growing difficulty, the seeds are a small but powerful force in bringing fresh food to all members the community, says Mother Earth News. The free program “provid[es] access to fresh, healthy food in communities where it may not otherwise be available and teach[es] everyone how much fun growing your own food can be.”
In addition to the seed-lending libraries spreading up and down California—at Alameda Free Library and San Francisco Public Library’s Potrero branch, for example—they are beginning to sprout elsewhere, such as at the Fairfield Public Library’s Fairfield Woods branch in Connecticut, reports American Libraries.
To start a seed-lending library in your area, visit Richmond Grows for tips and resources.
Source: Organic Gardening(article not available online), Mother Earth News, American Libraries, Richmond Grows
Image by mathteacher..., licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, April 25, 2011 4:48 PM
Some developers are starting to incorporate a new feature into neighborhoods: A food supply. Landscape Architecture magazine reports in its April issue on forward-looking urbanists who are situating working farms next to homes in mixed-use projects.
“Both development and agriculture are broken, and the answer to each is in the other,” architect Quint Redmond tells the magazine.
Community gardens are a familiar manifestation of residential-area agriculture, but many of the new designs are incorporating farms that are bigger and intended to meet more of the community’s nutritional needs.
In one setup, a neighborhood of small lots adjoins land set aside for conservation and agriculture. The land is owned by a nonprofit or homeowners’ association, and the farm management and/or operation is contracted to a professional farmer. Residents can get the produce through a market or by joining a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. Prairie Crossing near Chicago and Serenbe near Atlanta are two examples of this type of approach.
Other proposed communities are still on the drawing boards and attempting to attract support. One designed by Redmond’s firm TSR Group would turn 618 acres of current industrial farmland in Milliken, Colorado, into an “Agriburbia” community using almost half the land for commercial farming. Another 135 of the acres would go to acres to parks and natural habitat, and the rest would host 994 dwellings.
In Vancouver, a 536-acre proposed project, dubbed the Southlands, would host 2,000 housing units ranging from multifamily dwellings to single-family homes to small farmsteads and larger farms. All the residents in this “agrarian urbanism,” as New Urbanist planner Andres Duany has called it, would contribute, in their own way, to food production.
Landscape Architecture hints at some of the conflicts that that could arise in such communities, noting that residents would have to be willing to tolerate farm smells and noises. (I’d add my own caveat: Unless we’re talking organic, non-GMO agriculture, who wants to live near pesticide drift and genetic cross-contamination?) Other significant logistical challenges remain, including “the niggling problem of individualism” in proscribing private land use.
Some critics have larger conceptual problems with the whole enterprise. Duany’s “agrarian urbanist” vision for Southlands attracted some blowback even in the planning stages, having kicked up a spirited row in 2008 between him and Toronto Globe and Mail architecture critic Trevor Boddy in the pages of the design-architecture magazine Arcade. Boddy sees the Southlands development as simply a new way to justify unjustifiably large yards:
My own view is that history will regard the New Urbanism as a last gasp attempt to reform suburbanism from within, before high energy prices and new respect for land compels much denser development.
Boddy’s sharp attack aside, it remains to be seen whether something good can grow from these farm-and-live arrangements, which get down to the basic and long-lived question of how we should organize society. It seems it can’t hurt to start trying something other than big highways, big cars, and big stores.
Sources: Landscape Architecture
(article not available online), Agriburbia, Arcade
, licensed under
Wednesday, March 02, 2011 1:55 PM
The National Day of Unplugging (NDU) is on the not-so-distant horizon. Observed from sundown on Friday, March 4, until sundown on Saturday, March 5, NDU challenges us to turn off our smartphones, shut down our laptops, and unplug our televisions to observe a modern day of rest.
Developed by Reboot, a nonprofit organization that aims to reinvent Jewish traditions, the NDU is for people of any faith or no faith. The 25-hour period is guided by Reboot’s Sabbath Manifesto, which encourages a weekly “time-out” following ten principles: 1) Avoid technology; 2) Connect with loved ones; 3) Nurture your health; 4) Get outside; 5) Avoid commerce; 6) Light candles; 7) Drink wine; 8) Eat bread; 9) Find silence; and 10) Give back. For the National Day of Unplugging, avoiding technology is the most important of these principles.
The digital day of rest is in its second year, and Reboot expects it to have the same resonance that it did in 2010. “People are craving a discrete sanctioned moment in time to unplug from technology,” says Lou Cove, executive director at Reboot, in a press release. “They are seeking permission to disconnect without fear of missing an urgent work email or a breaking news story, and to return to what’s most essential in their lives: community, meaning, and belonging.”
This year, Reboot is offering a tech-aided way to unplug: a “Check Out” app that allows smartphone users to post messages on Twitter and Facebook announcing when they are unplugging. Users can also sign up to receive text messages reminding them to unplug. Tanya Schevitz, Reboot’s national communications coordinator, writes in an email:
Believe me, we fully appreciate the irony of using a high-tech app to announce a low-tech day. But really, what better way to tell your followers that you won’t be tweeting on the weekend? We are not anti-technology. The idea really is to take a pause from the technology that consumes our lives and reconnect with the people and community who are all around us but are lost in the noise of today’s relentless deluge of information.
Elizabeth Drescher, reporting for Religion Dispatches, appreciates the mission of the National Day of Unplugging but suggests it is possible for technology to help us reconnect to the world around us and within us:
At its very best, the National Day of Unplugging encourages reflection on the deeper meaning and value of our relationships with families, friends, our communities, the wider world of beauty and need, and whatever we might understand as God or the divine—however much these may or may not be enriched or diminished by our use of technology. In that sense…the event might better be named “The National Day of Connecting.” On such a day, as I see it, foundational practices would surely include the intentional powering off encouraged by Reboot. But there’s no reason it might not also include a digital retreat with the teachers of the online Buddhist community, Tricycle.
Sources: Sabbath Manifesto, Religion Dispatches
Image courtesy of Reboot.
Thursday, February 24, 2011 10:26 AM
When I was a teenager, my friend Spring and I would often drive her Crown Victoria to the local cemetery after school. We would park by the headstones of Mr. Smith and Mrs. Crouch, lay out a blanket to sit on, and talk for an hour, with cottonwood leaves rustling overhead. It was a beautiful spot that had open views of the western sky—an oasis in our blue-collar town.
The idea that cemeteries are valuable public real estate, worthy of use beyond burial and mourning, has been around for centuries. Peter Harnik and Aric Merolli of Landscape Architecture write, “Before there were public parks, cemeteries were the primary manicured and sculpted green spaces within cities.”
Today protocols for the public use of cemetery land are remarkably varied. According to Harnik and Merolli:
Nearly all public cemeteries are open to the public, but they differ widely in the kinds of activities they allow. At the far hallowed end we have the federally owned Arlington National Cemetery, where almost nothing is permitted except walking from grave to grave; jogging and eating are prohibited, and there are virtually no benches. Across the Potomac, in a somewhat gritty part of Washington, D.C., Congressional Cemetery puts out the welcome mat to the community, allowing running, picnicking, sledding, children with balls, and even off-leash dogs.
Unconventional cemetery use is experiencing a resurgence, as a growing number of cemeteries embrace their roles as public spaces. Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford, Connecticut, hosts jazz concerts; Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, holds elaborate puppet shows (one is pictured above); and Wyuka Cemetery in Lincoln, Nebraska, welcomes theatrical performances from Flatwater Shakespeare.
Though family rights can be an issue when deciding how graveyard grounds can be used, most cemetery boards don’t hear negative feedback. Bob Hall, the director of Flatwater Shakespeare, offers his wholehearted approval. Hall’s mother and father are buried at Wyuka, and he often notes, “I asked my parents, and they didn’t say anything.”
Source: Landscape Architecture Magazine(subscription required)
Image by gaelenh, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, February 08, 2011 1:07 PM
You’ve probably heard of borrowing a cup of sugar from your neighbor, but what about borrowing skills, talents, and support? In Yes! magazine, John McKnight and Peter Block convince us that utilizing the gifts of the people in our communities can help rebuild families and neighborhoods.
Although the term “dysfunctional” is often used to describe a unit that is not working, McKnight and Block say that the problem with today’s families and neighborhoods is not dysfunction, it’s non-function. The essential roles once played by kinfolk and neighbors—babysitters, caregivers, listeners, teachers—are frequently outsourced, leaving us isolated and disconnected. The benefits of reinstating community function are clear, say McKnight and Block:
Where there are “thick” community connections, there is positive child development. Health improves, the environment is sustained, and people are safer and have a better local economy. The social fabric of neighborhood and family is decisive.
But how, exactly, do we repair our non-functional communities? McKnight and Block point us toward a success story propelled by a group of six neighbors who named themselves the Matchmakers. The group was born after Naomi Alessio witnessed a simple act of kindness: A friendly, older neighbor named Mr. Thompson invited her son Theron into the metal-working shop in his garage and taught him how to fashion a few pieces. Naomi and the Matchmakers wanted to pair up other like-minded members of the community and began taking stock of their neighbors’ various talents.
It took three weeks to visit all the men on the block. When they were done, they were amazed at what they had found: men who knew juggling, barbecuing, bookkeeping, hunting, haircutting, bowling, investigating crimes, writing poems, fixing cars, weightlifting, choral singing, teaching dog tricks, mathematics, praying, and how to play trumpet, drums, and sax. They found enough talent for all the kids in the neighborhood to tap into.
The kids on the block had their own usefulness, too, teaching older folks how to use computers or listening to their stories and writing down the oral history of the neighborhood.
Beyond skills and talents, neighbors can share other resources, like food or yard space. What can result is a neighborhood that feels connected and capable—a new kind of functional family. So when you hear your next-door neighbor practicing “Slow Ride” on his Stratocaster for the twelve thousandth time with cheers from his toddler in the background, don’t think of ways to silence the offender; think instead, I wonder if I offered an hour of babysitting if he’d teach me that sweet lick?
, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, May 14, 2010 3:54 PM
In These Times has a great interview in which lifelong social activist Joanna Macy shares her four-step process for creating a sustainable future. Macy teaches workshops on “The Work that Reconnects” to show people how acknowledging gratitude and grief can lead to a new way of seeing the world and moving forward. She feels we’re at the crossroads of a third revolution (akin to the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions), and there’s a great opportunity to unite and push our industrial society into a “life-sustaining” one. I like her observations about recognizing our collective “grief for the world.”
People aren’t thrilled to have you tell them how terrible things are. At first I thought there was this big public apathy, but I learned that it was not that people were indifferent and it’s not that they didn’t care and it’s not that they didn’t know—they did know and they did care but it seemed too painful and too enormous to do anything about.
The repression of painful information is particularly widespread in the United States. We don’t want to look at the inequalities that our lifestyle has generated. We don’t want to look at the ways that we’re endangering the future of life on earth. This is a phenomenon that some people call “psychic numbing” and others call denial.
For life to continue, we must invent a whole new way of supporting human life on earth. That change is coming. It’s not visible to many people because it is not being reported by mainstream media—written press or electronic. But it’s happening and that’s what I see as the third revolution.
Source: In These Times
Friday, April 23, 2010 2:40 PM
Utne visionary Alexis Pauline Gumbs offers tips for making the most out of your neighbors’ talents and your own in the latest issue of make/shift. Gumbs wrote about a massive skills-swapping session held at the Allied Media Conference last year where women came together and taught each other about herban foraging, social networking, quilting, and more.
“We have diverse, deep, and surprising skills that we have developed out of necessity, creativity, and passion,” Gumbs writes. “This truth is underpublicized on purpose. What use would capitalism be if we stopped thinking that we had to outsource…and dug with deep faith into the undervalued richness of our diverse communities?”
Why not round up a group of people in your own community and see what you can learn? We think Gumbs’ skill (the meta skill) of how to skills-share, is a great primer. Here are her suggestions:
- Decide who the audience or community is.
- Ask folks within your chosen community about the skills they have.
- Secure an accessible space that feels safe (a community center? a bookstore? someone’s backyard?).
- Invite everyone.
- Make sure there is food; we recommend a potluck.
- Think of creative ways to share the skill with other members of your local and affinity community (a blog? a zine? a section in a magazine?).
- Ask for feedback.
- Repeat with another skill!
Source: make/shift(article not available online)
make/shift is a 2010 Utne Independent Press Award nominee in the category of spiritual coverage.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010 5:14 PM
Our library contains 1,300 publications—a feast of magazines, journals, alt-weeklies, newsletters, and zines—and every year, we honor the stars in our Utne Independent Press Awards. We’ll announce this year’s winners on Sunday, April 25 at the MPA’s Independent Magazine Group conference in Washington, D.C. and post them online the following Monday.
We’re crazy about these publications, and we’d love it for all of our readers to get to know them better, too. So, every weekday until the conference, we’ll be posting mini-introductions to our complete list of 2010 nominees. I’d like to begin by introducing the publications up for health/wellness coverage. This topic is close to my heart—and these are eight fantastic, independent-minded publications that deeply engage with their subjects. They’re the real deal resources for alternative health and thriving.
Hailing from the Hudson River valley, Chronogram aims to enrich its readers’ creative and cultural lives, and, oh, how it succeeds! From its wellness-oriented Whole Living department to its analysis of politics and current events, Chronogram gives us the tools to live fully engaged, healthy lives.
Landscape Architecture in health and wellness, you say? This engaging publication of the American Society of Landscape Architects pulses with the connection between place and well-being, teaching us volumes about healthy environments—from a child-designed community in Italy to a provocative prayer garden in Baltimore.
New Mobility has a unique two-fold mission: promoting the integration of wheelchair users into mainstream society, while simultaneously exploring and celebrating disability-related culture. It balances those two goals with polish, advocating, analyzing, reporting, and sharing personal stories—in a phrase: fostering community by empowering it.
On Wisconsin, published by the University of Wisconsin Alumni Association, is filled with inquisitive, elegant reporting and writing that one need not be an alumnus to appreciate. The quarterly publication regularly introduces us to health-enriching ideas and research in the fields of medicine and the social sciences.
In the immediate wake of its 15th anniversary, POZ has become an ever-more indispensable resource and mouthpiece for people living with and affected by HIV. Chronicling the misunderstood and undercovered epidemic in the United States and abroad, POZ consistently packs its pages with powerful pieces of analysis and advocacy.
Psychotherapy Networker may be intended for therapists and counselors, but its appeal is universal. In the spirit of bringing “intellectual adventure” to the field, the bimonthly keeps us on the cutting edge of all things mental, enriching our understanding of the human condition.
Insubstantial healthy-living magazines abound on newsstands, which is why reading Spirituality & Health is like drinking a tall, clean drink of water. Clear-sighted and open-minded, the bimonthly offers genuine resources for all kinds of spiritual journeys, mining the disciplines of psychology, sociology, and medicine to inform its refreshing, joyful perspective.
Yes!, a magazine of “powerful ideas, practical actions” published by the nonprofit Positive Futures Network, gives us information and tools to build a more sustainable, just tomorrow. The quarterly’s optimism is infectious: a celebration of human potential and community well-being that can’t help but inspire.
Want more? Meet our
and science and techology nominees.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010 4:05 PM
Writing for Toronto’s Spacing, Joe Clement shares a genuine community-building super story: the organic transformation of the city street he grew up on into a robust gardening district. Clement himself got the ball rolling. As a young gardener who quickly “outgrew” his parents’ yard, he began asking neighbors if he could help them convert their front lawns into cultivated spaces. What happened over the next 20 years ought to inspire novice and pro gardeners alike—anyone planning on putting seeds in soil this spring:
Slowly but surely more and more neighbors began relinquishing their prized turfs in exchange for a garden, and that’s when something very interesting began to happen. The neighbors began interacting with each other beyond the perfunctory hello and goodbye while coming and leaving. The gardens were acting as social facilitators, bringing people out of their homes to tend to their yards and discuss gardening tips and strategies for expansion or plant sharing.
These conversations continued and expanded into broader social interactions. Soon neighbours were helping each other tear up their lawns, till the soil, and reconfigure their yards for both flower and produce production. Many of the not-yet-converted yards began sprouting carrots and corn and eggplant along with the foxgloves and dahlias.
Boulevard stripes were tilled and converted to gardens, making room for more vegetables. The neighbors are now tackling the backyards of homes rented to college students and converting them into productive gardens. Thanks to the dedicated work of several residents in particular, and the support of the rest, this street now produces enough organic produce to supply the Sorauren Farmers’ Market on a bimonthly basis.
Source: Spacing (article not available online)
Image by Mzelle Biscotte, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, August 21, 2009 10:44 AM
On October 26, Yahoo will pull the plug on the online community web hosting site Geocities. Though it is mostly remembered as a hideous, antiquated, pre-internet boom startup, it was one of the most popular websites of the 1990s. The community-policed “cities” allowed users to create individualized web pages, and was, in some ways, a precursor to the more modern corporate-owned online communities like MySpace, Facebook, and Blogger. “The demise of GeoCities is not just the disappearance of a gif-riddled online ghost town,” Phoebe Connelly writes for the American Prospect, “it's the death of a pioneering online community.”
Now that the website is shutting down, groups like the Internet Archive are scrambling to preserve the information that GeoCities once held. The struggle reminds users, according to Connelly, “that just because something is published on the Internet doesn't mean it will last forever.” And when the information is published on a corporate-owned website, the choice isn’t really up to you.
The American Prospect
Sunday, August 09, 2009 7:31 AM
Religious Americans are up to four times more likely to be active in their communities than nonreligious Americans—and the link is causal, according to new research from Robert Putnam and David Campbell. The scholars have observed increases in civic involvement that come after individuals join a religious group.
“The reason for the increased civic engagement may come as a surprise to religious leaders,” the Christian Century writes. “It has nothing to do with ideas of divine judgment or with trying to secure a seat in heaven. Rather, it’s the relationships that people make in their churches, mosques, synagogues and temples that draw them into community activism. . . . The theory is if someone from your ‘moral community’ asks you to volunteer for a cause, it’s really hard to say no.”
Source: Christian Century
Friday, June 19, 2009 4:55 PM
Shouldn’t residents have a say in the city planning process? Julie Ramey at Next American City talked to Mark Gorton, who has been busy developing programs such as The Open Planning Project in an effort to bring about transit reform and make urban planning a more interactive process. Gorton says, “to a large extent my motivation is trying to restore the quality of the streets to a place where they’re oriented to people.” This means reversing the typical planning process—which revolves around planning for cars foremost, not people. Gorton adds:
The design of the street is really very crude and simple. When you start talking about what you’d like in front of your house—it’s not that pros couldn’t do a good job there, it’s just very hard to justify the time to send them around to talk to people and spend hundreds of hours on it. But people who live on that street are not daunted by the idea of having 10 to 20 meetings about what’s in their backyard. In that sense you can really leverage a lot of the local strength of the community. Right now [change] requires people who are very committed grassroots activists. I would like it if you didn’t have to be quite as determined.
Source: Next American City (article not available online)
Tuesday, June 09, 2009 5:38 PM
Homes bedecked with jewels and painted flowers. Whimsical garages with yawning mouths, and lampposts adorned with cast-metal birds. A road cobbled to look like a snake. This is a magical neighborhood, but it’s also a real place. This is the amazing, child-and-adult-designed community of Coriandoline.
Coriandoline was conceptually born in 1990, when a construction co-op in the northern Italian town of Correggio made an amazing decision to become “for inhabitants,” rather than “for habitations,” reports Landscape Architecture. Fulfilling the new ethos meant getting input about housing development design from all members of the community—including children. In 1995, two psychologists started collecting ideas from 700 local children, and fanciful, functional, playful Coriandoline began to take shape. Turning inspiration into brick-and-mortar doesn’t happen overnight: The first residents moved into their new homes, of which there are 20, in 2006.
So, here’s the deal: The article in Landscape Architecture originally was an episode of the Radio Netherlands program The State We’re In. The article isn’t online yet at LA’s website, but you can read a transcript of the broadcast over at Twin Cities Streets for People. What you should absolutely, do, however, is explore Coriandoline’s beautiful, whimsical website. This is one case where a photo truly is worth 1,000 words.
Sources: Landscape Architecture, Twin Cities Streets for People
Image by gurms, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, May 06, 2009 3:58 PM
Companies pollute, and when they do, that pollution disproportionately hurts low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. A new report by the Political Economy Research Institute quantified the inequality and found that nationwide, “the most polluted locations have significantly higher-than-average percentages of blacks, Latinos, and Asian-American residents.”
Certain communities are worse than others. Birmingham, Alabama, topped the list of the worst offenders, a city where minorities make up about 33.5 percent of the population, but shoulder 64.7 percent of toxic exposure to humans. Low income residents in Birmingham comprise about 13.1 percent of the population, but shoulder 23.8 percent of the toxic exposure.
The worst corporate polluters were also called out in the report, with special attention paid to the burden they placed on minorities. The research showed that 69.1 percent of the health risk from Exxon Mobil, for example, fell on minority communities.
Considering the inequalities exposed by the report, Nina Jacinto wrote for Wiretap that “An effective environmental justice movement will consider the intersections of race, culture, class and geography in its creation and implementation of laws, regulations and policies.”
For more on the issue, read Environmental Justice for All from the March-April 2008 issue of Utne Reader.
Sources: Political Economy Research Institute, Wiretap, Utne Reader
Monday, December 22, 2008 2:02 PM
Project for Public Spaces (PPS), a nonprofit that supports the development of community-friendly places, has compiled a list of 60 of their favorite public gathering spots around the world. The intro to the list waxes a bit epically, hinting at “the places we remember most vividly, the places where serendipitous things happen, the places we tell stories about.”
But the romantic tone is balanced with concrete analysis on what makes the choices compelling. PPS includes blurbs on the accessibility, comfort, activities, and sociability of each place, as well as background and historical information. While the list includes obvious picks like New Orleans’ French Quarter, it also highlights humbler, more local spots: An organic children’s garden in Toronto gets a mention for its diversity of programming, and a bus hub in Corpus Christi, TX is recognized for its festive, convivial atmosphere. All in all, it offers some insight into the qualities that make a space people-friendly, and will probably get you thinking about your own favorite public places.
Image by Doublep1, licensed under Creative Commons.
(Thanks, World Hum.)
Tuesday, November 18, 2008 4:22 PM
Singer-songwriter Eliza Gilkyson’s Beautiful World is one of the best folk albums of 2008, with lyrics that tackle tough social and political issues set amid crisp acoustic music that makes these themes easy, even enjoyable, to swallow. Gilkyson has clearly mastered the delicate art of the topical folk song, avoiding the cringe factor that plagues so many well-intentioned but ham-handed protest singers. Her dusky voice and lilting melodies are alluring enough on their own; her knack for insightful analysis just adds another layer of meaning to her multifaceted music.
Beautiful World’s lyrics carry warnings about the wages of excess (“The Party’s Over”), an impending “Great Correction,” and the human carnage of Web porn (“Dream Lover”). But the album also has an old-timey ode to a spring-fed swimming hole (“Wildewood Spring”) and offers plenty of handholds for optimists clinging to the cliff of doom, especially on the two closing songs, “Beautiful World” and “Unsustainable.” I recently spoke with Gilkyson by phone from her home in Austin, Texas, about community, collapse, and the still-coming great correction.
Beautiful World came out in the spring. You must be quite proud of yourself for having predicted the economic crisis and the downfall of the Bush regime with “The Party’s Over” and “Great Correction.”
(laughs) “Yes, well, I had read The Collapse, you know, and I think I felt that we were treading on thin ice for a long time. At first, when the record came out and the collapse, the correction, hadn’t occurred, I was thinking, God, everybody’s working so hard for Obama right now that the timing isn’t right on this because everyone’s all excited and everything, and I’m writing a record about a collapse. (laughs) But it turned out that the timing was right.”
What did you have in mind when you wrote “The Party’s Over”? Did it start out as a political song, or a personal song, or something in between?
“I did not mean to write it about the Bush regime, by any means. I was writing it about First World consumers. That’s really what I was targeting in this recording. It wasn’t red state, blue state in my mind. It was First World nations being the major consumers of energy and raw materials—and that it’s unsustainable and we’ve come to the end.”
“The Great Correction” is about a sea change for the better. Is Barack Obama the Great Correction?
“Not in my mind. That’s a blip on the screen. I actually really like Barack, and I’m hopeful that he will at least be honest in his accounting of what he’s doing. But I still see the Democrats and Republicans as being part of an unsustainable system. I think capitalism, the way it is now, is unsustainable, so I don’t see Barack Obama coming up with—he’s going to come up with compromises that I don’t think we can afford, so I still think we’re going to have to see a greater correction than the one we’re seeing.”
I understand that your inspiration for the album Beautiful World sprang in part from a monthly community forum called Last Sunday that you and author Robert Jensen hosted in Austin. Can you tell me what these forums were about and how they led to the album?
“Yes, we had decided that we wanted to address issues that were important to us—everything from immigration, racism, gender issues, economics—but we really wanted to put it over the overarching feeling that things were coming to a huge change. That either we get off fossil fuel now and have a collapse, or we prolong it longer and have another kind of, probably an even more intense, collapse.
“So we thought, let’s get the community together. Let’s see if this is attractive to the community. Let’s see if what I consider to be the progressive community, can we all get together in a room and have meaningful conversations around these issues? We brought in speakers, and we brought in a very left-leaning Presbyterian minister who I think is just brilliant, Rev. Jim Rigby. He’s really thinking cutting-edge thoughts along the lines of spirituality and religion and the real teachings of Christ, in a way. He’s a very far left thinker, and not a particularly religious person.
“The first ones we had were really successful, and then what we found was that we had every manner of left-thinking group or person on board, and each person had an individual agenda, and everybody thought, ‘This is what we need to focus on.’ There was never any consensus about where we are in history, about what needs to be done, who we turn to, how to organize. It was actually a great big lesson in why we haven’t been able to organize a cohesive movement in the left. It didn’t mean there weren’t some brilliant people there, and brilliant ideas, but the ability to agree and to come up with even a session where there was some cohesion, that never really jelled.
“So it was a learning experience for us. I wrote these songs for each of the different agendas. I mean, I didn’t sit down and think, OK, now I’m going to write a song about this, but I just kind of let myself kind of free-form create during that time period, and these are the songs that came out of it.”
So the forums, while they weren’t especially valuable in leading to solutions, at least led you to create an album.
(laughs) “Exactly. Well, what was interesting was that we realized that we didn’t want solutions. We wanted community, and a lot of them wanted solutions right here and now. I don’t feel that we’re capable of coming up with overriding solutions right now. I think it would be more in our best interests to really educate ourselves about how we got here and where exactly is it that we are before we go forging ahead with solutions.
“And I think there’s more analysis that needs to take place. But these songs were about that process more: Where are we as human beings? Where are we—in time, in history, culturally, as individuals? That’s where the songs came from. So that did come out the [forums]—personally I got a lot out of it.”
Here at Utne Reader we’ve long been involved in the salon movement, which is much like the community forums that you’re talking about. So I’m curious: Did you learn anything about how you might better approach forums like this?
“I really wish I had a pat answer for that. If anything, at this point, I think I would rather see us come together first as a community. What I loved best about Last Sunday was [Rev.] Rigby, because what he did was he put everything in a spiritual basis without it being new age, airhead, everything-is-beautiful—he really got into the challenge to us as individuals, the kinds of ways we need to change how we live our lives and how we view the systems that are in place. And he did it in a way that was so moving and touching that I felt that community spirit—I felt that communal relationship between all of us.
“I think the music [on “Beautiful World”] did that, too, and I think the ideas came across better once we had established that sort of spiritual bond. And if anything, I would say that sense of communal bond has to be there first, or else we are a bunch of individuals with a bunch of varying ideas and agendas. I think that is one of the big problems.”
There’s an undercurrent of optimism to the album, with lines about keeping your heart open and the light burning brightest at the darkest time. Are you ultimately an optimist at heart?
“I am. I just default to joy. I don’t know why—it could just be the way I’m chemically made up or something. But I am optimistic. I’ve been trying to train myself to become more open to a collapse of the system that we live under, and not be afraid of that, to embrace it, because it will mean the end of something that just plain hasn’t worked. It hasn’t worked for the last 250 years, the whole capitalist extraction model. It hasn’t worked, and even those of us who lightly prospered by it, we’ve lived beyond our means.
“So I don’t want to be afraid of it. I want to feel joy about what will come instead of the system that’s in place. I want to start looking forward to it. The problem is, of course, that you grieve the losses. There are so many losses, certainly in terms of the natural world—there is this grief that’s going on at the same time that we kind of cling to what is dear to us. And that’s what this record is really about—processing the grief and preparing to do battle at the same time, preparing oneself mentally and emotionally for a transition that will really try even the most emotionally stable of us.”
There’s a real trick to writing songs that are political without beating people over the head or seeming shrill, and you seem to know something about this. What’s your secret?
“I’ve studied this. I really have studied it. First, you want to make good music and good poetry. I mean, first and foremost, it’s got to fly on its own as art, and that’s really what I concentrate on when I’m in the studio, that’s what I concentrate on when I’m writing. There’s a cathartic, artistic process in the writing. You can’t come at it going, ‘Now I’m going to write a song about this,’ and sit down and just churn it out. You have to get into a very creative process with it, and really treat it as art first. And that’s abstract, but that is the process for me. It’s very abstract. It’s got to resonate with some sense of emotional catharsis in a way—so in other words, I’ve got to personalize it.”
You seem to be one of those songwriters who thinks that music has the power to change minds. Is that so?
“I think it has the power to make a person feel safe enough to consider other ways of looking at things.”
“Dream Lover” is about the damage inflicted by Internet porn. What inspired that song?
“Well, Robert Jensen, who is my partner, has written a book called Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity. It’s a great book, because this is a subject that the new feminists really don’t touch because they’ve pretty much sanctioned the sex trade industry as being a woman’s choice. But after having really studied this issue, I really see Internet porn as being a huge and powerful bastion of patriarchy that is being allowed to grow at a phenomenal speed and really do treacherous, dangerous work in terms of the social conscience, and the cultural underpinnings of our society. Because, really, what we’re looking at is not the porn that maybe people from my generation remember as pretty much maybe straight or group sex or something—this is violent, degrading, abhorrent treatment of women. And it’s only getting worse, this gonzo porn—it’s like an addiction and it only gets worse.
“And I think it needs to be marked not as a moral issue against these women who are choosing this. What we’re seeing is that these people are suffering. These women are suffering, and they have suffered probably their whole lives. Ninety percent of them were abused as children—I mean, even if a porn queen is telling you this is what she’s chosen to do with her life, you have to really ask yourself, is this a profession that you would want your child to aspire to? I think society has to look at this industry—a huge industry run by men—and ask ourselves the tough questions. And I think it’s really a lot on the men: Is this what I want intimacy to look like?
“I think these are ethical questions we need to be asking ourselves, not hitting yourself over the head with ‘You’re going to go to hell.’"
You’re appearing with Jensen at a few events around the country that are a fusion of music and literature. How are these events structured?
“We’re just starting to experiment with this. Right now I do a few songs, he speaks; I do a few more songs, he speaks: We take turns.”
And you’re tying some of your songs to the things he’s speaking about, or at least loosely?
“Yeah, loosely. I think in the case of a bookstore, where we’re doing this kind of thing, we can be closer to the subjects. Because when I do a show, the issue stuff is very hidden inside a playful night of a broad expanse of topics and music.”
And these events put them more at the fore.
“They really do. People know what they’re coming to hear, and in a lot of ways I’m setting up Robert. He’s such an eloquent speaker, though I don’t think he would agree with that assessment. The songs are kind of a way to get yourself into the emotional space, and then he gets into more specific analysis.”
“Beautiful World” is a very impressionistic, unconventional song, kind of unlike anything you’ve done. It’s almost a meditation. Were you consciously trying to step outside the verse-chorus-verse folk song structure when you wrote that?
“I was—and it’s natural for me to do that. I have stuck closer to the folk format for the last four or five records because I had been labeled as a new age artist years ago, and so I was very cautious. I wanted to really establish my honest roots as a folksinger, because that is really where I come from, and so I spent a lot of time building a foundation around a very simple, straightforward folk approach and production, as a writer and a producer.
“But this record I really felt that I just owed it to myself to just be a little bit more free-form, because I do write that way, especially on the keyboard. So it was kind of fun to just let it go.”
“Unsustainable” is another song that’s unconventional for you. It’s more like a jazz standard than a folk song.
“Mm-hmm. It was so fun to sing.”
“Wildewood Spring” is a more in the vein of a traditional sound. It almost sounds old-fashioned, if not for the lyrics about engines idling and other modern images.
“Yeah, it was kind of old-timey—kind of back hills, almost. And that was the point on that one, because it’s a song about a community, and I just wanted it to be sweet and almost corny. But then of course, it is with the backdrop that when you go into the springs in Austin, especially at 5 o’clock, you can hear the traffic moving, but you’re in this bucolic setting with these sacred springs, and you can see that just three minutes away is this whole other reality in the city. So it was just pitting that one image against the other.”
So Wildewood Spring is a spring right in Austin.
“Yes. Barton Spring pours right out of the ground, and it’s a huge pool that thousands of people can swim in at once.”
Are you already writing songs for your next album? Are you always writing?
“No, I don’t always write. I really have to screw my head on a little different when I’m writing. It used to be, when I was younger, I was able to kind of write songs on napkins as I went, but these days, touring is so grueling that I really just get into sort of a road warrior place, and it’s not as creative a place. It’s really much more about just keeping my body in shape and my voice intact, and getting enough sleep (laughs).”
Image courtesy of Red House Records.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008 4:16 PM
Eking out a living from meager government pensions, grandmothers in poor suburban South African townships have staged a revolution. But while their cities were once hotbeds of anti-apartheid sentiment, this uprising is gentler. It involves growing vegetables. Supported by the environmental group Abalimi Bezekhaya, grandmothers have set up organic community farms, helping to feed their neighbors and gain some self-sufficiency. AllAfrica.com has a series of articles, photo galleries, and videos about the farms.
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