We can Still Learn from Traditional Approaches to the Built Environment

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In a new book about how humans build and shape the environment around us, Julia Watson, argues that traditional indigenous techniques are the most efficient. Forget techno-carbon capture, smart cities, and other buzzwords; the best approaches already exist and we just need to use them. In her book, The Power of Lo-TEK, she looks at communities from Peru to Iran and how their indigenous approaches to building homes, farms, or other places has been honed over hundreds of years to find the best way to build.

Lo-TEK explores 18 indigenous communities, organizing them by the type of landscape each inhabits: mountains, forests, deserts, or wetlands. Case studies include the living root bridges created by the Khasi in Northern India; the waffle gardens of the Zuni tribe in New Mexico; aquaculture around the floating villages of the Tofinu people of Benin; the qanat underground aquifers in Iran; and the mudhif reed architecture of Iraq. Watson approaches each of these case studies like a cultural anthropologist and an architect, laying out the different spiritual relationships each community has with its environment, the history of how they created their engineering techniques, and detailed diagrams that explain how the techniques work. 

Watson sees her book as today’s version of the Museum of Modern Art’s influential Architecture without Architects exhibition of 1964, which discussed the merits and sophistication of vernacular design from the past—design that architects at the time had dismissed in favor of modernism.

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How One Person Exposed Republican Attacks Against American Democracy

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As a Republican President in the states is undergoing an impeachment trial the Republican Party is also going under many trials. For the last few decades the Republican Party has engaged in gerrymandering to ensure that their party wins instead for the Democrats (or independents). This modification of electoral maps has been argued to be everything from racist to classist and everything in between. The predominantly old, white, and male Republican Party has been denying all the allegations against them, and now they’ve met their match.

The daughter of the leader of the gerrymandering effort, Stephanie Hofeller, has released documents that prove true all the Republicans are denying in the courts. Sometimes it takes one brave person to speak up to help ensure a nation’s democracy can continue.

Stephanie says she connected with the North Carolina chapter of Common Cause, an advocacy group that had brought a lawsuit against Republican state officials to overturn political maps Thomas Hofeller helped draw. After mentioning the hard drives to Common Cause, Stephanie received a court order to turn them over as potential evidence for the lawsuit. She did so in March after making a copy of some of the files for herself.

Since then, the Hofeller files have led to bombshell developments in two major legal battles in the political world.

In September, Common Cause won its legal challenge to political maps in North Carolina, where a state court cited some of the files as evidence of gerrymandering designed to unfairly give Republicans an advantage in winning elections and maintaining control of the state legislature.

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Wild Animals Keep our Cities Clean

CBC’s ecological science show is taking an unorthodox look at the vermin and critters in our cities by showing how they help us. On Jan. 31 The Nature of Things will air the episode, trailer above, all about how animals have adapted to urban environments and how those animals end up helping humans. It’s a neat approach to animals that otherwise get a bad reputation.

In Toronto, we join urban wildlife behaviour expert Suzanne MacDonald and Toronto Wildlife Centre Team Leader Andrew Wight on their hunt for the elusive opossum. Opossums are native to the southern United States, but in recent years, climate change has extended their habitat north to Canada. They look fierce and foreboding but they are one of the shyest scavengers of all. We discover how they help make our cities healthier by eating our refuse – they can even digest bone. They also eat and eliminate disease-laden ticks.

In Manhattan, we meet a team of young entomologists and learn the importance of ants in keeping city streets clean. There are over 2,000 ants for every human. The pavement ant, a rarely studied species, picks up and eliminates the food that people drop. These foraging ants can lift over ten times their weight and eat as much or more than rats in the city. Unlike rats, they do not transmit human diseases.

Check it out.

In Ontario, People Support Education

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Educators in Ontario are currently on rolling strikes because the provincial Conservative government has chosen to weak havoc on the education system. Since they’ve been elected they’ve sliced and diced all that matters to ensure Ontario has a functioning education system (they’ve even cited chronically-underperforming Alabama as an educational state to follow). You can see a full list of cuts by the Conservatives here.

It’s clear that people are sick of the Conservative’s incompetence and are actively supporting the education system. The government launched a propaganda campaign to pay parents for days their kids missed school due to labour actions. This campaign has utterly backfired and parents receiving the money are donating it back to the school system and educators – where the money should go in the first place.

“It’s amazing that while the Ford gov. is trying to win a public relations battle against teachers, they essentially proved they could provide real childcare subsidies if they have the interest and willpower to do it,” wrote MPP Chris Glover on Twitter earlier today.

Some parents are even choosing to take the money and donate it back to the education system.

“Show our educators your support & Stephen Lecce and Doug Ford your displeasure. Let them know that as a province, we do NOT accept their decisions,” reads an online petition started by parent Amy Llewellyn.

“We want money in our schools, not our pockets.”

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Governments Reacting to the Failures of the Gig Economy

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According to economists the economy is the labour market is fine as unemployment is relatively low. The truth is different from the on-paper measurements. High employment numbers don’t mean much if the jobs don’t pay well and the working conditions are miserable. The modern “gig economy” is to blame for this counterintuitive economic situation. Governments are starting to catch on that these “modern” jobs aren’t nearly as beneficial to workers or the economy as more traditional jobs were. As a result new laws are being passed to prevent workers from being exploited by the likes of Uber and other gig economy giants.

AB 5’s reclassification provision would also allow gig workers to unionize, granting them a modicum of protection. Big Tech greeted previous unionization efforts with outright hostility. In November, Google publicly fired five engineers involved in union activity. Other companies, like Uber, use antitrust law to bar drivers from collective action to address their concerns.

A more radical approach would be to break up the Big Tech monopolies that have such a tight grip on California and its economy, making it more difficult for these companies to dictate the terms of employment. Presidential candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have vowed to dismantle giants like Facebook and Google if elected. Sanders’s plan, arguably the most ambitious, would order companies to offer workers more benefits and higher wages and pensions. Workers would also need to make up at least 45 percent of companies’ board memberships, ensuring that they would have a seat at the table when executives make decisions that affect their livelihood.

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