IKEA’s research and design lab in Copenhagen released a book this month on ways we can improve our cities. They start by recognizing we’re presently facing two global crisis: a pandemic and catastrophic climate change. Their proposals to address these two issues within cities is titled The Ideal City and they outright admit that top-down urban planning is inherently problematic. The goal of the book is to demonstrate that change is possible, it’s happening, and we can make the world better by improving our lived environments.
Making Cities Safer
This chapter proposes that in addition to lowering crime, cities need to protect their citizens against extreme weather events and provide a healthy environment that fosters physical and mental well-being. It highlights a small project that makes a big impact: the Tokyo Toilet, a series of 17 public restrooms designed by renowned architects in Tokyo’s Shibuya district. By incorporating colored glass that’s transparent when the lavatory is empty and opaque when in use, Pritzker Prize–winning architectShigeru Ban’s designaddresses two basic concerns people have with public toilets: cleanliness and how to know if someone’s inside.
This century bookstores have been struggling to survive due to the rise of Amazon and changing entertainment consumption patterns. When the pandemic started many bookstore owners thought it would be the event that ends the local bookstore. It turns out, the pandemic has actually helped independent bookstores.
Bookstores have started subscription services for readers, home deliveries and got their online stores working better. Some stores have even seen an increase in sales despite everything that’s going on.
As readers hunker down to try and ride out the pandemic, what Saul and other owners have observed is an increased appetite for understanding.
At children’s bookstore Mabel’s Fables in Toronto, when the pandemic kept some customers from visiting, general manager Lizzie McKenzie started juggling a slew of weekly virtual book clubs.
The fictional worlds we engage with can change how we think about politics and how we justify our political beliefs. According to a study published in the Cambridge University Press people who read dystopian fiction are more likely to support extreme political reactions to things. The point? Read something that is good for you, go read some classic literature and try to avoid overly-dystopian worlds (or at least read them knowing the impact they may have on you).
Given that the fictional narratives found in novels, movies, and television shows enjoy wide public consumption, memorably convey information, minimize counter-arguing, and often emphasize politically-relevant themes, we argue that greater scholarly attention must be paid to theorizing and measuring how fiction affects political attitudes. We argue for a genre-based approach for studying fiction effects, and apply it to the popular dystopian genre. Results across three experiments are striking: we find consistent evidence that dystopian narratives enhance the willingness to justify radical—especially violent—forms of political action. Yet we find no evidence for the conventional wisdom that they reduce political trust and efficacy, illustrating that fiction’s effects may not be what they seem and underscoring the need for political scientists to take fiction seriously.
Walking is great! Most of us have heard that we should get 10,000 steps a day to maintain our health, but walking is more than just taking steps. Shane O’Mara in his book In Praise of Walking explores what walking is all about (hint: it’s everything that makes us human). It matters where we walk too, so be sure to get out into some nature for a meaningful walk instead of sticking to concrete.
O’Mara, a professor of experimental brain research at Trinity College in Dublin, writes in straightforward prose, methodically presenting research and studies in support of his thesis that walking has not only been crucial to human evolution but is essential to our health. Studies show that regular walking mobilizes changes in the structure of our brain that can increase volume in the areas associated with learning and memory. He dedicates a chapter to the science behind human navigation and describes how the selective memories of our wanderings are central components of our experiences and ability to make “maps of the world we have experienced.”
O’Mara argues that walking influences many aspects of cognition — how we think, reason, remember, read, and write. In particular, there is a vital relationship between movement of the body and the flow of thinking. “Since antiquity it has been recognized that a good walk is an excellent way to think problems through,” he writes.
If you want to understand current anxieties about the future then all you need to do is turn to science-fiction, and historically this has been true. Sci-Fi isn’t a way to predict the future but it is a way to understand what we think about the current state of humanity. Unsurprisingly, there is so much stress about the climate crisis that enough writers have created a new subgenre called climate fiction. Cli-Fi captures the anxiety we’re collectively experiencing about the environment while also being a useful teaching tool.
Atwood has become a major figure across the cli-fi literary universe. She not only helped the term catch on when she tweeted it in 2012, but her 2013 novel MaddAddam has been a popular teaching tool which largely summarizes the need for the genre in the first place. The book tells the story of a group of environmentalists, known as the gardeners, who rebuild the world after a global pandemic. The novel shows how fragile our global systems are. “People need such stories, because however dark, a darkness with voices in it is better than a silent void,” Atwood writes. The book was part of the curriculum for a course on cli-fi at Brandeis University in 2015.
Another notable book in the genre is Omar El-Akkad’s The American War. The book was listed as required reading in a 2018 freshman-level course entitled “Narrating Climate Change” at New York University. The 2017 novel is set in America’s second civil war when southern states defy a law that outlaws the use of fossil fuels. The book is told through the lens of Sarat Chestnutt, who is from Louisiana and is displaced by the rising waters of the Mississippi River. El-Akkad shows the life of an American climate refugee.