Thursday, February 26, 2015

Fires and Explosions? What Fires and Explosions?

In my honors class yesterday we were discussing, among other things, alternatives to fossil fuels. Renewable or perpetual sources such as wind and solar power engender some skepticism because they are considered new and untested. In pointing out that despite some limitations and possible inconveniences, they are inherently safer that our petroleum economy, I cited recent tanker-train accidents such as the explosion last week in West Virginia, which also spilled oil into a local river.  I mentioned it in comparison to the far worse petroleum explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in which the downtown was destroyed and 43 people were killed.

None of the students had heard of either event.

The good news is that they were more stunned than I was that two such important stories had escaped their notice. These are honors students who had signed up for a class on climate change, and yet neither of these stories had penetrated the layers of distraction in which so many of us are shrouded.

We spoke briefly about Bread & Circus -- the attention diverted to everything that is not important, as I wrote about previously with respect to Bristol Palin in 2010 and WalMart in 2013.

Further good news; these students are now especially keen to pursue a more substantive media diet.


Atlantic reporter Derek Thompson writes that my students are far from alone in being disconnected from traditional news sources. Journalism in the Age of the Accidental News Junkie describes how social media has become both a platform and a filter for news, even as traditional reporting remains important as a point of origin.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Christo Negro | Diablo Blanco

As its name implies, the Public Radio International program The World is like a non-credit college of geography on the air. The February 20 broadcast included a story about Carnival in Rio, which might be expected, but it also included a reminder that Carnival is not limited to Rio and New Orleans.

Portobelo is a town on the north coast of Panama, in a province (Colón) named for Columbus. It is the site of a Carnival pageant that subverts conventional notions of race and religion. University of North Carolina professor and hip-hop artist Pierce Freelon describes how a tradition that includes the playful use of blackface is part of a complex critique of colonialism.

El Diablo in Portobelo

Monday, February 16, 2015

Designing for Joy

I enjoyed the Redesign for Joy segment on Studio 360 when I heard it on air yesterday, even before I realized that the story was going to include some specifically geographic examples. Most notable of these is the efforts of former Tirana Mayor Edi Rama, who was named World Mayor in 2004 for what is now a fairly obvious innovation. He demonstrated that more cheerful paint could improve his city; that work has now spread far beyond Albania, and I even witnessed some examples in Managua last month.
The first project. Photo by Edi Rama
His project started modestly, and the first example (above) could be described simply as "not dreary." From there the work became increasingly daring -- and increasingly effective. The one below is much like the building I noticed in Managua. See 8 Views of Tirana for details and further examples.
Photo: David Dufresne
A quick image search on Google yields even more examples, many of which are from other parts of the world where leaders have been inspired to employ positive design in their cities.

I return to the interview, though, because Ingrid Fetell shares something much more profound and exciting than the cityscapes, as important as they are. Her work connects cognitive science with design -- and careful attention to both -- in order to recognize the kinds of places that encourage joy, and to apply those insights to improving the design of places that typically do not. She shares this work on her Aesthetics of Joy blog, and is working with Studio 360 producers to solicit ideas for places that could use a joy treatment. See the interview summary for details. Meanwhile, bring yourself a bit of joy simply by listening!

While we are at it, though, we should not miss a chance to learn more about both the site and situation of Tirana. Use the "earth" and "map" settings and pan and zoom to explore Tirana to your heart's content.