‘I don’t like living here' - Would you?

“PREMIER” has an audience of more than one million people every week across different media platforms, and represents a strong Christian voice in the UK. Part of what they do is to campaign on issues of concern to all Christians.
It recently posted an article on its website whereby it reported on the work being done in Mynamar by another Christian charity, Tearfund, who themselves are working closely other organisations.
Now, even if you are not religious, it is difficult not to praise the efforts and social objectives of organisations and charities such as this.
Here are some extracts from Premier’s article regarding Tearfund’s work in Mynamar:
Tearfund’s Rohingya response manager James Rana said: “Boredom [in the camps around Cox’s Bazar] is a real problem, especially for children and adolescents as it can lead them into trouble, so Tearfund’s local partners COAST [Coastal Association for Social Transformation Trust] and CCDB [Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh] have been setting up adolescent clubs which are safe spaces for teenagers to meet, read, play and help them overcome some of the trauma they have experienced, whilst raising awareness on issues such as health and hygiene.”
For younger children, COAST and CCDB are providing child-friendly spaces where children can play, draw, write poems, talk to a trained therapist, do informal maths and sing songs together.
Tearfund is also adapting existing materials to make an improved curriculum for young people focussing on life skills, including business and leadership training.
A total of 700-800 children will access the 16 centres built by Tearfund, in groups of around 25-30. In the afternoons, the spaces double up as adult psycho-social centres. The new buildings will also become shelter houses in the event of cyclones, which tend to hit during October and November.

There’s still a lot of good going on throughout a troubling world.

Trees, trees, trees (please)

Deforrestation and climate change has meant that forest coverage of drought-prone Ethiopia has dropped from 35% coverage a century ago to just 4% in the 2000s.
What was to be done?
Well, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed set an ambitious target for his country to plant four billion trees across Ethiopia during this year’s “ rainy season" - i.e between May and October. He encouraged every citizen to plant at least 40 seedlings.

This was part of what he called a national Green Legacy initiative

How’s it going, so far? I’m not sure but, astoundingly, on just one day of last month, Ethiopia planted more than 353 million trees in just 12 hours. Indeed, Getahun Mekuria, Ethiopia's minister of innovation and technology, said 353,633,660 seedlings were planted – a world record.

Now let’s contrast that with the U.K.
Here’s what’s stated in the government’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) report:
Afforestation targets for 20,000 hectares/year across the UK nations (due to increase
to 27,000 by 2025), are not being delivered, with less than 10,000 hectares planted,
on average, over the last five years.

The CCC report called for an increase in UK woodland cover to 17% by 2050. This would require a planting rate of 32,000 hectares a year for the next 30 years, moving the UK from 13% to 17% woodland cover. This equates to a million new hectares of woodland cover, and some 1.5 billion trees.
Just out of interest, a recent study by Swiss scientists, and published in the journal ‘Science’, says that the most effective way to fight global warming was to plant one trillion trees.
The report said that over the decades, those new trees could suck up nearly 750 billion tonnes of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
That is about as much carbon pollution as humans have spewed out in the last 25 years.

Sad (but necessary) advice for USA parents

In 2017, 39,773 persons died from firearms-related injuries in the United States, with violent gun deaths equating to 4.43 persons/100,000 (this compares to 0.06 persons/100,000 in the U.K.). And, in the United States firearm injury is the cause 74% of all homicides and 87% of all youth homicides.

Gun Safety 7 x 12 half English3downversion

But also, very worryingly, three out of four children (including children less than 10 years old) living in a house with a gun know where the gun is, even when parents think they don’t.

And, while many people feel that having a gun keeps them safer, research suggests that the opposite is true.

In an article produced by Harvard Health Publishing, Faculty Editor, Claire McCarthy, MD suggests three things parents can do to keep children safer:

· If you own a gun, lock it up, unloaded. Keep ammunition locked up separately.

· Ask if there is an unlocked gun where your child plays. This simple question can save your child’s life. If the answer is yes, ask if it can be locked up (unloaded, with the ammunition locked separately). If the gun isn’t stored safely, your child shouldn’t play there.

· If your child has a history of depression or other mental health problems, don’t keep a gun at home. Locking it up may not be enough to keep your child safe.

Our children rely on us to keep them safe — including from gun injury.

A sad indictment indeed

Urban design and mental health - Tokyo

There are some wonderful people doing amazing work in all kinds of areas; so many it is almost impossible to keep abreast of all developments.

I give one example here. An organization called The Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health (UD/MH).

Although the majority of people now live in urban areas, we rarely, if ever, stop to think whether, by more intelligent design, the high incidence of mental health associated with urban living could be decreased.

The Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health curates and creates research and dialogue to inspire, motivate and empower policymakers and urban practitioners to build mental health into their projects for a healthier, happier urban future.

Its journals are full of really useful, well researched, information, and articles published by the Journal are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, something I wish other organizations who are devoted to improving society would follow.

I pick out just one article. This is from Edition 3 and entitled Urban design and mental health city case study: Tokyo.

Its authors are:

Layla McCay (1,2), Emily Suzuki (2) and Anna Chang (3)
(1) Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health, UK and Japan
(2) Tokyo Medical and Dental University, Japan
(3) Southern California Institute of Architecture, USA

Cycling in Tokyo greenery. Picture by Mai Kobuchi

Cycling in Tokyo greenery. Picture by Mai Kobuchi

From the report we learn: “Tokyo is often considered a city, but it is in fact a metropolitan prefecture (region) comprising 23 special wards, each governed as separate cities, plus 26 more cities, 5 towns, and 8 villages, all governed separately (with national and Tokyo Metropolitan Government influence), creating a complex picture in terms of urban planning. The city has a population of over 13 million, and the metropolitan area extends to a population of 36 million, the most populous in the world (World Population Review, 2017). The centre has a density of 15,187 people per square kilometer, much less than Manhattan (27,000) and Paris (21,000).”

The authors end with the following useful conclusions:

7 Lessons from Tokyo that could be applied to promote good mental health through urban planning and design in other cities

Empower and incentivise city users to install nature everywhere: To green a city where large park spaces may not be available, it is possible to empower the general public to take personal responsibility in contributing to street greenery. A combination of education and incentive programmes can also help to encourage businesses to invest in innovative greening of every available space, including roofs, walls, and public parks.

Nudge vehicles into main streets to achieve natural pedestrian-friendly superblocks: Encouraging motor vehicles to use large, efficient roads and avoid smaller roads other than for access enables prioritisation of pedestrians and cyclists, which delivers opportunities for public street events and activities, and development of green space. Meanwhile, public transport can be nearby and accessible.

Make active transport the most convenient way to get around: An affordable, efficient, reliable and extensive public transport system can nudge a natural reduction in cars and prioritise pedestrians and bicycles around station residential, shopping, social and service hubs. Combined with a culture of biking as a family transport method, this:Promotes walking and biking as the safer, more convenient optionDrives demand for pedestrian infrastructure (such as overpasses and underpasses to access stations and services)Drives demand for fine-grained, human-scale streetfronts that provide welcoming, interesting engaging aspects to pedestrians including shops and cafes. Such streetscapes help reduce negative thoughts, improve walkability and pro-social engagement with neighbours, and help increase feelings of safety in backstreets.Reduces traffic on residential streets, reducing light and sound, promoting better sleep.

Make social exercise easy: Public transit access to exercise locations (from sports facilities to hiking) plus publicly accessible water facilities, lockers and shower facilities for jogging, and convenient public transport accessibility for sports facilities can help facilitate social exercise.

Integrate spiritual centres with the wider community: Temples, shrines, and other types of spiritual centres often contain potentially welcoming public spaces in cities otherwise lacking in available public spaces; the community could be further drawn in where appropriate, for example, through inviting local festivals and retail corridors connecting these buildings’ open spaces to the rest of the community.

Harness indoor public spaces for better mental health: Where wide-open urban public spaces are not available outdoors, innovative investment in interior placemaking can seek to achieve mental health benefits by designing green, active, pro-social spaces into indoor, densely-frequented places such as shopping malls.

Use innovative design to help prevent suicide: Suicide reduction is not simply about physical barriers; psychological deterrents may be explored, such as blue lights and images of nature at high-risk train stations.

5 Recommendations for Tokyo to improve public mental health through urban planning and design

Increase awareness of the links between urban design and mental health: This study revealed limited recognition and understanding of mental health by urban planners and designers in Tokyo. As such, the opportunity to promote good public mental health is not being systematically considered in their projects. Further awareness-raising and education for policymakers could articulate the opportunity and help create demand. Policymakers and professional organisations could develop policies, guidelines and incentives for architects, planners and developers to systematically integrate population mental health considerations into their projects. And architects, planners and other city designers could develop knowledge and skills that would enable them to leverage public mental health to increase the value of their projects. This could result in the integration of better mental health into Tokyo.

Realise the cycling opportunity: Bicycles are currently conceived primarily as a family transport utility and most rides are short; this is great, but to fully reap the productivity and physical and mental health benefits of cycling (including to counteract the effects of long working hours), companies’ insurance policies could evolve to incorporate commuting by bike/reduce commuting responsibility, and investments could be make in cycling infrastructure in the city (such as more protected bike lanes, cycle routes that go through natural settings, and bike parking) and in the office (such as showers, lockers and bike parking). This will help promote longer and vigorous bike rides, delivering the associated health benefits of physical exercise and nature exposure, in addition to environmental benefits.

Harness waterways for better mental health and wellbeing: Tokyo’s waterways remain largely untapped natural spaces that could provide more green and blue spaces for walking, watersports, relaxing and socialising.

Design public spaces for social interaction: Tokyo has fewer obvious pro-social public spaces than some other cities (though may have more regular organised community events than many). Currently, many green spaces are carefully tended and cordoned off, and do not encourage casual use such as picnics and ball games; train station plazas are often empty; areas adjacent to temples and shrines may have further development opportunities; and 'placeless' shopping areas associated with train stations could be improved. Innovative design can help increase opportunities for positive, natural social interactions. This may include street seating, street games, outdoor gyms, nature installation, and public gathering spaces for festivals, markets and other local events.

Optimise the workplace for better mental health: Tokyo’s practice of having long working hours compared to other cities, along with often long commutes, means that Tokyo citizens are missing out on quality time for leisure, nature access, exercise, and socialising on work days. Urban designers can help integrate these protective factors into the ‘work pathway’ to help promote good mental health. This includes the commute to/from work (opportunities for physical activity, nature exposure, relaxing setting, and efficiency, including management of overcrowding on public transport), and in the work setting (access to nature - including views of nature, pictures of nature, office gardens and office greenery, circadian lighting, opportunities for social interaction, privacy, choices about types of workspaces and settings, physical activity within the office, and support of physical activity in office commute.

This article illustrates how, in this case, members of organisations, universities and specialist institutes are responding with practical suggestions which help address the specific concern of the high incidence of mental health associated with urban living.

The full article is available here.

A brilliant and inspiring message from the other side of the world!

(With thanks to Sarah Smut-Kennedy for allowing me to use material from her website)

Sarah Bees.jpg

Just three years ago Sarah Smuts-Kennedy, an artist from New Zealand, created an artwork - a social sculpture - which she called ‘For the Love of Bees’.

Her work simply invited people to imagine Auckland as the safest city in the world for bees and all pollinators.

Unsurprisingly such a tantalising vision quickly sprouted wings and ignited the minds of kiwis around the country!

Now the model offers opportunities for businesses, students, individuals, schools, community gardens, scientists, brand partners and beekeepers to collaborate and sow the seeds of a thriving future.

What an amazing idea - using bees as the magnet for ecosystem thinking, “because people are much more open to thinking about bees than they are, say, soil biology,” she explains.

The ‘Projects’ tab on the website now lists 14 very different practical ways in which ‘For the Love of Bees‘ has spread out into the very being and life of Auckland.

These are all wonderful initiatives and all worthy of replicating throughout the world. I truly hope that that will happen, for doing so can only create a better world for our children.

By considering just one of the listed examples - OMG - you begin to sense the scope and importance of the idea.

Its name, ‘Organic Market Garden’, belies its all-inclusive nature. Here’s how Sarah describes OMG: “as climate change-ready infrastructure” This is on account of 10 values it adheres to, including carbon sequestration, biodiversity, air filtration, water retention, turning food scraps into a carbon resource through composting (it is noteworthy that the garden takes all of a local cafe’s waste), and heat sinks.

A small plot of land was obtained in October 2018, with an agreement to occupy it for just one year (but with the hope of staying longer). Here, and with a growing community of dedicated friends, OMG focus on the possibilities of 'urban farming' - regenerative organic urban farming practice – the idea of taking a site of soil and bringing its life force back to it.

Levi Brinsdon-Hall, artist and site manager says “In a very short space of time we’ve transformed what was a meadow full of rocks and rubble and grass. There were, like, 10 different species that existed on this plot, and now there are over 100,”

Sarah’s desire is to have an OMG every one kilometre throughout the city. “Then you’re starting to change the climate of the city.”

The aim is for OMG to also be a teaching hub. “One of the things that would enable this to roll out across the city is human capital, literally the knowledge of how to do it,” says Smuts-Kennedy. “How many people in Auckland at the moment know how to run a farm like this? Who is going to help us get the funding to train 25 people in the next year so that we can have 25 farms and then create a system where those 25 people are training 10 people each over the next 12 months?” she asks.

“The average age of a farmer in the world at the moment is 65 years and the access to land is out of reach of most of our young people who want to be farmers,” she says. “We could actually provide a pathway to employment in the cities where we live, because we want them to be growing us safe food today, tomorrow and in 20 years’ time”.

“Within three years we could have this totally handled, but it’s going to take a vision and it needs to be a cohesive vision. We know that there are 100 community gardens in Auckland – how could they as quickly as possible become climate change-ready infrastructure, and then what are the other sites that could be accessed to have one every one kilometre?”

Please listen, below, to this 10 minute sound clip, taken from an interview with Wellington Access Radio (full programme here) which captures the enthusiasm and optimistic message that ‘For the Love of Bees’ is bringing to New Zealand simply by imaging a town or city to be the safest city in the world for bees and all pollinators.

Truly amazing