Friday, February 11

wifi! hooray!

i've finally found some free wifi, there's a place on elizabeth st called "food inc." that gives free, unlimited wifi. you don't, theoretically, have to buy anything, but that'd be rude. so i have a chance to upload a few photos without increasing my mobile bill by an order of magnatude.

first, the conference has been going really well. when i decided to go, i really only wanted to see shigeru ban speak, and was prepared to pay the $175 or so just to see him. when he cancelled because of illness, i was pretty disappointed, and thought the rest of it would be really boring, after all, it's a conference on sustainability in building. usually either very dry figures and graphs and talk about standards and products, or crazy environmentalists saying we have to make love to the earth and have babies with trees or whatever. i've been entirely surprised by the speeches, presentations and debates. at the opening, which was open to the public, there were four speakers and a chair, and they took questions from the audience. i arrived late so i don't know whether they gave a presentation first or just introduced themselves and started fielding questions. but that was really interesting, and at the end, the chair, an american guy, sang a song he wrote himself called "gdp is rising" about how gross national product may be going up but gross national happiness is going down. very funny.


the guy second from the left is the former mayor of bogota in columbia, and it's really amazing to hear someone talk about urban planning in a country that is so desperately poor and has a million and one problems that plenty of people think are more pressing than planting trees. what he spoke about, that night and the next day at the conference, was dealing with the country's problems by changing the way the population thought about the country, and thought about themselves. the stuff he was doing was changing the perception of bogota from a lost cause to something that was worth fighting for, he spoke a lot about increasing the pride of the citizens. basic things like, when building a new drainage canal through a poor area, spending an extra 2% and putting a 7m-wide footpath next to it. in a neighbourhood so poor that they don't have paving or sealed roads, this was invaluable, and you could see by the before and after photos. in as little as 3 or 4 years, this pavement (or boulevard) visibly improved the quality of life of the citizens. he even forcibly accquired land that a national soccer team used for training, which was previously fenced off, and converted it into a public park. the applause he got at the end was phenomenal.

there were some other really cool urban planning ideas that were suggested, a guy working in new york proposed planting trees in the middle of intersections in areas where the roads are underused (not manhattan, obviously) to convert them and the nearby streets from unusable dead zones to public spaces for meeting and recreating. a guy from copenhagen, where they have one of the world's best car policies (or rather anti-car policies) spoke about the return of the flaneur, the person who walks not to get anywhere, but just to see and be seen.

today was not as interesting. it was more concerned with the technology of green building and a lot of it seemed like advertising or useless diatribe. one south african woman gave a very good speech which was verging on the "have babies with trees" thing, but in a much more practical and intelligent manner.

i've taken a few photos and uploaded them so check out my flickr photostream.

going to meet my cousin for dinner, better be off


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