Know Your Watershed, Mapping Rivers, Mapping Our Commons

Mississippi river upstream sources
Part of my childhood was spent living just a mile from the Mississippi up around Minneapolis.  Screenshot from the US National Atlas Streamer Map

Fresh water is more valuable than oil because humanity can live without one of these. There’s something about mapping water, about mapping rivers, that resonates so well with our online hyper connected lives. Maybe it’s because we take water for granted almost as much as we take all of our social connectedness for granted.

Maps used to be very powerful during the so-called age of discovery when sailing ship design and technology was considered to be cutting edge, when surveying the world was celebrated as a great human achievement even though the purpose was largely focused on exploitation of people and their lands. Mapping then was a tool for innovations in what is possible by regimes focused on greed.

"Americae Nova Tabula" by Hondius in 1640.
Americae Nova Tabula” created by Hondius 11 human generations ago  (in 1640)

In today’s geospatial digital mapping the question we should be asking is, as with any technology, who is making it and for whom? As with the Internet itself much of the mapping technology has come from military usage, and much of the power in mapping today is held by the credit card and banking systems that are tracking our spending in great detail to optimize methods for encouraging further spending and debt. So many of these maps are made by the already very powerful for the increasingly more powerful.

Hudson river upstream sources
I live in NYC, along the estuary portion of the Hudson river. NYC’s water source is under threat of fracking. Screenshot from the US National Atlas Streamer Map

This is why it’s refreshing to see maps like this National Atlas Streamer Map created by the National Geospatial Program of the U.S. Geological Survey that provide some service for all of those organizing to protect freshwater for future generations by fighting the selling off of land rights for fracking, and fighting against policies that enable land usage for industrial petrochemical farming and its toxic effects on our world. It’s maps like these that we should be most excited about that should be celebrated, maps like these can better help preserve and protect the commons that we all share. Check it out, pick a place in the US that you know and care for and look at all of the rivers connection.

Smart Cities Or Wise Cities?

Smart cities, smart politicians, smart leaders, smart writers, smart journalists, smart policy makers, smart planners, smart consultants, smart authors, smart… people.

When most people use the word “smart” in civic life they are really saying some person: has technocratic or corporate efficiency, or has skillful rhetoric regardless of logic or ethics, or has an exemplary command of status quo worldview. When these so called “smart” people let society down people don’t often ask why. The reason why is that we praise what is “smart” rather than debate what is “smart” and debate who defines what is “smart”, all of which distracts us from asking, “what is wise?”

Living Within The American Lie, On The Passing of Vaclav Havel

Occupy Wall Street protesters and police line, Liberty Square aka Zuccotti Park, NYC, October 2011

“In highly simplified terms, it could be said that the post-totalitarian system has been built on foundations laid by the historical encounter between dictatorship and the consumer society. Is it not true that the far-reaching adaptability to living a lie and the effortless spread of social auto-totality have some connection with the general unwillingness of consumption-oriented people to sacrifice some material certainties for the sake of their own spiritual and moral integrity? With their willingness to surrender higher values when faced with the trivializing temptations of modern civilization? With their vulnerability to the attractions of mass indifference? And in the end, is not the greyness and the emptiness of life in the post-totalitarian system only an inflated caricature of modern life in general? And do we not in fact stand (although in the external measures of civilization, we are far behind) as a kind of warning to the West, revealing to it its own latent tendencies?”

– Vaclav Havel, “The Power of the Powerless” 1978, Prague

Reading this essay earlier in the Spring of 2011 stuck with me and continues to motivate my choices in making a better world to live together in. Vital voices like Havel’s, worth passing on to future generations. Meditating on why his dissident voice still matters today here in America.

(* Updated quote with full paragraph for more contextual punch, but it’s that last sentence that rings so loudly here in 2011.)

Radical Urbanism & Right to the City voices from 2008

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I’m interested in the connections between Urbanism and the public space occupation movements that have come to prominence in 2011 amidst the environment of our new Media Ecology that’s infused with fast flowing ICT networks.

This post and my last three posts mark a little exploration into these threads.

Below I’m just sharing my notes on this talk from Winter 2008 on how The Right to the City weaves together many approaches in a new way. It’s insightful in the face of Occupy Wall Street today in the cool Fall of 2011. Scan my notes below or watch the 58 min video, or both! Continue reading Radical Urbanism & Right to the City voices from 2008

World Charter for the Right to the City

(Liberated into HTML from one of the many PDFs of this document, this text in particular was found at UrbanReinventors.net on October 2, 2011. See wikipedia for more on the idea of the Right to the City. I posted this after mulling over the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City posted by the blessed unrest that is the General Assembly at @OccupyWallStNYC. -danlatorre)

[begin full text]

Social Forum of the Americas – Quito – July 2004
World Urban Forum – Barcelona – October 2004
World Social Forum – Porto Alegre – January 2005
Revision in preparation for Barcelona – September 2005

PREAMBLE

The new millennium dawned with half of the world’s population living in cities, and experts forecast that by 2050 the world’s urbanization rate will reach 65%. Cities are potentially territories with vast economic, environmental, political and cultural wealth and diversity. The urban way of life influences the way in which we link with our fellow human beings and with the territory.

However, contrary to these potentials, the development models implemented in the majority of impoverished countries are characterized by the tendency to concentrate income and power, generating poverty and exclusion, contributing to environmental degradation, and accelerating migration and urbanization processes, social and spatial segregation, and privatization of common goods and public spaces. These processes favor proliferation of vast urban areas marked by poverty, precarious conditions, and vulnerability to natural disasters.

Today’s cities are far from offering equitable conditions and opportunities to their inhabitants. The majority of the urban population is deprived or limited – in virtue of their economic, social, cultural, ethnic, gender or age characteristics – in the satisfaction of their most elemental needs and rights. Public policies that contribute to this by ignoring the contributions of the popular inhabiting processes to the construction of the city and citizenship, are only detrimental to urban life. The grave consequences of this situation include massive evictions, segregation, and resulting deterioration of social coexistence.

This context favors the emergence of urban struggles that remain fragmented and incapable of producing transcendental changes in the current development model, despite their social and political importance.

In the face of this reality, and the need to counter its trends, urban organizations and movements linking together since the First World Social Forum (2001) have discussed and assumed the challenge to build a sustainable model of society and urban life, based on the principles of solidarity, freedom, equity, dignity, and social justice, and founded in respect for different urban cultures and balance between the urban and the rural. Since then, an integrated group of popular movements, nongovernmental organizations, professional associations, forums, and national and international civil society networks, committed to the social struggles for just, democratic, humane and sustainable cities, has worked to build a World Charter for the Right to the City. The Charter aims to gather the commitments and measures that must be assumed by civil society, local and national governments, members of parliament, and international organizations, so that all people may live with dignity in our cities.

The Right to the City broadens the traditional focus on improvement of peoples’ quality of life based on housing and the neighborhood, to encompass quality of life at the scale of the city and its rural surroundings, as a mechanism of protection of the population that lives in cities or regions with rapid urbanization processes. This implies initiating a new way of promotion, respect, defense and fulfillment of the civil, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights guaranteed in regional and international human rights instruments.

In the city and its rural surroundings, the correlation between these rights and their necessary counterpart of duties can be demanded in accordance with the different responsibilities and socio-economic conditions of its inhabitants, as a form of promotion of: just distribution of the benefits and responsibilities resulting from the urbanization process; fulfillment of the social functions of the city and of property; distribution of urban income; and democratization of access to land and public services for all citizens, especially those with less economic resources and in situations of vulnerability.

For its origin and social meaning, the World Charter for the Right to the City is, above all, an instrument oriented to strengthen urban processes, vindications, and struggles. We call on the Charter to be constituted as a platform capable of linking the efforts of all those actors – public, social and private – interested in allocating full validity and effectiveness to this new human right through its promotion, legal recognition, implementation, regulation, and placement in practice.
Continue reading World Charter for the Right to the City