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Photo: Wayne Hathaway
The endangered Piping Plover is a species that actually benefited from Hurricane Sandy in 2012 — at least on Fire Island.

It’s a ill wind that blows nobody good, as they say, and the ill wind of Hurricane Sandy seems to be a case in point. As devastating as it was along the East Coast, there are reasons why an endangered shore bird benefited on Fire Island, a place I spent many youthful summers. Annie Roth has the story at the New York Times.

“The wrath of Hurricane Sandy’s powerful winds and violent storm surge left considerable damage across New York and New Jersey in October 2012. But for one tiny bird, the cataclysmic storm has been a big help. …

“The piping plover is a small, migratory shorebird that nests along North America’s Great Lakes and Atlantic Coast. The species, which is listed as endangered in New York State and threatened federally, has been the focus of intensive conservation efforts for decades. But on one island that was heavily damaged by the big storm, the piping plover population has increased by 93 percent, [as Katie Walker, a graduate student in wildlife conservation at Virginia Tech] and colleagues reported in the journal Ecosphere. …

“Fire Island, a 32-mile-long barrier island off the southern coast of Long Island that is popular with vacationers, was hit particularly hard by Hurricane Sandy. The storm washed sand and seawater across the island, flooding homes, flattening dunes and breaching the island in three places.

“Sand deposited from Fire Island’s oceanside onto its bayside created a number of new sand flats. Some areas were also breached by seawater but most were filled by the Army Corps of Engineers shortly after the storm as part of the recovery effort. …

“Piping plovers like to nest on dry, flat sand close to the shoreline, where the insects and crustaceans they feed on are easily accessible. But over the past century, coastal development and recreational use of shorelines have vastly reduced the amount of waterfront property available. …

“For the past three years, the majority of new and returning plovers chose to nest in habitats generated by the storm. And now, for the first time in nearly a decade, Fire Island’s population of piping plovers is growing. …

“Barrier islands like Fire Island are known as early successional habitats, which means they require regular disturbance events to keep their ecosystems in check. Under normal circumstances, Fire Island would experience disturbance events on an annual basis. However, engineers have gone to great lengths to stabilize the island, and now only powerful storms like Sandy are able to have a significant impact on the island’s ecosystem.

“ ‘Barrier islands are very dynamic systems, they don’t stay the same from one year to the next. The species that inhabit them there are adapted to these changes, so if we try to keep these systems static, we are going to lose these species,’ said [Jonathan Cohen, assistant professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, who was not involved with the study].

“Last year, 486 pairs of piping plovers nested along the shores of New York and New Jersey, approximately 10 percent of which did so on Fire Island. If current trends continue, the two states may soon reach their recovery goal of 575 breeding pairs set out by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Ville de Paris/Apur/Céline Orsingher
The trees in this rendering of Paris’s Opera Garnier would take the place of an existing bus-parking area. Big ideas are necessary if the city is to meet its ambitious greening goals, part of the international Paris Agreement to tackle global warming.

A January article by Feargus O’Sullivan at CityLab, showed artist renderings like the one above as part of a plan to bring more trees into Paris. The announcement came before Notre Dame burned, so I hope plans are still going forward. Here is the concept.

“Some of Paris’s most treasured landmarks are set to host the city’s new ‘urban forests,’ ” writes O’Sullivan.

“Thickets of trees will soon appear in what today are pockets of concrete next to landmark locations, including the Hôtel de Ville, Paris’s city hall; the Opera Garnier, Paris’s main opera house; the Gare de Lyon; and along the Seine quayside.

“The new plantings are part of a plan to create ‘islands of freshness’—green spaces that moderate the city’s heat island effect. It also falls into an overall drive to convert Paris’s surface ‘from mineral to vegetal,’ introducing soil into architectural set-piece locations that have been kept bare historically. As a result, the plan will not just increase greenery, but may also provoke some modest rethinking of the way Paris frames its architectural heritage. …

“[Such plans] are necessary if Paris is to meet its ambitious greening goals. By 2030, city hall wants to have 50 percent of the city covered by fully porous, planted areas, a category that can include anything from new parkland to green roofs. ..

“The city imagines turning the square in front of city hall into a pine grove, while future springtimes will see the opera house’s back elevation emerge from a sea of cherry blossom. The paved plaza at the side of the Gare de Lyon will become a woodland garden, while one of the two former car lanes running along the now pedestrianized Seine quays will be taken over by grass and shrubs.

“Such plans will require more than sticking saplings in the ground. Creating the new opera house cherry orchard will mean displacing a current parking lot used by tourist buses, a process that the city plans to repeat elsewhere. …

“Intriguingly, the urban forest plans are a slightly different take on the classic Parisian aesthetic. Sites like the areas around the opera and Hôtel de Ville don’t need beautifying — they are already grand, charismatic showcases for the elaborate, even fanciful historic buildings that they host.

“In the past, however, they have been left bare, or at most … fringed with small lines of trees that have been rigorously pruned and trained until they form a narrow, wall-like rampart. …

“Given how charming the designs appear, this seems unlikely to be controversial, but it does suggest a more rustic, quasi-natural approach to greenery than has previously been the rule in Paris.”

There is more information here. And maybe when blogger A Pierman Sister returns to Paris, we will get an eye-witness account of the city’s progress on its plans.

 

 

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Photo: Thomas Armour Youth Ballet
An unusual ballet company in Miami provides ballet, reading, math and etiquette classes along with access to mental health professionals as needed.

In the fall, my younger granddaughter will start ballet lessons in Rhode Island. “I’m going to be on the stage,” she announced to my neighbor. I’m not sure what, at age 4, ballet classes mean to her, but they have a mighty big aura.

In Miami, an unusual ballet company has been growing an even bigger aura. Thomas Armour Youth Ballet offers dance lessons, yes, but as I learned from this Miami Herald article by Rodolfo Roman, its goals extend well beyond dance.

“When sports journalist Claudia Chang Trejos faced a difficult period in her life, an after-school ballet program helped her overcome obstacles.

“Now, her daughter, Glades Middle School student Sophia Chang Trejos, 14, is following her mother, attending the after-school program at the Thomas Armour Youth Ballet in South Miami.

“The program provides ballet, reading, math and etiquette classes along with access to mental health professionals [and] delivers professionally taught dance classes in multiple genres, at little or no cost to 500 students ages 5-11.

” ‘When she started, I was going through a nasty divorce,’ Claudia said. ‘We were broke. I had no one to help me out with Sophia, so this was a place she could go to, and go with her peers. I went to work and I had a peace of mind.’ …

“ ‘Ballet is not for everybody,’ said Sophia, who credits the program with her getting into the New World School of Arts, the Miami-Dade arts magnet high school, where she will start in the fall.

“ ‘You can start when you are 4 and love it, but when you grow, the technique gets harder and that’s when people quit. What I like about ballet is it’s a different way to train a person. I like the music and the way people are when you are dancing. It is like a movie.’ …

“Director Ruth Wiesen said the program’s goal is to be a vehicle of success.

“ ‘Every now and then, I step back and I am shocked we are able to see these kids succeed and coming back to Miami,’ she said. ‘That is the biggest thrill. They come back, settle down and act like role models.’ …

“No matter what her future holds, Sophia said the program will always have a place in her heart.

“ ‘I plan on coming back when I am older, and teach classes to give back,’ she said.”

More at the Miami Herald, here.

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Photo: Universo Santi
This haute cuisine restaurant in Spain makes a point of hiring workers with disabilities.

I have posted a few stories about successful operations that hire workers with disabilities, but this is the first I remember seeing about a high-class restaurant set up for the purpose of creating jobs that don’t differ from jobs in establishments that don’t use workers with disabilities.

Stephen Burgen writes at the Guardian, “The first thing that strikes you is the calm, the light, the modern art on the walls – and then of course the food. It’s only later that you realise there is something different, and a little special, about Universo Santi, a restaurant in the southern Spanish city of Jerez.

“ ‘People don’t come here because the staff are disabled but because it’s the best restaurant in the area. Whatever reason they came for, the talking is about the food,’ says Antonio Vila.

“Vila is the president of the Fundación Universo Accesible, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to helping people with disabilities join the mainstream workforce. He has also been the driving force behind Universo Santi, the haute cuisine restaurant whose 20 employees all have some form of disability.

“ ‘I always wanted to show what people with disabilities, given the right training, were capable of,’ says Vila, who is a senior manager at DKV insurance. ‘They were not represented in the world of haute cuisine. Universo Santi has broken through that barrier.’

“The 20 staff, whose ages range from 22 to 62, were recruited from an original list of 1,500. To qualify, applicants had to be unemployed and have more than 35% disability.

“ ‘I feel really lucky to be part of this,’ says Gloria Bazán, head of human resources, who has cerebral palsy. ‘It’s difficult to work when society just sees you as someone with a handicap. This has given me the opportunity to be independent and to participate like any other human being.’

“Alejandro Giménez, 23, has Down’s syndrome and is a commis chef. ‘It’s given me the chance to become independent doing something I’ve loved since I was a kid,’ says Giménez, who lived with his mother until he was recruited.

“ ‘Working here has transformed my life. So many things I used to ask my mother to do, I do myself. I didn’t even know how to take a train by myself because I’d just miss my stop.’ …

“Universo Santi may soon have a star in the Michelin firmament as the Michelin Guide people have already sampled the menu which, at €60 (£53), is less than half the price of a typical menú de degustación.

“ ‘Of course they didn’t introduce themselves but we knew who they were,’ says Almudena Merlo, the maître d’. …

“The Jerez restaurant takes its name from Santi Santamaria, chef at the Michelin three-star Can Fabes in Catalonia until his sudden death in 2011. Can Fabes closed shortly afterwards but his family wanted to carry on his name and culinary tradition and were keen to support the Jerez project. …

“The family’s enthusiasm attracted the attention of Spain’s top chefs, among them Martín Berasategui, [Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca, twice voted the best restaurant in the world] and Ángel León, all of whom have contributed recipes and their time as guest chefs at the restaurant.”

More at the Guardian, here. The article also mentions other European enterprises that employ people with disabilities.

Photo: Universo Santi
Says Alejandro Giménez, a junior chef with Down Syndrome who works at Universo Santi in Jerez, “Working here has transformed my life.”

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Photo: Kate Holt/Flickr
The joy on the faces of these performers in Kenya illustrates a universal truth: people love to dance. And it turns out, dancing informs our development in significant ways.

There’s something about being human that inclines one to dancing. Not necessarily ballet or hip hop or ballroom dancing, but dancelike movement that is part of everyday lives. The research on this may surprise you.

Kimerer LaMothe writes at Aeon, “Dancing is a human universal, but why? … What if humans are the primates whose capacity to dance (shared by some birds and mammals) was the signature strategy enabling the evolution of a distinctively large and interconnected brain, empathic heart and ecological adaptability? And what if dancing plays this role for humans not just in prehistoric times, but continuing into the present? …

“Researchers are discovering the vital role played by bodily movement not only in the evolution of the human species, but in the present-day social and psychological development of healthy individuals. Moreover, it is not just bodily movement itself that registers as vital in these cases, but a threefold capacity: to notice and recreate movement patterns; to remember and share movement patterns; and to mobilise these movement patterns as a means for sensing and responding to whatever appears. This threefold capacity is what every dance technique or tradition exercises and educates.

“According to the New York University neuroscientist Rodolfo Llinás, writing in the book I of the Vortex (2001), bodily movement builds brains. A brain takes shape as it records patterns of neuromuscular coordination, and then remembers the outcomes in terms of pain or pleasure, emotional tags that help it assess whether to mobilise that movement again, and if so, how.

“In so far as bodily movements build the brain, every movement a human makes matters. Each repetition of a movement deepens and strengthens the pattern of mind-body coordination that making that movement requires; and the repetition also defines avenues along which future attention and energy flow. Every movement made and remembered shapes how an organism grows – what it senses and how it responds. …

“Humans have a unique capacity to notice, recreate and remember patterns of movement. More abundant in the human brain than any other mammalian brain, mirror neurons fire when a person notices a movement, recreating the pattern of neuromuscular coordination needed to make that movement. In this way, humans can learn to recreate the movement of others – not only other humans, but also trees and giraffes, predators and prey, fire, rivers and the Sun. As the neuroscientist V S Ramachandran writes in his book The Tell-Tale Brain (2011), mirror neurons ‘appear to be the evolutionary key to our attainment of full-fledged culture’ by allowing humans ‘to adopt each other’s point of view and empathise with one another.’

“Nevertheless, the term ‘mirror’ is misleading; it hides the agency of bodily movement. A brain does not provide a passive reflection. As eyes register movement, what a person sees is informed by the sensory awareness that his previous movements have helped him develop. He responds along the trajectories of attention that these previous movements have created. From this perspective, dance is a human capacity, not just one possible activity among others. …

“In this light, every dance technique or tradition appears as a stream of knowledge – an ever-evolving collection of movement patterns discovered and remembered for how well they hone the human capacity for movement-making. Most of all, dancing provides humans with the opportunity to learn how their movements matter. They can become aware of how the movements they make are training them – or not – to cultivate the sensory awareness required to empathise across species and with the Earth itself. In this regard, dance remains a vital art. From the perspective of bodily becoming, humans cannot not dance.”

This Aeon article came from the website Arts Journal, which brings together arts stories from around the world. Read more at Aeon, here.

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Photo: Stitch Buffalo
Stitch Buffalo says it’s “advancing social justice for refugee women in Buffalo, NY, by creating opportunities for cross-cultural exchange and economic empowerment through the textile arts.”

Every individual and every community has its own way of responding to newcomers from other countries.

You would never know it from the headlines, but there are a lot of people who, being curious about foreign cultures or perhaps knowing what it was like for their forebears to be immigrants, feel friendly toward the latest arrivals. Maybe they just smile. Or maybe they work on some integrating initiative, like this charming one in Buffalo, New York.

Maura Christie reports at Spectrum News, “At first glance, it may not seem like much, ‘Embroidery floss, beads, scissors, fabrics, solid colored fabrics,’ said Dawne Hoeg, Stitch Buffalo’s executive director. But these common household items have quite literally bonded refugee women to [the city of Buffalo].

“Stitch Buffalo started as a project back in 2014 as a way to give those women a space of their own to learn and share ideas at different textile workshops.

“Now, five years and a storefront later, workshops are open to anyone in the community and many of the refugees have gone from being students to standing in front of workshops as teachers.

” ‘It’s an exciting opportunity for Buffalo people to come and have an authentic experience learning from a woman from Thailand or a woman from Burma, where she has learned this skill and is willing to share it with us,’ Hoeg said.

‘Some of their stitches are very different from the ones we do and it’s just a beautiful opportunity for a cross-cultural exchange.’

“Women also sell their one-of-a-kind, handmade items in the retail space, anything from pins to bracelets and ornaments. But every two months, that space gets transformed for Second Stitch. The nonprofit uses mainly donated materials, and anything they’re not able to use is sold to the community.

” ‘What we decided to do is to take those materials, sort them, measure them, organize them and turn them back over to the community at a reduced rate,’ Hoeg said. …

“No matter what project the women make next, or how much they sell it for, the love and support they receive from their adopted hometown is priceless.

” ‘It’s the making, but it’s also the selling,’ Hoeg said. ‘When you create something and you see that somebody else finds value in it enough to purchase it, that empowers you, that builds a confidence. That’s what I see happening with the women here is that they are empowered through the skill and the support they receive from the community.’ ”

Find some wonderful pictures at the Stitch Buffalo website, here, and at Spectrum, here.

Hat tip: Beautiful Day. Beautiful Day is a Providence-based welcoming initiative that teaches refugees and other immigrants basic job skills in the process of making a range of fantastic granola products. If you follow them, you will be alerted to new varieties you can buy, and you can read stories from around the country like the Stitch Buffalo story. I like to send their beautiful gift baskets to family members at holidays.

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Art: Finneas Avery Roels, high school student
The theme for the Arlington, Mass., banner competition this spring was Trees.

One day back in June, when I happened to be in Arlington, Mass., I was struck by some delightful banners hanging from lamp posts. I decided to see what I could discover about them. Turns out, the designs were created by kids.

From the website Your Arlington, I learned that the “youth banner initiative aims to promote and encourage development in the visual arts and to provide an opportunity for youth to participate in temporary public art projects in Arlington. The effort is geared to young people in grades 6 through 12 (and the equivalent home-school level).

“Funding is provided by the Gracie James Foundation in memory of James, who was a beloved, artistically talented Arlington High School student. The program invites teens to submit designs relating to a specific theme to be digitally reproduced on vinyl banners which are then hung on light poles along Mass. Ave. in Arlington Center.”

This year’s theme was Trees, and three designs were chosen to hang in town. The one above is by Finneas Avery Roels of Arlington High School.

But, oh, dear, I thought. What happened to Gracie, whose foundation provided the support? Alas, those answers were in an obit.

“Gracie Christine James, beloved daughter of Chris Bobel, James Lundy and Thomas Hartl, all of Arlington, Massachusetts, died on October 20, 2010, of injuries sustained in a car accident in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah three days earlier. She had just turned 17 years old.

“Gracie Christine James was born on September 29, 1993, in Whitewater, Wisconsin where she lived until moving to New Orleans just before her fourth birthday. After her father and mother separated in 1998, Chris and Gracie moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where they lived until relocating to Arlington, Massachusetts, with Thomas in 2001.

“Gracie’s father, James, moved to Arlington in 2006. Until this fall, Gracie had been a student at Arlington High School. In mid-August, Gracie began attending a boarding school in Hurricane, Utah. On the morning of Sunday, October 20th, Gracie and fifteen other girls and school staff were enroute to a full day excursion in Arches Natural Park when the staff driver of their SUV lost control and the vehicle rolled over outside of Sevier, Utah. …

“Gracie was an unusually creative, intuitive, affectionate and sensitive young woman with a shy smile, beautiful eyes and a deep, feeling soul. She was an accomplished figure skater, an avid reader and a budding artist who created evocative and vibrant abstract works in soft pastels. But her main passion was writing. A brilliant and imaginative writer of both short and longer fiction and poetry, she aspired to a career in professional writing.

“Gracie’s gifts for caring, compassion and emotional connection touched everyone she met as shown by the outpouring of grief and support expressed by her peers at both her current and former schools. The day after her death, grieving students at Arlington High School wore green, symbolizing peace and honoring her memory. …

“The family invites donations in lieu of flowers to the newly established ‘Gracie James Foundation,’ which will focus on closing the gaps in systems of support for local teens. Donations can be sent to 76 Paul Revere Road, Arlington, MA 02476.”

Life is precious, Guys. I do like to think that at least people are reminded of the life of this young girl as they make art for the competition or, like me, drive by during the months that the banners are displayed.

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