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Photo: SZ Photo/Bridgeman Images
A scene from the animated film “The Adventures of Prince Achmed,” by the late Lotte Reiniger. Before there was such a thing as Disney Studios, she was using intricate hand-cut silhouettes to make movies.

Society has become so accustomed to Disney and Pixar types of animations that it has lost sight of predecessors in the field.

In a step toward restitution, Devi Lockwood wrote for the New York Times series Overlooked (“obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, went unreported in the Times“) about an early animation artist we all should know.

“A decade before Walt Disney Productions came into existence, making its name synonymous with animated films, there was another pioneer of the art form — Lotte Reiniger.

“Reiniger’s filmmaking career spanned 60 years, during which she created more than 70 silhouette animation films. … She’s perhaps best known for her 1926 silent film ‘The Adventures of Prince Achmed,’ a fantastical adaptation of ‘The Arabian Nights’ that was among the first full-length animated features ever made.

“Charlotte Reiniger was born on June 2, 1899, in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin to Karl and Eleanor (Raquette) Reiniger. She studied at the Charlottenburger Waldschule, where she learned about scherenschnitte, the art of cutting shapes and designs in paper with scissors. The art form originated in China and later became popular in Germany. …

” ‘I began to use my silhouettes for my playacting, constructing a little shadow theater in which to stage Shakespeare,’ she wrote in 1936 in Sight and Sound magazine.

“At first she wanted to be an actress, but that ambition changed when, as a teenager, she encountered the film director and actor Paul Wegener after a lecture he had delivered in Berlin on the possibilities of animation in cinema. Fascinated by his films, like ‘The Student of Prague’ (1913) and ‘The Golem’ (1915), she persuaded her parents to enroll her in a theater group at the Max Reinhardt School of Acting, where Wegener taught.

“For fun she cut silhouettes of the actors in the group. Wegener was impressed [and] enlisted her to help with his 1918 film, ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin.’ …

“Her work with Wegener led to her admission to the Institute of Cultural Research in Berlin, where she met the art historian Carl Koch. He would become her husband and a collaborator on her films. …

“Reiniger’s editing was meticulous. Starting with more than 250,000 frames [for ‘Prince Achmed’], she and her crew used just over 100,000 in the film, which ran for an hour and 21 minutes, each second requiring 24 frames. It took three years to complete, and premiered in the Volksbühne, or People’s Theater, in Berlin, when Reiniger was 27. …

“Reiniger designed a complex process to make her films. She cut each limb of each figure out of black cardboard and thin lead, then joined them together with wire hinges. For research, she spent hours at the Zoo Berlin, watching how the animals moved. …

“When Hitler was in power, Reiniger and her husband left Germany for France, Italy and England, where they collaborated with other puppeteers, funders and artists before returning to Berlin in 1944 to look after Reiniger’s mother. In 1948 they moved to London, where they joined a nearby artists’ colony. Reiniger then directed a series of short children’s films for the BBC.

“Her husband died in 1963, and she stopped making films. But in 1972 she was recognized with the Golden Reel Award at the Berlin Film Festival for her contributions to German cinema. Two years later, the Goethe Institute sponsored her on a lecture tour of Canada and the United States.

“ ‘A Reiniger revival swept North America,’ the Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail wrote.

“The tour inspired her to make a few final short films, including ‘The Rose and the Ring’ (1979), a 24-minute adaptation of the 1854 satirical work of fiction by William Makepeace Thackeray, and ‘Düsselchen and the Four Seasons,’ a two-minute film completed in 1980. She died on June 19, 1981, in Dettenhausen, Germany. She was 82.

“[The] Times film critic A.O. Scott recalled her in a 2018 article about the unsung women who had advanced the art of filmmaking. Praising Reiniger’s ‘blend of whimsy and spookiness,’ Mr. Scott wrote that her ‘dreamy images that seem to tap right into the collective unconscious suggest both an antidote to Disney and a precursor to Tim Burton.’ ”

More at the New York Times, here.

You might also be interested in the Armenian shadow puppets I wrote about in 2018, here.

Lotte Renniger’s film about Jack and the Beanstalk.

 

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Photos: clockwise from top left, Emma Smales/View; Afyen Hsin-Chu; Takanobu Sakuma; Hufton+Crow/View
The bottom right photo shows Shigeru Ban’s Paper Log Houses, temporary housing in Kobe, Japan, created after a 1995 earthquake left many residents homeless. The
New York Times took an in-depth look at Ban’s body of work here.

It’s inspiring to see a successful person in any field turn her or his talents to a humanitarian cause. That is what innovative Japanese architect Shigeru Ban did after seeing problems with post-disaster housing in Africa. He knew he could do better.

Nikil Saval at the New York Times wrote an in-depth feature on Ban’s larger body of work and explained how he got into building temporary paper-tube shelters.

“His move to create shelter architecture came out of seeing the temporary structures offered to Rwandan refugees in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) in 1994. At the time, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was handing out plastic tarps and aluminum poles to hold them up, but many people were instead selling the aluminum and harvesting nearby wood to frame their tents, contributing to massive deforestation.

“Ban wrote to the U.N.H.C.R. several times before flying to Geneva. There, he encountered the organization’s senior physical planner, Wolfgang Neumann, who became interested in Ban’s idea of using recycled paper tubes to build shelters. Ban was hired as a consultant and the concept was later implemented at a camp in northern Rwanda.

“The first time Ban used paper tubes for a disaster relief project was in Kobe, Japan, in 1995, where a series of small houses — about 170 square feet each — were constructed for victims of an earthquake that killed more than 6,000 people.

As is typical for Ban’s humanitarian projects, each shelter cost less than $2,000 and took a single day to construct; according to Ban, about 30 were built over the span of a few weeks, mostly by volunteers.

“These shelters remained in Kobe for about a year, after which they were dismantled and recycled. But a church and community center in the city, also designed by Ban and built out of recycled paper, stood for 10 years, a testament to the durability of his work.

“He has also used shipping containers to build thousands of small housing units in Onagawa, on Japan’s northeast coast, following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami there, and beer crates weighted with sandbags have occasionally served as the foundation for his Paper Log Houses (including in Kobe), illustrating Ban’s commitment to relying on ‘local materials’ in the most expansive sense: whatever is cheap and locally available that won’t result in waste.

“These structures are off-the-cuff, constructed quickly by staff members of the Voluntary Architects Network, a nongovernmental organization founded by Ban in 1995, along with the help of local students and volunteers. Initially, he was able to pay for them through donations and his own earnings; some of his relief projects now receive public funding. But he often uses his expensive commissions to test out ideas for his aid work, toying with cheap materials in structures for the rich so he can use them later to help those who have lost everything. …

“Ban is not given to displays of pity or indignation; he usually explains his humanitarian efforts by citing his horror at waste rather than some charitable impulse. It is an austere, utilitarian front for the architect to present, considering that, at the moment, he is trying to expand his humanitarian efforts beyond temporary structures and has just begun working with the southeast Indian state of Andhra Pradesh to develop housing for its new capital, Amaravati — multistory units for which paper tubes would not likely be appropriate (he has instead been considering fiberglass foam-core panels). But disasters will continue to preoccupy him.

“He spoke of doing larger urban-scale planning, preparing cities for disaster relief. More earthquakes, certainly in Japan, are likely, to say nothing of climate-change induced nightmares. ‘This moment, the beginning of the 21st century, is a big moment to change the direction — toward sustainability and disaster relief,’ he said. ‘This will continue as the main theme of this century.’ Times had changed since the Modernist era: ‘Those times, people believed that they would have utopia some day. But we know that it’s not true. There’s no utopia.’ ”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Near the southern Sumatran village of Krui, 48-year-old Marhana climbs up the trees to harvest damar, a resin used in paints and varnishes. The trees are part of an “agroforest” that experts believe will help prevent deforestation in Indonesia.

Recent floods in Indonesia have been overshadowed by infernos in Australia, but both disasters are part of the same issue: what careless human stewardship of nature has wrought. The following article from National Public Radio (NPR) talks about an effort to help Indonesian farmers produce something more sustainable than the palm oil that causes flood-increasing deforestation and even threatens orangutan survival.

Julia Simon writes at NPR, “A few times a month, Marhana leaves the village of Krui in southern Sumatra and journeys deep into the woods. Then she finds a tree, lined with triangular holes, each hole dripping with crystalized sap. …

” ‘This is the damar,’ she says in Indonesian, as she looks at the golden droppings.

“Marhana may see damar as her way to make a living, but agriculture experts see this rare commodity as something bigger. They see damar as a sort of anti-palm oil — a model to combat deforestation and climate change. …

“In the 1800s, Dutch colonists used the sap to bind their wood boats for sea journeys. Today damar is used in varnishes, paints, and cosmetics. According to the UN, Indonesia exports tens of thousands of tons of damar and other resins each year.

“But … according to the Indonesian Palm Oil Organization, or GAPKI, Indonesia exports about 2 to 3 million tons of palm oil per month. And those palm oil exports come at a cost: large-scale deforestation of Indonesian forest, which in turn releases large amounts of climate change gases and destroys habitats for animals like endangered rhinos and orangutans. Last year, the Indonesian government stopped issuing licenses for new palm oil plantations and the European Union is now considering an import ban.

“But there’s an issue. [In September] Thomas Hertel, a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University, co-authored a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He argued that even if the EU ban comes to pass, and even if it successfully reduces the trade of palm oil, local farmers aren’t just going to automatically keep the forests in place. …

“Hertel says that farmers might stop planting palm oil, but they might keep cutting down forests to plant other commodities, like soy or rice. ..

“That’s where damar comes in. Back in Krui, farmer Kamas Usman says he grows damar in something called an agroforest. It may look like a regular forest, but it’s actually an intricately planned farm.

” ‘In this agroforest there are lots of varieties of trees. Durian, jengkol, lots of them,’ Usman says. The farmers plant food crops below — Southeast Asian fruits like durian and jengkol, as well as avocados or coffee. Above in the canopy are the damar trees — also called Shorea javanica — which produce the golden sap. …

“David Gilbert, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, says the agroforestry model adds value that’s key to the forest’s survival. First there’s the water benefits: Having your farm in the middle of a forest with natural watersheds and rain cycles is a win for crops’ health.

“And then there’s the business side — all these crops growing together means forest farmers like Usman and harvesters like Marhana have lots of economic incentives not to cut down their trees. …

“With damar agroforests, farmers aren’t reliant on a single product. ‘If the damar price is too low, they can concentrate on selling their coffee or their avocados, for example,’ Gilbert says, ‘So it insulates them from the shocks of these global commodity markets in a way that producing just one crop can’t provide.’ …

In the 1990s, when the palm oil industry came in and tried to persuade locals to cut down their damar trees, it didn’t work. The majority of farmers stuck with damar. Around this time, Indonesia’s forestry minister decided to formally grant the community ownership of several thousand hectares of woods.

“Now the Indonesian government is in the middle of a plan to increase Indonesia’s community-owned forest lands to 12.7 million hectares. And the Indonesian Ministry of Social Forestry is also working on community agroforestry projects on other islands besides Sumatra, including Java, Kalimantan and Sulawesi.”

You may read the full article or listen to the radio story at NPR, here.

merlin_162547917_954e6b18-5736-43ae-9543-23e4a4360113-jumboPhoto: Chloe Aftel for the New York Times
“If we weren’t covering it, no one would know what’s going on,” said Katherina Sourine, one of
four city and government reporters at the college newspaper, the Michigan Daily.

Local papers are vital to democracy not only for the local people to manage their lives well but because big stories start locally. Moreover, if Twitter gets the news first, misinformation or incomplete information may get a firm grip on the collective consciousness.

In Ann Arbor, Michigan, where local papers have followed the national trend of going out of business, the college newspaper is having to pick up the slack. And it is not the only student newspaper to do so nationwide.

Dan Levin reports at the New York Times, “Municipal committee meetings — the tedious minutiae of Ann Arbor’s local governance — do not tend to draw a crowd. On a recent afternoon, Katherina Sourine was among only a few in attendance.

“But Ms. Sourine, a University of Michigan senior, was there because she had to be. As one of four city and government reporters for Ann Arbor’s sole daily newspaper, she had biked through a steady rain between classes to take notes on the city’s plans for developing a new park. …

“Said Ms. Sourine, 21, who also plays rugby and is taking a full schedule of classes this semester, ‘It’s really hard to take time out of my day, especially when breaking news hits. But a lot of people rely on us to stay informed, not only students, but the people of Ann Arbor.’

“For more than a decade, the Michigan Daily, the university’s student newspaper, has been the only daily paper in town. After the Ann Arbor News shuttered its daily print edition in 2009 — and eventually its website, too — a staff of about 300 student journalists has worked hard to provide incisive coverage about the city’s police, power brokers and policymakers, all while keeping up with school.

“Student journalists across the country have stepped in to help fill a void after more than 2,000 newspapers have closed or merged, leaving more than 1,300 communities without any local news coverage. And several young reporters have broken consequential stories that have prodded powerful institutions into changing policies.

“A high school newspaper in Pittsburg, Kan., forced the resignation of the principal after discovering discrepancies in her résumé. After writing an article about a school employee’s unprofessional conduct charges, high school editors in Burlington, Vt., won a censorship battle against their principal.

“And when the State Department’s special envoy for Ukraine resigned abruptly last month, a 20-year-old junior at Arizona State University broke the news in the school’s student newspaper, a scoop that gained international attention. …

“ ‘We’re the largest Arizona-based news-gathering operation in Washington because we’re the only Arizona-based news-gathering operation in Washington,’ said Steve Crane, director of Washington operations at Arizona State’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

“Despite little training and no university journalism program, the staff of the Michigan Daily has embraced its vital role. Last year, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, it published a lengthy investigation that detailed sexual misconduct allegations against a professor, leading to his early retirement. In 2014, the paper published a major scoop about a sexual assault that the university concealed to protect a football player. …

“The Daily also covers issues that matter to Ann Arbor’s 121,000 residents, such as the inner workings of the municipal government, cuts to the county’s mental health budget, and a police oversight commission that was created last year in response to the shooting death of a black woman and the violent arrest of a black teenager.

‘We’ve been given this mantle of holding the powerful accountable, five nights a week, with no department backing us up,’ said Finntan Storer, 21, the managing editor of the Daily. ‘It’s a huge responsibility.’ …

“Today, the Daily’s closest competitor is MLive.com, a news website owned by Advance Publications that covers the state of Michigan. The company regularly publishes articles about Ann Arbor, including in a twice-weekly print digest branded as the Ann Arbor News, and it employs a staff of local journalists who cover the city’s government, real estate, police and other beats. But some residents said the student paper has often more effectively covered the community.

“Unlike many college newspapers, the Daily has the financial support — in the form of a $4.5 million endowment — to sustain its breadth of reporting, said Neil Chase, the chairman of the university’s student publications board. …

” ‘In a city of 100,000 people, you have to decide if you’re going to cover a City Council meeting, a car crash, or some other local news because you only have a few people to go around,’ he said. But the Daily ‘has so many people, they don’t have to make those tough decisions.’ ” More here.

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Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/ Christian Science Monitor
Pruning trees in Baltimore helps to keep them healthy. “We are making a difference,” says Erik Dihle, arborist for the city of Baltimore. … “It ties into social equity, into climate adaption, everything.”

The value of tree canopies in cities is not a new topic at this blog. I’ve written often about efforts around the world to capture the physical- and mental-health benefits of urban forests (for example, in 2014, 2017, and last summer).

I’m not sure, though, that I ever knew how forward-thinking Baltimore has been, a city that was recently disparaged by a kind of leader unfamiliar with actual leadership.

Stephanie Hanes writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “From his headquarters office, Erik Dihle drives into what has become one of the most monitored forests in the United States.

“He begins to point out the trees: There is a tulip poplar, as big as the ones George Washington planted at Mount Vernon. There are the blossoming cherries, with a cotton-candy display that rivals their famous compatriots down the road at the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. And there is a white oak, Maryland’s state tree, with its branches gnarling horizontally for yards.

“ ‘This is a good-size one,’ he says, getting out of his truck to pace the area of shade created by the tree’s canopy. ‘I’d be surprised if it was less than 150 years old.’ …

“Mr. Dihle’s forest is in the city. He is the arborist and the head of forestry for the city of Baltimore, which means he monitors all the trees here – those growing in shady parks, in metal grates along busy streets, in backyards, and in relatively untouched forest patches dotting the municipality. Together, these trees make up what is called the city’s ‘urban forest.’ …

“With concern growing about climate change and rapid worldwide urbanization, city forests have emerged as one widely touted solution to a host of social and environmental challenges. Municipalities from Barcelona, Spain; to Melbourne, Australia; to Chicago have put urban canopy coverage at the center of their long-term strategic plans. Community groups focusing on planting, maintaining, and saving trees have blossomed across the U.S. In 2015, the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Cities named increasing green canopy coverage as one of its top 10 urban initiatives.

“Yet at the same time, the U.S. Forest Service, which in the past decade has also upped its focus on urban forests, has found that American cities are losing trees – and quickly. … Urban regions showed a particular decline, along with an increase in what the researchers call ‘impervious surfaces’ – in other words, concrete.

“But not, it turns out, in Baltimore.

“Here, the net tree canopy coverage has increased. Not by a lot, Mr. Dihle is quick to point out – only from 27% of the city’s land coverage to 28% – and not because Baltimore hasn’t lost trees. It has. But overall the tree canopy here has grown, which means that Mr. Dihle has found himself presiding over one of the more successful efforts in the U.S. to preserve and improve the urban forest. …

“New technology has let researchers better understand the urban ecosystem – not just how trees thrive or fail in a city, but how they intersect with humans.

‘[Trees] impact work productivity, wildlife habitats, air pollution removal, carbon sequestration, energy use,’ says David Nowak, senior scientist with the U.S. Forest Service who authored the recent national report on tree canopy loss. … ‘We should be smart about this whole process and use nature to make our lives better.’

Much of the understanding of how, exactly, trees affect everything from climate to criminal justice stems from a technological breakthrough pioneered in Baltimore. …

“By the 1990s, satellite imagery allowed governmental agencies such as NASA to produce visible images of Earth and to show on various scales where trees existed. But there was a limit to those pictures, explains Morgan Grove, a scientist with the U.S. Forest Service who has worked in Baltimore since 1999. Because the data were recorded in pixels, not physical parcels, it was difficult to identify, say, the owner of a particular tree, or to compare what was happening from one city block to another.

“In 2006, though, the Forest Service, working with researchers from the University of Vermont’s spatial analysis lab, put together a new type of land cover map in Baltimore using a combination of aerial imagery, light-reflecting technology, and high-resolution landowner data. This novel approach not only allowed a closer look at trees, it also let scientists synchronize forest maps with other information that was also newly computerized and manipulable – everything from health records to census figures, crime statistics to property values.”

Learn about the amazing array of data they were able to collect, how data helped the city prevent nascent problems like storm sewer overflow, and how the community has organized to protect and expand urban forest benefits, here.

By the way, I thought the photographer on this story, Melanie Stetson Freeman, did an especially good job capturing the faces of these tree huggers. It helps one understand that the individual and the things an individual cares about are what improve the world.

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Photo: Erin Clark/Boston Globe
Hazletonians reacted to a hula hoop competition during Fun Fest in downtown Hazleton, Pa., a city that has benefited from the influx of immigrants.

In 2019, the Boston Globe did an interesting series on battleground states, going into communities to listen to a range of voices in hopes of understanding what people are really thinking. Laura Krantz covered Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where residents have mostly embraced a change of industry — and of population.

She reports, “Bob Curry is a man in constant motion, not unlike this fast-changing community he’s always championing. Passing a colorful mural in the community center he runs, its rainbow letters spelling out a Maya Angelou quote about the strength and beauty of diversity, he paused for effect.

“ ‘You see our mural, if you don’t like it, get back on the elevator, you’re free to leave,’ Curry proclaimed.

“He’s kidding — sort of. The Hazleton One Community Center is in a small city all too familiar [with] incendiary anti-immigrant proposals and political dog whistles. … Back in 2006, the City Council voted to make English the official language and proposed fines for landlords and employers who rented to or hired undocumented immigrants, all in an attempt to preserve, as one official said back then, ‘Small Town USA.’ …

“Curry and most others don’t feel a need to talk about that anymore. Time has marched on, and Hazleton has changed with it. …

“Like the rest of this swath of northeast Pennsylvania, Hazleton flourished more than three-quarters of a century ago during the mining of the anthracite coal buried deep below the region’s green hills. But that industry, and that generation, began to fade in the 1950s.

For a while Hazleton was practically a ghost town. Then starting in the early 2000s, something strange happened. A new industry took root, and with it, a new population of mostly Latino families arrived from New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia.

“Hazleton is located near a confluence of major highways that connect it to much of the Eastern Seaboard. The proliferation of online shopping gave birth to a booming sector of distribution warehouses, long low-slung buildings tucked into the rolling hills that surround the city. And with those warehouses came salaries that would cover the cost of a perfectly nice home. Families arrived in pursuit of a middle-class life. …

” ‘Everything has changed here,’ Curry said. …

“Amilcar Arroyo is in many ways the personification of this change, as well as the chronicler of it. He is the publisher of El Mensajero, and from his first-floor office, he has seen the sleepy downtown street revived by Latino families who have flowed into town over the past two decades. There were few children when Arroyo arrived some 30 years ago from Peru; now they are everywhere.

“Amid the surge in Latino residents, Arroyo has taken it upon himself to show the town the many contributions of the Latino community. There always seems to be a need for more justification.

“So he keeps a tall whiteboard in his office where he has scribbled a long list: barbers, beauty shops, car garages, grocery stores, restaurants, bars, discotheques, furniture stores, pawn shops, transportation companies, media companies, cleaning businesses, photographers, DJs, nail artists. One afternoon, he remembered he needed to add something else — food trucks.

“ ‘I want to present how many businesses we have in Hazleton,’ he said. …

“Up the hill from Broad Street, the gridded neighborhoods are filling up again with young families. Flowers sprout through cracks in the sidewalks. Sloping awnings cool front porches. Tucked between the modest homes is the community center that Curry runs with his wife, Elaine. …

“Curry left a corporate job to run the center full time when it opened six years ago. He and Elaine don’t take salaries so this is not a luxurious retirement, but their house is paid for and their daughters graduated from college. …

” ‘We always talk about how one candle lights another. This ain’t one candle lighting another, this is lots of candles and really helping to try to illuminate the city.’

“When they opened the center, the Currys hoped they might see 300 children in the first month of their after-school program. Instead, families flooded through their doors, and they’ve never served fewer than 1,000 people — children and adults — each week. …

“After the center opened, the Currys quickly added English language courses for adults, citizenship classes, bilingual pre-kindergarten, and summer camps that cost $25 per week.

“This summer, the project was murals. The basement walls are now splashed with color. The hallway smells of paint. The children started the summer painting a daytime mural, but soon added a nighttime scene because someone drew fireflies and they needed the dark. …

“Earlier in the summer, [after news] that there would be massive immigration raids across the country, … someone drew an alien spacecraft that captured the fireflies, and many of the children painted rocket ships hurtling away through the darkness.

“ ‘There is an undercurrent of nervousness and trepidation that flows through the city,’ Curry said. …

“Mariluz Rodriguez represents the new Hazleton. Her family moved here from Queens, N.Y., when she was 8. Now she is a mentor at the center and preparing to leave for college on a full scholarship.

“ ‘It was just weird being different at first, but after a while it didn’t matter, you’re just part of the community,’ she said as she paused to have a snack. …

“This year, Elaine Curry gave her a wall to paint her own mural. She designed a glowing bouquet of flowers that surrounds the doors to the elevator.

“These are the things Rodriguez thinks about, not demographic shifts, presidential politics, or a sense of belonging. She’s gotten a few looks over the years, but she said she has never felt like a target of racism.

“Here, even though there are always the little things that you get from people, we still have it off really well, and we make it work.’ …

“Penelope Rodriguez [her mother] said she has never felt the kind of racism you hear about on television in Hazleton. Her co-workers and parents in the PTA have been kind and welcoming. The neighbors on their street know each other. …

“ ‘The unknown, which is the great fear, becomes the familiar. And when it’s the familiar, your biases start to dissipate,’ Curry said.”

More here.

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Photo: 525 West 52nd Street
The space on top of the 525W52 building in New York features plants, lounge chairs and a view of the Hudson. Nice place to live.

Practically paralyzed by the headlines today, I think I will write about green rooftops.

That’s while I try to absorb the “news of fresh disasters” (to quote Beyond the Fringe) and figure out what one person can do. Got to remind myself that the majority of human beings are just living day to day, taking care of their families and their communities, and trying to make the world a little better instead of a lot worse.

So, green rooftops.

Kelly DiNardo writes at the New York Times, “When David Michaels moved to Chicago this year, he chose the Emme apartment building in part because of the third-floor green roof, which has a lawn, an area for grilling, fire pits and a 3,000-square-foot vegetable garden.

“ ‘The green space was a huge factor in choosing this apartment,’ Mr. Michaels said. ‘My wife and I are out there every other night, grilling or relaxing. And we like that they host classes out there.’

“The Emme actually has two rooftop gardens — the one visible to residents on a deck on the third floor and a 5,000-square-foot garden on the roof of the 14-story building. Both are run by the Roof Crop, an urban farm that grows food for restaurants on a handful of roofs in Chicago. Residents at the Emme can also subscribe to regular bundles of rooftop-grown fruits and vegetables.

“As concerns about climate change and dwindling natural resources grow, green roofs have become increasingly popular. The Toronto-based organization Green Roofs for Healthy Cities estimates an increase of about 15 percent in the number of green roofs in North America since 2013.

“Replacing black asphalt and shingles with plants can lower the surrounding air temperature, filter dirty storm water and reduce a building’s energy use.

While it is difficult to calculate the savings, as utility costs vary from city to city, the National Research Council of Canada estimates a green roof can reduce air-conditioning use in a building by as much as 75 percent. …

“As understanding of the benefits grows, more cities around the world are passing green roof legislation. In 2010 Copenhagen began requiring green roofs on all new commercial buildings with a roof slope of less than 30 degrees. In 2016, the city of Córdoba in Argentina issued a bylaw that directed all rooftops — new or existing — of more than 1,300 square feet to be turned into green roofs. The same year, San Francisco began requiring that 15 to 30 percent of roof space on new buildings incorporate solar panels, green roofs or both. More recently, the New York City Council passed a suite of measures to reduce greenhouse gases, including a requirement for green roofs, solar panels or a combination of both on newly constructed buildings. …

“Toronto was the first city in North America to pass a green roof law, in 2009, requiring new buildings or additions that are greater than 21,000 square feet to cover between 20 and 60 percent of their buildings with vegetation. … Since the law was enacted, roughly 640 green roofs, covering more than five million square feet collectively, have been constructed, effectively changing Toronto’s architectural DNA and making the city a leader in the green roof movement.

“Simply put, a green roof is one that allows for the growth of vegetation, but the process is more involved than plopping down a few potted plants. Typically, a green or living roof is constructed of several layers including a waterproof membrane, a root barrier, a drainage layer, a growing medium — soil is too heavy — and plants. …

“Of course, green roofs are not entirely new.

“ ‘We’ve been using soil and plants as a roofing material for thousands of years,’ said Steven Peck, the founder and president of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities. ‘The Vikings would flip their boats over and cover them in sod because it’s a great insulator. What’s new is the research the Germans have done.’ …

“In the 1970s, German horticulturists, construction companies and others began developing waterproofing technologies and researching blends of growing mediums that would be lighter than soil. In the 1980s, Germany passed a mix of local and federal laws encouraging green roof development and today the country features approximately 925,000,000 square feet of living roof.”

More at the New York Times, here.

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