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Posts Tagged ‘communities’

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Photo: Greg Allen/NPR
Francisco Valentin, a store owner in Mameyes, Puero Rico, helped parts of his town convert to solar energy after Hurricane Maria.

As Puerto Rico deals with another hurricane, Dorian, it’s worth remembering that even the extreme devastation of Hurricane Maria two years ago could not dampen the ability of a resourceful people to rebound.

In this story, we see how the months without electricity in 2017 led to innovations in renewable power.

Marisa Peñaloza and Greg Allen at National Public Radio’s All Things Considered report, “Mameyes is a small community of about 1,000 people high in Puerto Rico’s central mountains. But in its own way, it is one of the leaders of Puerto Rico’s energy future.

“Francisco Valentin grew up in Mameyes, where he runs a small store. Even before Maria he had big ambitions for his town. After Maria, he knew he wanted his community to run on solar power. And with the help of foundations, charities and the University of Puerto Rico — not the government — he has done that, converting the town’s school, health clinic and several other buildings.

“The move to solar was important, Valentine says, because after Maria it took months before power was restored to the area. This makes Mameyes self-sufficient and able to respond to residents’ needs in future disasters. …

“Across the island, individuals, communities and businesses are installing solar panels and battery systems. At the Community Foundation of Puerto Rico, Javier Rivera is working on solar systems with 50 mostly rural, underserved communities. His goal is to wire 250 communities for solar over the next few years.

“Rivera says that especially after the hurricane, people realized they couldn’t depend on Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority. … [PREPA] had severe problems long before Hurricane Maria. After decades of mismanagement, a several-billion-dollar debt drove the authority into bankruptcy. …

“PREPA officials say they are ready to make big changes. The authority has prepared a detailed plan to rebuild its power grid into a more resilient system. It includes hardening transmission towers and lines, burying some underground. It also envisions splitting the system into eight minigrids, each with its own power generation. That is intended to prevent another extended islandwide power failure.

“The first phase will cost $1.4 billion. … ‘This is a key part of what an energy sector should look like,’ [Fernando Padilla, one of PREPA’s top executives] says.

“Just a small portion of the utility’s energy currently comes from renewable energy sources. Some of that renewable energy will come from communities and business with solar panels. PREPA also envisions building large solar farms.

“And that’s in line with a new law in Puerto Rico that sets an ambitious timetable for the shift to renewables, including solar. It calls for the island to receive half of its power from renewable sources by 2035. …

” ‘There’s a gap there between what the government is saying it wants to do and what it’s actually presenting to the regulators,’ says Sergio Marxuach, with the Center for the New Economy, a research group in San Juan.

“While PREPA talks about building solar farms and other renewable sources eventually, in the short term it is investing heavily in natural gas. … Marxuach says PREPA is doing it backward and that the company should ‘do as much in renewables as you can right now. Have batteries for backup. And then have as a third line of defense, if you will, the new natural gas.’ …

“Others in Puerto Rico aren’t waiting. A new study estimates that over the next five years, businesses, individuals and communities in Puerto Rico will spend more than $400 million to convert to solar energy.” More here.

 

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Mural in Little Village, a Chicago neighborhood with a strong Latino presence. Most research shows a correlation between immigrants moving into communities and an improvement in safety for all residents.

Despite lots of reliable data that immigrants tend to improve the safety of communities where they live, misperceptions persist. Naturally, anyone who is a dangerous criminal, whether a US citizen or immigrant, must always be dealt with, but people who come here just for a decent life are as likely as anyone else — maybe more likely — to try to make communities better.

Chiraag Bains, a senior fellow at Harvard Law School’s Criminal Justice Policy Program, talks about the issue at the Marshall Project.

“A trove of empirical research contradicts the notion that immigrants are [a] violent criminal horde. … In fact, studies consistently show that they commit significantly less crime than native-born Americans, and although the data are difficult to untangle, this appears to be true of both authorized and unauthorized immigrants. Even more, new findings suggest that immigrants may actually cause crime to decline in the areas where they live.

“In a study published recently in the Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice, researchers analyzed Census Bureau and Federal Bureau of Investigation crime data across 200 metropolitan areas in every census year from 1970 to 2010….

“The researchers found a reduction of almost five violent crimes per 100,000 residents for every 1 percent increase in the foreign-born population. Analyses of city- and neighborhood-level data in ‘gateway’ cities such as New York, Chicago, Miami and El Paso have similarly found that violent crime rates — homicide rates in particular — are not higher, but actually lower in areas with more immigrants. This might help explain how violent crime dropped 48 percent over the same period that our undocumented population grew from 3.5 million to 11.2 million.

“One example of this effect in action is the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. Researchers with the Americas Society and Council of the Americas found that as white residents fled the neighborhood during the 1990s, the threat of depopulation and disinvestment was countered by an influx of immigrants, mostly from the Caribbean. Today, Canarsie has below-city average rates of poverty and housing vacancy, and its crime rate dropped from just above the city average in 1990 to 44 percent below the city average in 2010.

“There are logical reasons immigrants would be less likely to commit crimes. They may represent those among their countrymen with the most motivation and the greatest ability to seek a better life abroad. They may also have the most to lose, especially if they entered illegally or have family back home counting on their income.

“There are also explanations for why immigrants help bring down violent crime — apart from the fact that they commit less of it. New immigrants often repopulate hard-hit neighborhoods and increase the labor market opportunities of native-born workers. They also tend to create and strengthen social institutions in their neighborhoods, leading in turn to communities that are more stable and safer. This is the explanation scholars find most likely.”

More here.

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Photo: Bloomberg Philanthropies
Theaster Gates, an artist and activist, was a leader of the project called “Arthouse: A Social Kitchen,” which won a million dollars for Gary, Indiana.

Bloomberg Philanthropies have seen that public art can revitalize communities, so the nonprofit is renewing its Public Art Challenge.

Ben Paynter writes at Fast Company, “Several years ago, Bloomberg Philanthropies launched a competition to award struggling cities $1 million each for trying a novel approach at revitalization. It was called the Public Art Challenge, with the goal being that each place should think up some big, unifying, and life-improving masterpiece.

“That effort has paid off beautifully. According to Bloomberg’s math, the four winning projects … generated $13 million for those four places, both in terms of new jobs, related neighborhood investments, and visitor spending. More than 10 million people are estimated to have viewed those works. …

“Bloomberg Philanthropies head Mike Bloomberg liked the idea so much that he green-lit another round. Any city with a population of 30,000 or more may apply for the 2018 Public Art Challenge. …

“At least three winning metros will earn another $1 million a piece for a concept tackling some critical issue inside city limits. Bloomberg has pledged to cover ‘project-related expenditures including development, execution, and marketing,’ although cities will be expected to share some of the other costs, according to a press release. …

“The initial wave of exhibitions was ambitious. In Los Angeles, artists created a series of installations related to the theme of water conservation amid concerns of drought and storm water waste. In Gary, the community founded ArtHouse, a ‘social kitchen’ to bring people downtown for art displays and culinary classes that work like job training.

“In Spartanburg, police and neighborhood groups helped build fun light displays that also created more safety in public places. In Albany, Schenectady, and Troy, officials and volunteers mapped out and then lit up stacks of vacant buildings — places that were otherwise hidden in plain sight — as ripe for revitalization. The project both spruced up the surrounding neighborhoods and clearly illuminated for officials and investors where future civic bright spots might be.” Fast Company has more here.

In the process of of posting this piece, I learned something about the artist behind the winning project in Gary, Indiana, and I thought you’d be interested.

According to his website, “Theaster Gates was born in Chicago in 1973. He first encountered creativity in the music of Black churches on his journey to becoming an urban planner, potter, and artist.

“Gates creates sculptures with clay, tar, and renovated buildings, transforming the raw material of urban neighborhoods into radically reimagined vessels of opportunity for the community.

“Establishing a virtuous circle between fine art and social progress, Gates strips dilapidated buildings of their components, transforming those elements into sculptures that act as bonds or investments, the proceeds of which are used to finance the rehabilitation of entire city blocks.”

Pretty great, huh?

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Photo: Melissa Lyttle for The New York Times
Noreen McClendon, executive director of Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles, works to create affordable housing and job opportunities. A byproduct: crime reduction.

When people focus on getting “tough on crime,” crime can get worse. Emily Badger writes at the New York Times about research suggesting that people in communities where crime has gone way down since the 1990s “were working hard, with little credit, to address the problem themselves.

“Local nonprofit groups that responded to the violence by cleaning streets, building playgrounds, mentoring children and employing young men had a real effect on the crime rate. That’s what Patrick Sharkey, a sociologist at New York University, argues in a new study and a forthcoming book. Mr. Sharkey doesn’t contend that community groups alone drove the national decline in crime, but rather that their impact is a major missing piece. …

“Between the early 1990s and 2015, the homicide rate in America fell by half. Rates of robbery, assault and theft tumbled in tandem. In New York, Washington and San Diego, murders dropped by more than 75 percent. Although violence has increased over the last two years in some cities, including Chicago and Baltimore, even those places remain safer than they were 25 years ago. …

“This long-term trend has fundamentally altered city life. It has transformed fear-inducing parks and subways into vibrant public spaces. It has lured wealthier whites back into cities. It has raised the life expectancies of black men. …

“The same communities were participating in another big shift that started in the 1990s: The number of nonprofits began to rise sharply across the country, particularly those addressing neighborhood and youth development. …

“Nonprofits were more likely to form in the communities with the gravest problems. But they also sprang up for reasons that had little to do with local crime trends, such as an expansion in philanthropic funding. …

“Comparing the growth of other kinds of nonprofits, the researchers believe they were able to identify the causal effect of these community groups. …

“The research also affirms some of the tenets of community policing: that neighborhoods are vital to policing themselves, and that they can address the complex roots of violence in ways that fall beyond traditional police work. …

“Many similar groups did not explicitly think of what they were doing as violence prevention. But in creating playgrounds, they enabled parents to better monitor their children. In connecting neighbors, they improved the capacity of residents to control their streets. In forming after-school programs, they offered alternatives to crime.

“In the East Lake neighborhood of Atlanta, the crime rate in the mid 1990s was 18 times the national average. …

“ ‘We knew we wanted to see violence and crime go down in the community,’ said Carol Naughton, who led the foundation for years and today is the president of a national group, Purpose Built Communities, that is trying to teach East Lake’s model in other cities. ‘But we’ve never had a crime-prevention program.’

“Today violent crime in East Lake is down 90 percent from 1995.”

One and one and 50 make a million. As solutions to the world’s problems fail to come top-down, ordinary folks are leading the way. More here.

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Fred Pearce of Yale Environment 360 (a publication of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies) had a post on some positive change in Kenya recently. It came to me by way of the Christian Science Monitor Change Agent e-mail.

“In Kenya, local farmers are replacing state officials and forest wardens …

“Kenya’s five main ‘water towers’ — the Aberdare Mountains, the Mau forest complex, Mount Kenya, Mount Elgon, and the Cherangani Hills — cover just 2 percent of the country. But their elevation means that they intercept clouds blowing off the Indian Ocean, capturing most of the country’s rains. These places are the sources of all but one of Kenya’s major rivers. …

“Emilio Mugo, the acting director of the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) … says an important factor in [the process of reclamation] was the popularizing of the phrase ‘water towers.’ It unlocked a recognition about the nation’s precarious ecosystems and water supplies, and their link to forests.

“ ‘The new terminology galvanized public attention,’ he says. Calls to revive the towers became a national priority, culminating in the creation in 2012 of the Kenya Water Towers Agency to coordinate government activity.

“We are now looking at the towers as national assets,” says Francis Nkako, the CEO of the new agency. In the past five years, 81 square miles of the Mau forest system have been repossessed from illegal settlers for ecological rehabilitation …

“Control of the forests is being systematically given to democratically elected community forest associations (CFAs) that manage the forests under agreements with the KFS. …

“Under the agreements, CFAs are tasked with ensuring sustainable use of the forests, preventing illegal activity in them, managing and raising fees for grazing of livestock and firewood cutting in the forests, and starting new economic activities based on forest resources. No members of the community are allowed to live in the protected forests, but they can use them.” More here.

Photo: Fred Pearce
Sarah Karungari shows beehives set up by the community forest association (CFA) in Kimunye village in Kenya. Management of mountain forests is being systematically given over to democratically elected CFAs.

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I haven’t been to Concord’s homey celebration in years, and yesterday was a good day to see it at its best. Please note the “burning building” with fake flames, which the fire department repeatedly doused, cooling off the children watching at a safe distance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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