Last May, I read about a woman from Yemen named Ghaidaa al Absi, whose organization Kefaiaa was training over 200 women to become cyber-activists and work with other cyber-activist to fight against street harassment in their country. Street harassment is a serious problem in Yemen and the country does not have any legislation protecting women from sexual harassment. While police had indicated they would step up efforts to stop harassment, those charged for harassment have received little to no punishment for their crimes.
A challenge many Yemen women face in becoming cyber-activists is access to mobile devices and inconsistent internet connection in their neighborhoods. Tactical Technology Collective, an online resource which provides open source toolkits and resources to cyber-activists gave Absi’s group a micro-grant to develop the Safe Streets website which allows women to report real-time incidences of street harassment. Absi’s organization continues to grow and expand and she recently launched an art exhibition which addressed the issue of street harassment in Yemen (check out the some of the artwork below).
For many countries across the world (and certainly for neighborhoods, and regions here in the US), lacking access to technology can be an incredible deterrent to connecting with online tools that help connect you to basic services and give you a voice. Companies like Tactical Technology Collective can help make an incredible difference in erasing these barriers and giving representation to those who most often need it the most.
After Hurricane Sandy, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) posted information on its website about taking safety precautions when cleaning up after floods but many community advocates in New York and New Jersey are increasingly concerned about the levels of contamination caused by Sandy and their impact on clean up efforts as well as the environmental threat of future storm surges and rising seal levels near current and former industrial waterfront areas.
In Brooklyn, New York, two Superfund (hazardous waste) sites, the Newtown Creek and Gowanus Canal breached their banks and flowed in to nearby city streets. In New Jersey, the Raritan Bay Slag Superfund Site (containing large amounts of lead, arsenic and copper) flooded an adjacent public playground and beach and in the Arthur Kill (a channel between New Jersey and Staten Island), clean up crews working in cooperation with the Coast Guard had to use oil skimmers, vacuum trucks and a contamination boom to remove 378,000 gallons of fuel released from the Motiva oil tank during the storm.
Environmental justice (advocating for communities unfairly burdened by environmental pollution and contamination) advocates are requesting to meet with local city officials and waterfront businesses to inventory existing chemicals and help keep businesses up to date on floodproofing their chemical storage facilities. Kate Zidar, Executive Director of the Newtown Creek Alliance says “Learning from Sandy, we need environmental health and safety information for flooding that is specific for Superfund and relevant to the industrial business community,” and suggests potential efforts that could help prevent further contamination in the future like installing tide gates and shoreline bulkheads and the restoration of our wetland areas.
Communities who live near businesses like chemical plants, paper mills, and ports or infrastructure like highways are unfairly burdened by negative health outcomes and advocating for regulation of these facilities, progressive environmental planning and affordable housing in healthier communities are key to saving millions of our fellow citizens from undue suffering.
Get ready. A skateboarding revolution is happening amongst young girls… in Afghanistan.
In 2009, Skateistan (an NGO and Afghanistan’s first skateboarding school) opened the doors to it’s 5428 square meter facility in Kabul, providing recreational sports and education and creative arts classes to boys and girls ages 5-17. According to Skateistan, 60% of Afghanistan’s population is under 25 and 50% is under the age of 17. Children without education (an especially girls – only 12% of Afghan women are literate) have few opportunities open to them. Skateistan aims to provide children with a safe place for education and recreation and hopes to instill each one of their students with confidence, team work and leadership skills, to help them become empowered individuals who affect change in their community.
Each week, Skateistan welcomes over 400 children, half of who are children streetworking children, some are refugees, some are disabled and 40% of all the children are girls. To help make the facility more accessible, Skateistan provides transportation to and from the facility (women and girls are usually not allowed to travel alone and getting around Kabul can be difficult with traffic congestion, limited public transportation and street harassment) as well as skateboards, other sports equipment, safety gear and educational materials.
French theater group X/TNT wanted to raise awareness about the dangerous conditions that exist for pedestrians at La Place de L’Etoile (the roundabout under the Arc de Triomphe) in Paris. Check out their performance, creating a temporary street level crossing (the city prefers pedestrians access the Arc via an underground pedestrian tunnel) to get from one side of the street to another.
Today, the New York Times had a great opinion piece by Jeremiah Moss titled Disney World on the Hudson: In the Shadows of the High Line.
For me, the High Line is an innovative and unique reuse project, but one that also embodies exclusivity. The 1.45-mile-long park is located in a mostly swanky area of Manhattan, surrounded by chic shops and restaurants, expensive food trucks and sits literally high above the street (which can be an issue when elevated spaces can feel unwelcoming and exclusive). The park is accessible to some visitors by mulitiple stairways and less-abled visitors (or those encumbered with strollers for example) can access the long and winding park by select elevators. But those with any impairment or any sort of carriage must be careful not to trip over raised concrete design features that surround the planted areas embedded in the concrete surface of the park.
The Friends of High Line board boasts a few high-profile celebrities who live or work near the park (the website features a history of the High Line video narrated by the actor Ethan Hawke) and had managed to create such a buzz about the space that on opening day there was a line of people wrapped around the block, waiting (after they obtained an official wrist band) to explore this new “public” space, a handful at a time.
Many other cities around the country have looked to the High Line as a model of an innovative reuse project than can attract a lot of locals and tourists to a neighborhood but it may be important for them to take a closer look. Mr. Moss writes that the park “has become a tourist-clogged catwalk and a catalyst for some of the most rapid gentrification in the city’s history.”
As so often happens with gentrification, Mr. Moss fears that any remaining diversity of “regular New Yorkers” will soon vanish. He writes:”Within a few years, the ecosystem disrupted by the High Line will find a new equilibrium. The aquarium-like high rises will be for the elite, along with a few exclusive locals like the Standard Hotel. But the new locals will rarely be found at street level, where chain stores and tourist-friendly restaurants will cater to the crowds of passers-by and passers-through. Gone entirely will be regular New Yorkers, the people who used to call the neighborhood home. But then the High Line was never really about them.”