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Category Archives: Intentional Communities
Posted: October 16, 2019 at 5:00 pm
From Program Director and Southern Songs and Stories Producer Joe Kendrick:
"Hiss Golden Messenger founder MC Taylor and longtime band mate Phil Cook started working together within a day of meeting each other, and while Phil frequently leads his own band, he is also regularly on tour and on records with Hiss Golden Messenger, the band that Taylor founded in 2007. Youll hear conversations with both of them along with new music from Phil Cook and from Hiss Golden Messenger, including a live version of a track from the new album Terms Of Surrender in this episode of Southern Songs and Stories"
Hiss Golden Messenger With WNCW Program Director Joe Kendrick
Songs heard in this episode:
My Wing by Hiss Golden Messenger - excerpt, from Terms Of Surrender
Happy Birthday Baby" by Hiss Golden Messenger - excerpt, from Terms Of Surrender
Hungry Mother Blues - Live At The Cave by Phil Cook from As Far As I Can See
Cats Eye Blue - live 8-24-19 by Hiss Golden Messenger
Southern Grammar (live 8-22-19) by Hiss Golden Messenger
Thanks to Hiss Golden Messenger tour manager Luc Sur for his invaluable help in coordinating my interview with MC Taylor and for sending the bands live songs heard in this episode!
Southern Songs and Stories is produced in partnership with public radio station WNCW and the Osiris podcast network, and is available on podcast platforms everywhere. Would you like to help spread awareness of the artists featured here on Southern Songs and Stories, their music, and this series? Simply subscribe to the podcast and give it a good rating and a comment where you get your podcasts.
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Posted: at 5:00 pm
In the wake of catastrophic wildfires like the one in 2018 that burned the California city of Paradise, wildfire management has become a pressing topic, to say the least. Especially under scrutiny is the US Forest Services hundred-year policy of suppressing fireon the surface it makes sense. Fire burns houses and kills people. Its a terrible, uncontrollable enemy. Right?
Not necessarily. The native communities across California have been practicing traditional, controlled forest burning techniques for 13,000 years. From the great grasslands of central California to the salmon runs of the Klamath River, the Miwok, Yurok, Hupa, Karuk, and other nations have tended and provided for those plant and animal species that were useful to them. To do this, they created a patchwork of different ecological zones using low-intensity fire, creating niches that support Californias unbelievable biodiversity. Some of the California landscapes that look like pristine wilderness to the nonindigenous are actually human-modified ecosystems.
And many species have come to depend on low-intensity fire at a genetic level. We have fire-dependent species that coevolved with fire-dependent culture, says Frank Lake, a US Forest Service research ecologist and Yurok descendant. When we remove fire, we also take away the ecosystem services they produce.
To understand how indigenous cultural fire management works, I attended a Training Exchange, or TREX, a collaboration between the Yurok-led Cultural Fire Management Council and the Nature Conservancys Fire Learning Network. A couple of times a year, firefighters from around the world gather to learn from the best of the best, the Yurok traditional fire managers. We learned about the traditional uses of prescribed firesthey aid the acorn and huckleberry harvestsbut we also worked with modern tools like drip torches and atmospheric weather instruments. When everyone returns to manage their own homelands, they bring with them a deeper knowledge of how to use fire holistically to heal the land while preventing catastrophic and out-of-control wildfire.
For me, as a photographer used to working almost exclusively in the Arctic, I found this story to be challengingit was hot in Northern California in October! The first day I was on assignment, the mercury hit 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and I tried my best to keep making photographs with sweat dripping down my camera. Thankfully, within a day, the weather shifted and I learned to navigate this dry, beautiful landscape with the same sense of wonder as I do up North. Its hard to walk around inside a Yurok-burned forest without a sense of awe at the renewal of life and the ingenuity of its indigenous caretakers.
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Intentional Integration: This School Has Lessons To Share In Navigating The Race Inequity Issues – BKLYNER
Posted: at 5:00 pm
School District 13 is a classic example of gentrification in Brooklyn, representative of the last decade and a half in the borough. As local schools learn to navigate the challenges that come with rapidly changing demographics of neighborhoods that surround them, the Academy of Arts and Letters in Clinton Hill, has lessons to share.
The district serves the neighborhoods of Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, and parts of Bed-Stuy. Back in 2010, the districts student-body was 61% Black, 8% White, 15% Hispanic, and 16% Asian. These days, Black students are 43.6% of the population, while 15% are White, 21% Asian, and 16.3% are Hispanic.
Academy of Arts and Letters is located in Clinton Hill, just a few short blocks from Fort Greene Park. Established in 2006, the school started off as a middle school, serving grades 6 through 8. Its students were nearly all children of color. But quickly, a lot of parents who came to tour the school were not.
It was like, oh my gosh, what happened here? says Principal John OReilly. You could see it in their facial expressions. Black and Brown kids are like, whoa! If all these people come in, do I belong here? So, thats hard.
With the student population changing, the school was also losing its Title 1 Funding, which is federal funding that gives financial assistance to schools that have high numbers of low-income students, under the Every Student Succeeds Act.
We lost Title 1 in 2009 when we dipped below 60% free lunch, OReilly says. We lost a bit more than $250,000. We were going from having all kids of color to a vastly majority white school.
Around the same time, UCLA released a study showing New York City schools were the most segregated in the country.
OReilly decided it was time to take action. A native New Yorker who grew up in both Manhattan and Brooklyn, OReilly has been part of the Department of Education for 22 years, nearly 8 of those as the principal of this school. He exudes enthusiastic energy that makes his role as principal of a K 8 school, especially one focused on integration, possible.
Located at 225 Adelphi Street, the Academy of Arts and Letters shares space with P.S. 20, which had plenty of space to be utilized back in 2006, when Arts and Letters opened. It became a K 8 in 2010 when it began to add two classes for both Kindergarten and 1st grade, allowing the school to nurture its student body over a longer time period.
We were inspired by the learning culture of a number of K-8 schools. They were incredibly warm and smart, OReilly explains.
On its website, Arts and Letters, which currently has 525 pupils, explains its mission is based in the belief that the purpose of public education is to work in partnership with parents and communities to raise young people who are strong and flexible thinkers, and caring, responsible stewards and leaders of a vibrant, democratic society, where all students should find and share their voices.
This mission has enabled the Arts and Letters to tackle integration head-on.
We were very responsive to the UCLA study, OReilly says. I would say we certainly lead the charge, we were a part of that.
Arts and Letters became proactive. It was among the first schools to take part in the DOEs pilot program that was trying to promote diversity, in this case, through admissions. Arts and Letters is an unzoned District 13 school that uses a lottery system for admissions. Because, as Principal OReilly explains, the schools Kindergarten admissions pool is disproportionately white and affluent, they have a goal to have 40% of its student body to be free lunch. Its a goal that has remained elusive. These days about 25% of Arts and Letters students qualify for free lunch and OReilly believes the competition with charter schools plays a role in attracting students.
Even so, the changes to the admissions method have made an impact on the diversity of the student body. Though white students began to outnumber the black students as the district gentrified, OReilly maintains that his school has always had a student-body of color.
The percentage of Latinx and Asian students at Arts & Letters has increased over the past years, he explains.
According to the DOE, of the 2017-2018 school year, Arts and Letters population is 32% Black, 37% White, 16% Hispanic, and 7% Asian.
Though many of the schools community supported the effort to make it more diverse, there were some concerns and reluctance.
The main counterforce, the push against integration, were white families, OReilly says. Their worry was that their childs education was going to decline because of whatever the code words they were trying to use if they were trying to be slick, and not overtly racist.
OReilly says all students at his school have academically benefitted from integration, especially the children of color who may otherwise have been in more segregated schools, as he points to studies, such as Children of the Dream by Rucker C. Johnson of U.C. Berkeley, that have shown that integration helps all.
As OReilly and the schools staff aimed to confront race issues, they began to realize that there was more than just diversifying the population. There are students of color who dont do as well academically or participate as much as their white peers. Some parents and students of color told their principal that they didnt feel safe, visible or even heard at Arts and Letters.
It felt very racial, OReilly said. It is racial. And its something that we need to approach with open minds and open hearts, with like a quiet humbleness but with great determination that were going to keep going, despite making lots and lots of mistakes.
To fix those mistakes, OReilly and his staff which is currently half white, half educators of color began creating programs and opportunities to discuss race.
Although the DOE helped Arts and Letters with its initial diversity admissions program, there were no funds dedicated to supporting such programs. The school turned to the Neighborhood School Grants Program, funded by one of the largest Brooklyn real estate developers, the Walentas Family Foundation, to help get the programs going. Last year, and again for 2019, Arts and Letters were given $18,000 from the program to fund what they call Intentional Integration at Arts and Letters.
The grant money enabled Arts and Letters to truly focus on addressing race and white supremacy across its constituent groups the students, the faculty & staff, and parents. There has been professional staff development focused on this issue, workshops for parents, and a racial equity/anti-oppression working group led by faculty. Teachers are also focused on the racial gap in assessments and finding ways to create more equity to reduce it. Then theres a support team at the schools Student Life Center, where students, staff, and parents meet once a week to discuss race issues.
Seventh-grade science teacher Sasha Swift is part of the Racial Equity Team, which is dedicated to making sure that the school is integrated in all aspects. She leads staff advisory groups, which are smaller staff groups that gather to discuss classroom issues. During the last school year, the groups met about five times to do team building activities, talk about their own racial identities and what it meant to them.
In the beginning, it may have felt uncomfortable, Swift says. But I felt like at the end, the ideas to just build a space where people feel like they can say the things they need to say. Its a safe space, and you wont be judged. I think thats been really helpful. It also makes it clear to everyone in the school what our mission is and what the goal is.
Theres a similar group for the middle school students who also meet twice a week to discuss race 15 students sit in a circle with a teacher overseeing the meeting.
Theyre not afraid to talk about it, OReilly says. It can be playful, it can be fun. But it can be tense, too.
One thing that has been noticeable is that when it comes to identity, white students are far less likely to describe themselves according to their skin color compared to other students.
Kids of color label their cultural identity, their racial identity, OReilly snaps his fingers to indicate how quickly those students do so. Whereas white kids, their kind of ethnic connection is distant. And thats interesting, kids notice that.
There was one moment, OReilly remembers, where things got very tense when a 7th-gradegirl of West Indian heritage called out a white friend for not inviting her to her birthday party.
It didnt go so well, he says. But that was very courageous for her to say that. When she said that, she was tearful. They were tears of rage and hurt.
He also points out that such a discussion would not have happened in a segregated school.
Even in the classroom, there have been energetic discussions about race. When 8th grade humanities teacher, Liliana Richter, brought in a New York Times article about Brown v. Board of Education, which declared segregated schools as unconstitutional back in 1954, she asked her students what was more important: a good education or to be a diverse school?
It was a student-led discussion, Richter says with excitement. Kids really know you cant have a good education without diversity.
The staff is also conscientious to how the students interact with each other, from overnight school trips to being on the playground together.
Were constantly looking at how students play, Sasha Swift says. Are they self-segregating? What could we do about that? It is something we think of all the time.
As for the parents, there have been efforts in getting them to discuss race as well.
When it came to facilitating workshops at Arts and Letters for the parents, two mothers, Blanca Ruiz and Judith Jean-Bruce, volunteered. Both had been trained by the Center for Racial Justice in Education and are former teachers themselves. Starting two years ago, they began organizing monthly events where parents would meet in groups at each others houses. Over time, these events were solidified by the PTA as workshops.
Back in June, the two women explain, there was a popular workshop as part of a four-part series, where between 30 to 50 parents attended. It required self-examination in how racial trauma shows up and how to discuss racial messages in social media, ads and television.
It was a well-attended session, Jean-Bruce says. There was a desire to discuss race in an age-appropriate moment. People are triggered, and theres unpacking in front of everybody.
We named race as often as possible, Ruiz adds. Some missed the first three workshops and you could see the discomfort in their faces. People were saying, as a black man or as a white man.
There is a lot of work to be done, Ruiz points out. But, she says, the white parents are trying.
Im open to having conversations, she says. They ask, what can I do as a white parent? And they share their struggles with other white parents.
The two women also mention that Brooklyn itself is a deeply segregated borough, and schools are just a small portion of a bigger issue. They even bring up how gentrification makes the discussion of race uneasy.
Its pushing out a community, Ruiz says. Theres a lot to unpack there. Then theres the false white liberalism that say theyre all for integration until it impacts their child. So, are they all for achieving equity? Or just being cool? That is why we do work with parents.
Despite all the challenges, the Academy of Arts and Letters is determined to achieve full integration. That also means on an academic level. The school has no gifted and talented program, and there is no tracking of anyone. This is because, OReilly says, such classes are mostly white, and dont allow those white students to mingle with nonwhite students.
In order to have integration, OReilly explains. Every kid, family and staff member must feel like they belong. Our school model allows itself integration. Were committed to inclusion.
The school even communicates with other schools in Brooklyn about integration and how to do it. The staff also has strong beliefs about Brooklynites who are reluctant, or even against, any form of integration.
Why wouldnt you want all kids to have access to a great education? Sasha Swift would ask those people. What is the fear? Wouldnt you want to raise people who are sensitive to other races and also knowledgeable about other races? Its hard for me to understand. Why in 2019? In Brooklyn? And in New York?
Swift wants school districts who are hesitant to be considerate of what integration means, how it is beneficial to them, as well as to go in deep with it.
If the start of that initiative is just reserving a certain amount of seats, Swift says, thats not enough; it cant just be the seats. There has to be a commitment, not only to what the population looks like, but what the day to day feels at the school. It has to be an agenda.
Richter has this encouragement for other schools: Be prepared to lean into discomfort. Celebrate victories, and dont be afraid to go slow.
Its good for everyone, she adds. No one is hurt by integration. The Brown v. Board ruling shows segregation is bad for individuals and society.
As for Principal OReilly, his determination is as strong as ever for the coming school year.
We want to shrink the racial gap in assessments, he says. We want to develop a more trusting and positive relationship with our families. And work on more bridges than walls.
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‘Living the Way of Love in Community’ features small group facilitation guide and curriculum – Episcopal News Service
Posted: at 5:00 pm
A year after the introduction by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of theWay of Love, Practices for a Jesus-Centered Life, The Episcopal Church continues to offer new resources for congregations interested in following the Way of Love as a way of life. New this fall are theFAQs for Small Group Ministryvideo, a social media infographic, as well as a postcard-sized infographic. These resources are availablehere.
The nine-sessionLiving the Way of Love in Communitycurriculum is designed for small groups organized for the purpose of exploring The Way of Love. Group members study and experience each of seven practices: turn, learn, pray, worship, bless, go, and rest. These intentional small groups may choose to meet weekly, every other week, or once a month. The facilitation guide offers leaders a process for guiding an intentional small group for nine, 90-minute sessions with an option for extending a session 30-minutes should a group choose to gather over a meal. Each session includes prayer, a check-in process, discussion, practice time, a check-out process, and worship. Suggested scripture readings and hymns are also included.
In theFAQs for Small Group Ministryvideo, Jerusalem Greer, staff officer for evangelism and an intentional small group leader in her own parish, speaks to some of the questions she is frequently asked related to small groups: What is an intentional small group? Do small groups replace Sunday morning worship? How does our tradition show up in a small group? To illustrate the impact of being a part of an intentional small group, Greer invited parishioners fromSaint Peters Episcopal Churchin Conway, Arkansas to share their experience.
We believe that when parishes take the time to establish and members choose to participate in an intentional small group, they are better able to grow as communities following the loving, liberating, life-giving way of Jesus, says Greer, A way that has the power to change each of our lives. And to change the world.
Participation in an intentional, faith-based small group is an ideal way to follow the Way of Love. In these settings, participants are given the opportunity to build trusting and transformative relationships with God and one another through regular and authentic conversation, practice, and prayer. The community created within these groups can support and deepen commitments to live a Jesus-shaped life at home, at work, at play, and in the world.
Download the curriculum, video, infographic, and social media graphic free of chargehere.
On the Web:New Way of Love, Practices for a Jesus-Centered Life resources support Living the Way of Love in Community Small Group Facilitation Guide and Curriculum
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Georgia-based mentoring organization Let Us Make Man looks to impact Texas A&M community through Educate to Elevate seminar – Texas A&M The Battalion
Posted: at 5:00 pm
Professionals in psychology, business, entertainment, entrepreneurship and law from Georgia will share their expertise at Texas A&M this weekend, discussing issues facing the black community.
The Carter G. Woodson Black Awareness Committee, with marketing assistance from the Black Graduate Students Association, will be hosting a seminar titled Educate to Elevate: A Seminar on How to Rebuild the Black Community on Saturday. The seminar will be held in the MSC Gates Ballroom from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., including free admission and food, with the purpose of exposing and exploring issues that affect the African diaspora around campus. The seminar will feature five presenters from Let Us Make Man, a mentoring organization from Atlanta. The event is open to the Bryan-College Station community, and registration is available through the QR code provided in flyers, email, social media and at the event as well.
Psychology senior and Chair of WBAC Kayla Hood said the organization was created in 1969 through the MSC and creates programs that pertain to the awareness of issues for the black community, such as the annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast and Afro-Latinx Festival. She said one of their biggest challenges has been promoting the Educate to Elevate event and motivating people to participate.
Everyone is welcome, but not everybody necessarily feels that way, Hood said. We stress the fact that everyone is welcome to come and share their perspectives, but it is a little tricky sometimes.
Hood said the event will allow people to interact with each other and with the speakers to discuss ways of rebuilding the black community. She said that the idea of featuring Let Us Make Man at the Educate to Elevate seminar came from a director at WBAC last year. The mentoring organization informed WBAC of the workshops that theyd be offering, of which students and the community members will have the opportunity to attend two, depending on which of the sessions that theyve registered for. These sessions deal with a different aspect of community building. She said the seminars put on by Let Us Make Man have received good reviews and have been put on successfully at other campuses, such as the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
We really look forward to everybody coming and we look forward to everybody experiencing this seminar, Hood said. We really think that it can help with our community building skills and help make a more inclusive conversation for everybody to be a part of.
Gerry L. White is one of the presenters at the seminar and has been with Let Us Make Man for the past 10 years. Gerry is a professor at Clark Atlanta University in the Whitney M. Young Jr. School of Social Work, and his research centers around American family units. Let Us Make Man aims at helping the community and tries to increase the number of young people that go to college and succeed, he said.
It's gonna create an opportunity for the students and guests who are in attendance to learn about some very interesting dynamics that particularly concern communities of color, Gerry said. Were excited by the conference and the experts that were bringing there too.
According to Gerry, the professionals from the mentoring organization are excited about hosting sessions at A&M because of the opportunities that they will be providing to the students and community, though Texas is unknown territory for them. The mentoring organization is strategic and intentional about expanding to D.C. and Chicago. He said that they want students to be aware of how to interact with law enforcement in a healthy and productive way, know the art and science of community organizing, understand the impact of mental health, the psychology of success and to understand the family.
We tell the students to get ready, we tell the community to get ready, Gerry said. Put your tennis shoes on. Get ready to interact, get ready to discuss, get ready to laugh, get ready to pose questions.
Community health senior Nia White, a member WBAC, is the daughter of presenter Gerry. According to her, no one has removed the veil to have open and honest conversations about issues facing the black community. The Educate to Elevate event is very relevant to the A&M campus, especially to give minorities a space to discuss problems in their communities, she said. Nia said the event is for the community at large even though they are targeted at the black community.
It is open to the Bryan-College Station community, so its not just for the A&M students, Nia said. We have a lot of faculty signed up. We want to be able to involve the entire community and not just A&M. We do feel like A&M can be improved by the entire community getting in on this.
Nia said Let Us Make Man holds annual conferences and various projects in Georgia with attendance ranging from 800 to 1,000 individuals. Originally from Atlanta, Nia has been attending these conferences for about 10 years and said they have impacted the person that she is today. Nia said anyone can take something away from the workshops because the topics discussed are broad and arent common knowledge.
These are professionals basically providing their services for free, Nia said. Every conference I've gone to, I just walked away with something that I didn't come in with and I know for other people like people are always impacted whenever they go so I think it would be a very great experience.
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With live service games increasingly becoming the norm, the industry has entered a community-driven age. Whether that's fan communities on third-party sites, or communities baked into the fabric of the experience, developers are placing increased emphasis on their importance.
While questions around who is responsible for user safety online often don't have very neat answers, there is a growing consensus that platforms should be held accountable for hosting harmful content. Starting in September 2020, under the EU's Audiovisual Media Services Directive, UK communication service regulator Ofcom will be authorised to fine social media companies and online platforms up to 5% of revenue, or suspend operations, for failure to protect vulnerable users from harmful content.
Earlier this year, the Department for Digital, Media, Culture, and Sport in the UK produced its Online Harms White Paper, which also suggested that social media platforms be held accountable for hosted content, and outlined plans for an independent regulator to manage compliance.
Although the tides have been slowly turning, this is a problem Canadian tech firm Two Hat Security has a long history of tackling. Following a recent partnership with image and video classification software firm Image Analyzer, the two companies will work together to facilitate automatic moderation of live streamed video content "at unprecedented levels."
From left to right: Cris Pikes (Image Analyzer), Chris Piebe (Two Hat), and Carlos Figuieredo (Two Hat)
Two Hat and Image Analyzer are automating the moderation process, allowing individual communities and platforms to set the parameters for acceptable behavior or content, and let the system do the rest. For example, the tech can apparently identify content such as the Christchurch mass shooting, which was streamed over Facebook Live in March this year, and shut it down within seconds.
Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz, Two Hat CEO Chris Priebe says his work tackling harmful online content is deeply personal.
"I was bullied in high school, because I wanted to be different and do my own thing, and I didn't want to fit into the whole crowd, so they bullied me quite extensively, to the point where I had death threats and I had to leave town," he says. "So that gave me a passion for stopping bullying on the internet. I think everyone should be free to share without any harassment or abuse, which is our mission for our company."
The pressure to respond to toxic online content has intensified, as earlier this month another shooting was streamed on Twitch, this time in Germany, which left two people dead. But online communities elsewhere are facing similar problems, as social media becomes infected with extreme content, and fringe elements of gaming communities spread vitriol and hate.
This frequently boils over into industry workers' personal lives, as developers find themselves the target of online abuse, or even cybermobbing. The human cost of online toxicity is immeasurable to both the communities where it proliferates, and individuals actively targeted by it.
"How many billions of dollars are being lost because people quit playing, because they didn't feel welcome?"
Cris Pikes, Image Analzyer
Moderating toxic content isn't casualty-free either; earlier this year an investigation into working conditions at Cognizant-operated Facebook content moderation sites in America revealed staff developing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder after extended exposure to extreme graphic content, such as animal cruelty, violence, or child exploitation.
Even removing the human cost of it all, the cynical business case is reason enough to encourage healthy, positive communities. According to figures from Two Hat, people are 300% more likely to never return to games or platforms where they experienced toxic behaviour. Conversely, players are three times more likely to return after positive interactions.
"How many billions of dollars are being lost because people quit playing, because they didn't feel welcome?" says Image Analyzer CEO Cris Pikes. "The longer you stay, potentially the more you're going to pay because you're more invested in the game, so that long tail of building up your love for that game."
It's a position Priebe supports, saying that developers are "putting their time into the wrong thing" when there is a "giant looming sign" that points to problems with the community, rather than the game, limiting developers' potential.
"Stop tweaking your game. I hate your community, go fix your freaking community," says Priebe. "That's what [players] want. And that, I think, will move us from a $100 billion to a $200 billion industry."
"You can't assume that players and users know what is expected of them. So even in that sense, the industry needs to do a better job"
Carlos Figuieredo, Two Hat Security
Last week, Two Hat Security and Image Analyzer hosted a content moderation symposium in London to define and classify online harms, with the aim of tackling online toxicity. While it's a problem that won't be going away anytime soon, there are workable solutions, and plenty of things game developers can be doing in the meantime to help manage their communities.
Carlos Figuieredo is the Fair Play Alliance co-founder, and director of community trust and safety for Two Hat. He says one obvious thing that even large companies have failed to do is establish well-defined community guidelines.
"These serve as the baseline, the fundamental approach for everything else that you do in terms of player behaviour and understanding that player behaviour," he tells us. "So no kidding that we are completely, as an industry, unprepared to deal with threats coming from players on Twitter."
Figuieredo says that developers need to be intentional with how they develop communities. He mentions the recent A/B testing carried out by Twitch, which found that making people manually accept the community guidelines resulted in notable and positive change in general behaviour, just through the mere act of establishing expectations.
"You can't assume that players and users know what is expected of them," says Figuieredo. "So even in that sense, the industry needs to do a better job of really showing what is the expected behaviour, what is the unwanted behaviour, and they do need to enforce something."
With the rapid pace of technological advancement, basic steps like can be profoundly impactful. As Pikes says, it's "bit of an arms race," as companies like Facebook built mammoth platforms that quickly run out of their control.
"We haven't put the same effort into balancing the communities as we have balancing the games"
Chris Priebe, Two Hat Security
"They built this absolute machine," says Pikes, "and they had no idea how big it was going to be... They haven't thought about the securities or the educational pieces that should now be put back in as part of that design. So it's almost a retrospective thought... For us it's about enabling those tools and taking them to a market that has evolved too quickly."
There is a priority gap however, according to Figuieredo, who says there is a "lack of understanding" when it comes to the harm caused by toxic game communities.
"People don't necessarily have good stats or understanding that it affects their business, affects their employees as well," he continues. "How is it affecting their community? What is the user churn? There is a lack of understanding, a lack of white papers and good studies on this."
Priebe adds that companies are failing to adopt viable solutions to these challenges. Part of this he believes falls to an engineering backlog, as devs obsess over in-game balance while inadvertently de-prioritising the existential threat of a toxic community, and how that could significantly shorten a game's lifespan.
Community features like chat and audio are often ill-conceived, says Priebe, and the inclusion of poorly implemented communication tools effectively put a "powerful weapon" in the hands of bad actors.
"They can use it to drive everyone out of playing because they've made it miserable for everyone else," he says. "We haven't put the same effort into balancing the communities as we have balancing the games.... There is [the] technology that is actually available; let's participate in the solution, and let everyone get involved."
With the rise of extremist hate groups using gaming communities as recruitment grounds, there is a pressing need to address the threat, and ensure that vulnerable people in these spaces are protected. As Pikes says, it's about changing the community attitudes.
"Way back when, it was like people felt they had a safe haven where they could go and play a game, and that's what it was all about," he continues. "Whereas now all these far right groups, for example, have found this a potential grooming ground for radicalisation. But if we give [platforms the] tools and enable those companies to understand that the technology is available, those people will move on to another format, they will find another medium, but we've made this one safe and locked that one down."
As the largest entertainment sector in the world, and one which actively encourages online communities, the games industry is under an incredible amount of public scrutiny. The presence of toxic communities is one thing, but a failure to address the problem is arguably much, much worse.
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The rumbling started last August when the Business Roundtable announced that a companys responsibility is more than just to its shareholders. Companies actually hold a responsibility to their respective communities as well, this group of corporate chieftains acknowledged.
The declaration elicited both praise and condemnation. Among the most cynical reactions was to call the statement yogababble, which is a snarky way of questioning purpose-driven terms and language. Others called it wuwu, or juju the common thread being skepticism when words such as journey, universe, and purpose anchor a companys reason for being and mission.
This is exactly what the Business Roundtable is now committingitself to or is it recommitting?
The history of the Business Roundtable makes clear that, in fact, it was created to ensure that businesses and their leaders contribute to the communities around them. A company and its leadership starts with the best of intentions and then, success arrives, profits are off the charts, shareholders are getting crazy rich, as are the top executives driving this performance. The companys focus shifts to winning at all costs, and heaven help you if you dont deliver. That truth was evident recently when the much-anticipated WeWork IPO tanked and its CEO was shown the door joining at least half-a-dozen other CEOs who had incorporated purpose-driven language into their companys DNA, but failed to produce the expected returns.
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The oversimplified equation of business is planet (resources) + people (customers, employees) = business (profit, jobs,community contribution). Two things to note: First, an economy is a thriving, dynamic organism. It is dependent and reflective of the parts that make up the whole. Second, humans make up a large segment of this system and its functionality. In other words, there are ample opportunities to muck up the works, and that we do.
As long as humans are in the mix, we need checks and balances to ensure that desired corporate behavior is practiced. Greed is seductive and a human foible. We all would like to think we would never succumb, but we do whether were shareholders, or board members, or the CEO.
Weve created a vicious cycle for companies and their leaders, one with lots of finger pointing, hand waving, and reveals of dastardly, less-than-purposeful behavior.But as a wise old woman shared with me, every time we have one finger pointing at someone, there are three pointing back at ourselves. We all play a role. Shareholders and their demands for high returns give company decision-makers the excuse to make expedient decisions, where profit is achieved at all costs. Business leaders can say, The shareholders made me do it.
Read: Salesforce founder Marc Benioff says capitalism as we know it is dead
The situation now is reminiscent of the late 1990s dotcom era. Then, innovation was the name of the game. Forget having a business plan based on actual math; ideas were enough. Slap .com after any word of choice, and you were golden until reality revealed itself: You really did need a true business with a recurring revenue stream to survive.
Purpose alone is not enough, nor is shareholder return at the risk of the planet. Todays workforce is keeping us accountable with where they choose to work and what they buy. Thats why companies and their next-generation leadership are getting loftier in their purpose, vision and missions in the first place. They want to alert the talent pool to come work with them (horizontal managementis another purpose-driven practice) and change the world. We get it, leaders are saying, and we get you.
What leaders dont seem to be getting is the need to do more than just talk about purpose. They need to do the work. That means building inclusive and diverse cultures, so products are being created and managed by people who reflect a companys customer base. Leaders need to think about just how many zeroes they really need in a paycheck and seriously demonstrate walking the talk by putting a portion of their pay into communities where their employees live and work. Shareholders have an obligation to make sure that companies and their leaders are accountable to best practices around executive compensation, sustainability, employee benefit, and equity sharing.
Theres a phrase that yoga teachers use: Yoga practice, not yoga perfect. Maybe in time, working together with purpose-driven language and intentional business and shareholder practices, we can get closer to perfect.
Kate Byrne is the president of Intentional Media, whose brands SOCAP, Total Impact and Conscious Company Media are at the intersection of business, meaning, and money. She will be speaking on October 24 in San Francisco at the SOCAP19 conference.
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GRAND RAPIDS, MI Theres a vision, held by Southtown leadership, of Grand Rapids South Side doubling down on its cultural roots and using a diverse array of food, entertainment and attractions to elevate the area long overlooked for investment, both public and private.
Its a vision of a secondary downtown, where patrons go to eat, shop and spend an evening out while avoiding some of the parking and transportation challenges associated with the citys downtown core.
Making that dream a reality will take a level of investment the South Side, and the Third Ward as a whole, hasnt seen in recent memory. The citys most diverse ward is also its least invested in, which has contributed to sections of the community missing out on the citys surge of economic prosperity.
In 2012-17, the Third Ward received less than 2 percent of the $19.4 billion of private investments made in the citys three wards using government tax incentives. More recent data hasnt been released, but Third Ward commissioners, current and former, believe the new data will be similar to those from previous years.
Our community cant be successful if were leaving behind a third of our population, said Danielle Williams, manager for the Southtown Corridor Improvement District and a third-generation Grand Rapids resident.
The first step is acknowledging theres a problem. Recognizing theres something amiss when the city is growing and developing the way it is and, still, youre stagnant in seeing economic growth for a whole segment of our population. Intentional or not, something is broken, and it has to be fixed.
Southtown is a collection of six business districts Alger Heights, Boston Square, Franklin and Eastern, Madison Square, Seymour Square and part of South Division. It has a high rate of homeownership (56 percent) and neighborhood stability, with a population density higher than the city of Grand Rapids overall, according to the Southtown Corridor Improvement Authority.
Additionally, Southtown is:
The Southtown district was created three years ago to rally the business corridors and create a culture of investment thats long been lacking in the area. By establishing a CID, the corridors can collect tax revenue and use it to prevent deterioration of businesses that already belong to the district and help to attract and promote new businesses.
Were not seeing the kind of investment thats needed and probably has been needed for a long time but being able to recognize that and put work in to change that, to me thats really all we can do, Williams said.
City officials project tax increment revenue of about $150,000 per fiscal year to balance out Southtown CIDs expenses, with about $5,000-$15,000 left over after each year. Through the first 11 months of FY 2019, the CID board spent about $100,000 of its budgeted $318,814.
The nine-member corridor improvement authority board is also in the process of getting its business-focused area specific plan (ASP) adopted by the city commission. Its the boards hope that the plan, which acts as a blueprint for future development, will help revitalize the business corridor, spark new development and create jobs for nearby residents without significant displacement or changes to the existing community character.
Southtowns potential is obvious. Of its 500,000 square feet of total retail space, about 21 percent is vacant. Additionally, about 15 percent of its 13,000 households are vacant, according to city data.
Looking at the economic challenges we have in Grand Rapids, with the underemployment and lack of economic mobility for black and brown communities in the city, theres this amazing opportunity in Southtown to find the solution and do it in a way that benefits the community thats been here, Williams said.
Third Ward Commissioner Senita Lenear points to the growth of the citys West Side from recent years as an example of how cities can use a variety of tools to create economic opportunity in areas that are lacking it. She believes that success can be duplicated on the South Side.
In 2014, the West Side established its own corridor improvement district, made up of West Leonard Street, Bridge Street, Fulton Street, Butterworth Street and Seward Avenue. A year later the city adopted its area specific plan. The First Wards West Side now features popular restaurants, breweries and even a grocery store, among other developments.
It was a culmination of a bunch of things, which is what Im describing as solutions for the Third Ward, Lenear said. The investments came through work the commissioners were doing over there on the West Side to make sure investment happened. The outcome was it attracted people to invest in that area.
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Following the West Sides lead
For years, Leonard Street lacked new investment. However, in 2012, local entrepreneurs Chris Andrus and Max Trierweiler bought the old fire station at 527 Leonard St. NW and turned it into Mitten Brewing Co.
The brewery proved successful, as both a West Side business and catalyst for development. Within three years, Long Road Distillers and Two Scotts Barbecue opened their doors as neighbors of the brewery.
Mitten was the first people to really invest in that corridor, but we followed suit and sort of doubled-down on their initial bet on that neighborhood, said State Rep. David LaGrand, who was an initial investor in Long Road Distillers. We were looking for the next cool neighborhood in town.
Similar investment stories in areas like Bridge Street have helped in the rise of the West Side in recent years.
Jon OConnor, a co-founder of Long Road Distillers, said the area needed local ownership and investment from those who have roots in the area.
You dont just want people from the outside coming in, OConnor said. If you look at the West Side, those individuals knew they needed X in their neighborhood and did it. They needed a grocery store, so they got it. The Mitten guys said theres no brewery here and they did it.
The First Ward city commissioner said its important to be cognizant of potential displacement when a community is growing, but when its a choice between advancing or declining, hed prefer to see the community grow while remaining thoughtful.
With similar investments by locals on the South Side, OConnor said hes hopeful the Third Wards Southtown will follow the same path of improved economic opportunity.
For a long time, the West Side was just like Southtown, he said. Then we got some momentum, some energy and people making foundational investments in the business district that set the signal that we are open to projects, to an infusion of energy into the neighborhoods.
Sure, the Third Ward has different challenges than the First Ward. Geographically, it doesnt touch downtown, where a significant majority of investment occurs in the city. It doesnt have the highways the run through the other two wards, and it doesnt align with increasing desires to live in more dense areas like downtown.
Despite the differences, the Third Ward has potential for similar growth following a similar blueprint as the West Side, Lenear said.
Bakery proved concept
A section of the Third Ward the Wealthy Street corridor already is bustling with business, and it didnt take a massive development to spur it.
In 2002, four Grand Rapids residents bought a vacant meatpacking house in a dingy stretch of Wealthy Street SE that carried a leftover stigma of drug deal and gang violence.
There wasnt much investment being made along the Third Wards northern-most abandoned commercial street when co-founders Melissa and David LaGrand and Jim and Barb McClurg opened the Wealthy Street Bakery at 610 Wealthy Street SE.
David LaGrand, now a state representative and previously a city commissioner, said the ugly gang-related history of the Wealthy Street corridor left a residual fear and deterred development for some time. By opening the bakery, the LaGrands and McClurgs took one more blighted property off the map and proved the area was ripe for business.
The LaGrands bought the party store next door and sold it to Amy and Steve Ruis, who opened Art of the Table, a gourmet food and kitchen store. They bought an old plumbing store and sold it to David Lee, who opened the Winchester in 2009. Lee doubled down in 2013 with Donkey Taqueria across the street.
Once we sort of proved concept, that just meant a lot of people followed, LaGrand said. We succeeded and that was proof that others could succeed. And one thing you do is try to reinforce your investment with other peoples investments.
In addition to the citys role in providing tax incentives and improving public infrastructure, Grand Rapids leaders could help make the path to opening a business easier, according to LaGrand.
If business districts beyond the downtown core are going to continue to grow, LaGrand said the city will have to work to further reduce obstacles and restrictive zoning.
Hed like to see the city survey recently opened small businesses in the city to determine how the process of getting started could have been easier for them.
We really have to think thoughtfully about how to help someone who wants to invest $100,000 in a neighborhood, LaGrand said. That person isnt going to be able to hire a lawyer to help navigate through tax breaks and Brownfields. Removing barriers and really facilitating small investors will go a long way.
Southtowns area specific plan has been in the works since Dec. 2017 with the goal of improving commercial cores and public spaces in the area that support businesses, appeal to neighborhood residents and attract visitors.
The plans goals are to be a:
The proposed plan was released to the public for consideration last month. A public hearing is scheduled for Nov. 14 in front of the planning commission, with an expected city commission adoption vote set for Dec. 3.
What I love about the solution Ive become a part of is its a direct city investment as well as a community investment and business owner investment, Williams said. Its building up economic stability for the folks in our community who have been left behind, creating those on-ramps for entrepreneurship, supporting small businesses that have been here 20-30 years.
Southtown has created a business directory specific to its district to show potential developers whats already there and what the community could use. Theres also a faade improvement program that reimburses current eligible businesses up to $10,000 for upgrades or alterations to their building exteriors.
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If you live in Glasgow, you are more likely to die young. Men die a full seven years earlier than their counterparts in other UK cities. Until recently, the causes of this excess mortality remained a mystery.
Deep-fried Mars bars, some have speculated. The weather, others suggested. For years, those reasons were as good as any. In 2012, the Economist described it thus: It is as if a malign vapour rises from the Clyde at night and settles in the lungs of sleeping Glaswegians.
The phenomenon has become known as the Glasgow effect. But David Walsh, a public health programme manager at the Glasgow Centre for Population Health, who led a study on the excess deaths in 2010, wasnt satisfied with how the term was being used. It turned into a Scooby-Doo mystery but its not an exciting thing, he says. Its about people dying young, its about grief.
You have to understand what sort of shape Glasgow was in. They thought the best approach was to start afresh
He wanted to work out why Glaswegians have a 30% higher risk of dying prematurely that is, before the age of 65 than those living in similar postindustrial British cities. In 2016 his team published a report looking at 40 hypotheses from vitamin D deficiency to obesity and sectarianism. The most important reason is high levels of poverty, full stop, says Walsh. Theres one in three children who are classed as living in poverty at the moment.
But even with deprivation accounted for, mortality rates in Glasgow remained inexplicable. Deaths in each income group are about 15% higher than in Manchester or Liverpool. In particular, deaths from diseases of despair drug overdoses, suicides and alcohol-related deaths are high. In the mid-2000s, after adjusting for sex, age and deprivation, there was almost a 70% higher mortality rate for suicide in Glasgow than in the two English cities.
Walshs report strongly suggested a theory: that radical urban planning decisions from the 1950s onwards had made not just the physical but the mental health of Glasgows population more vulnerable to the consequences of deindustrialisation and poverty.
Studies have consistently linked city living with poorer mental health. For example, growing up in an urban environment is correlated with twice the risk of developing schizophrenia as growing up in the countryside. And the unintended legacy of some urban planning exacerbates the already considerable challenges of living in a city something 68% of the worlds population will be doing by 2050, according to UN projections.
Are these urban dwellers doomed to poor mental health, or can planners design cities that will keep us healthy and happy? Can we learn from what happened in Glasgow?
Postwar Glasgow was severely overcrowded. The 1945 Bruce report proposed solving this by housing people in high-rises on the periphery, while the following years Clyde Valley report suggested encouraging workers and their families to move to new towns. In the end, the council did a combination of both: New Towns like East Kilbride and Cumbernauld are now among the most populous towns in Scotland; many of those who stayed in Glasgow were relocated to large housing estates such as Drumchapel, Easterhouse and Castlemilk.
This rapid change in the citys makeup was soon recognised as disastrous. Relocating workers and their families to new towns was described in mid-1960s parliamentary discussions as skimming the cream. In an internal review in 1971, the Scottish Office noted that the manner of population reduction was destined within a decade or so to produce a seriously unbalanced population with a very high proportion [in central Glasgow] of the old, the very poor and the almost unemployable
Although the government was soon aware of the consequences, these were not necessarily intentional, says Walsh. You have to understand what sort of shape Glasgow was in, in terms of the really lousy living conditions, the levels of overcrowded housing and all the rest of it, he says. They thought the best approach was to just start afresh.
Anna left the tenements for a high-rise in Glasgows Sighthill estate, where she has lived on and off since the mid-60s. She was a teenager when she moved with her mother and sister to a brand-new fourth-floor flat, picked from a bowler hat. It had two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen and a glass partition in the hallway. It was like Buckingham Palace, remembers Anna. She is now 71, dressed in jeans and a denim shirt, with a blonde bob and a raspy cough that doubles as a laugh.
Youre more likely to have violence, youre more likely to have conflict; even sexual abuse is much higher in households where there are drinkers
Sighthills 10 20-storey tower blocks were meant to herald the future. Set in parkland, with a view over the city, they would house more than 7,000 people drawn from the tenements and the slums.
Until then, the family had lived in a tenement building in nearby Roystonhill. I slept with my mammy and my sister in a recess, she says. The toilet was shared.
But when the tenements went, something else went, too. There were communities which had a social fabric, if you like, which were then broken up by these processes, says Walsh.
Anna recalls the change. When we were in the tenements, youd shout up to the window: Mammy, I want a piece of jam! Before you knew it there was a dozen of them being thrown out of the window. In the tower block, she did not let her own children play unsupervised. Neighbours only spoke if they took the same lift. Her daughter was threatened with a bread knife.
By the 2000s, the tower blocks were infamous for deprivation, violence and drugs. Many residents had moved out, including Anna and her family. Empty flats were used to rehouse asylum seekers. Fractures within the community were worsening. Glasgow Housing Association eventually decided to condemn the buildings, and the towers were demolished over eight years; the last one came down in 2016.
But the roots of Glasgows excess mortality stretch back further to the Industrial Revolution, argues Carol Craig, who has written two books on the subject. In Glasgow, then called the Second City of the Empire, factories and the docks needed workers. Overcrowding coupled with a culture of drinking produced an explosive situation.
Faced with the prospect of returning to a cramped tenement, many men preferred to visit the pub; there were few other public meeting places. Youre more likely to have violence, youre more likely to have conflict; even sexual abuse is much higher in households where there are drinkers, Craig says.
Being exposed in childhood to stressful events like domestic violence, parental abandonment, abuse, or drug and alcohol addictions is thought to be linked to poor mental and physical wellbeing in later life. The higher a persons number of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), the more likely they are to suffer from mental illness or addiction. In turn they are more likely to expose their children to similar types of experiences, she says: ACEs tend to cascade through the generations.
In the early 20th century, cities were meant to show us how to live. Modern urban planning would make people in the worlds cities healthier and happier. In 1933, the influential Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier published his blueprint for the ideal city. In contrast with the past, he said, the city would now be designed to benefit its residents on both the spiritual and material planes.
In his Radiant City, industrial, commercial and residential zones would be segregated to allow workers to escape pollution; homes would be surrounded by open green spaces to allow residents to meet; wide roads would be set out in a grid system; and high-rise blocks would help clear the slums, overcrowded and unsanitary places where the inhabitants were, as the architect put it, incapable of initiating ameliorations.
Glasgow enthusiastically adopted these new buildings. In 1954 a delegation of councillors and planners visited Marseilles to see the Le Corbusier-designed Unit dHabitation, an 18-storey block of flats and amenities resting on concrete stilts. Glasgow soon had the highest number of high-rise dwellings in the UK outside London.
Since Le Corbusier, we have learned more about how the design of buildings can affect behaviour. In an oft-cited study from 1973, the psychologist Andrew Baum looked at how the design of two student dormitories changed how the residents interacted. In the first design, all the students shared common lounge and bathroom facilities along a corridor. In the second, smaller groups of four to six each shared bathrooms and lounges.
Baum found that the first design was a socially overloaded environment that did not allow residents to regulate who they interacted with and when. Being faced with too many people, at times not of their choosing, led students to experience stress; they became less helpful and more antisocial than those in the second design as the year went on.
Mental health is almost uniformly worse in cities thats just what the data shows
Perhaps the most famous example of buildings effects on their inhabitants still referenced today is the PruittIgoe housing complex in St Louis, USA: 33 towers of 11 storeys each, inspired by Le Corbusier and designed by the modernist Minoru Yamasaki. Finished in 1956, it was initially seen as a miracle solution to inner-city living. Less than 20 years later, the social problems the blocks seemed to have spawned were deemed so irreparable that the local authorities imploded the buildings.
The architect Oscar Newman toured PruittIgoe in 1971, a year before demolition started. He argued that the design of a building affected the extent to which residents contributed to its upkeep. If people feel responsible for both keeping an area clean and controlling who uses it, it is likely to be safer. He called this sense of ownership over a territory defensible space.
The larger the number of people who share a communal space, the more difficult it is for people to identify it as theirs or to feel they have a right to control or determine the activity taking place within it, Newman wrote. PruittIgoe was not designed to accommodate defensible space, he argued. Landings shared by only two families were well maintained, whereas corridors shared by 20 families were a disaster they evoked no feelings of identity or control.
Part of the Pruitt-Igoe public housing development in St. Louis, Missouri, being demolished by dynamite charges in 1972. Photograph: Fred Waters/AP
Tower blocks with wealthier residents are less likely to have issues with defensible space: they can pay for cleaners and security guards. Children, on the other hand, are often most affected: these common areas communal corridors, or landings, or the nearby park are usually spaces for play.
During his inauguration as rector of Glasgow University in 1972, the Clydeside trade unionist Jimmy Reid argued powerfully that working-class communities left behind by economic advancement were being stored out of sight. When you think of some of the high flats around us, he said, it can hardly be an accident that they are as near as one could get to an architectural representation of a filing cabinet.
Inequality is at its most conspicuous in cities: the very poor and the very rich live side-by-side yet separately. Relative social status is more likely to be the first measure by which we judge people in places where communities are more transient and inequality starker. This has been shown to have an impact on our psychological wellbeing.
In their book The Inner Level, epidemiologists Kate Pickett and Richard G Wilkinson argue that inequality not only creates social rupture by highlighting peoples differences but also encourages competition, contributing to increased social anxiety. They cite a 2004 paper by two psychologists at the University of California, Los Angeles Sally Dickerson and Margaret Kemeny who analysed 208 studies to find that tasks involving some threat of social evaluation affected stress hormones the most.
Pickett and Wilkinson argue that this type of stress harms our psychological health: The more unequal countries had three times as much mental illness as the more equal ones. This affects people of all social classes. In high-inequality countries, such as the USA and the UK, even the richest 10% of people suffer more anxiety than any group in low-inequality countries except the poorest 10%.
Research has also shown that living in a city can alter our brains architecture, making it more vulnerable to this type of social stress. In 2011, a team led by psychiatrist Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg of Heidelberg Universitys Central Institute of Mental Health looked at the implications of urban living on brain biology, scanning the brains of students while they were given arithmetic tasks and simultaneously subjected to criticism on headphones.
The results of the test, designed to simulate social stress, were stark: the participants who lived in a city demonstrated a greater neurophysiological reaction, with the amygdala, an area of the brain which processes emotion, activated more strongly. Those whod grown up in cities also displayed a stronger response in their perigenual anterior cingulate cortex, which regulates the amygdala and is associated with stress and negative emotion, than those brought up in towns or the countryside.
Meyer-Lindenbergs previous work on risk mechanisms in schizophrenia focused on genes. But these are only thought to account for a 20% increased chance of developing the illness at most and growing up in a city is associated with double the risk. His research has shown that stressful experiences in early life correlate with reduced volume of grey matter in the perigenual anterior cingulate cortex, a factor often seen in people with schizophrenia.
Mental health is almost uniformly worse in cities thats just what the data shows, Meyer-Lindenberg says. There isnt really a bright side to this.
Lack of agency the feeling that we dont have control over a situation is one of the core mechanisms determining how strongly social stress is experienced, says Meyer-Lindenberg, adding: People who are in leadership positions tend to cope better with a given amount of stress.
If you can see children, its probably a healthy and happy city
In a city, and particularly if you are poor, you are far more dependent on other people and the urban infrastructure, whether waiting impatiently for a bus or a lift, wondering who youll have to share a lift with in your high-rise complex, or hoping the local council will not choose your neighbourhood for redevelopment.
Cities can also of course be liberating. The flip side of being more stressful is that they may be more stimulating, Meyer-Lindenberg says. This tighter community that you have in a village, say, can be very oppressive if you dont feel like you belong, if youre an outsider of some sort.
Inequality has been shown to lower trust in others and damage social capital the networks between people which allow societies to function effectively. People are so worried about security that theyre mentally building walls around themselves, says Liz Zeidler, chief executive of the Happy City Initiative, a research centre based in Bristol. We need to be doing the opposite: we need to be creating more and more spaces where people can connect, learn across their differences.
Happy City has designed a way to measure the local conditions shown to improve well-being. Its Thriving Places Index looks at housing, education, inequality, green space, safety and community cohesion.
Perhaps a good measure for the happiness of a place, Zeidler says, is the status of the indicative species, an idea borrowed from the author and urbanist Charles Montgomery. For ponds, she says, it might be that the presence of a certain type of newt tells you whether or not the water is healthy. In cities, the newts are children: If you can see children, its probably a healthy and happy city.
The way a city is laid out can foster this environment, she says, by closing of streets, making it more pedestrianised, more green spaces, having more what urban planners would call bumping spaces, where you can literally bump into people. Slowing places down is really good for everybodys wellbeing and, obviously, you then see more children on the streets.
Without looking at the car swinging towards him, the urban planner Christopher Martin crosses the road. Thankfully, the car slows down. Martin continues, blithely, discussing the priority of pedestrians and rule 170 of the Highway Code.
The Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman used to perform a similar trick in the early 2000s. He would walk, usually with a journalist in tow, backwards, eyes closed, into a four-way crossing with no traffic lights or signs. Monderman believed roads were safer without traffic signs; in order to navigate unfamiliar routes, cars would slow down. The common sense of the drivers would act as a more powerful safety guard than any sign.
What were trying to do is to get people to interact with each other be human beings, Martin says as we continue to walk up Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow.
Sauchiehall Street is the first area to be worked on as part of the Avenues, a 115m project to form an integrated network of pedestrian and cycle routes on 17 roads and surrounding areas in the city centre between the Clyde and Glasgows infamous motorway, which forms a near noose around the area.
Glasgows central grid is mostly made of four-lane roads. When you walk across the city, the roads, some at a steep incline, others stretching towards a grey horizon, seem solely taken up with cars and buses. The city will get what it invites, says Martin. Now parts of these roads will be given over to those walking and biking, and to trees and benches.
Its very antisocial being sat in a metal box by yourself. The rise of urban loneliness and mental health [issues] to do with that disconnection is vast
City planners the world over have a history of favouring the needs of cars. In 1955 Robert Moses, New York City parks commissioner, was planning to build a four-lane road through Washington Square Park. Some of the residents demurred, including the journalist Jane Jacobs. In 1958, three years into what would become a successful 14-year fight to save Greenwich Village, she wrote an article in Fortune magazine that eventually formed the basis of her book The Death and Life of American Cities.
To keep downtown activities compact and concentrated, Jacobs advocated removing cars: The whole point is to make the streets more surprising, more compact, more variegated, and busier than before not less so. She argued against grand schemes that sought to demolish and redevelop, instead saying that cities should grow in line with what people want and how they use the spaces that already exist: There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans.
Giving priority to cars has distorted cities proportions, Martin says: If you build at the scale of cars, you get wide roads, you get wide streets, you get cities which stretch out because cars are fast and cars are big. Taking space away from cars gives the public realm back to the people. Its very antisocial being sat in a metal box by yourself, he says. The rise of urban loneliness and mental health [issues] to do with that disconnection is vast.
In Glasgow, Sauchiehall Street is being used as a proof of concept, while the other Avenues will be implemented over the next eight years.
If designed well, cities can be good for us. If you look at urban dwellers epidemiologically, says Meyer-Lindenberg, they tend to be richer, better educated, [with] better access to healthcare. And they also tend to be somatically healthier. They also tend to have a smaller carbon footprint. You cant raze cities to the ground and rebuild them, he says. You have to find ways to maximise peoples wellbeing.
Meyer-Lindenberg is currently tracking how different parts of the city affect our mental wellbeing, using a technique called ecological momentary assessment, in which participants repeatedly report on the environment around them in real time. Various studies have suggested that nature be that a tree or a park has an important impact on peoples mental health. The app he is currently designing will allow people to plan their routes through the city in order to maximise their exposure to nature.
The most beneficial nature is the one that looks like the kind of nature that humans would have encountered during their early evolution, he surmises. Perhaps the manicured parks of the type preferred by urban planners may not actually be that effective at improving our wellbeing.
In 2012, Emily Cutts realised the importance of these kinds of green spaces when the meadow overlooked by her second-floor flat in west Glasgow was threatened with development. Once used as an informal football pitch by locals, the meadow had mostly been frequented by dog walkers and drug addicts since the council, who wanted to sell the land, removed the goalposts. Now it finally looked as if a plan to build 90 deluxe flats might pass.
Cutts decided that the only way to save the meadow was to launch a campaign. Over the next few years, the community organised petitions, events and a three-month vigil in St Georges Square in the city centre. Eventually the Scottish government stepped in. On 21 December 2016, it was determined that the meadow would remain undeveloped. It is known locally as the Childrens Wood and is managed by a charity.
But why did Cutts and her fellow campaigners fight so passionately for this dingy meadow? Her neighbourhood, about 10 minutes north of the Botanic Gardens, already had plenty of green space. Was it simply a case of not wanting development on her doorstep?
When I meet Cutts in the community garden, she is deep in discussion with the gardener, Christine, about the possibility of using a wormery to transform dog faeces into compost for the trees. There are raised beds for planting, a bathtub with upturned earth for children to dig and an edible teepee (pea shoot tendrils will soon be climbing up the twigs). It was planted by a 12-year-old boy who, Cutts tells me, is regularly excluded from school.
Reclaiming the land for community is definitely the way forward. You can tell theres a need but its not happening all over and it could be
Cutts is slight with long blonde hair, a soft Glaswegian accent and an eager countenance. She has an MSc in positive psychology. It was while working as Carol Craigs researcher, compiling and presenting research on how to improve wellbeing, that she grew to understand the meadows potential to make her community healthier and happier.
Today, more than 20 schools and nurseries from the local area use the meadow. During my visit, Kelvinside Academy is having a forestry lesson. Children are playing around the thin birch trees, tying ropes around them, swinging friends vigorously in hammocks that look like laughing body bags, and digging in the earth. They learn to use knives for woodland tasks.
Cutts collaborated with a researcher at the University of Glasgow on a series of tests comparing the attention spans of children who spent their lunchtime in the meadow with those who stayed indoors or played in the schools concrete playground. The attention of children exposed to nature was significantly better.
Attention restorative theories argue that nature can have an impact on our attention span by engaging our indirect attention; this allows the type of attention we use for more challenging cognitive tasks, such as mathematical problems, to recuperate. The team also performed a similar experiment looking at childrens creativity in art. Children who came here used more colours, used more texture, made more depth to their pictures than those who hadnt played outside, says Cutts.
Richard Mitchell, a professor in the Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow, has also been looking at how exposure to nature affects stress in deprived communities. Despite previous research showing a beneficial impact, his own findings have shown it to be slight.
These are all very deprived communities with a whole range of other problems going on, and the detrimental impact of life in poverty and other stressful situations is not outweighed by access to green space, he says. I think what we have to understand is that at a population level it may not have an absolutely spectacular impact straight away, [but] it is important.
Further study, however, showed that one aspect of exposure to nature had pretty strong protective effects on mental health in adulthood, Mitchell says. Those who had been Scouts or Guides, and had repeated contact with nature over a long period of time where theyre learning a whole variety of skills including being outdoors and appreciation of nature, were less vulnerable to mental ill-health.
The Childrens Wood charity runs a regular youth club where they bring young people to help with the gardening. Many of the children come from deprived families. Thats what always interests us about the space, says Cutts. Its bang right in the centre of inequality theres so much poverty and theres a lot of affluence around. So, we feel its sort of a level playing field and everybody is welcome. Unlike in parks, which can be anonymous, here you have a committed community who are involved in the space, she says.
We go up the road together to visit a GP at home who works in Possilpark, one of the poorest districts in the city. She prescribes visits to the Childrens Wood, in addition to other treatments, due to the benefits of peer support, getting out of your house, talking to others, getting more engaged in your community, watching things grown, nurturing other things, nurturing oneself and self-care. She says that when her patients talk about the wood, it is one of the few times she sees them smile.
Over 60% of Glasgows population live within 500 metres of a derelict site. A 2013 study found that vacant land and deprivation were linked to poor mental and physical health. It recommended that the city council grant the more than 700 hectares (1,730 acres) available to highly deprived communities to be used for community good.
Reclaiming the land for community is definitely the way forward, Cutts says as we both look over the meadow in the drizzling rain. You can tell theres a need but its not happening all over and it could be.
In the evening, Cutts shows me the youth programme where 40 or so children are learning how to trampoline. As I wait for the bus, I see some of the children leaving, mostly boys who are about 13 or 14, jostling and pushing each other playfully in the middle of the wide road. They are the newts in the city.
This is an edited version of an article first published by Wellcome on Mosaic and is republished here under a Creative Commons licence. Sign up to the newsletter at mosaicscience.com/newsletter
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Posted: August 25, 2017 at 4:23 am
Sound Transit's Pioneer Square Station (2015) Credit: Brook Ward
Four decades living in Seattle have made this city home that, even though I was born elsewhere, I can surely claim it as my own. I can even lay claim to a family history in the Northwest that extends back to the 1890s when my great-grandparents helped establish a commune in the Skagit Valley that went by the name of Equality Colony. They and their friends and families created what we might call today a self-sufficient, intentional community; perhaps my life-long interest in communities actually had genetic roots.
My wife is one of those increasingly rare people who was actually born here. As I write this, however, it is less than 72 hours until our flight takes off for Rome and retirement in a small Italian town, a plan that has been four years in the making.
Yet, over almost exactly 40 years, I adopted Seattle as my community and stayed with it through lots of ups and downs. During that time, Ive written for a number of local publications, including The Seattle Times and, for somefive years, Crosscut. David Brewster, Crosscuts founder, gave me a boost into part-time writing years ago with the Seattle Weekly back when it was the citys bold experiment in journalism. So, I have some parting thoughts about the city.
Seattle is a great city in spite of itself. We often get in our own way, taking steps forward then retrenching. The Seattle Commons and the Monorail debacles are prime examples.
On the other hand, the region has been transformed by big bond issues that were approved by voters, some of which have been largely forgotten as the changes they brought are almost taken for granted. From Forward Thrust in the 1960s to the Pike Place Market, Farmlands Preservation, Sound Transit and repeated Seattle parks and housing levies, we have collectively constructed the framework that many other cities failed to develop.
The private sector played its own striking role. Boeing changed how we travel. Microsoft changed how we work. And Amazon changed how we shop. All were homegrown businesses that started small, literally in garages, and expanded into companies with global impact.
When I first arrived here, Seattle was still pretty much a lackluster, bush-league provincial city, seemingly at the edge of the continental frontier. So little was known about the place that, as I recall, Time Magazine once datelined an article with Seattle, Oregon.
I think we are on the map now.
What I personally found here was a place that honored individual initiative. One could champion a project and have a lot of help from others. Architect Victor Steinbrueck, who I once had the pleasure of working with, organized a grassroots citizens initiative to save Pike Place Market from a planned demolition. Jim Ellis led the cleaning up of the bay, the formation of Metro and the preservation of vast forest lands. Currently, Gene Duvernoy is one of the successors to this great legacy of activism, with the irrepressible and effective organization Forterra. All are examples of the Power of One.
Just as effective are the many non-profit housing developers who have built many thousands of places to live for low and moderate income people including El Centro de la Raza to CHHP to Bellwether. And, of course, a multitude of arts organizations large and small have added the passion, creativity, and advocacy to make this urban region what it is. Finally, Seattle and its surrounding cities are becoming a rich stew pot of races, ethnicities, cultures, and languages that did not exist only a few decades ago.
So with these great legacies and social and cultural bones, what might be in store for Seattle over the next, say 10 to 15 years?
We already know that we will see a central waterfront transformed into an elegant and accessible esplanade connecting the beloved Market to the shoreline. In this massive change, I hope there will still be a place for the scores of squid giggers who now line the edge of Piers 62/63 with their eerie lights and flashing poles. We also have to ensure locations for small, homegrown enterprises whether shops, cafes, services or sources of food.
We will see a sea change in how people travel once the Sound Transit 3 work is completed. Already, we have seen shifts to commuter rail and light rail and, in recent weeks, the very promising free-ranging bike share system. The geography of this region constrains an expansion of the highway system thankfully. The area, in all likelihood, will see the repurposing of some roads and streets into shared public spaces, with a severe limitation on the use of private vehicles.
The Seattle region will, without doubt, see another huge disruption of the economy, likely within three years. The nation and the region are already overdue for a recession. But I believe there will also be a life-altering discovery or development here that will affect millions of people very likely in the intersection of life sciences with computer technology. This will add to Seattles cachet as a progressive, global urban center.
The Citys housing stock will change, as politically painful as that will be. Large sections of the city that are now exclusively detached houses will be replaced with attached homes, alley houses and cottages. More towers will be built in and around the city center, which will extend from the Ship Canal to Safeco Field.
Lots of folks will find these changes uncomfortable or less affordable and they will likely leave, as it has been the case throughout the history of cities. They will be rapidly replaced by new people eager to find opportunity here.
And, somewhat fatalistically, I do have to think there will be one great, tragic disaster perhaps human-caused but more likely a natural one. The area is, after all, due for an earthquake. The city will recover. But it will be significantly altered, just as the great fire of 1889 resulted in a massive reinvention of Seattle.
But hey, you dont have to take my word for any of it. Im outta here.