Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Green Corps Graduation

Last Friday's Green Corps graduation was an event of mixed emotions for me.  As always, I was deeply inspired to witness this big achievement for those in the program, many ex-offenders. Here you can see where this year's program took place, in the exquisite Preston Bradley Hall in the Cultural Center (the Chicago Public Library in my youth). This venue was new: under the previous mayoral administration of Richard M. Daley, it took place at Garfield Park Conservatory. The mixed emotions were brought on by some changes under the new mayor, Rahm Emanuel. In Chicago, the Department of Environment (previously staffed by some pretty amazing people) no longer exists. So programs like this are now under the Department of Transportation.  Many people have lost jobs and a few new folk are showing up. I especially enjoyed listening to the new CDOT Commissioner, Gabe Klein, who is known for starting to bring more sustainable transportation to Chicago, especially re: bikes. Change is in the air (especially with the plants about two months ahead of normal) and we shall see what it brings...

Monday, February 13, 2012

Winter Bloom Way Ahead of Schedule!

This shocking but true documentation is for my friend and colleague, Manager of Continuing Education (and bulb expert) Jill Selinger up at the Chicago Botanic Garden. We are both fans of Allium multibilbosum. Today I mentioned that I had seen this bloom on Pulmonaria (mollis, I think) in my garden two days ago.  Normal bloom time is April...We shall see what happens to our gardens given the super warm winter and drought.

Thank you to the thoughtful comments I received from many of you via email in response to my previous post about religion & politics. I have a number of deadlines before I leave for Guatemala and so I will answer to the group. I guess one of my points is that I still have various types of relationships with people with whom I disagree. But for me: we have to be able to have a discussion and one predicated on owning up to our subjective perspectives. It is this shift in being able to disagree that I note. Plus, I witness all kinds of "isms" (racism, sexism, nationalism) coming back into fashion and many people seem fine practicing them. That will never be acceptable to me. Most of my life has been about transparency, telling things as they are.  This was vital to my many years as a teacher and writer and is just as important in my current job.  I have always been a landscape designer who advises my clients on realistic expectations given environment, personality, budget and time constraints. So in this current climate of many people not discussing our real and large challenges, image how that might affect my job.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Design Process, Reality & Context

I am a lucky person in today's world. I have a job and it's one I like. I get to enrich people's lives and help the planet. 

Above you can see part of the big challenging urban project I have been working on all week. Finally....after a year and a half...I am meeting my client to show them a landscape concept. This is an exciting process with MUCH interaction and give & take, not just with the client, but with excellent architects, contractors, and arborists. It has really stretched me since where we started from is quite different from where we are now. As well, my design process was almost the reverse of normal, demanded by the necessity of dealing with many architectural and construction site details before the landscape could be addressed.

As I sit in my office, getting up to stretch my legs and check the (rare) falling snow below, I reflect on how my concentration has been challenged this week by politics & religion.  It being an election year, and an especially ugly one at that, each day seems to stretch my incredulity. In business, we are not supposed to discuss religion & politics, but since that's what is guiding most conversations these days, how is it possible not to? I felt I had no choice but to quit a local design organization I had belonged to for over a dozen years because the group reported on something neutral with a very right-wing bias that it would not own up to. Forget even discussing policy...

I am a second-generation American. One grandfather had to leave Russian due to political persecution, the other had to leave due to religious persecution. Given my last name (which I did not change when I married), you can guess which was maternal, which paternal. But with that history so recently a part of my being and with what is passing for discussion these days, how can I not spend a lot of energy on politics & religion?  Especially as a woman.

Design always happens in context. And today I was reflecting on how much more regressive certain powers that be in our society are than when I was in high school! Never having been mainstream, this makes me appreciate those progressive people I connect with even more.

Friday, February 3, 2012

No Dirty Gold

In light of Valentines Day, today I received an email from Earthworks detailing Macy's practice of selling jewelry that uses "Dirty Gold." This topic especially resonates for me since a Canadian Mining Company, Goldcorp, owns a gold mine just south of some of the Mayan Mam communities I volunteer with through AFOPADI via Earthways in Guatemala. I have photos of people from these communities visiting the nearby Marlin Mine. I'm not linking here to many sites about Goldcorp & Marlin: if you do an Internet search you will find a fascinating range from propaganda through more reliable sources. (Wikipedia is especially interesting as it appears Goldcorp's corporate interests have clearly weighed in.)
Nor am I going to list the myriad negative environmental impacts on land and the people (in this case subsistence farmers living on land that is largely deforested and has poor quality soil). Suffice it to say that there are obvious reasons why the local indigenous communities have been organizing against the mines as well as why the government of Guatemala has not been advocating for the best interests of its citizens. This economic blog, TripleCrisis, provides a recent (1/19/12) and fairly accurate overview.
It is painful for me to know that Goldcorps owns the mining rights to land underneath the homes of some of the Mam people I have grown to know and admire and love since I first became involved with NGOs in this Highland area of Guatemala. In my hat as a project director for Earthways, I will be making a site visit next month to learn updates on this important struggle against environmental degradation. In communities where people already struggle to get sufficient crops & water (women and children in many of the communities we serve often have to walk about four hours per day to get water and it is certainly not particularly "potable" to begin with), there is no room for gold mining. Its possible effects (like arsenic leaching into the groundwater) are unacceptable. But like much of Guatemala's history, true and present.
I urge my readers to look around virtually, educate yourself and see what action you can take. For my part, I will try to give some useful updates after my trip. Of course, you can always make a donation to Earthways and specify it for that project. Or contact me to learn more about ways we are expanding.
In a few weeks, you can imagine this little gringa (hopefully with fully healed ankle as I am walking on it again and began driving yesterday) hiking up and down paths alongside scenes like the one above up at 8000'.