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Indigenous street names in Toronto get noticed and made 'official'

Fri, 16 Sep 2016 10:33:20 -0400

It started out with stickers installed over street signs in Toronto, Canada.  Printed on those stickers were indigenous names, either for the streets themselves or the area the streets run through. For three years, members of the Ogimaa Mikana project posted these informal reminders of what the First Nation peoples called these places long ago. They created billboards, street signs and plaques to make the city's indigenous history and residents more visible. None of it was officially sanctioned. "There has been a very long history in Canada of erasing indigenous presence and I think this is especially true in the city," said Hayden King, co-founder of Ogimaa Mikana and a member of the Anishinaabe tribe. He thinks Canadians often believe that indigenous people only live in the northern part of the country or on reservations.  In fact, "there are tens of thousands of indigenous people living in Canadian cities, that have always been living in Canadian cities before colonization and certainly after," he said. The project aims to "[remind] Canadians that they're on indigenous land," he added. Ogimaa Mikana has posted several signs outside of Toronto, too.  The signs had an impact, and city officials reached out to Ogimaa Mikana. The project collaborated with Dupont by the Castle Business Improvement Area and the City of Toronto to turn the makeshift signs into official ones, making them the first indigenous street names in the city. A billboard on Bayfield St. in Barrie, Ontario, Canada, reading "Don't be shy to speak Anishinaabemowin when it's time." The billboard is written in the Anishinaace language and was put up by members of the Ogimaa Mikana project.  Credit: Photo Courtesy of the Ogimaa Mikana Project Four streets in Toronto now bear signs with their indigenous Anishinaabe names. They went up on Sept. 15. "We didn't believe it would happen at first," Hayden admitted, as the group was accustomed to indigenous causes getting ignored. "I think they wanted to acknowledge indigenous history, and we're in this era of supposed reconciliation in Canada. I got to give them a lot of credit," he said. Hayden said his group is careful to represent that history in the signs. "We do research to corroborate our translations and to figure out the original place names," Hayden said. "It's actually a fairly significant amount of work." The group relies on historical documents, archeological information and advice from indigenous elders. Whenever translating names into Anishinaabe languages, Hayden said they make sure to run the translation by an elder for accuracy. So cool to see these Anishinaabe street names in #yyz #OgimaaMikana — Christina Turner (@christinalbt) September 22, 2016 Anto Sugianto, who works for the city in the flood-prone northern district of Ancol, says PetaJakarta has become an important tool in flood response. During a flood in April, Sugianto says he used PetaJakarta to help city teams decide where to deploy pumps to suck water away from important streets, and what roads to close to keep people from being trapped in their cars. His team even contributed their own geotagged photos to the site while they worked. Sugianto says Petajakarta has begun to transform flood response in the city from a top-down effort to a cooperative relationship between the city and its residents. “It’s not only that the Kelurahan [district] can give information to the public,” Sugianto says. “Now we get information from them, too. Give and get.” A model for elsewhere And PetaJakarta is getting noticed beyond Indonesia. Both the US Federal Communications Commission and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent have cited PetaJakarta as a model of community engagement in disaster response. Aerial view of North Jakarta. Nearly all of the northern part of the city is now below sea level. Credit: Muhammad Fadli/GroundTruth Of course, better online mapping won’t help actually prevent the flooding that[...]

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Trying to confront a massive flood risk, Jakarta faces 'problem on top of problem'

Thu, 15 Sep 2016 12:38:59 -0400

The Java Sea to the north. Thirteen rivers flowing through the city from mountains to the south. For as long as it’s been inhabited, the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, has been regularly inundated by these two forces of nature. Now, confronted by increasingly heavy monsoon rains, rising seas and other challenges, the metro area of 30 million people is facing a dire threat from climate change. A good place to see what's at stake is in north Jakarta, where a leaky concrete seawall is the only thing holding back the Java Sea from flooding almost half of the city. Even on a clear day, the seawall is just a few inches from overtopping. “Basically this is a life threatening situation,” says Victor Coenen, an engineer for the Dutch engineering firm Witteveen+Bos, whom the Indonesian government has asked for help shoring up its flood-control infrastructure. “If this seawall breaks, you have three meters of water in this kampung area where nobody can swim.” A girl stands on the outer side of a recently reinforced seawall in Muara Baru, Jakarta. The neighborhood on the other side of the wall is below sea level. Credit: Muhammad Fadli/GroundTruth “Kampung” means village, and it's what Indonesians call the kind of neighborhood below the wall. This is a working-class community, where people live under asbestos roofs and earn a meager living by fishing in the bay or selling snacks on the street. Roughly 100,000 people live right next to the seawall, well below the sea level. Rising water, sinking land About 40 percent of Jakarta today is below sea-level, and that share is growing. That’s partly because climate change is slowly raising sea levels, but the bigger problem right now is that much of Jakarta itself is sinking as the water table beneath the city depletes. Jakarta has some of the world's highest rates of land subsidence, with some parts sinking nearly 10 inches per year. “It’s really a problem on top of another problem, making things even more difficult,” Coenen says. Jakarta’s problems managing water have piled up over decades as it ballooned into one of the biggest cities on Earth. Now the Indonesian government is trying to address some of them with an ambitious “national coastal development” strategy. It includes a $30 billion plan to build a new seawall, 300 miles long, and to enclose Jakarta Bay behind a chain of artificial islands. Fishermen in Muara Angke, Jakarta, a neighborhood along Jakarta Bay whose economy is largely dependent on the bay. Credit: Muhammad Fadli/GroundTruth But the plan isn’t popular with some of the very people it’s supposed to protect. Kuat Wibisono, who leads a fishermen’s group in a seaside kampung called Muara Angke, says new islands in the bay are already affecting local fishermen’s catch. He acknowledges that flooding can be a real problem, but he doesn’t think the bay development plan will solve that, or anything else. “We don’t really see how the reclamation project will improve (our) economy, or how it will benefit us socially or environmentally, because the reclamation is burying our fishing area,” Wibisono says. And he faults the process as well. Wibisono claims local fishermen only found out about the government's plans when their boats started running aground in unfamiliar places, where engineers were already raising the seafloor for new artificial islands. “There was not any discussion, or announcement to our community from government. [It’s] as if Jakarta Bay is theirs,” he says. Wisbono's group successfully sued to stop the construction of artificial islands. There's currently a moratorium on new islands, and later this year the country’s president is supposed to weigh in on whether construction can continue. Wibisono says he thinks the real motivation for Jakarta's land reclamation isn’t flood control, but making more room for rich people. That’s because the new seawall and protective islands would be financed by leasing the ne[...]

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Massachusetts pushes to brew up new green businesses to help fight climate change

Fri, 09 Sep 2016 11:40:37 -0400

A few years ago, when Sorin Grama had just finished graduate work at MIT and was looking for a place to build his new solar electricity startup, he came across an old abandoned warehouse. “My partner and I were looking at it and said, ‘Well, it’s a lot of space here, maybe others can join, it’s kind of lonely,’” Grama says. “We put out a call to the MIT community.” Within weeks, a handful of startups were sharing that cavernous space. “And we bonded. All the companies created a nice community, and we started sharing tools, people and ideas, and reading each other’s proposals for funding, things like that,” Grama says. “We had a great Christmas party one year.” But the warehouse was slated to be torn down. The entrepreneurs stuck together though, and relocated. Soon, five companies became 20, and they needed a third, even bigger site. Today, their home is a massive old mid-19th century pipe factory in Somerville, just outside of Boston. It’s called Greentown Labs, and it's one of the most successful in a new wave of what are called green business incubators, clusters of startups looking to build a business by helping cut carbon emissions and fight climate change. Executive vice president Mark Vasu says Greentown is now the nation’s largest clean tech incubator, home to more than 50 clean energy and clean technology-focused companies. The companies here could easily go and rent office space anywhere. But these entrepreneurs need space to roll up their sleeves. Shared workspace at Greentown Labs. Credit: Greentown Labs “They’re making stuff, they’re getting dirty, they’re building things,” says Vasu. Sharing resources, ideas and enthusiasm  And they're saving money doing it at Greentown. If you need a power saw or an industrial press, no need to buy your own — just sign up for a time slot in the machine shop. The incubator also brings shared intellectual resources, like software, human resources, even PR help. And then there’s the networking. Greentown resident Aaron Acosta is a recent MIT grad and CEO of the five-person startup Rise Robotics, a company working on energy-efficient robotics. Acosta says they came to Greentown for the lab space, but stayed for the community. “It’s like a pack effect, where when someone is pulling away and doing really well out at the front, the group can see that and then chases after it. It’s the, ‘If they can do it, I can do it,’” Acosta says. “And then if you’re falling behind, then you can be like ‘Help!’ And they can pull you along for a little while until you’re up and running again.” That help runs deep. Greentown’s current roster of companies employs 450 people across a range of green tech fields. Vasu points out companies as we cruise the vast space. One is working on small satellites, another on energy generation from sewage. Yet another is working to convert trash to energy. “Basically landfills, when they’re capped, generate methane," Vasu says. In the atmosphere, methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. But, he says, “if you can actually capture that methane efficiently, it can be used as a fuel source.” Growing up and moving out The startups are physically separated just by masking tape on the ground. One small area is empty and abandoned. The company that used to occupy it — Altaeros Energies, which makes high-altitude wind turbines, suspended in the air through what's called helium aerostat technology — got too big and needed more space. The company Altaeros Energies outgrew Greentown Labs, which is part of the point.  Credit: Greeentown Labs Of course outgrowing the incubator is part of the point, showing there’s money to be made tackling the world’s climate and energy challenges. It’s a growth area that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is betting on, putting millions in grants and loans toward a network of green tech incubators. Steven Pike, interim CEO of th[...]

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