Trees, Cities & Happiness


A tree in Riverfront Park competes for grandeur with Nashville’s iconic At&T building. Credit William DeShazer for The New York Times

PlantTreeCity.jpgI just learned of an urban tree-planting initiative on a day when the news shows purposeful indifference about climate change on the part of a powerful country’s elected leader, on the same day when the news also shows that an economist considered a pioneer of environmental economics is receiving a prestigious prize and what he said when he learned of his being awarded the prize:

“Once we start to try to reduce carbon emissions, we’ll be surprised that it wasn’t as hard as we anticipated. The danger with very alarming forecasts is that it will make people feel apathetic and hopeless.

“One problem today is that people think protecting the environment will be so costly and so hard that they want to ignore the problem and pretend it doesn’t exist. Humans are capable of amazing accomplishments if we set our minds to it.”

PlantTreesCity2Let’s decide together to do something, seems to be his message. I learned about this urban tree-planting initiative, news of a president’s abdication of responsibility, and this economist’s optimistic message on the same day I read about a 15-year old climate activist who has decided to do something where she sees her government failing to take action. She has decided at a very young age to do what she can regardless of the daunting odds. So thanks to Margaret Renkl a Nashville-based contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, for bringing this initiative to my attention, as a reminder to do something:

More Trees, Happier People

When cities grow, green space dies. Replanting it has been shown to lift the human spirit.


A tale of two trees in Nashville. A mature tree in England Park, left, and a newly planted tree at Wright Middle School.

NASHVILLE — The scene in a tiny pocket park outside Plaza Mariachi here on Nolensville Pike last Wednesday was like a tableau from a Norman Rockwell painting, 21st-century style. Surrounded by signs advertising the Hispanic Family Foundation, Dubai Jewelry, the Dominican Barber Shop and restaurants offering Peruvian, Chinese, Mediterranean and Indian food — as well as a Game Stop franchise and H&R Block — was a small sign that read, “Today: Free trees.”


Photographs by William DeShazer for The New York Times

The arrow on the sign pointed to a pop-up canopy where the Nashville Tree Foundation was hosting its fourth tree giveaway of October. A family standing under the canopy was posing for a photo with the sapling they had just adopted. Carolyn Sorenson, executive director of the foundation, was taking the picture: “Say ‘trees’!” she said.

The tree giveaway at Plaza Mariachi happened to fall on the very day that Nashville’s mayor, David Briley, announced a campaign to restore and enlarge the city’s tree canopy. The effort, called “Root Nashville,” will be overseen by the city and the Cumberland River Compact, an environmental nonprofit, and funded through a combination of public, corporate, foundation and private dollars. Together with several municipal departments and other nonprofit organizations, the initiative aims to plant 500,000 trees in Davidson County by 2050.

Many of these newly planted saplings will replace very large, very old trees that have been lost to Nashville’s meteoric growth — a population increase of more than 45 percent since 2000. As the city has grown, the city’s trees have fallen: deliberately felled by developers to make room for new construction or unintentionally killed as a side effect of nearby building. Just since 2008, the tree canopy in the urban core has dropped from 28 percent to 24 percent, a loss of roughly 9,000 trees a year. Continue reading

Mobile Farmers Market Headed to Austin Neighborhoods


Source: Farmshare Austin

We have shared on previous occasions the benefits of organic farming. Well, getting affordable organic produce to neighborhoods who don’t have a single grocery store is commendable task, and the mission of Farmshare Austin. The non-profit organization received a grant from the city to help launch the program, which will make designated weekly stops in neighborhoods around Austin that lack access to organic fruits and veggies.

“Large areas of the city and county do not have full-service grocery stores, and it can be difficult for people in these places to get fresh, affordable food for themselves and their families,” [says] Taylor Cook, Farmshare Austin’s executive director. The market will target four areas, for now, that need the service most, and it will park in each district through an afternoon and evening. Cook says besides offering fresh seasonal produce from the organization’s 7-acre organic farm, they will also offer other staples, like cooking oil, on hand, so residents will have access to everything they need to cook a meal. The program accepts SNAP benefits and participates in the Sustainable Food Center’s Double Dollars program, allowing consumers using food assistance  to double their buyer power for fruits and vegetables. The pilot program will begin next month and run through the end of December. Cook says they hope to expand the mobile farmers market program in the coming years.

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If You Happen To Be On Ponce De Leon

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It’s been awhile since we wrote about Nick Cave and the inspired and inspiringly creative form of upcycling he applies in his “happenings”. It seems particularly appropriate that this particular Flux Project (sounds pretty pop-up, right?) takes place at Atlanta’s Ponce City Market, an adaptive reuse renovation of the historic 1926 Sears & Roebuck building into an urban community of hub of living, work and public space.

About the work

Up Right: Atlanta is a “call to arms, head and heart” for Cave initiates—the lead characters of this work. Through the performance, they are prepared mind, body and spirit to face the forces that stand in the way of self-hood, to enter a world over which they have complete control. Initiates become warriors of their own destiny.

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Neighbors Unite

Photo credit: Davebloggs007/Flickr

Photo credit: Davebloggs007/Flickr

Many of the RAXA Collective contributors could could easily get behind  the motto: “Book Lovers Unite!”; many could be found with their noses in a book from early childhood to the present day. So when we read about these “pop up libraries” in various parts of the country the only response possible was excitement.

Books are an essential part of culture and the LFL concept of sharing creates an even greater community bond worth conserving.

Three years ago, The Los Angeles Times published a feel-good story on the Little Free Library movement. The idea is simple: A book lover puts a box or shelf or crate of books in their front yard. Neighbors browse, take one, and return later with a replacement. A 76-year-old in Sherman Oaks, California, felt that his little library, roughly the size of a dollhouse, “turned strangers into friends and a sometimes-impersonal neighborhood into a community,” the reporter observed. The man knew he was onto something “when a 9-year-old boy knocked on his door one morning to say how much he liked the little library.” He went on to explain, “I met more neighbors in the first three weeks than in the previous 30 years.” Continue reading

Cochin : exploring Mattancherry

Wandering around Mattancherry  : the vibrant murals covering the walls of Mattancherry Palace as well as each and every street; Dockers carrying sacks of produce urging you to move out of the way; Those boats that look more like works of art…not to mention the art installations on the docks… The streets that surround Spice Harbour, a development Raxa Collective is currently working on, are full of colours, spices and, yes goats… Continue reading

A road paved with mixed intentions

Hotel on the lake road Thekkady

The pavement is being rebuilt on the street leading to ‘downtown’ Thekkady. Right now it looks like in many other Indian cities, which is apparently like a constant work in progress according to this article by N N Sachitanand in the New Indian Express:

Once upon a time, roadside pavements were meant for the use of pedestrians so that they could safely traverse the length of the road without being knocked down by traffic. That is why the Americans (as in the US of A) call them sidewalks. Indians have adopted and adapted to this Western concept to suit their own environment and, in the process, mangled its original purpose beyond recognition.

…or an extreme-gardening experimentation : Continue reading

From West to East: A Road Trip Journal (Part 1)

This is the first in a series of posts on a summer trip. Sorry it’s not quite summer anymore; things have been busy, but hopefully I’ll get the rest of these out before too long!

A little bit of background: I spent this summer studying ancient Greek language at the University of Berkeley. In late May, a few days before I was scheduled to catch my plane at Hartsfield-Jackson airport for Berkeley, I invited a few of my best friends over to bid them a fond farewell for the summer. Suffice to say, we ended up on the roof at three a.m. discussing how incredible it would be to do a cross-country road trip after my class was over. Now, we had thrown around this possibility dozens of times before, but this time, everything was a bit different. For one, none of us was a kid anymore; Tyler, my next door neighbor, had just graduated from University of Georgia; my brother, Carl, is going into his senior year at Emory University; and Nick, a good friend from high school, and I are both going into our junior years (Emory for me, Haverford for him). Moreover, all of us were itching to get out of our quiet suburbs and see some of the world before the relentless march of years and responsibility would make it impossible for us to take the trip together.  Before we knew it, we were taking solemn oaths that we’d be hitting the road in shortly more than two months. Obviously, we did, or I wouldn’t be writing this now.

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Kaiser the Puppy and the Rising Middle Class in India

Three days ago, we pulled up in front of an art deco gate and half-abandoned mansion on the property of a soon-to-be new RAXA Collective resort. By ‘we’ I mean the design team comprising of an architecture student (me, Chi-Chi), a landscape architecture student (Rania), a hotelie-turned-interior architecture student (Jonathon), and an engineering student (Siobhan). We were told to get a feel of the property.

Trusty Guard at Marari Beach

We, the interns, walked around the property with Amie and the trusty guard. The bamboo stick to protect against rumored snakes on the beach.

We found: ‘objects’ (modest fishermen’s homes); an endless, unobstructed beach with marbled sand and black waves; and our new favorite hangout spot, a nearby internet café.

Exploring the ObjectsRania Inspects a Decorative Statement Wall

Guard and us exploring the roofline

Exploring the roofline of an abandoned wealthy fisherman’s house with the guard.

Kaiser found: two Indian security guards; their next-door-neighbor friend; our cook Manu; and us.

Kaiser is a tiny mixed puppy who arrived on site only an hour before we did. As a dog-lover and all-around “everything happens for a reason” believer, I KNEW KAISER WAS A SIGN. A sign for what, I don’t really know, but he was a very cute and very small sign, so I immediately focused all my down-time obsessing and fussing over Kaiser.

Kaiser the Puppy

This is Kaiser.

I think Kaiser gave me more insight to Indian attitudes. It’s very difficult to converse with someone about abstract ideas without a common language, but if you throw a dog in the mix, it becomes a lot easier.

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Find Your Spring

Man is a complicated creature. We learn this in our liberal arts education programs. We learn it in our days of being ourselves and of imaging what it’s like to be someone else. He has seasons like his mother Earth. Some are restful, others treacherous, and some are fruitful as the spring.

Cape Honeysuckle provides nectar for the hummingbirds

We have yet to “re-understand” how sensitive we are to the winds of change, how linked we are to the ground we stand upon.

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Our Gang, Thevara (February Favorites)

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The passerby, known as a neighbor by now, aka something like “perambulating portrait person,” senses a few patterns: one youngster, perhaps four years old, is a gigglebox at all times; another, same age, is the village notification siren (SAIPE!); and a few always mix their moves like karate chop Bollywood extras. Continue reading