Planning for children, by children

Photo credit: StoreFrontLab.org

I wanted to share a few resources I’ve come across on the American Planning Association website that are meant for planners who are targeting children as key components to the development of a community plan. I find it odd that amongst the buzz of community engagement and participatory work that there is not more of a push from the parents, stakeholders, or planners for that matter to get more youth involved in the process. Of course there are planners out there who are utilizing the brilliant minds of children for unique and creative approaches to development of cities and what’s in them (here’s a great example). Frankly however, I don’t think we talk about it enough. As a learning planner, all of the literature I’ve come across when it comes to engaging with the community for input has been specifically directed at attaining opinions and ideas from adults. Yes that’s important, but what about the kids? If it’s the children who will someday be the future planners and inhabitants of the current neighborhoods, streets and developments we’re producing, then shouldn’t we do more to engage them and build a better place with their wants and needs in mind?

Through my perusal of the APA site, I found an entire page devoted to planning with children in mind and also part of the process. On the education page there is an entire Youth and Teachers sub-page that provides a few resources for how to get children engaged in the planning process, understand what a planner does, and even teach city planning and engagement strategies to youth from curriculums. The curriculums are downloadable and obviously can be modified, but are great places to start for planners who want to visit schools to get student’s input but don’t have an idea on how to get started. Also, the fact that you could inspire children to some day be future planners is just awesome, along with that you’ll be connecting with people in the community that matter who typically don’t have as much of a way to be “heard”: teachers and children.

Metropolis: A Green City of Your Own is one curriculum meant for grades 3-6, produced by a third grade teacher and planner:

Packed with illustrations and exercises, it is intended for use by elementary classroom teachers and other adults who seek to expose children to a variety of urban forms from around the world. The city elements presented in the lessons are edges, districts, public spaces, landmarks, and transportation — taken from Kevin Lynch’s book Image of the City. These elements provide an organizing mechanism for children to design their own ideal cities.

The Urban Natural Guide is a re-printable document that allows planners to interact with a community of their choice through probing questions based off of Jane Jacobs’s style of inquiry. These simply approachable questions challenge you to look at the surroundings, and can be adopted to help children tell what they notice and value also. There’s a City Detective lesson plan that definitely seems more suited for children in middle school or high school, but the plan is completely able to be scaled down for K-5. This plan would be a great “plug” for planning, geography and design careers to children through mapping and history. Finally, the resource printout is a great reference for how to incorporate planning activities in the classroom at every grade level (beginning with grade 4) and also has resources for interested teachers. You can read Youth Participation in Community Planning to find supplementary materials and ideas for how to engage with youth in their communities in appropriate but valuable ways, and see where it’s been done well! APA even has their own blog just for youth engagement planning- check it out at Kid’s Planning Toolbox.

Happy planning!

Mindfulness Check-In 1/26: Migraines and Joy

“Better late than never.”

So I know it’s in the evening, but posting late is better than not posting at all, and this is an important update! I want to tell you about my migraine, my pain, my progress, and how at the end of the day I overlooked the pain and saw the joy, all while watching a hockey game. First off, I am horrible at getting into watching most sports. Though I love to play many sports, watching them is a completely different experience, and usually I find myself in “squirrel! mode” where I simply cannot pay attention. During my undergrad times, all my friends would become ecstatic for the football and hockey games. I would go for the “experience” of friendship and raw excitement, but I often found myself just dazing off and completely missing every goal or touch-down- I just wasn’t interested. So by late Sophomore year, I told myself I would never attend another game. Sure, I take part in the Super Bowl festivities, but only for the food and people.

Now let me tell you a key piece of information. My significant other and his family love hockey. I was luck my family never stressed about watching sports in a crazed fashion but I also respect that for some families, it’s what they do. For Christmas I had the genius idea of buying hockey tickets at my University for myself, my significant other, and his parents. They live 2 hours away so we thought it would be a good idea for them to come out, experience the school pride and hockey, and get some awesome local pizza! What a great idea, except for the migraine.

Since I was 6, I’ve experienced chronic headaches and migraines. I go through waves of time where it seems my life just consists of tension headaches, spasms, and then the migraines. Then I have times where it’s just peace and quiet, and yes, NO MIGRAINES. Well since the new semester began last Tuesday, my sleep has been completely off and my stress levels higher than usual. That’s a great equation for, yep, a migraine that lingers for almost a week. In fact, I can feel it still here now, but luckily only as a headache. Yesterday I felt the dull pain encasing my entire skull, like a heavy crown just pressing on my head. I went through my mental checklist and took the precautions I normally take to avoid medicine and thought, “Maybe I’m just really hungry but will be okay after some pizza?”. (This pizza is from Antonio’s and I had been waiting for it for 2 weeks as my indulgent meal, so I couldn’t tell if it was a hunger headache or a craving headache- though I was mindful in trying to discern the source of my hunger and headache.) I took my time eating the pizza, to really enjoy it and experience what was happening around me in the process: the packed restaurant, the people skirting around outside, the bright sun coming in through the windows, the different pizza slices around me, and the pure blissful silence of our family eating pizza happily amongst the buzzing restaurant chatter. I didn’t finish one slice because I really was trying to see if I was truly full by scanning how I felt! Well right after I finished eating and left for the arena, that’s when it came- the migraine came. 

All I will indulge in the experience of the migraine’s pain is that I actually had to visit the EMT to ask for ice packs, and kept them on my head during the game while borrowing some sunglasses to shade my eyes from the bright lights. What’s more important here is how I still had a great time. Remember how I said I would never attend another hockey game? I knew this one was either going to be 2 hours of horror (migraine) and boredom (hockey), or 2 hours of joy with family. As soon as the puck was in play I made sure to keep my eyes focused on the general picture of what was in front of me. In the past I tried to just focus on the puck, or certain players, or even just the goals. But through my yoga and meditation practice, I’m learning to let my gaze just look out, and not necessarily focus on one image but just take in what it notices naturally. I also kept reminding myself to breathe long breaths in and out, since I knew I would be there for a while with a migraine, and wanted to have a good time. This reminder to breathe and just take time in that moment despite the pain I felt, just be there amongst the lights, loud noises, and distractions, was extremely challenging but also gratifying. By the end of the game though my head still hurt, I was so excited at my progress- I had seen every goal shot, and actually enjoyed my time there!! I laughed, allowed myself to eat a bit of candy, cheered for my team, bonded with the family, and barely thought about anything on my to-do list. I was “in the moment”.

I wanted to write about this today because I know I had a choice. I had a choice to be honest about my feelings and experiences, and how I was going to explain my mindfulness progress while having a migraine. The best part about my mindfulness challenge is being able to just “be” with whatever my experience is at that moment and the feelings it stirs within me and decide how I want to engage with them. I don’t have to feel bad that I had a migraine and then have that stir up more emotions and pain for me if I don’t want to. I’m not saying that I felt glorious during that game, and that I didn’t think about asking to leave or crying. But what I am saying is that I was able to accept what was going on and just sit with it, and not let the migraine ruin my time by choosing not to engage with it in a way to endure more suffering. I definitely want to get to the bottom of these headaches/migraines, but also would like to go to another hockey game again. Without this experience, I wouldn’t have learned that I could in fact stay at a hockey game and watch its entirety. I wouldn’t have learned that even though I had a migraine, one of the worst I’ve had in a few years, I could still have a good time. I definitely would not have known I had the power to take this into my own hands and ground myself in the pain through acceptance, and then letting it go instead of resenting it. I don’t resent my migraines, and if anything I feel much stronger and more equipped to handle them in the future after this past Sunday. This is what is gratifying and empowering, and this is why I will continue to practice.

The International Drama of E-Waste

While surfing the web, I came across this visual article titled “Computer Recycling in Africa“. This site also has other articles, videos, and is a unique recycling company that accepts donations throughout Sydney of e-waste. Looking through the pictures is pretty horrifying, knowing that these are not made up images of some made up people. Though I’m not sure which countries these are happening in, this form of “recycling” is also happening in other places like China and India. These are real people working with old computers and waste materials in unsafe conditions for little-to-no pay. If you’re not familiar with e-waste, it’s just short for electrical waste, which involves anything technological of the waste stream such as cell phones, computers, laptops, and televisions.

Men working to separate parts from computers to trade in the metal scraps for money. Photo credit http://free-computer-recycling.blogin.com.au/computer-recycling-in-africa/

What’s common with most e-waste of today is that if it’s not refurbished and reused in the country it was originally purchased, it is shipped internationally to countries in Africa or Asia to lay in wastelands, where local inhabitants have developed an economy on scrapping the metal, wires, and parts in order to trade for money or other materials. What is typical of this process is that there are often no regulations in the scrapping process and how these e-waste materials are handled, or who is handling them. In some places, there are settlements that are built on trash dumps, or very close by. Burning, burying, and extracting of the waste is commonplace, without much to be done about the chemicals that are let off into the air, ground, and local water. The saddest part about this is that it’s an understood international practice, usually promoted by countries with high GDPs that can afford the mass amounts of technological wastes and then ship it to countries less developed. Public health, the environment, wages, and thus lifestyles and equity are all jeopardized as part of this process.

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Chart displaying electric products and their disposal/reuse/recycle. http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/ecycling/docs/fact7-08.pdf

Some resources I found about e-waste if you want the numerical facts are here and here. While the sources have varying numbers, it’s safe to say that not enough of e-waste is being recycled and instead is being disposed of in harmful ways. It’s important to stop and think about the privilege many of us having reading this post all of the technology we possess and rely on on a daily basis. It’s even more important to stop and think before you trash your technology because you want/need to replace it, and even more to make sure that when you think you’re recycling, to verify and ask just where and how your electronic waste is being recycled. On the EPA there’s an eCycling page that displays information on where to recycle e-waste in the U.S. There’s an interactive page where you can lookup where to recycle different kinds of e-waste including stores like Best Buy and Staples, as well as the technology companies like Samsung and Panasonic. I know that Whole Foods also allows you to bring in electronic wires/cords and cell phones to recycle. I encourage you to look up where you can recycle your electronic products for the future, so you’ll be ready next time. Yes, it would be great if municipal waste management programs moved towards recycling electronic waste, but the funding for this is probably the largest argument against it. For the time being, it’s on each individual to be mindful and responsible for their purchases as much as they can, cradle to grave.

Passive Homes- Sustainable Architecture at a Cost

A passive house like the one seen above, a project from Parsons the New School for Design in 2011, is so well insulated that it needs little or no energy for heating and cooling. PHOTOGRAPH BY MATT MCCLAIN FOR THE WASHINGTON POST/ GETTY

On National Geographic News, Wendy Koch writes an article piece with video included of new Habitat for Humanity D.C. homes: “Thermos-Like Passive Homes Aggressively Save Energy.” Intrigued, I read the article and watched the video to get a glimpse of the higher cost, certified PassivHaus windows needed for the homes. Morally, I think Habitat for Humanity does overall great work. I also love finding new materials and designs for sustainable and energy efficient architecture. Do I think this is a neat undertaking by the organization? Yes. Do I think it needs more testing in the appropriate environment/weather conditions similar to D.C.? Yes. Should it have been implemented yet? Not sure. Wendy Koch writes:

They stand out in other ways: 12-inch-thick exterior walls and triple-pane, imported-from-Ireland windows offer more than double the insulation required of new homes. In lieu of a furnace, tiny, wall-mounted Mitsubishi units provide heating and cooling. 

After watching the video, Dan Hines (construction superintendent) left me not quite sold that these are the most appropriate approach for D.C. homes. Though he explained that the upfront cost would outweigh the further costs on heating/cooling energy bills, I’m concerned if the building design will be able to stand up to the weather of D.C. and if they will in fact live up to what they promise. What if the humidity of D.C. summers is too much for the tightly constructed homes and thus the owners need to run air conditioning? What if we continue to have extreme cold-blasts? The article then explained:

Set to house low-income families, the rowhouses are on track to do something the president’s place nearby has not—meet perhaps the world’s strictest energy rubric: Passive House, popularized in uber-efficient Germany and now gaining ground in the United States.

I set out to find more information about Passive House and after a quick google search found PassivHaus, the company that originally started the movement in Germany. After thoroughly reading their materials and services, I’m convinced that their architecture is sound for Germany and similar climates.  Maybe this is the skeptic in me but I’m still wondering how these standards and certifications will hold up in the various climates and climate changes experienced in the U.S. and other parts of the world? The U.S. has its own Passive House Institute (PHIUS), started by the German architect Katrin Klingenberg.

They’ve generated their share of controversy. In August 2011, Germany’s Passivhaus leader Wolfgang Feist severed ties to PHIUS, saying it was not requiring enough documentation to certify projects. Feist has also criticized PHIUS’s push to adjust the standard to varying climates.

Apparently in late 2014, Climate Specific Passive Building Standards were reviewed in order to be implemented this year, but I did not see updated standards yet on the PHIUS Technical Committee Overview page.  Thus this leaves me uncertain if these homes are such a great idea to already be built, without definite standards that relate to different U.S. environments. I mean, especially if you’re giving these homes to low-to-zero income families, whom do not have extra money lying around to buy a space heater or air conditioner if necessary, or need to make repairs to the home. Should Passive Home-owners be given tutorials on how to manage their home and make appropriate repairs in order to still be compliant with the strict standards? What if a window breaks, how will these home-owners pay for such expensive, imported constructions? (Yes I know that is such a big what-if, but I still think it’s a legitimate question that needs answering)

Furthermore, I wonder if PHIUS is working with any U.S. companies to design their own windows and insulation products that mimc the materials ordered from Europe? If these designs are really going to work in the U.S. and take off, then there should be building contractors and companies that can work together to support the U.S. economy, as well as make the projects as cost-efficient as possible so that the model is sustainable and continued. Not to mention the “new” technology which could add to the growing sustainable design market.  Apparently the PHIUS consultants cost more for projects to make sure the homes are built certified, but how long will this continue? Also, will architects all eventually have to be some sort of energy-efficient or sustainable-design certified at some point in the future? That last question could spark an entirely new post for another date. 

Habitat for Humanity, keep rocking out. PassivHaus, nice learning about you and keep progressing. PHIUS, some advice. 1) You should probably formalize your slides before posting them to your public site and 2) figure out standards for the U.S. sometime soon if you want to make it big and truly change sustainable architecture.

New “Mindfulness Mondays” and Practice!

I want to announce that every Monday will now officially be “Mindfulness Mondays”, where I will update with my progress in my mindfulness practice and try to link in a helpful article or blog that I think is really great (sharing resources makes friends!). This past week since my first Mindfulness post, I’ve done a lot of reflecting. With regards to this blog, I decided that as a mindful planner, I wanted to stay true to my intentions in discussing urban and rural planning material while still bringing resources useful to the planner or anyone that interacts with the public. However, I do believe it is important to share my personal mindfulness practice and how it helps me in my daily life as a person, blogger, student, and planner.

We all know the expression “manic Monday” and while singing the tune to myself I thought how great it would be to start the week devoting a post that basically tells “manic Mondays” to take a hike. Sure it may sound a bit overly optimistic, but thinking about having a negative attitude towards the start of the week just seems like a waste of time. Getting worried over the tasks I have to complete for the week, along with the ones I don’t even know exist yet, yes I could do that but I have the choice to also not. Instead I can be mindful through reflection on my past practice, as well as how to progress forward throughout the week to make every day count despite the mania. And thus- Mindfulness Mondays!

keep-calm-it-s-just-another-manic-monday

Mindfulness Mondays > Manic Mondays!

With that said, let’s get on with what I’ve noticed throughout my practice and a helpful article I found that has given me some time to think about being kind towards my body and condition. Every day I have started my morning with some sort of yoga or stretching sequence, and often times I’ll do some more stretching in the afternoon (I start school again tomorrow so that is something I’ve been thinking about and how to keep up my routine I’ve developed). I’ve also been doing the daily workout from Neila Rey’s ‘90 Days of Action‘, and it is definitely working! Yes, there have been some mornings where I’ve woken up knowing that all day my back was going to be my personal upheaval, and yes I got back on my living room carpet, did my yoga, had my coffee and got on my way. Yes I want to get fit, yes I want to be healthy, yes to it all. But guess what is the best thing about this practice? Every morning throughout my poses (some of them I’ve really got down) I have the chance to start fresh and just focus on being alive and breathing in that moment. During the challenging poses, I’m reminded that I will always be a lifelong learner and what a humbling moment that can be. I’m also reminded of my tight muscles and the stresses that are racing through my mind already at 6:30am, and then (exhale) I’m in downward dog noticing the tightness and focusing just on that- noticing.

Even though I’m working through a lot in my mind and body, it is getting easier to go back and work through whatever I have to work through, in that moment.  Each day when I feel that tense spot in my shoulders, I deliberately take a deep breath in, a long audible breath out, and I smile. It’s then that I’m reminded of my practice, my commitment, and my progress. This positive feedback loop only keeps reinforcing my want to learn more, practice as often as I can, and be content with whatever is happening. I know that I can choose to do something that helps me feel better and think clearer, or I can just be upset that my back hurts and try all day to forget about the pain.  On mindful I found a wonderful article on Mindfulness and Coping with Pain, which shares just how to approach living with chronic or acute pain through compassion and kindness.

Bauer-Wu’s main prescription for working with pain and limitation is to “tune in to your body” and what’s going on with it rather than turn away from it…The cornerstone of the mindfulness approach to illness is that you need to learn how to accept where you are, and then you can notice the sensations and respond appropriately.

In realistic expectations of long days and nights ahead, knowing is half of the battle. I feel the pit in my stomach, the dull aching behind my eyes, and the fear that I won’t make it through this semester successfully. But by looking at this fear head on, noticing the bodily reactions and just identifying them as they are, current feelings and sensations, it gives me a lot more control over how I choose to react in that moment. I don’t have to become overwhelmed by these feelings! I don’t have to feel helpless or lost, and that I’ll just have to live like this. Instead I can just notice my thoughts and reactions, and think about how I want to engage with them in a way that will not increase my suffering and even help me feel some relief. I can sit in my car while the wind is howling outside, and just watch the mass of trees in the distance sway back and forth. I can hear how the wind sounds and how it pushes my car, almost knocking on my doors. I can breathe in that moment and be thankful that I’m safe in my car, that I’m not in the cold, and that I can appreciate the trees around me that are still standing tall despite their almost too vigorous dance with the wind. I remind myself that I’ve done this before, that I’ve felt success and happiness, and that I can continue to work on feeling that.

It is compassion that enables you to rediscover “your innate goodness” and the warmth of your heart. It enables you to communicate and connect with others, and counteract the isolation and self-involvement that turns a painful condition into repeated suffering.

I want to shed some light on a blog that really inspired my writing throughout this post. The Green Study is wonderfully raw and yet kindly brings you to a place where you feel like you really are in the moment with her. Michelle writes about the many things she finds relevant, but in such an elegant and descriptive manner, with such honesty that I wish I could just be there in person with her. A small section from her About page:

I started a blog to force myself out into the open, to make a commitment, to learn how to take criticism and most of all, to stop being comfortable. Mission accomplished.

Thank you Michelle for being the inspiration of my post and reminding me to always stay authentic in life and writing.

Automobile Reliance v. Urban Fabric- What’s at Stake?

On reading the post Urban automobility, a dead paradigm that we refuse to abandon.. from the blog Scientia Plus Conscientia, I was reminded of just why I, as a future planner, want to work in the planning field. His post talks about the automobile and the reliance on it overtime, and how ultimately is just unnecessary in many large or megacities. It often creates more of a hassle through traffic and road design and has lessened the social fabric and vibrancy of cities over time. Through suburbanization and a societal built-up reinforcement that the automobile is king, it has disconnected people from their place as they travel about the city in their shielded vehicles, isolated from their surroundings and other people, and thus limiting their interactions with everything around them.

To put it simply, as a planner, I am in it for the people’s interactions with their environment. I’ve always been keen on these interactions since my beginnings in anthropology and later sustainability and civic engagement studies. Seeing how people interact with their “place” and what their sense of place is and means to each person, has just always been of a huge inquiry and passion. When a city becomes dominated by the automobile, that urban fabric, the social interactions and street ballet that Jane Jacobs would refer to, becomes limited naturally so. Many people would ask: “How can a city survive without the automobile?” I’m not arguing that we need to get rid of cars altogether, especially with the point that we would need to figure out how to totally adapt the emergency services as well as long-haul deliveries of goods. But I do think that urban planners and stakeholders could really push for more public transportation methods that could decrease the primary reliance of the car. As Scientia Plus Conscientia writes:

A cleverly and densely laid system of tramways, subways and trolleybus can effectively and cleanly deal with the necessary mobility of millions of people, not to mention that people can be encouraged to walk or cycle. Taking cars out of the streets liberates the space for living and meeting, which leads to enormous positive social side-effects because people start having more opportunities to meet and knit the social mesh, something that it is often lost in modern megacities. We have some good examples of this at hand: Vauban, Freiburg (Germany), Pontevedra (Spain) or Hydra (Greece), where parts of these cities have been closed to car traffic and had then been reclaimed by people as living, playing and meeting space, positively contributing to the local social well being and democracy.

Photo credit: Metro Jacksonville

Photo credit: Metro Jacksonville

A common practice amongst planning committees is to establish a “road diet” within heavily congested cities. This usually means taking out a few roads, or reducing lane sizes on roads, in order to improve other transportation methods throughout the city and/or promote social and commercial interactions. Many international cities are developing their own ideas on how to combat against the automobile and bring the streets back to who they were built for- the people! In 7 Cities that are Starting to go Car-Free, various methods are described such as re-designing streets for pedestrians only like in Madrid, doubling bike lanes in Paris, or encouraging the building of “Green Networks” (roads designed for bikes and walking between various city parks) in Hamburg. Sometimes these initiatives begin as simple experiments, but when the city leaders and transportation or environmental analysts see their positive effects on lowering emissions, traffic, and sometimes increase social spots, they will plans and policies. Some cities are even offering incentives by not driving vehicles, while other cities are witnessing coop or share businesses growing for bicycles or smaller, low-emission cars.

I think that if planners want people from any living area to reduce their reliance on the automobile, they do need to make it easier for the people to make such changes. Incentives and positive reinforcement, just like in education and training children or pets, works great! A system of consequences can also work well, as long as they are strictly enforced, and also made publicly known to civilians. I also think that these decisions should not be made by just the planners or officials, but should actually be mostly developed by the citizens of the community. There are many companies now (this will be in a future post of mine) that work with city officials and planners to get citizen involvement in the decision-making, development and implementation processes. Often times when plans are not made by the citizens, they are not received positively and feel more like an imposition, thus reducing morale and productivity of the policy or plan. When people are engaged in the process of decision-making, there are usually greater results in pride and common goal construction, as well information and resource sharing[1]. Bright Spots is one report that I can share, but there are many other reports out there on the web. This report was found on the awesome website National League of Cities, and they also have a commentary WordPress blog CitiesSpeak. In the end, civilians, planners, and leaders all need to figure out just what they want to prioritize in their communities and just what will work for them. By continuously giving in to the car industry, and pretending that environmental or public health problems- let alone our heavy reliance on oil to power automobiles, we are just denying ourselves the chance to better our communities. Sure it may take some hard work and a bit of ingenuity and borrowing or meshing together of ideas, but isn’t that chance for healthier, livable communities worth it? I think yes.

[1] Head, B. (2007). Community Engagement: Participation On Whose Terms? Australian Journal of Political Science, 42(3), 441-454.

Mindfulness Check-In 1/13/15

Today has been my third day at completing some sort of yoga sequence in the morning. I’ve decided I really enjoy doing yoga in the morning because it’s not full on “exercise” that involves lots of vigorous movement, but still lengthens my muscles enough that I feel ready to move through the day and gets my mind and breath in tune. On Sunday I began Neila Rey’s ‘90 Days of Action‘ exercise routine, as a way to slowly work up my body’s tolerance for more vigorous exercise and still allowing me to check in with how it feels. Her workouts are short but tough and so just after 2 days, it was extremely hard to get out of bed today. To be clear as we move forward in my posts, I want to put it out there that I’ve been living with fibromyalgia for some time now. Though it can be extremely difficult at times to live with, especially when trying to pursue health and fitness goals, I’ve been working on feeling kindness towards my fibromyalgia. 2014 was the year where I used many ‘issues’ in my life to be reasons to fuel my negative emotions, and basically justify the emotions and the often unhealthy behaviors that came with them. After some reading and talking with others in a support group for mindful awareness, I decided that I was not going to let my fibromyalgia or any other health issues stand in the way of me being the best person I could be.

I remember one day whilst showering, I just broke down. My body was in so much pain, my head was just so foggy. My mind was racing and I was feeling so bad for myself. I thought, “How am I supposed to live a healthy life if my fibromyalgia prevents so much?” But in this moment when water was rushing over my body, I breathed deep. I noticed the water and the steam, and just took it all in. I realized that I have a long life to live and that I don’t have to face my ‘issues’ alone. I didn’t have to feel sorry for myself and treat my fibromyalgia as my enemy. I needed to accept it as a part of me, not something that was working against me, but just something that makes me who I am.  It doesn’t define me, it’s just one of the many pieces that make up who I am! This first step was really what motivated me to change how I approached my fitness and health for 2015, and how I wanted to approach it all through mindfulness and meditation practice. Instead of feeling jealousy or resentment towards others and their ability to just work out and eat clean without the feelings that I felt because of my fibro, I needed to just accept it as a part of me and work with it. I needed to believe that I can get healthy and fit, both in body and mind, but I just need to work with what I’ve got and make appropriate decisions based on that acceptance.

This is what brings me to my yoga and mindfulness practices in 2015, and this special place on my blog that will give a more personal side of me. I’m still learning everyday within my practice, and just hope to pass on bits of advice and things that worked (or haven’t) for me. It’s gonna get real, sometimes raw, but will always come from a place of kindness and forgiveness. The other day at the end of my yoga sequence during savasana, I cried. Just listening to Adriene reminding me of gratitude and to be thankful for the Earth underneath my body, allowing me to rest, just really was a “grounding” experience. I felt so compassionate and appreciate that I had that time to just rest, and be with my thoughts- whatever they were. I felt proud that I allowed myself to be so vulnerable, and give myself time to practice despite however my body or emotions were feeling. Today, when I awoke, I felt how I haven’t felt in a few weeks- that tired, sluggish, swollen-all-over feeling that just makes you want to get back into bed and say “Do-Over!”. But I slowly got out of bed, made myself smile to the day with cheer, and got on my carpet with Adriene. I’m not going to lie, some of the movements were really painful, but I also felt extremely empowered during that time because I had control over my body and how I wanted it to feel. I appreciated that I worked through my pain through compassionate mindfulness, by noticing how my body felt and not judging it but just noticing and making adjustments through my yoga and breathing. I left feeling more awake, flexible, and honestly my legs did not feel as sore as they did 20 minutes prior. I was thankful that I got up and would have today to make it what I wanted. ‘Til next post!

GPS Data on POI Factory and its Relevance for GIS

DunksvStarbucks

Today on reddit’s ‘Data is Beautiful’ subreddit, I found this gem of an image “The Geography of Coffee”. Along with reading the comments of which many brought up the point that clearly, America does not “run on Dunkin'”, other coffee brands and shops that seemed to be more regional were mentioned. It was interesting to see the chains of coffee brands and their regional locations, and I’m sure they would have added more to the map instead of the dichotomy of Starbucks versus Dunkin’ Donuts. One important factor I thought was missing were numbers attached to the hexes, since there was no scale provided to assess the data. Other redditors pointed out that Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts data was available, which is constantly updated by anyone using GPS satellites. Reviewing this, Starbucks currently has over 11,600 locations versus Dunkin’ Donuts at approximately 7,500.

After some more research, I noticed that Dunkin Donuts has been around 21 years more than Starbucks, yet has over 4,000 less locations than its competitor- at least within the U.S. and Canada. From my brief search I found that Starbucks has over 20,000 locations throughout 65 countries compared to Dunkin’ Donuts’ meager 11,000 throughout 33 countries. I’ve hypothesized some reasons for why Starbucks is clearly running the nation, but these are just strictly my opinions. One reason could be Starbucks marketing techniques, such as where they get their coffee from and its equitable and fair trade logos. Since they publicize their coffee brands based on the locations of where the coffee is coming from, as well as preserving their image with community partners, it makes them seem more “global” and I’m sure aids in their ability to expand locations across the U.S. and maybe internationally. They are very concerned about their image and relationships with their coffee providers from what I’ve noticed; you can even get a feel for this by visiting their site (they have an entire page for Global Responsibility). Another reason could also be that Dunkin’ Donuts started out as a small company based out of Quincy, MA and has opted to maintain its New England roots and profit from their expansion- hence why you sometimes see one Dunkin’ Donuts across the street from another. In my experience, people from the Boston area tend to have a lot of pride associated with their origin to the city, as well as their loyalty to Dunks. I’m not here to make judgements on coffee, but I did think the data was interesting and got me to research a bit about both companies, and question their images and ethics. You drink what you want to drink.

More importantly besides the coffee companies is that all of this data was reported through GPS satellite locations! When I looked at the map I decided to visit the website in the bottom corner which brought me to POI Factory. I can envision this site become extremely useful to me as I develop into a planner and especially after I learn GIS thoroughly this upcoming semester. Their About page states, “POI Factory is a web site where GPS users get together to share interesting locations and talk about GPS. We have friendly discussion forums and a growing collection of POI files, icons, and sounds for the United States and Canada.” They have a search bar which allows you to look up a multitude of data, especially for company locations and other points of interest. The front page displays ‘Most Popular’ Files and once you’re registered you can join in on the conversations or even contribute your own data.

Last week I finished a week-long introductory course to GIS, and I had the grueling taste of trying to find my own data, alter it, then add it to ArcGIS. Someone in the class asked “What if I wanted to map the number of ice cream store locations throughout Massachusetts, how would I find that data?” Though it still would not be the easiest task (I assume) since it may be difficult to find all stores which would include independent small shops as well as ice cream chains, a site like POI Factory could really be useful in finding some of that data. The community seems open to working on new projects, and usually someone is already working on it by the time someone has asked if it exists, and thus creates a collaboration! Much of the downloadable data comes in CSV files, so you can import it into Excel and then into ArcGIS (after modifying). I am very excited that I’ve found this site and I hope you give it a visit and that it is useful to you in future mapping and location-oriented data, or just making generalizations about why one coffee company is ruling more of North American than another.

For more information about the companies, see Starbucks here and Dunkin’ Donuts here and here.

City Policy- Measuring Happiness and Well Being

I recently stumbled upon the website Next City, which is an awesome site for anyone that loves cities and what’s happening with them around the world- obviously a regional or urban planner’s dream site!! Seriously, they have tons of articles and links to studies and projects that have already happened, are current, or will be underway in the future. It’s a gold mine.

One article I read asked, How Can a City Measure Its Happiness? A few cities (mostly in California) are beginning to develop a well-being index that is based off of surveying citizens and their thoughts on where they live and how happy they are. Originally beginning in Somerville, MA a few years back, the methodology began with paper surveys that resulted in insufficient data conclusions. Eventually they decided to just use a sample of the population and offer incentives for those that completed the survey, as well as follow-up messages- this led to some much more significant data. Somerville was able to make some adjustments through projects around the city, especially focusing on areas that were mentioned by residents as places that  could increase their happiness and well-being if better managed/cared for. Later this year, Santa Monica, CA plans to conduct a web survey, as well as other supplementary surveys to reach the population that may not be on the web.

This ‘well-being’ concept is not new in my opinion, but has just been given a more accurate name that relates to people and not just one aspect of people’s lives. For instance, the environment is one aspect that affects people’s overall well-being, which beforehand could be categorized as sustainability, environmental health, environmental psychology, etc. Physical and mental health of humans was another aspect that many public health and social workers analyzed to see just how it affects people overall- not their health overall, but their entity/happiness/well-being. I believe this bird’s eye view has the potential to paint a more detailed picture if eventually data analysts and planners work together for simpler and streamlined coding of material they receive. There’s a lot of information out there that will need to be accounted for, and any ways to make the process more efficient without sacrificing data quality of the comments should be deemed a priority. With valuable data can come possible policy solutions and implementation of projects that are not just for the people, but by the people. Citizens know their communities best, and I believe it is the responsibility of every planner, policy worker, and city official  to make sure that citizens are happy and well.

What are your thoughts? Do you think this well-being index could work? Do you think it could be a valuable tool? Any suggestions on how to improve upon it?

Garden Planner- A Resource for the Food Planner

garden plan

As a resourceful planner, I thought I would see if the Farmer’s Almanac had moved any of their brilliance online, as a way to share resources and farming techniques with others who may not buy the paper almanac. It turns out they did! I discovered on their site Garden Planner, an entire free 30-day resource that allows you to map out your garden space! You can your planning page for $25 for yearly access in order to make modifications to your garden, as well as make additional plans (the free trial only allows you to make one plan). This planner allows you to be realistic about your garden space and how it will be used up within every square foot

There are some tutorials on the main site, as well as a gallery where you can view published garden plans and even look up ones close to where you may live. Plant grow guides are available for most plants, and the site also allows you to add plants they may not have, and edit information about them to publish for future use. The plant varieties are customizable but most varieties are already on there, including organic and hybrid plants.

This site is extremely helpful because it provides a printout of when to sow your plants indoors, outdoors, and when to harvest them according to the month. It can even send you email reminders for when to sow if you allow it! I’m including my garden for a reference, but just want to say that as a visual learner and planner this site really helped to take my ideas and turn them into reality without the scariness of making the drawing accurate. Thank you Farmer’s Almanac Garden Planner!