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Statistics Canada provides us a full RSS feed of statistical goodness! November 20, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, environment, food for thought, public policy issues, random thoughts, sustainability, wastewater, water, water policy.
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Hat tips to Greg Andrews (TechVibes) and Darren Barefoot (Capulet) for pointing me out to Statistics Canada’s RSS data feeds. You’ll see – even though I’m a chemical engineer, during my Masters and PhD degrees, and in my post-graduate work I have done quite a lot of qualitative research.

My personality traits work to my advantage when using qualitative research methods. I am pretty good at interviewing people, analyzing textual data, coding using Strauss and Corbin’s axial coding methods, undertaking ethnography, etc. I am considered a specialist in institutional analysis because, well, I know how to study rules and routines. And the majority of these studies are undertaken by observing and interviewing.

The thing is, during the course of my PhD, I became REALLY quantitative. Since my advisor’s training was quantitative, he impressed it upon me. I’m quite grateful to him for doing that because thanks to his sage advice and training, I have examined wastewater governance and policy using quantitative methods (something that is rather atypical in this body of literature). And of course, there’s my love of game theory and econometric methods. WOWSA.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I drooled (just as Greg tweeted earlier this morning) when I saw StatsCan’s RSS feeds. Given the kind of research I do, economic, government, population and environmental indicators are the RSS feeds I grabbed. You can grab any others as you may see fit.

Unfortunately, and this is quite sad, I can’t get any quantitative data on water through those RSS feeds (or at least I haven’t been able to get any so far). I do know where to find some water-related statistics in Canada, but the state of the art in regards to accurate water stats in Canada is (as mentioned in Karen Bakker’s edited book) rather appalling.

If I manage to get my hands on some good data, you’ll see some pretty graphs here sometime soon.

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Net neutrality in Canada: The challenges ahead November 18, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, blogosphere, food for thought, geekifying myself, net neutrality, public policy issues, social media.
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2 comments

While I have become much more involved with social media in the past year than I had ever before (I am in almost every Web 2.0 application except for Facebook), I hadn’t really thought a lot about the issues with net neutrality until the day when I live-blogged Michael Geist’s talk at Saint John’s College (UBC) as a guest blogger for my friend Rebecca Bollwitt (Miss604) in April of 2008.

Recently, I’ve become more aware that my role in Vancouver’s social media scene is much more than just being the Organizer of Vancouver Bloggers Meetup. It is also part of my role to raise awareness about issues that affect those of us who use the Internet on a regular basis. Moreover, we social media folks are also substantially affected by these challenges.

Steve Anderson (the co-founder of the SaveOurNet.ca Coalition and National Coordinator of Campaign for Democratic Media) and Kate Milberry (SFU doctoral candidate, a good friend and an expert in digital activism) both reminded me of the need to think about social media as an ecosystem. As an expert in environmental issues, I often use ecosystems as a metaphor to analyze phenomena. I have to say that I had thought of social media as an ecosystem, but hadn’t thought of Canadian legislation on net neutrality as one of the challenges. Steve’s article actually gave me good insight on this issue. He writes:

The Conservative federal government is NOT inclined to support an open Internet. To keep a level playing field on the Internet we’ll need a robust citizens movement to put pressure on politicians and policy makers and shape policy that protects equal access. The social web community can provide the foundation for this burgeoning movement – perhaps even serve as a catalyst. Consider this a call to action.[SaveOurNet.ca]

Having engaged in academic activism myself, researched and studied environmental mobilizations, and often preaching to the public to become more involved in public policy, I am always up for supporting activism that benefits our society. So, I would sincerely encourage you to get informed, get involved, and become part of the white cells of the social media biological system. You can help, and if you have a stake in the future of Canadian internet, you probably should.

Gregor Robertson is the new Mayor-elect of Vancouver November 17, 2008

Posted by Raul in politics, Politics 2.0, public policy issues, Vancouver.
8 comments

Launch Party Vancouver 5

Well, he did it. Not only did he become Vancouver’s next mayor, he did so with a Vision majority in City Council. That fact sure speaks volumes to the need for change within the Vancouver area. There were, of course, civic elections all over Metro Vancouver, but the focus was inevitably on Vancouver proper.

I wrote a post a few weeks back on homelessness public policy to which the lack of responses completely frustrated me, because I don’t think a lot of people understood that one key issue to address the homelessness challenge (a key element on which Gregor based a substantial portion of his platform) is establishing strong relationships (and by strong I mean, where there is flow of funds!) with the provincial and federal governments.

Unless Gregor is able to create a consolidated, all-encompassing, across-all-levels-of-government kind of public policy for the homeless, we are about to stay exactly where we are.

On the good news front, I am glad that people did take to heart the challenge of becoming engaged in their own, local-level, municipal politics (something I was worried about a few months back). Participation in this civic election was unparalleled and that pleases me.

EDIT – Thanks to Tod Maffin for spotting a mistake on my post – it’s fixed ๐Ÿ™‚

Help save the Great Bear rainforest November 13, 2008

Posted by Raul in environment, environmental NGOs, EPIC 08, public policy issues, Web 2.0.
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2 comments
Dru!

Credit: Dru!

Many people have asked me throughout the years if I have ever considered a career in conservation. While my PhD degree is in environmental studies, and you could argue that my work in pollution control would pretty much amount to some form of conservation, I hadn’t been much of a fan. And since forestry isn’t really my area, for a while there I neglected discussing or researching anything that was forest conservation-related. Until I heard of Simon Jackson. I met Simon in person and did a really quick interview for HappyFrog when he was a keynote speaker at EPIC 2008. And then Darren informed me that they (Capulet) were helping Greenpeace, Forest Ethics and Sierra Club BC with their campaign to make the Provincial Government “Keep The Promise”

You might ask why did I bring Simon Jackson into the discussion. Well, here is the thing: the work that Simon has done to protect the Spirit Bear is pretty much in line with the work that the coalition of environmental non-governmental organizations (GP, FE and SCBC) are doing: conserving the forest helps conserve the spirit bear’s habitat.

Art Catcher

Credit: Art Catcher

In my research, I’ve written about how ENGOs use various types of strategies to galvanize public opinion (often, through mobilizations). This time, the work that these organizations are doing goes beyond protests and engages in a Web 2.0 kind of mobilizations: writing electronic letters to the Provincial Government.

You, too, can help this worthy cause by sending an email to the Provincial Government (the site is really well designed so all you really have to do is fill out the data form and voila! off you go).

As you can see, environmentalism is not dead, is well alive and kicking! Please contribute with this worthy cause. You can also participate in a photo contest (check links here) and follow their Twitter account (yeah, kinda cute that the Spirit Bear has a Twitter account, hehe – he better follow me back!). Furthermore, you can join the Facebook group (no thanks, I don’t do Facebook, but you can!). EDIT – And you can join the photo contest on Flickr!

In total Web 2.0 fashion, if you need more to be convinced, I invite you to watch this video:

The West End evictions and this week’s municipal elections November 10, 2008

Posted by Raul in Focus on Vancouver, food for thought, politics, public policy issues, random thoughts, Vancouver, West End.
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2 comments

If you are a Vancouverite and able to vote (Canadian citizen, older than 18 yrs old), you probably DO know that Vancouver’s municipal election takes place on November 15th, 2008 (8am to 8pm). You can start doing advance voting at 5 locations in Vancouver (read more here).

There’s an issue that I find has not been discussed at length (or maybe it has but I haven’t read much about it in the past few weeks/months) – the issue of evictions in order to increase rent. While I do not live in the West End, I have MANY very close friends, both civilians and tech/social media/PR people who have their homes there.

It does worry me that evictions to renovate and then increase rents continue to happen. This issue is something that has been written about extensively (I’ve read lots of stories in many major newspapers) . The question I have is – does anybody know if the candidates for city mayor have expressed any formal position on the issue?

Why do I think this issue is relevant, when there are others (homelessness, transportation, etc.) that are also key? Well, simply because if the trend continues in the West End, the likelihood that these kinds of evictions will happen (I haven’t read many reports about occurrences of evictions to increase rent outside the West End) in other areas may increase. My main concern, of course, is my own neighbourhood (Mount Pleasant)!

What do you think of this issue?

Public policy lessons on homelessness for Vancouver’s next mayor November 2, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, Focus on Vancouver, food for thought, Homeless Action Week, homelessness, public policy issues, random thoughts, social change, Vancouver.
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4 comments
Vlastula on Flickr

Credit: Vlastula on Flickr

Both of the candidates with actually the best shot at actually becoming the next Mayor of Vancouver (Gregor Robertson and Peter Ladner) have participated in debates on (and broadly proclaimed that they’ll work to end) homelessness in Vancouver (you can read a good recap by Tris here). Well, gentlemen, I seriously do hope that whoever wins, will seriously seek some sound advice on public policy, particularly on the issue of homelessness.

I am not an expert in homelessness policy by any means. I am, however, a specialist in environmental studies and public policy, and particularly I’ve researched issues that are clearly the domain of various levels of government. In particular, water governance in Mexico faces many challenges precisely because of this problem – overlapping jurisdictional responsibilities. Homelessness has the same basic structural problem. It should be a shared responsibility, but no actual level of government takes real responsibility and is truly accountable for dealing with homelessness.

In Mexico, wastewater governance and water supply provision, for example, is fully a responsibility of the municipality. That responsibility is enshrined in the Mexican Constitution (Article 115). Unfortunately, municipalities don’t really have a standing in the Canadian political system. Canadian federalism recognizes the Federation and the provinces (and Territories). However, municipalities/cities are not recognized (see Canada’s Cities report) and therefore, the intergovernmental relationships amongst municipalities, the provincial governments and the Federal have become really complicated [EDIT – Found even better sources on the debate on whether municipalities should be granted constitutional status in the site of the Library of the Parliament of Canada and in the Canadian Encylopedia].

This is unfortunate, and it’s a big problem if you think about it, because – who bears the brunt of homeless as a societal issue that needs to be addressed? The municipality. However, how can a municipality address an issue that requires cooperation between provinces, the Federation and the municipality if there is no actual recognized Constitutional status of the city in Canada? (see the sources I’ve included above on the state of the debate in regards to the constitutional status of the municipality/city)

According to Vision Vancouver’s blog, Gregor suggests to “build relationships with all levels of government” as one of the key actions they’ll undertake if elected.

According to Peter Ladner’s blog, Peter suggests that he will tackle homelessness “through a partnership of federal, provincial, regional, municipal governments and non-profit agencies”.

Well, dear candidates in the November 15th municipal election, you will need to not only build relationships and partnerships, but actually establish sound, solid intergovernmental agreements that lead to the implementation at a local (municipal) level of the Federal Homelessness Partnering Strategy. Although, that being said, I think we need a sound National Homelessness Action Strategy.

Homelessness is definitely a regional/municipal public policy issue, but municipalities can’t solve the problem by themselves, without the support of the Federal government. For all candidates, I suggest you coordinate your strategy with the Federal Homelessness Partnering Strategy (launched in December 2006).

Under the HPS, the federal government will offer the provinces and territories the opportunity to enter into bilateral partnerships, improve collaboration and develop linkages between the federal homelessness programs and provincial/territorial social services to help communities make strategic investments that will best serve their homeless populations.[HPS About Us]

I would also recommend investing in solid, evidence-based research on homelessness using a global, multi-country, multi-region comparative strategy. Surely, other countries have reduced homelessness. How did they do it? What did they do? What was needed?

I am sure someone must have done good research on the topic. I haven’t, but if I was a specialist in urban issues (specifically homelessness) rather than an environmental specialist, I probably would launch a research programme with applied outcomes (e.g. partner with the local communities to actually effect change).

I was able to find a good article on homelessness and health (co-authored by, amongst others, Dr. Jim Frankish, whose research I do respect a lot).

Homelessness and Health in Canada: Research Lessons and Priorities
C James Frankish; Stephen W Hwang; Darryl Quantz, Canadian Journal of Public Health; Mar/Apr 2005; 96.

[Link here]

Additional resources – Not a research paper, but Monte Paulsen’s post on The Tyee “Seven Solutions to Homelessness” is a great read.

One last word – whoever wins, please don’t just give us empty promises.

DO THINGS THAT WILL HAVE POSITIVE, LONG-LASTING POSITIVE EFFECTS!

The death of environmentalism? October 27, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, climate change, public policy issues.
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2 comments

A recent post by Rebecca on “is blogging dead” and a comment by Darren on that particular post (echoed by other commentators) made me remember that I once wrote a post about “The Death of Environmentalism”. Since it never made it past the drafts, I am now I’m resurrecting it in an updated form.

Now, to provide additional context, I just found out via Jonathon Colman from The Nature Conservancy that only 18% of survey respondents (I’m assuming all Americans) strongly believe that climate change is human-caused and harmful.

While I do hold my own opinion on the causes of climate change, that’s irrelevant for this discussion. The thing is that there seems to be a very small proportion of the population who believe in climate change (or at least, so would appear from the data shown). Now, the title of this post is associated with a paper by Schellenberger and Nordhaus titled “The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World”.

The gist of this paper (and surprisingly, the evidence presented by The Nature Conservancy) seems to suggest that American environmental NGOs have not had much success with galvanizing public opinion on climate change in the United States. If you read the work of Aaron McCright and Riley Dunlap, they find increased support to the hypothesis that Conservatives have influenced public opinion on climate change (as a non-problem or a non-issue).

McCright, Aaron M., and Riley E. Dunlap. 2003. โ€œDefeating Kyoto: The Conservative Movementโ€™s Impact on U.S. Climate Change Policy.โ€ Social Problems 50(3): 348-373.

But the thing is – regardless of whether it’s the ENGOs fault or the public’s fault (I don’t really want to blame anyone) – one of the main reasons why the Schellenberger and Nordhaus paper was so controversial is because it talked about “environmentalism being dead“. And I’m pretty sure that they intended for the paper to spark controversy (and make environmental NGOs try to work harder at educating the public about the need to adapt to climate change). That’s where I’m bringing the connection.

If you think about it (and as accurately said by the commentators on Rebecca’s site), the best way to spark a discussion about a topic is to say that X or Y is dead. Environmentalism is NOT dead. Much less here in Canada, and in Vancouver. For starters, Greenpeace started here! Environmental NGOs have a place and there is a need for them in the global environmental movement. The thing is, the Schellenberger and Nordhaus paper (as the other post mentioned by Rebecca) did serve to galvanize people, make them react to the issue and write about it.

Now, if we all did that about municipal and provincial politics in Vancouver and British Columbia, if we did that about climate change and other environmental issues in our own turf, THEN I think we would see a revival. And I’m hoping I’m contributing to this debate, and look forward to other’s contributions.

Waste Reduction Week Canada – Oct 19-25th, 2008 October 21, 2008

Posted by Raul in environment, Focus on Vancouver, food for thought, public policy issues, sustainability, Vancouver, Waste Reduction Week Canada.
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3 comments

This week marks the Waste Reduction Week in Canada (from October 19th to the 25th). You may not recall last year’s civic strike (one of many policy and political mistakes) but in case you do, I am hoping this little visual reminder will help remind you of how awful the city looked.

Rebelcan

Credit: Rebelcan

As I mentioned a while ago, we live in a rather affluent (and wasteful) society. We buy coffee to go, and then proceed to dump the paper cup in the trash can. We buy disposable diapers and then proceed to wrap them in double plastic bags, because “eeewww it’s poop”. We drive three blocks to buy groceries. And the list goes on.

Waste Reduction Week Canada helps remind us of the many ways in which we can reduce our ecological footprint by minimizing waste. If you need a refresher, I wrote a short post on solid waste management that will give you some useful reading material.

The website of Waste Reduction Week Canada offers some really neat factoids (some of which you may or may not know). As a scholar of environmental studies who happens to have worked for many years in solid/liquid/hazardous waste management, I actually do know that landfill sites account for about 38% of Canada’s total methane emissions (according to Environment Canada).

If you need some suggestions on how to reduce the amount of waste you generate, feel free to drop me a comment, send me an email or send me a tweet.

Canadian elections results 2008 and poverty – Blog Action Day 2008 October 15, 2008

Posted by Raul in BAD08, Blog Action Day, Homeless Action Week, homelessness, politics, public policy issues, random thoughts.
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5 comments

By now, I think everyone knows that Canada has a (now relatively stronger) minority Conservative government. Despite the abismal voter turnout (40% of Canadians who are eligible to vote chose not to) the Conservative party gained MP seats and the Liberals lost them. Once the dust settles, my biggest question to the new Conservative government remains. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT POVERTY ALLEVIATION?

I mean, let’s be honest. With regards to homelessness and poverty, a tendency to pass the buck seems common… “it’s not MY responsibility, it’s the responsibility of the other level of government“. Since today is Blog Action Day and the focus is on poverty, will the new Conservative government say that their platform is actually working towards economic recovery or will they say that it’s going to alleviate poverty? Because, really, what progress have we achieved in regards to a national homelessness policy and/or a national poverty alleviation strategy? I’m curious to hear…

The importance of voting in American, Canadian and Vancouver elections October 2, 2008

Posted by Raul in Focus on Vancouver, politics, Politics 2.0, public policy issues, random thoughts.
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5 comments

One of the areas where my mother does research is in electoral studies (however, she studies elections in Mexico more than anything, although lately she’s been interested in Canadian elections). She was mentioning how important it was to galvanize people and make them want to go and vote.

It’s true that many, many people refuse to vote because they don’t think that their vote is going to count. I was reading some statistics on how many people have voted in recent Canadian elections and I recall a figure hovering around 64% or so (of the whole electorate).

The most recent election for President was the most contested in Mexican history and I can assure you that one of the reasons for that was precisely that a lot of the people who many people thought wouldn’t vote did indeed cast a ballot.

Even though I’m not American, I’m pretty darn sure I have American readers (and of course, Canadian) so I’d strongly encourage you to register to vote. Hat tips to Steve Jagger who tweeted this video (source: YouTube) where lots of US movie stars encourage viewers to vote.

Gay-bashing on Davie Street? What’s wrong with this city? September 29, 2008

Posted by Raul in Focus on Vancouver, public policy issues.
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15 comments

I hate any kind of bullying or bashing, but a gay bashing is one of those hate crimes I simply can’t stomach. It’s amazing how much safety is taken for granted anywhere, and how religion, sexual orientation or race can create such amazing divides. We are all human beings, whether we like it or not. I hadn’t heard mention of this until my good friend JT mentioned that tae-kwon-do training may come handy when it comes to having to deal with this type of attacks.

I was reading some of the CTV online coverage and given that these stories indicate that frequently bashing victims fail to report these crimes, I would like to commend the victim (Jordan Smith) for coming forward. And encourage those who have been victims to raise their voice.

It’s somewhat frustrating that so much progress against homophobia has been achieved, yet public safety seems to be compromised in what is supposed to be the safest area for queer people (Vancouver’s West End). This should definitely be an issue that should be covered in the upcoming municipal election – how is public safety going to be enhanced? Tougher laws against bashers? I don’t really know.

This unfortunate and sad event really reminds me of how much sometimes we actually do need superheroes (the first thing that sprung to mind when I read about this was the movie “Super-Amigos”, a Mexican Canadian production that aired during the 2007 Vancouver Queer Film Festival). And those who come forward when being victims of crime (any crime, really) are also heroes. Kudos to you Jordan, and to everyone else who has reported these horrible incidents.

Politics 2.0? Are Canadian politicians using Web 2.0 the right way? September 12, 2008

Posted by Raul in blogosphere, geekifying myself, politics, Politics 2.0, public policy issues, random thoughts, Web 2.0.
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4 comments

While I know that there is already buzz around the town on the use of Twitter (seen a couple of posts by Buzz Bishop and Kate Trgovac, as well as one on The Tyee’s The Hook, led by Monte Paulsen), Facebook and other Web 2.0 applications by Canadian politicians (like Elizabeth May, Stephane Dion and Stephen Harper), I am a bit surprised that almost nobody has (at least from what I’ve been reading on the sphere) touched on the very basic element of Web 2.0 – interactivity and bi-directionality.

Even if I don’t follow everyone who follows me on Twitter, I ALWAYS interact with the people who follow me. I have just briefly seen the Twitter account of Elizabeth May and she is not following anyone and has not interacted with anyone. The opposite attitude was that of the Twitter account of Barack Obama who basically followed everyone who was following, and then some more.

I don’t know Liz May, but some of my very closest friends do, and if any of those would like to relay this message to her and to the rest of the politicos in Canada, please feel free to do so – TALK TO YOUR FOLLOWERS. Yeah, you could argue with me that Obama never did talk to anyone on Twitter, but the point I’m trying to make is that Twitter should not be treated *just* as a news broadcast. If those of us who evangelize about all things Web 2.0 are really interested in harnessing social media for change, we need to explain to the “newbies” that the crux of social media is the bidirectional, interactive conversation that occurs within the realm of blogs, Twitter, vlogs, Facebook, etc.

And yeah, boo for fake Twitter accounts for political figures!

Homelessness Action Week 2008 – October 12th to 19th, 2008 September 8, 2008

Posted by Raul in blogosphere, Focus on Vancouver, food for thought, Homeless Action Week, homelessness, public policy issues, random thoughts, social change, social networking, Vancouver.
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3 comments


Photo Credit: Matthew Good on Flickr

Last week, I mentioned that I was worried about the lack of interest in local/Canadian politics and the excessive focus on the US election on Canadian and Vancouverite blogs and on Twitter. Well, with the news of an upcoming Federal election (October 14th, 2008), I am very, VERY happy to see the interest of our bloggers, readers and Twitterers renewed on Canadian issues ๐Ÿ™‚

During the same week, I tried to remind my readers that in order for us to really participate, and put the public back into public policy, we need to focus on local issues while maintaining a global perspective. One of those hyperlocal issues that I think we need to focus on is the lack of homes and shelter for homeless people. On a side note, I am not too sure that homelessness will be taken up as a Federal election issue, but who knows.

Even though homelessness is mostly considered a regional, municipal/provincial public policy issue, there is an actual Federal Homelessness Partnering Strategy (launched in December 2006). From their About Us page:

Under the HPS, the federal government will offer the provinces and territories the opportunity to enter into bilateral partnerships, improve collaboration and develop linkages between the federal homelessness programs and provincial/territorial social services to help communities make strategic investments that will best serve their homeless populations.[HPS About Us]

Homeless Action Week will take place EXACTLY during the 2008 Federal election week, which is kind of timely, if you ask me. Why? Well, because everything is interconnected. With the 2010 Olympics and the discussions around the gentrification of the Downtown East Side, there will be a need to re-examine the Federal strategy on homelessness. And I have the feeling that Homeless Action Week may be the catalyzer for this re-examination.

Is lack of homes (and affordable housing) an issue? Well, let’s examine the data provided by the Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness.

A 24-hour snapshot count conducted on March 11 th, 2008 indicates that 2,592 individuals were found to be homeless in the Metro Vancouver region. This number is an increase of 427 individuals over the 2005 count data, or an increase of 19% over the number of homeless individuals found in 2005, and a jump of 131% since 2002.[HAW Research Page]

So, the question again is … how can you help? In addition to all of those great suggestions provided on the RSCH page for Homeless Action Week, you can also
– Blog about it.
– Tweet about it.
– Talk about it with your friends, family, etc.
– Write about it (in print).
– Discuss it on national media.

And, two additional things you can do…

One, you could donate your time, clothing items or food to local food banks. Rebecca has for very long been a champion of Metro Vancouver’s food banks, most recently raising over $10,000 dollars for the United Gospel Mission (along with Duane and with the generous help of Matt Good, Matt’s fans and many other participants). Lack of food would most definitely be an issue that homeless people face.

Two, you can participate in the events for the 2008 Homeless Action Week. Last year, I highlighted some of the 2007 HAW events and had a chance to participate in a few. As I mentioned in that previous post, sustainability, social change and social responsibility start at home, and Vancouver is my home, so that’s where I am trying to effect change.

On that note, I would like to invite you to follow @vanpoverty on Twitter, as this is a project where I am partnering with the brilliant Joe Solomon (@engagejoe on Twitter) to use our combined blogging/social media powers to bring issues of poverty and homelessness in Vancouver to the forefront.

Putting back the public in public policy September 3, 2008

Posted by Raul in public policy issues, Vancouver.
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6 comments

Public participation is touted as “the foremost element of modern democracies“. Since any policy decisions made by politicians and bureaucrats alike will have an impact on society (the public), it would make sense to include those individuals whose lives are affected in the actual decision-making process.

KeepItSurreal

Credit: KeepItSurreal

Environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) take it upon themselves to participate in various ways in the environmental policy-making process. Human rights organizations often seek to galvanize public opinion and protect disadvantaged people. This the basis for a healthy, participatory society.

Unfortunately, it would seem as though not everyone is interested in engaging in public participation processes. Earlier last week I voiced my discomfort when I found out that there was much more interest from people who are on Twitter in the American electoral process than in Canadian or Vancouver electoral issues.

I was relieved to find a number of comments on my post agreeing that we need to focus on local issues (although we can’t forget international affairs). More recently, people have started to tweet more and blog more about the upcoming Vancouver mayoral election and the potential Federal election that could take place as early as mid-October 2008. These are, in my view, good news.

That’s why I would like to encourage my readers to take it upon themselves to put back the public in public policy. There are HUNDREDS if not thousands of issues that we need to focus on, and I am going to highlight just a few (all of them, which I’ve written about before).

* The need to support small local businesses.
* The lack of a strong, nation-wide water policy in Canada and a deficient regional strategy in Metro Vancouver, particularly in the management of wastewater.
* The lack of transparency in the development of Bill C-61.
– The need to re-assess the whole Eco-Density concept and understand the heterogeneities within the Vancouver urban region.
– The whole Provincial Transit Plan of British Columbia and how other countries can teach us lessons on transportation policy.
– The lack of a homeless strategy that really addresses the needs of the needier (which are affected by, amongst other things, snow and other climatic elements).

I could go on, and on, and if you have been reading my blog for a while, you’ll easily find the issues that galvanize MY opinion : water, environment, sustainability, homelessness, urbanization, human rights, electronic rights. Oh, and POVERTY. Let’s not forget about poverty. Now, let’s go back to the issues that galvanize YOU! Never has the phrase “think global act local” been more relevant than now.

I also want to take a minute to thank people who have voted for me on the Vancouver Election Blog contest. Rebecca Bollwitt (Miss604) has been the leader for a few weeks now, and that’s awesome and deserved since she’s been covering all things Vancouver (which have included political issues too!) for over four years. David Eby is also in the ballot, and he has always been a strong advocate for homeless people. There are new blogs, like VanCity Buzz who are highlighting small, local businesses (which is a series I enjoy), and there are more experienced bloggers too, of course… there’s Gordon Price and Paul Hillsdon and Frances Bula and Stephen Rees.

I have also seen the evolution of the contest, and I have to say that, in my view, every one of the nominated blogs are deserving, as each one provides a unique perspective on Vancouver. People may or may not agree on what bloggers write, on their style or their ideas, but as it has been attributed to Voltaire (although some disagree on this too!), “I may disagree with what you are saying but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” (I found that some people attribute these words to Evelyn Beatrice Hall).

Adaptation and vulnerability to floods and climatic events in Mexico September 1, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, climate change, environment, Focus on Vancouver, food for thought, public policy issues, sustainability, Vancouver, vulnerability and adaptation, wastewater, water, water policy.
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1 comment so far

This post is worthy of much more in-depth content, but I just wanted to show that the municipality where my parents live is really unprepared for extreme rain. The photos and video shown below show the local river almost entirely flooded (and rather polluted, as you can see).

River overflow 2

River overflow 3

As you can see, cars are at serious risk of being taken by the river. The local authorities are rather unprepared for these extreme rain events. But the funny thing is, I wonder how prepared are the Metro Vancouver municipalities. I will be doing some research on this topic upon my return to Vancouver.

The game of politics in Canada, the US and the local levels August 30, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, blogosphere, food for thought, public policy issues, random thoughts, Vancouver.
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11 comments

I don’t follow US politics. At least, I don’t follow it seriously. This may be perceived kind of shooting myself in the foot and a serious blow to my credibility as a scholar. Not at all, and I’m going to prove you wrong. I am not the only non-US citizen who is NOT obsessed with the results of the US elections. I could scour Twitter and find those key tweets where people said “hey, can we please get over the whole Barack Obama/Michelle Obama/Hillary Clinton speech and move on to other topics?“.

I understand that there are many American ex-pats in Canada, particularly Vancouver. Many, MANY of them are my friends, and not only Twitter friends or blog-friends, but friends, FRIENDS. I can also understand that many Canadians or Canadian residents are interested in the outcome of the US elections because the US is such a key actor in Canadian life. One can’t ignore the US, simply speaking. That’s also the case in Mexico because the US has a strong influence on Mexican politics (both foreign policy and domestic politics).

You could easily build a case to entice me/convince me of why I should follow US politics. But the truth is, I’m rather disappointed by the lack of interest of exactly those who have been tweeting about US politics on LOCAL (and by local I mean, Vancouver politics). Want some proof? Use Summize (aka Search.Twitter.com) and find tweets about “Gregor Robertson” or “Peter Ladner”. 14 tweets on Gregor Robertson (two of mine, and full disclosure, I said I liked him). 8 tweets on Peter Ladner.

Now, do the same for any of the following keywords: Obama, HRC (Hillary Rodham Clinton), National Democratic Convention (NDC). I just did a quick one for Obama and I couldn’t count the number of tweets (they were so many). I’m sure if I used another tool, I could find actual accurate stats on the emphasis that has been given to the US election.

As a scholar who has taught political science, I completely understand why this happens. As a resident of Canada, I can completely understand why this happens. As a resident of Vancouver and someone who has passionately embraced the city where I have lived in for more than a decade, I am dismayed. It looks as though the interest of Twitterers in local, municipal issues is minimal.

While I am absolutely not afraid of retaliation or criticism, I would seriously like to encourage people who live in Vancouver to think about, talk about and discuss the ideas of those people whose decisions will influence YOUR lives. YOUR local livelihood is at stake.

I am not at all asking my readers (particularly my Canadian readers, as I know that I’ve got quite a few from abroad) to stop thinking about or discuss US politics. It’s important. Heck, even I wrote about it (when I complained about the really sad fact that Obama and Clinton had to face-off, because they both would be breaking stigmas and old paradigms).

I just want people to take more of an interest in local politics. And no, it’s not because I’m now in the ballot of the Vancouver Election Contest. I had been ruminating this post since I started getting flooded with tweets about the US National Democratic Convention, the Hillary Rodham Clinton speech, the Barack / Michelle Obama speech, the Joseph Biden speech. Of course, I admire them. I have previously expressed my admiration for Obama and for Clinton. But it came to a point where I was just like “ok, this is a little bit too much“.

I do hope (and expect!) that my Twitter friends will do the same thing when the Vancouver mayoral election draws nearer and I expect (and want!) a barrage of tweets about the local elections. The best way to effect change is to get involved. And I want my Twitter and blogger friends to get involved in issues that will affect them the same or more than the outcome of the US elections.

Water footprint: A new tool to examine water scarcity and use August 24, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, public policy issues, wastewater, water, water policy.
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Lighthouse Park West Vancouver

Water is a topic that I’m actually rather passionate about (and I’ve previously written about it, like my discussion of the culture of flushing and the concept of water governance). I love researching it and writing about it, particularly because a professor whom I really respect a lot (part of my doctoral committe) told me that the two issues he saw were going to be the most important in the future were water and energy issues. I came across the concept of water footprint via the Max Gladwell blog (actually their twitter account – Hat tips to Max Gladwell!).

What is the water footprint? Well, I am guessing it is modelled after the ecological footprint that Mathis Wackernagel and Bill Rees coined in 1992. The website WaterFootprint.org defines:

The water footprint is an indicator of water use that looks at both direct and indirect water use of a consumer or producer. The water footprint of an individual, community or business is defined as the total volume of freshwater that is used to produce the goods and services consumed by the individual or community or produced by the business. Water use is measured in terms of water volumes consumed (evaporated) and/or polluted per unit of time. A water footprint can be calculated for any well-defined group of consumers (e.g. an individual, family, village, city, province, state or nation) or producers (e.g. a public organization, private enterprise or economic sector). The water footprint is a geographically explicit indicator, not only showing volumes of water use and pollution, but also the locations.[Water Footprint.Org]

It’s an interesting concept, particularly when we apply it to our day-to-day staples, like a cup of coffee (that according to calculations by Hoekstra and Chapagain is about 140 litres of water per cup). As indicated by the Environmental News Network, the concept of water footprint gaining adepts. I was kind of pleased to find that the writer of the ENN article was associated with the World Resources Institute (WRI). One of my very best and closest friends is also associated with WRI as he did a post-doc there, and their datasets on water are some of the finest that I have encountered. Truly speaking, I would not mind doing a post-doc there.

I would like to know if any of my readers actually thinks much about his/her water consumption patterns. Do you ever think about your water footprint or your ecological footprint?

Blog Action Day 2008 – Poverty August 15, 2008

Posted by Raul in Blog Action Day, blogosphere, charities, Focus on Vancouver, food for thought, public policy issues, Vancouver, Web 2.0.
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Poverty is one of the societal illnesses that occupies my mind on a regular basis. Not because I live a rather frugal life and I’m on a budget. I’m actually talking about REAL poverty.


Photo credit: DTES.people on Flickr.

While I realize that there are many measurements and definitions of poverty, I was kind of shocked to find out that the World Bank doesn’t have specific pages to analyze poverty in North America. Is the belief that poverty does not exist in North America (USA and Canada, as Mexico is included in their Latin America dataset) so prevalent that US and Canada don’t warrant their own country pages?

Anyone who knows me even a little bit and who has taken the time to read the more serious, less fluffy posts in my blog will know that I’m a big fan and promoter of social activism, particularly in issues of homelessness, poverty alleviation, sustainability and HIV prevention/treatment. This time, I’d like to draw your attention to Blog Action Day 2008’s theme – Poverty.

What is Blog Action Day?

Global issues like poverty are extremely complex. There is no simple, clear answer. By asking thousands of different people to give their viewpoints and opinions, Blog Action Day creates an extraordinary lens through which to view these issues. Each blogger brings their own perspective and ideas. Each blogger posts relating to their own blog topic. And each blogger engages their audience differently.[Blog Action Day site, About Page]

Last year, I participated in Blog Action Day 2007, as the topic was sustainability. This year, I am even more motivated to participate given that my readership has increased, I am much more socially connected (through Twitter and many other Web 2.0 methods) and therefore, my blog may be able to make more of a difference.

So, how can you get involved? You can check the Frequently Asked Questions section of their site. In my case, I will be doing 1/4 of a Blogathon (e.g. only 12 posts) but all of them will be focused on issues of poverty. You are more than welcome to guest post if you feel like it, or link to any of my posts should you want to, but more than anything, do something. Get involved.

I don’t think I should try to coerce people into promoting Blog Action Day or doing something about it, but I am passionate about poverty alleviation, so if you could spread the word, that would be super awesome. Even better… if you can engage in doing something to alleviate poverty, that would be even more awesome.

Thank you.

North Vancouver Lower Lonsdale

The Environmental Movement Needs You – Homer Simpson Has Already Joined – Guest post by Lotus Effect July 26, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, Blogathon 2008, climate change, environment, environmental NGOs, Focus on Vancouver, food for thought, friends, Green Drinks, guest post, public policy issues.
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This post was contributed by L.E. who blogs at The Lotus Effect.

I love the way Raul phrases his environmental passions: “Being a student of the Environment”. I’ve found myself amongst the dozens of people I know that have put their previous career paths aside and pursued environmentally-related position in hopes of making a difference (and I’ve abandoned any inclination to feel the least bit hesitant to say that making a difference bit ๐Ÿ™‚ regardless of how trite it may be perceived by some).

So I’m confronted with it everyday – people wanting to do something, and we constantly hear.. “Just start anywhere.. it doesn’t’ matter where – the first step will introduce you to a plethora of options, and before you know it, you’ll come across something you’re really exited about.” Well, what if you don’t know where to take that first step? This is where this post comes in, I hope to offer some options of first steps that might lead you to your green passions. So here they go.

1) GREEN DRINKS The perfect combination – environmental geekery and sophisticated discussions with all kinds of people working in, or interested in the environment. I’ve only attended the Vancouver version twice, but it’s been a lot of fun – there is always a mix of veterans and solo flyers that show up without knowing a soul (but that is of course changed after the first beer). ๐Ÿ™‚

2a) STORY OF STUFF This is a great little description of how the world currently works, some of the problems our actions are causing, and how to get involved in changing these patterns. The point with this one is.. simply reach out and learn more about how the world works, and how we can minimize our impact on the environment

2b) CRADLE TO CRADLE Similar to Option 2), this is a monumental piece of work that redefines the way we approach how we go about building stuff and creating the everyday objects we use. This novel concepts presented in cannot be called short of anything but a paradigm shift in the positive direction of what it means to be human. It’s simple, and beautiful…

If you’re interested in learning more without diving into the book, I’d recommend having a look at the TED talk featuring one of the authors (TED has numerous amazing talks on many other subjects including psychology, art, music, and technology. The one other talk that seems to be somewhat related would a brain scientist experiencing life a stroke in her left hemisphere, leaving her exposed to the raw experience of living life through her right – creative, loving, unified hemisphere – the experience’s lesson – if we use both of our brain real estate (Left AND right hemisphere), then we are much more in tune with others, and the environment around us – have a look).

2c) INCONVENIENT TRUTH If you haven’t seen it yet.. The only thing i gotta say about this one – i think any movie that helps someone win the Nobel Peace Prize might – just might be worth watching.

3) TAKE A HIKE I’m not kidding. Go get outside. Listen to the silence of the air and the stillness of your thoughts. There are many accessible parks in the Metro Vancouver area. Some of my favorites include Lighthouse Park (which is easily accessible by public transit, but surprisingly beautiful and secluded), the Grouse Grind if you’re adventurous, Shannon Falls or Bridal Veil Falls (if you prefer a light walk in the woods), or the Chief if you’re fit and would like a bit of a challenge.

4) LEARN ABOUT WATER Why on earth am i writing about water? An excellent recent film “Flow: For the Love of Water” about water illustrates this resource’s incredible importance. For one second care to entertain the thought of considering how essential water is to our survival, health (as in, the lack of clean water leading to health and survival problems). Climate change is melting glaciers and snowpacks around the world meaning that rivers worldwide are or will be facing water shortages. In 1999, 26 percent of Canadian municipalities reported problems with water availability, including seemingly wet locals such as Vancouver and Victoria (Environment Canada 2001; Boyd 2003). To illustrate the importance of this issue a bit further: 440 of 669 major cities in China face moderate to severe water shortages, and data collected from NASA and the World Health Organization suggest that 4 billion people will face water shortages by 2050 (Lagod 2007).

5) FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE SIDE Learning more about the state of the world can be difficult at times, but one of the most important lessons I’ve learned about environmental issues is the absolute necessity to stay positive, and not let things get to you personally – I’ve just started a blog about this and highlighting the importance of something known as the Lotus Effect (the real definition). Using all the energy generated by anger of learning about humanity breaking environmental laws and transforming it into something positive – action on improving things or leading by example. And last, and most importantly, keeping a sense of humour about it all, and not taking things, and ourselves too seriously.

A great example would be a well-known (and very witty) standup comedian talking about energy and world politics in Robert Newman’s History of Oil (I love it). Another PERFECT example of this would be the words of wisdom by a writer on the Simpsons – Welcoming Homer, the Tree Hugger! I’d like to end on that note, if you don’t visit any other links, visit the last two – I’m particularly fond of always looking at the bright side of things. With Love, L.E.

Transportation as a life – Guest post by Karen Quinn Fung July 26, 2008

Posted by Raul in Blogathon, Blogathon 2008, public policy issues, transportation, Vancouver.
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This post was contributed by Karen Quinn Fung, who blogs at Countably Infinite. Karen recently completed her Honors Thesis and is considered an expert in transportation. She single-handedly organized TransitCamp in Vancouver and was included in Raincity Studio’s 2008 Women in Tech to Watch. She also happens to be a friend of mine ๐Ÿ™‚

Raul and I were talking today when I told him I couldn’t think of something to write about for his blogathon, and he called me an expert in transportation. I, of course, now feel obligated to repay his generous compliment…however, I will do this with a blog post about why I am not an expert in transportation – at least, not the way that most people think of experts, and not in the way that most people think of transportation. (Much of this post is indebted to a book by Fiona Rajรฉ called Negotiating the Transport System. I am currently crafting a blog post for my site with more on this book.)

When people think of transportation, they think of traffic engineers, people designing lane markings and curbs, thinking about where to put stop signs, bike lanes and pedestrian crossings, the headways (i.e. amount of time between buses) on bus routes and the logistics of a complicated transit system like the SkyTrain. Alternately, they may think of transportation planners, who study the number of people going where at what times of day, weighing land use with development goals, who make forecasts in the future about what people will be doing 30 years from now to get around.

In almost all of the above activities, I am, at best, a casual observer. My degree was in Communication, so I am ill-suited to comment on urban growth or community development. Instead, I am much more interested in the intricacies of how the act of getting around shapes what you can do, who you are, and who you can be; and, conversely, how not being able to get you are also keeps you from certain things. And finally, what people or organizations can do quickly and cheaply to overcome those obstacles and do what they want to, in the absence of solutions that might take a long time to implement. Funny enough, a lot of those tools tend to involve providing information to people – hence my hanging-on with the web and mobile communities in Vancouver.

Along this vein, one of the neatest concepts I’ve learned about recently is that of the “forced car.” It is exactly what it sounds like, and everyone knows what it is: it is when public transport is so lacking that people on low incomes have to put their money towards owning and running a car, which diverts valuable resources away from other parts of their lives. I have a friend living this very reality in Winnipeg. Yet as a society, do we collectively – through our representative in municipal or regional governments – take responsibility for precipitating these situations through the design of our cities? It’s hard to take responsibility for something that’s not directly someone’s fault, yet all too often it seems that the forethought that would enable these situations to be avoided is bypassed completely.

I’m certainly not the only one thinking about this sort of thing in Vancouver, either – the Vancouver Public Space Network is doing some great work, and Toronto’s Spacing Magazine is very prolific in bringing these issues to a human and emotional scale. If we think of cities as living, breathing organisms, then our transportation system is like our circulatory system, moving things around to where they are needed. That experience of moving around, perhaps not for the majority but for no small minority of people, is traumatic, wrought with difficulty and frustration, leading to (again with a loosely-defined academic term) social exclusion, that prevents them from taking full advantage of their potential or living their dreams. It’s this human element that I work towards…and I’m feeling
up to the challenge! ๐Ÿ™‚

Now, does anyone know a Master’s Program where I can study this *and* hang out with bloggers and web geeks? ๐Ÿ™‚