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China’s pollution problem, everyone’s problem: Peggy Liu at TED2014

Originally posted on TED Blog:

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Peggy Liu. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

“I am so happy to be here, because I can actually breathe the air,” says Peggy Liu, who lives in China, as she steps on the TED2014 stage. Her typical day begins not with checking the time, but by checking the air pollution levels on her phone to determine whether her children will need to wear face masks that day. In Brussels, Belgium, if the air quality index reaches 50, she says, traffic is stopped for the day. But in Shanghai, China, she says, it routinely goes to 500—the end of the scale—and beyond. 

“Pollution crosses borders. China’s problem is everyone’s problem,” says Liu. “What this means for all of us is that the decisions China makes in the next several years are going to affect the world for the next several thousand.”

China is urbanizing at an incredible pace. In 20 years, an estimated 350…

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Photojournalism: “China: Undercurrents” by Ian Teh.

“Several times Ian Teh made a 1000 km road trip through small cities, major industrial sites and neighboring corners of the Chinese border between Russia and North Korea in order to create this photo-journalistic series entitled China: Undercurrents.” via My Modern Met

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“We live in the dusk of an era. Meta-narratives that make universal claims failed us in the 20th century and are failing us in the 21st. Meta-narrative is the cancer that is killing democracy from the inside. Now, I want to clarify something. I’m not here to make an indictment of democracy. On the contrary, I think democracy contributed to the rise of the West and the creation of the modern world. It is the universal claim that many Western elites are making about their political system, the hubris, that is at the heart of the West’s current ills. If they would spend just a little less time on trying to force their way onto others, and a little bit more on political reform at home, they might give their democracy a better chance. China’s political model will never supplant electoral democracy, because unlike the latter, it doesn’t pretend to be universal. It cannot be exported. But that is the point precisely. The significance of China’s example is not that it provides an alternative, but the demonstration that alternatives exist. Let us draw to a close this era of meta-narratives. Communism and democracy may both be laudable ideals, but the era of their dogmatic universalism is over. Let us stop telling people and our children there’s only one way to govern ourselves and a singular future towards which all societies must evolve. It is wrong. It is irresponsible. And worst of all, it is boring. Let universality make way for plurality. Perhaps a more interesting age is upon us. Are we brave enough to welcome it?”
– Eric X. Li

In this talk, Iwan Baan shows how communities all over the world, manage to adapt to their environment, come up with all sorts of solutions in response to their various needs, and create homes in an organic and intuitive way.

‘Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with many of the great international architects, documenting their work and observing how their designs have the capacity to influence the cities in which they sit. [•••] But what I find really fascinating is what happens when architects and planners leave and these places become appropriated by people…’

‘In all these places I’ve talked about today, what I do find fascinating is that there’s really no such thing as normal, and it proves that people are able to adapt to any kind of situation.’

‘Today, you see these large residential development projects which offer cookie-cutter housing solutions to massive amounts of people. From China to Brazil, these projects attempt to provide as many houses as possible, but they’re completely generic and simply do not work as an answer to the individual needs of the people.’

- Iwan Baan.