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Tirana: Transforming a City by Kid-Friendly Urban Policy - CityLab
"The ambitious mayor of Tirana, Albania, is selling a wary constituency on economic transformation by putting kids at the forefront of his agenda."



"Tirana’s main children’s playground fits so neatly in the Albanian capital’s central Grand Park, it feels as if the playground’s wooded ridge has organically sprouted terracotta-colored climbing frames, swings, and crawl spaces. Children of all ages play under its tree canopy, the sound of their parents’ and grandparents’ chatter, knitting needles, and dominoes clacking from the surrounding benches.

More than simply a charming space, the playground is the spearhead of a grand plan to refashion Albania’s capital city as a more walkable, more sustainable, less car-dependent city—specifically by placing the needs of the city’s youngest citizens at its forefront. Its creation also sparked one of the most intense urban debates in Albania’s recent history, one that reveals the highly specific growing pains the country has endured since the fall of communism in 1991.

The Grand Park playground, the largest of its type in eastern Europe, was the first site chosen for a child-friendly overhaul by Tirana’s center-left mayor Erion Veliaj, who was elected in 2015. The playground became a flagship for a municipal scheme that has since seen 33 more playgrounds installed across the city, with more on the way.

This focus on both children’s needs and reclaiming public space runs like a seam through Veliaj’s attempts to refashion Tirana as a greener, denser, and less car-dependent city. When Veliaj’s administration wanted to kick-start the pedestrianization of Skanderbeg Square, Tirana’s central plaza, he staged monthly car-free days when parents were actively encouraged to bring their children to cycle. When the city recently launched a central cycle lane grid—one that easily surpasses equivalents in American cities of similar size—the municipality also created special days when cyclists as young as three years old could cycle there in convoy, supervised by adults. And when the city sought to encourage more healthy eating, it started by revising kindergarten menus to make them healthier, sending local chefs into elementary schools to provide education about produce and cooking.

Focusing on the young makes sense in a very young city—Tirana’s average age is 27 to 28. There’s more, however. As Mayor Veliaj told Citylab’s General Manager Rob Bole during a discussion at this summer’s reSITE conference in Prague, children are like “revolutionaries in the household,” capable of influencing their parents far more strongly than a politician ever could.

There might seem to be an eccentric strain to the idea of transforming a city from toddler height upwards, and using children as sleeper agents to promote sustainability, but it is in keeping with UNICEF’s efforts to position child-friendly urban development as a cornerstone of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Albanian capital is thus part of a growing global wave that sees urban children’s well-being as a way of unpicking a broader knot of issues.

Such an approach is particularly effective, says Sam Williams, initiator and co-author of the Arup study “Cities Alive: Designing for Urban Childhoods,” because good child-friendly development does not isolate the young, but integrates them more seamlessly into their wider communities.

“Unfortunately for them, children are a great indicator species for urban problems, because they are more vulnerable to traffic pollution, to car accidents,” Williams told CityLab. “They have less range because they have shorter legs. They don't have money or income and they can't drive.

“By designing well for children, what you're really doing is designing well for the most vulnerable in society, whether that's the elderly or disabled, or the less wealthy. It's a very equitable approach to design that can fall by the wayside if you focus is on getting 30-year-old commuters from A to B as quickly as possible.”

This is grand rhetoric to attach to a playground development plan, but these playgrounds do more than provide more community space. Following years of (not yet dispelled) mistrust of officialdom in the immediate post-communist period, the municipality is using a child-first approach to urban management as a shop window for its political message that government can indeed be trusted.

The transformation of Skanderbeg Square is emblematic of this. A huge space lined with a collection of monumental communist-era institutions and saffron-colored, Italianate buildings from the interwar period, the square was almost entirely car-free under communism—because private cars themselves were so rare during the period. In the post-communist era as congestion gradually increased, Skanderbeg Square’s fate became a battleground between rival city administrations: One mayor’s total pedestrianization plan from 2010 was cancelled by his successor, who had the space remodelled as an island surrounded by a carousel of traffic—an arrangement that, as of December 2018, is still visible on Google Street View.

When elected in 2015, Mayor Veliaj revived his predecessor’s total pedestrianization plan. This time, in order to help win the public relations battle, his administration appealed to the public by emphasizing the space’s role as a facility for young people, and by using occasional car-free days as an advertising campaign to turn the whole area into a child-friendly strolling area and play space.

Veliaj describes the reaction: “Kids came with their bikes and rollerblades and were very happy. Their parents, however, hated me. They said, ‘He was such a nice guy during the election campaign, and now he wants to take the cars away!’ But with kids, it’s very different. They don’t have dogma or ideology. The kids loved it and said, ‘Mr. Mayor can we do it one more time?’ Then, when they went home, they’d convert their parents.”

These car-free days became monthly fixtures until residents came to expect and rely on them, a reaction that helped smooth Skanderbeg Square’s transition to its now remodelled, permanently car-free state. The effect of the makeover is subtle, but dramatic. The square’s paved heart now slopes gently upwards to a sort of flattened hump, transforming the square into a stage that places pedestrians at its center. As the sun cools, children kick footballs around on a sunken lawn that, so far, seems to be bearing up well under the pressure of their feet. And it’s doubly popular because it doesn’t cost anything, says a young woman called Anita, (who preferred not to give her last name), who I find hanging out with teenage friends next to the square’s temporary beach volleyball courts. “There aren’t many places for us to spend time in the city without paying something,” she tells me. “Here there is always something happening and all we need is the bus fare to come.”

Tirana’s child-first reforms are also reclaiming formerly public plots of land that have been taken over for private uses such as garages and parking in the immediate post-communist years.

With central planning control largely removed during Albania’s semi-lawless 1990s, Tirana’s apartment buildings started to bulge with informal extensions, and self-built houses started to sprawl across farmland. Many formerly public courtyards and open spaces were encroached upon for private uses, such as garages, parking lots, small sheds—and in a few rare cases, even tower blocks. By clearing away these illegal occupations, the city restored the spaces to common use.

“Ours is a fundamentally Mediterranean culture,” says Veliaj, “where a lot of social life takes place outside in the afternoons and evenings. But if public spaces have been taken over by private owners, if sidewalks aren’t wide enough or cars are rushing by all the time, who is going to want to sit outside breathing in fumes and looking at someone’s garage?”

The need for children’s play space has over the past few decades been met by the same private interests. The city’s huge expansion has left little open space, prompting the private sector to step in with children’s facilities in the form of small playgrounds attached to cafés and bars, where access comes at the price of a drink. This creates an inherent inequality between those children whose parents can afford to access play space and those who cannot.

“One thing that's come out of our research here is that parents pay for their kids to play,” said Simon Battisti, director of Qendra Marrëdhënie, a Tirana spatial consultancy non-profit working with the city. “There is very little public open space of qood quality, especially on the periphery.

“Time after time, parents we talked to lamented this issue that they had to pay for their kids to play locally—some as much as a quarter of their monthly disposable income to play. Having this little creature that must expend this energy every day. if you don't have a park nearby, the best place to go is the bar. That means that the poorest people, out on the periphery, are currently paying the most.”

Reclaiming public space for both the children and adults of Tirana, and refashioning the city into a greener, denser, and less car-dependent place, has been a slow, deliberate process.

But not everyone immediately embraced the changes. During the construction of the Grand Park playground in 2015, the site saw 78 days of constant protest, and even sabotage of construction equipment. This intensity of feeling partly represents the extremely polarized nature of Albanian politics, but also shows how battered public confidence in the state had become. Some feared a large-scale destruction of the park, one that might enable officials partly to harvest kickbacks to builders and allow the commercial exploitation of garden space in one of the most exclusive areas of the city.

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tirana  via:derek  albania  urban  urbanism  srg  children  cities  planning  urbanplanning  safety  mobility 
december 2018 by robertogreco
Aftel Archive of Curious Scents
[https://www.yelp.com/biz/aftel-archive-of-curious-scents-berkeley ]

"Hi, I'm Mandy Aftel! I fell in love with natural aromatics more than twenty-five years ago, and I have had the privilege to live and work in their world ever since. In my practice of perfumery, I have curated thousands of gorgeous essences from all over the world, many of them antiques themselves. I have written 4 books about natural perfumes, and teach people how to create natural perfumes through my workbooks and in-studio classes."
senses  smells  berkeley  togo  via:derek  bayarea 
november 2018 by robertogreco
Isis Lecture (Lecture given at the Oxford Literary festival in 2003 ) - Philip Pullman
[from this page: http://www.philip-pullman.com/writings

"This was the first extended piece I wrote about education. I wanted to say what I thought had gone wrong with it, and suggest some better ways of doing things. The lecture was given during the Oxford Literary Festival in 2003."]

"I’m going to talk about culture this afternoon, in the widest sense; about education and the arts, especially literature. It’s my contention that something has gone bad, something has gone wrong in the state of education, and that we can see this very clearly in the way schools deal with books, and reading, and writing – with everything that has to do with literature, and the making of it. When more and more good teachers are leaving the profession in disillusion and disappointment; when the most able undergraduates are taking one look at a career in teaching, and deciding that it offers no scope for their talents, and turning away to do something else; when school headships are proving harder and harder to fill – then we’re doing something wrong.

I think it boils down to this: that education now is suffused with the wrong emotion. Somehow, over the past quarter of a century, ever since James Callaghan’s famous Great Debate speech, we have seen confidence leaking away, and something else slowly seeping in to take its place. What that something else is, I shall come to near the end. No doubt some of the confidence was misplaced; no doubt we needed a Great Debate. But I think the benefits that came from it have long since been exhausted. It’s time for another way of doing things.

So first of all, I’m going to look at what’s happening now, and I’m going right in to the glowing, radioactive core at the heart of the engine that drives the whole thing: the National Curriculum and the SATs. I won’t spend too long on these things, but we do need to look at the actual stuff to get a flavour of the thought behind it, and this is what the Qualifications Curriculum Authority says about the Reading part of the English tests at Key Stage 2 – that means, in human language, at age 11.

They think that reading consists of using a range of strategies to decode, selecting, retrieving, deducing, inferring, interpreting, identifying and commenting on the structure and organisation of texts, identifying and commenting on the writer’s purposes and viewpoints, relating texts to the social, cultural and historical contexts.

That’s it. That’s all. Nothing else. That’s what they want children of 11 to do when they read. They don’t seem to know that reading can also be enjoyed, because enjoyment just doesn’t feature in the list of things you have to do.

Mind you, it’s just as well that they don’t have to enjoy it, because they’re not likely to have a copy of the books anyway. In another unit of work – 46 pages, to get through in a fortnight – they are to study Narrative Structure. The work’s built around two short stories and part of a novel. It’s not expected – this is interesting – that the children will have their own copies of the complete texts, though some pages may be extracted and photocopied.

But the whole book doesn’t matter very much either, because books exist in order to be taken apart and laid out in pieces like Lego. One of the things the children have to do in this unit of work is to make a class list of “the features of a good story opening.” This is where it stops being merely tedious, and starts being mendacious as well. The teacher is asked to model the writing of an alternative first paragraph for one of the stories. The instructions say “Read through the finished writing together. Check this against the criteria for a good opening – does it fulfil all of these?”

I can’t say it clearly enough: this is not how it works. Writing doesn’t happen like this. What does happen like this is those Hollywood story-structure courses, where there are seven rules for this, and five principles of that, and eight bullet-points to check when constructing the second-act climax. You cannot write a good story by building up a list of effective openings. It is telling children a lie to say that this is the way you write stories. Apart from anything else, it’s profoundly vulgar.

Then there is the Reading Journal, which children have to keep. Among other things, they have to:

List the words and phrases used to create an atmosphere

Write a fifty word summary of a whole plot

Pick a descriptive word from the text and, using a thesaurus, write down five synonyms and antonyms for that word

And so on. What concerns me here is the relationship this sets up between child and book, between children and stories. Stories are written to beguile, to entertain, to amuse, to move, to enchant, to horrify, to delight, to anger, to make us wonder. They are not written so that we can make a fifty word summary of the whole plot, or find five synonyms for the descriptive words. That sort of thing would make you hate reading, and turn away from such a futile activity with disgust. In the words of Ruskin, it’s “slaves’ work, unredeemed.”

Those who design this sort of thing seem to have completely forgotten the true purpose of literature, the everyday, humble, generous intention that lies behind every book, every story, every poem: to delight or to console, to help us enjoy life or endure it. That’s the true reason we should be giving books to children. The false reason is to make them analyse, review, comment and so on.

But they have to do it – day in, day out, hour after hour, this wretched system nags and pesters and buzzes at them, like a great bluebottle laden with pestilence. And then all the children have to do a test; and that’s when things get worse."



"So said Ruskin in 1853. Again, we didn’t listen. Ruskin went on to point out that when you do trust people to act for themselves, they are free to make mistakes, to blunder and fail; but there is the possibility of majesty too. Do we want human beings teaching our children, with all their faults and follies and limitations, but with all their depth and grandeur as well? Or do we want managers, who are glib and fluent in the language of audits and targets and performance indicators and mission statements, but who are baffled by true originality, who flinch and draw back from it as if it were deadly poison?

The extraordinary thing is that they are the same people. They could all be free, if they chose. Some of the young people who come into teaching may be timid and narrow-minded, but don’t think for a moment that I think that they’re not capable of courage and curiosity. They’ve never had a chance to show it; their teachers are afraid themselves. Marilyn Mottram of the University of Central England in Birmingham, who has been studying the way the National Curriculum and the Literacy Strategy work in schools, wrote to me last month: “When I work with teachers on developing ways of using texts I’m frequently asked ‘… but are we allowed to do that?’ This sort of continuing anxiety about literacy teaching,” she goes on, “suggests that a culture of conformity has been quite securely established among our primary teachers and, like many others, I find this deeply disturbing.”

These young people are tigers born in cages, and kept caged until they think that being caged is a natural condition; and they look down at themselves, and they see their magnificent stripes, and the only way they can understand them is to think that they themselves must be made of bars: they are their own cage; they dare not move outside the little space they occupy. But they are tigers still, if only they knew."



"So here are five steps we should take, starting right now.

Do away with these incessant tests; they only tell you things you don’t need to know, and make the children do things they don’t need to do.

Abolish the league tables, which are an abomination.

Cut class sizes in every school in the country. No child should ever be in a class bigger than twenty.

Make teaching a profession that the most gifted, the most imaginative, the most well-informed people will clamour to join; and make the job so rewarding that none of them will
want to stop teaching until they drop.

Make this the golden rule, the equivalent of the Hippocratic oath: Everything we ask a child to do should be something intrinsically worth doing.

If we do those five things, we will not bring about a golden age, or an earthly paradise; there are more things wrong with the world than we can cure by changing a system of schooling. But if we get education right, it would show that we were being serious about living and thinking and understanding ourselves; it would show that we were paying our children the compliment of assuming that they were serious too; and it would acknowledge that the path to true learning begins nowhere else but in delight, and the words on the signpost say: “Once upon a time …”"
philippullman  education  canon  teaching  writing  howwelearn  howweread  howweteach  howwewrite  reading  literature  management  unschooling  deschooling  schooliness  schooling  policy  curriculum  culture  society  meaning  johnruskin  learning  schools  pedagogy  literacy  purpose  life  living  pleasure  via:derek  storytelling  stories  fear  intrinsicmotivation  children  self-esteem  self-confidence  language  communication  time  slow  results  accountability  measurement  testing  standardizedtesting  standardization  2003 
april 2018 by robertogreco
Grice's Maxims
"1. The maxim of quantity, where one tries to be as informative as one possibly can, and gives as much information as is needed, and no more.

2. The maxim of quality, where one tries to be truthful, and does not give information that is false or that is not supported by evidence.

3. The maxim of relation, where one tries to be relevant, and says things that are pertinent to the discussion.

4. The maxim of manner, when one tries to be as clear, as brief, and as orderly as one can in what one says, and where one avoids obscurity and ambiguity.

As the maxims stand, there may be an overlap, as regards the length of what one says, between the maxims of quantity and manner; this overlap can be explained (partially if not entirely) by thinking of the maxim of quantity (artificial though this approach may be) in terms of units of information. In other words, if the listener needs, let us say, five units of information from the speaker, but gets less, or more than the expected number, then the speaker is breaking the maxim of quantity. However, if the speaker gives the five required units of information, but is either too curt or long-winded in conveying them to the listener, then the maxim of manner is broken. The dividing line however, may be rather thin or unclear, and there are times when we may say that both the maxims of quantity and quality are broken by the same factors."

[See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooperative_principle ]
conversation  language  speech  socialinteraction  communication  cooperation  via:derek 
december 2017 by robertogreco
Ventana School
"Welcome to Ventana School. We are a progressive, Episcopal preschool and elementary school with a Reggio-inspired curriculum, tucked away in the serene quiet of Los Altos Hills.

At Ventana, childhood wonder is the springboard for learning. A kindergartener spots a bee crawling on the ground and wonders why it isn't flying. Soon her whole class is studying bee colonies and designing a pollinator garden. Third-grade students learn about “mindsets,” which sparks a month-long investigation into the brain. With teachers as guides, our students take charge of their learning and feed their passionate curiosity.

We give children endless opportunities to express their creativity. We recognize that children process ideas in a multitude of ways — what Reggio educators call the “hundred languages of children.” Our students paint, sculpt, build, tinker, tell stories, create plays, and make music, all ways of reflecting deeply on new concepts.

We nurture students from the inside out. We value social-emotional learning as much as academics. In our safe and supportive environment, students collaborate and negotiate as they grapple with big ideas. They learn to listen and lead. They develop confidence in their capability and resilience, and emerge as life-long learners."
schools  losaltos  losaltoshills  bayarea  reggioemilia  via:derek 
december 2017 by robertogreco

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