A Free Passport to the World

Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.

-Henry James

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I do love me a good summer. Summer for me has always meant days immersed in the sun languished in the Channel Islands, Albuquerque tribal lands, an Avonlea farmhouse, the Concord forest. Distant adventures courtesy of the pages of a book. No, not a passport but a bonafide book book. It’s no secret, if you’ve been following along, we love books here. A true passport for a quick getaway, an endless holiday or something inbetween. The library has always been and always remain our travel consultant for our holidaying minds.

This week’s book humbles us. Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown and illustrated by John Parra is about a little girl Ana who loves making stories yet owns one book. One day along with the other village children, Ana encounters a man with two donkeys, Alfa and Beto with a sign that reads, Biblioburro (translated: donkey library). This moving library offers children the opportunity to borrow books for a few weeks. In the interim, Ana reads and dreams new stories. She waits for the Biblioburro to return. When they do, she has a surprise for the librarian. The illustrations are stunning with surreal mural montages that celebrate village living and whimsical imagination. It includes a glossary of Spanish terms used in the book.

Anklebiter 1 has recently relished the ‘story’. Move over picture books. He’ll sit and look at images but likes to listen to the unfolding narrative. He loved the notion of burros (donkeys) and a traveling library. He had many questions about Ana’s stories. “Why does the bird have legs?” “Can I fly on a butterfly plane?” He says ‘libro’ (book). This libro has been on rotation for a few weeks now. That says something.

I adore this book because it is inspired by Luis Soriano Bohorquez’s own acts of literary kindness. Bohorquez and his two trusty donkeys deliver books to children living in remote Columbian villages. It opened up my eyes to the various forms of libraries as well as the pulp deficiencies many children experience. An urban imagined for children should always include access to books. With free access to several libraries, we are fortunate and rather spoilt for stories both fiction and factual. Libraries need not always be brick and mortar. And we are sharing the wealth. Before television, before cars and video games, there were books. Books transport us and library cards are the true passports. Where will you travel during these remaining days of a northern hemispheric summer?


Happy 100th Birthday Year Jane Jacobs

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Jane Jacobs. (1916-2006). I’m late to the wishes but let’s call it a year long celebration! Godmother of Urban Design, thank you for being an observer of the urban. Of relishing your staircase stump in Greenwich Village. Of demanding that architects and planners (cough Edmund Bacon and Robert Moses) put people first over  lofty illusions of the grandeur. Of highlighting the importance of street life. You became a planner not by formal training but sheer observation, reporting and activating the local. Thank you for introducing terms such as social capital, street ballet and eyes on the street. You leave a legacy that we should all endeavour to fulfil.


Happy birth year!

Ezra Jack Keats (1916-1983). Ezra (if he was still alive, I’d make sure we’d be on first name basis) is my urban children’s book hero. From early childhood, he knew he wanted to be an artist. When life gave him lemons, he made lemonade. Pre-empted from enrolling in art school, he sought artistic type jobs. After serving in WWII, he studied painting in Paris.  He prolifically wrote and illustrated 22 children’s books. Especially from the 60s to the 70s, his illustrative masterpieces captured the sentiments of growing up in urban American neighbourhoods. He depicted the multi-cultural camaraderie and  the care-free attitudes of childhood. Children played outside, solved problems, amplified their independence and developed their identities. Parents supported their children’s imaginations as well as required certain responsibilities. Ezra’s books demonstrated great compassion, kindness and joy for friendship and learning. Thank you and happy birth year! I can’t help but wonder if Ezra was still illustrating how might he capture today’s childhood?


[Images sourced from:  above About Ezra | The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation and below Read-aloud: The Snowy Day | The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation ]

#urbankindness take 4

urban sympathy

Hello there. We are a little more than half way through the 7 weeks of urban kindness. With gratefulness in your heart, I think it is time to pay it forward. It was only a matter of time. Given local and global events of late, I think we can all use a little kindness. How best to experience kindness than to apply it.

It can be as easy as clicking online and donating to your favourite cause. Here are some to get you started:

Or go hyper local and donate old coats to the local shelter. Share your time at local soup kitchens. Buy a bus fare for the person behind you. Support your local independent shop- be it the green grocer, the butcher, the cafe and when you do, buy two and pass the second one on.

I did this recently, at the local baker. The wafting cinnamon and freshly baked bread always tantalises the senses as I walk by their door.  What a wonderful opportunity to sample their goods by purchasing one for me and one for someone else. Honestly, I thought it would be a simple straightforward experience. “What’s the most popular item here?” “What do you mean?” “This is my first time here, what do you suggest I try?” “For the little one we have ginger bread men” “Okay. Can I buy two? One for me and the second one for the next family.” The head baker then comes in on the conversation.”Why do you want to do that?” “Because it’s hard being a parent and it would be nice to be thought of.” “They may not want their kids to eat treats.” “Alright. Give it to the next person.” “I think we can do that.” Trying to pass a little on but deflected momentarily in the name of treat police. I get it, I don’t like how snacks at playgroups are sugar laden. It just reminds me that more kindness is needed in this world so when kindness is presented, it isn’t questioned.


5 anecdotes about urban acupuncture

Jaime Lerner is enamoured with cities. I was first introduced to this kindred spirit back in 1996 through a book called Hope: Human and wild by Bill McKibben. In wide-eyed wonder, I learned about how this Mayor of Curitiba (Brazil) inspired his city to DO BETTER. He introduced public transport and an ingenious waste recycling system to stimulate social equity. Since then, I’ve heard him speak and he is infectious:  an urban cheerleader of humane and sustainable cities.

Last year, he wrote a book Urban Acupuncture: Celebrating pinpricks of change that enrich life. Here, he presents a medley of ‘pinpricks’ for metaphorical urban ailments (e.g., cultural identity, urban voids, economic opportunities). This book definitely deserves some thumbing and dog-eared pages. Here are 5 anecdotes to get you started.

  1. “The notion of restoring the vital signs of an ailing spot with a simple healing touch has everything to do with revitalising not only that specific place but also the entire area that surrounds it.” (p.1). Through this book, Lerner invites us to find our own ways of healing the city, one action at a time.
  2. “Do nothing! Urgently. ” (p.21). Sometimes the best solution is to stop. Stop building roads. Stop advocating parking requirements. Stop and smell the roses.
  3. “What is important is the correct vision, and a competent set-up of a ‘corresponsibility equation’ What’s needed is a scenario, or an idea, a desirable concept. And all of the people –or most- will help bring it to fruition. It’s precisely at that moment of execution that a people’s self-esteem helps move a city forward” (p. 70). Co-responsibility: to create change, you need buy-in from the ones with whom the change affects.
  4. “The car is our ‘mechanical mother in law” We have to maintain good relations with her, but we can’t let her dominate our lives. We have to know how to coexist with the automobile without becoming its slave.” (p. 64). Amen.
  5. “… since we rarely pay much mind to what we don’t know, how can we hope to generate respect for a city we don’t understand?” (p. 59). Turn off you phone. Go outside and explore. Get lost. Ask for directions. Discover the things about your area that brightens your day. Pinpoint the things that scare you. Become a resident and not a tourist.

Photo of Federation Square, Melbourne by Vivian Romero

A video and five links to start your weekend

This NIMBY is self-interest redirected: go buy a mountain

World Food Day

With drinking straw in hand, Anna Hepler, you take my breathe away

Taxi Fabric weaves a story of Mumbai

What US$1 and a dream can buy in Chicago, thank you Theaster Gates.

A video and five links to start your weekend

The original guerriila gardener, Adam Purple grew a 15,000 garden in the Lower East Side

Umbracity, or bicycle-sharing for the umbrella set

Each time you shop and request a plastic bag from major UK supermarkets, it will cost 5p

The origin of the coffee break

If a tree falls in a forest, we will hear it