Wednesday, May 04, 2011

"this is not civilization"

That's the title of a novel by Robert Rosenberg that was a University of Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Pacific University Book of the Year for this past year.  And probably what tonight's UAA Classrooms for Climate conference meeting speaker Majora Carter was thinking when she decided to clean up her South Bronx neighborhood.

The UAA/APU Books of the Year program is a powerful partnership between University of Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Pacific University that brings faculty, staff, and community members together to understand common themes. The books serve as the catalyst for discussions of larger issues of local and international significance.
[This] program started in 2006 as part of a Ford Foundation Difficult Dialogues initiative--one of only 26 in the country--to provide a safe environment on campuses for discussions of challenging topics. UAA and APU are now national leaders in this area. 

For me the title was intriguing, plus, it was about a Peace Corps experience.  Every PC experience is different, yet there are common themes - feeling totally lost as you enter a foreign world and language while people have unrealistic expectations of you and want to use you for their own purposes which you don't understand, making great friends, and always wondering whether you are doing more harm than good.  Here's Rosenberg's hero as he arrives in his town in Kyrgyzstan.
In Kyzyl Adyr-Kirovka Jeff received what felt like a hero's welcome.  Over his first few days his neighbors on Karl Marx Street introduced themselves in a continuous wave.  Expectations were high;  they seemed to believe he could change their lives.  The attention was jarring. . . the villagers offered gifts of warm bread, eggplant and cabbage from their family plots, strawberry and cherry compote, boiled mutton, and plastic bags filled with cold triangles of fried dough.  They explained just to what length Anarbek [his host] had gone to refurbish the old brick townhouse.  The previous year the occupants had repatriated to southern Russia.   The house had served a six-person family for three decades, so the village deemed it large enough for one American.  Anarbek had arranged for its purchase with the village akim.  For an entire month he had shown up each day with his wife and two daughters to renovate the home and bring it up to Peace Corps standards.  He had installed a Western toilet (the bathroom did not have running water;  Anarbek would work on that, they said) and a series of electric radiators (the street's electricity seemed sporadic;  he would work on that).  His daughters had hung printed curtains made from bedroom sheets, pounded out the carpets, and scrubbed the several years' accumulation of Central Asian dust off the floors.  Anarbek requisitioned a heavy steel gate for the front door, a strict requirement stipulated by the Peace Corps, but in the neighbors' opinion an unnecessary precaution.  For the previous quarter of a century, Kyzyl Adyr-Kirovka had known no crime.
You can learn more about the Book of the Year program and the two new books for next year

Part 2:  
Wednesday, May 4th 
Wendy Williamson Auditorium. 
 7pm - FREE (free parking too)
Majora Carter presents -
Hometown Security: Climate Adaptation, Social Innovation and Local Solutions

The theme for the two books this year was service.  That theme and the title "this is not civilization" seem a good segue into another UAA activity - Classrooms for Climate.

Classrooms for Climate is organized by the Chugach National Forest and UAA in partnership with the Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center, Alaska Geographic, and the Northern Forum. Alaska is ground zero for climate change, and the Chugach and neighboring landscapes, with world famous glaciers and watersheds, are an extended classroom for researchers, educators, and students around the world seeking to understand the potential physical, biological, cultural and socio-economic impacts. Each of the participating institutions recognizes its own unique role as a “classroom” for understanding and responding to climate change. All are committed to working across geographic and institutional boundaries to build knowledge and craft sustainable and effective solutions. This symposium is a first step in bringing together partners in inquiry, education, and management from across Southcentral, Alaska and beyond.

The partnership between the university and the Forestry Service picks up on the theme of service.  And tonight's speaker at Wendy Williamson Auditorium,  McArthur Award winner Majora Carter,  probably thought that life in the Bronx was less than civilization and decided to do something about it. 
Majora Carter simultaneously addresses public health, poverty alleviation, and climate change adaptation as one of the nation’s pioneers in successful urban green-collar job training and placement systems. She founded Sustainable South Bronx in 2001 (with the help of a small Forest Service grant) to achieve environmental equality through economically sustainable projects informed by community needs. By 2003, she coined the term: "Green The Ghetto" as she pioneered one of the nation's first urban green-collar job training & placement systems. Her organization spearheaded new policies and legislation that fueled demand for those jobs, improved the lives of all New Yorkers, and has served as a model for the nation.
There's a lot more about her (and links to even more) at the UAA website.  From all I've heard about this woman, the free talk tonight at Wendy Williamson is another one of those incredible Anchorage opportunities to meet a world class thinker and doer.  It would be nice to think that our mayor and assembly members might show up to learn about how to integrate economics and environment and humanity.

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