Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Posts Tagged ‘WordPress

Weekly Photo Challenge: Wanderlust

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Sydney Harbour Bridge

The challenge this week opens with “Have you traveled anywhere exciting lately?” Well yes and I have been posting pictures of Cuba for a while now. That was our most recent trip. In October 2015 we were much further from home. This photo was taken as our cruise ship arrived in Sydney in the early hours of the morning. We did not see any kangaroos in our trip, but this landmark is about as iconic as it gets.

Sydney Opera House

Unless you count the Opera House of course, just opposite the bridge and the cruise ship terminal – and in much better light.

The great advantage of taking a ship is that when you arrive in a city on the other side of the planet, there is no jet lag, and you get to enjoy your visit straight away. On that cruise we also visited Honolulu, Fiji and some of the smaller islands of the South Pacific, which for a lad from East Ham was about as exotic as I have ever experienced.

Living now in Beautiful British Columbia we are spoiled for wonderful destinations on own doorstep. Even a short trip to the nearest beach produces breathtaking views. And some of my wanderlust has been tempered simply by the increasing harassment travellers experience just trying to get on a plane to somewhere else. Or even to drive over the border. We are not planning to travel anywhere very much in the immediate future, just to avoid these hassles.

Sydney wildlife

Written by Stephen Rees

April 26, 2017 at 2:11 pm

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Earth

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IMG_2029

When I first saw the challenge for this week I was thinking of looking for one of my gigantic panoramas. But then as I was scrolling through Photos on my MacBook I saw this little snapshot. We were walking around the Cleveland Dam and Capilano park, when I saw this skunk cabbage emerging from the earth. That does look like a particularly fecund bit of ground – lots of naturally composting plants and detritus from the forest. And that fern is really artistic, don’t you think?

We have had almost continuous rain here for months – and the chance to get outside during the brief dry spells is eagerly grasped. Spring has been late, but all around things are emerging and blooming as the warmth returns – if not much actual direct sunshine.

We need to keep in mind how much we depend on earth. The fact that we have anything to eat at all depends on a few inches of topsoil and dependable rain. But humans seem to be very bad at understanding that this is very fragile and easily broken. There might be water on a moon of Saturn, but that does not give us any realistic alternative to taking better care of the Earth we inherited and are so lucky to have survived our ill treatment thus far.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 19, 2017 at 12:44 pm

Weekly Photo Challenge “Surprise”

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IMG_1828via Photo Challenge: Surprise

The little white dots of foam that you see on the surface of the spaghetti squash are where I carefully pierced the skin with a large fork to allow the steam to escape. I have done this many times when cooking it in the microwave. Probably the easiest way to deal with this vegetable. This time, there were not enough holes, apparently, as there was a loud bang. Surprise!

Fortunately this was toward the end of the cooking time, and the mess was fairly limited. It was very tasty: served with a meat sauce, of which there were leftovers, which I have just finished for lunch today – with real spaghetti – not another squash or any surprises.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 12, 2017 at 2:02 pm

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Dense

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Vancouver Aerial

This is a photograph of Vancouver’s downtown, which in recent years has become – in terms of urban development – one of the densest parts of the region. This was the result of a set of inter-related planning decisions, to allow for towers, closely spaced, and mainly for residential use. This was a departure from the way other places kept downtowns for other, non-residential uses. This has allowed for much greater choices in terms of how people get to and from work – and other activities. In most modern cities, built since World War II, the plan has been to allow for most use of cars, which has created large swathes of low density suburbs. Traditionally, prior to motorised transport, cities were designed to allow for most trips to be completed by walking. Railways and streetcars allowed things to be spaced out a bit more, but the greatest impact was the use of the personal automobile. Most North American cities are now turning away from this pattern of development and rediscovering the benefits of urbanity. (Most European cities made that choice much sooner – to retain the amenities and cultural significance of their central areas. ) Not just better energy efficiency, and cleaner air – though both are worthwhile improvements – but in greater interaction between people. More sociability, greater opportunities to meet other people – more culture, more entertainment, more choices of where to go and what to do.  Indeed the pursuit of higher densities remains a central plank of urban and regional planning – the subject matter of most of this blog – made possible by increasing the choices of transport open to residents. More trips that can be made without needing a car, by walking, cycling and public transport. That produces happier, healthier places. It doesn’t just protect the environment it increases economic activity.

Note too that one important lesson of developing a dense urban core is that green spaces – that’s Stanley Park in the foreground – can be successfully protected and made available for many more people to enjoy, rather than the large areas that get fenced off to keep people out in low density suburbs and exurbs.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 29, 2017 at 9:26 pm

WPC: It IS Easy Being Green

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via Photo Challenge: It IS Easy Being Green!

Parque Josone, Varadero
Parque Josone in Varadero, Cuba where even the water in the boating lake is green.

 

Written by Stephen Rees

March 22, 2017 at 10:32 am

My wish for Cuba

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via Photo Challenge: Wish

Wish

The photo was taken last week in Old Havana, on the Paseo Marti at lunchtime. We had found a restaurant on the roof of the Asturias friendship association’s building: they have a barbecue up there. I had a whole grilled red snapper, my partner the largest pork brocheta I have ever seen. We felt very lucky to be away from the cold of Vancouver, in a beautiful old city. Then I looked across at the other side of the street.

There are many old buildings in Havana, which tourists love to photograph. They are highly picturesque and a few have been beautifully restored. Many more are in desperate need of repair. Look at the balcony of the window to the left of where this woman is standing. The old rusted rebar is still there, hanging loose. The concrete has fallen away. Yet there she stands – and where she is standing is going to go the same way one day.

Cuba has been subject to a lot of severe weather – many sites show the damage caused by hurricanes. These weather events are getting more severe and more frequent. Many countries are switching to renewable energy sources to try to limit the increase in the greenhouse gases that are the cause of the change in our climate. It is not just warming: it is sea level rise, storms and plagues.

In  its recent history Cuba suffered as a result of the US embargo. It had an ally in the former Soviet Union but that source of aid has gone. It used to rely heavily on Venezuela for its fuel but that country is now facing its own challenges. A Canadian company, Sherritt, has been helping in recent years to exploit the newly found oil and gas resources not too far from Havana in Matanzas, near Varadero – which is also a major area for all inclusive resorts where we also spent some time last week. We saw the huge chimney of the thermal power plant that now supplies Havana’s electricity – and it’s long plume of particulates. These add to the smoke from the open burning of sugar cane residues in the field after harvest. And the tailpipe emissions from old cars that never had catalytic converters or any emission controls and have now been mostly converted to diesel. I got through four packs of nasal tissues every day while in Havana.

What we did not see – despite the sunshine and strong winds – were any photovoltaic panels or turbines. Someone told us they were in the plan for the future but were currently considered “too expensive”. She also said that Raul Castro has announced his intention to retire next year. There is much uncertainty over what may follow.

My wish is that the people of Cuba will benefit from the long overdue improvement in relations with the United States as a result of President Obama’s decision to end the embargo. The main immediate effect of which was to end the opportunity of travel for Cubans to the US as refugees. Increasing uncertainty is unfortunately a major plank in the policy of the current occupant of the White House.

Cuba is a poor country with many people who are underemployed: well educated but unable to find a way to utilise their knowledge, skills and willingness to work hard. Every embassy and consulate I saw in Havana is heavily fortified, not because Cuba is unsafe but to deter those who might climb their fences seeking asylum.

My wish is for a better future for Cubans that is not dependent on the individual generosity of tourists, or the investment of more Canadian money in exploiting fossil fuels. A future which offers dignity for all. And safety in their homes. Not a precarious perch in a crumbling ruin. I wish I knew of a way of getting this message out to more people. I wish we could persuade our governments that waiting for chaos to break out – or even provoking it – and then offering shelter to a tiny percentage of the resulting refugees is not a tenable foreign policy option. That foreign aid is not just an easy target for spending cuts to allow tax breaks for the wealthy. That countries like Cuba are not simply a useful place to conduct torture that would be illegal at home – and is anyway ineffective.

My wish is that countries like Canada and the United States will do something to tackle the gross inequalities that now characterize our world. Symbolized by the wealthy old white guy enjoying his expensive lunch while a young woman looks out from her window a few feet away and wonders what she will do next.


Afterword

Much later in the same day I wrote this piece my partner found an article by Michael J Totten in World Affairs entitled “The Once Great City of Havana” 3 December 2013. It is a Long Read but very thought provoking.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 8, 2017 at 11:55 am

WPC: A Good Match

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via Photo Challenge: A Good Match

As soon as I saw the title of the photo challenge I knew what the photo would be

Us in the Musee Carnavalet

Taken in the garden of the Musee Carnavalet in Paris on May 21, 2012 by my sister Rosemary and hitherto only available to friends and family but made public for the first time.

A Good Match indeed. We have now been together for over seven years – and it just keeps getting better.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 22, 2017 at 10:31 am