Archive for October 2011
“Mona Simpson is a novelist and a professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles. She delivered this eulogy for her brother, Steve Jobs, on Oct. 16 at his memorial service at the Memorial Church of Stanford University”
via A Sister’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs – NYTimes.com.
“The U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities today announced the release of the National Conservation Easement Database (www.conservationeasement.us), the first resource to offer detailed information on the nearly 18 million acres now protected by more than 80,000 easements across the United States. Until its development, land and natural resource practitioners and decision-makers lacked a single system for sharing, accessing, and managing nationwide information about conservation easements.
Conservation easements are voluntary legal agreements through which landowners, public agencies, and land trusts protect essential natural resources like drinking water, wildlife habitat, and land along lakes, rivers, and streams. By bringing together easement data that was previously scattered and incomplete, the database serves conservationists, planners, and policy-makers across the country.
“For the first time,” said Carlton Owen, President and CEO of the Endowment, “it will be possible to see the location, size, and purpose of conservation easements on a nationwide basis. By having all this information in a single place, the easement database will save organizations precious time and money, because each won’t have to create their own system.”
The National Conservation Easement Database provides government agencies, land trusts, and conservation professionals with new insights for strategic conservation efforts. Users can search for individual properties by date, property size, and other characteristics, or view a State Report for a quick summary of the area. Map-savvy practitioners can benefit further by choosing to download geographic datasets for advanced analysis. This wealth of information identifies those who have conserved nearby lands, reveals critical lands that are not yet protected, and presents new opportunities for collaboration. Such information is essential, for example, in effective planning of wildlife migration corridors or prioritizing critical lands and waters to protect.
Senator Max Baucus of Montana noted “the easement database is a great example of government and the private sector working together to save money, increase efficiency, and deliver better results.” Sen. Baucus is an ardent supporter of conservation easements, which help ranchers, farmers, and other private landowners to continue working the land and building strong communities.
Combining the easement database with data on America’s public lands reveals the most complete picture yet of protected areas across the country. “We’ve had to work for years without information on privately held easements,” said Jim Hubbard, Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry, U.S. Forest Service (USFS). “Creation of the easement database fills a critical gap of information that we need to make better ecological and financial decisions.”
The easement database balances public interests in land conservation and management with respect for the confidentiality and rights of private owners. The database currently has information on an estimated 60% of all easements, a percentage that will continue to grow.
Three federal agencies—the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the U. S. Forest Service—partnered with the Endowment in support of the easement database. Other key partners include The Nature Conservancy, the nation’s largest private lands conservancy, and the Land Trust Alliance, which represents the views and concerns of the nation’s 1,700 land trusts.
“We think creation of the National Conservation Easement Database will serve everyone’s interests and needs,” said Rand Wentworth, president of the Land Trust Alliance. “Hundreds of land trusts rely heavily on volunteers, and have limited access to technology and planning tools. The easement database, a state-of-the-art technology available for free online, offers a new dimension never before accessible to local conservationists and planners.”
To create, design and implement the easement database, the Endowment assembled five conservation organizations with extensive local and regional experience working with conservation easements and data systems: Conservation Biology Institute, Defenders of Wildlife, Ducks Unlimited, NatureServe, and The Trust for Public Land. These partners will continue to collaborate to maintain and update existing information.
Envisioned and funded by the Endowment, this important project received generous support from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation, the Knobloch Family Foundation, the Graham Foundation, and the U.S. Forest Service. The easement database is online here.”
via The Trust for Public Land – Easement Database Is a Big Boost for Conservation Effort.
“Some critics ask why we would work with companies that have a big environmental footprint. I say, why wouldnt we? In my view, it would be irresponsible of us to shy away from the opportunity to guide companies whose decisions affect the places we want to conserve.
Are partnerships with companies a panacea? No.
Are there risks to engaging businesses? Of course.But change is not possible without risk.And change is critical given the great challenges we are up against. By 2050, the worlds population is expected to reach 9 billion people. Soaring demands for food, water and energy put enormous pressure on the natural systems we seek to protect. And climate change will only multiply existing problems.Solving these challenges will require new ways of thinking. It will require reaching beyond our core supporters. And it will require a shift in thinking, from “Isnt nature wonderful?” to “Isnt nature valuable?”Specifically, we need to talk much more about the benefits nature provides to people — clean air, healthy soil, fresh water, coastal buffers from storms.This notion of “natural capital” is not new. In 2005, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment concluded that these services are in sharp and worrisome decline.
What’s exciting is that environmental organizations around the world are turning this concept into reality. We are crossing boundaries to put these ideas into practice, connecting the value of nature to a broader audience.“
via Mark Tercek: Changing the Conversation: From Natures Wonder to Natures Value.
“People who collect contemporary art often pretend to be savants of culture. They strut about in the belief that they possess a unique combination of resources and wisdom that enables them to support the leading edge of civilization.
More often than not their cultural pursuits are as high-minded as day trading, and their collecting as effective at achieving meaningful change as pitching pennies into a well.
Someone has to keep the art world in business, but the vanity of some collectors can be tiresome when celebrity, money and power serve as substitutes for taste, discernment and social responsibility.
Then there are collectors of a quieter and more bookish bent whose acquisitions are guided by historical perspective, intellectual curiosity and humility. They value artworks not primarily for their escalating auction estimates or auras of chic, but for their capacities to change the way the collectors see the world.
Washington has many collectors in this category, and among them are certainly Barbara and Aaron Levine. They are not major philanthropists on the scale of Duncan Phillips or Joseph Hirshhorn, but they bring comparable seriousness, perspicacity and enthusiasm to collecting. A recent tour of their Georgian house in Kalorama suggests that they are more interested in ideas than in big-ticket trophies and eye candy.
They do have beautiful high-end paintings and sculptures, but the Levines specialize in conceptual art, which tends toward visual understatement. The premise of the movement, which coalesced in New York in the early 1960s, is that the artwork doesn’t need any physical expression; it exists in the realm of ideas.
An early proponent was Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), whose work might consist of written directions for making a patterned drawing on a wall. Another is Lawrence Weiner, known for composing phrases — “Built to see over the edge,” for example — and providing instructions for how the words may be painted. In both cases the “work” is the idea or action rather than the resulting picture, which is optional. (The National Gallery of Art and the Hirshhorn Museum have works by LeWitt and Weiner.)
The notion that the work of art is an idea and not a splendid thing to hang on the wall doesn’t exactly quicken the pulse of the average art lover. Even seasoned art aficionados can find it a bit obscure, if not downright dry and ungratifying. Who in their right mind would collect this stuff?
The Levines have more conceptual art than any museum in town — four floors packed with books, photographs, drawings, sculptures, videos of performances and other creations, much of it having to do with linguistics, epistemology, psychology and other heady themes.
“We used to like very pretty things and after a while they become boring,” says Barbara. “You never get bored with [conceptual art]. It’s total challenge all the time. You’re always looking at it and interpreting it.”
The Levine tutelary deity is Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), the French-born American considered the progenitor of conceptualism. His notorious revolutionary gesture was to submit a ceramic urinal to an art exhibition in New York in 1917. When it was rejected, his dadaist colleagues published an editorial proclaiming that the found object was art because the artist presented it as such and in so doing altered the way we see and think about it.”
via Aaron and Barbara Levine’s conceptual art collection – The Washington Post.
“One of the most important lessons I learned as U.K. prime minister for 10 years was not about the power of government, but about its limits. Some of the best, most creative ideas came from outside government. Many of these were from the voluntary sector. Philanthropy, therefore, is not just about giving but about giving creatively. The mechanism through which one is working – whether it is a government, company or foundation – can only be pushed so far until the system itself needs outside support. That’s one reason why, when I left office, I founded the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.”
via I put my faith in creative philanthropy – The Globe and Mail.
“The audience of Washington power brokers was all abuzz with anticipation for the evening’s guest speaker, the latest in what was billed as the nation’s most distinguished speaker series. Previous gatherings had featured such luminaries as Mikhail Gorbachev, Desmond Tutu, Margaret Thatcher, and Walter Cronkite holding forth on achievement and leadership. When Maya Angelou strode across the stage, she was a resplendent figure in a white satin gown that glowed in the soft lights of the darkened performing arts center. As Angelou gazed out on the plush seats filled with VIPs from the White House, foreign embassies, and halls of Congress, she tilted her head slightly, paused, and began to sing.
It was an unconventional opening for a most conventional crowd. For Angelou, the performance was characteristic of what she had been doing since first taking the stage as a twenty-something calypso singer in a San Francisco cabaret in the 1950s. As she has done countless times before in a myriad of settings, Angelou mesmerized the audience with rich, melodious words that flowed like warm chocolate. She lives the power of words, and they are her central focus whether she is performing on Broadway or delivering a presidential inaugural poem. Angelou says she is driven to take words, the most common things, and bring them to new life: “[I] rearrange them so they come out fresh. Arrange them in one way and make people weep. Arrange them in another way and make them laugh. Ball them up like that ‘snap’ and throw them up against the wall and make them bounce.”
Angelou’s relationship with words began early, and like any liaison, it has been tumultuous as well as joyful. As a child, she feared words, believing them to be the cause of terrible harm, and didn’t speak for years. While her tongue was silent, the words on the pages of beloved books served as a refuge from pain. Self-educated, she read everything she could get her hands on. During the years she raised her son on her own, words provided a paycheck that put food on the table. Angelou’s words now provide sustenance to the millions who have read her six volumes of autobiography, multiple children’s books, plays, poetry collections, and Hallmark greeting cards.
Maya Angelou exemplifies the “phenomenal woman” she describes in one of her most acclaimed poems. Indeed, when she enters a room, it is “just as cool as you please.” There is a bit of a swagger to the elocution and vocabulary, but the words are not bandied about in an impulsive manner, as she knows firsthand how they can hurt as well as heal. When she is writing, she devotes her whole self to the effort, allowing everything else to shut down. Angelou is well-spoken because she is well-written. It is nearly impossible to say something well if you cannot write it well first. Angelou has committed her life to saying things well: “Use the language, men. Use the language, women. That is the only thing that really separates us from the rats and the rhinoceros. It is the ability to say how we feel. ‘I believe this.’ ‘I need this.’”
WHY PUTTING IT IN WRITING MATTERS
The ability to write a speech may seem like a superfluous skill when Twitter® messages and television sound bites create immediate impact. Why spend time laboring over paragraphs and transitions when PowerPoint® bullets will get you through the meeting? Technology has the advantages of being easy, fast, and direct. Then, there are the occasions when what you say really matters. An awards ceremony is an opportunity to publicly thank the people who believed in you more than you believed in yourself. Expressing gratitude requires and deserves more than 140 characters or 20 seconds. In a wired world, giving a talk remains the most fundamental means to express yourself in a meaningful and thoughtful way . ”
via A good speech begins with good writing – The Globe and Mail.
The University of Toronto has joined a team of international schools to make a bid to build a $450-million urban sciences campus in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The deal includes a promise of city-owned land and $100-million in seed capital. It is part of an ambitious plan by New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg to develop a world-class engineering and research commercialization facility.
via U of T contributes to New York’s push for academic excellence – The Globe and Mail.
The deadline for bidding is Friday, with Stanford and Cornell universities in the United States considered front-runners.
U of T’s engineering faculty has teamed up with New York University, the City University of New York, Pittsburgh’s Carnegie-Mellon University, Bombay’s Indian Institute of Technology and the University of Warwick in Britain. U of T vice-president and provost Cheryl Misak said the proposal calls for 50 permanent and rotating faculty, new housing on the site, and corporate partnership agreements with IBM, Cisco and Siemens. The Brooklyn site the group is proposing for the school was once used by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “It’s a hugely exciting proposal.”
New York officials will release a short list of finalists later this fall and announce a winner by the end of the year. Mr. Bloomberg, with his trademark alacrity, wants shovels in the ground by 2013, when he leaves office. “The sense of urgency comes directly form the mayor,” said Seth Pinsky, president of New York’s economic development agency. “We have a limited window of opportunity.”
The radical economic development scheme, considered by many to be the mayor’s legacy project, is expected to generate $6-billion in spin-off investment and create 30,000 creative-class jobs in coming decades.
Mr. Pinsky describes the strategy as “an Erie Canal moment,” a reference to a controversial 1820s decision by a state governor to build an upstate shipping channel. The investment that drove vast wealth into the port of New York.
Rather than offering the usual economic development tools such as tax breaks or land deals to entice office or condo developers, or shopping malls, Mr. Bloomberg wants to create what will essentially be a Silicon Valley East.
“It may be the single most transformative investment of the Bloomberg administration,” said Richard Florida, director of the Martin Prosperity Initiative at the University of Toronto. “I only wish more cities would think that way.”
With large Canadian universities stuffed to capacity and some provinces considering new campuses, New York’s experiment is a game-changing wealth-generating strategy and ups the ante for big cities like Toronto and Vancouver, said Dr. Florida. “If you see a place like New York moving in this direction, you’ve just seen your biggest competitor take a big step ahead.”
After the 2008 credit collapse, New York’s practical goal, Mr. Pinsky explained, was to diversify its economy by building a buffer against shocks to Wall Street’s jobs and payroll that affect the city’s fortunes.
Mr. Bloomberg’s use of an open tendering process that allows international bids has generated global attention. The project is also unusual because it is driven by a municipality rather than a higher level of government or a private institution. City officials assessed New York’s academic offerings and identified the need for a top-notch engineering school. The competition, launched last March, attracted interest from 27 leading U.S. and international institutions.
Can Canada’s largest cities can take a page from Mr. Bloomberg’s book?
It’s a timely question, given that Ontario’s Liberal government has pledged to build three new undergraduate campuses, including one in Greater Toronto. New York’s gamble has attracted little buzz in the halls of Canadian academe. But University of British Columbia president Stephen Toope, who heads the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, said Mr. Bloomberg’s plan holds intriguing lessons.
In comparison with the “insular” process by which new Canadian universities are sited, Dr. Toope lauded the transparency of New York’s tendering approach, as well as the goal of attracting international institutions – an almost heretical concept in Canada’s publicly funded postsecondary sector. “That’s a good thing. I see something quite positive about being open.”
“It’s an interesting experiment,” said Glen Jones, the Ontario research chair for postsecondary education policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. But he added that New York is in a class by itself, not least because it has the resources and the gravitas to attract serious bidders.
Dr. Toope noted that North American cities historically have used land to attract colleges, universities and even academic joint ventures, such as the Great Northern Way campus, a partnership of four B.C. postsecondary institutions proposed for the False Creek flats in Vancouver.
More recently, Qatar and Singapore have used generous incentives to entice brand-name U.S. universities to establish campuses.
In New York, the city has offered up three locations – Governor’s Island, Roosevelt Island and an abandoned site on the Brooklyn waterfront – but bidders can propose other sites. Compared with what Middle Eastern and Asian governments are offering, the $100-million incentive is relatively modest, even by Canadian standards. The City of Toronto will spend at least that much re-paving local roads over the next four years. Toronto’s fallow industrial Portlands could become home to a similar project, Dr. Florida said.
He also points out that Mr. Bloomberg’s plan has enormous leverage because it will attract highly skilled students, faculty and entrepreneurs looking to commercialize the high-tech research. “That’s something Canadian cities need to be aware of.”