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medellín_026a
A Day in a Less Developed Life. Parque Biblioteca España, Medellín.

The desire to create comfort and security for ourselves probably counts as one of the most rudimentary motivations in the human reservoir of instincts. Building a safe nest is one of the impulses that not only transcends cultural boundaries but connects us to most other species on the planet. As a basic principle, wanting the very best for ourselves and even better for our offspring is as relatable as it is admirable, to the point of being socially awkward to desire otherwise.

And yet, within the context of modern society, the lines of what constitutes a fulfilled life can easily get blurred. The simple need for a roof over our heads and food in our bellies alone is already dependent on a complex industrial process, and few of us are aware of the amount of energy, resources, and logistics that goes into the beds we sleep in or the meals we consume. Things get even trickier once our basic needs such as access to clean water, food, and shelter are met and we are presented with a seemingly endless array of choices to "improve" our lives.

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Avenida El Poblado, a street full of development.

Part I of this series about my adventures with the Ecocitizen World Map Project at the Seventh World Urban Forum in Medellín, Colombia explored the meaning of "equity" and how a level playing field must be the foundation for any kind of global-scale environmental improvement. In this second installment I'd like to flip the mirror and look at the other end of the spectrum, at concepts like "development" or "progress" that invariably come up when considering the turf upon which this level playing field should be built.

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Peopled streets: atavistic or visionary? La Carrera Carabobo, Medellín.

What is Progress?

If life were a competition to attain the most material possessions or the biggest name — as is often posited by the marketing industry — the #1 regret of the dying would surely be the failure to have accumulated more stuff or gained more influence. However, as most of us would probably intuit, those ambitions don't make the list at all. It seems that what people ultimately want out of life once they drop their survival armor are softer, less outwardly measurable qualities like authenticity, friendship, time with loved ones, or a sense of belonging.  

I was struck by this paradox on my very first night in Medellín, right after the cab driver had dropped me off at the spacious apartment our Ecocity Builders crew was sharing in the upscale El Poblado neighborhood. As my friend and colleague Kirstin and I were walking the half mile or so along Carrera 46 to get some food and drink at the only nearby place to do so, a big box-type supermarket, we were immersed in a cloud of exhaust that made my eyes burn.  

medellin_009a
See where we can cross the street safely? Me neither.

I thought that perhaps there were some less trafficky residential streets we would discover as we became more familiar with the neighborhood. But alas, it turned out that for the next ten days this would be our only option to get food or drink. No nearby corner stores, no side alleys to sneak through from our cul-de-sac, no bushwhacking. Sure, we could have taken a bus or a taxi, but with all the congestion it would have taken longer than walking — and missed the larger point: Shouldn't a half mile trip to the grocery store be doable without the help of exhaust-spewing, 3000 pound metal boxes that cause everyone who isn't inside of them to cough their lungs out? Is this what we really mean when we envision "development?"

Compare that to my first impressions of one of Medellín's "less developed" neighborhoods a couple of days later. As I got off the Metrocable Linea K and walked into Santo Domingo Savio, a low income barrio in the Northeastern hillsides of the city, the air was clear and the noise limited to people talking and dogs barking.  

medellin_031a
Being old-fashioned in Santo Domingo.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't all that horrible living like kings and queens for almost a fortnight. Our apartment had everything you'd expect from a penthouse in the good part of town, the stuff you find on the usual dream-come-true wishlists — hot tub, pool table, doorman, and all. But you couldn't help but feel a bit trapped in there, as it seemed so disconnected from its surroundings. The fact that our default mode of transportation to get to the World Urban Forum at Plaza Mayor or anywhere else besides the supermercado was to hop in a cab felt like the kind of involuntary surrender to bad infrastructure that so many of us in the "civilized" world are forced into.

Me being me, I wanted to fully experience the ecosystem we were in on foot, no matter how inconvenient, in order to make an intimate connection with the habitat I was in. Whenever we didn't have an early morning workshop I opted out of the taxi ride and walked to either the Aquacatala or Ayurá Metro stations. It was about a 30-40 minute walk downhill, mostly trying to find creative ways to cross car-filled streets, but also with a few stretches of reprieve from the relentless traffic leading past rows of villas hidden behind tropical greenery. To say these communities were gated would be an understatement.

medellin_053  
Living like kings in El Poblado.

Meanwhile in the mean streets of Santo Domingo, people seemed strangely undaunted by having their most prized possessions spread out in the middle of the street. As I was meandering through the windy streets and alleys of the community, I saw families playing board games on the sidewalk in front of their house, people gathered around the carts of small vendors offering fruits and other snacks, and kids playing catch or kicking the soccer ball around. The homes looked simple and close together, which seemed to not only make for adequate living quarters but be conducive to spontaneous interaction and a natural community feel.  

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Suppose I was a first-time visitor from another galaxy in the market for a new home on distant planet Earth, without any prior knowledge of human idiosyncrasies in regards to wealth and status. I don't think anyone would blame me, given these short reconnaissance tours, if I were leaning toward putting down roots in Santo Domingo. And yet, the predominant notion of progress among current residents of this planet looks a lot more like El Poblado than Santo Domingo.

What is it that makes us humans — creatures whose highest cultural expressions are saturated with cries for love and connection — want to live isolated lives behind walls, wheels, screens, and fences?

How to measure "Quality"

Invariably, any time one questions progress as it is understood in the modern material context, critics point to the great accomplishments of development — the raised standard of living, health, life expectancy, opportunity, mobility, etc. "Nobody wants to go back to living in a cave" is an oft-heard defense of development at all costs, a savvy rhetorical tool to keep the archetype of western materialism lodged in our collective imagination as the best and only way forward (=>), and a less resource-intensive life as going backwards (<=).

The reality is that measuring what truly constitutes a good life in any sort of universally applicable way is a tricky undertaking. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has long been the main indicator for a country's overall standard of living, but there's an increasing question whether the excessive focus on the creation of material wealth serves the ultimate objective of enriching human lives. The UN's Human Development Index (HDI) thankfully goes beyond the "everyone just wants to make money" assessment by measuring development through combining indicators of life expectancy, educational attainment, and income, even adding in adjustments for inequality.

But how do you account for those special moments that don't require any money or degrees? The playful interaction, the random act of kindness, the gentle touch? Are they just the cherry on top of all the tangible physical stuff, or is there a point after our basic physical needs are met at which they occupy a much larger territory in the chart of human aspirations?    

medellin_063
A moment in San Javier that didn't make the charts.

Even if we pretended for a second that money and material possessions are the primary indicators by which to determine quality of life, the numbers don't always add up.

Take our pilot city Medellín, for example. Thanks to the Ecocitizen World Map team's collaboration with the City of Medellín who provided us with extensive demographic data sets that we were able to integrate into a powerful GIS map with help from our partners Esri and The Institute of Conscious Global Change, we were able to come up with some visual clues that contradict the "more stuff = better life" formula.

If we pull up the layer with Medellín residents' income levels, we find that the richest areas represented in dark blue are in the city center and the Southeastern part of town, including El Poblado. The lowest income areas are in the North, with a huge turquoise splotch signifying the very poorest neighborhoods in the Northeastern hills, including Santo Domingo.

medellin-map-income

Next, let's look at the Quality of Life layer culled from data provided by the Department of Planning. Not surprisingly, the highest indices (in dark green) are found in the center and south where income levels are high.  

EWM GIS Map Medellin - Quality of Life

Now take a look at the heart disease rates. They run almost completely opposite to the Quality of Life map, meaning the higher your living standards the higher your chances of suffering from heart disease at some point in your life.

EWM GIS Map Medellin: Heart Disease

(Daily Kos won't let me embed the GIS map, but you can play around with some of the other layers here)

While no absolute correlations can or should be derived from this information, organizing the raw data through these GIS mapping tools provides the kind of visualizations that enable people to gain better insights into their own cities and neighborhoods, use the information to think about the broader context within which they live, and become advocates for improvements based on that information.

In this case, the idea that the comforts of more sedentary lifestyles might have negative effects on our cardiovascular system is not exactly breaking news, but I found it useful to see my personal observations reflected in the data. Likewise, for citizens of Medellín going about their daily routines, this kind of visualization is like a mirror: a way to "see" what they look like as a system, to connect dots that might otherwise be less visible, and to become empowered as a community to define a vision for their version of an EcoCity.

medellin_019
Medellín Metro: Preventing heart disease by going about daily life on foot.

So... are we better off being "better off?"

As one might expect, the answer to this question depends on the lens(es) through which one is looking. Pondering this question myself, I find it helpful to filter it through a global as well as a personal frame, then draw the connection between the two.

The Global Frame

From a (human-centric) global perspective, the concept of development as viewed through the western material peephole has undoubtedly done good things for large segments of the human family. From the invention of the automobile and industrial agriculture to modern medicine and information technology, we have made things possible in the blink of an eye that would never have been thought possible just a handful of generations ago. Life has become easier and less unstable in many regards thanks to a vast industrialized fossil-fueled infrastructure, at least for those born into places that have received the lion's share of the material benefits.

The other side of the equation is that the ecological footprint of humanity as a whole now demands 1.4 Earths, and if all humans were to consume at the level of the most developed nations it would require five planets to sustain everyone. Since we don't have five planets, it means that we're on a rapid trajectory to deplete the one we do have. In other words, the cost of all this development and the commoditization of nature has been charged on the planet's credit card while pretending there's no credit limit — and we all know how that usually ends.

It seems reasonable to me that the looming bankruptcy of the very ecosystem that all of life on Earth depends on should not only outweigh in importance the accumulation of more borrowed benefits (at least the most gratuitous ones) but be at the core of any serious deliberations about the meaning of progress and development.

Slide22
Treating cities like natural metabolisms would enable us to get by on one planet. Graphic by Ecocity Builders.

The Personal Frame

From a personal perspective, a lot of the same benefits of the industrial mindset apply. It's undeniable that the materialistically-oriented philosophy of development has done much to improve many peoples' personal lives (though we should also not forget that it is often at the expense of others in faraway lands or on the other side of town whose resources are disproportionately extracted and who suffer disproportionately from the outsourced pollution - see Part 1 of this series).

Whether it's the privilege of driving to a store to buy a banana grown half-way around the world or the ability to instantaneously share our thoughts with anyone in the world through multitudes of machines connected by powerful (and power-sucking) cyber networks, there's no denying that the ease and convenience built into the archetype of a developed life is challenging to argue against, at least within the western material frame.

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Typing slow, living large. La Carrera Carabobo.

And yet, part of the allure of this "better life with more things attained more easily and quickly" is also its fallacy — that it comes with little or no cost. As mentioned above, the most consequential price we're paying for our slavish devotion to physical growth as the path to happiness (while conveniently externalizing costs like loss of biodiversity, resource depletion, soil erosion, pollution, or climate change) is the wholesale destruction of the only planet we have.

But even if that is too broad a scope, there are individual costs that don't ever make it onto the shiny billboards. Getting struck by a car, ingesting toxic chemicals, or suffering from heart disease are but a small sampling of the physical downsides of the highly industrialized lifestyle. Stress, loneliness, and depression only begin to describe the psycho-spiritual toll it can take.

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Objects of desire in places that are quite alright. View from Metrocable onto the roofs of San Javier.

So are we better off being "better off?" Obviously not a simple yes/no question, but the evidence is mounting that the costs of our material pursuits have already surpassed their benefits. Just as there is only so much food you can eat before it's not healthy for you anymore or so many things you can own before things don't mean much anymore, there's only so many resources we can extract and burn and throw away before the planet's fragile ecosystem can't recover anymore.

There is certainly development that makes sense and is the kind of development that the dwindling resources still available to us should be invested in. The Metrocable, built by the City of Medellín to connect its poorest neighborhoods with downtown, is a great example of investing in projects that improve people's lives without adding any of the pollution, congestion, and waste often associated with such endeavors.

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Sustainable development: Metrocable Linea K going to Santo Domingo  

But the time has also come to think about development and progress outside the material scope. Nobody in good faith could claim that the purely industrial notion of progress that has been the dominant paradigm for the past 200 or so years has left the planet's ecosystems in better shape. Trusting that somehow the very Modus Operandi that has us running up against all kinds of carrying capacities will get us out of it is a bit like the Einstein quote about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Or as Charles Eisenstein writes in his recent essay, Development in the Ecological Age, "there aren’t enough resources on earth for every human being to live like a North American or Western European." In all honesty, there aren’t enough resources on earth for every North American or Western European to live like a North American or Western European anymore.

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Can we shop ourselves out of this crisis? Centro Comercial Monterrey, El Poblado.

Give Happiness a Chance

The only way I see out of this mental one-way street to ecological bankruptcy is for humanity to redefine the meaning of development, the meaning of progress, the meaning of success, the meaning of happiness.

The good news is, we already know that life is about so much more than accumulating stuff and getting from Point A to B as quickly as possible. We say it and live it all the time, whether it's at official functions like commencement ceremonies, weddings, funerals, or houses of worship, or during countless moments of simple connections that we make happen every day. The love, the joy, the play, and the learning from each other, but also the shared grief and moments to lean on each other, don't require any "thing," and as mentioned in the beginning, are on top of people's "life wishlists" whenever they allow themselves to speak from the heart.

Even better news is that there is already an index that takes a holistic approach toward notions of progress and gives equal importance to non-economic aspects of well-being — Bhutan's Gross National Happiness (GNH). Comprised of four pillars — good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, cultural preservation, and environmental conservation — that are further classified into nine domains of well-being — psychological well-being, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards — GNH offers a dynamic accounting of human needs that more closely reflects the full scope of our existence.  

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Working on being well. Girls choreograph their own dance outside Parque Biblioteca San Javier.

In many ways, the Ecocitizen World Map is an attempt to project the values and metrics of Gross National Happiness onto an urban canvas. Integrating the physical conditions of cities into the social and cultural fabric of its citizens within a broader bio-regional context is not only the most honest way to assess the true greatness of a place, but also the most sustainable one.

However, it comes with a warning: Taking a more holistic approach to what it means to have a vibrant, healthy, beautiful, and regenerative city may turn our current understanding of progress on its head. It may even make the less developed part of town seem more attractive.

At least for someone visiting Earth for the first time.

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Poor San Javier looking like an EcoVillage.


Originally posted to Ecocities Emerging on Thu May 15, 2014 at 03:57 PM PDT.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots and Kitchen Table Kibitzing.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I think they're two separate questions. (8+ / 0-)

    In the end El Poblado and other places like it throughout the world (I've never been to Medellin but I could tell you where the El Poblados are in 10 or 20 other Colombian cities!) have the US as their aspirational goal and the residents are too empowered to be disabused of their crazy, dysfunctional vision except at the margins.  If they want traffic, non-walkability and heart disease, so be it.  Save the people who want to be saved by urban planning and that's the poor and middle class, and Medellin is a fine example of that.  Visionary mayors in Bogota and Medellin have succeeded where they focus on improving poor neighborhoods without ruining their social fabric, and (at least in Bogota) they've failed when they try to convince the US-obsessed wealthy of the error of their obsessions.

    It's not the side effects of the cocaine/I'm thinking that it must be love

    by Rich in PA on Thu May 15, 2014 at 04:09:24 PM PDT

    •  it's really cool to see how Bogota & Medellin (7+ / 0-)

      have been able to empower and improve the poorer neighborhoods without superimposing heavy-handed development, but rather keeping the many things that work there naturally, and help where needs exist, like public transit and access to education.

      As far as letting the well-off drown in their own smog, my feeling is that they ultimately don't like that either. You can see the trend in many western cities towards more walkability, and it's actually becoming a trend and selling point, to the point where it's leading to another weird paradox of it being a privilege to live in a walkable neighborhood.

      I think the solution is to have as many walkable and bikeable neighborhoods as possible everywhere. It's really just a much healthier and more fun lifestyle, no matter how much money you have, and I think that people everywhere and of all backgrounds are starting to catch on to it. If only it weren't so hard to change the infrastructure based around the automobile.

      Ecology is the new Economy => Kosonomy

      by citisven on Thu May 15, 2014 at 04:23:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Part of the specific issue in Colombia's... (5+ / 0-)

        ...well-off neighborhoods is that they were built with security in mind: the 1980s "conjunto cerrado" which actually has the virtues of green space and walkability, just within the specific walled/gated community.  Heck, put a tienda or two in some of those conjuntos and they'd be pretty cool by the standards you've outlines.  But those people don't want tiendas, which to them denote underdevelopment.  They want big boxes and malls like US teens want, or used to want, cigarettes: on some level they know they're bad for you, but they can't imagine themselves without them.

        It's not the side effects of the cocaine/I'm thinking that it must be love

        by Rich in PA on Thu May 15, 2014 at 05:32:03 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  yup, very true (3+ / 0-)

          the heavy barbed wire is definitely from a different era, but it was still surprising to see so much of it in these neighborhoods that seemed no more dangerous than any US city after so many years of dwindling crime.

          And yes, they love their big malls there. Some of them are so over the top, they may even dwarf the average U.S. But I may be wrong. Living in San Francisco may skew my impression of American mall sizes. ;-)

          Ecology is the new Economy => Kosonomy

          by citisven on Thu May 15, 2014 at 08:41:47 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The Colombian lesson, at least for Colombia... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            citisven

            ...is that bigger is better.  Mini-malls along the street, which were a big thing in the 1990s, are now mostly struggling or totally failed even in small cities where they're the only options, like Fusa.

            It's not the side effects of the cocaine/I'm thinking that it must be love

            by Rich in PA on Fri May 16, 2014 at 06:04:25 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  One big contrast between Bogota and Medellin... (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        James Wells, citisven, remembrance, FG

        ...is that Medellin has a metro while Bogota decided 20 years ago that bus rapid transit on the Curitiba model made more sense.  Turns out both were right, or wrong: Medellin's metro is, from what I know from a distance, pretty awesome but it serves the area it serves and that's all.  And its revenues only cover operating costs, so the national government had to swallow the whole project cost and that's not a model they're going to clone.  Bogota's Transmilenio has been relatively cheap to built and to build out, and it's been life-changing, but in the end it's still on surface streets and even the dedicated lanes have to cross intersections.  (And the one dedicated lane in each direction turns out to be insufficient at least on the main trunk lines.)  So now Bogota is looking at building a metro, largely under a trunk road that's not wide enough to steal dedicated bus lanes, while in Medellin there's no alternative to sitting in traffic for most trips that don't involve going downtown.

        It's not the side effects of the cocaine/I'm thinking that it must be love

        by Rich in PA on Thu May 15, 2014 at 05:41:25 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  yes, and they're very proud (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          remembrance, Rich in PA

          of the Metro in Medellin. It's the only Metro system in all of Colombia. But you're right, it only covers the main north/south artery, plus the Metrocable going up the hillsides. But they're expanding as we speak, and they still have tons of buses going to and from the Metro into the neighborhoods.

          Thanks for that comment, very insightful.

          Here are a couple of pics of the Metro, will talk more about it in the next parts of the series...

          medellin_016

          medellin_013

          medellin_045

          Ecology is the new Economy => Kosonomy

          by citisven on Thu May 15, 2014 at 08:35:04 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Medellin asked for its metro at the right time (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            citisven

            Back then, Medellin's violent unraveling was the #1 national priority.  If they asked earlier, they would have been ungently reminded that you're a wealthy city and build your own damn metro; later, and they would have been told the whole country is in the same situation.

            It's not the side effects of the cocaine/I'm thinking that it must be love

            by Rich in PA on Fri May 16, 2014 at 03:48:10 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  I could've used some A/C these past few days (7+ / 0-)

    to get me through this heat wave here in the Bay Area  (only have fans for my apt.), but other than that at this point in my life I'd rather have $ to spend on attending theater performances and museums and food festivals than "things".  

    My Karma just ran over your Dogma

    by FoundingFatherDAR on Thu May 15, 2014 at 04:20:01 PM PDT

  •  Synchronicity: rereading Deep Economy (10+ / 0-)

    right now, and re-mulling those basic questions of when more is better, and when it's not.

    It seems that what people ultimately want out of life once they drop their survival armor are softer, less outwardly measurable qualities like authenticity, friendship, time with loved ones, or a sense of belonging.
    Bingo.
    •  they're questions worth asking (7+ / 0-)

      on a continuous basis. I think a lot of what we humans do and how we do it comes down to values. They can also change and expand as we gain more knowledge. Just on a personal level, I find it really healthy to turn off all the noise form time to time and reflect on what's truly of value to me. There are generally a few basic material things, but I find that most of what I care about is of a non-material nature.  

      But maybe that's just me and I'm hard-wired that way. That would explain that the only verse in the bible that made any sense to me when I had to pick one for my confirmation at age 14 was Mark 8:36:

      "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"

      Ecology is the new Economy => Kosonomy

      by citisven on Thu May 15, 2014 at 04:52:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I am so amazed by your eye. (8+ / 0-)

    Nuff said about that. You have a real talent, my friend.

    I want to pop off about the inverse correlation between quality of life and heart disease: Correlations don't imply causality, unless there is other evidence. And there is a lot of other evidence that modern living isn't good for us. It isn't just sedentary lifestyle, though. It's better living through chemistry, resources that provide immediate access to all kinds of rich foods and drinks that would be "special occasion" treats if we were poor, and too little connection to nature. Well, for starters. It isn't that a little of any of that stuff will kill us, but it's all an every day thing for "high quality of life" folks now...

    Beautiful work, citisven.

    "It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into." --Jonathan Swift

    by rb137 on Thu May 15, 2014 at 04:50:47 PM PDT

    •  Thanks so much for the kind words, rb137 (4+ / 0-)

      I love walking through the world snapping little bits of it with my point & shoot, that's about all there's to it.

      As far as the QoL and heart disease correlation, that would be another (or several other) diaries. I bet, there would probably be some good diaries right here on DK if you did a search. I left it open in this one, because I didn't want to make it any longer than it already is. Food and connection to nature are surely big factors, and probably a bunch of others. I wrote an article for Yes! a little while ago with some other things that might be linked to health problems (and solutions).

      Ecology is the new Economy => Kosonomy

      by citisven on Thu May 15, 2014 at 05:48:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  ...this is great Sven...wonderful... (6+ / 0-)

    Ignorance is bliss only for the ignorant. The rest of us must suffer the consequences. -7.38; -3.44

    by paradise50 on Thu May 15, 2014 at 05:37:22 PM PDT

  •  Beautiful diary about a beautiful city (4+ / 0-)

    And Colombia is the fastest growing economy in Latin America.  Good for Colombia.  Let's see how they do in the World Cup.  FIFA ranks them #5.

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Thu May 15, 2014 at 05:44:28 PM PDT

    •  Their team looks really strong (4+ / 0-)

      and WC being in South America, Colombia might really turn out to be one of those unexpected powerhouses. I'd be psyched about it, for sure, and will root for them. (unless they play against Germany ;-)

      Ecology is the new Economy => Kosonomy

      by citisven on Thu May 15, 2014 at 06:05:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  No way are they really 5, the rankings are a joke (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      citisven

      they had the US at a similar ranking in 2006. Nonsense. I noticed the picture with the reference to the 94 WC, Colombia's best team  that wound up tragic, losing to the US on a an own goal by Andres Escobar, who was later shot dead in Colombia. They will do well I think, as will all the SA teams this time out. Normally the US would do well in a venue like this away from Europe, but we got an exceedingly tough draw which as is all but impossible for our team. My friend just bought a nice fruit farm south of Bogota, where he plans to retire. He is not Colombian, his wife is. So's mine. For about 5k we can buy a farm in outside Bucaramanga,

  •  Thanks for stopping by (3+ / 0-)

    Mr. pNut!

    Ecology is the new Economy => Kosonomy

    by citisven on Thu May 15, 2014 at 05:48:52 PM PDT

  •  Terrific post, citisven! (5+ / 0-)

    I saw it too, in my travels in South America.

    If we could break our fixation on Endless Progress, we'd find a much healthier, happier and more graceful way of life.

    Reality has a well-known liberal bias -- Stephen Colbert

    by ItsaMathJoke on Thu May 15, 2014 at 05:49:39 PM PDT

  •  So much to say. Just had time to skim right now (4+ / 0-)

    but so aligned with what I am working on about my experience in Peru.

    I still haven't read #1 ...

    You see, I am headed out to Yoga right now. Can't be late for 6;15 class:))))

    So looking forward to starting at the beginning. I have been so looking forward to reading this.

    Be back later.

    If you're not terrified into action by the IPCC's 5th Assessment , you're not human.

    by boatsie on Thu May 15, 2014 at 05:55:40 PM PDT

  •  Need advice on Colombia (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    citisven, remembrance

    I have the opportunity to lay over in Bogota (assuming my seniority # can hold that trip).

    I've flown in and out of Bogota, but I've never actually stayed over there.

    Would this be relatively safe for a gabacho like myself? The company most likely puts us in a pretty high-end hotel.

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Thu May 15, 2014 at 06:39:07 PM PDT

    •  I haven't been to Bogota (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Words In Action, remembrance

      but from all I know a stay-over in a hotel in Bogota should be no more dangerous than any city in the U.S. From what I understand, while it has perhaps lost a little bit of its super progressive/sustainable edge from the Enrique Peñalosa era, it's still a good city to explore.

      Ecology is the new Economy => Kosonomy

      by citisven on Thu May 15, 2014 at 07:55:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  As much as I agree with your basic premise, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    citisven, remembrance

    I see different things than you do when I look at your photos.

    For example, in the one you title "Typing slow, living large", perhaps envisioning composing the great novel on the street, what I see is a poor educated man making a living by offering his ability to read and write to the many passerby who are illiterate, unable to do either for themselves.

    Not exactly a utopian dream of community interaction.

    •  I'm not sure what he was doing (3+ / 0-)

      You may be right, but I doubt it, since the city has had one of the most progressive and successful integrated education programs, including the Library Parks, which I will write about in the next part of the series. Not sure what the literacy rate is in Medellin, but my guess would be pretty high. And there are a lot of free places where people can go to write and learn - like the library parks - that they probably wouldn't have to do it in the street.

      My feeling was more that he was selling a typing service for people who needed to have some quick printed version of a handwritten thing, like a prescription, for example.

      But I guess in my view, even if you were correct in your assumption, it would still be a sweet sentiment, wouldn't it? This man would be making the lives of his fellow citizens just a little bit better, helping them to read and write. I guess just like the concept of "progress" it all depends on what perspective you look at it, and that was what I was trying to convey with the story.

      Ecology is the new Economy => Kosonomy

      by citisven on Thu May 15, 2014 at 08:28:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm Back and just realized that .. (5+ / 0-)

    I missed part l because I was in route to Peru when you published, Sven.

    This is so powerful and so personal and beautifully done. Thank you so much for all the work and thought and analysis you have done here and congratulations!!!

    God, I can just see those gondolas and escalators in Cuzco!  That would be amazing!

    I saw families playing board games on the sidewalk in front of their house, people gathered around the carts of small vendors offering fruits and other snacks, and kids playing catch or kicking the soccer ball around. The homes looked simple and close together, which seemed to not only make for adequate living quarters but be conducive to spontaneous interaction and a natural community feel.  
    I saw this as well in Cuzco and to a lesser degree in Lima. My heart ached with longing for the sense of community we will never know...

    The concept of development is something which does not even apply to the Peruvian farmer whose family has been working the same fields without machinery for hundreds of years. They are content in a simple life which does not promise them upward mobility.  Such an experience to realize what life is like when one's intimate connection, protection, love for 'pachamama' defines one's days!  

    It seems reasonable to me that the looming bankruptcy of the very ecosystem that all of life on Earth depends on should not only outweigh in importance the accumulation of more borrowed benefits (at least the most gratuitous ones) but be at the core of any serious deliberations about the meaning of progress and development.
    Amen!

    My trip to Peru was my first to a developing country and I have to say the most awe inspiring trip I have ever taken.

    Beautiful. Just beautiful, Sven.

    If you're not terrified into action by the IPCC's 5th Assessment , you're not human.

    by boatsie on Thu May 15, 2014 at 08:31:34 PM PDT

    •  can't wait to hear (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      boatsie

      more about your trip to Peru, boatsie. As always, thank you so much for that thoughtful comment. And thanks for bringing up the term "upward mobility" -- that really encapsulates the mental state that is driving the race to the top, and really, over the top. The whole thing about working your way "up" is that the very concept implies that as many others as possible have to be "down." The whole mental landscape we've created is such that a few can make it "up" and everyone else wants to be "up," thus creating the constant angst and tension that creates so much suffering, both human and environmental.

      It's possible that sometimes experiences like ours in Peru or Colombia may end up being a bit romanticized, because we're traveling and taking everything in as new, and don't have to deal with some of the daily problems that people in those places obviously deal with. But I do think that overall feel of community and being content with a simple life is very real. And I know this because I don't even have to go to a "developing" country. Even just going home to Germany or also in the right company of Americans that feeling of contentment and community does exist. I always feel the most at peace around people who are happy with what they have, are comfortable in their own skin, and whose main ambitions are to learn, to laugh, to share, and to enjoy being.

      Ecology is the new Economy => Kosonomy

      by citisven on Thu May 15, 2014 at 10:03:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Most excellent report, citisven (4+ / 0-)

    Terrific photographs and great commentary.

    Thanks.

    • Follow Connect! Unite! Act! for Kossack event info • Follow Native American Netroots for American Indian History and News

    by navajo on Thu May 15, 2014 at 09:01:03 PM PDT

  •  A big driver to grasp more: fear (4+ / 0-)

    People trying for more and more - it's usually portrayed either as greed or gullibility (falling for the advertising).

    But I think the biggest factor is fear -  whether that's fear of  of not having enough at some future, or worry about not fitting in socially.

    I personally see this in play. I have been trying in some sense to move to a 4 day paying work week for several years now. My employer will allow it - they'll just pay me less. There is no institutional obstacle. I could work on revisions to my novel all day every Friday!

    So I take a few Fridays off, but then when I run out of vacation days and start to hit unpaid days, I back off and go back to work full time. Why?

    once they drop their survival armor
    Survival armor is so deeply ingrained. An extra work day now is a future day I won't have to work if I'm disabled, or age out of the skills needed to make it in the I.T. world.

    It's fear, plain and simple.

    I think this is ingrained far more deeply than is generally given credit, not only in the decisions people make, but in how those choices are presented.

    •  fear is a powerful instinct (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      James Wells

      and it can be a very useful one, as well as a destructive one. I think the sort of survivalist fear is something we all need to, well, survive. But then how much you need to survive is in the eye of the beholder. For the guy who lives under the freeway in my neighborhood it's making sure he gets his sleeping spot set up before someone else sneaks in. For you, it's to get that Friday pay. For Mitt Romney, it's that extra piece of real estate he can bequeath to his yet unborn great-great grandson.

      The thing I don't get though is why people will go into debt to buy an expensive car, or clothing, or so many other things that aren't necessary to survive, when that's really endangering their survival. It seems that's the point at which the natural and useful survivalist fear morphs into a more imaginary fear of not being good enough or important enough. And I think that has to do with the sort of inner void that is created by the highly commercialized world we live in, which I think ultimately is rooted in our fear of death.

      I don't think this gets talked about enough, as death itself is such a taboo topic in our rationalized, life-obsessed era, but it's almost like materialism has become our modern day religion that instead of promising a better place in paradise promises a bigger, better car next year. It's almost like all the stuff we're chasing distracts us from the fact that we all know deep down that none of it we'll take with us, and in addition to all the things we've accumulated we'll also have to let go of our most precious rentals, our bodies.

      I recommend Ernest Becker's The Denial of Death that also talks about how our material pursuits are a way of terror management of the inevitable outcome that we will lose everything in the end.

      Ecology is the new Economy => Kosonomy

      by citisven on Thu May 15, 2014 at 10:26:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  imaginary fear of not being good enough (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        citisven

        I've been pondering this (it's somewhere in the diary backlog).

        Warning: I'm about to engage in practicing anthropology without a license.

        Once upon a time, if you were rejected by your peers, it really did threaten your life. Wander along in the bush, and you got eaten by lions. If you got sharded in ancient Greece, you were either exiled or far worse. So staying in with the group was a key life skill for tens of thousands of years.

        And it still is - but somehow it has metastasized, to where maintaining position power and prestige is regarded as the surest way to stay part of your group. As opposed to being kind, helpful, neighborly, or providing a skill that your friends can directly use.

        Maybe the decay started when people stopped doing most of their work directly for each other in person. If you don't help your neighbor directly with the harvest, then you need some substitute token of relevance.

        Thanks for the reference re denial of death, an intriguing idea that I hadn't thought of. But a counter for me is that in the aftermath of my father's death, it caused me to want fewer things, partly to reduce the burden on the poor sods who will have to go through it all eventually.

        •  I think you're correct (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          James Wells

          about your anthropological analysis. And we are of course social animals with all that -- excuse the pun -- entails. But perhaps it's because our social need has long left the realm of direct survival that we're still engaged in the habit but in large parts recreationally, and all too often, out of boredom. That's when the sort of gratuitous urge to be a mindless consumer or the useless pursuit of becoming a billionaire kicks in.

          Ecology is the new Economy => Kosonomy

          by citisven on Thu May 15, 2014 at 11:10:29 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Nail on the head analysis! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    citisven

    As I reflect on my globetrotting endeavors it’s not any 5-star hotels or fancy restaurants that stick out in my bank of memory cocktails (and I didn’t frequent either often) but it is the 5 cent room in Nepal where my wife and I sat around a camp fire and interacted with the neighbors at the top of the memory bank.

    But during those travels and while living in third world countries I witnessed the yearnings to emulate the West’s consumptive lifestyle and the realization of it being largely accomplished in many locations. And each time I concurrently witnessed a breaking up of the fabric of the human bonds of connection. It was hard to call what I witnessed progress.

    Excellent, well-presented and insightful discussion of a very important aspect of modern living.

    If we really want to straighten out all this crap we really need to think about shit - Holy Shit.

    by John Crapper on Thu May 15, 2014 at 09:43:21 PM PDT

    •  Thanks John (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      John Crapper

      I think that it's important to not present it as an all or nothing proposition, as both worldviews have good things to offer. In fact, it's the all or nothing proposition that usually makes people defensive and closes their minds to certain good aspects of another way of being they might be missing. But I think that generally-speaking, the western material way gets much more press and promotion, in all parts of the world. In the U.S. it gets trumpeted to keep feeding the Ego about being "the greatest nation on Earth," and in developing countries, as I wrote here, the appeal to want to be and consume like the people in "the greatest nation on Earth" is powerful.

      So I think we could really use a little more balance, and that means that we in the supposedly "greatest nation on Earth" could actually learn a lot from the "inferior nations on Earth." They have a lot of things to offer that our money can't buy.

      Ecology is the new Economy => Kosonomy

      by citisven on Thu May 15, 2014 at 10:37:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  that seems to be too good to be just scanned over (0+ / 0-)

    I will read it on Sunday, but tip and tweet right away. Thanks.

  •  A wonderful diary, Sven, thank you! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    citisven

    What a superb way to show exactly what people are talking about in these proposals for alternative measures of wealth and happiness.  Quality of life is so much more than all the stuff we consume and possess.  How we get people to understand that is turning out to be one of, if not the, challenge of our time.

    I'm so with you on the idea of turning the meaning of the word progress on its head.  I am curious as to what your thoughts are on the view of some folks like John Michael Greer who say that that idea is a lost cause and that our time would be much better spent just encouraging people to abandon the idea altogether.  I understand the reasoning behind that point of view, but somehow I have a hard time resigning myself to that position.  Greer et al would say i'm in denial, and maybe i am, but i'm just the sort of person who likes to make use of everything at hand instead of just throwing it out as soon as it's outlived its initial purpose.  I don't know, i'm still struggling with that.

    Lovely pictures, too, btw, you are quite the photographer as well as writer, Sven!

    Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will. - - Antonio Gramsci

    by lehman scott on Sat May 17, 2014 at 06:36:28 AM PDT

    •  I do read the Archdruid Report (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lehman scott

      from time time, and understand where folks like JMG as well as folks like Paul Kingsnorth and his network are coming from. I understand the fatigue as well as the need to surrender and grieve. The frantic rush to "fix" things indeed some times may even have the exact opposite result in speeding things up even more.

      But I feel like life comes and goes in cycles, and no matter where we are in the big cycle, grieve and surrender also goes hand in hand with rebirth and new seeds. So to just sit there in permanent sulk mode doesn't make any sense to me either.

      The other criticism one could make of those guys is that it seems they're living in fairly isolated places, and so it's easier for them to just say, well I have my garden and tools and I'm going to live a more subsistence type of life and not worry about anyone else in the crazy industrial complex, because they're all part of the problem.

      When you're in a city and you see all these basically lovable people with all their hopes and dreams it's a little bit harder to just say, "hey they're all screwed anyway and none of it matters because we're all going to hell in a handbasket, and btw, we should only have a few million people on Earth anyway, so why bother trying to somehow make things work?"

      This whole bit about being completely truthful is also a bit off. Since when have humans ever been 100% rationally honest, in both positive and negative ways? For example, during slavery times in the United States, was there really any kind of rational outlook for black people to ever overcome? Of course there had to be a lot of "magical thinking" to believe that someday they would overcome, against all logic or evidence. That's really the only way change ever happens, through our imagination and the stories we tell each other.

      I know this is a big change we need, but I do think it's worth imagining the unimaginable, and it actually is also what ultimately makes life interesting and inspiring. And if the big collapse hits anyway and we don't "make" it, then I can at least have a smile with my last breath because I was trying to be the change I wanted to see in the world as best as I could. And part of that change is to be kind, giving, humble, engaged, and open to all possibility.  

      Ecology is the new Economy => Kosonomy

      by citisven on Sat May 17, 2014 at 03:02:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thank you so much, Sven. It helps a lot to (0+ / 0-)

        know that I'm not the only person who feels this way.  I may someday reach a point where I need to go to Carolyn Baker for grief counseling and feel right at home attending events like this one next weekend.  For now, however, I'm right there alongside you:

        And if the big collapse hits anyway and we don't "make" it, then I can at least have a smile with my last breath because I was trying to be the change I wanted to see in the world as best as I could.
        Thanks again, Sven.  Your words have meant a lot to me tonight and came just when i needed them.  :)

        ~ vasudhaiva kutumbakam ~

        scott

        Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will. - - Antonio Gramsci

        by lehman scott on Sat May 17, 2014 at 08:10:54 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  A simple foot bridge (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    citisven

    over that thoroughfare in El Poblado would accomplish a lot.  Or does Medellín have people who yell zOMG SOOOOOOCIALISM! at such projects?

    Bello ne credite, Americani; quidquid id est, timeo Republicanos et securitatem ferentes.

    by Sura 109 on Sat May 17, 2014 at 03:19:21 PM PDT

    •  ha, they don't (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Sura 109

      or at least not as many as in the U.S. In fact, they're pretty much voted socialist mayors the past decade or so. Taking care of your most needy turns out to be really beneficial to everyone.

      Ecology is the new Economy => Kosonomy

      by citisven on Sat May 17, 2014 at 07:34:10 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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