Friday, May 29, 2009

Host families say they receive more from the experience than they give

from Sara Wilson to date 29 May 2009 00:21 subject Please help a child this summer Hi Tusar

I thought you would be interested in helping out The Fresh Air Fund by posting a mention of this exciting news on Marketime. The Fresh Air Fund received a tremendous offer by some very generous donors. Any gift given from now until June 30th will be matched dollar-for-dollar. We are so excited and thought you could help by posting a mention, tweet, or by putting up one of our new banners on your site. I've set up this news release which explains everything, so please feel free to use any of the images, logos, videos, banners, buttons, etc:

We are also still in need of hosts for this summer. Host families open their hearts and home to a child to give a fresh air experience that these children never forget. Please let me know if you are able to post and if you could send me the link that would be fantastic. Thank you so much, Sara

--Sara Wilson, The Fresh Air Fund

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Auroville’s growth as an ecocity has slowed to a crawl

Cities Can Save the Earth
Richard Register May 12, 2009 Editor: John Feffer
Foreign Policy In Focus
The climate crisis won’t be solved by changing light bulbs and inflating your tires more, planting a tree and driving a little less. It’s going to require a truly fundamental shift in how we build our cities and live in them.

The key to changing our cities involves the car. Cars dominate cities in the rich countries, and they are increasingly swamping poor countries as well. Big auto companies, are rapidly building car factories and highways in China and India. Many cities, like Berkeley, California where I lived for 30 years, don’t have a single pedestrian street — and their citizens don’t even notice how completely given over to the car their towns are. Only one out of 10 people on the planet actually drives cars, but drivers are causing a vastly disproportionate share of planetary damage through the automobile-sprawl pattern of development.

The concepts behind the ecocity are fairly simple. They involve a shift in development toward centers of high diversity:

  • Switch to a pedestrian and transit-oriented infrastructure, with ecocity architecture built around compact centers designed for pedestrians and transit;
  • Roll back sprawl development while vigorously restoring nature and agriculture;
  • Integrate renewable energy systems while using non-toxic materials and technologies and promoting recycling.

A major difficulty in moving toward ecocities is that cars have influenced urban design for 100 years. Many of us caught in this infrastructure find it extremely difficult to get around in anything but the car. The distances are just too great for bicycles, the densities just too low to allow efficient, affordable transit...

A Good Start
Ecocities have their antecedents in the Garden City movement in the first half of the 20th century and in the critiques by Lewis Mumford of the rapidly spreading city of cars. The cultural flux of modernist, can-do thinking after the World War II laid the conceptual groundwork for the modern ecocity.
Three cities — Auroville, Arcosanti, and Curitiba — set the parameters of the ecocity. In Auroville, India, Mirra Alfassa, a devotee of the revolutionary mystic Sri Aurobindo, founded an international experiment in living and thinking in 1968. Their philosophical idea was to further human evolution toward higher consciousness, partially through the building of an international city where everyone was citizen of the world, dedicated to peace and an exploration of human enlightenment and higher fulfillment. Auroville soon became famous as a city restoring the forests and regenerating the degraded landscape near Pondicherry, India.

At the same time Paolo Soleri, an architect, philosopher, and student of Frank Lloyd Wright, was thinking through his vision of the compact ecological city. He envisioned a city much more three-dimensional than the flat, automobile-dominated giants spreading out rapidly at the time. He pointed out the paradox that a compact city rising tall from its foundations — which didn’t have cars and highways or need the oceans of gasoline for everyday functioning — was actually far smaller and more efficient in terms of energy, land, and time. He dubbed his idea of cities with much smaller ecological footprints “arcology,” the synthesis of architecture and ecology. He set out to build an example in the high desert city of Arcosanti, located halfway between Phoenix and Flagstaff in Arizona.

Curitiba, in Brazil, was an already-existing city that moved in an ecological direction. Mayor Jaime Lerner, with a team of architects and planners, began shaping the city around transit-oriented compact development. They planned five long arms of tall buildings to reach out from a city center, where dozens of city blocks had become pedestrian streets. Streets dedicated to busses and emergency vehicles only served these arms of high-density development. With this pedestrian and transit-oriented basic form, the city went on to grow around open spaces preserved as public parks. The city planted millions of trees in denuded former ranching land, instituted stringent recycling including trading groceries for garbage in poor areas, and built inspiring libraries called “lighthouses of learning” in the city’s neighborhoods that rose up five or six stories. In general, this visionary leadership released a torrent of creative innovation with an ecocity base unlike anything before.

These innovations haven't realized their potential. Auroville’s growth as an ecocity, despite significant support from the Indian government and official UN endorsement as an international city, has slowed to a crawl. Arcosanti, in contrast, has received relatively little support from government, foundations, and the general public, and it too hasn't really gotten off the ground. Curitiba is today overrun by cars despite its early leading ecocity role.

Humanity failed to heed the lessons these pioneers offered. What we could have done by creative initiative we now must do out of necessity. Oil is running short, the climate is changing, and species are disappearing: We can no longer indulge in isolated experiments. We must redesign every city, and soon.

Next Steps
There are several ways to begin turning our cities into ecocities. First, there is ecocity mapping. This amounts to mapping your city plan so you have a clearer sense of your centers of most vitality. The map shows where to increase density and diversity of development, which is in those centers, and where to best open up the landscape for such features as restored creeks, expanded community gardens, and parks, which is often in the areas farthest from those centers.

The ecocity general plan, like any other general plan, lays out policies for developing and maintaining the city’s physical expression and functionality. Those policies have to also include specific reference to financial investment; if the city doesn't allocate money for the transition, its plan is just symbolic window dressing. If no serious money is spent, no serious progress will be made...

There are many other tools to create ecocities. Car-free-by-contract housing, for example, encourages building apartments and condominiums with no car parking provided because residents don’t need or want cars. Any policy that establishes and expands the pedestrian environment is a tool for building ecocities. Such policies can be used to shape buildings that utilize the sun’s energy, eliminating the necessity of having to pay for a car to get access to the city’s benefits, or help restore natural landscapes. Such tools produce pioneering transit systems that fit low-energy infrastructure, like that in Curitiba, and provide free public transportation, like that in downtown Portland. They are the wave of the future — if we are smart enough to get to that future in one piece. Richard Register, the founding president of Urban Ecology and founder and current president of Ecocity Builders, convened the First International Ecocity Conference in 1990. He is the author of Ecocities: Building Cities in Balance with Nature and is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

Friday, May 01, 2009

He aspired and housed the nascent demi-god

He stood erect, a God like form and force
Her animal experiment began,Crowding with conscious creatures her world-scheme;But to the outward only they were alive,Only they replied to touches and surfacesAnd to the prick of need that drove their lives.

Animals are driven by that quality of Nature - Rajas, by which there is “the first light of conscious mind but buddhi or intelligent Will is absent,” says Sri Aurobindo in The Essays on Gita. This is why there is intelligence in them but they are not conscious of it and hence they reply to ‘touches and surfaces and the prick of need” which drives their lives and hence in the luminous words of Sri Aurobindo,

Absorbed they lived in the passion of the scene,But knew not who they were or why they lived:Life had for them no aim save Nature’s joyAnd the stimulus and delight of outer things;They worked for the body’s wants, they craved no more,Content to breathe, to feel, to sense, to act,Identified with the spirit’s outward shell.

The Mother says that there is an intelligence which acts and organizes animals but they are not conscious of it. Hence they are absorbed in the events happening at the present moment but there is aimlessness to animal existence. That is why sometimes we hear people yell in frustration “Don’t be like an animal!” There is in them the delight in outer things, and they are satisfied if their bodily needs are met and they are contented to just “breathe, feel, sense, act” as they are always identified with their “outward shell”.

The veiled spectator watching from their depthsFixed not his inward eye upon himselfNor turned to find the author of the plot,He saw the drama only and the stage.

The lines above describe so evocatively the animal or man dominated by his lower nature. The “veiled spectator” refers to that capacity in us to detach from the act and watch the drama unfold as the witness, without participating or getting involved in the drama. However, in the animal, the spectator is veiled and hence it does not turn inwards to “find the author of the plot” and just sees the “drama and the stage”. The animal does not ponder on the deep secrets of the laws of Nature, nor is in them a thirst for Truth, but they are content to hunt, “sniff the winds, or sloth inert in sunshine and soft air”

A formless yearning passions in man’s heart,A cry is in his blood for happier things:Else could he roam on a free sunlit soilWith the childlike pain-forgetting mind of beastsOr live happy, unmoved, like flowers and trees(“Savitri”, Book 2, Canto 4)

However, in man there is a yearning and aspiration to rise above his lower Nature and he seeks to release himself from the chains and bonds which restrain him, if this was not in him he would be like a beast roaming around aimlessly not reflecting or feeling the “touch of the soul within” and be like the beasts in their “childlike pain-forgetting mind” or happy and immobile like the flowers and trees. He also has the capacity to rise to greatness and explore his hidden realms and become a “mind, a spirit and self “

The animal’s thoughtless joy is left behind,Care and reflection burden his daily walk:He has risen to greatness and to discontent,He is awake to the Invisible.Insatiate seeker, he has all to learn:He has exhausted now life’s surface acts,His being’s hidden realms remain to explore.He becomes a mind, he becomes a spirit and self;In his fragile tenement he grows Nature’s lord. (“Savitri” Book 2 , Canto 4)

A spiritual evolution, an evolution of consciousness in Matter is a constant developing self-formation till the form can reveal the indwelling Spirit, is then the key-note, the central significant motive of the terrestrial existence.(“The Life Divine”, Sri Aurobindo)

The very form of man is thus capable of manifesting the Spirit says The Mother as the upright position is itself symbolic of this capacity to manifest the Spirit. There is a Tamil song in which the poet says “Oh Lord this form itself is created to worship and manifest thee”. Hands held together in prayer seem to at once connect us with deeper feelings of love and togetherness. This human physical form is most appropriate to express the Spirit. If we compare man to the higher living being we will fall short as we have a lot of imperfections but in the words of The Mother,

“…if we put ourselves in the place of the animals which immediately precede him in the evolution, we see that he is endowed with possibilities and powers which the others are quite incapable of expressing. The mere fact of having the ambition, the desire, the will to know the laws of Nature and to master them sufficiently to be able to adapt them to his needs and change them to a certain extent, is something impossible, unthinkable for any animal.”

“You may tell me that I don’t usually speak very kindly about man (laughter), but that’s because he usually thinks too kindly of himself !”

“If we compare him with other products of Nature, unquestionably he is at the top of the ladder.”

In the prone obscure beginnings of the raceThe human grew in the bowed apelike man.He stood erect, a Godlike form and force,And a soul’s thoughts looked out from earthborn eyes;Man stood erect, a Godlike form and force,And a soul’s thoughts looked out from earthborn eyes;Man stood erect, he wore the thinker’s brow:He looked at the heaven and saw his comrade stars;A vision came of beauty and greater birthSlowly emerging from the heart’s chapel of lightAnd moved in a white lucent air of dreams.He saw his being’s unrealized vastnesses,He aspired and housed the nascent demi-god (“Savitri”, Book 7, Canto 2 )

Recently, we saw a remake of the old classic, “The Planet of the Apes” on television, in which an astronaut is sucked into a bizarre planet in the distant future where intelligent talking apes are the dominant species and the humans are treated brutally and oppressed. Apparently, the advertisement for this movie said “Somewhere in the universe there must be something better than man". The humans and apes in this movie have similar capability in intellect and speech but it is the ape’s physical strength, which makes them dominate the planet and treat the humans as slaves. It was a fascinating movie. One highlight was the advice given by a philosophical wise ape to the commander-in-chief. Which went something like this ….

“You have no idea what these humans are capable of, we have physical strength but his technology and ingenuity are no comparison to our physical strength. Be careful of the power of the human and what he is capable of.”

It reminds me of what Sri Aurobindo once told a sadhak…..if only we knew of what lies beyond this mental state we would leave everything this very instant and chase after it. In conclusion, let us reflect on these words of The Mother…..

Can we hope that this body which is our present means of earthly manifestation, will have the possibility of transforming itself progressively into something which will be able to express a higher life, or will it be necessary to give up this form entirely to enter into another which does not yet exist on Earth?

That is the problem. It is a very interesting problem. If you will reflect on it, it will lead you to a little more light.

We can reflect on it just now. Posted by Sri Aurobindo Society, Singapore at 7:10 PM