Poverty and High-Density Living

Economist Edward Glaeser champions high-density living and romanticises poverty in his new book Triumph of the City. He argues that cities attract poor people but high rise living can help manage poverty:

Cities don’t make people poor, they attract poor people, and they attract poor people by delivering a path out of poverty and to prosperity, a chance to partner with people who have different skills, access to world markets, access to capital that enables poor people, some of them – not all of them – to actually find a way forward…These trends have also made cities more important because cities are at their heart today, engines of innovations, forgers of human capital…. If you look across the world, the countries where more than half of the people live in urban areas are more than four times richer, on average, than the countries where less than half of the people live in urban areas

Michael Mehaffy, architect and urban designer,  says encouraging high-density living “doesn’t always improve a society’s quality of life”:

We should really focus on what urban living gives to us in the network of relationships, not so much an abstract number like density and ‘Let’s just make it absolutely as high as possible and let’s have tall buildings,’ because once you do that, you start to kick in a lot of negative effects from density.

Research shows that cities will further increase inequalities unless sustainable planning improves. Sociology is part of the solution process. One way is to improve research and international policies on green planning. Another is to support developing nations to build low-carbon energy infrastructure that will also support their economic growth.

Read more on how sociology can improve sustainable planning on Sociology at Work.

Sustainable Growth is a Human Right

This post focuses on a 2013 United Nations  report on population trends to 2050. Our planet will be home to 9.3 billion people by then, which raises various ecological, humanitarian and sustainable planning issues. The UN argues that sustainable growth is a matter of human rights.

Continue reading Sustainable Growth is a Human Right

This is another invasion; this is another colonisation, another approach of taking over everything. You know you cannot sell land for something, the land is so precious you cannot do that.

– Reverend Gondarra, respected Arnhem Land elder.

“This is another colonisation”: the 99 year township lease

Gondarra is fighting the Government’s push to take control of Indigenous communities through a “

99 year township lease.

” Gondarra evokes a critique of Australia’s colonial laws, which dispossessed the traditional landowners for much of Australia’s history (and which continues in various ways to this day).

Upon European settlement in 1788, Australian law imposed a terra nullius clause proclaiming that the land belonged to no one, even though Indigenous Australians had inhabited our country for an estimated 120,000 years.

Indigenous human rights activist Eddie Mabo launched a 10 year legal battle in the High Court to challenge this law. In 1992, Mabo’s victory led to new Native Title laws. These have been continually challenged, most recently in connection to the resources boom in rural and remote parts of Australia.

Native title issues are complicated by drawn-out legal hurdles as well as poor community consultation processes. This past week, the Australian Federal Court has recognised Native Title rights for the Bandjalang people over land on the New South Waltes north coast. There are two Indigenous rights claims made on this land covering 2,700 square kilometres. The claims were launched in the mid-to-late 1990s, meaning it has taken more than two decades for these land right cases to be finalised. The native title process obviously needs to be expedited. Bandjalang elder, Warren Willams, says: 

It’s an all too familiar story at native title recognition ceremonies – remembering elders who were there at the start of claims, but not there at the end.

Also under way is a Lands Review in remote regions of South Australia. The process represents a potentially significant overhaul of the 1981 Land Rights Act governing the APY Lands (Anangu Pitjatjantjara Yunkunytjatjara Lands). The review is experiencing several problems in trying to solicit adequate community input. The APY executive includes 10 representatives of several remote Indigenous communities (there’s a push to broaden membership for two additional positions).

There are issues of inclusive representation, with a need to improve recruitment of women leaders as well as leaders of the smaller, hard-to-reach communities. The local Indigenous people, the Anangu, seem to be marginalised as they live in small homelands. There are other disagreements about the qualifications and criminal history of Executive members. The review is considering not allowing Executive members who have a police record, which would mean the current Chairman could no longer serve on the Executive.

The review is running into financial problems, with some locals believing that Government is wasting money on hiring consultants who are not focused enough on community issues. Robert Stevens, one of the Executive members says: 

Things are really crook – no-one ever talks about homelands, no-one. All our funding is gone, been taken away from homelands and there’s really no talk, no one speaking up, there’s nowhere to go, we don’t know where to go. Really lost.

The proposed 99 year lease and the legal issues associated with administrating native title rights represent a useful way to examine how colonialism continues in the present-day. Postcolonial theory shows that historical processes, including land dispossession, continue to affect Indigenous Australians. Indigenous Australians have both a cultural and spiritual connection to their land. Moreover, their unique knowledge of the landscape provides an important social resource for sustainable planning for the future. 

Sources: NITV and SBS News.

Science as Creative Learning

The research on “emotional learning” in science presents an interesting model for engaging young people in science. As Dr Louisa Tomas Engel explains in the video  below, young people’s interest in science drops dramatically in the middle years of school. Tomas  Engel’s broader research draws on new pedagogical practices which aim to help young people see science as a creative endeavour, rather than a memory retention exercise. This research may be of interest to science educators, biodiversity researchers, as well as other scientists who are eager to grow public outreach.

Continue reading Science as Creative Learning

Sociology of Eco-Tourism


In this post, I show how sociology can contribute to collective understandings of sustainable tourism in China. I was inspired in response to the #ISeeTheWorldWithScience initiative promoted by a community I co-manage, Science on Google+. This is a game where members of our community are invited to write a caption for science images using their scientific perspective. The image for this week was of a beautiful forest (above). The instructions were:

I See the World with Science Image Game

Pillars of solitude. Life grabbing hold. Misty Mountains eroded by time. 

What more does science let you see?

#ISeeTheWorldWithScience Game: Suggest a short caption for the picture.  The caption must be founded on solid science but the more surprising the better. The community moderators will choose the best caption and repost an image with the caption on it in. Vote for your favourites by +1ing to influence the moderator’s choice!

Discussion: Discuss any aspect of the photo and what any field of science tells us more about what we are seeing and it’s context, including how we are seeing it, why it’s important.*

I captioned my response with ‘sociology of eco-tourism.’ Here’s why. Continue reading Sociology of Eco-Tourism