Category Archives: On The Street

Need an SUV for the Family?

Need an SUV? Get Real. Get a Bike. (photo: Suhee Kang | Sociecity)

Need an SUV? Get Real. Get a Bike. (photo: Suhee Kang | Sociecity)

Outside of the ultra-density urban hubs, bike use in Japan is surprisingly high. It’s not uncommon to see a mother toting groceries and two children around on her bicycle without breaking a sweat. But then, these cities also have robust bicycle infrastructure, bike parking garages, bike valet, and all of the accommodations you’d usually only see afforded to cars and SUVs. This kind of infrastructure allows people to make a healthy choice, and to opt out of buying a car altogether.

…with bikes and pedestrians relegated to busy car-dominated roadsides, we end up sacrificing our health and safety for convenience.

It’s time to re think our transportation infrastructure and what that infrastructure is serving. In many cases you can’t truly answer that a solely car-based infrastructure is serving the good of the general public. Is it serving our convenience? Perhaps. But with bikes and pedestrians relegated to busy car-dominated roadsides, we end up sacrificing our health and safety for convenience.

The world needs not only to rethink the role of the vehicle, but to get to work on infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians so that this scene is a common and safe one for all of us.

This photo was captured in Takamatsu, Japan by our Asia section editor, Suhee Kang.


Times Dumps Environmental Reporting

New York Times Dumps Environmental Coverage Unit (photo-illustration, P.M. Lydon | sociecity)

New York Times Dumps Environmental Coverage Unit (photo-illustration, P.M. Lydon | sociecity)

A month short of its third anniversary, the New York Times Green blog is being dumped. The move to dismantle the reporting unit comes just a few months after the paper axed their Environmental reporting desk.

We like you, environment, really we do, but we’re just … not that into you?

It strikes many as a curious move, especially after Obama’s recent commitment to the environment. The Times’ blog noted that the move was necessary in order to “direct production resources to other online projects,” of which they were not very specific. They did, however, point readers to two new places to ‘watch for’ environmental news, the Caucus political blog, and the Bits technology blog, neither of which featured any kind of environment-related coverage when we checked them.

…if it doesn’t make dollars or sense to report about the environment, it is still most certainly  — as the human beings who use it every day — our responsibility.

The New York Times Green blog was a unit dedicated to environmental coverage, and was spawned from Green Inc. which began in 2008. It was also a bounty of amazingly well-researched news and information that you just couldn’t find anywhere else, and it spawned many stories here at sociecity.

For now, it seems that all which is left at the Times is blogger Andrew Revkin, who wrote recently in his own ‘dotearth’ blog that after the demise of the Green blog, the Times continues to produce “nine sports blogs; nine spanning fashion, lifestyles, health, dining and the like; four business blogs; and four technology blogs.” It’s expected, of course, those blogs likely bring in far more revenue than concern for the planet does.

In the end, business is business and the Times has decided no such charity should we bestow upon Mother Earth, for — at least to advertisers — she isn’t as beautiful, scandalous, or exciting as our world of entertainment. One could argue that our ecosystem is all of these things too, and furthermore that the environment is also far more important than any other topic, and that it is generally the environment which is charitable to us, not the other way around.

The Times may be struggling, yet even if it doesn’t make dollars or sense to report about the environment, it is still most certainly — as those who make use of it each and every day — our responsibility as human beings on this planet.

Worry not, our little volunteer team here at sociecity will continue to put what resources we have towards the environment and other issues of people, nature, and place. We do it, not for the money, but because it is our responsibility to this place that we live in.


In USA, Bad Diet Causes Millions More Deaths than Homicide

Health-Related Diseases top List of "Killers" in the U.S.

Health-Related Diseases top List of "Killers" in the U.S. (Graphic: Jamie Oliver TED Speech | statistics from National Vital Statistics Report)

Chef Jamie Oliver tells it like it is:

We spend our life being paranoid about death, murder, homicide, it’s on front page of every paper… look at homicide at the bottom for God’s sake.

Oliver goes on to tell us that “Diet-related disease is the biggest killer here in the United States.”

He is on a bit of a difficult mission, to fight for what he calls “real” food — you know, the kind that you’ll rarely find in a school cafeteria nowadays. His Food Revolution project aims to change how we think about food, especially how our children are fed and educated about it.

Watch the full TED Speech:

Around the World in Five Minutes

Week of July 16 — People, Nature, and Place. Each Friday the team at sociecity finds all the news you might have missed this week, and compiles it into a short column you can read in five minutes. Don’t miss it! Sign up to get Around the World in Five Minutes in your inbox each week!

North America
Yearly ‘Weed Dating’ Connects Idaho Singles
Photo courtesy of United States Fish and Wildlife Service

Marijuana (photo courtesy of United States Fish and Wildlife Service)

“So, were you on a pot farm?” quips weed dating participant Joe Peraino. Well, not exactly. Each year, reports Jessie Bonner for Associated Press, on a small farm in the northwest of Boise, Idaho, several dozen single men and women gather in the fields for a whole new brand of speed dating. It’s called ‘weed dating,’ an activity that sees participants moving down rows of plants, pulling weeds, and sparking conversation.

Casey O’Leary, owner of Earthly Delights Farm, says that she first heard of the idea from a farm in Vermont, and since has taken to playing matchmaker, once a year, on her own farm.

An Attempt to Tally Radioactivity Deaths in Japan

After an intense study by Stanford University researchers, findings suggest that an additional 15 – 1,300 deaths could be expected on account of radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi plant meltdown. The rather wide ‘estimate’ by researchers John E. Ten Hoeve and Mark Z. Jacobson is uncertain, mainly due to irratic statistical data from the Japanese government on just how much radiation leaked from the plant, reports the New York Times. Jacobson remarked that deaths might have been higher if winds had not blown most of the radioactive material out to sea.

Glacier Twice the Size of Manhattan Breaks from Greenland

Although debate continues — will it ever end? — as to the significance of the latest city-state-sized iceberg to break from Greenland, this week’s new iceberg marks the second ice-sheet anomaly in Greenland in three years, according to a Fox news report. “It’s dramatic. It’s disturbing,” said University of Delaware professor Andreas Muenchow, who was one of the first researchers to notice the break. “We have data for 150 years and we see changes that we have not seen before.”

Nelson Mandela’s Birthday Marked by Nationwide Public Service
Nelson Mandela, 1998 (Photo: Arquivo/ABr | Agência Brasil)

Nelson Mandela, 1998 (Photo: Arquivo/ABr | Agência Brasil)

After being charged with treason, Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison before becoming South Africa’s first black president.  Former President Bill Clinton remarked this week “I saw in him something that I try not to lose in myself, which is no matter how much responsibility you have, he remembered you were a person first.”

Mandela’s 94th birthday was celebrated Wednesday, and marked by South Africans participating in good deeds nationwide to honor the legacy of the famous statesman, CNN reports.


Around the World in Five Minutes

Week of July 9 — People, Nature, and Place. Each Friday the team at sociecity finds all the news you might have missed this week, and compiles it into a short column you can read in five minutes. Don’t miss it! Sign up to get Around the World in Five Minutes in your inbox each week!

North America
BP Halts Plan for Alaskan Oil Drilling
BP oil barrels are used to cover the side of a building in South Korea (photo: Patrick Lydon | sociecity)

BP oil barrels are used to cover the side of a building in South Korea (photo: Patrick Lydon | sociecity)

After working since 1998 to begin a 40,000-barrel-a-day drilling operation in Federal waters off the coast of Alaska, British Petrolium announced this week that the company will not pursue the drilling project “in its current form” reports the Huffington Post. The largest reason for the halt, says BP, is cost concern in creating a project that is both cost effective and “meets BP standards.” The drilling project is still on the company’s radar for a later date, however.

Questioning What ‘Organic’ Food has Become

The New York Times’ Stephanie Strom asks this week, if the organics industry has become over-sized. In a piece revolving around one Michael J. Potter, Strom investigates the multitudes of decidedly ‘un-organic’ chemicals and compounds which are allowed in USDA Organic labeled food. Thanks to the National Organics Standards Board, and despite efforts of people like Potter — who owns the organic food wholesaler Eden Brands — big food companies now have a virtual stranglehold on the very definition of ‘organic’ food.

South Korea Looks to Study Whales ‘Without Killing Them’
Whale Research via Satellite (Illustration by Eri Mizushima | sociecity)

The Art of Conducting Whale Research via Satellite (Illustration by Eri Peterson for sociecity)

Kang Joon-su, a South Korea Fisheries official, said this Wednesday that Seoul may drop its plans to kill whales in the name of research. That is, if it can come up with a way to study whales without needing to kill them.

Although South Korean officials have not yet come to a conclusion on how exactly they will go about their non-violent study of 50-ton sperm whales, the Huffington Post reports that Australian researchers and Greenpeace have devised methods utilizing sonar satellite devices and whale feces, respectively. Personally, we like the sound of whales via satellite.

Israeli/Palestinian Orchestra Plays for Pope
West Eastern Divan Orchestra (photo courtesy of the orchestra)

West Eastern Divan Orchestra (photo courtesy of the orchestra)

At the invitation of Pope Benedict XVI, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra played this week in Berlin to celebrate St. Benedict’s Day.

The orchestra was formed a decade ago by Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said, and is comprised of players from Israel, Palestine, and other Arab nations. Maestro Barenboim explains that the orchestra is a testament to the fact that “people who listen to each other, both musically and in all other ways, can achieve greater things.”

Sixty-Eight Miles of Art

Stockholm’s subway, or ‘tunnelbana’ makes up the world’s longest art exhibition, with “paintings, sculptures, mosaics and installations created by 150 artists” says Lola Akinmade Åkerström. The art has been in progress since the 1950s and is in more than 90 of the city’s 100 stations.

MIT Alums Plan to make Millions off Kenyan Poop

David Auerbach, a recent MIT graduate, has spied an opportunity in Kenya which he believes could one day be worth millions of dollars, reports CNN, and it has to do with harvesting Kenya’s poop. The plan would see millions of eco-toilets installed in order to collect the waste, turn it into fertilizer, and sell it back to Kenya’s farmers at a profit. Auerbach notes that “By providing this service we believe there is tremendous potential to operate a for-profit social business. In terms of agriculture, Mckinsey puts (fertilizer) at a half trillion dollar business in East Africa alone.” That’s some expensive crap!

On the humanitarian side, the project also has an “offshoot” benefit of providing toilets for the 8 million Kenyans who reportedly don’t currently have a clean one.


Around the World in Five Minutes

Week of July 2 — People, Nature, and Place. Each Friday the team at sociecity finds all the news you might have missed this week, and compiles it into a short column you can read in five minutes. Don’t miss it! Sign up to get Around the World in Five Minutes in your inbox each week!

Olympic City is Topping Up

Although it’s less than half the height of the world’s tallest building, London’s new 95-story tower dubbed The Shard is unveiled this week, making London home to the tallest building in Europe, just in time for the summer Olympic Games. The crown will be short lived however, as Russia is planning to finish the taller Mercury City Tower by the end of the year.

South Korea to Raze Organic Farm for Theme Park
Farming club member Suhee Kang stands overlooking the fields of Dumulmeori Organic Farm in South Korea. The farm is set to be bulldozed for a theme park. (photo: Patrick Lydon | sociecity)

Farming club member Suhee Kang stands overlooking the fields of Dumulmeori Organic Farm in South Korea. The farm is set to be bulldozed for a theme park. (photo: Patrick Lydon | sociecity)

At the head of South Korea’s main Han River is a small piece of land which has seen agricultural use for thousands of years. This week, after a multiple-year battle, and despite winning court cases against local and Federal governments, the farmers were handed eviction notices.

The Dumulmeori farm, part of the riverside Paldang Organic Farming area is being bulldozed in favor of a development backed by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who wishes to turn the river into a concrete-lined canal complete with a theme park on the farmland. Although an international cast of activists — sociecity included — attempted to work out more balanced and educational alternatives for the land, the Governmental leadership has not swayed from their position.

Sweaters Coming off in Hong Kong Malls

It may be hot, sticky, and wet outside during the typical Hong Kong summer, but inside the city’s indoor malls it has always been a ‘bring your sweater’ kind of affair. Until this week, when ninety shopping malls promised to raise indoor temperatures to save energy, says Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing.

As The Standard reports, Wong told the Legislative Council yesterday that malls have pledged to lower indoor temperatures from 26 degrees Celsius to 24 degrees. Wong addd that “Through this scheme, people will learn how to use air conditioners in a greener and more effective way”.

Playground of Trash Offers Commentary, Inspiration

“I shifted from doing artwork to just hang on walls, having little influence on society, to doing art that solves community needs,” says Ugandan eco-artist Ruganzu Bruno Tusingwire. GOOD reports this week that, after winning a $10,000 prize in the TED-sponsored City 2.0 Awards, Tusingwire is using a large chunk of the winnings to create a theme park for children made out of old plastic bottles which permiate the landscape (and landfills) in the small community.

“It’s helped me realize my value to society,” the artist adds. We think Tusingwire’s project is perhaps a bit more inspirational than Lee Myung-bak’s  aforementioned theme park in South Korea. The artist will also use part of the prize to help inspire the local community, expanding a loan program for female eco-artists.

Lighting Up the Australian Desert with Solar Art
Bruce Munro's 2008 installation "Field of Light" at the Eden Project in Cornwall (photo courtesy of the artist)

Bruce Munro's 2008 installation "Field of Light" at the Eden Project in Cornwall (photo courtesy of the artist)

Installation artist Bruce Munro announced plans to embark on his largest installation to date, reports the Huffington Post – a quarter million solar powered stems of light to cover one square kilometer of land in the heart of the Australian red desert at Uluru (Ayer’s Rock).

The display will make the desert “bloom with gentle rythms of light,” says the artist. More than an installation, the fiber-optic light field also hints at what is possible when nature and technology combine to transform our landscapes.

North America
America sees Industrial Opportunity in Quake-Ravaged Haiti

Two and a half years after the earthquake, Haiti remains mired in a humanitarian crisis, with 390,000 people languishing in tents, reports the New York Times. Yet the showcase project of the reconstruction effort — recently celebrated by recovery commission Co-Chair, former President Bill Clinton — is a large industrial park for foreign clothing manufacturers, all of it erected in an area unaffected by the quake.

Out of the 4,500 homes which American relief efforts have promised to build, the majority are currently not being erected in the earthquake-affected area, but instead as part of the industrial complex. Families here will have a 365 square foot concrete box to live in, which according to experts, violates “numerous principles inherent to sound urban design”.

Around the World in Five Minutes

Week of June 25 — People, Nature, and Place. Each Friday the team at sociecity finds all the news you might have missed this week, and compiles it into a short column you can read in five minutes. Don’t miss it! Sign up to get Around the World in Five Minutes in your inbox each week!

South America
Visualizing Deforestation
A view from the Terra-i deforestation map tool

A view from the Terra-i deforestation map tool (image courtesy of Terra-i)

An international coalition of geographers and engineers unveiled an online tool which visualizes the loss of forestland in South America. The tool, called Terra-i, uses Google Maps along with high-resolution NASA imagery to detect and map out deforestation over time, updating itself at 16-day intervals with new data.

North America
U.S. Says Goodbye to Greenhouse Gases?

An appeals court on Tuesday upheld the first-ever U.S. proposed regulations governing heat-trapping greenhouse gases, handing a setback to major industries like coal-burning utilities and a victory to the Obama administration and environmental groups, reports Ayesha Rascoe for AP. The ruling was unanimous and even rather pushy, using phrases like “neither arbitrary nor capricious” and “unambiguously correct” in defense of the EPA’s insistence that greenhouse gases posed a threat to humanity.

Silicon Valley, Meet Silicon Island

Art and Technology meet at the Eyebeam Open Studios in New York City (photo: Patrick Lydon | sociecity)

Art and Technology meet at the Eyebeam Open Studios in New York City (photo: Patrick Lydon | sociecity)

A former prison island in New York is set to become a $2 billion technology mecca, the center of which will be a new science university. It’s an unusual move whereby “the city’s economic ambition has now come to rest on the shoulders of higher education” according to BBCs Sean Coughlin.

New York might be late to the game, but they do have one thing which the original Silicon Valley does not: the distinction of being the “creativity and art” capital of the world. If the city pushes to integrate the creative sector with the engineering sector, as organizations such as the West coast’s ZERO1 have done recently, they just may spur the next big thing… although, they’re still missing out on major amounts of garage space.

Out of Work: Greeks Turn to Farming
A 'weekend farmer' plants at the Dumulmeori Organic Farm (photo: Patrick Lydon | sociecity)

A 'weekend farmer' plants at the Dumulmeori Organic Farm (photo: Patrick Lydon | sociecity)

The unemployment rate in Greece has doubled in the past two years, and today, with 23% of the country out of work, Greeks are beginning to look to their ancestor’s agricultural past in order to find a future. Stepping out of the office and into the dirt isn’t an easy thing, but as BBC’s Paul Moss reports, many highly trained with MBAs and other advanced degrees are either planning for a future in farming or calling it quits altogether, putting their slacks away and donning overalls.

Despite Solar Push, Japan Plans to Restart Nuclear

In the continuing internal debate over Japan’s nuclear program, solar is getting the biggest push, with $17.1 Billion expected to be invested by the end of 2012 . The government is introducing tarrifs, requiring utilities to buy solar power at a rate which is triple the amount of current conventional power prices, according to Bloomberg News. Officials say the new plan is aimed at generating as much as one-third of Japan’s power by renewables by 2030, including a large amount of geothermal energy.

Despite the renewable energy push, AFP reports that Japan signaled its intent to restart two of the country’s nuclear reactors, prompting 100,000 people to flood the streets in front of the Prime Minister’s residence in protest. If the reactors put back online, it will be the first time Japan has used a nuclear power source since the Fukushima meltdown over one year ago.

California’s State Parks Going Private

The afternoon foliage at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, which is slated to stay open (photo: Patrick Lydon | sociecity)

The afternoon foliage at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, which is slated to stay open (photo: Patrick Lydon | sociecity)

In an effort to save $22 million out of the State’s $15.7 billion budget shortfall, California Governor Jerry Brown is set to close down 70 state parks this July.

But not if private donors have anything to do with it.

Citizens have called out Gov. Brown for planning to sever public access to 170,000 acres of public land for what they see as a pennies when compared to the state’s budget shortfall. So far, their calls have fallen on deaf ears with Brown not willing to make concessions.

As of this week, however, the grassroots efforts of California citizens have saved 31 parks, not through deals with the state government, but through funding from private groups, local cities, counties, and in some cases, reports the San Jose Mercury News, even National Park Rangers have come to the rescue with donations.

This unprecedented move by people to rescue the parks points to a growing divide whereby the financially troubled State government has been cutting funding for public resources at the discretion of the executive branch. It’s obvious though, with so many citizens scrambling to action, and even a documentary film recently released, that the State’s parkland is a resource which the people would very much like to keep.

Lettuce in the City

Lettuce in pots at the inaugural Seoul Farmers Market in South Korea (photo: Patrick Lydon)

Taken In
Seoul, South Korea

Patrick Lydon –

Image Notes
Seoul’s activist-turned-mayor, Won Soon Park has been taking a hacksaw to many controversial big-industry projects, and in their wake he’s been making some strong efforts to concentrate on local sustainable development and to “go green” in this city of 10 million people. One of the first steps to bringing healthy, local industry to a city, is of course, to establish farmers markets.

Local Food
Although the city has dozens of large outdoor food markets, this is Seoul’s first official farmers’ market, sponsored in part by the city. Although many American cities have multiple such markets, Seoul has been in the dark in this respect for several decades. The Seoul Farmers Market, held at Gwanghwamun Square every Saturday form 11am – 4pm, brings the area’s local farmers directly in touch with citizens, and includes local entertainment, cooking demonstrations, and a fresh food court.

Submit your photo to be highlighted in our sociecity photo feature contest!

[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”]More on Seoul Farmers Market:

Seoul Farmers Market – Official Website
Won Soon Park – Official Website


South Korea: Bed and Breakfast, from the Rooftop Garden

We’ve been filming in South Korea for for the Final Straw Project over the past 2 weeks, and I wondered what other “green” projects are going on in the area.

Suhee Kang, our editor for Korea heard about a new “guest house” in one of the older Seoul neighborhoods with a rooftop garden, so we scheduled a morning interview before heading out to the farm for filming.

Rooftop Garden at Segeomjeong Blues Guesthouse in Seoul, South Korea (photo: Patrick Lydon | sociecity)

Rooftop Garden at Segeomjeong Blues Guesthouse in Seoul, South Korea (photo: Patrick Lydon | sociecity)

Like many other guest houses, Blues Guesthouse in Segeomjeong offers a family-run homestay experience with shared “dormitory” style rooms.

The uniqueness of this guest house, however, is in the amazingly peaceful location (for Seoul) and the neat rooftop garden which helps provide food for guests when the plants are in season. It’s very early spring here, so the plants are just starting to come up, but it was nice to have a short morning chat with the guesthouse owner, Mina, who opened up for business just a few weeks ago!

Copenhagen Economics: Cars are a Net Loss, Bikes a Benefit

A study commissioned in 2010 by Bo Asmus Kjeldgaard, Mayor of Copenhagen found that driving cars offers up a $0.20 net loss for each mile driven.

But the major form of transportation in this city of 1.2 million is not the car, but the bicycle. This leads us to what is perhaps the more amazing fact from this study… bicycles offer a $0.35 net benefit to the economy per mile ridden.

Math Note: 1 DKK = 18 cents (2010 currency rates) | 1.61km = 1mi

Other neat facts about Copenhagen from this study:

  • Sixty-Eight Percent – An astounding 68% of residents bicycle at least once a week
  • Most Popular Commute Choice – Citywide, 35% of residents bicycle to and from work/school, more than any other transportation method
  • Sorry Cars, You’re Outnumbered – When taking trips of under 6 miles, bicyclists outnumber cars 3 to 1
  • Rain, Sleet, or Snow – Most commuters cycle year-round, even with an average low of 28-degrees Fahrenheit during snowy winter months and 2.5 inches of rain during summer months
  • Kids Rule – A full 98% of children in the city own a bicycle
Any American city would rightly be envious of those numbers, and indeed, Copenhagen sets an example for the world, but are they happy about their position atop bicycle-meccas? Nope.
Copenhagen city government has recently called for even better infrastructure, increased safety measures, and has upped the cycling maintenance budget alone by €1.3 million in the past year.

[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”]More Research

Good, Better, Best: Copenhagen’s Bicycle Strategy – City of Copenhagen
Copenhagen City of Cyclists – City of Copenhagen


Is the Indian Point Nuclear Plant Unsafe?

Thirty-five miles up the Hudson River outside of New York City sits the Indian Point Nuclear Power Facility. The two active nuclear reactors here were built in the 1970s and currently provide about 13% of the power used in New York City, with the remainder of the 2,000 megawatts generated here being used elsewhere in the state.

The state has recently become a hotbed of argument over whether the nuclear reactors — set to close in the next few years — should be decommissioned, or allowed to continue running. New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo strongly opposes the plant’s continuing operation, whereas the mighty Mayor Bloomberg of New York City backs the re-licensing of the plant wholeheartedly.

[box type=”note” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Interestingly, several recent news stories have highlighted both an explosion, and the forced shut down of the Indian Point plant on two occasions in the past few years. At one point in 2010, the state went without power from one of the reactors for 17-days. A similar story appeared in Bloomberg News, but has since been removed from their website.[/box]

Amidst the debate, the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School held an interesting forum this past Thursday with a cast of characters who had differing vested interests in the power plant’s future.

Indian Point Nuclear Power - Pros and Cons (2012 | sociecity)

Indian Point Nuclear Power - Pros and Cons (2012 | sociecity)

Paul Gallay, an Attorney and Director of Riverkeeper noted to the audience a seemingly overwhelming list of safety concerns, including projections should a Fukushima or Chernobyl type accident occur; the damages range from evacuating 5.6 million people, to 1.3 million possible cancer cases and evacuating everyone out to and including Manhattan. Galley maintains that the plant has largely ignored — or been granted government exemptions for — safety risks in the areas of fire, earthquake, and possible terrorist attacks.

It was built to handle a 5.0 earthquake… they don’t even consider the seismic risk a factor, despite 2 fault lines near the plant and a recently increased chance of a 7.0 or higher quake, Gallay remarks.

On the other side was Arthur J. Kremer, who candidly mentioned that we should “have a more objective and laid back look at what’s going on here.”

Among Kremer’s arguments were projections that renewable power will never grow fast enough to cover New York City’s power needs “you are playing Russian Roulette with the power requirements in New York City” he said. Increased carbon emissions was also a talking point from the opposition, as well as what is perhaps a very realistic view on New York energy efficiency, coming in the form of a statement that “no one’s going to turn their AC off during the hot summer” in order to reduce their energy footprint.

Everything from direct airplane impacts, to the plants 1,100 jobs were put on the table in the form. For all intents and purposes however, the debate regarding the Indian Point Plant seems to boil down to a relatively simple stew of opposing concerns: human and environmental safety vs. money and comfort.

Which will it turn out to be?

[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”]



Traditional Crafts, Modern Ideas

Ssamziegil Market in the Insadong neighborhood of Seoul, South Korea (photo: Patrick Lydon)

Taken In
Insadong, Seoul, South Korea

Patrick Lydon –

Image Notes
The image captures a (typically) busy summer weekend day at the Ssamziegil Market in Seoul’s Insadong neighborhood. The market, a popular place for visitors and locals alike, consists of a slightly sloped walkway running around a central courtyard; as it slowly winds its way up four stories, the walkway takes you past a wealth of tiny craft shops, galeries, and restaurants.

Individuals Rule
The original government development plan for the site would have put a dozen traditional paper and craft shops out of business if it weren’t for the shops and the community fighting to save them. Out of this little neighborhood uprising, the concept for Ssamziegil was born; the new market, finished in 2004, includes the original dozen shops, all of which are on the first floor. The rest of the market is full of an amazing array of tiny shops highlighting food, arts, and crafts from local creatives.

Submit your photo to be highlighted in our sociecity photo feature contest!

[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”]More on Ssamziegil Market:

Ssamziegil Market – Visit Korea Website
Ssamzie-gil Attraction Guide – Visit Seoul Website
Window on Korea – Sky News


Who has the “Serenest” Yoga Pose?

The World Yoga Master (Illustration | sociecity)

The World Yoga Master (Illustration | sociecity)

From copywritten Yoga to International Yoga Competitions, it seems that the concept of yoga — an activity that aims to further mind-body awareness and pure spiritual enlightenment — is attempting to fit itself into a social model more acceptable to Western civilization.

In almost surreal fashion, the international Yoga Asana Championship is bringing to fruition a concept that fictitious news site the Onion was crafting fake news about in 1996.

According to a recent New York Times article, last year’s Yoga Asana Champion, Kelsea Bangora said she believed she performed so poorly that she hid in a broom closet and wept… adding “No one feels good about their performance on stage.” Which, the last time we checked, is the opposite of how one should feel when performing yoga.

But what can we say? We like sports, we like competition. Our society is necessarily based on competitive actions which lead to a winner, and our economic system and the free market idea wouldn’t prevail if we weren’t all fighting to be the best. But does yoga have a place in this system?

The better question, perhaps: does it have a choice?

Held in Los Angeles last year, the 2012 Yoga Asana Chapmionship is taking place New York.

[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Sources

Bikram Yoga – website
Monk Gloats Over Yoga Championship – The Onion (via archives)
Competative Yoga? Its a Sport, But Still
 -New York Times
Yoga Asana Chapmionship – website[/box]



Where is my “Middle Class?”

Brand New Homes Sit Empty for Years (photo: Josh Hires | sociecity)

Taken In
Central Valley, California

Josh Hires –

Image Notes
This image was captured at the height of the housing crisis in one of the hardest hit areas of California, the Central Valley. During this time of economic upheaval, brand new housing tracts — still bank-owned — were left vacant, abandoned before they could be lived in. Areas such as this one are fenced in and not even kept up or maintained. The stark quality of the landscape in monochrome ads to the abandoned quality or feeling of the photo.

Out of the Concrete Jungle
The photo paints the reality of the American middle class; from a distance it has a very appealing idea, this material possession represents the ideal goal that generations of U.S. citizens have embraced as one of the crucial parts of attaining middle class status. However today the middle class is much like the houses you see in the photograph, an idea that is empty, devoid of substance, and merely a frame in a state of decay. The houses are among many thousands waiting in expectation for owners that never arrived. Although hope of a rebound on the housing market is on the horizon since this photo was captured in 2009, the reality for many is that middle class status – and the housing market in particular – are an empty idea, a reality perhaps of previous generations.

Submit your photo to be highlighted in our sociecity photo feature contest!

[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”]More on Housing Market:

Housing Market’s Prospects Bleak – Huffington Post
Tighter Lending Holding Back U.S. Housing Market – Bloomberg Business


California’s Population Problem?

CAPA Awards - Dumbest Scholarship of the YearThere really is a scholarship out there for everything. The folks at California Population Awareness are hosting an award contest for students who produce the best material on the state’s “unsustainable population problem.”

The contest declares “Think about it. More people mean more cars on the road, so more traffic, longer commutes and more air pollution.” The awards site is full of the same short-sighted rhetoric, the kind of thinking that has gotten us into a “sustainability” bind in the first place.

California is certainly not sustainable, but it’s not due to our population. Most countries/states/cities in the developed world need major changes in their consumption habits and building practices in order to solve pollution and resource woes. CAPA takes a far simpler approach to the problem: instead of eliminating our nasty habits, we should just eliminate… the people.

The CAPA quest comes across as selfish, short-sighted, and completely aimed at the wrong mark.

Compare California with the similarly-sized island nation of Japan. California has a land area of about 155,000 square miles and a population of 37 Million; Japan, with roughly the same land area, maintains a population of 130 Million.

Japan’s population is more than 3x that of California, yet for years Japan has actually complained of a declining population.

The Minato-Mirai 21 District of Yokohama, Japan (photo: Patrick Lydon | sociecity)

The Minato-Mirai 21 District of Yokohama, Japan (photo: Patrick Lydon | sociecity)

The major difference between California and Japan — in terms of ability to maintain a certian population — is in the way they build their cities. That is, Japan builds mostly with a focused, smart, efficient density. The natural treasures of Japan are largely sustained and respected due to the concentration of populations in well-planned cities with efficient local, regional, and national mass transportation networks.

California, on the other hand, struggles even to get a bullet train built between their largest metropolitan areas. The local governments of the state to this day, continue building cities as if all the land in the world were available. Suburban housing tracts, mega malls in the middle of parking lots, and strip malls accessible only by car have replaced thousands of orchards and agricultural fields. This “bulldoze, pave, build flat” mentality has become a standard we have accepted.

Arial View of Los Angeles, California (photo: Patrick Lydon | sociecity)

Arial View of Los Angeles, California (photo: Patrick Lydon | sociecity)

CAPA’s problem is that they assume our current way of developing land is inevitably locked down into a pattern of cars and suburbia; either that, or they prefer to live with this method of unsustainable development.

As a result they wish to fix our “population problem” by kicking all of the immigrants out and locking down the borders so very few can enter this state. This isn’t a fix at all, but a temporary patch which was made necessary in the first place by poor urban planning.

Dear CAPA, you are short-sighted and so clearly missing the point.

We don’t have an over-population problem in California, we have a problem with people who declare that there is a nature-destroying population problem, and then drive to the ultra-eco-mall in their SUV from their suburban homes on spacious grass lots. That, is a problem.

If we want to aim our sights at something less self-serving, addressing the dynamics of the world’s population growth would be a good place to start. Or if you are really intent on helping your state maintain its natural resources, why not look at the actions of other countries who have innovated and built their cities smartly?

If California builds all of its cities like Los Angeles, as vast suburban sea of houses, it’s no wonder we can’t deal with a measly 37 million people.

So, did I enter the CAPA scholarship contest? Of course!

And I sent them the article you just read as my essay.

[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Further Research:

CAPA Awards Website
Californians for Population Stabilization
Japan Warns of Population Decline – NPR
UN Bleak Picture of Sustainability – ABC News
No Train Please – Huffington Post


Why Failure = Success in Tech and Art

The Lumarca project by artist Albert Hwang, Matthew Parker at Eyebeam in New York City (photo: Patrick Lydon)

The Lumarca project by artist Albert Hwang, Matthew Parker at Eyebeam in New York City (photo: Patrick Lydon)

A fellow San Jose Arts Commissioner forwarded us a note from the American Association of Museums this afternoon which pointed out a primary need to break down barriers, change mindsets, blah blah blah.

What we found most interesting in the note, however, was that the AAM — in reviewing grant applications where $500,000 was being doled out — cited a need for grant applicants to take risks. Playing it safe won’t get you the money anymore.

Thinking more about this thing we call “innovation” and this thing we call “art.” It’s become common place of late to go on about separating the two from each other. What is innovative is not art, and what is art is not innovative, and in Silicon Valley, risk is only a thing which belongs in startup companies.

But in talking with the kind folks at ZERO1 these past few months regarding their innovative Garage project, it is evident that they also realize the need to support and embrace failure in the arts.

Support and Embrace Failure!? Why on earth would we do such a thing?

Well, risk and failure are ideas which are central to innovation, and especially important to the tech culture of Silicon Valley, where failure = a chance to learn and grow. But somehow gets lost in translation when it comes to the arts. People don’t often put the arts and technology in the same light.

But iPhone or Joan Brown painting (note to SF Bay residents: check out the Joan Brown exhibition up at San Jose Museum of Art) they’re both works of art from creative people, and they both have important utility in our society. Of course, this utility shows itself in different ways, but both creations from human beings are undeniable works of… well… creativity.

The only difference, I suppose, is that one tends to give you headaches, and the other calming introspection.

Taking the Highline in NYC

A man takes photos of the busy street below from New York City's Highline Park (photo: Patrick Lydon | sociecity)

Taken In
New York City, USA

Patrick Lydon –

Image Notes
Once an old elevated rail line, the Highline park now snakes its way through the city, using not just the path of the rail line, but the actual railway infrastructure. Park-goers walk up above the traffic and fast-paced foot traffic on sidewalks.

A new Perspective
This sliver of an oasis runs in between everything from meat packing buildings to condos to art galleries, allowing people a new perspective on the city. The beautiful plantlife springing from the old tracks may be called conservation by some, but it’s even more a contemporary reminder of the resilience of nature, eventually overtaking anything man might build.

Submit your photo to be highlighted in our weekly photo feature contest!

[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”]More on Highline Park:

The Highline Park Website


Weekend Farmers

Dumulmeori Farmers (photo: Suhee Kang)

Taken In
Dumulmeori, South Korea

Suhee Kang –

Image Notes
“Weekend Farmers” water the grounds of their organic farm at the head of South Korea’s Han River.

Out of the Concrete Jungle
Getting out into nature — whether through hiking, climbing, or farming — is a popular weekend directive for Seoul city-dwellers, many of whom spend 5-6 days a week deep inside of the city’s concrete jungle. Unfortunately for the farmers here, the South Korean Government has put a warrant out for their farm’s destruction. Organic weekend farming remains an increasingly popular activity for young people here who want to reconnect with nature.

Submit your photo to be highlighted in our weekly photo feature contest!

[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”]More on Dumulmeori:

Four Rivers Organic Education
Stadium Facts – Dumulmeori Farmers (Korean)


Dirty Useless Bums, or Eco Heroes?

Homeless: The Unlikely Eco Hero? (Illustration: Patrick Lydon | sociecity)

Photo Illustration: Patrick Lydon | sociecity

Let’s cut to the chase and be brutally honest about what our stereotypical “bum” is: a dirty, drunken, frightening, socially inept creature of the urban environment, someone who has ‘fallen off the cart’ so to speak, and makes a living, well, by living off of the hard work of other people who have chosen to be productive members of society.

With that out of the way, let’s have a look at the street-dweller from a slightly different point of view.

Most street-dwellers don’t just stand on corners begging for money, and they don’t just walk around with all of their belongings in that stolen shopping cart. Many are active recyclers, walking about with shopping carts full of cans and glass bottles, all of which are turned in for cash at local recycling stations.

Not only do these homeless recyclers take responsibility for all of us ‘average’ persons who hastily throw away our bottles, cans, or papers from time to time — or all the time — they also happen to have an inherently low impact lifestyle to begin with. No huge house to air-condition or heat, no bathtub or shower to run, no fancy gas or electric range, no washing machine, no closet full of clothes and shoes, no fossil-fuel burning SUV. If they’re lucky, they have a small propane stove, a few changes of clothes, some blankets, a bicycle, and a shopping cart.

The lifestyle of the average homeless person — dirty and unsavory as it may seem — is a rather eco-conscious one.

Some might rightly argue, that recycling itself is a sham, that 50 years ago, we didn’t recycle anything and the planet was better off for it. I will offer no arguments against that claim. In 1950 or thereabouts, 100% of soda bottles in the U.S. were reusable — remember: reduce, reuse, recycle, where recycling comes as a last resort — and we sent the bottles to be cleaned and refilled instead of using more energy crushing or melting them to produce a “recycled” product. Indeed, re-using glass bottles is much more eco-friendly than crushing and recycling them. But that is a story for another day, and today we are in the unfortunate circumstance of living in a system that sends tons upon tons of waste to the landfill.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the United States sends somewhere in the neighborhood of 82 million tons of recyclable materials to the landfill each year. By weight, that’s like taking every single car sold in the world this year, and throwing it into a giant garbage heap. One wonders how much more recycling would be sent to the garbage dump if it weren’t for the street collectors we see on the streets during the day, or rummaging through the local dumpster at night.

What would happen if we stopped looking at the homeless problem as a “problem,” but instead as a “solution.” To clarify, I’m not advocating that banks continue to push people out of their homes and into the homeless lifestyle, nor am I saying that it’s a positive thing to have people who are forced to sleep on the streets. Rather, I’m advocating that we look at the homeless population — many of whom willingly choose to live this kind of lifestyle — in a different way, that we help them do the work of recycling instead of making it more difficult or illegal for them, as is the case in multiple municipalities.

But if that all seems like too much work, the least we might do is respect them a bit more.

Much of the homeless population are the unlikely eco-heros of the urban sphere. The ecosystem impact of the local garbage rummager is not only far less than the average person, but is further offset by their cleaning up of our mess so to speak. These people — largely unwittingly and largely unrecognized — do our cities a service every day, and our standard repayment is often to look down on them, or perhaps to take pity and toss them a few coins.

So the next time  you walk out of a fancy restaurant towards your car and  you see a some unkempt person in ratty clothes collecting recyclables from the trash, perhaps you should fight that urge to turn your nose up in repulsion, and thank them instead.

After all, isn’t it the homeless person who should presumably be repulsed by the prodigal masses?

[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”]References and Further Research:

EPA United States Recycling Facts – (PDF)
World Car Production Count – Worldometers
Homeless Recyclers Screwed –
Pennywise, Dollar Foolish – YouTube


Guarding the “Bird’s Nest”

Guards outside of Beijing's National Stadium (photo: Mary Cheung)

Taken In
Beijing, China

Mary Cheung –

Image Notes
Guards make their rounds in the frigid air outside of Beijing’s National Stadium, also known as the “Bird’s Nest” (鸟巢).

More than a Stadium
The structure of the Bird’s Nest is the largest of its kind in the world and is said to embody the spirit of human nature. Just as impressive, however, are the grounds around the stadium, where even in the winter, residents and tourists alike flock to take walks, jog, and even ski through the urban parkland.

Submit your photo to be highlighted in our weekly photo feature contest!

[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”]More on the Bird’s Nest:

Beijing National Stadium Home Page
Stadium Facts – ARUP


Enjoying Japan’s “Yatai” Outdoor Food Stalls

Yatai Riverside Food Stalls in Fukuoka, Japan (photo: Patrick Lydon | sociecity)

Taken In
Fukuoka (Hakata) Japan

Patrick Lydon

Image Notes
Fukuoka is the home of “Hakata” style Tonkatsu Ramen, a slightly hazy, milky broth made with pork bone which is one of the more famous styles made in restaurants today. When it’s warm out, these “yatai” food stalls line the river and are filled with people slurping on noodles, drinking beer, and generally socializing and having a relaxing evening.

Sociecity Spirit
When you sit down at one of these food stalls, you become an instant friend to the people on either side of you. It’s a great way to meet people, but also a great way to end up drinking a bit too much… a big part of meeting people in this kind of setting is often drinking, and the etiquette is that you must never let your neighbors glass reach empty. Luckily I sat between two schoolteachers who had classes the next morning.

Submit your photo to be highlighted in our weekly photo feature contest!

[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”]More on Fukuoka:

Fukuoka City Home Page
Yatai Information
Hakata Style Ramen Information 



Keeping Safe From Occupy Wall Street

(photo: David Shankbone, CC BY-SA | edited by sociecity)

This week has been a very disturbing one for people involved in or near Occupy Wall Street protests in New York and other major U.S. cities. But never fear, our municipal leadership has been working with the courts, law enforcement, and corporations to ensure the safety of everyone involved.

The following is a list of actions the government has taken this week to keep the public safe from Occupy Wall Street protesters:

The list is quite extensive, and I invite you to share your personal favorite highlights below — good or bad — regarding the Occupiers and government reactions.
Do we feel safer due to these and other valiant calls to action from our municipal government leaders? Do we sleep better at night, or is it just easier to get to work in the morning?

Tel Aviv Study: Carbon Monoxide Heaven

A Heaven of Carbon Monoxide (Illustration, Patrick Lydon | sociecity)

A Heaven of Carbon Monoxide (Illustration, Patrick Lydon | sociecity)

According to a study by Professor Itzhak Schnell of Tel Aviv University, inhaling consistently low levels of the poisonous gas Carbon Monoxide (CO) causes a ‘narcotic’ effect for city dwellers, helping them cope with stress and live more calmly.

An unfortunate inference of the study is that small doses of CO — from immense agmounts of car traffic in major cities — are actually a good thing for you. Some unfortunate common sense news for this theory, however: although CO itself might be harmless in small doses, it comes packaged with the much more harmful smog, smoke, and chemical toxins in the air… and last time we checked, that stuff most certainly does help kill you.

The excellent results of the study? Cities full of cars give you a happy ‘drugged’ feeling, while also slowly helping you die.

We’re hoping not to see the “CO Inhaler” craze hit the streets anytime soon.

[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”]More Research:

Carbon monoxide makes you breathe easier – Grist List
Is urban air pollution actually a stress-busting narcotic? - smartplanet
Environmental News Room – Tel Aviv University



Per Capita Carbon Emissions Face-Off

Photo: Patrick Lydon | sociecity

Putting Google’s Public Data Explorer through its paces, we found some interesting graph-able statistics on per-capita carbon emissions for various countries.

There are two distinct groupings in this graph, with outliers on the top and bottom. Some interesting facts in this data, which spans from 1990 – 2006:

    • Germany and Russia are the only countries in the group to significantly reduce their emissions over the time period
    • China and South Korea, likely as a product of each countrys’ rapid industrialization, were the only countries to jump to the next highest group in the 16 year period
    • Canada and the United States are ‘gross polluters’ of CO2 with 16.7 and 19 tonnes per-capita, respectively
    • With the exception of major Middle-East fuel producing countries, the United States is the “Highest Carbon Emissions Per-Capita Champion,” and India the “Lowest Carbon Emissions Per-Capita Champion” amongst the major industrialized nations in this study
Data Sources:
Nubija Bike System Real-Time Bike Station Capacity Map, Changwon, South Korea (photo: Patrick Lydon | sociecity)

Changwon: High-Tech Nubija Bicycle Share System

photos: Patrick Lydon and Suhee Kang | sociecity

It’s called “NUBIJA,” and as Government  acronyms go, this is a rather fun one:

Nearby Useful Bike, Interesting Joyful Attraction.

In Korean the word “nubija” also roughly translates to “let’s go together,” and indeed today NUBIJA was all of these things.

We were given a tour Changwon’s rather high-tech bicycle system and control center today along with about 200 dignitaries, politicians, and media. I was laughing at the site of us — a big group of smiling people in suits on bikes — the entire way. They system is the first of its kind in Korea and was developed by the Changwon government as a service to residents.

NUBIJA contains some 4,000 bicycles, and costs roughly $20 USD per year for a resident to have unlimited access to bicycles at any of the 230 terminals with the simple swipe of an RF card.

Here are some photos from the ride…

Korean Dance Performance to Start off the Conference (photo: P.M. Lydon | sociecity)

Changwon: The Future of Mobility

As part of our participation in the EcoMobility World Congress in Changwon, South Korea over the next 4 days, sociecity will be putting out a series of short reports, interviews.

Saturday, October 22 (morning)

Many hundreds of delegates are here from all over the world are here this weekend, however there is a — maybe not so curious — lack of presence from the United States, where I am one of only 8 participants.
Imagine: it’s 2050, and there are throngs of people too obese to walk, moving around the city in personal hover crafts. Statistically if we were to continue our current habits, this scene — reminiscent of the animated film Wall-E –gives us a view of the future that might not be too far off.

Bay Area Gets Blasted by Philippe Crist for Limited Public and Bike Transit (photo: P.M. Lydon | sociecity)

Bay Area Gets Blasted by Philippe Crist for Limited Public and Bike Transit (photo: P.M. Lydon | sociecity)

But if the group of global leaders, doers, and thinkers here at the EcoMobility World Conference in Changwon, South Korea have anything to do with it, our future will be a complete 180-degree about face from this. And based on the progress already made in cities such as Changwon, Bogota (Coloumbia), and Boulder (USA), it’s starting to look as if this may be the case.

This morning was bicycle-centric, and the first round of introductory speakers talked about implementations of city-wide bicycle sharing, comprehensive road-separated bicycle routes, and days where only bicycle and pedestrian traffic is allowed on city streets. They were not speaking in the future tense, either, these are programs currently happening in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.


Group “Occupies” San Francisco Financial District

In a move echoing that on New York City’s Wall Street, a small yet international group of people stood their ground outside the Bank of America Building in San Francisco today. It was the sixth day of their financial district ‘occupation,’ a movement that is happening in concert with groups in New York, Madrid, London, Sydney, Tokyo, and other international finance centers.

The demands of the San Francisco group are simple: end corporate control of government.

It is the belief of this group that corporations in the United States are circumventing the democratic process by literally buying their way to political candidates, laws, congress members votes, and even entire elections. Of the protest so far, we have seen that:

1.) Politicians, the corporations, and many members of the general public already know all or part of the above statement to be true.
2.) Corporations, in support of their interests, remain active on the issue.
3.) The public remains largely inactive.

San Francisco Financial District Occupier (photo: Patrick Lydon)That final point is what has pushed this small group into action, yet it’s also what continues to make them a small group, at least for now.

Judging from the reception on the streets of San Francisco where police, bankers, lawyers, and the like were all showing support, it’s plausible that the efforts of these Occupy Financial District groups could reach a critical mass.

And therein lies both the problem and the solution.

Coverage from the mainstream media in the U.S. is – perhaps not curiously – absent, even after a group of 9,000 reportedly attempted to storm Wall Street last weekend, and even while thousands continue to camp out in or near financial districts throughout the world.

Unfortunately, these groups of protestors are finding that a movement which seeks to diminish control of large corporations can’t so easily rely on the social networking tools of large corporations to further their message.

Corporate giants such as Yahoo! came under fire this week after blocking emails that mention “Occupy Wall Street”.

Yahoo! apologized for the erroneous filtering, but the damage had already been done, as the company effectively blocked 100% of Yahoo-based email communication during the movement’s most critical first days.

Cable Car riders get a taste of the San Francisco Financial District Occupiers (photo: Patrick Lydon)

It’s obvious and even understandable, that large corporations would rather not see this movement gain strength, much less see it happen by way of their own devices.

For now, the coming months will see this rag tag assembly of citizens and others like it occupy the world’s financial districts, hoping to slowly build larger and larger groups of concerned citizens.

But is the general public ready to bring this nonviolent-yet-radical war to the doorsteps of banks and corporations?

The coming months should give us that answer.

As long as our Tweets aren’t blocked.



Starts Friday, 9/23/11, 7pm
Union Square, San Francisco
The group is hosting a Family Friendly sit-in and protest. This protest is ongoing through December and members will be continually occupying / camping in Union Square until then.

For More:

Occupy SF Homepage
Occupy Wall Street (New York City)
AdBusters (organizer)


Pretty Little Masks

Teaming up with avant-garde music group WindSync to create a nice of eye opening interactive art and music.

Visitors were treated to live portrait sessions with local photography professionals, as well as live demonstrations of the Photoshop ‘masking’ editing process by which modern day digital perfection is created. The evening was capped off with a performance by Houston-based woodwind quintet WindSync as they interpreted each of the masks using sound.

At the end of the night, two lucky visitors were treated to their own Pretty Little Mask prints, created during the night’s demonstration along with on-the-spot musical interpretations from WindSync.

WindSync: Tracy Jacobson, Anni Hochhalter, Garrett Hudson, James Johnson, Kevin Pearl
Photographers: Wei Hwu, Mary Cheung, Josh Hires, Kenneth Lee
Production and Curatorial Assistants: Eri Mizushima, Cecilia Poon
Video Editor: Chiaki Koyama

and Ken Matsumoto of Art Object Gallery for hosting the show.

Flowers and Towers: South Korea’s New Suburbs

Flower Garden at Dobongsan Station, outside of Seoul, South Korea (2011, Patrick Lydon)

Dobongsan Station is on the outskirts of Seoul, about 10 miles from the city center. It’s notable primarily as a destination for hikers as there is a convenient entrance to Bukhansan National park and the beautiful granite peak of Dobong Mountain.

Down at the bottom, however, there’s the consolation prize of a giant flower garden for the faint of heart, or weak of leg. The garden is a new development and is set in the middle of the gold-standard towering Seoul residence blocks which populate many stations outside of the city core. The garden felt a bit eerie on this particular day, with only a few people wandering about and the wall of rather imposing buildings surrounding it.

That, and my allergies were killing me.

The national park on the opposite side of the station is arguably more breathtaking in its natural beauty, augmented by a few temples, food stands, and the odd exercise equipment (bench press in the woods, anyone?)

Unfortunately, I had too much track to cover today for Project Transport Me and could only complete a small loop hike in the foothills. But Dobongsan seems like a place to be explored many times over, as the locals do, literally filling morning and afternoon trains to the brim on weekends.

Cafe Oui, Hongdae, Seoul, South Korea (2011, Patrick Lydon)

Seoul: Hand Drip Coffee at Cafe Oui

Half of my time in Seoul thus far has been spent on trains, and the other half in various cafes, editing and drinking coffee. I’ve already done a post about one of the cooler spots I’ve seen, but the are all amazing. As much as I love each place I visit, my urge to explore means I rarely go to the same one twice and I’ll have to do a summary of all these places before I leave here, I really really must.

For now, I’ll let you in on a cool little spot called Cafe Oui on the fringe of the hip Hongik University neighborhood. A specialty at many of the smaller cafes in Seoul is hand-drip coffee, and like so many occupations in South Korea, the creation of this coffee is approached with careful preparation, precise movements, and finesse for each cup.

Although Cafe Oui does much of their business roasting and selling coffee beans from various corners of the world, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t indulge in a cup of joe here.

As a result of its location just outside the middle of the craziness of Hongdae, Cafe Oui is a bit less expensive than most of the places around here, and also a better place to sit and chat, work, or read a book while you’re taking in the subtle taste of their house blend or other coffee bean varieties on hand.

They also sell hand drip equipment, which I talked to the shop owner at length about (well, more like, she patiently educated me about it) and I scored a little single-cup glass dripper. Dripper, can I even call it that? Anyway, I am excited to use it, just have to pack carefully and hope that TSA doesn’t think it’s some crazy explosive paraphernalia.

Cafe Oui
329-1 Seokyo-dong, Mapo-gu
마포구 서교동 329-1
+82 2 338 0407

Unfinished Business (district) in South Korea

To recap, as part of Project Transport Me, I am riding every metro line in Seoul and putting together an immersive installation with the visual and audio data gathered. If you haven’t please check out that link above and see the progress as I spend the better part of a month on trains here.

Today I had a really odd, eerie trip out to the end of the Incheon Metro Line. I felt strangely like I had just escaped from some underground corporate headquarters and zombies were about to pop out at any moment (name that movie, anyone?)

Incheon International Business District, South Korea (2011, Patrick Lydon)

Incheon International Business District subway station, South Korea (2011, Patrick Lydon)

It all started when I neared the end of the line and the crowd on the train had progressively dwindled. It’s normal for the crowd to thin out near the end of the line, but not like this, the last two people in the train car left my company at “Central Park” station and I rode on alone to “International Business District”, the last stop on the Incheon Line.

No one but myself deboarded the train, nor did anyone get on to head back the other way. The station was completely empty, and completely quiet save for the low-level drone of the ventilation system. The escalators also didn’t seem to be turned on.

Walking up near the escalator, I noticed the exit sign was crooked and dangling from one side. A stark contrast to the perfection that shone through in the rest of the station. Scooting a little closer for a photograph, I was startled when a well-mannered female voice spoke to me in Korean. I walked away from the escalator and then back towards it, the woman said the same phrase again. This time I walked closer, the escalator started slowly moving. Cool, it’s just one of those power-efficient models. Good thing, because me being the only person there, it would surely be a waste of power to keep it going all day.

Up I went to the next level of the station.

Incheon International Business District, South Korea (2011, Patrick Lydon)

Incheon International Business District, South Korea (2011, Patrick Lydon)

At this point, I figured I just took the train at an odd time. It was the middle of the day and surely everyone in the International Business District must be hard at work in their offices. This is Korea after all, they work their tails off during the day.

That thought didn’t make it any less creepy when I came to the next level of the station. All the gates had green blinking arrows above them “move through” they said. I looked around and then back at the gates “move through to who?” I asked. Only my echo replied, off the glistening clean walls.

Perhaps I should have felt special, after all, they were obviously referring to me. A good ten ticket gates on one side and they all beckoned me to use them. I chose the third gate from the right, that’s my lucky number.

Walking through, I heard voices again, but this time they didn’t have that prim, proper, and pre-recorded quality. I was also pretty sure they weren’t in my head. They sounded like real, live people. Finally, I thought, some workers slacking off and taking the train out for lunch.

Alas, I found three women, not slacking off but hard at work, cleaning the station. Again, this didn’t help relieve the eerie feeling I had about this place. Three women cleaning an empty station? Twilight zone.

Incheon International Business District, South Korea (2011, Patrick Lydon)

Incheon International Business District, South Korea (2011, Patrick Lydon)

No wonder this place is so clean… no one uses it, and yet there are three people walking around shining, mopping, and dusting!

I continued out of the exit labeled “International Business District” and it was there that I found the reason for the lack of international business people…

The International Business District is a huge muddy lot. Infill of what was previously the oceanside.


Under construction, the empty seaside Incheon International Business District, South Korea (2011, Patrick Lydon)

Under construction, the empty seaside Incheon International Business District, South Korea (2011, Patrick Lydon)

You could imagine my surprise, and the fact that I couldn’t help but laugh a little at what had just transpired. When does one ever expect to walk out of a subway into a gravel and mud field!? A truly unique sight to behold.

The subway station was, however, apparently equipped with HD satellite television (see gallery images below).

…and in all fairness, it looks like I came just a few months (or years?) early as they are building several gigantic towers outside one of the subway exits. I took some photos of the area, picked up a seashell, and headed back a few stops towards civilization.

Sota Sakuma performs Butoh dance at Gallery Biim, Seoul, South Korea (photo: Patrick Lydon)

Butoh Dance and a Puppet Show

I was very fortunate to have stumbled upon a beautiful little gallery in the Samchong-dong neighborhood of Seoul called Gallery Biim. Initially drawn in by the half-playful, half-haunting puppet figures hanging in the entry way, I spoke to the gallery curator who mentioned they were hosting an opening performance later that night of Japanese Butoh dance and Czech Puppetry.

Yumi Hayashi performs at Gallery Biim, Seoul, South Korea (photo: Patrick Lydon)

Yumi Hayashi performs at Gallery Biim, Seoul, South Korea

Last year, I remember seeing a rather creepy butoh performance (think: interpretive dance with half naked men in white face and body paint). The unlikely combination of the delicately carved and painted wood puppets and dance sounded intriguing.

Returning that night, I found the performance to be one of complete opposites: the dance performance was somber and intense, the puppet theater, half magic show and half puppet wizardry was whimsical in nature. The two performance styles, representing both Eastern and Western worlds, were intertwined together as several acts and came off as strangely and delightfully complimentary to each other.

I was happy to see the artists and show curator pushing the envelope of creativity in Seoul, and working to find common threads amongst two seemingly very different creative worlds.