Global news with a spatial perspective: Interesting, current supplemental materials for geography teachers and students.
Curated by Seth Dixon
Many urban neighborhoods are places of concentrated poverty, and it's killing opportunity in the US.
American cities are growing, and as they grow, they're adding lots of high-poverty neighborhoods. Nearly three times as many "high-poverty" census tracts existed in 2010 as in 1970. That's unsettling on its face but even more so when you see the havoc a poor neighborhood can wreak on a resident's chances at a good life. Forget gentrification — this is a bigger problem.
The chart above tallies up the people living in these neighborhoods in 1970 and 2010. What it shows is that the number of people living in high-poverty neighborhoods — those with poverty rates of 30 percent or more — has roughly doubled since 1970. That's because these neighborhoods of concentrated poverty have a tendency to stay that way, even while new ones sprout up.
"Sometimes, rehabilitating a rough neighborhood is a tough process. But in one West Coast American city, it was as simple as adding a Buddha statue. Since the statue's installation, a street corner has been transformed from a notorious eyesore to a daily prayer spot for local Vietnamese Buddhists. For this Geo Quiz, we're looking for the city where this shrine is located — can you name it?"
“The Midwest is this big nebulous part of the country and it's kind of what's left over after all the other regions of the country are defined. Those regions have much stronger identities if you think of the East Coast or maybe New England or the Pacific Northwest or certainly the South. The Midwest is kind of the catchall for what's left. We [Minnesota] should be called the North.”
Whether I agree or not with the ideas being discussed, I simply love that this discussion is taking place and how intensely geographical the ideas and evidences being brought forward are.
Questions to Ponder: So what region do you live in? What defines that region? Are there other regions that you can claim to be a part of also? How would you divide the United States into various regions? How come?
The Great Mosque of Djenné, Mali, is a magnet for tourists, but it is increasingly difficult for locals to live a normal life around it.
This New York Times short video is an intriguing glimpse into some of the cultural pressures behind having the designation of being an official world heritage site. The great mosque combined with the traditional mud-brick feel to the whole city draws in tourists and is a source of communal pride, but many homeowners want to modernize and feel locked into traditional architecture by outside organizations that want them to preserve an 'authentic' cultural legacy.
Cityscape Chicago II is a personal timelapse piece that I have worked on periodically over the past two years. The inspiration behind the project ties similarly with the original piece. As the city of Chicago continues to change, my fascination with it grows as well. The goal for me is always to capture the city in a unique way from new perspectives, and to continue exploring it.
|Suggested by Mike Busarello's Digital Storybooks|
"Jan Crawford explores a unique folk art tradition going back 100 years - once seen on nearly every row house in the working class neighborhoods of Baltimore, as artists today once again embrace the tradition of painted window screens, an authentic connection to the city's past."
This is tremendous example of an urban cultural landscape that is distinctive to a certain place (Baltimore) and a particular time period. The practice of painting landscape scene on window screens began over 100 years ago, as a way to beat the heat, but still afford some form of privacy. This aesthetic emerged out of particular set of cultural, technological, and economic factors. What was once common is now perceived as a folk art that is a worth preserving because it is a marker of the local heritage. This is an excellent example to demonstrate a sense of place that can develop within a community. This video has been added to my ESRI StoryMap that spatially organizes place-based videos for the geography classroom (68 and counting).
"Dogtown and Z-Boys: A documentary about the pioneering 1970s Zephyr skating team."
Popular culture is shaped by taste-makers, counter-cultural movements, and the blending of cultural practices in new ways creating a distinct aesthetic. Often, the physical geography of a region plays a crucial role in shaping the cultural practices particular to their environment. All of that can be seen quite vividly in the colorful skating revolution of the 1970s that took shape in the Southern California. Kids who grew up idolizing surfers branched out their recreational habits into the modern form of skating that we see today at the X Games. Made legendary through a series of Skateboarder magazine articles, these kids shaped the cultural ethos of skateboarding for over a generation. With the coastal influence of surfing, the socioeconomics of a seaside slum, it’s abandoned piers, the ubiquity of cement and asphalt in the urban landscape, the run-down neighborhood of “Dogtown” was home to cultural movement. The fierce droughts of the 1970 meant abandoned swimming pools; that drought led surfers to the technological infrastructure for modern skating ramps and half pipes as they skated in emptied swimming pools. As stated in those Skaterboarder articles, “two hundred years of American technology has unwittingly created a massive cement playground of unlimited potential. But it was the minds of 11 year olds that could see that potential.” The documentary “Dogtown and Z-Boys” (trailer) and the fictionalized “Lords of Dogtown,” (trailer) both produced by skater turned filmmaker Stacy Peralta, chronicle the age (“Lords of Dogtown” is not appropriate for the K-12 classroom viewing).
|Suggested by Thomas Schmeling|
Since Texas became a state, the Rio Grande has marked the border between the U.S. and Mexico. But, like rivers do, it moved. In 1964, the U.S. finally gave back 437 acres of land.
Ever since Texas became a state, the river has been the border between the two countries. But rivers can move — and that's exactly what happened in 1864, when torrential rains caused it to jump its banks and go south. Suddenly the border was in a different place, and Texas had gained 700 acres of land called the Chamizal (pronounced chah-mee-ZAHL), so named for a type of plant that grew there.
Some are contemplating migration, severing ties to their holy land. Others want to stay and protect their shrines.
When we discuss the geography of religion, frequently we are discussing the distribution of particular religions. However, some religions are deeply embedded in particular places and their spiritual rites, customs and traditions are intrinsically linked with sacred spaces and particular geographies. The Yazidi are are religious group that is deeply connected to the mountains of northern Iraq--areas that are now being evacuated because of ISIS. Some are contemplating migrating to safety, but severing their ties to their holy land. Others want to stay and protect their sacred spaces.
"An aerial perspective on Burning Man 2013, in Black Rock Playa, NV"
This annual arts festival with a strong counter-cultural ethos literally is an experiment in producing alternative urban and cultural geographies that reject normative regulations embedded within societies. These geographies created last only about a week, as an escape from the regular strictures of society. Burning Man celebrates alternative spiritualities and creates monuments to impermanence while allowing people to wear zany costumes. Many feel that in leaving behind ‘the real world’ they find their true home at Burning Man. The ephemeral alternative geographies then fade back into the desert but not without creating a visually remarkable place. Some feel that the festival has become too popular and famous to be what it truly was intended to be as the rich and famous descend on the playa as well.
Questions to Ponder: Part of Burning Man’s success is due to its impermanence; if this community were created to exist year-round, would it still work? Why or why not? Why do festivals like this attract so many? What does it culturally say about the participants and the societies that they leave behind?
"Violence has a geography and for this reason, geography lies at the center of discussions of violence. Within the United States a myriad of taken for granted assumptions about identity, place, power, and memory undergird the nation’s psyche. These normative interpretations intersect with a particular kind of geographic formulation that places persons of color in general, but black men most specifically, at the center of the violent structures of the nation."
This isn't merely commentary about social upheaval or some musing about the social inequities (I think we've all read a ton of those articles). This is a geographic analysis that discusses the interactions, interconnections and implications of a social and spatial conflict between citizens and the institutions of the state. Ferguson, MO is undoubtedly a lightning rod today and some might prefer to avoid discussing it in a classroom setting; I find that as long as we put analysis before ideology, issues such as these show students the relevance and importance of geographic principles to their lives.
The coal economy in Central Appalachia is in an unprecedented freefall. Which isn't making it easier for workers to move on.
West Virginia and 'coal country' are in steep economic decline, but that doesn't mean people are eager to leave. Leaving for many is a last resort, but when residents feel a familial and emotional connection to a place--to the land--that can create a rationale for staying that is stronger than economic push factors. This video set in West Virgina captures the strong sense of place and community that can exist in a place even in in the face of tough times economic prospects. Geographer Ben Marsh wrote about in a 1987 Annals article: "The residents of the anthracite towns of northeastern Pennsylvania show a considerable loyalty to a landscape that provides them with little of material value. This should remind the observer that any broad concept of place must address two different aspects of a landscape: the physical support it provides (means) and the intangible rewards it offers (meaning). "
"In many cities, it's become popular to hate 'gentrifiers,' rich people who move in and drive up housing prices -- pushing everyone else out. But what's going on in these rapidly-changing urban spaces is a lot more complicated than that."
Gentrification can be a very touchy subject. What appears to be economic revitalization of a down-trodden neighborhood to one, can appear to be systematic removal of minorities to another. This op-ed isn't a whole-hearted embrace of gentrification, but it might be seen as a critique of the gentrification critics.
Geography explores more than just what countries control a certain territory and what landforms are there. Geography explores the spatial manifestations of power and how place is crafted to fit a particular vision. Homeless people are essentially always 'out of place.' This article from the Atlantic and this one from the Guardian share similar things: that urban planners actively design places that will discourage loitering which is undesirable to local businesses. This gallery shows various defensive architectural tactics to make certain people feel 'out of place.' Just to show that not all urban designs are anti-homeless, this bench is one that is designed to help the homeless.
Smarty Pins is a Google Maps based geography and trivia game.
As stated in a review of Smarty Pins on Mashable, "Google unveiled a fun new game this week that tests players' geography and trivia skills. Called 'Smarty Pins' the game starts players off with 1,000 miles (or 1,609 kilometers if they're not based in the United States), and asks them to drop a pin on the city that corresponds with the correct answer to a given question."
This game is wonderfully addictive...I haven't enjoyed a mapping trivia platform this much since I discovered GeoGuessr. I answered 38 questions before I ran out of miles...how far did you get?
"A government-initiated redevelopment plan will transform one of the oldest neighborhoods in Beijing into a polished tourist attraction."
"When the agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada went into effect in 1994, it removed nearly all trade barriers between the countries. Among the industries affected was agriculture, forcing small Mexican farmers into direct competition with big American agribusiness. Cheap American corn – heavily subsidized, mechanized and genetically modified – soon flooded the Mexican market to the detriment of local farmers. As U.S. farmers exported their subsidized corn to Mexico, local producer prices plummeted and small farmers could no longer earn enough to live on."
International trade agreements are usually discussed at the national level. "NAFTA benefits Mexico" is a commonly heard saying because trade with the United States and Canada strengthens the manufacturing sector in Mexico. Even if there is an overall benefit to a country, there are always winners and losers for different regions, economic sectors and many other demographic groups. Farmers in southern Mexico were certainly a sector that struggled mightily under NAFTA.
"France's administrative regions — Normandy, Alsace, Burgundy, etc. — have long been part of the identity of citizens of this diverse country. Now, merging some of them is seen as a logical way to save money on bureaucracy, and the French support it — as long as it's someone else's turf."
This is an interesting concept that shows the divergence between national and regional identities. 68% of French citizens recognize that consolidating regional administration will be economically more efficient at the national level; however 77% don't want to see the elimination of their own local region. The formation of place-based identities operate an multiple scales. How would you feel if your state was absorbed by a neighboring state? How come?
"Fans may not list which team they favor on the census, but millions of them do make their preferences public on Facebook. Using aggregated data provided by the company, we were able to create an unprecedented look at the geography of baseball fandom, going down not only to the county level, as Facebook did in a nationwide map it released a few weeks ago, but also to ZIP codes."
This isn't just a fun sports map--there are some good geographic concepts that can be used here. When discussing cultural regions, many use the core-domain-sphere model. This map uses the brightest color intensities to represent the core regions and the lightest hues to show waning strength, but to still signify that the area is a part of a team's sphere of influence. Essentially, this map is begging you to explore the borderlands, the liminal "in-between" spaces that aren't as easy to explain. What other phenomena can be used to demonstrate the core-domain-sphere model of cultural regions? What other geographic concepts can you teach using this map?
|Suggested by Mike Busarello's Digital Storybooks|
Surprising alternatives to "so what do you do?"—from New Orleans to New York.
The types of questions that you ask when you are meeting someone new for the first time has some regional variations but there is much more to the geography of small talk than that as see in this 4 minute video. People want to understand your cultural, ethnic, socioeconomic context by asking spatial questions about where you are from. Identity and place are tightly woven and these neighborhood questions are almost invitations to share much more personal information, as if to ask, "how do you fit in this world?" When you are being introduced to someone, what are the questions that you ask, and what type of information are you hoping to get? Each person has their own little geography that has profoundly shaped who they are---so what’s your story?
"McDowell County, situated in the coalfields of West Virginia, has experienced a great boom-and-bust since 1950. But despite the economic decline and population loss, many still call it home and feel a great sense of purpose among the mountains. Residents speak about their connection to this place and the meaning of 'home.' Hear more stories at hollowdocumentary.com "
This video perfectly exemplifies some key geographic ideas; sense of place, regional economic decline, migration and resource extraction. This video would be great to shows students and then get them to analyze the geographic context that creates a place like McDowell County, West Virginia. This will be a great addition to my Place-Based Geography Videos StoryMap.
Two photographers set out to see what happened to small family businesses in New York City in a decade
The cultural landscapes of neighborhoods can change quickly as larger global economic forces restructure the places. This is a great gallery of photos from the Smithsonian to document these changes in New York City. Many mourn the passing of what once was as the landscape continues to be made and remade but subsequent generations.
Some deeply held opinions that individuals hold are rooted in the cultural and regional influences (even if they feel that they are being purely objective). Sports fans though, are rarely objective and are often swayed by those opinions that they hear the most, which often come for those closest to us. While we are on the subject of basketball and geography, you've got to try Population Bracketology, which challenges your knowledge on the sizes of Metropolitan Statistic Areas and state population.
I used to think that street harassment was so entrenched in our culture and unchangeable. All I could do to address it was to cope - walk fast; avoid eye contact; pretend to be on the phone. But I got tired of feeling powerless and decided to respond to it and change the culture that allows it to continue.
People experience place and public spaces in very distinct ways--gender plays a crucial role in how we socially navigate in and through space. This article about how women can address street harassment goes well with this additional article that tackles the problems with a society that normalizes street harassment.