Enjoying life, off the hamster wheel
So, last year was the WUF III (World Urban Forum) here in Vancouver. For more info on the WUF, here’s a link to their website: WUF III 2006. I went because my second cousin Astrid and her friend Karolina came from Sweden to attend the conference. They both have a degree in environmental engineering, spent some time in Kenya doing research for their graduate thesis and had gotten a bursary from their university to attend the conference. They dragged me along, and I’m really glad for it because it was an amazing and educating experience. I attended talks that ranged from urban planning, poverty, slums, incorporation of art in urban planning, to financing and banking in developing countries. The range of issues was immense, and I felt dizzy from all the information and got a sore back from all the pamphlets and literature I collected over the course of 5 days!
It was so inspiring seeing the sea of humanity (10,000 strong) all congregated at the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre (formerly Canada Place). People from all over the world took part in the WUF III, and I was energized and charged feeling a part of the whole in this tapestry of cultures, ethnicities, languages and colour! It was GREAT! I loved it.
On the last day of the forum, I decided to take with me a little clay pendant I had gotten from the Habitat Forum 1976 in Vancouver. I was 10 at the time, and I remember going down to a park (was it Vanier?) with Mom, where there were plenty of things for kids to do and I got all sorts of pamphlets about potential energy alternatives of the future, like wind, solar and wave power, electric cars, sustainable cities and architecture and a harmonious and peaceful future where no one would be without, and where humans would all get along with each other and live harmoniously in their environments, both the natural and constructed. I got colouring books, with pictures of futuristic cars that were fueled up by plugging them into things that looked like light standards, but at the top were solar panels. So, you’d park your car, plug it into the electric fueling stanchion, go shopping along the promenade alongside a wonderful diversity of people, and jump back into your electric car and when you got home you’d park in your garage, plug in and “fuel up” again. A world with no gas, clean air, a healthy Earth, no wars and happy people.
Fast forward 30 years, it’s June, and I’m in Vancouver, a city growing rapidly and the downtown core is busy and noisy with gas powered cars, diesel trucks and a combination of electric and diesel buses. The Skytrain, built 20 years previously (think about it: 10 years after the ’76 Habitat Forum), takes people in and out of Vancouver in an eastwardly direction, and buildings are shooting up like uncontrolled weeds. Vancouver and the Lower Mainland sprawls ever outward in its growth, connected by an assortment of roads on which the gas powered car is the transportation mode of choice. The 2010 Winter Olympics is on its way, construction has begun on a new rapid transit artery down Cambie Street, and a new road leading to Whistler, which will cut through delicate ecosystems on the Eagleridge bluffs that is home to a rare frog (the red-legged frog, I think), is a fore drawn conclusion, despite protests from a small but determined group of environmentalists, mostly West Van residents who are being accused of being rich to excess and wanting to save their beloved trees because they’re worried about property values.
With this backdrop, I decide to take my little pendant with its reminders of a hopeful future with me to the final day of the WUF III. I showed it to Astrid and Karolina, and then to some lovely women at the Sweden booth in the main hall, who insisted I take it up to show Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of UN-Habitat. These women, full of energy, enthusiasm and encouragement, hailed from Africa, and were involved with SIDA (Swedish International Development Agency), and I can’t tell you how inspiring and encouraging they were! And assertive! They practically pushed me out the door and up to the temporary executive offices of UN-Habitat at the VTCC. Karolina came with me and took some pictures which I’ll post. After a great deal of being passed from one office to another, I finally spoke with a secretary, Silvia, who was so interested in showing Mrs. Tibaijuka my pendant, she bent over backwards to get me an audience with her! I was quite confused; I mean, who was I? Ingrid Kroll, a resident of Vancouver, mature student at UBC picking away at my undergrad in Visual Art (of all things) and here I was suddenly so important because of a 30 year old clay pendant! It seemed so strange, but I went with the flow. If they thought it was important, who was I to question that?
So, I had a very brief meeting with Mrs. Tibaijuka. She was gracious and seemed genuinely interested in this little pendant, and I managed to tell her ever so briefly of my experiences as a child in 1976, and how I thought it was important that the next WUF incorporate more children’s activities within the actual forum, as opposed to segregating them as had been done at the current forum. The future belongs to the next generations, and we need them around to remind us of the importance, urgency and reasons for these forums.
Mrs. Tibaijuka shook my hand and thanked me. Karolina was alert and took some pictures of us, and afterwards Silvia also took lots of pictures of me and the pendant. Then she wanted me to show the pendant to her boss, Mr. Wichmann. He was very interested in the pendant, and again I showed it to him and promised to give him pictures of it. I have recently been in contact with him, and it’s really nice to know that this little pendant might trigger something positive. The next WUF is in China, in 2008. Wouldn’t it be great to attend some sessions there?!
So, that’s my brush with the influential and powerful of the world. How influential is still debatable, in my view. After all, I don’t see too many electric cars around, 30 years after Habitat ’76, nor do I see an easy transition to alternative fuels. Plastic bags are ubiquitous, so is the gas powered car. Petroleum and petroleum by-products are the backbone of our global economy, and global it is. From shipping snap peas from China to Canada in February, to outsourcing local directory assistance to the southern States, ours is a burgeoning global economy. Wars against concepts are being fought, and tallies of the Western dead are being kept while the numbers of the Middle Eastern dead are a mystery. There is poverty the world over, just look in your own back yard. Perhaps you don’t notice it, it’s not immediately in your line of vision. But just go down to the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver some day, take a look around. Or why not walk down 6th Avenue at 5th Street in New Westminster on a Thursday night at 11pm, and see the man sleeping under a thin comforter in a doorway. I don’t think the influential have the power to fix everything, but my hope is they can fix some of it. As for the rest, it’s up to us, us Average Joes and Josephines to do what we can to work towards a world that my little pendant from Habitat ’76 embodies, which is, to paraphrase Trudeau, a world that is just.
Thanks for reading this.
Pondering the Puddle
These are the inspiring and supportive women I met at the Sweden booth in the main hall at the VTCC. Great memories! I hope they’re all doing well.