According to a new forecasting tool developed by a UBC researcher and industry collaborator, around one-quarter of detached homes in Vancouver’s hot housing market could be demolished between now and 2030.
This forecasting tool, called the teardown index, reveals that the lower the value of the residence relative to the value of the overall property (its relative building value, or RBV), the house is more likely to be torn down and replaced.
“An RBV of between 60 per cent and 70 per cent is generally considered healthy for a new building. But when a building is worth less than 10 per cent of the total value of the property, the probability of teardown and replacement increases dramatically,” said Joseph Dahmen, a professor of architecture at the University of British Columbia and a Wall Scholar at UBC’s Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies.
To illustrate this point, the researcher traced the RBV of a house constructed in 1940. It revealed that with the increase in the overall price of the property over 75 years, its relative building value decreased until it hit a low point of 4 percent.
According to Dahmen, with such a low RBV, there is a 50:50 chance the house will be torn down by the new owner, and a new house will be built more in line with the overall price of the property.
According to research collaborator and mathematician Jens von Bergmann of MountainMath Software, with the recent surge in Vancouver real estate values, half of single-family homes in Vancouver have RBVs below 7.5 percent.
“If RBVs continue to slide, one-quarter of all single-family homes will be torn down between now and 2030, replaced by new single-family houses that seek to maximize size,” said von Bergmann. “It’s not clear how that will help affordability. We should ask ourselves how to replace these teardowns with more units of ground-oriented, family-friendly homes on each lot.”
Given that a quarter of all-single-family homes sold in Vancouver proper are torn down and replaced, researchers are contemplating on using their findings to gauge the projected environmental impact of the new homes.
“As building operations become more efficient, materials will account for an even larger share of overall environmental impacts. Focusing on the materials as well as energy efficiency would improve RBVs while helping to break the cycle of demolition and construction in Vancouver,” said Dahmen.
In March and December of 2016, the Genocide Awareness Project (G.A.P.) set up shop on the UBC Vancouver campus, presenting large posters and distributing fliers which argued that abortion was an act of genocide. As it does so every year with its presence on UBC, the pro-life group sparked a debate on campus.
This featured heated arguments in the rain in front of the Lasserre building, and in December, G.A.P.’s presence in front of the AMS Nest. Both incidents were accompanied by counter pro-choice rallies that advocated for the right of a woman to choose to abort her child. Whether women should be allowed to stop a pregnancy, the human right of a fetus to live, and the availability and accessibility of child care services that would help a woman take care of her baby were all called into question.
The actions of the G.A.P. and a discomfort over their message were what made Kacey Ng, a third year student in the Department of Sociology, decide that this needed a conversation. I first met Kacey at a conference presented by the UBC Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies program called “Sexual Violence in Asian Communities in Canada.” Amongst discussions of discrimination against Asian communities and sexual violence in Asian histories, the G.A.P.’s presence on campus became a topic of interest for the panelists and audience.
It was during this discussion that Kacey introduced her plans for a reading group, where in addressing her own discomfort with G.A.P.’s actions, she planned to further discuss abortion, contraception and more broadly, reproductive rights in Canada. I signed up for her group then, and excitedly took my best friend with me to the first meeting. The group met throughout the summer of 2016, and addressed issues such as the discussion of reproductive rights in society and popular media; access to contraceptives and health services in Canada (with comparison to the U.S.); and the choices or lack thereof for women regarding support and services.
Students holding a protest sign during the GAP’s visit in March 2016. Image courtesy of Phebe Ferrer.
Canada’s stance on abortion
Currently, the country has no laws on abortion. In 1869, Parliament had imposed a ban abortion with a punishment of life imprisonment; however many illegal abortions were still carried out despite the law, and many women died from botched procedures.
The Liberal government under Pierre Trudeau then passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1968-69, which legalized abortion on the condition that there was approval from a committee of doctors on the woman’s medical need and mental well-being. Henry Morgentaler, who was a doctor and activist for the right of women to choose abortion and carried out many abortions in his own clinic, started a movement against this legislation that resulted in the Supreme Court striking down the laws as unconstitutional in 1988. With no federal laws on the issue, the provinces were left to devise their own policies on abortion. This currently ranges from relatively easy access in BC, to almost no access to services in New Brunswick.
At this point, I would humbly ask the reader to let go of presumptions that they may have about the unicorn rainbow love of Canada’s policies in contrast to the bleaker reality in the US. Canada, for all its good points, is not completely different from its neighbours to the south. There remains a challenge to access to vital health services required by women such as in New Brunswick, and it is crucial that these are not forgotten or remain unaddressed by the public and provincial governments.
An interview with Kacey Ng, and discussions on social sustainability
I sat down with Kacey in summer of 2016 to discuss her reading group, as well as her own perspective on abortion and women’s reproductive rights. She described her interests in current feminist issues like the issues covered in the reading group, and how her initial impetus in starting the group was “remembering that the fight is not quite over,” specifically how women are still a disadvantaged group and considered a minority group.
However, the main trigger was on Women’s Day, March 8 2016, when G.A.P. first came to UBC with their message and graphic stands. She spoke of how she had never felt so much emotion towards taking action as she did then. She recognized that there was not much use in just approaching and yelling at them, instead understanding that she must arm herself with information to have a conversation with the group and others, and taking on an approach that recognized the group’s perspective and right to free speech. She realized that this may be problematic and harmful to others.
She spoke to me about her position in being pro-choice, distinguishing this term from being pro-abortion namely in how she advocates for the choice of having an abortion, but not necessarily for abortion itself. She observes most UBC students’ opinions on the issue to be unsure or “on the fence”, and the possible danger of G.A.P. in convincing them that women should not have autonomy over her body because abortion is a genocidal act.
In light of this, her goals for the reading group include inclusivity in discussion, particularly how men must also be included and not just women, and in arming herself and others with the information needed to have informed conversations about choices for women and others capable of reproduction. Though she is unsure of where to begin for action towards the issue of abortion and reproductive rights, she hopes that at least by gaining knowledge towards these issues through the group, she will be able to relay it to others and give support to those who need it, and change the culture and discourse towards abortion a little bit at a time.
Kacey’s group and the discussions generated over these issues are a crucial part, I would argue, of social sustainability. This term does not have a set definition, but one that is offered is the following; that it is “the ability of a community to develop processes and structures which not only meet the needs of its current members but also support the ability of future generations to maintain a healthy community.”
There has been much discussion lately of environmental sustainability, but the social aspect, in terms of relationships between people and communities, not also needs attention. Here I would argue is where initiatives like that of Kacey are needed, in sparking discussion and promoting inclusivity and informed opinions towards issues like abortion so that society may move towards change in this respect.
Abortion is not an easy topic to discuss. Whether it is because of personal experiences or religious and cultural views, we must recognize that for some people there will be difficulty surrounding the discussion of this issue. However, it is still important that we have a discussion of abortion, access to contraceptives and services, and overall, reproductive rights. Even with established policies on abortion, contraception and others, if there is no conversation, action, or translation of policy into everyday reality – especially that of the people who need it most – we won’t see whether these are effective and if they are properly addressing the issue.
To take care of our current society, and ensure the care of our future generations, we must realize and discuss the realities of abortion, and most importantly take action.
If you are interested in contacting Kacey Ng and/or joining the reading group, please contact the author of the article or leave a comment. Additionally, included below are a few documents from the reading group.
Concerned your social media accounts will be hacked.
New study finds, people we know are the ones frequently accessing our accounts without our permission.
In a survey of 1,308 US adult Facebook users , researchers at the University of British Columbia found 24 percent – or more than one in five – had snooped on the Facebook accounts of their family members, friends and romantic partner using the victims’ own cellphones or computers.
More than one in five – had snooped on the Facebook accounts of their family members, friends and romantic partner using the victims’ own cellphones or computers, according to a research at UBC. (Photo courtesy of : www.freeimages.com)
“It’s clearly a widespread practice. Facebook private messages, pictures or videos are easy targets when the account owner is already logged on and has left their computer or mobile open for viewing,” said Wali Ahmed Usmani, study author and computer science master’s student.
People conceded to spying out of simple curiosity or fun, by changing a victim’s status or profile picture to something humorous. However, other motives were darker such as animosity or jealousy.
“Jealous snoops generally plan their action and focus on personal messages, accessing the account for 15 minutes or longer,” said computer science professor Ivan Beschastnikh, a senior author on the paper.
“And the consequences are significant: in many cases, snooping effectively ended the relationship.”
The paper’s other senior author, electrical and computer engineering professor Kosta Benznosov, said the finding highlights the ineffectiveness of device PINs and passwords in preventing unauthorized access by insiders.
Benznosov also said there is no single solution, but further added a combination of changing passwords, logging out of your account and other security practices can make a difference.
In Western countries, it has become commonplace or even trendy to consume so-called “superfoods” that developing countries produce and export. They sit on shelves in nearly every grocery store and their health benefits are well known to consumers. In particular, Western demand for grains such as quinoa and teff have exploded in recent years. But why? Superfoods are food products that are relatively high in nutrients. What drives Western demand for them? If you live in a developed country, it’s likely you’re well versed in, or at least conscious of the superfood conversation. They tend to be popular with vegans and vegetarians, lifestyle choices that have become more prevalent in Western culture, as superfoods are nutritious alternatives for meat products. As we become more preoccupied with making healthy food decisions, foods deemed “superfoods” are front and center. But there’s more to the equation than just demand – somebody has to meet those demands, and this responsibility falls upon the superfoods’ countries of origin.
Background on quinoa and teff and its impacts on countries of origin
Image courtesy of: www.morguefile.com
Quinoa and teff are highly nutritious, gluten-free grains. Quinoa traditionally grows in Peru and Bolivia and is low fat, high in protein, and full of amino acids. Teff, which has 50% more protein, five times more fiber and 25 times more calcium than brown rice, hails from the highlands of Ethiopia and Eritrea. With these stats, it’s no wonder that health-conscious Westerners covet them – consuming foods with these nutrient levels likely impacts our own health in positive ways (which is why demand is so high), but the impacts of our consumption on producing countries is another story altogether. While consuming superfoods like quinoa and teff may have positive health effects for Westerners, we can’t say the same for the health of the countries that produce them. In fact, the “Columbusing” of superfoods, or the “discovery” of these crops in developing countries, tends to benefit global consumers more than producers.
Quinoa industry damaging Bolivian development
Increased global demand – how much people desire a good as a whole – for quinoa spurred Bolivia to export higher volumes of the grain. While this increases Bolivia’s revenue and incomes of local farmers, it also causes the domestic price of quinoa to soar. In other words, while individual living standards of farmers have improved, it has become more difficult for the general population to afford quinoa, a staple in their diets. In 2011, a kilogram of quinoa cost $4.85 USD in contrast to $1 for the same weight of rice. The problems don’t stop there. In attempting to meet global demand, Bolivia faces pressure to allocate more land for quinoa production. If it follows through, Bolivia will in effect transform its agricultural portfolio into a monocrop of only quinoa. Without diverse agricultural production, Bolivia will become subject to volatile food prices and limited food security. If the price of quinoa plummets, its agriculture industry won’t bring in revenue; if it only produces one crop, Bolivia risks pest or disease infestation that can wipe out its only source of food, potentially resulting in famine.
In recent years, Westerners have lauded teff for its nutritional value, so much so that the Ethiopian government decided to lift its ban on teff export with tight controls in place. Previously, there was a complete ban on raw teff export, with only processed teff in the form of injera allowed to leave the country. While this prevented the re-entry of teff into the Ethiopian market at inflated prices, the government and manufacturers were involved in the economic process, leaving farmers with little of their deserved revenue. Lifting the ban means Ethiopia needs to control price fluctuations. It hopes to do so by licensing commercial farms to produce teff for export to avoid flooding the market and bringing teff prices down. According to CEO of Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency Khalid Bomba, licensed producers will supply exports first, and then extend to small-scale farmers who comprise most of Ethiopia’s working population. The Ethiopian government’s hopes to meet both domestic and global demand will be tricky business. If it wants to engage in export, Ethiopia should first satisfy its own population’s demand. This involves increasing production levels by introducing modern farming techniques. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of agricultural research on teff production, so Ethiopia must first figure out which modern farming techniques are best suited to teff. Another issue is other countries have successfully planted teff crops. In the United States, 25 states produce the superfood. Al Jazeera reports that because of such successful transplantation, Ethiopia is losing out on its staple crop. Perhaps the best way for Ethiopia to combat this loss is to capitalize on the fact that the quality and taste of foreign-produced teff can’t hold a flame to its own. If it manages to brand Ethiopian teff as a premium product, Ethiopia may be able to overtake its competitors.
Consequences of superfoods on health in developing countries
Let’s now consider the impact of Western demand for quinoa and teff on the health of Bolivian and Ethiopian populations. When goods become too expensive, consumers substitute their consumption of that good with cheaper alternatives. In Bolivia, people substitute less nutritious rice and noodles for quinoa. In Ethiopia, teff farmers are selling the bulk of their harvests instead of eating it to take advantage of high global prices. The consequence of these actions is rising malnutrition, especially in rural communities. In both Bolivia and Ethiopia, consuming more quinoa and teff can alleviate malnutrition, but this task competes with Western cravings.
What can we do?
This paints a fairly bleak picture of guilt. Evidently, Western eating habits are directly related to economic conditions and poverty levels in developing countries. How can we reconcile our health-conscious love for quinoa, teff and other superfoods with the adverse affects it creates for countries that produce them? One way is to practice ethical consumerism. Movements like Fairtrade aim to ensure local farmers receive fair payment for their work; purchasing Fairtrade products means more of your money goes to the producer rather than distributors or manufacturers. But this only solves half of the equation – how can we ensure that our consumption of superfoods doesn’t come with the price of malnourished communities who can’t afford the same product? This is a question of social and economic policy. We have seen how Ethiopia is taking measures to ensure domestic prices (the current price for teff in the economy) of teff don’t skyrocket. To see lower domestic quinoa prices, Bolivia may restrict exports or increase production (both of which will bolster domestic supply and push down price) or introduce some kind of policy that balances its exports with domestic concerns. It’s unlikely that Western demands for superfoods will cease or even plateau any time soon. Indeed, such demand can produce incentives for more people or countries to become involved in superfood industries and drive more efficient production. Taking this into consideration, the key lies in how, rather than what, we consume, and the ways in which we can all improve our consumer behaviour.
Attracting up to 250,000 people during the day with numerous activities and live performances at Canada Place, it’s no wonder Vancouver’s celebration of Canada’s birthday is the largest outside Ottawa.
The 29th annual Canada Day at Canada Place on July 1st, promises a fun-filled day from 10 am to 6 pm for children and adults, and continue into the evening showcasing a colourful, diverse parade, and fireworks show.
This year, however, the event organized by Port of Vancouver, will also bring the 1980s back by commemorating the 30th anniversary of Canada Place, which opened as the Canadian Pavilion for Expo 86.
The annual Canada Day at Canada Day offers a fun-filled day with free live entertainment and activities for both adults and children.
Guests will relive their Expo 86 memories, by exploring the Expo Pavilion (Ballrooms ABC, Vancouver Convention Centre East) which will feature memorabilia and imagery of that time, as well an arcade with old video games for the public to enjoy–fans of Pac Man and Pinball take note.
‘We started to plan for this year, realizing it was the 30th anniversary of this beautiful building [Canada Place] that was built originally for Expo 86, and so we thought “what a great way to celebrate [the exhibit’s anniversary] with some of the programming that we would have on site for Canada Day”,’ said Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s Laurie Purdon, event organizer.
‘It was a very special time for Vancouver, a lot of people say [Expo 86] put our city on the international map and they have some many great memories . It’s a really fun way to remember what we all enjoyed back in ’86… It’s a time for
Iconic Scottish singer Sheena Easton will be co-headlining this year’s Canada Day event.
people that weren’t there, to have bit of that experience [too].’
Originally proposed under the name of Transpo 86, the city won the bid to host the international transportation exhibition in 1986, year also of Vancouver’s Centennial.
In 1983, Queen Elizabeth II and former prime minister, Pierre Trudeau initiated the first concrete pour on the construction site for what would become the Canadian Pavilion.
On May 2, 1986, former prime minister Brian Mulroney , Prince Charles and the Princess Diana inaugurated the Fair, where participated pavili0ns from 54 nations and organizations.
This special Canada Day edition will feature renowned international, national and local performers, including legendary Canadian DJ Red Robinson, at Hall A (Vancouver Convention Centre East), who will be reprising his presenter duties at Expo 86, in between multicultural performances and talent, sharing stories about his more remarkable moments and interviews with stars (including Elvis Presley and The Beatles) , during his 50-year career.
Among the musical guests, Grammy Award winner, Sheena Easton, who also played at Expo 86, will be back to co-headline the event taking the Main Stage at 3:30 pm, followed by Canadian country singer, Aaron Pritchet.
The electro-dance band Bear Mountain (BMTN), Rococode, Mo Kenney, Famous Players and many more will be also performing at the event.
As in every Canada Day celebration, a Citizenship Ceremony will take place at Hall A at 11 am, where 60 citizens will become Canadian.
In addition, other entertainment include the Pogo Stunt Team at Jack Poole Plaza, south of the cauldron, featuring championship pro athletes flying over 10 feet in the air on extreme pogo sticks throwing down flips and incredible tricks, a zone dedicated to the Canadian Forces, and hockey games.
Canada Day Parade & fireworks
The 7th Annual Canada Day Parade will kick off at 7 pm from Broughton & Georgia Streets with dispersal at Burrard and Pender Streets.
The patriotic festivities will close with a two barge simultaneous fireworks placed in Burrard Inlet, at 10.30 pm, viewable from various locations including Harbour Green Park, Coal Harbour , Stanley Park, Crab Park, West Vancouver Seawall, between Ambleside and Dundarave, North Vancouver, Lower Lonsdale Area. The fireworks cannot be seen from the English Bay or Spanish Banks.
A ticketed fireworks viewing zone will be open at Canada Place’s West Promenade — a family-friendly, licensed area. Free admission for children four and under.
For more information on Canada Day at Canada Place, schedules, performances’ lineup and street closures, visit canadaplace.ca.
Ai Wei Wei’s latest installation art has yet again presented a striking and meaningful message, as the grandiose pillars of the Konzerthaus Berlin concert hall were bound and covered with the abandoned, bright orange lifejackets of 14,000 displaced refugees on the shore of Greece’s Lesbos Island. Well-known, especially in the PRC, Taiwan and Hong Kong, for his controversial expression against China’s governmental endeavors, Ai is primarily an artist who, using what he does best, advocates for issues he holds close to heart.
Ai’s ongoing stay at the Idomeni refugee camp in northern Greece has been captured closely on his social media account, as he detailed photographs of his surroundings and the people he had encountered. His uploads are unconventional, and provide fresh, ground-level perceptions of the hardships and daily lives of the displaced in Greece. Approximately 14,000 refugees had been barricaded after Macedonia closed off its borders, stranded within a rapidly overflowing camp. “You can’t believe this is happening in Europe in the 21st century,” Ai had stated.
The hunger strike of the Iranian refugees situated in Calais camp due to unsuccessful entry into England had also made an appearance on Ai’s social media account, as he records portraits of the tight-sewn lips and blindfolded eyes as demands for non-violation of human rights. The hunger strike and protest was a response to the multiple cases of police violence against refugees and displaced civilians – some of them young children. It was also directed towards the clearance of the migrant encampment, also known as the “Calais Jungle”, threatening to further displace the refugees.
(Photo courtesy of flickr.com)
Who is Ai Wei Wei?
Ai is most famously known for his outspoken and disputed endeavors against the PRC government post-Sichuan earthquake in 2008. He had shown efforts in drawing international attention through the controversial recreation of Alan Kurdi’s photograph, an infant refugee who had perished on the Turkish shore of Bodrum.
Ai’s most recent project sends him to the Greek Island of Lesbos, where he engages his art with the refugee crisis, drawing attention to the heated topic. He describes his spontaneous trip to Lesbos Island in order to interact directly with the refugees as a “personal act”, on the behalf of an artist who is “trying not just to watch these events, but to also act” (The Guardian).
The 2005 Sina Weibo blog that had brought Ai to the public eye and kick-started his activism journey, was a mixture of political criticism, social commentaries and contemporary art. His blunt and daring commentaries on the events during and post-2008 Sichuan earthquake led to the PRC’s pursuit (they placed him in secret detention), and led to the beginning of his rigorous quest for creative freedom and universal human rights.
2008, the year of the deadly Sichuan earthquake that had seized over 69,000 lives, marked Ai’s most distinguished activism effort. His compilation of over 5,000 names of children who had died during the earthquake due to deficient architectural construction was a direct jab at the central government’s regime. The questions and challenges presented in his works and activism stir controversy in the uptight Chinese social environment that is heavily monitored by the PRC, raising local and international voices that call for a check on freedom of speech and governmental transparency.
(Photo courtesy of huffingtonpost.co.uk & AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
What is the situation, and how is Ai involved?
Pope Francis’ visit to the Greek Island of Lesbos in late April 2016 led to the desperate calling of action for universal aid, as demands for a revision of the Turkey-European Union accord had been undergoing increasing rigor. There are currently 55,000 refugees spread across 40 camps in Greece, living under the daily fear of deportation.
Amongst others, Ai and Pope Francis’ visit to Lesbos Island shed light upon the dire living conditions of the refugees that had been stranded in the camps. Riots have broken out in protest against the human rights violations that refugees have suffered. Chants of “freedom, freedom” filled the streets, and violence rose amongst the numerous refugee camps, including ones located in Lesbos, Chios and Idomeni.
Ai is an artist who aims to involve as many people as possible into the making of his works – a lifelong collection of socially opinionated and convention-challenging pieces. He stated in an interview with The Guardian, that he would “never separate these situations from my art”, and that “as an artist, [he] has to relate to humanity’s struggles”. By sharing photographs of the daily lives and living conditions of the refugees in Greece, Ai is involving his audience and social media followers in a larger realm that extends contemporary art. Instead, this realm encompasses society and international issues, challenging the world’s presumptions on the meanings behind ‘art’, and why it is created.
Ever wondered how authoritarianism rose, or why a single person or a small group of people make decisions on behalf of other people.
An associate professor of anthropology at Stanford, John Rick, has studied Chavin de Huantar, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Peru, for the last 20 years. Rick has studied the large amount of evidence from more than two decades of work at Chavin, where that culture developed approximately from 900 BC to 200 BC.
“More than 5,000 and certainly 10,000 years ago, no where in the world was anyone living under a concerted authority. Today we expect that. It is the essence of our organization”, he said. Chavin was a religious centre run by a detailed priesthood.
The priesthood would subject its visitors to an incredible variety of routines from manipulating light to water and to sound.
Rick stated the priesthood purposely worked with underground spaces, architectural stone work, a system of water canals, psychoactive drugs and animal iconography to increase their demonstrations of power.
Rick and his team estimate the presence of two kilometres of underground labyrinth , gallery-like spaces, which were definitely created to constrain and deceive those who entered.
The priesthood also manipulated its visitors with psychoactive drugs. According to Rick the evidence represented in stone engravings show with clear illustrations the effects of paraphernalia and drugs on human beings.
Through a sophisticated hydraulic system and under water canals, water was used as another deceptive tool.
“They were playing with this stuff. They were using water pressure 3,000 years ago to elevate water, to bring it up where it shouldn’t be. They’re using it as an agent to wash away offerings,” he said.
Excavation still continues and these are only a few examples Rick and his team have uncovered.
Excavation still continues at the site. (Photo courtesy of: www.morguefile.com)
They think instead of common people, visitors were elite pilgrims, local leaders from far away parts of the Central Andes. The visitors were looking to justify the elevation of their own authoritarian power.
“They’re basically in a process of developing a hierarchy, a real social structure that has strong political power at the top,” Rick said.
He believes Chavin was where human psychology was analyzed and experiments were held to see how people reacted to certain stimuli.
Hence the rituals were effective and dramatic in altering ideas about the nature of human authoritative relationships.
Vancouver ranks amongst one of most preferred cities to live in the world once again.
According to the 18th annual Quality of Life survey by Mercer, a global consulting and investment organization based in Toronto, Vancouver ranked at 5th , offering the best quality of living and working worldwide for residents and expatriate employees.
Vancouver is the only in North American city amongst the top 10 – despite its skyrocketing housing prices. In a survey published last month, Vancouver also got into the top 5 cities with the most expensive real estate markets in the world.
On the other hand, economic uncertainty in Europe, hasn’t deterred Western European cities to get top spots. Vienna takes again the first place, followed by Zurich (2) and Munich (4) . Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Auckland grabbed the third place.
Mercer evaluated the local living conditions in more than 440 cities worldwide (230 were included in this year’s list) and were analyzed according to 39 factors, grouped in 10 categories – including politics, social-cultural, environment, health, education, public services, recreation, consumer goods, housing and natural environment. The research is aimed to assist companies to ensure their employees receive fair compensation and meet their needs while working abroad.
Mercer’s Quality of Life Survey 2016. Image source: Mercer
Other Canadian cities also ranked fairly well in the survey — Toronto (15), Ottawa (17), Montreal (23) and Calgary (32).
‘Quality of living continues to be high in Canada with a stable political environment and positive social benefits, offering a very desirable and safe place to live and work for residents and expatriate workers,’said Gordon Frost, Leader of Mercer’s Talent Business in Canada, in a press release. ‘Our sustained high ranking is attractive to multinational corporations and their employees as they look to expand in Canada and provide significant opportunities to both Canadians and workers from abroad.’
In the United States, San Francisco (28) ranks highest for quality of living, followed by Boston (34), Honolulu (35), Chicago (43), and New York City (44). In North America, Monterrey (108) and Mexico City (127) take the lowest spots and for the Caribbean, Havana (191) and Port-au-Prince (227).
Mercer’s Quality of Living Survey 2016. Image source: Mercer
South American cities Montevideo (78), Buenos Aires (93), and Santiago (94) remain the highest ranking cities for quality of living, while Bogota (130), La Paz (156), and Caracas (185) rank lowest in the region.
The city with the world’s lowest quality of living is Baghdad (230).
The survey also studied personal safety and compiled a list of cities based on internal stability, crime levels, performance of local law enforcement, and the home country’s relationship with other nations.
‘Heightened domestic and global security threats, population displacement resulting from violence, and social unrest in key business centres around the world are all elements adding to the complex challenge facing multinational companies when analysing the safety and health of their expatriate workforces, ‘ explains Ilya Bonic, senior partner and president at Mercer, in a statement.
As for the personal safety list, all the aforementioned Canadian cities ranked 16th, in contrast with US cities, which didn’t make the top 50.
‘Canada’s major cities continue to be much safer than every US counterpart. This is extremely appealing for ex-patriate employees looking to bring their families with them as they move abroad for work,’ Frost explains.
In addition, the report reveals that most North American cities are safe for expatriates, but Mexican cities are ranked relatively low, because of the drug-related violence. Monterrey is the highest ranking Mexican city at 108th, whereas Mexico City takes the 127th place.
In the rest of the American continent, Kingston (199), Tegucigalpa (201), and Port-au-Prince (211) show the lowest levels of personal safety and at 96th Montevideo is South America’s highest ranking in personal safety; while Caracas (214) is the lowest. Unemployment, economic crisis and political unrest in some of the countries, are factors that explains these low rankings in personal safety in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Globally, Luxembourg tops the personal safety list followed by Bern, Helsinki, and Zurich, all three in the second place. Whereas, Baghdad (230) and Damascus (229) made the bottom of the list.
When the movie Ten Years was released, Hong Kong was in a commotion. The low-budget film with its virtually volunteering actors had surpassed the newest Star Wars movie at the Yau Ma Tei box office last December, marking the Hong Kong people’s political awareness, expression and to some extent, unrest.
Ten Years was a project directed and cultivated by five local undergraduate students from institutions scattered around Hong Kong. The entire production consists of five short films compiled together, connecting to one another under the larger discourse: a fictional foresight of what Hong Kong will become in ten years’ time. The five short films, ‘Extras’, ‘Season of the End’, ‘Dialect’, ‘Self-immolator’ and ‘Local Egg’, address socio-political issues that are currently in the local heat of debate.
Where did it all start?
In December 2014, the ‘Occupy Central with Love and Peace’ campaign, a disobedience project aiming to inflict pressure on the PRC into implementing an electoral system of universal suffrage, and the spontaneous ‘Umbrella Movement’ that followed, brought people of different ages and occupations onto the streets. The movement was quite divided, as 12 different organizations and political parties were present, each advocating for their own version of ‘universal suffrage’ and ‘democracy’.
Following the 2014 ‘Umbrella Movement’ and ‘Occupy Central’ protests that had placed Hong Kong under international spotlight, Ten Years symbolizes an artistic rise in political awareness and expression. Civil disobedience, language restriction and self-identity are themes within the piece that protest against China in response to the student strikes and subsequent violent outbursts. As SCMP writes, it conveys “Hongkongers’ worst post-Occupy fears”.
The 2014 civil disobedience triggered the immense sense of segregation and disunion between the people, as more campaigns and alliances of different views emerged, such as the ‘Blue Ribbon Movement’ and the ‘Silent Majority for Hong Kong’. The disparity in opinions was the fitting climate for brewing violence and dissent, allowing any change to become impossible as 2015 rolled around. The prospect of previous efforts inflicting any effect at all on Hong Kong’s future was shattered when the Pan-Establishment, or Pro-Beijing camp, suddenly left the Parliamentary hall as they were asked to vote on the bill to pass a reformed (but apparently unsatisfactory) version of Hong Kong’s 2017 Chief Executive Election last summer. This tremendous act was broadcasted live. That summer, the disorganized state of the authorities left Hong Kong in awe, or rather, in distress, having witnessed the (live) process of returning back to square one.
Student activists giving a speech at the 2014 Umbrella Movement. (Courtesy of flickr.com)
Post-Occupy: where does Ten Years come into play?
Hong Kong has entered a period aptly deemed the “post-occupy” time, where collective contemplation and criticism of past events start to sprout. Today, Hong Kong is divided as ever. The peaceful protestors of Central and Admiralty have long gone, as news channels are teeming with students and protestors with rebellious thoughts and schemes to break into government quarters. The Mong Kok civil unrest riot, better known as the ‘Fishball Revolution’ (there was a crackdown on illegal fishball-selling hawkers) that broke out on Chinese New Year in February 2016 at one of Hong Kong’s most populous districts, is a case on point of the pent-up dissatisfaction and opposition between civilians and authority. The violence that night left the Hong Kong Police Force, once known as “Asia’s finest”, with a tarnished image as severe distrust aroused amongst the Hong Kong people.
‘Extras’ launches a subtle but penetrative blow at Hong Kong’s pro-establishment and PRC-supporting groups. Kwok Zune, director of the short narrative in Ten Years, describes the local armed forces as “not much different from triads”, highlighting the police’s rising rate of power abuse and infliction of violence on those with opposing views. As a light movie review, netizens have linked the recent Mong Kok riot with the plot of ‘Extras’, exclaiming that the scenes in the movie are gradually materializing.
Another heatedly debated topic is the extermination of Cantonese, Hong Kong’s official language. ‘Dialect’ depicts the marginalization of a Cantonese-speaking taxi driver who had failed to pass a Mandarin proficiency examination. The underlying pro-Cantonese sentiments expose not only the protection of the Hong Kong identity, but also an exaggerated defense against those who threaten its place.
Hong Kong’s political unrest over the past year and a half has been a striking one. Though fragmented, the once largely politically silent and indifferent majority, especially students, are starting to speak up. However, Hong Kong itself is still unsure if it is prepared to hear the voices of its people. For a choir to produce a harmonious sound, the soprano, alto, tenor and bass singers must cooperate with one another, and listen to the sounds that each person is producing. Good progress cannot be achieved without open-minded discussions that give way to creative thought and new perspectives.
Digital textbooks and e-learning resources have been steadily on the rise and becoming increasingly widespread, despite the heavy debates surrounding its implementation into traditional education. As conventional learning materials are replaced by tablets and other smart devices, the future of digitalization and educational technology becomes prevalent and fast-approaching.
One country that is demonstrating the all-pervasiveness of digitalized education is Asia’s leading tech hub – South Korea. Its high-achieving, accomplishment-pursuing attitudes towards youth education has earned its rightful place as one of the top achieving nations in various educational and IQ tests carried out worldwide.
High school students cheering on peers at the ‘Suneung’ exam (Courtesy of flickr.com)
South Korea’s e-learning culture and its players
In 2013, the South Korean government had announced its plans to implement an “educational paradigm shift”, known as ‘SMART education’. Rather than a blatant proclamation of loyalty towards digitalized resources for learning, the concept revolves around an acronymic slogan promoting a self-disciplined, motivated, and adaptive outlook on nationwide schooling.
South Korea’s ‘SMART education’ bears the ambitious mission of digitalizing education completely and wholly by 2015. Today, in 2016, the nation’s e-learning goals are evident. As high school students prepare for the College Scholastic Ability Test, or Suneung that takes place in November annually, it is clear that the vision to digitalize is well on track. Students diligently attend school during the day, and log in to their online classrooms as nighttime dawns.
Judy Suh’s 2012 award-winning short documentary ‘ExamiNation’ portrays the South Korean attitude towards education. Through the capturing of the average high school student’s hardworking, nose-in-book lifestyle, youth education is exposed as a cultural phenomenon in itself. The documentary follows final-year high school student Bitna Hwang and her repetitive musings at school, private cram centers, and dimly-lit studying cubicles where she spends hours doing practice exams and memorizing content. The average South Korean high school student spends 16 hours a day studying.
Amidst this nationwide emphasis on lengthy hours of study, where does technology fit in? Private tutoring expenditure in South Korea tops $20 billion annually, and is a thriving industry feeding off the rigorous lifestyles of diligent young students (and their parents). Online cram schools are a new, budding form of e-learning, allowing subject-specific content to be even more accessible than ever. A package membership allows full access to lecture videos, past papers, and online streaming schedules, encouraging the importance of self-directed study patterns that extend school hours.
Journeyman Pictures’ documentary on South Korea’s academic scene and sky-high teen suicide rates exposes the masterminds behind these online academies. They are profit-driven entrepreneurs who sport wacky costumes to make their lectures interesting in order to prevent students from falling asleep due to strenuous hours of studying with devices in hand. Students typically spend more than 2 hours a day reviewing merely from online lectures. During the live streaming, up to 300,000 students nationwide are logged on and ready to learn.
The key is to “keep costs low and provide kids with good-quality online content”. It is clear that education has become a corporatized business tool with its elevated demand. The people’s attitudes towards youth education, paired with the culture of online and after school tutoring reflects not only the competitive, dog-eat-dog nature of the local education system, but also the fast-advancing pervasiveness of digital learning outside the classroom.
North America’s Khan Academy – where does digitalized education stand?
Similarly, e-learning and digital education in North America are widespread. Cloud-based learning and information storage tools, as well as multimedia materials are becoming increasingly popularized. Online tutorial videos teaching various subjects such as science, mathematics, and economics are an example of the shifting education scene – from traditional paperbacks to digital learning.
SRI International’s study on the use of Khan Academy in North American schools showed that its role satisfied a “blended learning model”. Khan Academy is a popular academic website providing students with free instructional and tutorial videos on subjects such as mathematics, science, economics, and more. Its resources are used mainly in K-12 education within North America. The “blended learning model” is the combination of self-directed online study with instructor-led school-based learning, allowing students to enhance their knowledge on particular areas of study.
Khan Academy’s steady rise stipulates a shift of emphasis onto self-paced and self-directed learning that can prepare students for independent knowledge acquisition and research in university. During online study, students can practice newly-acquired skills from classroom-based instructed learning, and obtain a better grasp on areas in which they have trouble with. Thus, the “blended learning model” acts as not only a tool for teachers and instructors to track students’ learning curves, but also for students to monitor and pace their own learning progress.
As digitalized learning becomes an academic trend, it is important to evaluate the implications behind its popularization in order to utilize it to full potential. South Korea’s academic paradigm shift clarifies the connection between readily-available online education, and diligent attitudes that will lead to success. The use of technology as learning tools and why they are used is ultimately what constitutes as the culture of digital education.