Thinking about ‘Happy Cities’

Last year at Villiers Park Education Trust as part of the ‘Geographical Imaginations‘ course I delivered a new session which focused on cities. In previous years I had spent the time to explore sustainable cities and what that meant in different areas of the world. This year I decided to start the session ‘Urban Lives’ by exploring the concept of ‘Happy Cities’ after reading an article by Dimitris Ballas, ‘What makes a ‘Happy City?‘ which thinks about quality of life in cities, and the book by Charles Montgomery, ‘Happy City: Transforming our lives through urban design‘. Both made me think about what I would consider to be a happy city.

A TED talk with Charles explores explores what happens when you take an abandoned NYC space and infuse it with social experiments. The results are surprising and inspiring.

Shortly after reading these I came across the book, by Jaime Lerner, Urban Acupuncture, which not only argues that in many cases ‘the city is not the problem, it is the solution’, but suggests that ›“good acupuncture is about understanding places better, understanding that one city is not like the other, understanding what it is that is missing in a neighbourhood before designing”. He explores cases from around the world where interventions have been made to help cities. The TED talk ‘A Song to a City’ provides a good overview of his ideas.

I put some of these on to a worksheet to ask students which they think would work best in their own home town or city.
Urban accupuncture

The rest of the session explored different urban problems, as well as ways cities have been making efforts to become more sustainable. You can view the slides from this session below.

After the session I also came across a piece of research which is continuing to explore the concept of happy cities to create a  Happy City Index, as an alternative way to measure progress and prosperity in the 21st century.

There are lots of ways you can explore ‘Happy Cities’.


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Book reviews: KS3 Geography Teachers’ Toolkits

The Geographical Association has been somewhere I have continued to turn to as a source of teaching resources and support throughout my teaching activities at various educational levels – from the PGCE when the Secondary Geography handbook was an introductory guide to the geography classroom, the fantastic annual conference, to some of the top-spec toolkits to inspire ideas for developing sessions with students who were about to study geography at university.

KS3 Geographical Association Teachers toolkit

Two publications from the GA that I’ve been looking at recently are part of a series of Teachers’ Toolkits, alongside others on rocks, glaciation, China, Africa, landscape of the UK, flooding, climate change, water supply and demand, Kenya’s flower industry, human and physical geography of the UK, population change, and urban regeneration (and even more if you look at the toolkits produced for KS4, and the top-spec kits for post-16 groups).

These toolkits provide all the resources you need for some packed lessons, with plenty of activities, as well as enough information to make sure you know enough about what you are teaching, a glossary of key terms, plus lots of links to places with further information. A medium term plan is included to show how you might structure a scheme of work, with lots of detail including key questions, objectives, activities, resources and assessment activities. While this is shown for a whole scheme of work on the topic you could easily adapt this to fit around some materials you may already use. Both toolkits I have here come with a link and code for the GA website where you can download a set of resources to accompany the book too (activity sheets, information sheets and powerpoints).

KS3 Geographical Association Teachers toolkitIn ‘Introducing India’, Catherine Owen asks ‘What are the Opportunities and Challenges for the future?’ The book begins with a question I have often heard when talking with teachers on how to teach about a particular country: ‘How can we teach about this complex country without falling into the trap of over-simplification?’ Her answer: be selective. And while that might seem like an obvious answer, what is provided here is an excellent selection of lessons to do exactly that.

A series of 10 lessons include: Incredible India (human and physical characteristics of India); Growing India (population and economic change); Diverse India (different features across India and its challenges); Changing India (urbanisation); Innovative India (TNCs); Industrious India (poverty and fair trade); Thirsty India (water management); Destination India (tourism); Future India (opportunities and challenges for the country), and What have you learnt about India? Each lesson includes a starter, main activity, and plenary as well as helpful teaching tips.

KS3 Geographical Association Teachers toolkit

I particularly like the lesson on urbanisation which involves the students playing a board game to explore the various processes associated with urbanisation.

In ‘What’s the use?’ Richard Bustin asks ‘How can we meet our resource needs? highlighting how important it is that we teach about resources and sustainability, as an ‘increasing demand for resources has created a complex global geography’ (p.5).

KS3 Geographical Association Teachers toolkit

A series of 10 lessons include: The stuff  we use (resources and their distribution); Resources forever (sustainability); Power to the people (electricity); Black Gold Russia’s Oil (Russia, oil and the UK); Something fishy going on (tuna and marine ecosystems); A net result (sustainable fishing); Diamonds are forever? (diamond’s as a resource); Sierra Leone’s resource curse (diamonds and Sierra Leone); Made to Last? (resources and the human population); and Costing the Earth? (global resource futures).

I’ve written in the past about natural resources, and when trying to create resources for schemes of work on the topic I’ve found it quite difficult because there are so many resources which could be covered, and so many different issues which could be included. However, in this set, using a consistent theme of sustainability the lessons provide a good overview of some of the key issues related to natural resources with some vivid case studies to illustrate. I particularly like the lessons on tuna and sustainable fishing. I think the ocean as a natural resource has been overlooked in the past (compared to other resources like coal or oil, and diamonds) – although as shown, here this is changing.

KS3 Geographical Association Teachers toolkit

I have not yet had the chance to teach any of the activities from these books but I have already integrated some of the activities into some of my future lessons and lectures. Whatever age group you teach, if you are covering topics related to India or natural resources then I would highly recommend these toolkits, (and likewise the other toolkit volumes in the series) as a great starting point, providing information, ideas and inspiration, and ready-made resources.

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Top 10 Podcasts for Geography Students

I often get asked by students from secondary school to postgraduates about strategies to gain a broader knowledge of geographical issues, and how to ‘read around the subject’ as they are often instructed to do. Many students cite lack of spare time to sit and read in addition to the work they have been set by teachers and lecturers. While continuing to read is important I find listening to podcasts a great way to learn about a wide range of topics from Californian droughts, to robots in the workplace, to the future of energy production. I tend to listen to the podcasts when I’m exercising, walking to work or travelling.

I’ve discussed this with various groups of students and many of them have tried switching from listening to music to a podcast on the way to school, or when they go for a run, and have also found it a useful way to learn about different topics and expand their geographical knowledge. I recognise that it’s important to have ‘down time’ and sometimes you don’t want to learn any more on the way to or from work, but if you’re looking for an easy way to learn about all sorts of different topics then podcasts are a really easy tool to help you (or your students do this. There are lots of relevant podcasts for geographers out there, but those I listen to most frequently include:

1. BBC Business Daily. The website describes this podcast as ‘the daily drama of money and work from the BBC’ and I really don’t think this does it justice. Yes, the podcast does discuss relevant issues to the business world, but the diversity of topics is vast, and they usually focus on topics in the news providing a wealth of up to date case study material, and insights into geographical issues that are happening in the world today. The podcast is around 17 minutes long and recent relevant episodes include: ‘Fast Growing Mozambique’, ‘Paris Climate Pact: Corporate Winners and Losers’ ‘Gold and Oil in Ghana’, ‘California: Fruits, Nuts and Drought’ and ‘The Economics of Migration’.

2. From Our Own Correspondent. This includes analysis from a host of the BBC’s correspondents, journalists and writers about various stories in the headlines. It’s usually presented by Kate Adie and lasts for around 28 minutes. To get a flavour of the type of material in the podcast I would highly recommend the recent ‘Special Boxing Day Edition’ which looks back at some of the various historic ‘From our own correspondent’ despatches, or one of my favourite episodes from 2015: ‘The Night Train in Luxor’ which includes insight from Egypt, the UK, China, South Sudan, Australia and Afghanistan.

3. BBC Documentaries. There are a wide range of documentaries over the year covering all sorts of topics, but again they often have issues of interest to geographers at their heart. For example, recent relevant episodes include, ‘Young, clever and Libyan’ which follows tech graduates in Libya and their hopes for rebuilding their economy, ‘The year of migration’ which discussed the migration patterns witnessed in 2015 from Africa, the Middle East and Asia, ‘Online Shopping Indian style’ exploring the recent growth in internet shopping in India, ‘Changing Climate change: Politics’ examining key issues around climate change in the political sphere.

4. TED Talks. Drawing from the various TED conferences around the world, these podcasts have lots of short talks from ‘the world’s leading thinkers and doers’, lots of inspirational people, or people with big ideas at least. You can also watch the videos on the website as there are often visual presentations to go with the audio. Some recent relevant episodes include: ‘The four fish we’re over eating – and what to eat instead with Paul Greenberg,’ ‘My country will be underwater soon by Anote Tong’, ‘Climate change is happening. Here’s how to adapt from Alice Bows-Larking’ and ‘A year reading a book from every country in the world’ (a talk which inspired my project for the year on one of my other blogs, ‘A Geographer’s Kitchen’).

5. The Inquiry. Another BBC production, this one explores questions from the recent news. The format usually involves a range of experts to answer the question. Recent relevant episodes include: ‘Should we solar panel the Sahara?’, ‘Have we underestimated plants?’, ‘What will happen when robots take our jobs?’ and ‘How will a population boom change Africa?’

6. Discovery. Episodes covering various aspects of the scientific world which often have geographical issues at their core. Recent relevant episodes include: ‘The power of energy’, ‘Humboldt – the inventor of nature’, ‘Unbreathable: The Modern Problem or Air Pollution’ and the ‘The Future of Biodiversity’.

7. BBC Business Matters. These are much longer programmes than the ones on BBC Business Daily and usually go into a lot more depth into some of the key issues in the global business world. For example, recent relevant episodes include ‘Six Routes to a Richer World: China, India’, ‘El Nino weather could be as bad as 1998′, and ‘India blocks Facebook plan’.

8. Foreign Policy: Global Thinkers. There are a number of podcasts from the magazine Foreign Policy but I particularly like the Global Thinkers series to learn about how particular individuals around the world are influencing global trends, issues and events. Recent episodes include: ‘Epidemics on the move’ and ‘Which International Architecture rules the world?

9. BBC Inside Science. Yet another BBC podcast, this time exploring various scientific mysteries and challenges. These vary a little in length but are usually between 30-40 minutes. Some of the relevant recent episodes include: ‘Flooding, scientific modelling, magnetoreception, escalators’, ‘Antarctic ice sheet instability, groundwater, fluorescent coral’ and ‘El Nino, sphagnum moss and peatlands, inside CERN, measuring air pollution with iPhones. As you can see from the title each episode covers a range of issues.

10. BBC The Food Programme. This podcast is usually just under 30 minutes long and covers a host of food related topics, from the development of particular food trends, regional food specialities, to the history of particular food culture. I’ve learnt so much about different food cultures through this programme and I particularly like the section on the Ark of Taste, a global project which is attempting to catalogue traditional ingredients around the world, from local varieties of peppers to rare regional varieties of fruits and vegetables. Recent relevant episodes include ‘China towns’ ‘A milk appreciation’ How did the chicken cross the world?’, ‘Stories from Syria’ and ‘Fast food workers’.

There are actually a lot more podcasts than this that I think would be of interest for geographers, but I thought 10 was enough to start with. If you find yourself looking for even more then the following are also worth a listen: TED Radio Hour, Peter Day’s World of Business, The Bottom Line, Outlook, Analysis, Science in Action, File on Four, and Unreported World.

The links in this blog post take you to the websites where you can find out more about the podcasts, as well as play and download them individually if you wish. Although, most mobile phones will have a podcast app which will let you subscribe and download as many podcasts as you want.

I’ve learnt so much from listening to podcasts listed here, although I should also highlight that I have ended of buying quite a few additional books because often I hear about a book, or an interesting author, or about a topic that I think I would like to know more about. So while the podcasts are free, it has ended up costing me some money – but it’s a good excuse to go and browse around book shops anyway. But overall my reading has been expanded by listening to these podcasts, and I get the chance to learn about all sorted of topics that I wouldn’t necessarily have the time to read about otherwise.

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Key Stage 1-2 Geography Resources from the Royal Geographical Society – United States of America and more…

Earlier this year I posted about a series of resources produced by the Royal Geographical Society for Key Stage 3 Geography as part of the Rediscovering London’s Geography project, including a set on Natural Resource which I produced. In addition, there are also a series of resources for Key Stage 1-2 Geography as well.

There are sets of resources available covering topics which include:

For the set of resources on the United States of America which I produced:

RGS USA resources

“The aim of this unit is to introduce pupils to the key features of the United States of America (USA). It provides a framework for understanding the different environments present within the USA: the key physical features, where populations are distributed, and some of the interactions between the human and physical environments focusing on food, farming and water. The unit provides a number of case studies of different places throughout the USA, and even takes a historical perspective of one city in particular, New York, to examine how a settlement can develop over time.”

The unit contains lessons 6 lessons and an assessment:

United States of America – An exploration: This lesson introduces pupils to the country USA, focusing on key human and physical features. This lesson familiarises pupils with the region and its varied geographies

Canyons and valleys: physical landscape: This lesson now moves on to consider the USA in closer detail.  The aim of this lesson is to build on the pupils’ understanding of the physical. They will begin the lesson by watching a time lapse video to move through different landscapes and then move on to examine how the Grand Canyon formed.

Where are all the people? This lesson focuses on the distribution of human beings in the USA and provides insights into the different types of settlements across the country. This lesson involves pupils comparing the demographic characteristics of different states in the USA.

Challenged by water: This lesson considers key interactions between physical and human landscapes, in particular the impact of water supply distributed across the country and what happens during water related disaster events.

Food and farming: Pupils are introduced to the different foods associated with the USA, and agricultural products grown there. In particular it encourages pupils to think about the different factors that can affect farming in the USA

New York through time: This lesson focuses on exploring the development of New York City through time, with clear cross-curricular links with history

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Key Stages 3 Geography Resources from the Royal Geographical Society – Natural Resources, Russia, Mapping London and more…

If you teach Key Stage 3 Geography – or have an interest in the topics that are being taught at this level you may be interested in a new suite of teaching resources that are being developed by the Royal Geographical Society as part of the Rediscovering London’s Geography project. Royal Geographical Society Key Stage 3 Resources

There are already some great sets of resources available covering topics including:

In addition the unit I produced on Natural Resources was also recently added to the website.

Natural Resources Royal Geographical Society

“This aim of this module is to introduce students to the global distribution of natural resources, and the international relationships that these resources generate, and some fo the key issues related to the use of natural resources. It also provides a framework for understanding the relative importance of different types of natural resources for human activity.”

The unit contains lessons 6 lessons and an assessment:

  • Natural Wonders of the World: this lesson introduces the key natural resources found on the planet, their distribution and value.
  • Unearthing Black Gold: this lesson provides an overview of where oil comes from, where it can be found and how important it is for daily life as well as raising awareness of declining supply.
  • Minerals on the Market: this lesson explores issues related to commodity markets introducing the idea that natural resources are extremely valuable and that there are a complex series of international interrelationships based on these resources.
  • Dragons in Africa:  this lesson  will help you explore where Chinese investments are taking place in Africa and the different sectors they are investing in.
  • A World of Rubbish: this lesson will focus around tracing what happens to different types of rubbish, where rubbish is transported to be sorted and recycled and the ways in which different countries are involved.
  • Digging Up the Earth: this lesson begins by exploring diamonds as a natural resource before moving on to look at rare earths.
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Considering Global Food and Water Security

This week at Villiers Park Education Trust as part of the Geographical Imaginations course I’ve been discussing with students the complex nature of food and water security. Students had completed some reading before the session in order to aid discussion:

One Billion Hungry

UN Water Policy Brief

UN Water Security

To begin the session the class listened to the BBC Business Daily podcast: World Water Crisis with the task of identifying any key issues related to global water security.

”Some experts predict a 55% increase in global water demand by 2050, and yet supply is already stretched as global warming affects rainfall in many countries. We hear from Jan Eliasson, the UN deputy secretary general and Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore’s Environment and Water Minister. We speak to businesses, including beer maker SAB Miller, the global agricultural supplier Syngenta, and Ecolab a water reprocessing company. All of these companies are seeking out systems and solutions to tackle a growing water crisis. And, we go to Delhi and to the South Omo region of southern Ethiopia to hear from people already suffering, as their water becomes ever more scarce.” Source: BBC

The session then continued with a discussion of the pre-course reading and podcast content which highlighted the inter-related and highly complex nature of global water and food security. I’ve completed a recent session on the same topic but with a short lecture at the beginning. The slides and notes for this session can be found here.

If you are looking for more activities related to water security. I devised a policy brief group task which can be downloaded here: UN Policy Brief Challenge.

The session essentially challenged students to think about some of the key global issues that face today’s societies – food and water security.

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Infographics: An Introduction

For the 2014 RGS-IBG Conference held at the Royal Geographical Society I will be presenting in the poster session ‘Visualising Economic Geographies’ with a poster that focuses on the global impact of the temporary staffing industry. I have become interested in various forms of data visualisation, more recently the use of infographics. To go alongside my poster I have produced a short guide to infographics including a brief overview of what they are, how they are used, some tips for producing effective infographics, an introduction to platforms for making infographics as well as a short guide on how to make them using Microsoft Publisher and Inkscape.

If you’d like to find about more about using infographics, or how to use infographics in research do come along to the poster session ‘Visualising Economic Geographies’ at the RGS conference – Thursday 28th August, Session 3 (14:40) in the Drayson room.

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