SL1 Geography: Urban Settlements 1

In the recent weeks, our Geography class has been studying one of our options: Urban Settlements. So far, we’ve been learning the basics (like the key terms and concepts), and in this post, I will focus on shanty housing and squatters.
Shanty settlements occur mainly in developing nations (NICs and LEDCs), and inhabitants are usually impoverished. Their houses are crude and very DIY, as they are made of plastic sheets/bags, cloth, metal scraps, and so on, and are usually found in the outskirts of a city. The paradoxical thing about shanty housing is that they are usually located right next to the rich quarter of cities, like luxury housing.
Squatters are those who occupy these shanty settlements, and do not have legal rights to the land they live on. Squatters usually build their settlements on lands that are abandoned, or in places unsuitable for living like edges of railways.

Even though Japan is an MEDC, it does have a small population who are impoverished, like people without homes. For example, when I take the Hankyu train to Umeda, I always see tarpaulin houses and tents under the Jyusou-Oohashi (a bridge built across Yodogawa, which you cross to go to Umeda). According to our definitions of shanty houses and squatters, the inhabitants under the bridge seem to be squatters living in shanty housing: they most likely do not own the land they live on, they build their houses out of crude materials, and these settlements are located near a river, right next to Umeda, a central business district of Osaka. However, since Japan is neither an NIC nor a LEDC these settlements are far smaller with fewer inhabitants compared to those in NICs and LEDCs.


Jyusou-Oohashi (十三大橋)


Entrance of an alleged shanty house under the bridge

SL1 Geography: Patterns in Resource Consumption

A few weeks ago, we studied patterns in resource consumption and I would like to reflect on this topic through two examples I found interesting.


First, is biodiesel. Biodiesel became popular due to its low CO2 emissions in comparison to regular diesel, and most of it on the market is being produced by palm oil, rapeseed, soy, and other crops with high oil content. However, in recent years, biodiesel is becoming a more and more controversial alternative to fossil fuels because the method in which they are produced (planting and harvesting crops) have consequences like deforestation, loss of biodiversity, conflicts with food production (land is being used for fuel, not food), and so on. Recently, more promising possibilities are emerging within the category of biodiesel, like biofuels produced by algae. Me and a group of students interested in science started a project to make biofuels from algae, and from the research conducted, I can say that this alternative is far better than crops. Algae in general are composed of large amounts of lipids and are known for their extremely high oil yields (some species have yields higher than any of the crops mentioned above). They also require no farmland, as they are aquatic organisms, no freshwater, which decreases the pressure put onto the environment (no deforestation, etc.). Although there are still problems like high costs for lipid extraction, lack of public knowledge, etc., I hope we will make a transition to algae biofuels, or even other biofuels over the next few years.

douglas-river-nightSecond is biomimicry. I was introduced to this concept in geography class through a TED talk by Michael Pawlyn “Using nature’s genius in architecture” and grew particularly fond of it. I found this concept amazing, especially in architecture, and worthy of research because it is not only new and cool-looking, but because it incorporates mechanisms and designs from nature, which has been selected for over all of these years by evolution, it is also magnificently efficient in resource consumption. For example, Exploration Architecture, which Pawlyn is involved in, “designed a bridge that was supported mostly by pressurised air contained in a thin membrane”, which was inspired by turgid pressure plants use to hold themselves up against gravity (see image on the left) (Oppenheim, 2008).

I think that these kinds of scientific and technological improvements that will, no doubt, happen at an increasingly rapid pace over the next few years, can be the trigger to a large scale transition to more environmentally friendly, efficient, and sustainable resources. Now all we have to do is pull this trigger to let the world know that this is important and that they should contribute to the cause.

Note: Click on the images to redirect to the website I got them from.

SL1 Geography: Sustainability and the Environment

Last week, our SL Geography class looked at and discussed environmental sustainability. Specifically, we researched on management strategies of different regions to achieve environmental sustainability, such as congestion charging in London, improved bicycle infrastructure in Copenhagen, Kobe city’s recycling systems, and so on.

Sumant Kumar

Sumant Kumar, record breaker for rice harvesting

On the topic of environmental sustainability, I found an article on the Guardian. In his article, India’s rice revolution, John Vidal  shares with the world a story from the poorest state in India, Bihar. A relatively new farming method, System of Root Intensification, allowed a farmer, Sumant Kumar, to grow 22.4 tons of rice in one hectare of land, breaking the world record. However, he was not the only one with a large harvest that year: other farmers of the village harvested over 17 tons of rice, and some even claimed that their harvest was double the usual. Although with the method of SRI, only half as many seeds are nurtured and less water and chemicals are used, increase in crop yields (not only rice) can go up to 45%, as it did in Nalanda district of Bihar.

This method of farming and the concept of “less is more” was introduced to the area by Rajiv Kumar, “a young Bihar state government extension worker who had been trained in turn by Anil Verma of Professional Assistance for Development Action, an Indian NGO which has introduced the SRI method to hundreds of villages in the past three years.” SRI, with its abilities to dramatically increase crop yields is a much more sustainable and environmentally friendly farming method, when compared to the “green revolution” in the 70’s, which relied on different types of crops, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides. Implementation of SRI requires no extra costs, but instead needs special care for the crops as well as initial education from people like Rajiv Kumar.

Although there are critics for this method, especially scientists and researchers that want to rely on “hi-tech” methods, who say the process is labor-intensive and only “good for small farmers who rely on their own families for labour”, up to ” 4-5 million farmers using SRI worldwide, with governments in China, India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam promoting it.” Even if it is not scientifically advanced, if it helps small farmers survive and increase their income, I think this system should be implemented in many places around the world.

Now going back to what we learned in class, the SRI agriculture method is environmentally sustainable because it has very little or no effect on the surrounding environment due to its organic nature, a considerable amount of food can be produced even within a small area of land with little resources like seeds and water (thus, it also contributes to the sustainable use of water). I found the idea of SRI very interesting and gave me a positive outlook for the future.