Thank you again to Ed Lorenz and Jane Jelenek (pictured below) of the Pine River Superfund Citizens Task Force for paying visits to my Environmental Justice class! As always, it’s been a perfect introduction to Michigan’s very sordid history of poisoning and disaster, and I’m “grateful” (if that’s at all appropriate) that the atrocity happening in East Palestine, OH has brought them greater national attention across multiple media.
Category Archives: Environment and Sustainability
Insane Video about the Verdun Landscape 105 Years On
Thanks to Dr. Hillary Shaw of De Montford University over in the UK for sharing this absolutely insane (and insanely well-produced) video about how post-shelling landscapes transform over a century. I’m still a Great War novice, and this genuinely makes me want to change that.
Subtitles are readily available in English for non-French speakers.
Veit’s Woods Hike 09.25.20
On Friday, I tagged along with Dr. Mark Francek and the Central Michigan University Geography and Environmental Club for a hike through Viet’s Woods, a CMU property to the west of Campus. Here are some pictures. If you’d like to learn more about what the CMU GEO/ENV Club, follow them on Twitter and reach out.
After the Flood: Sanford, MI (August 2020)
SIGNAL BOOST: How to be an Ally to Indigenous Peoples
I saw this on the wall of a record shop today. I liked it. Here it is for all of you. #signalboost
Happy Saturday, and best of luck to/solidarity with all the striking UAW members in Michigan and beyond!
GeoSym 2018 Call for Papers!
I’m very excited to pass along the Call for Papers for the third installment of this great little conference. I’m biased because I was the chair for the second installment in 2016, but this time around it’s in great hands with my good friends and colleagues Savannah Collins-Key, Emma Walcott-Wilson, and others from the GeoGrads. Savannah was an outstanding co-chair in 2016, too; I’ve gone on record before about all the work she did organizing the paper sessions and basically ensuring that I didn’t burn the whole thing down.
Also, this year’s keynote speaker, Dr. Marshall Shepherd, is one of the biggest authorities on climate and landscape in the Southeast. His name has been getting bigger on a near-monthly basis in the meteorology and Weather Channel world, so you really don’t want to miss the chance to see him speak in this smaller-scale setting.
At any rate, it’s free to submit and participate (a rarity among any kind of academic conference), and you have the rest of December to get your papers ready. Paper deadline is January 1st, 2018, and the Poster deadline is January 15th. More information can be found at the departmental website here or on the Facebook Page here.
Society for Conservation Biology Grants
After a rewarding and draining trip out to Southern California, I’m back in Knoxville and beginning the adventure of catching up. I have posts about the Emotional Geographies conference I attended in Long Beach as well as some urban investigations in LA in the works, and both should be up by later this week or next.
I write so little on this site about biology (especially conservation biology), that I figured the least I could do was give a slight signal boost to a great grant opportunity. It’s an area I know so little about, so rather than trying to publish uninformed opinions here, it would be more constructive just to pass this along. – Tyler
The Society for Conservation Biology is pleased to solicit applications for the David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship Program. These two year postdoctoral fellowships provide support for outstanding early-career scientists of any nationality who want to better link conservation science and theory with policy and management, improving and expanding their research skills while directing their efforts towards conservation problems of pressing concern for the United States.
Each Fellow proposes a team of at least two mentors: 1. an academic mentor who encourages the Fellow’s continued development as a conservation scientist and 2. a conservation practitioner who connects the Fellow and her/his research to practical applications. Fellows may be administratively based at either an academic institution or conservation organization in the United States, typically the location of either the academic or practitioner mentor. We encourage applicants to explore both options and consider being based at the non-academic institution as that is the world less familiar to most early-career scientists and can provide valuable experience.
Fellows will spend up to three weeks per year during their fellowship attending Program-sponsored professional development retreats. These retreats provide opportunities to cultivate skills typically not covered during their academic education including: leadership, communications, professional and funder networks, and to gain better understanding of policy making and application of research.
The Smith Fellows Program and its administrative host, the Society for Conservation Biology, are committed to equity, inclusion and diversity and invites individuals who bring a diversity of culture, experience and ideas to apply. We envision that the cadre of scientists supported by the Smith Fellows Program will eventually assume leadership positions across the field of conservation science. Fellows are selected on the basis of innovation, potential for leadership and strength of proposal.
The deadline for receipt of application materials is 8 September 2017. The Program expects to select five Fellows in January 2018 for appointments to start between March and September 2018. Fellowship awards include an annual salary of $55,000, benefits, and generous travel and research budgets.
For detailed proposal guidelines, please visit the Smith Fellow website. Questions may be directed to Shonda Foster, Program Director, by emailing email@example.com. Please share within your professional networks!
My Hometown and McMansion Hell
I grew up in a small town that, over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, became a “small town.” If you grew up in one of these towns during that era, you probably know exactly what I mean. If not, allow me to explain.
My father grew up in this town when, nestled between the WWII and Vietnam eras, it was the quintessential New England community. People knew you based on your family name, you graduated with maybe 100 other kids, and you entertained yourself by going to the movies, hanging out at the nearest diner, or setting off fireworks inside an old TV in a local meadow (actually, that last part may have been drawn more from my adolescence…). Anyway, it retained a good deal of that character through the Vietnam era when my dad went to college and eventually met my mom. They were living in Boston when I was born, and then when my sister came along, we moved back to said small town where he had grown up and my grandparents still lived.
The year was 1986, and we moved into a house bigger than what we had lived in for the first few years of my life. It was by no means a mansion (it was completely modest compared to other houses in my town), but the street it sat on had not existed when my dad was a kid. The town had certainly grown, but the population (as of the 1990 census) was well under 10,000. Over the following decade, though, the population would balloon from roughly 8,500 to well over 18,000. It was no longer a genuine small town in the Mellencamp sense; it was transforming into a “small town”: a community that capitalized on widespread skepticism of all (or at least, most) things urban and clung to relevance as a bucolic simulacrum of its former self.
Even as a small child, I noticed various indicators of those gradually-forming quotation marks. No indicator shone more brightly than the new developments of these big, ugly, uniform houses that were popping up in the late ’80s and early ’90s. I don’t remember when I first learned the term “McMansion;” it may have been from a friend later in high school. Either way, it made me laugh.
None of this is meant to disparage the experience I had growing up where I did; a lot of the reasons it grew so quickly during the Bush I and Clinton eras were what made living there nice for most of us. The public schools were really good, it wasn’t hard to get (or commute) to New York or Boston, and the crime rate was so low that (1) most anything violent that did happen was an isolated incident and (2) the highest-profile petty crime was often committed by the cops.
I never disrespected people for working hard for years to buy those big conforming houses and put roofs over their families’ heads, but even as a teenager, I failed to understand why anyone would consider these clunky and gaudy fake mansions a signpost of success. I suppose that real estate developers at the time had some pretty good PR campaigns, and the baby boomers really devoured what they were selling: Gaze upon my really, really big house! Look at how successful I am! Are you not jealous of my amazing riches!?
Though I’m sure Syracuse had its share of these kind of developments, my exposure to them was somewhat limited as a University student. When I moved to Washington after college, my roommate at the time was playing in a band slated to open for Rusted Root (yep) at the 9:30 Club. He asked if I wanted to help him out as a guitar tech, and I jumped at the chance. The day of the gig, we drove out to one of the planned communities on the city’s periphery for a rehearsal with a drummer the band had hired for that gig. The drummer was an incredibly good dude and, unlike the vast majority of people who lived in these McMansions, actually worked in this town (rather than contributing to the choking of the DC-area roadways). His wife had their first baby on the way, so I understood the need for space, but at least three of the rooms in this house were empty, save for maybe a piece of furniture or two. The ceilings rose a couple stories off the ground, which I can only imagine made the heating bills astronomical six months out of the year.
The other moment that really stuck with me, however, was how long it took us to find the correct house. We had the address. The houses were almost completely indistinguishable from one another, and the addresses were all about 5-digits long for some reason (there weren’t 10,000 houses on the road that circled through there, so it’s still a mystery to me). I remembered the old wives tale of the London drunk who kept wandering into the wrong house during the London fog, since he could not tell his own house apart from all the others the working class had been shuffled into during the age of industry.
This was yet another contradiction of McMansions: why would one still feel special in a giant house if everyone around them has the exact same house or at least something very, very close to it? Thankfully, building codes prevented people from building cheap, inflated houses in neighborhoods nestled together with more modest homes, as seen in Kate Wagner’s TEDx talk, embedded below.
Kate Wagner began McMansion Hell as a blog last year as a way to make fun of these quintessentially American excesses. What she probably did not expect was to generate an articulation of this frustration that so many of us have been feeling for decades. Last year, an acquaintance of mine posted on social media that “if you buy a record solely because you think it will go up in value, you deserve to die cold, alone, and penniless.” Buying houses, at least to me, is a similar venture when you are not wealthy. Buy a house because you look forward to being able to come home to it for decades. Buy a house because you want to leave your mark and imbue it with character, “turning space into place,” as the saying goes. Don’t buy a house just because you want to show it off and then flip it for a marginal profit, especially one that wastes resources and looks stupid. Every day, my deep respect grows for architects, graphic designers, and other people with professional grades of taken-for-granted knowledge, and this is a quintessential example of why more geographers, sociologists, and economists should listen to them.
Music Geography 101: R.E.M.- “Cuyahoga”
I recently assigned the students in my Geography 101 course a writing project whereby they select a song with geographically-oriented content and report on all of that song’s inherent regionalisms. In the body of their assignment text, I include a list of suggested songs for anybody who may be interested in them or may have difficulty selecting a song on their own. The following is one of them.
While I do consider R.E.M. to be the quintessential Southern American rock band and the very paradigm of indie-to-mainstream success, I had not thought of the geography in their lyrics much before last semester. This is odd, I know, as they recorded and released “Stand,” perhaps the most blandly geographic song ever heard on the radio (that dance, though…). However, one of my students in Fall 2014 pleasantly surprised my TA’s and I with this song when her paper came up. It not only provided a breath of fresh air from the torrent of “Walking in Memphis” submissions we had, but it also inspired me to dig deeper into Michael Stipe’s Southern mysticism.
R.E.M., despite becoming one of the biggest bands in the world in the 1990s, never quite shed the “college rock” association. They formed in Athens, GA, which could qualify as one of the best college towns in America. The music scene at the time was already on the map due to a campy dance-rock culture that could only have thrived in a relatively warm place full of wierdos. Someone told me recently that the band would throw snack cakes out to their crowds at the 40 Watt Club early on; some of those snack cakes are still preserved as mementos/possible eat-this-and-win-$10,000 hangup pieces.
As for Cuyahoga, it’s a county and river in Ohio. The band’s geographic references obviously didn’t stay close to home (Mike Mills’ wonderful song “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville” being another case), but this one gave Stipe an ample opportunity to talk about pollution. Famously, the river outside Cleveland caught on fire in 1969, signaling federal cleanup dollars and a whole lot of embarrassment for the city. It was a great joke on The Simpsons, but a terrible reality for the rustbelt city of so few sports championships.
Your Sunday Tortoise
I’m way behind on work and I don’t have all the resources I need for my latest re-photography post (Columbus, OH edition), so here’s a photo I took of a giant tortoise a few weeks ago. He made an appearance outside of my GEO 101 classroom, so I delayed the start of class for the hordes of my students wanted to join me and going to take a look. I forgot his name, but he was grappling pretty hard at the sides of that wheelbarrow. The RA who worked for his owner had to keep interrupting herself to make sure he didn’t climb his way out of it. I’m hardly an expert in biogeography, but I do know enough to say that turtles and tortoises are the greatest.
Hope everyone is making it through their fall semester. Talk soon.