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Blog : Sustainability

Valletta old girl, we’re killing you.

Valletta old girl, we’re killing you.

This morning I came across this article from two years ago (don’t ask my why the photo is there, perhaps Valletta’s face is changing so much it’s now not Valletta anymore). It speaks of rents driving out people who can actually afford to live here, the loss of hawkers and small shops that make the city a pleasant place to live in, not to mention breathe life into the stately streets. A quote by Malta’s then prime minister, “The profit motive must not become the predominant one: look at Sliema, Dr Gonzi said, with its seafront all taken over by the profit motive.”
 
Two years down the line the situation is many times worse. Every day more tiny rooms get a fancy renovation including a colourful door and a quaint name and a listing on AirBnB. Every day more of the old shops disappear making way for character-less chains and imagination-free tourist products.
 
The soundscape is now 70% construction noises, 20% traffic and 10% everything else. The pigeons still rule the overground, the cats and cockroaches compete for the underground kingdom that has not yet been turned into overpriced weekend accommodation. The rubbish still piles up in the corners day in day out.
 
Once in a while I encounter some signs of life. Some signs of humans who are interested in more than just money. Humans who own property that they prefer to rent out to those who will actually be living there (shock, shock, horror, horror!). Shops that seem to want to do things ethically and creatively. Artists still managing to exist within the madness of the old city. People going about their daily business as if none of this madness even exists.
 
Most days though, I walk the streets trying to ignore the development notices on every second or third door because I cannot bear to see another pool on the roof, boutique hotel or residence to offices conversion happening. Sometimes I complain about it to whoever might be inclined to listen but to be honest I’m even tired of my own rants, void of some sort of solution as they are. 

Can we not, for once, decide that perhaps we have enough?

That perhaps we can actually afford to leave a portion of that block of flats available to those with a lower income who will contribute to the place feeling like home rather than 3 sets of tourists rolling in luggage every week? That perhaps it would be beneficial to all if we look around to make sure that we manage to keep the things that make the city a good place to live in? The little food shops, the ironmongers (possibly the only non-endangered species thanks to all the construction going on), the workshops with people making and repairing things often with their shutters open, the random bazaars, the tea and pastizzi shops, the old stationeries.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we should press the stop button on time or change. That never works. But neither does this do-nothing approach that lets market forces decide which things die and which live. Yes, in 50 years time perhaps people will realise that a museum city is not really that interesting and the bubble will burst. Perhaps Valletta will just become another Venice, a sinking relic in the midst of throngs of day-trippers on the hunt for cheesy souvenirs. Perhaps we’re already practically there.

Or perhaps we can use the experience of countless other cities and do something about that which is inevitable unless we drastically change course. It’s not like we don’t have clear examples of what gentrification does to cities without even glancing at the many local studies conducted. Can we possibly not create something different for ourselves? Are we actually so incredibly unimaginative as to simply plod along known roads to mediocrity?

In a small island like this one, where it’s practically impossible to avoid eventually swimming in the sewage you have yourself thrown out, can we not actually work together to create something we actually want? Valletta is a city born out of a collective effort of some of the best local and foreign minds and purses of the time. A city planned out meticulously before it was built. Surely over 400 years later we at least owe the old girl some thought over what will make her once again truly alive rather than a polished shell for a rotting interior fabric.

Endnote:

And in case you’re wondering what you yourself, tiny person can do, there’s plenty.

If you own property, consider capping the rent to what you feel is enough, whatever that means for you not the estate agent. Consider renting to people who will live in the city and make it better.

If you’re renting, speak out about unacceptable prices for tiny dark rooms. Create a relationship with your landlord.

If you’re visiting, stop by one of the small shops or peer into the workshops. Wander beyond Republic Street.

Have conversations with tourists, locals, builders, garbage collectors, bar owners, developers, share a cup of coffee with a stranger. You never know what new realities you might learn about.

Read some of the development notices and decide whether they are helping create a more liveable city. Act on those thoughts by contacting the Planning Authority or even searching out the owner and having a good old conversation where you might agree to disagree.

If you’re an architect dare to give the feedback that’s on the tip of your tongue about how to make a better living space and why it’s not ok to turn every square metre into tourist accommodation. Dare to have standards for yourself.

If you live here, get some plants going, take the garbage out at the right time, speak to your neighbours and see if they are ok even if they seem grouchy.

Seek out the artists and support them, they make the place better for everyone.

If you’re in a position to influence even small things, use it well. Have that conversation, check that situation out, do your homework and stand up for what you feel is right instead of repeating the same old excuses everyone is tired of. You can actually do better.

We can all actually do a lot better.

Putting fear in the backseat

Putting fear in the backseat

Yasmin De Giorgio’s paths of courage

One of the people I’m lucky to call my friends, Yasmin De Giorgio founder and CEO of The Grassy Hopper and Theobroma Cacao Collective, is a person who seems to have endless fountains of courage. Armed with an ambitious vision of a business that transforms clients, employees and the local environment through healthy, sustainable, locally-sourced food and unshakeable values, she has stepped up from her first vegetarian food truck to now also run three food outlets with a fourth opening soon. I sat down with her at the Gzira restaurant to pick her brains about her relationship with courage.

 

So, Yasmin, what is courage for you?

Courage is the ability to do something even though it scares you. Rather than seeing it as the absence of fear, I really identify with the way Elizabeth Gilbert talks about it,

“is fear in the driving seat or is he at the back?”

Courage is not letting fear drive.

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A day in the life: Piracanga

A day in the life: Piracanga

Inspired by Gigi Griffths’ (awesome travel blogger and person) day in the life posts I thought I’d pick out a Piracanga day and follow myself around with a camera and a notebook. Unfortunately I got a little excited about my day and the camera part evaporated in the evening.

So I’m currently staying at Piracanga, an eco village close to Itacare, Bahia, Brazil. I aim to write more about this place and how it works sometime soon but for the moment just picture a beautiful river and beach side village that works completely in tune with nature.

I would not say this is a typical day cause routine is not really the order of the day here and every day brings new discoveries, meetings and events. But here’s what happened two days ago:

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Baobba, Gustavo Tanaka and Open Business (Empresa Livre) in São Paulo

Baobba, Gustavo Tanaka and Open Business (Empresa Livre) in São Paulo

So here I was in São Paulo, fresh (?) from a 14hour flight all the way from Istanbul. All of 10,583 km if the board near Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern is to be believed.

I came here with very little knowledge of the place. I had not looked up the sights, I had not learnt any Portuguese and I was about to meet my lovely host, Carolina, for the first time after having had not more than 5 short conversations with her on Facebook. Yet it all felt strangely good.

My journey to Brazil feels like a bit of a journey into my own self. I came here because it kept coming up while meditating and I decided to just go with it without thinking too much (a process I often indulge in).

I specifically started with São Paulo to connect with Gustavo Tanaka and the group of people he was working with. I discovered (like Colombus and America) Gustavo through one of this articles that I really identified with. I have given up being employed, live a somewhat nomadic life, am embarking on the purposeful entrepreneur journey where business is a lot more than just a means of making money, eat a vegetarian and where possible organic diet (mostly because of the better impact that this has on the planet) and am increasingly opening up to spirituality. In short I am (almost) everything the article described.

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José Mujica’s philosophy of life

José Mujica’s philosophy of life

This interview from the Human film project, manages to be heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. Never have I seen such insight, humility and no-nonsense attitude from a human, let alone a politician. A humble background and 7 years of solitary confinement should be politics pre-requisites.

Here are a few amazing quotes, watch the full video for more:

 

Either you’re happy with very little, free from all that extra luggage,

because you have happiness inside,

or you don’t get anywhere.

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Rubbish Is The New Black

Rubbish Is The New Black

My experience working on waste (or rather resources) management at Earth Garden 2015.

I guess you could say it all started last year when I was absolutely horrified at the post-Earth Garden (a 3-day festival in Malta) photos showing overflowing bins and rubbish all over the Ta’ Qali National Park. Appalled, I posted a rant on Facebook as I felt that this should never happen at a supposedly Earth-friendly festival.

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Lyf Shoes – Creating the digital cobbler

Lyf Shoes – Creating the digital cobbler

My favourite story coming out of Sustainable Brands London (a conference where big brands talk about their sustainability initiatives, network and learn from sustainability experts) was definitely Aly Khalifa and Lyf Shoes’ as it managed to combine several of my favourite things: shoes, sustainability and localisation together with an unlikely hero.

I was introduced (and intrigued) first by this tweet which came up on the #sb14london feed.

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We’re home! Nesting in Malta and getting back to healthy routines.

We’re home! Nesting in Malta and getting back to healthy routines.

I must say it feels good to be home. Not quite what I was expecting.

I lived through the last month or so in Oregon with frequent pop-ups of intense longing to stay on the road mixed in with feelings of dread attached to the prospect of going back to ‘real life’ in Malta. The idea of seeing very much missed friends and family helped make going back home a little more liveable but it was nowhere near enough to tip the balance.

Coming back home in stages helped a lot. We did this epic journey from Medford to Portland to Boston, spent the day in Boston, flew from Boston to Iceland overnight (missing many hours to the time difference), spent another full day in Iceland (which was entirely awesome) and then hopped over to the UK where we spent around a week and a half zooming madly between friends and family and making up for lost sleep.

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The big themes at Sustainable Brands San Diego.

The big themes at Sustainable Brands San Diego.

Sustainable Brands San Diego

As part of ongoing personal and professional interest in sustainability, Gayle and I volunteered at the Sustainable Brands conference in San Diego from the 2nd to the 5th of June. With close to 200 speakers and workshop facilitators, the subject matter covered was both diverse and far-reaching, however I felt that certain themes had particular lasting power. The following is a short round-up of these themes together with a mention for the people putting them forward (who I would strongly suggest checking out).

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Brand activism. Videos that put advertising to good use.

Let’s face it, advertising does not have a reputation for being the most noble of industries. Although sometimes highly entertaining and dare I say informative, advertising can easily be accused of fuelling consumerism, bending the truth to fit an agenda and manipulating the young and easily influenced. Done consciously, advertising can also, however, be a powerful tool for education, an agent of change and a wake-up call for anyone whose heart it touches.

The following videos are ones I came across during the recent Sustainable Brands conference in San Diego. Made for highly diverse companies, campaigns and end goals, all of them succeed in raising awareness around their chosen issue whilst tugging at heart strings and building brand equity in the process.

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