Friday, June 14, 2019

The World's Wildest Cities

Some surprisingly large wild spaces are thriving within metropolitan areas.

By Jason Overdorf (US News & World Report - June 2019)

As cities search for ways to combat sprawl, adopt smart technology and go green, officials are also looking to minimize habitat loss for native and endangered wildlife species. Since the 1970s, some surprisingly large wilderness areas have been set up within metropolitan areas – and sometimes within city limits – all over the globe. Call them the World's Wildest Cities.

"A large block of habitat is much more valuable than a bunch of small blocks. You get a greater diversity of animals. You have better connectivity to their resource needs – they need water and they need cover and places to be wild and free," says Scott Hamilton, natural resource manager for the city of Scottsdale, Arizona.

Here are nine cities that have ample amounts of green within their borders.

1. Chugach State Park, Anchorage, Alaska (495,199 acres)

Established in the 1970s, the mammoth Chugach State Park is located completely within the metropolitan area of Anchorage, Alaska. Some of the best trailheads and access points are 20 minutes from downtown, according to city officials, attracting more human traffic than any other wilderness area in the state. Yet it remains home to 45 mammal species including 1,000 moose, 120 brown and black bears, at least one wolf pack, and 2,000 Dall sheep, according to Travel Alaska. Moose and bears wander into town now and then, but nobody seems to mind.

2. McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale, Arizona (30,580 acres)

The Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve started small in 1994, but it was always envisioned as the huge “people’s preserve” it is today, functioning as an important wildlife corridor for at least 25 mammal species, 35 species of reptiles and amphibians and 128 identified species of birds like prairie falcons, great horned owls and, of course, roadrunners. Featuring archeological sites and ancient petroglyphs as well as stunning natural scenery, it prompted city officials to realize “the desert was our ocean,” according to Rachel Sacco, longtime president and CEO of the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. Bow hunting is allowed in the preserve, but firearms are prohibited.

3. Table Mountain National Park, Cape Town, South Africa (54,610 acres)

Set up in 1998, South Africa’s Table Mountain National Park is entirely surrounded by the city of Cape Town. It’s not all unspoiled wilderness, and it sees some 4 million visitors a year, yet it’shome to several species of small and large antelope, the Cape Mountain Zebra, Chacma Baboons, the Cape Fox and many other fascinating animals – along with 8,200 different species of plants. The Cape Floral Kingdom lies within the park’s boundaries; the smallest and richest of the six floral kingdoms that occur on earth, it was named a Natural World Heritage Site in 2004. The climbs up Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head are popular, notes Fodors, but often more people die in a year on Table Mountain than on Mount Everest.

4. Pedra Branca State Park, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (30,626 acres)

Located in the western part of Rio de Janeiro, the Pedra Branca State Park touches 17 different city neighborhoods and occupies 10 percent of the total municipal area of the city, according to ScienceDirect. Created in 1974, it’s an important fragment of the Atlantic Forest – which runs along the Atlantic coast of Brazil – offering a home to the white-eared parakeet, the fruit bat and the brown-throated sloth, as well as other threatened species of birds, bats and reptiles.

5. Rouge National Urban Park, Toronto, Canada (19,521 acres)

Established in 2015, Rouge is Canada’s first National Urban Park. It spans parts of the cities of Markham and Pickering, but most of it lies in the Scarborough district of Toronto. An ecologically protected zone that includes farmland, wetlands and rivers, it’s home to 247 species of birds, 73 species of fish and 44 species of mammals, including deer, coyotes, beavers and mink. Now on the anvil is a project called The Meadoway that will connect the park to downtown Toronto via a 10-mile “amazing meadow full of all kinds of insects and butterflies," according to Richard Ubbens, director of parks for the city.

6. Losiny Ostrov National Park, Moscow, Russia (28,717 acres)

Nearly a third of Russia’s Losiny Ostrov National Park falls within the Moscow city limits, providing a home for moose, elk and wild boar, as well as rare species like the blue-footed owl and gray-headed woodpecker. The name means “Elk Island” in Russian, and the park was a popular hunting ground for the czars before it was turned over to the Forest Department in 1804. It became a national park in 1983. Nearly half the park’s area is closed to the public and another third is open only for restricted use to ensure that the habitat remains pristine. But that still leaves around 7,500 acres for recreational use.

7. Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai, India (25,659 acres)

An island of thick jungle amid the sweltering bustle of Mumbai, Sanjay Gandhi National Parkattracts more than 2 million visitors a year, largely due to the 2,400-year-old Kanheri caves – single cell monasteries built by Buddhist monks that feature elaborate carvings. But the park is also home to spotted deer, rhesus macaque monkeys, the Indian flying-fox and leopards – which occasionally attack people on the park’s fringes in their hunt for delicious stray dogs amid the garbage dumps.

8. Bukhansan National Park, Seoul, South Korea (19,749 acres)

Like similar parks in India and South Africa, Seoul’s Bukhansan National Park is completely surrounded by urban life. Set up in 1983, it encompasses the Bukhansanseong Fortress, built to protect the capital from foreign invaders in 132 AD, as well as three mountain peaks over 2,500-feet tall and more than 100 Buddhist temples and monk’s cells. Attracting around 5 million visitors a year, it’s not an unspoiled wilderness by any means, but it nevertheless provides a habitat for more than 1,300 species of flora and fauna, including the rare Great Spotted Woodpecker.

9. Margalla Hills National Park, Islamabad, Pakistan (17,386 acres)

Located in the capital city of Islamabad, the Margalla Hills National Park boasts hiking trails through the foothills of the Himalayas and provides a home for larks, spotted doves, Egyptian vultures and eagles, as well as the Russell’s viper and Indian cobra. Barking deer, golden jackals and leopards are also fairly common. In 2018 inaugurated the country’s longest hiking trailthrough the park, at around 27 miles, as part of a bid to attract more tourists.

Chugach State Park, Anchorage, Alaska (495,199 acres)
McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale, Arizona (30,580 acres)
Table Mountain National Park, Cape Town, South Africa (54,610 acres)
Pedra Branca State Park, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (30,626 acres)
Rouge National Urban Park, Toronto, Canada (19,521 acres)
Losiny Ostrov National Park, Moscow, Russia (28,717 acres)
Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai, India (25,659 acres)
Bukhansan National Park, Seoul, South Korea (19,749 acres)
Margalla Hills National Park, Islamabad, Pakistan (17,386 acres)

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

One-Man Show Explores Conflicts, Compromises of North Korea Visit

By Jason Overdorf - The Washington Diplomat (March 2019)

It’s not until the end of John Feffer’s one-man show, “Next Stop: North Korea,” that the foreign policy scholar-cum-playwright offers a withering comment on the failed second summit meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Adopting the guise of a Scottish tour leader who sets the context for the contemplative 12-scene comedy, he opens the question-and-answer session with a setup for a one-liner: “You could ask me what I think about the recent meeting, for example,” he says, “and I’d tell you: They were having such a lovely love affair, I thought they’d consummate it. But instead, we got summit interruptus.”
The co-director of the Foreign Policy in Focus project of the Institute for Policy Studies, a D.C.-based liberal think tank, Feffer has long blurred the line between his academic and creative work. His most recent novel, “Splinterlands,” for instance, describes a dystopian future that’s informed by his study of virulent nationalism and the pressures threatening to dissolve the European Union. And earlier one-man shows dramatized his thinking on the failed response to an ecological collapse and his research on the fall of the Berlin Wall and spoofed a well-known local type: the foreign policy pundit grubbing for “that most coveted of D.C. positions: a top administration job.”
The blending of disciplines works particularly well in his latest show, which is less a satire than a travelogue that takes the viewer on an imaginary visit to North Korea. Where journalism and policy writing all too often eclipse the ordinary people affected by the momentous events they describe, dramatization allows Feffer to portray and explore the nuances of life in one of the most closed-off countries in the world.
This includes delving into the conflicts and compromises that the totalitarian state demands of a foreign tourist and aid worker; a tour guide schooled in propaganda; a government apparatchik; and a taxi driver wrestling with patriotism and the struggle to survive. Because the so-called Hermit Kingdom is the proverbial black box for most viewers, the imaginative journey is especially evocative, although director Angela Kay Pirko has eschewed all but the barest hint of sets and costumes.
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Security Bloc’s First Post-Soviet Members Remain Focused on a Resurgent Russia

By Jason Overdorf - The Washington Diplomat (April 2019)

A day after NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg called for the alliance to hold its ground against an increasingly bellicose Russia, the foreign ministers of the three Central European countries that joined the bloc as part of its first eastward expansion following the collapse of the Soviet Union also warned of new threats from Moscow even as they celebrated what Polish Ambassador Piotr Wilczek termed “arguably the most successful alliance in the history of mankind.”
The Czech, Hungarian and Polish foreign ministers were marking the 20th anniversary of their membership into NATO as well as the security alliance’s 70th anniversary. The day before the three ministers spoke at the Polish ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C., Vice President Mike Pence reiterated his boss’s criticisms that some NATO members aren’t carrying their weight, although Pence declared that “the alliance at 70 has never been stronger,” due in large part to President Trump’s leadership.
The three foreign ministers backed Trump’s calls for increased defense spending but cautioned against viewing the alliance in transactional terms during a panel discussion titled “Twenty Years Later: Lessons from NATO’s Enlargement and the Alliance’s Future.”
Pushed through despite protests from Moscow, NATO’s first eastward expansion added the three Central European countries in 1999, as the sheen was just starting to wear off Francis Fukuyama’s idea of the “end of history,” Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz recalled. Two weeks later, NATO’s intervention in the Kosovo War began.
“With [NATO] membership, we got more rights, we got more security, but at the same time we took responsibility,” said Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček, touching on a key theme all three countries repeatedly emphasized — that they are among the most vocal proponents of a muscular alliance.
“We want to be active and we have been an active member of NATO. We contributed to many missions, and we also sacrificed the most valuable price, the price of human life,” Petříček said.
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The World’s Most Controversial City Developments

From New York City to Moscow, these urban developments have sparked outrage and debate.

By Jason Overdorf - US News & World Report (May 2019)

Hudson Yards - New York

New York's pricey Hudson Yards real estate development bills itself as "a triumph of culture, commerce and cuisine." But the mammoth cluster of multimillion dollar condominiums, retail outlets, restaurants, plazas and green space has inspired more loathing than love amid growing resentment of runaway inequality.
It's not just the eye-popping rents (a two-bedroom corner apartment at One Hudson Yards goes for $9,715 a month). Critics argue the entire development is a kind of ode to consumption. New York Magazine dubbed it "a billionaire's fantasy city," decrying it as urban life as imagined by Ayn Rand, "a corporate city-state, branded from sidewalk to spire." Even Forbes magazine – which unashamedly calls itself "the capitalist tool" – carried a review that scoffed at developer Stephen Ross's claim the project wasn't only a playground for the wealthy.
Developments like Hudson Yards – centered around posh shopping and luxury apartments – remain as popular with city planners around the world as they are despised by local residents fed up with skyrocketing rents. Here are nine other big redevelopment projects around the world that have inspired similar passions.
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