Sunday, March 1, 2015

NRGy 90

Somehow this has turned into a gear review blog. Just wanted to show my appreciation for Nordica's NRGy 90 ski that I am using or telemarking on the East Coast with Hammerhead bindings (also recommended). They are light, strong, and edge well. Never had a better pair!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

29ner with Fenders and a Front Rack

We received a lot of help from the Internet in trying to set up this 29ner bike. So, to contribute back to the online knowledge, some details about this build that is working very well.

Because there are no fender holes on the suspension fork, we connected to the fender assembly, as seen in the detail above. So, there you have it, a 29ner with fenders and a front rack on a suspension fork.

Monday, March 22, 2010

HOME, a beautiful film about the world and carbon


HOME is the most compelling movie about climate change that I have seen, much more informative, realistic, and beautiful than Inconvenient Truth or Age of Stupid.  It is shot in beautiful HD with narration, mostly from the air in well-chosen locations.  I can highly suggest a viewing.  It is available on YouTube in HD.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Biogas from kitchen waste

From the trash collecting society in Cairo, one man is making 2 hours worth of biogas for cooking each day from his kitchen organic waste.  A good short from CNN about how he does it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

1937 Copenhagen

James A. Fitzpatrick's Traveltalks The Voice of the Globe 1937 Copenhagen.  Skip ahead to 6:15 for a great segment about bikes in the city.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dipping into Deepsea

  • Informal settlement on 5 private plots in Muthaiga; wealthy neighborhood where former Presidential families, Embassay workers and the Nakumatt supermarket owners reside.
  • Estimated 12,000 squatters

Guides: David Odiambo, human rights activists for Nairobi People Settlement Network(NPSN) and Janifer, also an anti-evictions activist, recently spoke at Amnesty in the UK (, were are guides for the afternoon.

First stop: Chief/Governor Justus A. Malunda.  A chief is not a traditional landowner, but he is a Government representative, who under the Provincial Administration organises squatters (registration, education, etc). Criticism has it, that in the Metropolitan area of Nairobi, the Provincial Administration has little power. Nevertheless, Chief Malunda seems to be a rare, pro-active Government worker. E.g. He recently organised a barassa - a community meeting to discuss waste management. Now, at 10ksh a week per household, NCC collects the settlement’s solid waste…

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Chief Justus A. Malunda on drug abuse, Nicole Galletta and Luisa Stemmler (housemate), forced to read aloud.

Lecture on Drugs: When Chief Malunda realised that Nicole (talented mapper from Italy), was a smoker, he began a lengthy, animated lecture on drug abuse. “Drug are bad because you can sleep with your children…” We learnt about Mira, Mari..mari..marijuana, and hair-oin. He even showed us a stash of special cigarettes that were taken from an Indian man… Chief had noticed his “superior” attitude.

Second stop: Local pub for a soda. The pub is on a bend, and blends in with other large plotted gated homes. A path around the back takes us into an informal pub that smells strongly of potent homebrew. Duck around the corner to find a daycare center, 30ksh per child per day. Just a dark room, food is cooked when there is money to spare.

One access road cuts through the settlement. NCC plans to construct a formalized tarmac road to improve road connection within the city. As such, the case is in court: the squatters face eviction. Will it be kind? Eviction by daylight? A notice? Compensation? (The latter is predicted to be peanuts).

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Greens amongst tin cans. Recent rains and leaking roofs: bedding hung out to dry.

Interestingly, there are no NGOs, no CBOs, just one FBO. The settlement is a community, with its own Governing Council. Through participatory approach, a donor’s proposal is reviewed… They don’t want to be no charity.

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The great divide. School and sanitation kiosk amongst funded by FBO, Deepsea left.

The Faith-based-organisation supports a formal primary school, and has constructed a well-functioning public sanitation kiosk, with a number of showers, toilets and a large open area for washing clothes. There is plentiful water; connection is to main waterlines.

Located on a steep slope, shelters are held up by wood foundations and sandbags. Some shelters are sinking slowly. Erosion and flash floods scar the settlement.

It rained a few days ago… paths muddy and slippery… our unsteady steps prove we are ‘estrangers’.

The steep valley carries a black stream, on the other side: well-manicured lawns. The great divide is shocking.

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Sandbag: resist flash flooding. Drainage constructed by the FBO. For over 40 years, she has lived in Deepsea; her children and grandchildren reside here; she recently lost ability to walk due to an illness; she is stuck here in Deepsea; slopes to steep to carry her up and out…

Still, Deepsea seems to benefit from being situated in amongst wealthy families, compared to e.g. Galole: the slum of no hope in Eastleigh. Deepsea can access formal services, there is significantly less visible solid waste pollution and safe, running water 24-hours a day; enough for showers!

Furthermore, in Deepsea, there seems to be better opportunity for informal employment in neighbouring homes, as well as three formal primary schools, although students from Deepsea find it impossible to compete against well-supported students. All but one student from Deepsea passed her final exams…

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fighting corruption

Peter Eigen is the founder of Transparency International and was the World Bank manager of programs in Africa and Latin America.  He spins an interesting tale about corruption in development aid, for example how foreign bribes were tax deductable in Germany.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Art infection

Art Rotterdam 2010 infected Rotterdam this new year, with gallery openings and happenings across the city (in fact, the majority of the action was across the Maas River on the notorious R’Dam southside, does that make us like Brooklyn?).  ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ showed the dark side of the hedonistic lifestyle in Mama Gallery.  In the Charlois neighborhood, SOUTH TOUR invited the art community to a night out with free food, beer, and live music (with some art as well) through 20 galleries and studios.  The main event of the urban festation was in the Cruise Terminal, a dizzying catalogue of 74 galleries from 11 countries, from within which I wrote down the names of three artists:

Bas Princen (Van Kranendonk) amazing urban landscapes from countries in transition. He will be famous I think.

 Mokattam ridge (garbage city) Cairo 2009

Eric Sep (Gist Gallery) installed an infrastructural sculpture of a layer cake infrastructure urban monolith, playfully constructed from miniature models complete with miniature graffiti.

image ‘favellatower’

It was also fantastic to see the new-classic by Sergey Maximishin.

image ‘Ferry transportation through Irtysh river, Tobolsk’

Friday, February 5, 2010

NL not so wet as some say


Two interesting quotes from this article about sea level:

“A United Nations report wrongly claimed that more than half of the Netherlands is currently below sea level. In fact, just 20 percent of the country consists of polders that are pumped dry, and which are at risk of flooding if global warming causes rising sea levels…”

“Dutch researchers reporting to Minister Cramer on Wednesday said that global warming appears to be slower than had been assumed. In a brochure published by the Dutch Platform for Communication on Climate Change (PCCC) the academics say that sunspot activity was relatively low over the past decade and will continue to be low for the foreseeable future.  The lower the solar activity, the smaller the warming effect. According to the PCCC, the average temperature may even decrease by between 0.2 and 0.4 degrees...”

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Dutch participatory planning

“An ecological living quarter was built in Amsterdam in 1998. Ten years later this film was made to evaluate.”

A well-captured overview of the planning process and outcomes for the GWL neighborhood in Amsterdam with interviews from the community leaders, consultants, and architects.

GWL site 10th anniversary: birth of an eco-area from Diego Pos on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Evictions in Mukuru

• A settlement covering an area larger than Kibera, enumeration probably not so dissimilar
• Hugging Kenya Rail and Ngong River make it both vulnerable to evictions and flooding
• Area is called “Pipeline” – for there is an oil line connecting Nairobi and Kisumu
• Mukuru, made up of 13 villages, is c.o.v.e.r.e.d. i.n. t.r.a.s.h.       Mukuru 002 Mukuru 009

                         Main road in Sinai Village, Ngong River dividing Sinai and Kwa Reuben Village.

Eviction Recount 1: Just before Christmas 15/12/2009, at 2am, evictions began with the bulldozering of the informal primary school for deaf students (marginalization of a societal group). Bulldozer and 100+ police evicted without notice; the reason: new pipeline. Shelters hug the tracks kilometers on end, evictions began at the very end/start of the village, and halted when villagers revolted and cut off the fingers of the driver of the bulldozer…

Ngong River separates Sinai Village with Kwa Reuben Village. The two are characteristically different, while Sinai is rusty and disorganized, hugging the railroad, Kwa Reuben shows evidence of parallel roofing; plotting. Although there is a row of Railway Hawkers, the settlement starts from a safe 30m from the tracks. The 20+m between hawkers and settlement provide a public space where a hawker has laid out all of the (washing) tubs he sells for display. He also sells home-made oil-lamps, constructed from light-bulbs turned upside down.

In Kwa Reuben, rooms cost 1000KSH +20KSH for ‘protection’, if you are a shop-owner. Protection is provided by Masai Warriors.

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                Railway tracks along which the 13 Mukuru villages are situated, a footbridge.

In Mukuru, settlement squatting seems to work like this: there is a local area chief (though he may not necessarily be a traditional landowner – he might just be some guy from the country). He has his Vice-chairman; his right-hand man; his wingman. (He, too, needs not be a traditional owner; he is just some guy; a middleman). To receive a plot or a shelter, one must make an offer to both the Chief and the Vice-Chairman, neither is a representative of the Government; and both will disappear come eviction time, which is exactly what happened in the Gateway Zone.

Eviction Recount 2: At 9am, on 27.07.2007, 300 policeman evicted over 25,000 people at the Gateway Zone. A developer had been in negotiations with the area chiefs; the court granted eviction papers;  only to discover that after the developer mounted a 7+m high wall around the entire perimeter; he had no more right to the land than the squatters… or did he?

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Informal primary school wall-paintings, with squatter kids in front of a biogas sanitation kiosk “Biocenter”, the quarry: now both a bathing and dumpsite, eviction area 3.

Eviction Recount 3: The 3km wide area was privately owned; the owner allowed settlers to lease a plot of land for an initial fee, and a monthly 100KSH rent- to re-enforce the temporary contract. After the owner’s death, the son sold the plot to a developer: Safaricom, who demanded an empty plot. As such, the son hired a gang, who brought in a gas tank, set it alight and forced settlers out of their homes through a violent rampage.

Mukuru is located on industrial land; this is highly evident, it surrounds a quarry. The quarry has filled with water, at the same time as trash is dumped into the quarry, there are those who are washing themselves.

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Discussion with members of Mukuru CBO Alliance and left, David from the Nairobi People’s Settlement Network, “my container.”

To guarentee my return to the neighborhood, the Mukuru CBO Alliance presented me with a gift... Not a goat nor a dance performance, but a shipping container with a large water storage tank as a hat. The container has been unused and remained closed for 5 years… Wild ideas are very welcome!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

People Settlements in Eastleigh

The Eastleigh district of Nairobi is infamous for hostility, crime, and Somalis (reportedly, when an oil tanker is pirated, new buildings spring up in Eastleigh).  The youth group Den of Hope kindly toured us through with a four-man protection crew.  The first stop was the free primary education school, a concrete building complex on a plot of open land, typical class size eighty students.  Den of Hope is cooperating with the local government to plant 500 seedling trees, including several on school grounds, as a local climate change action.

The leader of our tour is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable member of the Nairobi People’s Settlement Network, a no-nonsense grassroots organization dedicated to “giving people the tools of knowledge to agitate for their rights”, namely about eviction policies and humanitarian issues.  They also author shadow reports to contradict official state reports.  More about the Nairobi People’s Settlement Network (IRIN News).

by Nels Nelsonby Nels Nelson by Nels Nelson by Nels Nelson

Eastleigh primary school, Den of Hope tree planting, Eastleigh wall painting, Eastleigh streets

There is no waste management in Eastleigh, resulting in massive piles of garbage in many streets.  Once in a long while, the government may remove the piles, but they are immediately replaced.

Our tour extended to two informal settlements within Eastleigh, Kitui Village and Galole.

by Nels Nelson by Nels Nelson by Nels Nelson by Nels Nelson

Galole open water where demolished homes stood, inner Galole, visiting a family, father and child in Galole

The characteristics of informal settlements are insecurity of tenure, poor durability of structures, lack of running water, lack of sanitation facilities, lack of electricity, and lack of improved roads.  Galole is the worst in all categories we witnessed.

We were taken through the neighborhood, which the inhabitants refer to as the Ghetto, by members of Faasik, the only NGO in the area, focused on HIV/AIDS issues, such as awareness and providing food for bed-ridden members.  There are about fifty openly HIV positive members in Galole.

600 Galole families live in small (3 by 4 meter) shanties with muddy floors, no toilets, no water (the closest tap is 1km away, costs 5KSH per jerry can), no drainage, and no washing space.  The structures, re-used patchworks of corrugated sheets, were built by “slum lords” who charge 800KSH per month (8 Euro) rent plus 200KSH security to the local slum gang.  The huts are jokingly referred to as “self-confused rooms” because one tiny, low room represents the bedroom, kitchen, toilet, bathing, etc.  The low rooftops collect trash bags, presumably from flying toilets.

The neighborhood squats on privately owned land.  Recently, the land owner had a part of the neighborhood demolished without any warning to the inhabitants and without replacement dwellings.  The demolished plot is now filled with open water, and is feared to be a breeding ground for malaria.

Galole is figuratively and literally a dead end (the dirty narrow pathways terminate abruptly).  The tenants have little hope of upgrading their lives.  The slum lords will not upgrade their structures.  The government has no interest in upgrading their infrastructure.  When the land owner decides to develop, the inhabitants will simply lose what little they have.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Informal Settlements in Lilongwe, Malawi

Informal settlements in Malawi have been dictated by the country’s political history.  From the 1970’s to 1994, dictator Banda forcefully evicted squatters but also built so-called Service Plots for urban poor.  The Service Plots were planned areas with roads, community water points, and pit latrines.  After 1994, with the advent of multiparty democracy, informal settlements were allowed to grow as government turned a blind eye, in part to remain popular. The contemporary policy is to recognize and upgrade informal settlements by investing in infrastructure and improving security of tenure.

Lilongwe was planned in 1975 when the government capital moved to the area from Zomba after independence (it has the sprawled, overly planned feeling of Canberra, Australia).  In the beginning, the government housing authority was actively planning and creating Service Plots, but ceased completely in the 1980’s.  Today, about two thirds of Lilongwe citizens reside in informal settlements.  The Malawi government, with a national budget comprised of 40-60% foreign aid, has little money to spend on thorough urban upgrading.

by Nels Nelson by Nels Nelson by Nels Nelson by Nels Nelson

Mtandile informal settlement bicycle repair, streets of the informal settlement, primary school from the government

The informal settlements of Lilongwe are benign compared to those of Nairobi.  As population increases, the settlements sprawl unabated into the open fields surrounding the city.  While residents have no formal tenure security, there is no risk of government eradication.

There is the beginning of a public-private partnership for waste collection. A group of women is working to collect and sort waste. Organic waste is sold to a company. Bottles and plastics will also be separated and sold.

Land ownership is managed through the traditional chief who keeps his own land register.  This has many advantages for residents: children keep land rights after parental death, chiefs control the cemetery and burial rights, and chiefs settle boundary disputes.  In Malawi, the local chief has more authority than the government, so much so that the UN uses the chiefs to implement new programs, such as waste collection, rather than the government.

Participatory planning in Mathare slum, Nairobi, Kenya

by Nels Nelson

I had the opportunity to take a brief glimpse into a participatory planning meeting between Maratini, a community in the Mathare slum of Nairobi, and Babu, a young urban planner working with a non-profit group that specializes in assisting communities upgrade their plots within informal settlements.

Babu recently finished an undergraduate degree in urban planning with the University of Nairobi, a course that until recently was reserved for masters level students. He was kind enough to give a short tour of the Mathare slum, a valley on the east side of Nairobi densely packed with mud and steel sheeting dwellings with interspaced concrete apartment buildings. Land ownership and land rights are a complicated issue in Kenyan slums. Most parcels are government owned while some are privately owned and have been developed into the afore mentioned housing blocks or churches.

The planning meeting was held in a corrugated steel church at the entrance of the Maratini community. The Maratini community exists on about 1.5 acres of land and has an estimated population of 3000.  The land is government owned, but is being considered for transition to the community under a progressive slum upgrading policy facilitated by Babu’s NGO. The goal is for the community to take control of the land and build new dwellings with their own money. The main obstacle is negotiations with the owner of the current building structures from whom the community is renting.  These ‘slum lords’, who build shanties on squatted land for renting to urban poor, are often also involved in politics and have a tight grip over their domain.  It is this system of tenancy which causes some of the worst slum conditions, as the renters are not incentivized to invest in their houses and the shadowy owner collects profit without reinvestment either.

The meeting that I attended was focused on the spatial planning of the new community. About fifty of the community members along with Babu and two UN-HABITAT interns were in attendance. After formal introductions, Babu presented hand-drawn maps of the land parcel depicting possible layouts of the building structures. The new buildings will be two-to-three stories from concrete and steel, an upgrade from the current situation of single level steel and mud shacks but shy of the tall concrete housing blocks which have been shown to cause further problems. The plan calls for rows of about ten houses back-to-back with narrow alleys between the blocks, a few wider roads through the community, and an open space in the center.  Open space is a rare but welcome privilege, as any open parcel is otherwise built upon, further congesting the environment.

To inhibit land grabbing in the transition process, Babu suggested photographing the population of the community and laminating the results with names to have a complete registrar of future inhabitants. Some elderly community members criticized the spatial plan because they wanted wider alleys between the houses for sitting outside their house. A workman complained that in the prospective residential community no space is made for workshops which exist in the current community. He suggested that either space be made for workshops in the community or the government builds another space for workshops nearby on the major road.

It was inspiring to witness such participatory planning in action under such careful and prepared consideration by a young urban planner. The community was very receptive and engaged in the process. I wish the people of the Maratini neighborhood the best on their path towards a new home!

Informal Settlements in Blantyre, Malawi

Blantyre City Assembly’s Planning Department was kind enough to grant us an interview and settlement tour on very short notice.  The most striking aspect of informal settlements in Malawi is recognition by the current government and progressive efforts to upgrade the settlements.

Squatters on government land have an opportunity to gain ownership under a lease agreement and title deed. The length of the lease depends upon the quality of the structure, varying from 33, 66 or 99 years, as judged by an inspector. The goal is to gain land tenure security so that citizens can use the value to get loans.

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Upgrading pilot project, Mbayani settlement viewed from nearby hill, upgraded main road

The government wants to improve infrastructure, provide access roads, water, electricity, hospitals, schools, waste management, and sewers within informal settlements.  In Malawi’s new multi-party democracy, an inclusive policy for informal settlement dwellers may be a political move to remain popular with all levels of society.  The first slum upgrading project in Blantyre is in Mbayani, the oldest settlement from around 1954. In 2008 a paved access road was built into the area and up the hill to a new government school.

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urban agriculture on every possible piece of land

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this gentleman has a house with a view over the settlement and community pit latrines in his backyard

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Brian from the City Assembly leads Eline through the settlement, the upgraded road is the main artery for life in the settlement

To learn more, seek the Situation Analysis of Informal Settlements. Blantyre City Assembly. Prepared under ‘Cities without slums initiative’ (UN Habitat). 2005. Survey analysis by CCODE consultants.

Informal Settlements in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

On Christmas Day we received a tour of two informal settlements in Tanzania from a local urban planning student, Martin, who participated in a previous UN-HABITAT workshop.  The informal settlements in Tanzania differ from Kenyan settlements in that most if not all inhabitants own their structures rather than rent.  Tanzania is also not plagued by tribalism or regionalism which adds conflict and violence in Kenyan settlements.

by Nels Nelson by Nels Nelson by Nels Nelson by Nels Nelson

Jangwani plastic recycling, water supply, pit latrine, pollution

This settlement is squatted on government-owned land which is flooded in the rainy season most years.  The stream running through the area is highly polluted with human waste and industrial runoff.  It is a low density area with a lot of space between structures.  The structures are mostly of durable materials.  Drinking water is stolen off the city network and available for free to the inhabitants.  The principle industry in the neighborhood is plastic recycling.  A large bag of plastic bottles is worth TZS200 (about .10 Euro) which is purchased by a Chinese recycling company.

by Nels Nelson by Nels Nelson

Kigogo discussion between Eline and Martin, urban space

This area has been squatted upon since at least the 1970’s although it has never been officially condoned or mapped.  The citizens seem to have a feeling of secure tenure, as they have invested in durable structures.  Though informal, the neighborhood is well planned with a livable density of low-rise structures, urban agriculture and even a grazing space for animals.  The in-between spaces are well landscaped and upgraded with concrete staircases.