Sunday, 14 February 2010

Coexistence Finds its Place in Commercial Consensus

It takes a little bit of patience, along with a healthy dose of optimism, in order to constantly deal with international affairs. One really has to believe that inherent goodness of human nature does exist, in order to believe that people from different worlds can agree on mutual causes or interest. I wish to be precise: as we all know, people and states make peace with their bitter enemies; we optimists believe that in order to achieve durable peace, people will be encouraged to try and find common language with their neighbors who are totally different: by societal codes; historical perspective (narrative); religious faith and national belonging; appearance; etc.

Racial, religious and national tensions are not a "privilege" of third-world countries or war-stricken regions. Many Western countries enfold a complex history of hostility, suspicion and violence between minorities and the establishment, or between several sectarian groups, which make the facilitator's mission everyone's concern.

In this context, in a kind of poetic justice, I found out recently that one of the five Oscar nominees for best foreign film this year is the Israeli film "Ajami". It gives an unequivocal insight of inter-racial and inter-religious tensions in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Jaffa (a formerly Arab town now populated by Arabs and Jews, annexed to Tel Aviv). In Israel race, nation and religion are intertwined, creating highly volatile situations. The success of this movie to deal with the difficult issue of coexistence while enjoying wide critical and commercial consensus, is remarkable. It is even more astonishing considering the fact that the film was jointly directed by two young directors, one Jew and one Arab, for both a debut film.

I think the most relevant conclusion we can draw from this case, is that art can, and should, foster humanist ideas such as coexistence, self-criticism and peace. Let's hope that the Academy will keep these conclusions in mind when it will gather to choose the next Oscar winner.

Monday, 12 October 2009

The Iranian Nuclear Plan

The disclosure of the nuclear facility that is being built at Qom has raised the nerves of the policy community around the world. There is a sudden upsurge in the voices that demand a military response to Iran's defiance of the international community. This however is not a feasible option and diplomatic approach must be more thoroughly explored. It is only very recent that the U.S has engaged in direct negotiations with the Iranians, as the previous Bush administration maintained a hands off approach leaving it to the EU. This failed policy has been rejected by the Obama administration and its efforts to negotiate with Iran must be carefully nurtured and cultivated.

IAEA chief, Mohammed El Baradei said that the talks had been successful and that inspectors would ensure that the Qom facility was for peaceful purposes. He added: “I see that we are shifting gears from confrontation into transparency and cooperation. I continue, of course, to call on Iran to be as transparent as possible.”

There is indeed room for optimism that the Iranian nuclear issue be resolved in a peaceful manner through diplomacy in a manner that El Baradei envisages. The fact that Iran disclosed a letter to the IAEA disclosing its nuclear facility at Qom strongly hints to the fact that it does not completely disregard international opinion. A strong potential motive for the Iranian regime to be sensitive to the international community could be because its stability is questionable. This further equips U.S led diplomacy to be equipped with greater tools that could provide leverage for the Iranian regime to comply. A major concession that Iran has offered to the international community is that Iran is willing to purchase uranium enriched to the grade it requires for its Tehran reactor from a third party, rather than carry out the enrichment itself. This fits in with Iran's claims that its nuclear program is purely peaceful, and needs the fuel to power a research reactor in Tehran.

It would behove the U.S and the IAEA to seriously respond to this gesture. President Ahmadinejad has stated that Iran requires 19.75 percent-enriched uranium. Another Iranian official said that Iran needs up to 300 kg of nuclear fuel to cover the requirements of a reactor in Tehran for a year and a half. Already, IAEA chief Mohamed El Baradei has responded to this gesture by declaring that experts will meet in Vienna in mid October with Iran and other members of the international community to discuss the deal for Russia to take some of Iran's processed uranium and enrich it.

Reinforcing the need for diplomacy is a result of the simple fact that strikes on nuclear facilities are difficult to achieve and will not suffice the international community's quest to prevent Iran from reaching the nuclear status. If the international community was unaware of Iran's nuclear facility in Qom which is a few years old now, it is more than likely that it is equally unaware of numerous other sites that are yet to be discovered. Furthermore, an attack on nuclear sites will only delay the Iranian regime's attainment of a nuclear weapon and will not eliminate the threat. Destroying certain components such as the centrifuge cascades will only delay the program by two to three years at best. Advocates of a military response have failed to address measures the international community would have to take to contend with the consequences. Hezbollah and other terrorist organisations would strike creating a terrorist epidemic of which one scenario would be Iranian terrorist proxies destroying the southern Iraqi oil fields. Iran would also close the Straits of Hormuz. This would result in oil prices spiking.

Currently the Iranian population is liberal and pro-Western. This however, should not be taken for granted as this mindset could be turned overnight in the wake of an attack against nuclear facilities.
The Iranian regime could rally the masses around an embattled Persian nationalism that is threatened by foreigners and could provide legitimacy to the sudden need for Iran to militarise its nuclear programme.

Such a nightmare scenario is something that the international community could not hope to contend with as the cascading effects would simply be unmanageable. Thus a mature approach would be a heavily integrated EU and US diplomatic approach towards Iran.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Environmental responsibility and charities

Charities, as well as other third sector organizations, play an important role in our society. They form the link between the citizens and the public institutions. In recent years, the prominence for the need to promote environmental responsibility has created a latent demand for action on behalf of the third sector. Looking top-down, local and national authorities have created the institutional infrastructure in this field; spontaneous local actions by individuals and communities are accomplished bottom-up. Now, all that we need is environmental awareness on behalf of the charities, so that they can use public foundations and the will of volunteers or activists.

Generally speaking, charities can act in a responsible way towards the environment in two ways: a. creating greener surrounding in their back office, the same as any corporate would have done. For example – working only with "green" suppliers, creating paperless environment, encouraging employees to come to work without their car. b. working actively to promote environmental responsibility, either by defining it as the charity's core problem, or promoting it as a by-product of the charity's main activity. For example – charities that focus on lowering car traffic by encouraging commuters using other means; charities that purchase products from local suppliers only.

At first glance, these activities are relevant not only to third sector organizations, but to everybody, public and private sector alike. Nevertheless, one crucial difference does exist: since those charities communicate quickly with the community they live in, they should create an environmentally responsible model which everybody can relate to.

For example, suppose a third sector organization decides to purchase computers from its post code area, and to cut stationery budget. On the one hand, these actions are good, since much less paper will be wasted. On the other hand, one should take into account the marginal cost of the new computers in terms of maintenance and cleaning; as well as the negative effect that will surely hit local stationery shops.

That is to say, each positive pro-environment action, encapsulates the negative effects that will occur to those people. Firms and organizations that cannot adjust themselves to the new era. Environmental responsibility is, with no doubt, the new buzzword. Nevertheless, it should be used selectively, without the need to scrutinize and "green" each and every action we do.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Green cities: Roof top gardening

The days where environmentalists were perceived as young and idealistic are at best gone. In most cases they were seen to be nuisance to developers. Fortunately for us, environmentalists today are seen as visionaries, the forerunners of this consumer plagued society.

The reason I mention these old times is because recently, I recalled an article I read several years ago about roof top gardening in the US (I think it was in Manhattan). When I first read about this idea, I thought it was ridiculous: how do you plant, maintain and irrigate a garden placed on the roof top of an office building, or just a regular block of flats?

After the short research I conducted, I found out that this idea is flourishing all over the world, as well as here in London. I don't want to write a "how-to" guide, as I you can find much more than a handful of sites that explain everything you need to know. I just wish to emphasise the sheer importance of these beautiful market gardens both to the gardeners themselves, who enjoy the food they grow and by that get a deep sense of meaning to their deeds; and to the neighbours, who are surely encouraged by the initiative of the individual and find themselves swept away into the daily efforts to improve their immediate surroundings in their apartment block.

Friday, 4 September 2009

A Short Guide to Sustainable Buildings

As we all know, environmental responsibility is the talk of the day. Broadly speaking, the title of "environmental responsibility" refers to actions and policies taken by governments, NGO'S, firms, factories as well as individuals, in order to better preserve the environment for future generations. That is, to limit the "footprints" we mark on the face of Planet Earth.
One of the most inspiring aspects of environmental responsibility is green architecture, which is the craft of erecting sustainable buildings that use resources efficiently during the daily use by their occupiers. Moreover, sustainable buildings are planned to create a healthy and productive setting for those who live or work in them. Environmentalists point at the damage inflicted by the existing environment, which, in retrospective examination, has in many cases harmed its surroundings. Virgin lands offer developers and environmentalists to show how to do it correctly.

Being a real estate entrepreneur, I find it highly important that new buildings should be planned according to principles of green architecture. As the developer of a new business park in Durham city, I see no reason why new buildings will not be built as "green buildings".

Green architecture has many aspects. Follows a short "how-to guide" for green office buildings:
Locate the building as close as possible to public transport (train stations, bus hubs).
Pose the building in the right place inside the development. Business parks are relatively large.

The building should be planned in order to enjoy maximum sunlight and shortest connection to underground infrastructure.
Use transparent windows that can be opened easily, in order to minimise the use of electricity for heating, air conditioning and lighting.

Enable conditions for employees who cycle to work (bicycle park, showers).
Use solar systems to create electricity. Use up-to-date products such as small solar panels as signs inside the buildings.
Recycle water: use grey water from office kitchen taps & dish washers for toilets.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Vision behind Durham Green Business Park

I have often been described as a creative thinker, a lateral thinker, unconventional and intuitive. To start with, I wanted to create employment for the North East and I was looking for the ideal solution. When I saw the site I suddenly began thinking at an optimum level and could visualise with the power of my imagination how this location could be developed into a rail port and Business Park. It has the unique advantage of being served by both the London-Edinburgh rail-line to the west of the site and the London-Edinburgh road to the east of the site. That is why I decided to develop the Durham Green Business Park. Initially I was taking a big risk because I realized that the land I needed for access had a long term covenant which took me several years to have removed. In the meanwhile the county council put a new road link in, from the proposed Business Park to areas of high unemployment within the neighbouring east Durham coalfield through the former pit villages. This means that local people will have ease of access to the Business Park and also to the A1, as the site is located at J61 on the A1.

The neighbouring area has the 2nd highest rate of 18-25 unemployment in the country and we hope to decrease these figures dramatically, by bringing thousands of jobs to Durham Green. This new road will also give those who live in the Sunderland area a direct link.

The North East is rapidly becoming a cosmopolitan hub. It has a fantastic infrastructure and a brilliant nightlife in Newcastle which is amongst the best in the country. As well as having a premiership football at Sunderland, we have first class cricket just up the road at Chester-Le-Street where Durham are champions. The North East has a beautiful coastline that goes up to the Scottish border at Berwick; as well as having the country’s largest out of town shopping mall at Metro centre in nearby Gateshead which is directly linked to the Business Park. A few miles further up the road, there is Newcastle international airport. I am not only passionate about the North East but also care about creating job opportunities here.

With this project I wasn’t looking for quick returns because I’ve been involved with this for a substantial number of years now. I was looking for a successful venture which would prove a solution to the long term unemployment level in this area which Margaret Thatcher created in the 1980's by sounding the death knell for the coal mining industry. With the Durham Green Business Park, I think I have found it.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Wanderings through Westminster Abbey

The London group of the council of Christians and Jews had their annual summer garden party recently in the grounds of Westminister Abbey – due to inclement weather we were treated to an enlightening visit to the library instead, which is not open to the general public. I learned a lot and fascinating historical information.

Some interesting detail about the Abbey: the monks of Westminster owned thousands of acres of land in central London stretching from the river at Westminster right up to Oxford Street. This started during the reign of King Edgar in 960 AD. Subsequently, some of this land was sold and the balance they had in reserves in 1868 was given over to the Church Commissioners.

I viewed some of the early documents – there were ancient bibles and Jewish books and other exhibits from the archives.
On display was a Hebrew bible from 1540 and it was exactly the same as the Jewish bible in use today. 13th century manuscripts of psalms in Latin and Hebrew were also available to see. Interestingly there were medieval documents in the muniments (archives) of the Abbey concerning business dealings between the King, Jewish merchants and the Exchequer dated 1220 to1280. The first printed bible in Welsh was on view, which was translated by William Morgan in 1588.

The books were mainly religious though they also have a scholars’ library there from 17th and 18th century. As well as religious books there were books of historical interest, classics, history of the Church, music and a small selection of science and maths. We were also shown some manuscripts that the Abbey choir sang from in the 17th century which are printed in Italian. When necessary, the books are removed to Lambeth Palace for repairs.

The building itself dates back to 1065. Its roof was restored after 1450 when one monk was responsible for bringing down the roof in a fire. Some of the shelves in the Abbey date back to 1623. The library is open to researchers but they must book well ahead, sometimes even as far as a year in advance.

Sometimes the rain can be a blessing in disguise as without it we would not have had such a magical evening to view this amazing treasure trove.