towards the creation of sustainable, human-centered cities (3/6)

THE REALM OF SUSTAINABILITY
realm-of-sustainabilitySustainable development, as I see it, implies much more than just becoming self-sufficient. It is more than the possibility of a better, cleaner, and greener world. It means working with the existing resources and adapting them to our current reality. I firmly believe that the positive social and political implications for the entire world population are limitless. The creation of new technologies based on the use of the existing resources and the lessons learned throughout the years will allow us to see the world from new perspectives and could be the new awakening to still unknown paths.
The problem is that we are used to viewing the most advanced sustainable design projects as the province of wealthy high-end clients, who are willing to pay extra to push the boundaries of eco design, or of large corporations, which are in search of other benefits, such as tax deduction or the positive publicity related to environmentally efficient architecture. Very few small commercial clients decide to invest aggressively in sustainable design, especially in developing countries.
For people with economic limitations, it is hard to think about helping the planet if they are still struggling to make ends meet. According to the World bank’s Poverty data: A supplement to World Development Indicators 2008, 1.4 billion people are living in extreme poverty around the world; that is more than one-quarter of the population of developing countries, while the upper class is, at most, 1% of the world population. If we think of these numbers, we can easily understand the need to stop focusing exclusively on the 1% that has already started to shift towards eco-friendly design.

towards the creation of sustainable, human-centered cities (2/6)

A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO CITY MAKING

human-needsSustainability could be defined as the ability of something to sustain itself and also as the capacity to conserve an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources. According to this definition, people are most likely to be seen as consumers, and sometimes even destroyers, than as intangible assets. But what if, by understanding their needs, we could start thinking of people as one more of the planet´s resources?

The Principles of Intelligent Urbanism (PIU) is a theory of urban planning comprising ten axioms which are directed to the formulation of city plans and urban designs. One of those axioms is Placemaking, which is a multidisciplinary approach to the design of public spaces. It focuses on taking advantage of local community assets in order to create healthy and positive public spaces that promote people’s wellbeing. If we take the time to analyze this concept, we could infer that cities, and not only public spaces, should be created following that premise.

Cities could be defined as permanent human settlements that facilitate reciprocal action between people and businesses through the concentration of development. Public spaces, on the other hand, are social areas accessible to people. If we take a closer look to these definitions, we could infer that the two concepts have something in common: they both promote the interaction of people. By uncovering the ways to encourage human communication and cooperation, we could be taking the first step towards the transformation of the city making process.

In a time of global chaos, changes need to be made. We have to start doing things differently if we want to obtain different results. And the simplest, most direct approach to major change is to rethink what has been proven to work well and adapt it to other areas. So, would it be possible to approach city making as planners approach placemaking? I believe it is feasible, and, by doing so in a sustainable way, we could initiate the creative process by analyzing the assets of the place, of its people, which, over time, could result in positive solutions tailored to them and their environment, that could grant them wellbeing and health.

However, I think we should go further. The changes we need to make should involve everything about the design process, including the research techniques. I believe the key to producing sustainable, human-centered designs is to start being active. We cannot create cities just by sitting in front of our computers. Research must go beyond the internet and printed data. We need to take our actions beyond our cloistered environments and study the possibility of beginning the creation process with physical activity. Planners should go out into the streets and observe what is going on around them in order to analyze the existing reality so they can improve it. They must work with what the communities already have in order to enhance their localities and turn them into sustainable cities instead of just wiping out all existing buildings and starting from scratch.

If we think of the design process as the reconfiguration and rearrangement of the built environment instead of approaching it as we do a blank paper when creating a piece of art, we could provoke substantive changes in humanity based on our reality and needs rather than just dealing with superficial challenges.

towards the creation of sustainable, human-centered cities (1/6)

https://goo.gl/4pvqgJ

I remember hearing that when designing a park, the best way to determine the ideal location for the walkways and trails is to place a group of people in the area, observe the walking routes they follow, and the places where they stopped to take breaks. The areas that were trodden by people should define the walking paths, and the places where they stopped to rest should become the points of interest.

Whenever I think of ecological development, that bit of park design wisdom always comes to mind. It makes me think that it is the people, the ones who will eventually be the inhabitants of those sustainable cities, who hold the key to teaching us, the architects and planners, the way towards the creation of better, human-centered cities. Hence, we could infer that to create healthier cities, we should begin by reviewing what people have, the way people live, which daily routines people follow, what they want and need, and evolve from there.

City making is far more than drawing lines in specific directions to define solids and voids. It means going further than just gathering a group of people in a planned environment and providing them with services, education, and health. I believe city making involves sensing the feel of the space in which the city will be set; it implies adapting the designs of planners to this place so both, the city and its inhabitants, can benefit, especially when creating sustainable developments.

However, it is vital to remember that cities are rarely strictly designed. They are commonly the product of human actions and interactions, rather than of professional and planned design.

Historically, cities have been built around the possibilities that these spaces have offered their inhabitants and affected by the social and economic interactions between them. Therefore, the role of planners is usually to work with the place´s resources and turn them into opportunities that can improve a city’s livability, while setting the guidelines for better, more controlled development.

The problem we are facing now is that in many countries around the world, especially in developing countries, cities continue to grow as random groupings of people without order, control, or intention, and, because most of these nations are immersed in deep economic crises, government policies usually focus on solving problems that could bring them closer to economic stability.  Meanwhile, cities develop as unbridled spontaneous interventions.

But history tells us that the needs of humanity have always guided their actions. Every significant invention or change that has taken place in the world has been related to specific needs: the invention of internet was made seeking to create a computer network that could help the military forces of United States to defend against attacks; the printing press was created due to the need to spread the written word; and I could go on describing the causes of all great inventions, but I think history speaks for itself.

Thus, we should learn from the past, take advantage of this knowledge, and use it to stop the uncontrolled growth of urban areas and clusters. We should acknowledge that, since human interaction is such a large part of the city planning process, their involvement in it should weigh heavily on the design. The considerations about the environment should pair up with the needs of people in order to produce positive social and urban outcomes. Planners should start thinking about creative ways to make people get involved in city making so they become active participants in this challenge.

When designing, architects and planners should begin by uncovering the strengths and weaknesses of the space, analyzing the habits of its people so they can use them as a starting point; but, above all, to be able to delve into the process of city making, everyone involved should lay the excuses aside. Each region has its own–climate, overpopulation, politics, and crime among others–and all of them are used to validate the minimal involvement of designers in building healthier and better planned cities.

Therefore, if we begin to focus on the positive aspects of our reality, and become aware of the needs of our societies, we could start generating better responses for our cities, increasing opportunities for people to become collaborative and contribute with their knowledge.

liberty

http://goo.gl/Qjku9MWhile my country is sinking slowly into a black hole that seems to be consuming all of us and making us disappear in its relentless darkness, I try to stay positive in hopes that my cheerful spirit can rescue me from this madness.

My body and my mind pore over an internal struggle between my reality and the life I want for me and my family; I close my eyes and I find myself sailing through countless memories that transport me from one place to another, going through all those spaces that once saw me go by and filled me with energy.

http://goo.gl/wwGZWRLost in my dream, I open my eyes and find myself walking the streets of New York. I feel the freedom passing through my body; it slips through my fingers and then goes to produce the same effect on someone else. Suddenly I find myself in a street flanked by tall buildings that shelter me and make me feel safe; I have the impression that the content space gives me a sense of peace, the kind of peace that I´ve been anxiously chasing for months in a frustrated search because of the great amount of uncertainty present in my life. I walk a little more, and a small open space appears before my eyes; a beautiful glow blinds me for a moment. The excess of light gradually begins to disappear and my eyes revel in the freedom of this area that, even though it´s contained between buildings, seems to escape every few seconds to fill this place with a delicious sense of grandeur.

I stop for a few minutes to appreciate this gift and try to absorb all the freedom of the space with every fiber of my being. I want it to fill my body; I want to take it back with me to my country which needs it so much.

http://goo.gl/Zoa2RxDarkness… it comes back to my mind quickly subjugating all traces of light that I had managed to get… I open my eyes and find myself back in the same place that wanted to escape from. But something has changed… My perception of it is different. Now I´m able to appreciate it for what it really is and not for what my emotions make me perceive it.

I direct my gaze to the right and find a leafy tree; then I look up and discover that a vast blue sky is protecting me from the unknown. Nothing separates us; not even a delicate cloud is between us; this huge bright and colorful blanket climbs over me highlighting the organic forms of vegetation and the incorruptible straight lines of the buildings. I hear some birds passing over my head and a gentle breeze blows my hair clouding my sight for a few seconds.

I take a breath and everything starts to make sense. I wake up to my reality. I must be here; there is a greater purpose directing the lives of those who are still here.

I cannot surrender. My energy has to regain its luster, color and strength. I must recover my smile, the one that was left hidden behind some door in a sad and dark place.

I close my eyes again; take a deep breath and open them again. It’s back! My lost smile has returned; and with it, my energy. I feel like I slowly regain my strength and begin to believe again, to have faith again. Everything will be fine. There is a bright future ahead of me, waiting for me, anxious for my arrival.

I walk towards it, to that ideal place where my designs are more than just sculptures contained behind bars. That place where the skyline can be seen in its entirety as we walk down any street. That place in which an architect can be a visionary without limitations beyond those imposed by the client or urban planning; where the environment adds to the project instead of subtracting from it; where life flows through buildings without bumping with cold locks.

I know that place is near; I feel it deep inside me, and I also know that I am an important part of this process of change; that’s why I’m here.

I won´t close my eyes to the reality that surrounds me; I won´t be going with the flow any more. Starting today, my life and the way I live it will be vital elements of a major change. Because, as Mandela said: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others…”

http://goo.gl/0pgW5X

spinning cities

http://goo.gl/zb14iWhen I think about the concept of time and its ramifications, I find myself observing pieces of memories which are connected with each other and, as when using scraps of fabric to create a quilt, I begin weaving stories to assemble a lifetime.

Every memory takes me to another memory; every story, every character, unleashes a wealth of emotions, feelings and desires lost in time, in search of their path, their course, their hope to become real and current again.

Sometimes those memories are better hidden away in some dark and lost place, because their untimely sudden appearance can alter the natural order of things producing unintended consequences. But often, reuniting with memories, with our past, helps us understand our present and even plan for a better future.

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http://goo.gl/8E4Y4In cities, each architectural creation of our ancestors has at least a small part in the great work of today’s cities, every great building of the past is a piece of sand of each and every one of the buildings from our time. Every room, every space once built is the father of many other spaces.

Architecture is our stage, our environment, the perfect backdrop for every memory. When we walk through a building in which we have been previously, our sensors become activated and endless sensations come to mind. Each memory is perfect because it happened in a perfect setting for this event. If it had happened elsewhere, the memory would be completely different.

When we start a creative process, we must be aware of what is the story we want to develop in that place, or if, on the contrary, we want to leave the options open for its inhabitants to take ownership of it, transforming it to suit them as it happens, for example, in kinetic architecture.

But in any case, the process must begin with a vision, with a story to be developed in the time that this building exists and there should be as meaningful as possible so that this story can become larger than time itself.

Our history/story is eternal, just as architecture, because even if we or our buildings perish, the ramifications product of that history/story will live on forever creating more and more connections…

the city without excuses

Excuse: Reason or pretext to avoid an obligation or justify any omissions.

City making is much more than drawing lines in specific directions that surround solids and voids. It is more than gathering a group of people in a planned environment and providing them with services, education and health. City making means living, breathing and feeling through a certain space; means to adapt to it and reach an agreement between the two so that both, space and its inhabitants will benefit.

To be able to form cities we must begin by being honest with ourselves; assuming our strengths and weaknesses, analyzing our habits and exposing them. But above all things, to achieve the real city making we must erase the excuses from our minds. Each country has its own: climate, overpopulation, politics… excuses, excuses, EXCUSES. And Venezuela is no exception, our excuse is insecurity. And it has become the perfect justification for anyone to do anything… literally. Thousands of people decide day by day, more and more, to stay home so we can avoid being victims of crime. We reduce one by one the activities we do every day, becoming more sedentary, shrinking as people and damaging our health by lack of physical activity.

And of course, if people living in cities do nothing, then it makes no sense that specialists do something/anything in terms of urban planning: Why strive if people are not going to go out? Why build if others are going to destroy?

The country seems to be frozen pending the much-waited change. We accumulate reasons for doing nothing, and meanwhile, we all live the consequences of such inactivity.

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But the absence of the concept city making is not only present in Venezuela. In many countries, cities continue to grow as simple random groups of people, without order, control or intention. We keep searching for anything that simplifies our lives and in the way, we leave aside all that is good for us, that makes us happy and helps us become better people.

Walking, dancing, riding bikes, sharing common interests without a screen in between… all of those activities are being left behind as the memories of past generations.

And every day we choose to isolate rather than do something about it, we are missing a myriad of sensations; sounds, textures, glows, aromas…

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We must begin to change; we need to start the process of city making. But  every culture is different, therefore the rules don´t always apply in the same way in all cases. That is why it is so important that city making does not become just about sitting in front of a computer and, once again, becoming inactive. We need to reverse the process, think of the creation through physical activity. Go to the streets to analyze what is happening outside so we can improve what already exists; the idea is not to simply say it does not work and  discard it, or cover it with flowers and a few billboards and advertisements. The change must start from the needs of the people, their daily routines, their activities and desires.

If anything we should have learned by now is that the future cannot be only about flying machines and telepathic messages. Our planet is clamoring for a return to origins, to basics; that does not mean that we will go back in time and erase centuries of evolution and progress; which means is that thanks to all those years and the knowledge we have accumulated during that time, we have now more and better capabilities to turn the basics into something better, more integral, more effective.

And if we just think about the destination and not about the journey, which is basically what we do when we create hiding behind a computer, we will miss the surprises and experiences that are there waiting for us.

But each city must find their own path; and each of us must start with a small change: we must put aside the excuses and start moving towards that point of convergence between the simplicity of the past and the knowledge of the future.

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All images belong to the great artist / architect Cristina Bergoglio.

almost all my thoughts about architecture

A few days ago, About.com: Women in Bussiness posted an interview I gave to @HefferonJoe about my thoughts on architecture.

Since the interview could only be posted in two pages and Joe had to include his own and very interesting opinions about what I had to say, some of the answers I gave him were not posted.

So I asked him if he would mind if I published all the questions he asked and answers I gave and, lucky for me, he said yes.

So here they are:

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(1) Please provide me with some background information first such as:

How long have you been an architect?

I graduated in 2001, so I´ve been an architect for a little more than ten years.

Education

I studied architecture at Simon Bolivar University in Caracas, Venezuela from 1995 to 2001.

After graduating I did a few professional courses such as Marketing for executives from other disciplines, Graphic Design Advertising, and a few other design software courses.

At the moment I´m evaluating options to start an online Master in interior architecture and design.

Do you work for a firm or by yourself?

I used to work for a firm up until 5 years ago, that´s when I decided to be my own boss so I concentrated all my efforts on designing and creating my own ideas.

I think it´s very important for every newly graduated from architecture school to work for someone else for a while, someone with experience, who can teach you what is not in the books. But then you get to a point in which you have to go on your own, so you don´t rely on other people´s knowledge and the decisions you make are only yours, for better or for worse. That´s when the challenge really begins.

Some of the projects you are proud of

The project that I´m most proud of is my academic degree thesis. I designed a prison for pregnant women and/or with children. This is a project really close to my heart. I spent almost one year thinking, on a daily basis, on how to make the life of this kids a little less hard, which would also help the mothers to become better persons and facilitate their transition from prison to society.

Now, thinking about the projects I´ve done since I graduated, those that I´m most proud of are the houses I´ve designed. Maybe because residential design is the area of architecture I like the most, maybe because I like pretending I´m a physiologist. I´ve said before that “it is in the dream house of every person, where all their hidden desires are immersed. And in order to be able to decipher the mysteries in people´s psyches we must think in terms of dreams, desires and feelings, and not only in architecture terms such as walls, ceilings and spaces.

This is key to any residential project. And in my case, it´s what makes every house I´ve designed “a unique and unrepeatable translation of the particular language of the client”.

But the truth is that I really LOVE each and every one of my projects and I give myself in all of them.

Some of the large companies you have done work for

I´ve worked with Kraft Foods in two opportunities; first to remodel the entrance hall of the plant located in Valencia, Venezuela, and then to design a recreational area for their employees. I also worked with Chrysler in a small but very fulfilling project, a coffee area and POP display to be placed at a Dealer in Valencia, Venezuela.

I was also a collaborator in a few mayor projects for Carabobo University in Venezuela, such as the Library, Sports Center, Faculty of Engineering; all of them I did while working on an architecture firm. With that firm, I also had the opportunity to help on the design of shopping malls, big residential complexes and many other projects that gave me a lot of experience and helped me to develop my architectural style and my way of thinking about my profession.

Languages you speak

I speak Spanish (which is my native language) and fluent English.

Your websites

English version

Portfolio

Blog

Spanish version

Portafolio

Blog

Writing projects

At the moment, I´m focused on my every day work and also on my blog (which I don´t update as often as I´d like). But I´d really like to write a book sometime.

What happens with the book is that I haven´t narrowed the topics I want to write about to a single one. Actually, that´s how my blog was born; every time I had a couple of hours to spear, I sat down and began to write a book. I always began, but every time I had to interrupt the writing process I was invaded with a new idea, so I began to write a book again. After a while, I had a bunch of nicely begun books so I decided to post all these beginnings in the form of a blog. So my blog is kind of my book.

Maybe sometime I´ll decide to choose just one idea and stick to it for as long as it takes to make an ending.

(2) Were you raised to pursue this type of career (For example – Dr Berebichez was raised in a conservative community in Mexico where women were not encouraged to become involved in the sciences. She acquired the degree because she felt a passion for math and science. It was fun for her.)

Are other members of your family architects, designers, writers/

There are no other architects in my family. My mom and dad are chemical engineers, so imagine their faces when I told them I wanted to go to architecture school. But they were very supportive with me and helped me to overcome the difficulties of starting a career like architecture of which many people have so many different opinions and on which there are a lot of preconceived ideas, such as the fact that it´s a career of tradition or that it´s a career for men.

I’ve never really given much thought to the fact that it´s a men´s career, or of how difficult can it be for a woman to succeed in an environment dominated by men.

I believe that when you think too much about the limitations of the environment, you get stuck and are not able to move forward.

But I must admit that it took me a little time to overcome the fact that it´s a career of tradition; many of my colleagues, because they always had been in contact with architecture, managed concepts I had never heard mentioned; that made me feel a little unsure of myself, but once I understood that I only should strive a bit more than the rest so I could catch up with them, everything became easier and more simple.

With the writing the story is different; this career path is in my blood. My grandfather was a historian of Carabobo State in Venezuela (where I live) and wrote several books of history and poetry. I only had about 12 years with him in my life, but it was enough to make me fall in love with books. He had the most special library I´ve ever entered to; it was a space of about 3.5 x 10 meters with as many books as my grandfather could squeeze in. I think that, if the books had not been so special to him, he would have put some of them on the floor forming corridors of knowledge only so he could be able to use the smallest possible space to hold his precious life partners. Thanks to him I love writing even more than I love architecture.

(3) How many women did you go to architecture school with? Did you ever get together with them and discuss the fact that you are a minority in your profession? I ask because the primary reason for writing this series is to encourage young women to pursue whichever career they want and not to let their gender stop them, and also just to make them aware that jobs like architect are available to them.

I actually went to school with many women; I even think there were more women than men in my group, and maybe that´s why I didn´t really pay much attention to the fact that it´s a men’s career nor talk about it. But it´s true, people think this is a men´s career, especially architects.

I´ve always said that the worst enemy of architects and architecture are the architects themselves. We often hardly criticize each other rather than to support and encourage each other to improve.

(4) Have you ever walked into a meeting, or conference or other gathering of architects and feel as though you may not be looked upon as an equal? If so, how does that make you feel and how much of that is based upon something that was specifically said to you or about you that made you feel this way?  If you’ve never had these feelings – could it be because there is a pervasive and mutual respect within your profession? (That would be a good thing of course.)

As I said in the last question, I think there´s not enough respect between architects. I have felt before that I´m not being treated as an equal, but it goes beyond gender; it has to do with the fact that in this profession, if you don´t have 30 years of experience and haven´t won lots of contests, you have no value.

In my case, I don´t believe in contests. I´ve never participated in one of them; first because I have no time to join one of them because, fortunately, I´ve always been active in my profession, and second because, in most cases, the contests have become a business and, at least in my country, there are often more contest projects that are not constructed than the ones that actually are. So the contests end up being an exercise to stay active in the profession and in contact with other architects.

I think that if I heard of a contest in pro of something, to help a disadvantaged social group (and if I had the time, of course) I´d be more than willing to do it.

And as to the fact that I have to have 30 years of experience in order to gain the respect of other architects, well, I can only wait… wait another 20 years. And this will happen someday. But for now, I´m not worried about that.

(5) Why do you think more women did not get involved in architecture in the past? Only about 25% of architects in the US are female and less worldwide.

I think the main reason there are not all that many women in architecture is because it´s a tough career, not only at school but also after graduating, while actually being a working architect. Women usually give more importance to family than men, that´s a fact, and a profession like this which is very time consuming can be a challenge for a woman.

Being able to manage both family and a job like this can be overwhelming, and I can relate. I have two kids, the older is 9 years old and the younger is 5, and if you don´t organize yourself well enough it can get messy.

But I´ve came to discover the wonders of TO-DO lists and prioritizing. These are the most important tools for a mom/architect such as me; that and being able to put an end to projects; setting a deadline and sticking to itArchitects tend to be perfectionists and because of that, we have a hard time letting go of our projects (which we have to do eventually). It feels like we´re giving up on them. But ending projects is as necessary as beginning them. I´ve realized that, in order to be successful, you have to be able to finish something so you can start something else. That way you can begin a new journey that can take you to nicer and better places.

(6) What is your advice to young women deciding upon a career path?

I´d say love what you do; if you put your heart and soul in everything you do you have already assured success. And in order to be able to do that, you have to be sure of the decision you are going to make, so get informed… Imagine yourself doing what the professional you want to become would do on a daily basis, go to Universities, speak to the people in the halls, ask the right questions, go deep, and really listen to what they have to say. And then research a little more.

Choosing a career path is a life time decision. I get surprised whenever I meet new people and ask them what they studied. Most people work in fields not even related to what they studied, or work on a field related to what they studied but don´t even like what they do for a living, and I think that´s sad. I mean, I believe in the importance of making mistakes and discovering your own path along the way, but I also think that since life is not eternal, we should make the best of it. And making as many right decisions as we can is always helpful.

I got lucky; I didn´t research but chose a profession I love. And I´m sure I wouldn´t be able to be successful in any other career.

The second thing I´d say is try to picture you in 10 years. Think of all the things you want in your life 10 years from now. Not only careerwise. Think of them as connected elements forming a net; a net that should be able to hold you, to support you and make you feel safe and happy.

If all of those things you want are able to hold you safely while working together, then go for them, go for all of them. If they don´t make you feel secure, maybe you should rethink your plan.

(7) Why do you love your job?

Here´s why…

(8) What worries you? What makes you cry at night when you are alone?

This is a hard question because I try not to think about my fears so much. I feel that if you give too much weight to them then they really gain importance.

I guess that my worries might be related to my kids, to being a good parent; I suppose that´s a constant between parents; there´s no manual on how to do it so you always fear you´re not doing it right.

What makes me cry is injustice, children without parents, lonely and without any kind of guidance; it´s so sad and so common that it frightens.

(9) What makes you spectacular? and don’t be shy

Spectacular is a BIG word, but I guess we all have something spectacular that makes us special. In my case, I´ve always thought that the thing that makes me special and which has also helped me be a better architect is empathy.

Because I´m an empathic person, I can understand people better and by doing that, I can deliver better projects to my clients; projects that really reflect people´s needs, desires and dreams; projects they can feel like belong to them because they seem to be taken out of their own minds.

(10) What does the future hold for Ana Manzo? – the upcoming projects and the big dream

At the moment I´m in charge of the construction of a residential project I designed a couple of months ago; I´m also designing a residential building, an office and a house.

I hope big things are waiting for me in the future. I hope to be able to do big and important projects; projects that change people´s lives, projects that bring people closer. I want to be able to create new ways of doing things so I can reduce costs, waste and carbon footprint. I hope I can make a difference…

For now, I´ll just keep doing what I´m doing and loving it while I do it.