Mobile Phone Towers Disguised as Trees

Mobile phone towers are a fact of our lives and landscapes these days. We have all seen them. An ugly steel antenna towering high above us relaying our intimate texts and personal phone calls across the world. In certain parts of the world however, the powers that be (cell phone companies) have tried to camouflage these monstrosities. We have cataloged some of the incongruous pieces of infrastructure. Many of these giant trees appear somewhat surreal by their total misplacement.

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Why just hang a picture?

Fail-Harder-1024x682Hanging wall art can be a somewhat safe bet when it comes to brightening up a cafe wall or making that mundane office space a more vibrant one. Providing that little bit of life with a touch more creativity however, always earns at the very least an intriguing second glance. The unconventional approach can often offer a piece of wall art perhaps a little bit of extra depth and soul. Besides being very cool, these pieces can be very simple, yet can leave us thinking – why didn’t I think of that!

I Feel Good Today

I Feel Good Today. Erste Liebre bar in Hamburg

Nail Art by artist Marcus Levine

Nail Art by artist Marcus Levine

The perforated walls of Raiffeisen Bank, Zurich

The perforated walls of Raiffeisen Bank, Zurich

A simple stencil can bring so much - Cafe, London.

A simple stencil can bring so much – Cafe, London.

The famous "Fail Harder" wall at Wieden + Kennedy offices, California. It took 120,000 pushpins.

The famous “Fail Harder” wall at Wieden + Kennedy offices, California. It took 120,000 pushpins.

The worlds Ghost Cities

Abandoned cities are an unfortunate consequence of life and growth on our planet. The reasons for abandoning a city are as varied as the people who once inhabited their buildings and walked their streets. Many of these cities are forgotten and simply line the pages of history. Some are examples of poor urban planning, some the result of the depletion of natural resources, while others are poignant reminders of the fragility of life in a nuclear world. Below are some striking images of abandoned cities from around the world. Many of these cities have been abandoned for decades, however, due to rapid growth and expansion, particularly in China, we are now in an era of “modern” abandoned cities.

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A small, 15-acre rock that protrudes from the ocean off the coast of Nagasaki, Japan known as Hashima Island. This island was once a major coal mining center that thrived for almost a century. The island sits atop ­a coal deposit that descends deep into the ocean floor beneath. In 1890 the coal was tapped by Japan’s Mitsubishi Corporation who in turn purchased Hashima from the local families who owned it, and that is when the heyday of Hashima Island began. Rather than ferry the workers needed to mine the coal deposits, Mitsubishi built a city for its workers on the island. At its peak in 1959, Hashima Island was the most densely populated city on Earth, with 5,259 inhabitants. That’s 835 people for every 2.5 acres. By 1974, petroleum had overtaken coal as the world’s preferred energy source, and Mitsubishi revealed the mine would be closed. By April 1974, the last of the island’s residents were ferried onto the mainland, and the island was permanently closed.

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The abandoned Hashima Island, Japan found contemporary fame by appearing in the latest James Bond movie Skyfall

In 1970 the Soviet government built an small city for the Chernobyl nuclear power plant workers. The city of Pripyat enjoyed conveniences many other Soviet cities could only envy: high-rise apartment buildings, schools, a cultural center, hospital, swimming pools, theaters, stores, restaurants, cafes, playgrounds, and a stadium. On the morning of April 26 1986, however, this city would be irrevocably changed. On the day following the Chernobyl power plant disaster, as helicopters buzzed overhead and thick smoke billowed from reactor four, the Soviet government issued the immediate evacuation of the city of Pripyat. The residents were told that they had two hours to gather all essential belongings and board a bus for mandatory evacuation. They were informed that their evacuation was only temporary, for perhaps three days at the most, and so the residents left most of their clothing, photographs, toys, and family pets behind. The 50,000 citizens departed Pripyat on a line of Kiev-bound buses that stretched for miles, all of them expecting to see their hometown again in just a few days. They would never return.

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The eerily desolate city of Pripyat, Northern Ukraine

Kowloon Walled City was once a densely populated and largely ungoverned settlement in Kowloon, Hong Kong. Dating back to the Song Dynasty it served as a military out-post to defend the area against pirates and to manage the production of Salt before eventually coming under British rule. During Japanese occupation in World War II the population ballooned as thousands of Hong Kong residents sought refuge in the makeshift enclave. Once Japan surrendered from the city, the population dramatically increased again with numerous squatters moving in. By the early 1980s it was notorious haven for criminals and was home to brothels, casinos, cocaine parlours and opium dens. The city eventually became the focus of a diplomatic crisis with both Britain and China refusing to take responsibility. Eventually, both the British and Chinese authorities found the city to be increasingly intolerable, despite lower crime rates in later years. Ungoverned by health and safety regulations or any building codes, the quality of life and sanitary conditions in which the estimated 50,000 inhabitants lived, was cause for much concern and in 1991 the evacuation of the Walled City began. Many residents protested the evacuation and demolition. Despite the protests, the compensation and rehousing of the residents cost the government $2.7 billion Hong Kong dollars, and the last residents left in early 1992. The subsequent years saw the leveling of the entire city and by 1995 the Kowloon Walled City Park was opened on the site where this infamous city once stood.

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The scale of the Kowloon Walled City is evident from the air (main image), while a postal worker navigates the corridor-like streets to deliver mail (bottom left).

There are probably more than two dozen other abandoned cities similar to the cities mentioned above, however, as we enter 2013 we are faced with the growing issue of “modern” abandoned cities. This phenomenon is unique as these are cities that were built in anticipation of growth and expansion, but development outpaced the influx of proposed residents. Although this problem can be seen in many countries, such as Ireland, it is in China where this problem can be witnessed on a massive scale. China’s unprecedented growth is evident for all to see. It is estimated that 20 million people migrate from rural areas to cities every year. These numbers seem only to be rising and according to BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) China will subsequently be home to the worlds first Mega-cities.

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The empty streets and commercial and residential buildings of Zhengzhou, China are just one example of China’s many unoccupied cities.

The city of Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province was labeled China’s largest ghost city in 2010. It is, in fact, just a part of the even larger area of Ordos which was developed to accommodate 1.5 million people but remains largely desolate and unoccupied. These ghost cities, bridges to nowhere and empty highways fuel skepticism from many Western analysts of what they consider an unbalanced Chinese economy. In 2011, the percentage of the Chinese population in urban areas reached an astonishing 51.3%, compared to less than 20% in 1980. OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) projects that China’s already mushrooming urban population will expand by more than 300 million people by 2030 – an accession almost equal to the current population of the United States.

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This aerial view of down town Zhengzhou eludes to the scale of the development. Even from this satellite image the streets can be seen abandoned.

These ghost cities seem to phase few in China however, their confidence in their colossal urbanisation is reinforced by the many examples of “empty” urban construction projects of the past, such as Shanghai Pudong. Built in the late 1990′s, Shanghai Pudong is the classic example of how a city lay empty for a long period but slowly became occupied. It has a population today of roughly 5.5 million. China does not wait to build its new cities. Instead, investment and construction must be aligned with the future influx of urban dwellers. Employment in urban areas skyrockets at a consistently rapid pace and the development of infrastructure and accommodation in anticipation of growth has always been part of China’s grand plan. All the rest of the world can do is simply bare witness the largest urbanisation the world has ever seen.

No time like the Now

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Despite the pain of our poor broken country, we can take our legitimate, silenced rage and channel it into something positive. Don’t let them bring you down, people.  Start with you. It’s the very best place to start.

Stop waiting for the right time to do what you want to do. There is no such thing as the right time, as anyone who has ever planned to have a baby or to go back to education will tell you. There never is or ever will be a right time. The right time is a myth that makes us miss the boat of opportunity. Procrastination leads to all sorts of missed goals and under achievements. It can lead to unnecessary poverty, for instance. Set a long term goal but break it down into realistic, achievable steps. Celebrate each victory. Move on to the next stage.

Be grateful. Sure there doesn’t seem to be much to be grateful for now: global wars and warming, African famine, still, in the twenty-first century, our poor broken agonised country. But yet: take a deep breath and look carefully at what you have to be grateful for. Stay present when you do this. Pay attention.  At the end of Day One – TODAY! – write down one thing that you are grateful for. One thing and one thing only. You may not write down two things. Not yet. In a journal, in your iPhone, on the inside of your arm if you want, just write it down.  Keep it somewhere safe, where only you can see it. It might be the perfect cup of coffee you had this morning in that small, new coffee place that wasn’t there last week. Or how the leaves of the dogwood tree in your neighbour’s garden that you can see from your kitchen window is at its simple, staggering, Autumnal best. On Day Two write down two things. By this time next week, that gratitude list will be seven at the very least. Just imagine. That will be seven things that you can be grateful for, that your heart can sing for, that will make you happy because they-are- yours-for.

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Go back to school. If it is too late for this year, start making arrangements now for next September. Third level applications can take as long that to get sorted: ring schools, check your subject choice.  Third-level extra-curricular courses don’t have such a wait time to apply. And the subject matters in these are vast and exciting, to say the least. For instance, there is a part time or evening art course in University College Cork, in which you can actually go on a trip to Florence to see the art. http://www.ucc.ie/en/study/ace/what/short/Jan/ . This is also the time every autumn when drop-out rates of existing courses peak. That’s a bad thing, you would think. But it’s a good thing too, for you. Because it means there is a place for you on a course of your choice right now. They will be only too delighted to accept you, in almost all cases.  Some short course are coming to an end now and new ones running until Christmas are about to begin. Make enquiries. Do the maths. If you are scared, start small. I once did a drawing class called, ‘I Can’t Draw’, because I couldn’t. And, what do you know, I found that I could! At the very least, check out your local Community School, which is always easy and do-able because it is just that, local.

Get over your fear of the computer. Go to your Library. Sign up for a Fas course, which run all the time, on how to use the computer or even to expand on what you know. They are running course now all over the country.  If you live in the Barrow Street area in Dublin, and are of a certain age as they say, you can spend time being mentored by a Google employee, who volunteer to teach older citizens about the wonders of the computer age, like how to navigate the very best thrills of the skydive that is the Wonderful World Wide Web. http://www.thejournal.ie/google-oaps-internet-training-courses-564991-Aug2012/  If you are kind, tough, energetic enough, you can become a mentor and go back into your community with your shiny new-found skills tucked under your arm – like those children in Africa, who go to school every day and then come back to their village and pass on what they have learnt to the rest of the children. Google even throw in lunch for you.  Now, how cool is that.

Start your own business. You know that pile of to-do papers stacked on your kitchen table that the clutter experts keep telling us to get rid of? Well, just for now, move that pile to the other end of the table. Another week there isn’t going to bring the world of tidy to a grinding stop. Sit down with your lap-top, iPhone, school copybook, and begin on page one making a list of what it would take for you to start your own business. How many successful entrepreneurs began with a scribble on the back of an envelope? Thousands, people! Thousands and thousands and thousands. You know that luscious chocolate cake/apple tart/salad dressing  that only your daughter or your mother or your best friend can get so right? Maybe the two of you could develop that into a small start-up http://www.aldi.ie/ie/html/product_range/best_of_ireland_23417.htm. I wish someone would come up with a better design for the bicycle saddle – stationary or Alps-climbing – that would take the pain and numbness out of what’s there now. Sure, I know there’s no money available from our banks. So what. There are gaps in the market now that weren’t there five years ago when we were saturated with ‘stuff’ of every description.

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Take a yoga class. Finally. Sure you can watch yoga on a tv health channel. But, seriously, when did you last actually move the coffee table out of the way and do an hour of yoga? If you take a class, you commit to being there, learn how to do it properly, and carry that template with you to do wherever you happen to be. You can then choose to top-up that base with a refresher class every year or two. And then you have a marvellous tool at your disposal that has been proven to have a whole raft of health benefits.

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Go for a walk. It’s cheap, free and you will have a sounder mind and a healthier body in as little as six weeks. If you think you lack the willpower, or the time, or it’s raining, go to Tiny Habits http://tinyhabits.com/  where you will see how to get over those blocks, one walking shoe at a time. A quick click on the subjects and testimonials will prove that, even though it is a simple concept, it really, really works. So it rains here. So what. Get over it: it isn’t as though we have a choice over the weather. Go to Lidl or Aldi and pick up some of their Wet Weather Walking Wear.

But whatever you do, just do it. It is never too late to get passionate about your life. This is not a rehearsal. This is the real thing, baby! Allow yourself to be the star, the hero in your own narrative. Overcome obstacles to re-discover your authentic, heroic self.  All the old clichés are true: seize the day, be present, show up. Face the fear and do it anyway. Go be happy, goddamn it!

Made In America

“I’m not a businessman; I’m a business, man.”  - Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter

With the United States presidential election just weeks away president Obama is aligning his supporters with careful consideration. As expected the Obama camp strategically relinquish attempts to coerce much of the conservative electorate. That time and money is best utilised when directed towards the eighteen to twenty-five year old demographic. More voters from this age bracket voted in the 2008 election than did in any previous election in American history. Obama is fully aware that his being the country’s first African American president, and the simple yet profoundly impacting campaign message “Change”, helped shape his indelible position in 21st century popular culture. That position is something he hopes will bare a victorious weight come November 6th. To help him realign and reemphasise this standing once again, he has recruited one of the modern day icons of American culture, Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter. Obama knows the importance of Hip Hop culture and utilised it as much as he could in the run up to the 2008 election.

This time however, the high profile African-American supports standing shoulder to shoulder with Obama is a little less Oprah and a little more Jay-Z. Jay-Z recently played a three-night concert in New York where Obama appeared on four enormous screens to address the concert goers. With reference to how he feels Jay-Z embodies the American spirit and dream, Obama encouraged everyone present to vote in this coming election. Jay-Z has heavily promoted Barrack Obama while touring nationally and even internationally, as well as spearheading Obama’s online “The power of our voice” campaign.  With the president of the United States among your frequent texters, one may forgive Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter for asking how did I get here. A one-time crack-cocaine dealer from the Brooklyn projects is called upon to help the president of the most powerful country in the world. In order to understand Jay-Z and his position in modern popular culture one must first understand the culture that got him there.

President Barack Obama shares a joke with Jay-Z and wife Beyonce

Music has always influenced popular culture. However, the sixties could be considered the birth of this influence on a grand scale. With every reinvention came a new generation moved beyond the title of mere ‘fan’ and who embraced it as ‘lifestyle’. As popular music changed, it grew beyond the moving lyrics and inspiring guitar riffs to create its own sub-culture. Since its humble and somewhat innocent beginnings this influence that music holds had never truly been marketed, and it is only within the last fifteen years and particularly in the last ten years that this all changed. The only music form to fully exploit this influence and sub-culture is Hip-Hop. Gone are the days of the major record labels staying clear of Hip-Hop acts and the inevitable ‘baggage’ that seems to shroud them. This has been replaced by every major label in the U.S. having Hip-Hop acts on their roster, or creating sister companies to deal solely with Hip Hop and R&B acts. Ironically, it has become the most profitable in the entire music industry. There are physically more CDs pressed for and more digital songs downloaded of Hip-Hop acts than any other type of music in the world. It is the music industry’s biggest earner.

Why has this, an art form whose lyrics can be laden with violence, become the biggest and most profitable in the world you might ask? Well, more so than any other type of music in history, Hip-Hop came with an enormous sub-culture, and since the mid-nineties that sub-culture has been marketed with unparalleled success.  The music has many obvious characteristics that make it successful – like the ‘bad boy’ image – which has been seducing record-buying angst-ridden teenagers for decades. It simply saw in its own influence on popular culture a market which could be effectively exploited.

Music influencing fashion is not a new phenomenon. Hip-Hop artists, though, were the first to successfully tap into that market by creating their own clothing labels. One such artist is Jay-Z. Even though he sells millions of albums every year, in the worldwide scheme of things, Jay-Z is by no means the biggest selling artist in the music industry. He is nowhere near the likes of U2 or the Rolling Stones, for instance. However, having only appeared on the music scene in 1996, by the end of 2007 (according to Forbes) he had amassed a net-worth fortune of $547million, (yes that is over half a billion dollars in just over a decade). Proof, if it were needed, that hip-hop is now big business.

By the age of 27 he was CEO of his own record label, Roc-A-Fella Records. A label he formed through a 50/50 joint venture with Island Def-Jam Music Group. However, with a natural ability to see beyond the profit being made from selling millions of records, in 1999 he co-founded the urban clothing brand Rocawear with Roc-A-Fella Records partners Damon Dash and Kareem Burke. Rocawear has clothing lines and accessories for men, women and children. Within the next two years he redirected the hip-hop culture from hooded sweatshirts and baggy jeans to button-up shirts, crisp jeans and high-end designer suits. He even received GQ’s International Man of the Year award. The clothing line was taken over solely by Jay-Z in early 2006 following a falling-out with co-founder Damon Dash. In March 2007, he sold the rights to the Rocawear brand to Inconix Brand Group for $204 million. Jay-Z retains a stake in the company. He continues to oversee the marketing, licensing and product development.

Actor Kevin Bacon and super-model Naomi Campbell in a Rocawear advertising campaign

As well as overseeing his Roc-A-Fella imprint, he has expanded his empire far beyond the regions of Hip-Hop. He co-owns the 40/40 Club, an upscale sports bar that started in New York City and has since expanded to Atlanta. Future plans will see 40/40 Clubs in Los Angeles and Singapore. Roc-A-Fella also distributes Armadale, a Scottish Vodka, in the U.S. In 2007 he entered into a contract with Anheuser-Bush and serves as co-brand director for Budweiser Select while collaborating with the company on strategic marketing programs and creative ad development, as well as providing direction on brand programs and ads that appear on TV, radio, print, and high-profile events.

As album sales have fallen globally in the past five years many artists have moved to consolidate their sales, promotion and touring into one company. Seeking this security Jay-Z has followed in the footsteps of Madonna and U2 by singing a reported $150 million deal with concert giant Live Nation. However staying true to form Jay-Z took it one step further by consolidating many of his business ventures including his Roc-A-Fella imprint into Roc Nation, which oversees the promotion and marketing of such artists as Kanye West and Rihanna. Jay-Z is also a part-owner of what was the New Jersey Nets NBA team, paying a reported $4.5 million for his share. He sits on the board of directors and after upping his share he has been the spear-head in taking the franchise back to New York City. In March of 2010 together with New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg he broke ground on the site of the newly formed Brooklyn Nets new stadium, the Barclays Center, in his hometown of Brooklyn New York. As well as housing a 20,000 seated stadium for the Nets, this massive 22acre development including shops, offices and 6,400 homes on a desolate, waste ground site is estimated to cost $5bn. Creating 16,000 union jobs and 5,000 permanent jobs for Brooklyn. The stadium officially opened last month, with a concert headlined by the man himself. Together with these large scale projects, he also collects income from blue-chip endorsement deals with Hewlett-Packard and General Motors. It becomes clear why Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter famously said “I’m not a businessman; I’m a business, man”.

The Marcy housing projects in Brooklyn New York, where Shawn Carter became Jay-Z

Much like Jay-Z many other rappers, such as Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs and Cutis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson, have amassed vast fortunes by marketing the enormous sub-culture that came with their style of music. Along with being C.E.O. of his own record label, G-Unit Records, and owning his own clothing line (which alone earns him an annual $10m) 50 Cent has created an entertainment empire which produces everything from video games to ringtones to a line of fictional urban books and headphones. He also has lucrative endorsement deals with Reebok and Pontiac. In 2004 he was offered a deal with the energy drinks company, Glaceau, to promote their Vitamin Water brand where, instead of taking a fee, he negotiated a small stake in the company. Jackson even helped develop his own Vitamin Water — grape-flavoured, vitamin-enriched, Formula 50. Jackson’s backing has helped Glacéau with younger consumers. And that was among the reasons beverage giant, Coca-Cola, scooped up the company in May 2007 for $4.1 billion. Jackson’s stake netted him an estimated $100 million, according to the Forbes list of “World’s Most Powerful Celebrities”. Not bad for an artist who has only been on the mainstream scene since 2003.

The hip-hop culture has permeated popular culture in an unprecedented fashion. Although created by black youth on the street, hip-hop’s influence has become worldwide. Approximately 75% of the rap and hip-hop audience is nonblack. It is because of this enormous cross-over appeal that it has gone from the fringes, to the suburbs, to the corporate boardrooms. Indeed, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Sprite, Reebok, and hundreds of other corporate giants have capitalised on this phenomenon. These young and relatively-uneducated men have gone from impoverished street corners to being huge players in corporate America. Their entrepreneurial savvy has garnered them unprecedented success. They are a generation of men who used a music laden with violent references of their impoverished America to chase an American Dream that is so far from which they have come.

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