Russia Eases Stance On Arctic, But Draws A Line In The Ice

Moscow allowed for observer status for additional countries that don't border the Arctic, but will grant them virtually no voice whatsoever on policy.

Protecting the Artic Circle from those who covet its riches
Protecting the Artic Circle from those who covet its riches
Elena Chernenko

KIRUNA – This week’s two-day biannual meeting of the members of the Arctic Council – an intergovernmental organization of eight nations with Arctic borders – will go down in history not only because of the breakthrough decisions that were made, but also because of the record-breaking long and emotionally intense negotiations.

In spite of the fact that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his colleagues stayed up until the wee hours of the night on Tuesday and resumed discussions on Wednesday morning, it was not clear until the last minute whether or not Lavrov would wind up putting his signature on the council’s ultimate declaration.

The eight permanent members of the Arctic Council are: Russia, the U.S., Canada, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Iceland. The council discusses and coordinates economic, environmental and scientific issues regarding the Arctic. In addition to the permanent members, six European nations, nine international groups and 11 non-governmental organizations hold observer status.

The main point of contention was a proposal to increase the number of observer countries. China, India, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Italy all wanted to join the Arctic club. Although these six countries do not have territory in the arctic region, they all have important interests in the region, including the possibility of hydrocarbon exploration and the establishment of commercial shipping routes.

Photo NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Among the seven NGOs that requested observer status, the most well known is Greenpeace, whose activists held signs that read “no Arctic oil” all day outside of the town hall in Kiruna, Sweden where the council was meeting.

Moscow was originally against the expansion in the number of observers to the Arctic Council, fearing that it would make the council’s work less effective. However, after several hours of heated discussion, the council came to a consensus and, as a source from the Russian delegation said, Russia decided not to break it.

EU ban on seal hunting

As a result of this intense discussion, the six countries were granted permanent observer status, while the seven NGOs were rejected. The question as to the status of the European Union, which was seriously criticized by many countries, including Russia, will be decided at a later date. For the moment, the EU’s application as a single bloc has been denied, but it is allowed to participate in meetings for the time being.

According to a source who participated in the meeting, the fate of the EU’s application to join the Arctic Council will largely depend on how Brussels decides to resolve the issue of a 2011 European Parliament ban on seal meat and fur – a traditional and essential product for the indigenous Inuit people of the Arctic.

Additional petitions for observer status will not be considered until the next council – in two years’ time. According to our sources, Mongolia and Turkey are both planning to submit applications.

The unexpected consensus among the members of the Arctic Council can be explained largely by another important decision that was made on Wednesday. While formally satisfying the ambitions of the newcomers, Lavrov and his colleagues did everything to protect the Arctic from encroachment. With that goal in mind, Russia suggested a document outlining the role of observers to the council, which was approved.

According to the document, the observers are required to respect the sovereignty and sovereign rights of the eight countries that border the Arctic. The observers’ ability to participate in the council’s events and programs is restricted, and they have no voting rights. The only thing they will be able to do is sit and listen – they will not be able to introduce new projects or raise problems to the council.

NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Every four years, each of the observers will be given a “grade” on their behavior. According to Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister – who chaired the meeting, accepting new countries will allow the organization to strengthen its position on the global scene.

At the same time, the members of the Arctic Council adopted the second-ever pan-Arctic, legally binding agreement regarding partnership in the case of oil spills in the Arctic. Lavrov called the agreement, “an effective instrument to protect that Arctic environment in the case of active exploitation of the opening Arctic reserves.”

According to researchers, around 13% of oil reserves and 30% of gas reserves are located underneath the Arctic Ocean.

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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