Monday, September 14, 2009

Bringing World Streets to China: A collaborative effort

World Streets is strongly committed to working with all those concerned in China to advancing the sustainable transportation agenda in their cities and surrounding regions. What a wonderful challenge for international collaboration and exchange on our topic, and it strikes us that this is an excellent occasion to initiate and deepen this collaboration. An important event can lead the way. Let's look at this together.

First steps:

The 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China falls on Oct. 1, barely two weeks away. World Streets wants to be there to celebrate this important event and to become a useful partner for sustainable transportation and sustainable cities in China for the many years ahead.

For various technical reasons, World Streets is not able at present to share our information and leads with our Chinese colleagues. So, to find our way into this new partnership out first step was to start by asking a few of our mainland Chinese friends by email, phone and Skype what they think. This we did and this is what they have told us:

For various internal reasons they told us some internet connections on the mainland are currently being filtered. Which means that it can happen that people in universities, home, internet cafes, and even government agencies are unable at present to access http://WorldStreets.org/.

This situation is not going to last forever; however, if we wish to be a good source of information and inspiration for our Chinese colleagues, we need to work our way around this.

Now there are work-arounds for this, namely sites ARE accessible via proxy sites or for those with access to VPNs (virtual private networks), but essentially this means either a few extra steps are needed to access the information. While this is useful for some for now, it is (a) only available to 'net-savvy surfers. More than that however it is (b) a "back-door approach" which is hardly appropriate to the real, broad and deep collaboration and exchange that is appropriate in the face of the challenges ahead..



Intermediate adaptation:

Now that we have a feel for what is going on, our next step has been to take a template from our New Mobility Agenda series (www.newmobility.org) and to see how we might quickly refit it to make at least a portion of our content available by other means. If you go to http://china.WorldStreets.org/ you will see how this looks so far.

The advantage as it stands is that it gives the reader a clue and short summaries of all the articles that are housed in our archives and current editions: but unfortunately for now, not the full text. Still, we have a start.

Longer Term:

The permanent fix, we are advised, will be to approach the responsible regulatory agency, the Ministry of Information (see http://opennet.net/bulletins/011/#1), and register with them so that access to Streets will not longer be blocked. We are hopeful that some of our Chinese colleagues will work with us on this.

An option, we are advised, is to create a new .cn domain name and blog -- but we hope this is to be avoided if possible since the job of uploading the hundreds of articles and tools housed in the present site to yet a new website is a formidable and time consuming task.

World Streets in China:

In closing, we might add that the steady progress that is being made of late in the quality of machine translations to and from Chinese and English has been very impressive. Our Chinese friends tell us that this is a handy way to find out at least the gist of any given article or piece, but there is of course nothing like a fine human translation. Still . . .



Our hope will be to do much better than this and to find Chinese partners in order to do with World Streets in China what we are presently accomplishing with our first non-English sustainable transport daily, Nuova Mobilità -- http://nuovamobilita.org -- for and with our Italian colleagues and in Italian. N/M is our working model or template for what we are hoping to do in other countries and languages. Because the simple reality is that if something is to get read every day by busy planners, agencies, local government, transport operators, researchers, activists and others concerned, the odds are that if it is not in their first working language it just will not get read.

Beyond this the Italian editors not only translate, but also adapt and provide context and commentary for the Italian reader on the articles they select for publication. And that is not all. The journal also functions as a turntable for swapping ideas articles and dialogues between planners and others concerned within Italy itself.

In short, the traffic is not at all one way. These are living streets.

And there you have our hopes for World Streets in China.



[Comments, corrections and refinements as always warmly welcome, You can leave them simply by clicking the Comment tag below.]

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Curious to get an idea of the quality of the Chinese language translations? You may care to try the hardest translation test of all. Click to translate, say, this article into Chinese in Google Translate -- http://translate.google.com/translate_t# -- and then simply reverse the process and translate the Chinese text back into English. Again, this is a terrible text, but have a look and see if the machine works to the extent that you have some reasonable idea of the original. (And bear in mind please that this two-round process significantly magnifies what may be small glitches. But if you really want to know, if you are genuinely curious it can be a genuine help. At least it is to us and to a number of our bilingual Chinese colleagues.)

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