London Flower Show Hopes You Will Get Into The Garden, Too

Queen Elizabeth II is pictured beside a floral exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show that features her own image.

At London’s annual Chelsea Flower Show, the flora is fit for a queen: shaped in her likeness and crafted in honor of her 90th birthday. The new princess has her own chrysanthemum too.

Queen Elizabeth II is pictured beside a floral exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show that features her own image. Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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But this year’s event, which opens Tuesday, kicks off with a warning from the Royal Horticultural Society: Britain has a “lost generation of gardeners.”

Many people in their mid-20s to 40s never learned how to garden, “and we lost a lot of the skills,” RHS Director-General Sue Biggs tells London’s Times. The AFP news agency adds:

“Fewer than one percent of parents were taught gardening at school, compared with 55 percent of grandparents and 40 percent of children, according to a survey conducted by the RHS in 2011.”

Against this backdrop, the Royal Horticultural Society continues to pursue its more than 200-year-old mission to “enrich everyone’s life through plants.”

As part of its campaign to beautify Britain, a featured exhibit gives visitors tips for their own gardening adventures.

The garden designed by Ann-Marie Powell was created to raise awareness of the potential positive effects gardening can have on well-being.

The garden designed by Ann-Marie Powell was created to raise awareness of the potential positive effects gardening can have on well-being. Jack Taylor/Getty Images hide caption

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“Gardens and gardening do more good to heart and soul than they are ever given credit for,” designer Ann-Marie Powell told the RHS.

The 100-plus exhibits in this year’s show range from whimsical to traditional — and they don’t fit neatly into pots.

A sea of knitted and crocheted poppies covers the Royal Hospital grounds, much like a 2014 installation of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London, honoring soldiers who died in World War I.

The exhibit includes more than 300,000 flowers made by some 50,000 people, according to the U.K.’s Express. The display began three years ago as a small-scale project in Melbourne, and eventually blossomed into the London show.

A volunteer stands to the entrance of the 5000 Poppies Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show, created by Australians Lynn Berry and Margaret Knight with designer Phillip Johnson. The project began as a small tribute to Berry and Knight's fathers, who fought in World War II.

A volunteer stands to the entrance of the 5000 Poppies Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show, created by Australians Lynn Berry and Margaret Knight with designer Phillip Johnson. The project began as a small tribute to Berry and Knight’s fathers, who fought in World War II. Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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The Chelsea Flower Show has been held nearly every year since 1913 in the Royal Hospital Chelsea grounds.

The Chelsea Flower Show has been held nearly every year since 1913 in the Royal Hospital Chelsea grounds. Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Reg Bolton waters the trees on the Federation of British Bonsai Society stand at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Reg Bolton waters the trees on the Federation of British Bonsai Society stand at the Chelsea Flower Show. Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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A police officer, with assistance, performs last-minute security checks at the flower show.

A police officer, with assistance, performs last-minute security checks at the flower show. Jack Taylor/Getty Images hide caption

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People Aren't Coming To See The Pyramids Or Snorkel In The Red Sea

A shop owner waits for customers in a market in the resort town of Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Over the past nine months, tourism has plummeted in the country after a series of deadly attacks.

A shop owner waits for customers in a market in the resort town of Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Over the past nine months, tourism has plummeted in the country after a series of deadly attacks. Chris McGrath/Getty Images hide caption

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Khaled Ali Hassanin opens his silver minivan and pulls into Cairo’s busy traffic. He’s a freelance driver. He used to ferry foreign tourists all around Egypt as a staff member of a tour company. It was a great job.

“There was so much work. I never worried about money. If I spent one [Egyptian] pound, I’d get two back. We had more work than we could handle,” he says.

Until 2011 — that’s when mass protests led to the overthrow of the dictatorial Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Hundreds were killed. Foreign tourist visits, which had reached 14.7 million in 2010, according to government figures, dropped by 30 percent to 9.8 million. Last year the number of foreign tourists was even lower, 9.3 million. Hassanin spent savings he’d accumulated during the good times to support his family — until he gave up hope on tourism.

“Business dropped, the company closed down. The cars I’d drive tourists in were parked off in some garage,” he says. “I have responsibilities, I have children, so I had to go find something to do.”

The crash last week of an EgyptAir passenger plane flying from Paris to Cairo is the latest blow to the industry, which once made up over 11 percent of Egypt’s GDP.

Hassanin is one of many former employees in the tourism industry who are working more in other jobs and earning less. He now competes with many other drivers who hawk rides around or outside Cairo. He earns half of what he used to, and skimps on himself to pay for his family’s sports club membership and English classes for his kids.

Even before the 2011 revolution, bombs periodically struck high-profile tourist sites in Egypt. Adel Adrees, a tour guide for 30 years, says visits would bounce back within a few weeks, even after a fatal attack.

“Before 2011, the troubles we had here in Egypt, it was internal,” he says. “Nowadays the problem is regional.”

It is true that there are ongoing wars in the region. But Egypt has had its own special problems. In the past nine months, the military killed 12 Mexican tourists and their guide. Authorities claimed forces thought the group were Islamic militants. The body of an Italian student was found in a ditch with signs of torture, creating a public feud with Italy. A mentally ill man hijacked a plane from Cairo to Cyprus with a fake suicide belt. And a Russian jet that took off from the Egyptian resort town Sharm el-Sheikh exploded midair. Russia has suspended all flights to Egypt.

But Hassan el Nahla, head of Egypt’s tour guide association, brushes all these issues aside.

“All this is true, but some of them are out of our hands,” he says. Terrorism, he points out, happens in many countries.

And while tourism isn’t making the same contribution to the local economy, it still provides huge revenues. International visitors to the country’s snorkeling beaches and ancient tombs brought in in more than $12 billion dollars annually in 2010. Last year, the figure had fallen to $6.6 billion.

Egypt’s government is starting a multimillion dollar effort to woo back foreign visitors. Part of the money will go to boosting security and another will go toward improving Egypt’s image through international ad campaigns that highlight tourist spots. Tourism is a fragile business, many in the business in Egypt say, and the most important thing to build it up is the perception of safety.

Yesterday, at Egypt’s perhaps most famous attraction, Australian tourist Stephen Booker climbed backward down a ramp into the burial chamber of a small Queen’s pyramid at Giza. There was no line.

At the pyramids of Giza, Mahmoud Tayar and his camel, Charlie Brown, are gloomy about the steep drop in tourism to Egypt over the past five years.

At the pyramids of Giza, Mahmoud Tayar and his camel, Charlie Brown, are gloomy about the steep drop in tourism to Egypt over the past five years. Emily Harris/NPR hide caption

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He says the EgyptAir crash last week does not worry him. “Not for my personal safety,” he says. “But I did feel sorry for the Egyptians, because they’ve taken one hit after another.”

Mahmoud Tayar knows what he means. He offers camel rides to pyramid visitors.

“There are a lot of camels to compete with but in good times I’d get 30 customers a day,” Tayar says. “Now it’s three, four, sometimes zero a day.”

Tayar says his camel, named Charlie Brown, feels the loss of business too. Charlie Brown, beside him, moans and bleats. “He told you ‘no business,’ ” says Tayar, translating for his camel. ” ‘Busy no. No business.’ “

But for visitors like Booker, that can also be a good thing. “It’s certainly better for getting cheap tours, that’s for sure,” he says. “There’s some quite cheap deals because they just aren’t getting the people in.”

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Watch Car Seat Headrest, Live In Concert

May 23, 20165:46 PM ET

When All Songs Considered‘s Bob Boilen heard Car Seat Headrest‘s new album Teens of Denial, he immediately dubbed it “what is likely to be my No. 1 album of 2016.” Twenty-three-year-old bandleader Will Toledo has brought his project from DIY Bandcamp releases onto the big stage. Watch the group perform live at Black Cat in Washington, D.C., on Monday, May 23, starting at 9:30 p.m. EDT.

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Rhino-Horn Trade OK'd By South African Court, Lifting Domestic Ban

De-horned rhinos roam a private ranch in South Africa in February. The country's Supreme Court of Appeal has lifted a domestic ban on trading rhino horns.

De-horned rhinos roam a private ranch in South Africa in February. The country’s Supreme Court of Appeal has lifted a domestic ban on trading rhino horns. Mujahid Safodien/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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South Africa will allow domestic trade of rhino horns again, after a seven-year ban. International trade of the horns is still barred.

The Supreme Court of Appeal rejected the government’s bid to keep the domestic moratorium in place, National Geographic reports.

South Africa is “home to the world’s largest rhino population, and nearly all of the world’s 20,000 white rhinos,” National Geographic adds.

Rhino horns grow back after being cut off, so advocates of lifting the trade ban say rhinos could be raised on private farms where their horns would be taken off periodically after tranquilization, as NPR has reported. Conservationists say ending the ban would lift the stigma of the trade and ultimately raise demand.

The number of rhinos killed for their horns has been on the rise, though National Geographic reported a slight decrease in poaching in 2015.

“Last year, 1,175 rhinos were poached—40 fewer than in 2014 but still significantly higher than the 13 killed in 2007,” the media organization said.

Asia drives demand for the horns, NPR has noted — both for medicinal purposes and as a status symbol for the growing middle and upper classes.

Even with the appeals court ruling, buyers and sellers of the horns in South Africa still need a permit, Reuters reports, “so that the government can keep tabs on the commodity.”

Reuters notes that about a quarter of South Africa’s rhino population is in private hands.

The court decision comes ahead of an international conference on wild-animal trade — to be held in Johannesburg in the fall. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora, or CITES, banned the sale of rhino horns in 1977.

South Africa had considered proposing that the conference lift the trade ban. In the end, the government decided not to make the recommendation.

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Bank of America $1.2 Billion Mortgage “Hustle” Penalty Thrown Out

A federal appeals court Monday threw out a $1.2 billion penalty for allegedly fraudulent mortgage practices by Bank of America.

A federal appeals court Monday threw out a $1.2 billion penalty for allegedly fraudulent mortgage practices by Bank of America. Matt Rourke/AP hide caption

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A federal appeals court Monday ruled in favor of Bank of America, reversing a lower court ruling. The decision is a blow to the federal government which had won the case at trial. Bank of America had been ordered to pay a $1.27 billion penalty for alleged violations by its Countrywide unit.

The case got attention in 2012 because it appeared to pull back the curtain on some of the widespread wrongdoing in the mortgage industry that led to the worst financial crisis in generations.

The “Hustle” case, as it was called, involved a whistleblower, a senior executive from Countrywide, who said the bank continued to make risky loans and sell them to investors even after the housing market was starting to fall apart.

The alleged wrongdoing in the case occurred in 2007 when Countrywide was the biggest home lender in the U.S., and there were growing defaults on risky loans such as the so-called “liars loans” where borrowers didn’t even have to show proof of their income to get a mortgage.

But rather than be more cautious and dial back its risky lending, prosecutors alleged that Countrywide gutted its quality control system so it could push sketchy loans through the pipeline three times faster than before. The lawsuit says that Countrywide ignored warnings that the loans were going bad and kept making more of them and selling them to investors anyway. This program within the bank to keep making these bad loans was allegedly referred to by executives at the bank as “The Hustle.”

During the trial, defense attorneys said the lawsuit was misguided and that the whistleblower had a grudge.

And now, a federal appeals court is siding with the bank. The appeals panel says that the government didn’t prove that the bank had intended to commit fraud when it sold packages of home loans to investors.

The “hustle” case is of course just one instance of a major U.S. bank facing billion-dollar penalties over risky lending practices. In 2014, JPMorgan Chase agreed to pay $13 billion, Citigroup came to a $7 billion deal with federal investigators, and Bank of America itself agreed to pay nearly $17 billion in a settlement with federal regulators over allegations that it misled investors into buying risky, mortgage-backed securities. In 2015, Morgan Stanley agreed to $2.6 billion mortgage-backed securities settlement. Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs agreed to pay $5 billion for misleading investors about mortgages.

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WHO's Stern Warning: The World 'Is Not Prepared To Cope' With Pandemics

World Health Organization head Dr. Margaret Chan delivering a speech in March of this year at a summit in Lyon, France.

World Health Organization head Dr. Margaret Chan delivering a speech in March of this year at a summit in Lyon, France. Francois Mori/AP hide caption

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The head of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, came out swinging at the opening ceremony today of the 69th World Health Assembly in Geneva. The meeting of health officials from nearly 200 countries is usually a low-key, bureaucratic affair. Chan, however, opened the assembly by basically saying that the world is facing unprecedented global health challenges right now and is ill-equipped to deal with future threats.

“For infectious diseases, you cannot trust the past when planning for the future,” she warned.

Chan said emerging diseases, climate change, new global transportation networks and the failure of “more and more” antibiotics make the planet ripe for the next pandemic.

“Changes in the way humanity inhabits the planet have given the volatile microbial world multiple new opportunities to exploit,” she said. “There will always be surprises.”

And she said the world must take action to prepare for outbreaks of diseases that haven’t even been discovered yet.

She also spoke of a new program for WHO representing “a fundamental change” by adding to its agenda the capacity “needed to respond to outbreaks and humanitarian emergencies.”

Here are excerpts from her address.

—————————————————————————————————————————————-

Public health constantly struggles to hold infectious diseases at bay, to change lifestyle behaviors, and to find enough money to do these and many other things.

But sometimes we need to step back and celebrate.

Commitment to the Millennium Development Goals brought focus, energy, creative innovation and, above all, money to bear on some of the biggest health challenges that marred the start of this century.

We can celebrate the 19,000 fewer children dying every day, the 44 percent drop in maternal mortality and the 85 percent of tuberculosis cases that are successfully cured.

Africa in particular can celebrate the 60 percent decline in malaria mortality, especially since ALMA — the African Leaders Malaria Alliance — supported by partners did so much to make this happen.

We can celebrate the fastest scale-up of a life-saving treatment in history. Let me remind you more than 15 million people living with HIV are now receiving anti-retroviral therapy, up from just 690,000 in 2000. That’s quite an achievement.

A culture of measurement and accountability evolved to make aid more effective. Greater transparency brought the voice of civil society to bear in holding governments and donors accountable for their promises.

The health profile changed; it’s moved from looking at health from a drain on resources to an investment that builds stable, prosperous and equitable societies.

Everyone in this room can be proud of these achievements.

[But] in an interconnected world characterized by profound mobility of people and goods, very few threats to health are local anymore.

Air pollution is a transboundary hazard that affects the global atmosphere and contributes to climate change.

Drug-resistant pathogens, including the growing number of “superbugs,” travel internationally in people, animals and food.

The marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages, especially to children, is now a global phenomenon.

Safeguarding the quality of pharmaceutical products has become much harder, with complex manufacturing procedures and supply chains span across multiple countries and multiple companies.

Ensuring the quality of the food supply is also much harder when a single meal can contain ingredients from all around the world, including some potentially contaminated with exotic pathogens.

The refugee crisis in Europe taught the world that armed conflicts in faraway places will not stay remote.

The Ebola outbreak in three small countries paralyzed the world with fear and travel constraints.

Last year, a business traveler infected with MERS coronavirus returned home to the Republic of Korea, disrupting the country’s economy as well as its health system.

The rapidly evolving outbreak of Zika virus warns us that an old disease that slumbered for six decades in Africa and Asia can suddenly wake up on a new continent to cause a global health emergency.

This year’s long-feared appearance of urban yellow fever in Africa, now confirmed in the capital cities of Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, is yet another serious event with potential for further international spread.

For infectious diseases, you cannot trust the past when planning for the future.

Changes in the way humanity inhabits the planet have given the volatile microbial world multiple new opportunities to exploit. There will always be surprises.

The possibility that a mosquito bite during pregnancy could be linked to severe brain abnormalities in newborns alarmed the public and astonished scientists.

Confirmation of a causal link between infection and microcephaly has transformed the profile of Zika from a mild disease to a devastating diagnosis for pregnant women and a significant threat to global health.

Outbreaks that become emergencies always reveal specific weaknesses in affected countries and illuminate the fault lines in our collective preparedness.

For Ebola, it was the absence of even the most basic infrastructures and capacities for surveillance, diagnosis, infection control and clinical care, unaided by any vaccines or specific treatments.

For Zika, we are again taken by surprise, with no vaccines and no reliable and widely available diagnostic tests. To protect women of childbearing age, what can we do? We can only offer advice. Avoid mosquito bites. Delay pregnancy. Do not travel to areas with ongoing transmission.

Zika reveals an extreme consequence of the failure to provide universal access to sexual health and family planning services. Latin America and the Caribbean have the highest proportion of unintended pregnancies anywhere in the world.

Above all, the spread of Zika, the resurgence of dengue and the emerging threat from chikungunya are the price being paid for a massive policy failure that dropped the ball on mosquito control in the 1970s.

The lesson from yellow fever is especially brutal.

For more than a decade, WHO has been warning the world that changes in demography and land use patterns in Africa have created ideal conditions for explosive outbreaks of urban yellow fever. Africa’s urbanization has been rapid and rampant, showing the fastest growth rates anywhere in the world.

Migrants from rural areas, and workers from mining and construction sites, can now carry the virus into urban areas with powder-keg conditions: dense populations of non-immune people, heavy infestations with mosquitoes exquisitely adapted to urban life and the flimsy infrastructures that make mosquito control nearly impossible.

The world has had a safe, low-cost and effective vaccine that confers lifelong protection against yellow fever since 1937. Yellow fever vaccines should be used more widely to protect people living in endemic countries because yellow fever is not a mild disease.

Let me give you a stern warning. What we are seeing now looks more and more like a dramatic resurgence of the threat from emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. The world is not prepared to cope.

I welcome the current joint external evaluations that are looking at preparedness and response capacities in several countries. The evaluations need to continue with the utmost urgency, as a tool under WHO authority and coordination.

WHO is the organization with universal legitimacy to implement the International Health Regulations. The evaluations must be accompanied by well-resourced efforts to fill the gaps.

Given what we face right now, and the next surprises that are sure to come, the item on your agenda with the most sweeping consequences, for a danger that can quickly sweep around the world, is the one on the reform of WHO’s work in health emergency management.

Few health threats are local anymore. And few health threats can be managed by the health sector acting alone.

The ambition of the agenda [the world needs to adapt] is to tackle the root causes of the world’s many woes, from the degrading misery to poverty to the consequences of terrorism and violence, in an integrated and interactive way.

The agenda puts the people left behind first.

It also falls to the health sector to show some principled ethical backbone in a world that I’m afraid [has] for all practical appearances lost its moral compass. We must express outrage at the recent bombings of hospitals and refugee camps in Syria and Yemen, the use of rape and starvation as weapons of war, and the killing of innocent civilians in the pursuit of terrorist goals.

We have entered an ambitious new era for health development. We have a solid foundation of success to build on.

WHO, together with its multiple partners, is poised to save many more millions of lives. I ask you to remember this purpose as we go through an agenda that can mean so much for the future.

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Red Light Camera Use Declines After Public Outrage

Red light cameras increase safety at intersections at no cost to taxpayers, but over the last several years, the number of communities using red light cameras has fallen. Community outrage is one of the main reasons there are fewer cameras. Meanwhile, safety advocates are trying to increase the number of cameras by better educating local governments on how to use them.

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As Their Anchors Sink, Malls Try To Present Retail 'Experience'

A woman rides an escalator past closed storefronts inside the largely empty White Flint Mall, in Bethesda, Md., in 2014. The mall closed last year.

A woman rides an escalator past closed storefronts inside the largely empty White Flint Mall, in Bethesda, Md., in 2014. The mall closed last year. Patrick Semansky/AP hide caption

toggle caption Patrick Semansky/AP

Many of the department stores that once anchored bustling shopping malls continue to close. Macy’s will shutter 36 additional stores this year; 78 Kmart and Sears locations will also close. The question is: What to do with that vast, vacant space?

There is no traffic, and no problem finding parking at Owings Mills Mall in Maryland. The 5,000 or so parking spaces are all vacant. A J.C. Penney closed last month and a Macy’s closed last year.

When it opened in 1986, it was anchored by a Saks Fifth Avenue and catered to well-to-do Baltimore suburbanites.

The mall’s owner, Kimco Realty, is planning a multi-million-dollar revamp. Like many malls that are trying to re-attract customers, it will include a movie theater and restaurants. But it will not include a department store.

Jan Rogers Kniffen, a retail consultant familiar with the Owings Mills project, says the developers are hoping outdoor shopping without department stores will pay off.

“They’re trying to make it more interesting and more experiential, and so they’re turning it inside out and making it open air. Whether that will be a solution or not, I don’t know,” he says.

For many in Generation X, the suburban mall was their social epicenter. Kniffen says mall rats are no more.

“The culture is dead. [They] were the last generation that went and hung out at the mall,” he says.

Magician Andrew Pinard waves during his performance at the Hatbox Theater in Concord, N.H. The theater took over the location of a closed clothing store at the Steeplegate Mall.

Magician Andrew Pinard waves during his performance at the Hatbox Theater in Concord, N.H. The theater took over the location of a closed clothing store at the Steeplegate Mall. Jim Cole/AP hide caption

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People shop where they socialize — and that’s increasingly online. In less than 15 years, Kniffen expects half of sales will be Web-based, which will hit department stores especially hard.

Decades ago, department stores were so valued developers gave them the land underneath their stores.

“If you were building one today, you wouldn’t give that deal to an anchor, because they’re not a good enough attraction,” Kniffen says.

In fact, the most troubled stores like Sears are selling off their best real estate to survive. And more closures are expected.

Real estate research firm Green Street Advisors ranks the 1,100 malls in the U.S. by grade. Those with the richest demographics, brands and highest foot traffic get As. A third of the country’s malls rank C+ or lower, and Green Street says many department stores in those locations will likely have to close.

Higher rated malls have Apple stores, and luxury and specialty apparel brands like Bonobos or Warby Parker that use their stores as showrooms. There is also a lot of emphasis on “experiential” retail — sit-down restaurants, gyms, movie theaters — because that’s where people are spending money.

Kniffen, the consultant, says in other cases, malls are adding offices and residences. “Mixed use, people think, is the savior, right? If you can get people to live at the mall, you have an immediate clientele for your restaurants,” he says.

But some malls simply don’t have the demographics to draw desirable retail or residential tenants. Some of those are converting into doctors’ offices, churches, and even for-profit prisons.

A handful of others are identifying new niche uses for malls that veer from the mainstream.

The Legaspi Company purchases old malls and turns them into retail centers targeted at the Hispanic community. The company owns three and has developed a dozen others.

“We’re selling ambience, we’re selling an environment,” company President Jose de Jesus Legaspi says.

The malls host regular concerts, mariachi band classes, and holiday festivities. Where there are vacant department stores, local entrepreneurs open stalls and kiosks, as a kind of retail incubator. The effect is like an international bazaar where the community comes to hang out.

“They’ll come in right after mass, for example, and they’ll stay until 6, 7, 8 o’clock at night,” Legaspi says.

And, of course, they spend. The malls’ revenue spiked 20 percent after Legaspi made the changes. Even the sales at the department stores that remain in his malls have increased, too, because they can target their products and marketing to a specific community.

“Bringing Hispanic oriented retailers helps as what I call an aggregate anchor for the other national retailers,” Legaspi says.

Legaspi’s malls target areas with dense Hispanic populations. But, he says, malls that target other populations could work elsewhere, too.

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The Vanishing Islands Of India's Sundarbans

A boat approaches Ghoramara island in India's Sundarbans. Most traffic goes the other way, as thousands of Ghoramara residents have left the flood-prone island in recent years.

A boat approaches Ghoramara island in India’s Sundarbans. Most traffic goes the other way, as thousands of Ghoramara residents have left the flood-prone island in recent years. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

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People in India know the Sundarbans as a beautiful and dangerous patchwork of mangrove islands covering nearly 4,000 square miles extending into Bangladesh. It is also home to a variety of rare and endangered species and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Now, this watery landscape is getting international attention for a different reason.

Some of these islands are disappearing, swallowed up by rising tides. Tens of thousands of people who live in the Sundarbans have lost their homes in recent decades.

This is an estuary where saltwater from the Bay of Bengal mixes with freshwater from three of India’s major rivers — the Ganges, the Meghna and the Brahmaputra. The tides in the Sundarbans are so dramatic that about a third of the land disappears and reappears every day.

That’s been happening for centuries. But just in the last few decades, the changes have become more extreme. In this delta, water levels are rising more dramatically than in other parts of the world — especially on the island of Ghoramara.

Approaching the island, it looks like a piece of cheese where a mouse has been nibbling around the edges. There are trees in the center and mud flats on the perimeter, but chunks have been removed from the landscape. The mud bank has been heavily eroded by rising tides, which leave jagged tooth marks cutting into dirt and rock. Trees have toppled into the water.

This island used to be home to 40,000 people. Today, just over 3,000 live here.

The first person we meet is 45-year-old Rubil Saha, who lives in a mud hut with his two children. Only a crumbling dirt embankment separates his house from the water.

“Every year, my house gets inundated,” he says. “Water from the river comes in and breaks the house. I rebuild it. And it’s again destroyed.”

He shows us where the walls of his house are cracked and eroded. “This entire wall was broken,” he says, “and I have built it again.”

Rubil Saha has lived on Ghoramara his whole life. Saha's parents and other relatives have all left. The 45-year-old farmer worries about continually having to rebuild his house, but chooses to stay on the island.

Rubil Saha has lived on Ghoramara his whole life. Saha’s parents and other relatives have all left. The 45-year-old farmer worries about continually having to rebuild his house, but chooses to stay on the island. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

toggle caption David Gilkey/NPR

Back when Saha was born on this island, the land was twice the size it is now, according to Sugata Haza from Jadavpur University in Kolkata, who has been studying satellite mapping data of the region.

Saha’s parents and relatives have all left. But he can’t bring himself to go.

His weeping seems to burst out of nowhere.

“This is my motherland, so I can’t abandon it,” he says. “And the pull of the motherland roots me here. I am drowning in the river water, but I can’t leave.”

Down the path, a boy named Sheikh Firoz comes out of his hut to greet us. He says he’s 15 but looks younger. He has a cocky swagger, and a matter-of-fact attitude about life here.

“Last time the flood came, I was asleep,” he says. “My parents woke me up and we ran to the government school to take shelter. When we came back, the house was washed away.”

What did he think when they saw there was no house?

“We just built this new house.”

Sheikh Firoz (right), 15, and a friend stand in front of his family's house. They moved after floods destroyed their old home.

Sheikh Firoz (right), 15, and a friend stand in front of his family’s house. They moved after floods destroyed their old home. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

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It’s midday — sweltering — at the center of the village. Children are splashing in a pond while women pump water out of a nearby well.

Among all these mud huts, there is one concrete home, two stories tall. This is where the village leader, Arun Pramanik, lives.

“I know I have a beautiful home,” he says, “but ultimately it will go into the womb of the river. All we can do is try to delay the process.”

Pramanik used to think he’d have another 20 or 30 years here. But he says the floods have been coming so much more frequently, now he thinks it might not be long at all until everything is washed away.

“We’ll never have the same kind of community, the same kind of bonding we have here,” he says. “Everybody will separate to new homes, new communities, new places.”

It’s already started. One of those new places is nearby Sagar island. It’s much bigger — a Hindu pilgrimage site, with power lines and paved roads. You can drive an hour and still not reach the opposite side.

Thousands have been relocated from Ghoramara island to nearby Sagar island, including (counterclockwise from top) Sushil Mali, who walks with his grandson, Muntaz Sheikh and his wife, Zarina Bibi. Debendra Tarek, 80, standing with other villagers, has stayed on Ghoramara.

Thousands have been relocated from Ghoramara island to nearby Sagar island, including (counterclockwise from top) Sushil Mali, who walks with his grandson, Muntaz Sheikh and his wife, Zarina Bibi. Debendra Tarek, 80, standing with other villagers, has stayed on Ghoramara. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

toggle caption David Gilkey/NPR

The village has only existed here for about 20 years, since people started being forced to leave Ghoramara. This is where the state government of West Bengal resettled them. Tens of thousands have been relocated over the years.

“My father actually lived and died [on Ghoramara],” says Sushil Mali, now a grandfather himself. “The river didn’t eat my father’s house.

Mali wasn’t so lucky. He brought nothing to Sagar. “No. Nothing. All my things were gone.”

Ratan Maity moved here 15 years ago with his two kids.

“I had no other option,” he says. “The river was taking away our homes.”

Ratan Maity is a cart-puller who was resettled from Ghoramara to Sagar island 15 years ago, after he lost his house to rising tides. “You can’t defeat the water,” he says. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

toggle caption David Gilkey/NPR

He pieces together work pulling a cart and doing other odd jobs. He has never heard of melting polar icecaps or climate change. He’s unaware that sea levels are rising around the world. All he knows is that his river in the eastern corner of India started devouring houses.

“The river was angry,” he says. “It took away so many things. It took people’s lives. Children were swallowed. My home was gone. That’s why I had to leave. We were scared.”

His new home is far inland. He can’t go fishing anymore. But he feels safer.

I ask if he’s angry.

“Sure, I’m angry,” he says. “But what’s the point? You can’t defeat the water.”

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