Tag: sustainable neighborhoods

More urban farming news from my old haunts

This time it’s news from Cincinnati that one of the oldest community gardens in Over the Rhine would have been bulldozed for housing development. The “Eco-Garden” is a lovely garden that I used to walk by frequently on my way to downtown from Clifton, so it is very good news indeed that it has not only been spared, but incorporated into the city’s redevelopment plans for Over the Rhine.

While Over the Rhine is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Cincinnati, it has deep cultural roots that include food and urban ag. I spent most of my Saturday mornings at the historic Findlay Market, which was open year-round thanks to a major improvement about 8 years ago to enclose the main stalls in a four-seasons building. Before that project, Findlay Market definitely required a bit of stoicism for winter shopping, but it separated the committed from the fair-season shoppers.

Farmers Markets are quickly returning to cities around the country, after decades of lagging interest. It is quite an impressive achievement for Findlay Market to have withstood the test of time. And now it appears, happily, that the Eco-Garden will too.


Chicago’s new Urban Farmer program

Grist.org published a segment last week on Chicago’s new urban farmer program, aiming to train up to 100 farmers each year on how to establish an urban neighborhood farm, both from the agricultural as well as the business side.

Many contracting or otherwise struggling urban cities in the US are looking to agriculture as a solution for vacant lots and unhealthy diets, from Pittsburgh to Detroit to Los Angeles. (You know it’s a trend when the New York Times has an entire online section dedicated to it.) Farming (or even gardening) on a vacant lot can be challenging, from polluted soil to poor drainage to pest infestations, not to mention ordinance violations. But as experience with these transformations grow, lessons learned from converting many thousands of acres of brownfields into greenfields could help localize our food system and provide much needed urban employment. It’s also a great way to immerse children in the food system, allowing easier access to gardens (to participate in growing their own food) and a natural way to get to know others in their community.

Personally, I’m glad to see the change of heart in my native city; let’s see if the suburbs follow suit and relax their landscaping ordinances that prohibit gardens in front yards.


Cozy living

First, apologies for the long hiatus…. the last month or so of the semester is always crazy.

I was going to write a reflective post on all of the sustainability-related events in 2012…. most notably, the lack of any sort of societal collapse as predicted by the Mayans and others (although as Jon Stewart remarked, perhaps the Mayans were not the best ones to be predicting collapses). However, as I sit here in my drafty post-mining poorly-insulated Yooper home, trying to warm my toes in front of a space heater, the only thing I can think about is how much nicer a tiny cottage with a pot-bellied wood stove might feel just about now.

Coincidentally, as I looked through my inbox, the latest edition of Grist has an entire article devoted to Living Large in Small Houses. While the thought of no mortgage and a forced reduction in junk (timely after the post-Christmas gift binge) does sound nice, what I found really engaging was the farm cottage in Vermont that stayed cozy all winter using less than a cord of wood.

I used to rent a log cabin even smaller than that when I was a grad student in Knoxville TN. It had a tiny kitchen, tiny bathroom, one small family room (where the wood stove was) and one other room that I used as a bedroom/den. Off the back was a giant porch with a view of the forested “holler” below, full of huge magnolia trees and tulip poplars hiding a Civil War-era fort within it. Due to the complete lack of insulation in the walls, I typically went through a cord of wood each winter, which wasn’t a big problem due to a microburst storm my first summer there that brought down 5 or 6 massive trees in my backyard. It look less than five minutes to find a forestry student with a chainsaw, and then I had years of wood to split and use. I look back on those years very fondly…. the house was small, easy to keep clean, and the heating system was very effective and simple to operate (open door, put wood in, throw in lit match, close door).

Maybe someday I’ll get back to that sort of living….. with the emergence of a huge diversity of tiny house blueprints, perhaps I’ll build it myself.

Happy New Year!


FOLK on campus for Global City

Tonight (Tuesday 25 September) at 6pm….. sponsored by the Global City student organization:

Global Citizens! Join us for the first Global City presentation of the 2012-2013 school year!

Tomorrow night, Tuesday, September 25, 6:00-7:00 pm in Fisher 138.

Linda Rulison and Catherine Paavola, members of the grassroots organization FOLK (Friends of the Land of Keweenaw), will discuss the local environmental issues which led to FOLK’s creation over 20 years ago. Their current initiatives and foci not only concern the environment but also involve human rights and social issues, topics which are concerns of people worldwide.

For more information, see the abstract below. Pizza and sodas will be provided! If possible, try and bring your own cups so we can cut down on waste.
FOLK is an active all-volunteer organization dedicated to maintaining a healthy Lake Superior bioregion. Our goals are to educate the public and support activities which recognize the inherent worth of our forest, our land and our watersheds. Please contact FOLK for information on how to join.

Jutting 80 miles into Lake Superior’s cold deep waters, the Keweenaw Peninsula is the jewel of the Great Lakes. A land of small farms and historic towns, clean air and tall pines, clear water and rugged shoreline, the Keweenaw is an area of unparalleled natural beauty. However, it’s beauty and tranquility has been threatened; this is the story of a group of citizens that have united to meet that threat and to always protect the quality of the Keweenaw.

In 1989, the James River Corporation proposed the construction of a 1.2 billion dollar bleach kraft pulp/paper mill near Keweenaw Bay in Michigan’s Western Upper Peninsula. If allowed to be built the mill would consume the equivalent of 80 clear cut acres of forest and discharge 41 million gallons of dioxin-laced waste effluent into Lake Superior each day. This threat to the Lake Superior watershed jolted local residents into action and gave birth to Friends of the Land of Keweenaw or FOLK. In less than a year, the tireless efforts of many caring citizens prevailed, culminating in the withdrawal of the mill proposal. These efforts included, Investing in the Keweenaw’s Future – Moving Towards Sustainable Development, a progressive report which introduced the concepts of sustainability that are now widely accepted.

Today, FOLK continues to be a diligent force working together with other state and national organizations to protect and preserve the ecological integrity of the Lake Superior Watershed. FOLK has spent considerable effort dealing with local land issues.

To read more about FOLK, visit their website: http://www.folkup.org/index.php


Walking is so pedestrian

This recent article in Slate on the amount of walking that Americans do relative to those in other countries could not have been more timely for me (and thanks to Grist.com for bringing it to my attention!). I read it while in Newport, Rhode Island at a professional meeting (the US-International Association for Landscape Ecology, of all things) and it really struck a chord.

Always the cheapskate, I found a hotel that was almost one-third of the price of the hotel where the meeting was held, and it was only about a mile away: an easily walkable distance. I like to build these sorts of walks into my day, especially when I’m at a conference that involves a lot of sitting in dark rooms for hours on end. The morning walk ensures that I am awake for the presentations, and the evening walk allows me to reflect back on what I’ve learned.

However, although the walk looked straightforward and perfectly safe on the web, it was considerably less so in reality. At least a third of it involved walking in a grassy/sandy ditch while cars sped past on a two-lane road (and I was not the only walker using this route), and the rest of the way included narrow sidewalks littered with street signs, fire hydrants, and other impediments (I suppose I should include dog poop here as well). Marked and posted pedestrian crossings across two busy county roads were few and far between.

It seemed odd to me that a tourist-based town was so difficult for pedestrians, especially given that the town was settled far before automobiles were invented (some of the old houses in the historic district dated back to the 1700’s). Most likely, the space once devoted to pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages was given over to automobiles, with not much thought given to their inherent incompatibilities. Walkability is often emphasized in conversations regarding sustainable cities, and now I have a very personal understanding of this issue.


How small can you go?

I’ve always been fascinated by “alternative” living spaces, even if I couldn’t imagine living in one myself.

Previously I’ve been interested in homes made from shipping containers and other repurposed items, but lately these links have been arriving to my inbox fast and furious.

I found out that my Knoxville neighborhood in my grad school days was literally in spitting distance to an entire neighborhood of homes from repurposed things… although I did have my suspicions. 🙂

And now I think I’ve seen it all…. a high-end condo built on the design theory of an Airstream.

What do you think: could you live in 160 square feet?


What is a neighborhood without neighbors?

A recent article in The Atlantic (online, anyway) highlights a new LEED-Platinum certified neighborhood…. yes, the entire neighborhood…. in Victoria, British Columbia. Dockside Green is a 15-acre brownfield redevelopment just across the river from downtown, powered by an onsite biomass gasification plant and treating its wastewater through a constructed waterway. The pictures certainly make it look like the coolest place to live EVER:

However Kaid Benfield (the author) said it didn’t yet feel like a “neighborhood”, perhaps due to its unfinished and half-empty status. He cites both the lack of “critical mass” and the disconnectedness to surrounding neighborhoods as reasons for the feelings of isolation, and I have no doubt that these are the main contributors. In fact, I would argue that the lack of critical mass is far more to blame than the “work in progress” status of the development. And of course, it isn’t just a matter of not having enough humans occupying the space, but enough people who are committed to the goals of the project. Bad neighbors do not make a neighborhood any more sustainable (or desirable) than no neighbors.

Humans are intensely social creatures; if we are unable (or unwilling) to socialize face-of-face, we find new and clever ways to communicate anyway, from smoke signals to virtual worlds. Regardless of how amazing and lovely our dwellings are, without neighbors willing to be neighborly we simply don’t have a neighborhood. It may be that it will take another decade or so before there are enough people of like minds who will create a community in the Dockside Green neighborhood; it seems to have taken that long in other ecovillages such as Prairie Crossing in Grayslake, IL (begun in the mid-1980’s) or the EcoVillage in Ithaca, NY (begun in the mid-1990’s). However, both of these communities have very explicit expectations for social responsibility of all of its residents, going far beyond the restrictions common to homeowner associations, and both of these communities are quite small relative to the Dockside Green effort: 400 homes in Prairie Crossing and 90 homes (60 completed) in the Ithaca EcoVillage, in contrast to the 2500 residents in 26 buildings expected when Dockside Green is completed. It will be interesting to see if this many residents can coalesce into a sustainable neighborhood!