Archive for May, 2011

Redefining apathy: Dave Meslin on TED.com

Posted in Opinion by Kate Archdeacon on May 31st, 2011


What if Nike advertised the way that local government advertises Notices of Application?

From the transcript:

How often do we hear that people just don’t care? How many times have you been told that real, substantial change isn’t possible because most people are too selfish, too stupid or too lazy to try to make a difference in their community? I propose to you today that apathy as we think we know it doesn’t actually exist, but rather, that people do care, but that we live in a world that actively discourages engagement by constantly putting obstacles and barriers in our way.

Local politics — schools, zoning, council elections — hit us where we live. So why don’t more of us actually get involved? Is it apathy? Dave Meslin says no. He identifies 7 barriers that keep us from taking part in our communities, even when we truly care. (Recorded at TEDxToronto, October 2010, in Toronto, Ontario. Duration: 7:05)

Watch the video on TED here – the video seems to run out before the end of Dave’s talk, so read the transcript to get the final few seconds.

 


Combining Local Shop Deliveries: Last Mile Freight Solution

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on May 30th, 2011

Source: Springwise


From “Combined deliveries from small, local grocers“:

London-based Hubbub lets customers place online grocery orders with multiple local shops and receive a single, aggregated delivery to the door. Consumers in most parts of Highbury, Islington, Finsbury Park, Stoke Newington, Tufnell Park and Kentish Town begin by creating an account with Hubbub and then shopping online at their favorite greengrocers, butchers, fishmongers, bakers and more. Shopping can be conducted online shop by shop, or consumers can search for a particular product. Either way, prices are the same as those charged in the shops themselves, and consumers can even choose when their order will be delivered. When that time comes, Hubbub visits the shops in question, picks up the items ordered and delivers them in a single delivery to the consumer’s door. Delivery takes place only on weekdays, and it’s free on the consumer’s first order and for all orders over GBP 75. Otherwise, it costs GBP 3.50, regardless of the order’s size. With the eco-benefits of combined delivery runs and the (still) made here appeal of local sourcing — not to mention the compelling convenience involved — we’re betting there will be plenty more services like this to come.

Check out the original article on Springwise for links to other ideas like this one.

 


Sharing Schoolyards With The Neighbours: Some Examples

Posted in Models, Movements by Kate Archdeacon on May 27th, 2011

Via Sustainable Cities Collective


Photo: South Ozone Park community enjoys the new playground at P.S. 108Q, which opened Spring 2010.

Sharing school grounds and facilities with the surrounding community makes sense as we look at the future of sustainable cities.  It can strengthen networks (increasing resilience through getting to know your neighbours) and improve urban health (access to green parks for recreation and improved air quality)  – but how might it work?  Peter Harnik for City Parks Blog has drawn together a range of schoolyard sharing initiatives from the USA.  The article is great for getting an idea of what’s already happening, as well as pointers for starting up sharing in your neighbourhood.  Below are some extracts:

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Schoolyards are large, flat, centrally located open spaces with a mandate to serve the recreational needs of schoolchildren. Great schoolyards–the rare ones that have healthy grass, big trees, a playground, and sports equipment–seem a lot like parks. But they aren’t. For one thing, most have fences and locks. For another, they are closed to the general public. Schoolyards are parks for only a limited constituency. But they have terrific potential to be more than that. Even less-than-great schoolyards (those that are merely expanses of asphalt with few amenities) represent sizable opportunities in key locations. To many observers, schoolyards seem the best, most obvious source of park-like land to supplement the park systems of overcrowded cities. And they are–even if upgrading them into schoolyard parks is more difficult than it might seem.

“Schoolyard park” in this context means a space reserved for schoolchildren during school hours and used by the whole community at other times. In a few cities–New York, Chicago, and Phoenix–schoolyard parks are run cooperatively by the board of education and the parks department. In others, the parks department has no formal role at all.

Most schoolyards originally had grass and trees. But without proper design, construction, and maintenance, grass can’t survive daily trampling by hundreds of little feet. And small trees can’t handle that much swinging and climbing without becoming spindly skeletons. After a few years of frustration with dust, mud, and dead trees, school principals begin to think that laying down asphalt might be a superior solution (and barely any worse ecologically). It’s also a lot easier to sweep up broken glass from asphalt than from dirt and weeds. Then, this being America, the expanse of asphalt starts to attract automobiles; in no time the former school park has a set of parallel white lines and a row of oil stains. Keeping a schoolyard green, clean, car-free, and environmentally productive can be more difficult than operating a regular neighborhood park.[…]

New York City has taken the concept the furthest. There, with the blessing of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, The Trust for Public Land (TPL) entered into a partnership with the Department of Education, the Department of Parks and Recreation and private funders (including MetLife, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, and The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation) to convert scores of decrepit and uninviting schoolyards into showcase parks.[…]

“This program is community-run,” says Mary Alice Lee, director of TPL’s New York City Playground Program. While all properties are fenced and have locks, in some places it’s the school custodial staff that has the only key, while in others it’s held by the neighborhood sponsoring organization or a block association. A few of the parks are left permanently unlocked. Also, each community sets its own hours. Most common is a schedule of 8 a.m. to dusk seven days a week except when school is in session. In some tougher neighborhoods the community wants the park closed earlier; the most restrictive schedule is 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays, and closed on Sundays.

Designing the space itself is a delicate balancing act that can take up to three months. The children themselves are the lead designers, responding to a set of questions and opportunities posed by TPL, but of course there are a bevy of realities that also affect decisions, including liability, equipment breakability, horticultural survivability, cost, and life lessons from previous play-parks. The children learn how to innovate, compromise, and reach a consensus when their initial ideas turn out to be too expensive or require too much space. “Because of the kids,” says Lee, “we’ve created murals and mosaics, a hair-braiding area, a jump-rope zone, planting gardens, performance stages, outdoor classrooms, rain gardens, and bowling lanes–as well as the usual soccer fields, running tracks, basketball and tennis courts, and play equipment.” […]

Read the full article by Peter Harnik on City Parks Blog or on Sustainable Cities Collective.


Chromaroma: Public Transport Game for London

Posted in Models, Tools by Kate Archdeacon on May 26th, 2011

Via Springwise

Chromaroma is a game that shows you your movements and location as you swipe your Oyster Card in and out of the Tube (Bus, Tram and Boat coming soon). It connects communities of people who cross paths and routes on a regular basis, and encourages people to make new journeys and use public transport in a different way by exploring new areas and potentially using different modes of public transport.

At its simplest, Chromaroma is about amassing the most points possible. By watching your own travel details you can investigate interesting new ways to travel and exciting new destinations in order to get more points. Grab “multipliers” and bonus points by working with a team, building up connections with fellow passengers and discovering mysteries that are attached to locations on your routes.

Beyond competition and conquest, Chromaroma’s gameplay opens up the beauty in the city’s transport flows and reveals to its most persistent players some of the mysteries of travel, and even the strange characters travelling through the tunnels in the centre of the system, who may hold the secrets to your city.

http://www.chromaroma.com/


I don’t totally understand this game, but mixing up social networking with real-time information and alternative transport use is something we’re pretty interested in at VEIL.  Check out Chromaroma on Vimeo to find out (a little) more. KA


City Density Arguments: Wicked Problems

Posted in Movements, Opinion by Kate Archdeacon on May 25th, 2011


Image: Beraldo Leal via flickr CC

“… a lot of what makes cities great is not just their efficiency, but the inefficiencies that also make them attractive and livable.”

The densification of cities and the ways to do so is an ongoing topic of interest here at Sustainable Cities Net.  This article, “The man who thinks Manhattan isn’t dense enough” by Kaid Benfield via Sustainable Cities Collective caught our attention because it shows the complexity of the issue, even among “experts”.

Here are some extracts from the article:

New York County, which comprises all of Manhattan, is the densest county in America, at 71,166 people per square mile. It is twice as dense as number-two Brooklyn (which, incidentally, is followed by two more New York City counties, Bronx and Queens, at numbers three and four, respectively). Manhattan is over four times as dense as number-five San Francisco.

This makes me wonder about Ed Glaeser, a libertarian economist who is the latest hero of some of my new urbanist friends, who have been promoting the heck out of his upcoming speech at their annual meeting. Glaeser thinks Manhattan could be so much better if, you know, we just got rid of some of those pesky rules that get in the way of building still more density. I’m not exaggerating, and I’ll give some examples in a minute.

[…] Glaeser’s current book is called The Triumph of the City. It has received a lot of attention and praise, not least because its author is an intellectual who does his homework and packs a lot of detail into his writing.

[…] He previewed the book in The Atlantic, in an article called “How Skyscrapers Can Save the City.” Here’s Glaeser’s pro-density argument in a nutshell: “The magic of cities comes from their people, but those people must be well served by the bricks and mortar that surround them. Cities need roads and buildings that enable people to live well and to connect easily with one another . . . in the most desirable cities, whether they’re on the Hudson River or the Arabian Sea, height is the best way to keep prices affordable and living standards high.”

It’s basically about efficient use of land, and I agree with much of it, though personally I think there is a lot of room for more density in most American cities and suburbs without making it all about skyscrapers. I also agree, to an extent, with other points Glaeser makes in that article and in the book about overzealous NIMBYs and over-prescriptive zoning.  But here’s the rub: a lot of what makes cities great is not just their efficiency, but the inefficiencies that also make them attractive and livable.

[…] Before leaving the topic, I want to return to a point I made earlier, because it’s important: Glaeser is right in his central points about cities and density. They are good for both the environment and the economy, so part of me is glad that his views are getting attention. My issue is with the lack of nuance and the failure to give enough credit to the benefits of preservation and environmental protection, both of which enrich our well-being and that of cities.

Read the full article by Kaid Benfield on Sustainable Cities Collective.


Pros and Cons of Re-Manufacturing: MIT Energy Analysis

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on May 24th, 2011

Source: Environmental Research Web


Image: Truck PR via flickr CC

From “When is it worth remanufacturing?“:

It seems like a no-brainer: Remanufacturing products rather than making new ones from scratch – widely done with everything from retread tires to refilled inkjet cartridges to remanufactured engines – should save a lot of energy, right? Not so fast, says a new study by researchers at MIT. In some cases, the conventional wisdom is indeed correct. But out of 25 case studies on products in eight categories done by a team led by Professor of Mechanical Engineering Timothy Gutowski, there were just as many cases where remanufacturing actually cost more energy as cases where it saved energy. And for the majority of the items, the savings were negligible or the energy balance was too close to call.

Why are the new results so different from what might have been assumed? The MIT team looked at the total energy used over the lifetime of a product – a life-cycle analysis – rather than just the energy used in the manufacturing process itself. In virtually all cases, it costs less money and less energy to make a product from the recycled “core” – the reusable part of the product – than to start from scratch. But the catch is that many of these remanufactured products are less energy efficient, or newer versions are more energy efficient, so the extra energy used over their lifetime cancels out the savings from the manufacturing stage.

[…]

Gutowski emphasizes that this research does not necessarily suggest a specific course of action. For any given product, there may be other reasons for preferring the remanufactured version even if it produces a net energy penalty. For example, remanufacturing may reduce the burden on landfills, reduce use and disposal of some toxic materials, or produce needed jobs in a particular area. And the expanded use of cell phones may have important social benefits, such as contributing to the recent wave of revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East. “We’re not saying you shouldn’t do it,” he says – just suggesting that it’s worth understanding the decision’s effects in their entirety. “You think you’re doing the right thing, it sounds so simple,” Gutowski says. But when it comes to understanding the true impact of purchasing decisions on energy use, “things are far more complicated than we expect.”

Interested?  Read the full article from MIT on Environmental Research Web.


I Am A Climate Scientist: Rap

Posted in Opinion, Research by Kate Archdeacon on May 20th, 2011

I AM A CLIMATE SCIENTIST By Dan Ilic

“In the media landscape there are climate change deniers and believers, but rarely are those speaking about climate change actual climate scientists.”

This (clean extended) rap from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) Hungry Beast features some real, vocal, climate scientists responding to the posturing of climate change deniers in the media – check it out for some sweet relief if nothing else.  There are a couple of versions around with varying degrees of adult concepts so be aware if little ones are watching with you.  KA

http://hungrybeast.abc.net.au/stories


Brisbane to Construct Second Landfill Gas Plant

Posted in Models, Movements by Kate Archdeacon on May 18th, 2011


Image via UK Energy Saving

From “Willawong waste-to-power plan gets Green approval” by Karin Adams, Sarah McVeigh on QUT News:

The Greens have welcomed Brisbane City Council’s plan to turn rubbish into power, but say the council is years behind the rest of the world.

The landfill site at Willawong in the south of Brisbane will have its methane and carbon dioxide emissions turned into electricity and put into the grid. Methane gas is 21 times more environmentally damaging than carbon dioxide. Landfill Gas Industries managing director Adam Bloomer, the company building the plant, says this will tackle a huge problem for council. “Every council in Australia that owns a landfill,” she said. “Their landfill is their single biggest source of their carbon emissions.” “Generally they’re somewhere in the range of 60 to 70 per cent of their greenhouse gas emission.”

Queensland Greens spokesperson Libby Connors says Brisbane and Australia are behind the rest of the world. “Queensland and Brisbane in particular are a long way behind the (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) where at least 20 OECD countries are already using this sort of technology,” she said. She says she has been calling for the Willawong landfill gas plan for 20 years. “Australia has been really smug for many years that the easiest solution for our waste disposal is landfill because we’ve supposedly got all this space,” she said. “You know that is just completely been the wrong attitude.”

Waste Management Association of Australia Queensland president Pravin Menon says Brisbane City Council is pushing forward with good sustainability policy. “What Brisbane City Council is doing is extremely responsible from an environmental perspective…in actually utilising a resource in the ground that would otherwise add to our environmental impact,” he said. He says future waste management strategies need to avoid, reuse and divert waste. “Councils should firstly look at reducing the amount of waste that they send to landfill,” he said.

Ms Connors says Queensland is missing landfill gas plant opportunities. “It’s interesting the only two plants are here in Brisbane but there are plenty of other opportunities to develop this around the state,” she said. Mr Bloomer says the benefits of the plant are environmental but won’t stem the rising electricity prices. “I don’t think it’s going to make a big difference to electricity prices,” he said. “Renewable energy is still a premium product as far as cost is concerned.” But he says what it will do is provide power to around 1400 homes annually. The plant will be operational by June 2012.

Read this article by Karin Adams & Sarah McVeigh on QUT News.


Public Health, City Health: Exercising & the Value of Local Parks

Posted in Movements by Kate Archdeacon on May 16th, 2011

Source: City Parks Blog via Sustainable Cities Collective


Photo of Green Gym members: Scottish Government via flickr CC

From “Green Gyms and Medical Miles: Promoting Public Health with Parks” by Ryan Donahue:

We’ve previously looked at ways in which the medical community is using exercise prescriptions as a way to combat obesity and inactivity. Park prescriptions are only a portion of the spectrum of exercise prescription programs. Fortunately, the growing awareness of the benefits of outdoor exercise – in addition to the cooperation of parks departments, environmental nonprofits, and individual parks – means that these programs should continue to grow. Once patients have left the doctor’s office with a prescription in hand, there’s still plenty of work to be done. Someone has to ensure that public parks are meeting the needs of people trying to develop good exercise habits, and that newly inspired patients can find interesting and engaging ways to exercise in local parks. A growing body of evidence that suggests that exercise in the outdoors provides some quantifiable benefits over indoor exercise. A study released February in the journal Environmental Science and Technology analyzed data from 11 different studies that compared benefits from outdoor and indoor exercise programs, and found that outdoor exercise was associated with “greater feelings of revitalization, increased energy and positive engagement, together with decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression.” Not surprisingly, those who participated in outdoor exercise “stated that they were more likely to repeat the activity at a later date.”[1]

Read the rest of this article by Ryan Donaghue to find out more about Green Gyms, Prescription Trails and an Urban Ecology Centre in Milwaukee.


Information Technology Supporting Transparent Future Food Policy

Posted in Movements, Opinion, Tools by Kate Archdeacon on May 13th, 2011

Source: Projects To Finish Someday via Sustainable Cities Collective


From “Information Technology: Coming to a Food Policy Near You” by Mari Pierce-Quinonez:

There are currently dozens of smartphone and internet apps designed to bring good food to tech-savvy consumers. You can now type in your location, the type of food you want and immediately get both directions to the best restaurant to go and the story behind the food they’re serving.  If buying food in bulk to cook at home is more your thing, beta versions of a wholesale purchasing app is now available by invitation.  Or if you want to grow your own, there are applications to aid you in planning your garden, sites to find a yard if you don’t already have one, and mobile apps with maps to fruit-bearing trees on public property.  But the food system is more than foodies finding their next fix: the modern tech-movement goes beyond consumer-oriented apps.  Food advocates and academics are using technology to connect the food system dots and are making good food policy decisions easier.

[…]
In the past, federal policymakers kept track of their own program-specific data: how many acres of farmland they had preserved, the nutrition status of the US population, the amount of vitamin D available in a particular type of milk.  By moving everything online and opening this data up to everyone, all sorts of sophisticated policy recommendations can be made.  The USDA’s Food Environment Atlas was released last year to much fanfare for the interactive maps that could show the state of the national food system.  Much more exciting was the fact that this data was all available for download, and the site continues to act as a datahub for food policy advocates.  Advocates and technophiles are using this data to produce reports and visualizations that help rally support as they begin to mobilize around the 2012 farm bill.

[…]

Read the full article by Mari Pierce-Quinonez over on Projects To Finish Someday.