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Archive for November, 2012

Bicycles: Machines for disaster recovery

Posted in Models, Sustainable Cities by Kate Archdeacon on November 30th, 2012

Source: The Atlantic Cities


Photo © Sarah Goodyear

From an article in early November by Sarah Goodyear, talking about Bicycle Habitat’s emergency supplies deliveries around New York after Hurricane Sandy:

New Yorkers are learning things from this storm, and from the relief efforts that are ongoing even as another weather front sweeps through this afternoon, forcing another round of evacuations. Practical things. They are learning where to go for help, and how to help each other. They are learning how to get around when the transportation system fails, and the importance of redundancy and resiliency in all kinds of infrastructure. They are learning what you really need to have on hand when supply chains are disrupted, and what you can do without. They are learning how to assess the accuracy of information, and how to spread it. They are learning that individual efforts, pooled together, can make a substantial material difference in a crisis.

Bicycles are part of all this. In the early days after the storm, when the trains and buses stopped running, bikes were one of the few reliable ways of moving people, objects, and information around streets choked with debris. They don’t require the gasoline that people are still lining up for hours to get. They don’t need to be charged up – just add some basic food to a human being, and you can power the legs that turn the cranks.

Many of those of us who use bikes for transportation in better times knew their potential to help out in disaster already. Bikes have been part of my family’s emergency plan since we first made one in the wake of 9/11. After we had a kid, we planned for his bike needs at every stage, from a seat on the back to a bike trailer to a tandem to his own solid ride that would go any distance. A friend suggested on Twitter that the Office of Emergency Management should encourage bike tuneups as part of basic disaster preparedness measures, like a go bag or stockpiles of food and water. Yes to that.

Sure, there are lots of things that bicycles can’t do, or that motor vehicles can do better, if they’re available. Some Bicycle Habitat customers drove heavier donations, like bottled water and canned food, out to the Rockaways to supplement the bicycle effort.

But as I pedaled along the streets of the peninsula, my panniers filled with hand warmers and tampons and energy bars, I was struck again by the power of the bicycle. It is a machine that is uniquely able to leverage and amplify human effort. And this is precisely what we have seen all over the city in the days since the storm hit: The humble work of individual people, harnessed to simple mechanisms, can gain strength exponentially. And move a city forward.

Read the full article by Sarah Goodyear.


People’s Community Market: Investing in food, health, community.

Posted in Models, Visions by Jessica Bird on November 28th, 2012


Screenshot from the People’s Community Market YouTube clip.

From the article “Building A Grocery Store In A Food Desert, With Funding From The Community” by Ariel Shwartz.

In San Francisco, you can’t walk five blocks without bumping into a farmer’s market or boutique grocery. Take a quick trip over the Bay Bridge to Oakland, though, and you’ll be confronted with areas that lack any sort of access to fresh food. So-called food deserts are a common problem in communities throughout the U.S., but in the neighborhood of West Oakland, one local organization is banking on the community to alleviate the problem by funding a startup grocery store.

The vision for the for-profit People’s Community Market sprung out of a decade’s worth of community food activism from People’s Grocery, a nonprofit organization that in the past has launched projects like the Mobile Market, a fresh food truck that drove around the neighborhood, and the Grub Box, a local community-supported agriculture box for residents. Despite the success of these initiatives, they weren’t enough to fulfill the food needs of West Oakland, which sees 70% of grocery expenditures from residents each year (about $40 million) going to other cities. A lack of fresh food also contributes to the 48% of residents that are obese or overweight. “The feedback from the community was continuing to affirm that, while smaller projects were important, they weren’t adequate for servicing needs,” explains Brahm Ahmadi, the founder and CEO of People’s Community Market and the former executive director of People’s Grocery.

So Ahmadi and the board of People’s Grocery decided to build a full-fledged grocery store that’s tailored to the community. That means that the 15,000-square-foot store will be tinier than many grocery stores–transactions are generally smaller than in suburban areas because people have less money to spend (meaning they make smaller purchases more often) and they come via public transportation or on foot so they can’t carry loads of groceries. When it opens […] People’s Community Market will carry just 40% of the inventory of traditional grocery stores, with a focus on fresh food–produce, seafood, dairy–and quality prepared items. People’s Community Market will also become a community hub, providing a sit-down cafe space, education programs from local nonprofit health partners, and social activities–jazz nights every week, barbecues after Sunday church, sitdown dinners, and customer appreciation events. […]

The grocery store has secured two-thirds of its $3.6 million budget from the California FreshWorks Fund, a collaboration between the California Endowment and a number of partners that aims to bring fresh food to the state’s food deserts. But there’s a hitch: FreshWorks will only offer up the loan if the grocery can raise the rest of the money ($1.2 million) first. That last chunk of cash will come from the community via a direct public offering–a system where People’s Community Market sells shares of the company directly to California residents. Initially, the startup hoped to raise private capital, but found that a lot of investors weren’t attracted to the grocery business–the margins are tight and investments aren’t that lucrative. Crowdfunding was considered, but except in rare cases, companies rarely make over a million dollars on sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. “We decided to shift directions to a community investment campaign,” says Ahmadi. He stresses that this is “not crowdfunding or donation. It is a real investment.” People’s Community Market has already raised $200,000 thanks to the large donor base from People’s Grocery. […] “Our thinking is that if we can make significant progress and show momentum, a number of angel [investors] in a wait-and-see position will come in and help close it out,” says Ahmadi. If People’s Community Market can raise the money it needs, the store could be operating by the end of next year. It’s not soon enough for West Oakland residents. Says Ahmadi: “They want the store open right away.”

>> Read the full article on Fast Co.Exist.
>> You can learn more about the People’s Community Market on their website, or see their YouTube clip.

 


Sweden’s trash power – keeping up with demand

Posted in Models by Jessica Bird on November 27th, 2012


Photo by Vattenfall via Flickr CC.

From the article “Sweden imports waste from European neighbors to fuel waste-to-energy program” on Public Radio International.

When it comes to recycling, Sweden is incredibly successful. Just four percent of household waste in Sweden goes into landfills. The rest winds up either recycled or used as fuel in waste-to-energy power plants. Burning the garbage in the incinerators generates 20 percent of Sweden’s district heating, a system of distributing heat by pumping heated water into pipes through residential and commercial buildings. It also provides electricity for a quarter of a million homes. According to Swedish Waste Management, Sweden recovers the most energy from each ton of waste in the waste to energy plants, and energy recovery from waste incineration has increased dramatically just over the last few years. The problem is, Sweden’s waste recycling program is too successful.

Catarina Ostlund, Senior Advisor for the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency said the country is producing much less burnable waste than it needs. “We have more capacity than the production of waste in Sweden and that is usable for incineration,” Ostlund said. However, they’ve recently found a solution. Sweden has recently begun to import about eight hundred thousand tons of trash from the rest of Europe per year to use in its power plants. The majority of the imported waste comes from neighboring Norway because it’s more expensive to burn the trash there and cheaper for the Norwegians to simply export their waste to Sweden. In the arrangement, Norway pays Sweden to take the waste off their hands and Sweden also gets electricity and heat.  But dioxins in the ashes of the waste byproduct are a serious environmental pollutant. Ostlund explained that there are also heavy metals captured within the ash that need to be landfilled. Those ashes are then exported to Norway. This arrangement works particularly well for Sweden, since in Sweden the energy from the waste is needed for heat. According to Ostlund, when both heat and electricity are used, there’s much higher efficiency for power plants. “So that’s why we have the world’s best incineration plants concerning energy efficiency. But I would say maybe in the future, this waste will be valued even more so maybe you could sell your waste because there will be a shortage of resources within the world,” Ostlund said.

Ostlund said Sweden hopes that in the future Europe will build its own plants so it can manage to take care of its own waste. “I hope that we instead will get the waste from Italy or from Romania or Bulgaria or the Baltic countries because they landfill a lot in these countries. They don’t have any incineration plants or recycling plants, so they need to find a solution for their waste,” Ostlund said. In fact, landfilling remains the principal way of disposal in those countries, but new waste-to-energy initiatives have been introduced in Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, and Lithuania. It is also important, Ostlund notes, for Sweden to find ways to reduce its own waste in the future. “This is not a long-term solution really, because we need to be better to reuse and recycle, but in the short perspective I think it’s quite a good solution,” Ostlund concluded.

>> You can read the original article on Public Radio International.
>> You can also listen to the interview with Catarina Ostlund by Bruce Gellerman on Living on Earth.


Seasonal Calendars: learning from Indigenous ecological knowledge

Posted in Models, Research by Jessica Bird on November 14th, 2012


Seasonal calendar from the Ngan’gi language group in the Northern Territory (TRaCK)

From the SBS Podcast Indigenous weather knowledge bridges gap by Naomi Selvaratnam

Indigenous communities across northern Australia have helped to develop seasonal calendars using their environmental knowledge. The calendars detail the changes in plant and animal life across the year, and can include as many as 13 seasons.

Darwin-based CSIRO researcher, Emma Woodward says the project highlights the importance of incorporating Indigenous knowledge into scientific research projects. She told Naomi Selvaratnam the value of indigenous knowledge is frequently underestimated by scientists.

The following comes from the CSIRO about the most recently released seasons calendar from the Gooniyandi language group in the Fitzroy Valley in the Kimberly.

The Mingayooroo – Manyi Waranggiri Yarrangi, Gooniyandi Seasons calendar was developed by key knowledge-holders of the Gooniyandi language group from the Fitzroy Valley in the Kimberley and CSIRO, as part of a Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge project on Indigenous socio-economic values and rivers flows in northern Australia.

The seasonal cycle recorded on the calendar follows 4 main seasons: Barranga (‘very hot weather time’); Yidirla (‘wet season time when the river runs’); Ngamari (‘female cold weather time’) and Girlinggoowa (‘male cold weather time’). Gooniyandi people closely follow meteorological events, including wind speed and direction, clouds and rain types, as each event is linked to different behaviours of animals. Gooniyandi people can therefore look to the weather to tell them when it is the best time for hunting and collecting different plants and animals.

The Gooniyandi Seasons calendar represents a wealth of Indigenous ecological knowledge. The development of the calendar was driven by a community desire to document seasonal-specific knowledge of the Margaret and Fitzroy Rivers in the Kimberley, including the environmental indicators that act as cues for bush tucker collection. The calendar also addresses community concern about the loss of traditional knowledge, as older people from the language group pass away and younger people are not being exposed to Indigenous ecological knowledge.

>>> You can listen to the podcast on SBS World News Radio and download the Gooniyandi seasons calendar from CSIRO.
>>> You can also access seasonal calendars for other Indigenous groups from TRaCK (Tropical Rivers and Coast Knowledge) research hub.


Vertical Farm: Singapore

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on November 9th, 2012


Image: Sky Greens

City Farmer, Treehugger and Core 77 have all published articles in the last week or so about Sky Greens – a vertical farm in Singapore which is causing excitement because it’s a real project instead of a design proposal.  The farm produces a range of green vegetables for a local supermarket, and it is hoped that this, and efforts like it, will increase Singapore’s vegetable production to provide 10% of the country’s consumption.

>> Read more about the project on Core 77 (it has the most pictures).


Density for healthier, resilient communities: Montreal

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on November 2nd, 2012


Photo BY Lloyd Alter CC 2.0

Check out Lloyd Alter’s commentary on Montreal as a model for more dense cities.

Of particular interest are the points he makes about using external staircases to release internal space for residential areas, and using moderate building heights to keep things walkable or, as Alter puts it, “resilient”, during power failures.

From the article:

…dense enough to support vibrant main streets with retail and services for local needs, but not too high that people can’t take the stairs in a pinch. Dense enough to support bike and transit infrastructure, but not so dense to need subways and huge underground parking garages. Dense enough to build a sense of community, but not so dense as to have everyone slip into anonymity.

>>Read the full article on Treehugger.