Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Research refers to reports by organisations or research by academic institutions relating to urban sustainability issues. If you have research that relates to urban sustainability issues and could benefit people and organisations that are relevant to cities around the world, please post this information on SustainableCitiesNet.com. To do so visit the “How to use this site” page and follow the prompts.


Crowdsourcing Science: Citizens Measuring water levels

Posted in Models, Research by Jessica Bird on July 16th, 2013

Source: FastCoExist

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Image from the CrowdHydrology project.

From the article “An Army Of Citizen Scientists Is Tracking Our Water Levels” by Zak Stone.

In an age of mechanized, digitized labor there are still some jobs where humans get it done better or more cheaply than just about any machinery–particularly when that human labor is crowdsourced by volunteers. University of Buffalo Geologist Chris Lowry figured that out when trying to collet basic information on the water level of streams across a large watershed in western New York, an endeavor that would eat up cash using machinery or time using labor from the lab. After reading an article about a researcher who used crowdsourcing to get the public to help monitor roadkill, “I was like ‘If these people can get people to help out with their research, why can’t I get people to help out with water level measurements?'” explains Lowry. He started simple, printing out a half sheet of paper that said “‘Please text me the water level,’ and it had a phone number. “And then I bought a giant ruler, I brought this into the stream, I put this sign on top, and then I just waited for someone to send me a text message,” he explains. “And sure enough, a couple people sent me text messages.”

That basic idea turned into the pilot project CrowdHydrology at nine New York freshwater sites, starting in 2011. Now, with support from the U.S. Geological Survey, the project will expand to more than 50 new sites across New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa. The data can help fill in gaps in data collection as budget cutbacks mean the USGS is discontinuing monitoring of certain streams.

When citizens are contributing data, quality is always a concern, but Lowry says control tests–where a pressure transducer measures water levels in the same sites where people are measuring by hand–show that “people who send us text messages do a really really good job.” The level of error turned out to be to be as small as one tick mark on a ruler.

Lowry has found that engaging local communities is the key to getting a high volume of texts from any given site–more so than just foot traffic. And locations where passersby are more likely to take an interest in science–like a nature center–have worked best. “I really think that as scientists we may just be on the cusp of crowdsourcing scientific data. I think there’s going to be a big boom in the future for using these kinds of methods,” Lowry says. […] “On one side we’re using [the project] for cutting edge research. On the other, we’re using it as this outreach tool to foster the next generation of scientist.”

>>> Read the full article on FastCoExist.
>>> Learn more about the CrowdHydrology project on their website.


A world without bees

Posted in Movements, Research by Jessica Bird on July 1st, 2013

Source: Fast Co.DESIGN

WHOLE FOODS MARKET PRODUCE DEPARTMENT
Photo: PRNewsFoto

From the article ‘This is what our grocery shelves would look like without bees‘ by Sam Medina:

Last winter’s so-called Beepocalypse ravaged U.S. bee colonies like nothing that had come before. The country’s beekeepers reported that 31.1% of their colonies perished in the months spanning last fall through early 2013. The number of bee casualties in that period–twice that considered natural–is in keeping with rising honeybee mortality rates of the last six years. Scarier still, scientists aren’t exactly sure as to the cause for the degrading health of bee populations–something that should give you great cause for concern. After all, without bees, you can kiss your favorite fruits and nuts goodbye. Now, if you can manage it, imagine life without apples, mangoes, or almonds.

Well, you don’t have to. Earlier this week, a Whole Foods store in Providence, Rhode Island, temporarily removed all of its produce that is grown with the help of pollinators like bees. It then posted the photographic results online, in which whole parts of the fruit and vegetable department are seen to be completely barren. You can almost spot the tumbleweed. In a press release, Whole Foods says the stunt was part of the “Share the Buzz” campaign, a joint project with The Xerces Society that seeks to “raise awareness” about the importance of bees (honeybees in particular) to the health and vibrancy of our food system. Bees are the unsung heroes behind most of the world’s produce supply, and along with other pollinators like bats and birds, they are integral to growing and sustaining at least a third of its crop production.

Or as Whole Foods puts it: One of every three bites of food comes from plants pollinated by honeybees and other pollinators. Yet, major declines in bee populations threaten the availability of many fresh ingredients consumers rely on for their dinner tables. In total, the Providence store pulled 237 of 453 products off their shelves, amounting to just over half of the shop’s entire yield for the department. The variety of the ghost produce is astounding: Apples, avocados, carrots, citrus fruits, green onions, broccoli, kale, onions, and more would be obsolete or very expensive to grow without flourishing bee colonies.

Whole Foods says that consumers should be mindful of these facts and be proactive with, here it comes, their purchasing choices.

  • Bee organic: Buying organic is an easy way to support pollinators.
  • Bee savvy at home: Most pest problems can be solved without toxic and persistent pesticides.
  • Bee a gardener: Plant bee-friendly flowers and fruits.

[…]

>>> You can read the original article on Fast Co.DESIGN.
>>> You can learn more about ‘share the buzz‘ from Whole Foods.


Cyclists account for 24% of London’s morning commute

Posted in Movements, Research by Jessica Bird on June 27th, 2013

Source: The Guardian

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Photo by Karla Lopez via Flickr CC

From the article ‘Cyclists make up a quarter of London vehicles says TfL‘ by Laura Laker:

Cyclists make up an incredible 24% of vehicles in London’s morning rush hour, according to Transport for London (TfL) figures . The arresting statistic formed from a mass census of cyclists in London – apparently the biggest of its kind to date – is adding weight to campaigners’ and cycling proponents’ arguments that the bicycle is no longer the transport of the minority, and that we need to take the bicycle seriously as a means of mass transport.The numbers on some headline routes are perhaps not surprising to anyone who has squashed in with scores of cyclists at the traffic lights in London’s morning rush hour, though they do make previous cycling targets look shamefully unambitious. […]

London’s new cycling commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, told the Guardian: “Cycling is clearly a mass mode of transport in central London and until now it hasn’t been treated as such. Nearly all provision for cycling is based on the presumption that hardly anyone cycles, that you can make do with shoving cyclists to the side of the road and that just clearly is wrong.” Since [London Mayor Boris] Johnson’s cycling vision was launched in March, there have been fears that the proposed £913m funding for cycling will suffer at the hands of George Osborne’s spending review, due tomorrow. Gilligan remains optimistic, however, and says although the money is a lot more than previously spent on cycling, it’s not a lot compared to TfL’s overall budget. As Sir Peter Hendy, TfL’s transport commissioner, noted at the cycling vision’s City Hall launch, we get more for our money from cycling infrastructure than for other mass transport systems. He wants to make cycling “one of his highest priorities”. As campaigners point out, urban cycling is still dominated by a minority. The next goal is surely to get everyone else on a bike.

The London Cycling Campaign’s chief executive, Dr Ashok Sinha, said: “The latest cycling figures from TfL simply underline that, given the right circumstances, a large proportion of London’s population would opt to cycle to work. “The ultimate goal must be to enable people of all ages and backgrounds to feel safe enough to cycle for everyday local journeys, not just commuters. The good news is that Boris Johnson gets this and understands that investing in cycling saves money in the long run. That’s why he must resolutely defend his impressive new cycling programme from impending Treasury cuts.” […]

>>> You can read the full article here.


Adapting Agriculture to the Realities of Climate Change

Posted in Models, Research by Kate Archdeacon on June 20th, 2013

Fig. 1. Impact and capacity approaches to adaptation planning_from Addressing uncertainty in adaptation planning for agriculture

Fig. 1. Impact and capacity approaches to adaptation planning (from Addressing uncertainty in adaptation planning for agriculture)

 

From the article No excuses, no regrets: we can adapt agriculture to climate change now by Vanessa Meadu:

Imagine you’re working for your country’s government and you’ve been given the formidable task of developing a strategy to help the agriculture sector adapt to climate change. Working out how climate models will play out on the ground for farmers, and conceiving options for farmers to adapt is sophisticated stuff, and the challenge is only compounded when the best information remains somewhat uncertain.

You might easily be discouraged, when faced with data and projections that are not sufficiently specific, only applicable for certain crops, or simply missing altogether. Often this uncertainty becomes a political weapon, wielded as an excuse for inaction. But a new analysis published in the journal PNAS debunks such excuses by showing how scientists and governments can cut through uncertainty and make the most of existing knowledge, however conflicting or weak. In fact some countries have done exactly that, and “embraced “no-regrets” adaptation: actions that will benefit farmers and society regardless of specifically how and when climate change plays out on the ground.

The paper Addressing uncertainty in adaptation planning for agriculture is co-authored by researchers from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the International Livestock Research Institute, and leading universities (Oxford, Leeds, Reading). The researchers point to examples around the world where governments have taken crucial first steps to safeguard food and farming, even when information was weak.

>> Read the full article by Vanessa Meadu for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).


Sustainable Urban Transformation: A global overview of real-world initatives

Posted in Research, Sustainable Cities by Kes McCormick on June 12th, 2013

JournalofcleanerProduction

The Special Volume of the Journal of Cleaner Production on Advancing Sustainable Urban Transformation provides a global overview of activities and ambitions on urban sustainability.  It is based on contributions of over 50 authors who have produced 20 articles based on 35 cases and 130 surveyed examples of urban initiatives on sustainability in many countries around the world.

Despite increased awareness of the urgency to respond to climate change and to promote sustainable development, there are few powerful initiatives that are decisively shifting urban development in a sustainable, resilient and low-carbon direction.

This Special Volume of the Journal of Cleaner Production explores sustainable urban transformation focusing on structural transformation processes – multi-dimensional and radical change – that can effectively direct urban development towards ambitious sustainability goals.

The 20 articles are based on 35 cases and over 130 surveyed examples of urban initiatives on sustainability in many countries. While cities in Europe dominate, there are also examples from North America, South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

The combined articles in this Special Volume contribute to knowledge and understanding on sustainable urban transformation across a range of areas, including governance and planning, innovation and competitiveness, lifestyle and consumption, resource management and climate mitigation and adaptation, transport and accessibility, buildings, and the spatial environment and public space.

Overall, this Special Volume documents and analyses real-life action in cities and communities around the world to respond to sustainability challenges and it provides critical insights into how to catalyse, intensify and accelerate sustainable urban transformation globally.

A main finding of the articles is that governance and planning are the key leverage points for transformative change.

>> Click here to see the lead article for the Special Volume

>> Click here to see the entire Special Volume


Consumers in 2030: Crowd House Mortgages

Posted in Research, Tools, Visions by Kate Archdeacon on March 12th, 2013

Source: Forum for the Future (UK)

Crowd-House-mortgages_web-lores
Image: Forum for the Future / Which?

From Crowd House Mortgages: how our financial world might be different in 2030 by Simon Howard:

“The financial world of 2030 as seen in the Consumers in 2030 report we produced with Which? magazine is radically different from that of today with the emphasis on shared endeavour and a disintermediation of large financial institutions. The Crowd House Mortgage idea couldn’t be more removed from the model of today. The capital lent is sourced from people who know the borrowers – possibly only in a virtual sense – and the lending decision is taken not by computer but by those lenders. “Computer can’t say no, co-worker can say yes.”

Could it happen? Quite possibly. The economic environment may not get better and banks may continue to be unpopular. That’s the “production” side of the current version under pressure. The demand side may be more subtle, coming down to what young people prefer out of the options outlined in the report: multi-generational living, expensive renting or buying with peers in a rolling re-run of student days. Put like that, seeing appreciable demand for co-own mortgages isn’t impossible is it?

The research makes it clear new ideas are needed and not just in housing. One we are looking at in the Forum is an alternative pension, the sustainable lifetime pension. The idea is simple: instead of investing in financial assets located quite possibly thousands of miles from your home, you invest locally in things that will secure a better quality of retirement: How can you help make old people feel more secure? Invest local pension contributions into the local economy so that people are employed closer to home and can feel more protective of the area where they work. How can you protect the elderly from rising energy prices? Allow them to direct pension savings into local renewable energy schemes whilst they are working in return for capped energy fees in retirement.

You can see the idea: local money into local assets with a return which isn’t entirely financial. That idea and the crowd source mortgage are some way away now. But both are valid ideas for focusing thinking debate as we look at an unclear future.”

Go to the Forum for the Future blog to read more by Simon Howard, read other posts in the ‘future artefacts’ series, or download the Consumers in 2030 report.


It’s not (just) ‘‘the environment, stupid!’’: Research paper

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on March 6th, 2013

From the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN):

This study is “based on a very small set of interviews – 16 people who self-identified as deliberately trying to live a lower-carbon lifestyle because of concern about climate change – and so its findings don’t necessarily apply to other people living in lower carbon ways. However, what is interesting about it is that it shows that people’s motivations for living in less carbon intensive ways are not primarily environmental. A concern for social justice is often much more important, as well is a desire for a more equal society” FCRN mailing: 5 March 2013.

Abstract:

This exploratory mixed-methods study uses in-depth interviews to investigate the values, motivations, and routes to engagement of UK citizens who have adopted lower-carbon lifestyles. Social justice, community, frugality, and personal integrity were common themes that emerged from the transcripts. Concern about ‘the environment’ per se is not the primary motivation for most interviewees’ action. Typically, they are more concerned about the plight of poorer people who will suffer from climate change. Although biospheric values are important to the participants, they tended to score altruistic values significantly higher on a survey instrument. Thus, it may not be necessary to promote biospheric values to encourage lower-carbon lifestyles. Participants’ narratives of how they became engaged with climate action reveal links to human rights issues and groups as much as environmental organisations and positive experiences in nature. Some interviewees offered very broad (positive) visions of what ‘a low-carbon lifestyle’ means to them. This, and the fact that ‘climate change’ is not necessarily seen as interesting even by these highly engaged people, reveals a need for climate change mitigation campaigns to promote a holistic view of a lower-carbon future, rather than simply offering a ‘to do’ list to ‘combat climate change’.

Reference:

Howell, R.A. (2012). It’s not (just) ‘‘the environment, stupid!’’ Values, motivations, and routes to engagement of people adopting lower-carbon lifestyles.

Global Environmental Change,  http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2012.10.015

>> Download the paper

 


Seawater Agriculture: High-tech and Low-tech paths

Posted in Movements, Research by Kate Archdeacon on December 3rd, 2012

Source: guardian.co.uk


Image from Seawater Greenhouse

In the Guardian this week, there’s an article by Jonathan Margolis about the commercialisation of a technology that uses seawater as the main element of agriculturally productive greenhouses.  Much of the article focuses on the way the technology, developed by British theatre lighting engineer Charlie Paton, has been scaled up and combined with extra technology to provide consistent, commercial-quality crops from the Sundrop Farms greenhouse in the desert outside Port Augusta, in South Australia.  On it’s own, that’s pretty exciting and well worth a read.

A 75m line of motorised parabolic mirrors that follow the sun all day focuses its heat on a pipe containing a sealed-in supply of oil. The hot oil in turn heats nearby tanks of seawater pumped up from a few metres below ground – the shore is only 100m away. The oil brings the seawater up to 160C and steam from this drives turbines providing electricity. Some of the hot water from the process heats the greenhouse through the cold desert nights, while the rest is fed into a desalination plant that produces the 10,000 litres of fresh water a day needed to keep the plants happy. The water the grower gets is pure and ready for the perfect mix of nutrients to be added. The air in the greenhouse is kept humid and cool by trickling water over a wall of honeycombed cardboard evaporative pads through which air is driven by wind and fans. The system is hi-tech all the way; the greenhouse is in a remote spot, but the grower, a hyper-enthusiastic 27-year-old Canadian, Dave Pratt, can rather delightfully control all the growing conditions for his tonnes of crops from an iPhone app if he’s out on the town – or even home in Ontario.

The remainder of the article touches on the divergence of philosophy between Paton’s Seawater Greenhouse, and SunDrop.

The Seawater Greenhouse method, which they are still promoting actively, involves no desalination plant, no gleaming solar mirrors and little by way of anything electronic. Everything in the Seawater Greenhouse vision is low-tech, cheap to start up and reliant on the subtle, gentle interaction of evaporation and condensation of seawater with wind, both natural and artificial, blown by fans powered by solar panels. If things go wrong and production is disrupted by a glitch in this model, you just persuade people to eat perfectly good but odd-looking produce – or harvest less and stand firm by your sustainable principles.

For those of us interested in the gap between local, low-tech production designed to shift society away from BAU, and the changes that occur when those systems scale up to cater to the existing market, this article may also provide a few points of contention.

Read the full article by Jonathan Margolis for the Guardian.


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.


Intelligent Farming Can Reduce the Need for Pesticides and Fertilisers: Research

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on October 29th, 2012

“Figure 3. Multiple indicators of cropping system performance” from Increasing Cropping System Diversity Balances Productivity, Profitability and Environmental Health

From “A Simple Fix for Farming” by Mark Bittman:

It’s becoming clear that we can grow all the food we need, and profitably, with far fewer chemicals. And I’m not talking about imposing some utopian vision of small organic farms on the world. Conventional agriculture can shed much of its chemical use — if it wants to.

This was hammered home once again in what may be the most important agricultural study this year, although it has been largely ignored by the media, two of the leading science journals and even one of the study’s sponsors, the often hapless Department of Agriculture.

The study was done on land owned by Iowa State University called the Marsden Farm. On 22 acres of it, beginning in 2003, researchers set up three plots: one replicated the typical Midwestern cycle of planting corn one year and then soybeans the next, along with its routine mix of chemicals. On another, they planted a three-year cycle that included oats; the third plot added a four-year cycle and alfalfa. The longer rotations also integrated the raising of livestock, whose manure was used as fertilizer.

The results were stunning: The longer rotations produced better yields of both corn and soy, reduced the need for nitrogen fertilizer and herbicides by up to 88 percent, reduced the amounts of toxins in groundwater 200-fold and didn’t reduce profits by a single cent.

In short, there was only upside — and no downside at all — associated with the longer rotations. There was an increase in labor costs, but remember that profits were stable. So this is a matter of paying people for their knowledge and smart work instead of paying chemical companies for poisons. And it’s a high-stakes game; according to the Environmental Protection Agency, about five billion pounds of pesticides are used each year in the United States.

[…]

Read the full article by Mark Bittman on the NY Times Opinionator blog, or check out the research paper, published on plos one:

“Results of our study indicate that more diverse cropping systems can use small amounts of synthetic agrichemical inputs as powerful tools with which to tune, rather than drive, agroecosystem performance, while meeting or exceeding the performance of less diverse systems.”  Davis AS, Hill JD, Chase CA, Johanns AM, Liebman M (2012) Increasing Cropping System Diversity Balances Productivity, Profitability and Environmental Health. PLoS ONE 7(10): e47149. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047149