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Nature and neighbourhoods: Milwaukees’s Urban Ecology Centres

Posted in Models by Jessica Bird on January 14th, 2013

Source: Urban Milwaukee, via Tim Beatley
UECValley

Photo by Alec Brooks from Urban Milwaukee website.

From ‘Rise of the Urban Ecology Center‘ by Peggy Shulz

How a small non-profit in a trailer in Riverside Park rose to become a major player with centers erected in three county parks. “Save the park.” That was the single, not-so-simple goal of a very loosely organized group of concerned residents of Riverside Park in the early 1990s. Little did they know that two decades later, a trio of nationally recognized ecology education centers would grow out of their efforts. Today, school children in three distinct neighborhoods — Riverside Park, Washington Park and Menomonee Valley — boast an Urban Ecology Center where children learn about ecology and their environment through a wide range of programs and activities, including “outdoor laboratories,” a full year of trips for students at nearby schools, after-school programs and preschool programs. […]

The site of the original UEC, Riverside Park, was designed in 1865 by Frederick Law Olmsted as the western anchor of Newberry Boulevard, with Lake Park serving as the eastern anchor. In the years since the park was created, it had fallen into disrepair. With the intent of building an MPS middle school, a square block and a half of homes to the south of the original Riverside Park were torn down, beginning in the late 1960s. That land then stood mostly vacant for decades, with the exception of occasional garden plots. Even before all the homes were demolished, though, MPS changed its plans. By 1991, the entire expanse had become crime-ridden, including the area between what was by then a bike trail (but had earlier been railroad tracks) and the Milwaukee River. It was filled with trash and invasive plant species.

It was time to reclaim the park, but the concerned neighbors weren’t at all sure how they were going to do it. After a lot of thought, they decided to begin by cleaning it up, with the ultimate goal of using the park to teach neighborhood children about ecology and being friends of the earth. Litter and crime would be replaced with learning. A doublewide trailer was placed just north of Park Place and east of the bike trail. […] It wasn’t until 2004 that the award-winning Riverside Park location of the Urban Ecology center opened. […] The center now manages the county-owned portion of the parkland with volunteers. A capital campaign followed shortly thereafter, based on the long list of schools that already had asked to have their students participate in UEC activities. The early goal of saving Riverside Park was realized. “We essentially turned a problem into an asset,” [executive director Ken] Leinbach said. “The land was healed with volunteers, and kids were learning about their environment.”

Just as the Riverside Park location grew out of a desire to save the park, the Washington Park and Menomonee Valley sites were “natural” areas in the city that needed restoration. According to Leinbach, in planning all three locations UEC took certain factors into account: a nearby body of water, woods and fields; proximity to schools; and some measure of wealth in the surrounding neighborhood. “We knew we needed the neighbors’ help to sustain our program economically,” Leinbach explained. The mission of all three UEC sites can be boiled down to “intentionally/institutionally getting kids connected to nature with adult mentors,” Leinbach said. The founders never intended the center to be a model for anyone else. “I think you do something and it can become a model, if it works,” Leinbach said. “You don’t set out to create a model.” But it has turned into one, even internationally. […]

Dennis Grzezinski, a UEC board member, describes three aspects of the center that have contributed to its success: environmental education, a community center and a nature center. The variety of programming is based on just a few primary concepts, Grzezinski said. “Proximity of the students to the center promotes deeper relationships between the students and the educators as mentors or models,” he said. Schools that participate must be within a 2-1/2 mile radius. That makes it easier for the students to return to the center over and over and establish a connection to a natural place that has different seasons, where they can plant bushes and trees and watch them grow over time. […] “This organization … comes from humble, common-sense, low-budget origins,” Grzezinski said. “We do things on a shoestring budget. Environmentalism is about using resources carefully and not wasting them.”

When Leinbach was studying environmental education in graduate school, he recalls thinking that the world is a fragile place and we humans weren’t helping. Through the Urban Ecology center’s three locations, many humans are helping —reclaiming, rebuilding and maintaining fragile, natural places for the long term, and creating a stronger sense of community in the process.

>>> You can read the full article on Urban Milwaukee.
>>> You can learn more about the Urban Ecology Centers on their website.


Restoring a River and its Wildlife: People Power

Posted in Movements by Kate Archdeacon on September 14th, 2011

Source: guardian.co.uk


Photo by danielbradberry via flickr CC

From “Yorkshire’s revived river Aire is a lesson in people power” by Peter Lazenby:

News that Britain’s once foully polluted rivers are achieving levels of cleanliness and wildlife occupation not seen since the industrial revolution is to be welcomed. But credit for this cannot be claimed only by the government’s environment agency and anti-pollution legislation. Behind many of the improvements lies people power – the mobilisation of individuals and organisations to force polluters to clean up their act. In the 1980s and 90s, that is exactly what happened in my part of the world, industrial west Yorkshire.

The river Aire starts out as a healthy river in the Yorkshire dales, springing from beneath a limestone cliff known as Malham Cove, where falcons nest. By the time it wound its way through Bradford and Leeds, some 50 miles downstream, it had received the industrial waste of textile, chemical and engineering industries, plus the domestic waste of more than a million people. The pollutants killed off the river’s oxygen supply.

[…]

In the 1980s, a group was formed called Eye on the Aire. Its volunteers brought together more than 30 organisations with an interest in the river. They included community groups representing people living near its banks, conservation and environmental organisations, sporting groups such as rowing clubs, local councils and companies such as Tetley’s brewery, which had a riverside location. For a decade the group campaigned to press Yorkshire Water to install an extra level of filtration at its sewage works – tertiary treatment. The system involves the filtering of already treated sewage effluent through pebbles and increasingly fine layers of sand.  It took a decade to win the campaign, which included the harnessing of government influence and action by the environment department.

Yorkshire Water installed the tertiary treatment at a cost of millions of pounds. The effluent it produced was often as clean as the fresh river water into which it passed. The effect was near miraculous.In the late 1990s, more than a decade ahead of much of the rest of Britain, otters, heron and other wildlife began to return to the river Aire in the heart of industrial Leeds. Salmon appeared in the lower reaches, blocked only by weirs and other obstacles. Water passes will eventually allow them to reach spawning grounds in the Yorkshire dales where they have not been seen in more than two centuries.

There was an economic spin-off. The Aire in Leeds had been part of a comprehensive canal and river transport network in the days before rail. Its city riverside was littered with semi-derelict warehouses and factories not used in decades. No one wanted to invest in and develop buildings adjacent to a stinking open sewer. The restoration of the river to life changed all that. Today the Leeds waterfront thrives with homes, restaurants, bars and markets. The Aire hosts an annual water festival.

The driving force behind the return to life of the river was Eye on the Aire, an organisation made up of ordinary people with determination and a belief in their cause. We should remember their example in the face of future struggles.

Read the full article by Peter Lazenby for the Guardian


Reactive Glass: Pollutant ‘Sponge’ for Site Remediation

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on January 12th, 2010

Source: CleanTechnica via CleanEdge

Image: diego cupolo via flickr CC

From ““Swelling Glass” Cleans Polluted Water Like a Sponge“, by Tina Casey

This is the discovery that could put the College of Wooster on the map: glass that swells like a sponge. Put together like a nano-matrix, the new glass can unfold to hold up to eight times its weight. The glass binds with gasoline and other pollutants containing volatile organic compounds but it does not bind with water, so it acts like a “smart” sponge, capable of picking and choosing from contaminated groundwater.

The new material was developed by Dr. Paul Edmiston of the College of Wooster, who formed a new company, Absorbent Materials, to market the new glass under the trademark Obsorb. A number of pilot sites are being tested in the United States, and industrialized countries are not the only ones that stand to gain. Obsorb’s unique properties make it ideal for low tech, low-budget cleanups in developing areas as well.

Obsorb is a reactive glass. Unlike conventional glass, it can bond with the chemicals it encounters. However, it is also hydrophobic, meaning that it does not bond with water. At a recent pilot demonstration in Ohio, Obsorb was used in the form of a white powder to suck up a plume of TCE (a volatile organic compound). TCE is particularly difficult and expensive to clean up using conventional means, which is the reason why some contaminated sites are simply shut down, allowing the vapors to dissipate naturally. The process takes decades, so Obsorb could provide a low-cost means of recovering sites more quickly. The venture development group JumpStart Inc. saw the potential and has just committed a $250,000 investment to Absorbent Materials.

Once full, Obsorb floats to the surface, where it can be skimmed off with something as simple as a coffee filter. After that the pollutants can be retrieved and the glass can be reused hundreds of time. Nanoparticles of iron can also be added to convert TCE or PCE (another volatile organic compound) into harmless substances. As a low cost form of cleanup, swelling glass could provide site remediators with yet another in the growing list of non-conventional cleanup tools along with lactate, vitamin B-12, and even cattails.

From ““Swelling Glass” Cleans Polluted Water Like a Sponge“, by Tina Casey


From Industrial Hub To Sustainable Neighbourhood

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on December 18th, 2009

Source: Daily Commercial News

dconline_swales

From “Vancouver industrial hub transformed into sustainable neighbourhood” by  Jean Sorensen

Southeast False Creek (SEFC), a City of Vancouver reclamation project, is being designed to set a new urban sustainability standard in community development. The 80-acre site housing 16,000 people will become a neighbourhood of parks, market and subsidised housing, marine areas, community garden, shops, schools, and a community centre, growing out of what was once the industrial hub of the city. Sawmills, manufacturers, metal shops and marine-related shops once rimmed False Creek.  Subsurface investigation was made into soil and groundwater quality at SEFC to complete human health and risk assessment as part of a remedial action plan. In areas where contamination was severe, soils were removed and in areas of lesser contamination, the material was covered over and the land designated recreational use.

“I am told that this is the largest residential development in North America,” said Robin Petri, Vancouver’s Manager of Engineering for the SEFC & Olympic Village.  One of the unique features of the development, Petri points out, is that the roads are sloped so that rainwater drains into natural bioswales on each side of the village, negating the need to treat runoff water, while providing habitat for birds, animals, and marine life.  Buildings also capture and use water, with approximately 50 per cent having green roofs and 50 per cent directing the water into irrigation and functions such as toilet flushing. A neighborhood energy utility is the first in North America to gather heat directly from a raw sewage line, consolidate the heat and use it in a thermal system that loops pipe to various buildings and back to the utility building.

One of the challenges of the cleanup was that False Creek had been filled in along the shoreline over the years.   Much of the earlier materials used for fill were poor quality and these had to be removed and replaced.  To compensate for shoreline that was removed, an island was created in an inter-tidal zone allowing children to wade to it at low tide to examine marine life that has been returning to a once-derelict area. In February a project manager noticed white frothy bubbles around the island. It turned out to be herring roe – the first time it has been seen there in 50 years.

Read the full article by Jean Sorensen.