Sunday, September 30, 2007

Blog on Ecocities by Richard Register Chapter 8: Plunge on in!

In my usual rush to get to a grasp on the fundamentals of this book without having the time to read it all, I tried to read the final chapter (12: Toward Strategies for Success). Again, I found myself unable to properly absorb some of the conclusions without having a proper understanding of the previous chapters. I therefore chose to go back and read Chapter 8 because it focused on the “four steps to an ecology of the economy.” (p.213-15)

Before Register listed his four steps to the ecology of the economy, he said that we must let natural systems be the overarching ruler of our economy. As one of the basic methods of looking at our economy, the author borrowed on, among others, Thomas Berry’s idea that “nature’s economics are primary, humanity’s economics derivative.”(p.211) Using the example of the doomed Easter Island society, we are warned not to use up all our resources on our selfish Western lifestyle.
The idea that there could be step by step methods for building ecocities sounded very comforting and easy-to-follow. Register’s steps were (1) to map out how a city’s land would be used and where it needs infrastructure, (2) next to list all the services, products and technologies that could be useful for the building and maintaining of the ecocity, then (3) to provide incentives for people and organizations to build it, and finally (4) to gather the people to live, work in and politically support the ecocity.

Our very own Joan Bokaer and the Ithaca EcoVillage were given as a shining example of how the four steps can be implemented in real life. Citing Joan’s Green Fund municipal investment strategy and the Urban Growth Boundary to help the city curb sprawl, Register points out how these two initiatives provide incentives for building the ecocity and redraws the city map to follow a more sustainable future plan. In following with step 2, Joan also named the type of work and technology required to make the EcoVillage happen. Of course, Joan also covered step 4 by getting a willing ensemble of people together to live in the EcoVillage.

In the section on economics, Register also points out that the term “post-industrial world” is a misnomer. We are blinded by the frame of our Western “office to the world” that is responsible for but never sees the heavy industry going on in other parts of the globe. With this in mind, we must remember that our resources are finite and that nothing can keep growing indefinitely, not even our economy. Less is now more.

In order to combat corporate control, buy and boycott lists are suggested as effective means toward personal empowerment. Ethical investing is another way to put your money into sustainable initiatives and keep it from funding detrimental ones. The author also thinks that we must increase taxes on fossil fuels (while we still can) in order to help fund new sustainable energy strategies. Finally, Register suggests that sustainability could even unify politics as people from both conservative and liberal parties agree that ecocities are the best future for the economy and the environment.

I enjoyed reading Chapter 8 because it was another positive and constructive approach to present and future sustainability. It was rewarding to read because it discussed some very impressive steps toward ecocity development that have been made right here in Ithaca. There were also helpful suggestions as to how both individuals and governments could make positive, meaningful changes through buying power, bylaws and political support.

In walking around Ithaca today, I saw many wonderful examples of how the community is at the forefront of the American sustainability movement. For example, I walked around (and volunteered at a booth) the Ithaca Apple Festival where I witnessed many vendors selling local products and celebrating local produce. By choosing to purchase from local vendors, people were able to support their local economy and keep their money circulating in the community, which was one of Register's strategies for personal empowerment.
Many connections were being made as droves of people enjoyed the beautiful weather and took advantage of the commons as a true center of the community. I was happy to see both composting and recycling going on during the festival, but this should be happening every day, in every home and workplace. As far as I am concerned, this is not an option but should be a legal requirement all across the nation, including the industrial sector.

Register made it clear that our economy should follow nature, and that it cannot work the other way for very long. That being said, I found plenty of examples around Ithaca where the landscape seemed forced and in a perpetual struggle against nature. Why fight nature? It seemed to be primarily in the name of aesthetics -and not usually very good ones. For example, the city plants trees in small wells in the sidewalks, but many of the wells are just mulched and then expected to remain weed-free forever. While I applaud the use of mulches and the protection of the tree root zone, mother nature seems to prefer to be covered in plants. Compare these two pictures of city tree wells:

One is covered in bindweed and the other is just bark mulch. According to the laws of weeds, plants will invade open ground whenever possible, so why not beat them at their own game and put in a cover crop of our choice. Many groundcovers are attractive and can actually harness nitrogen from the air to help build up soil nutrients. The health of our soil is very important and should be addressed as a serious issue of sustainability. Why not use deciduous vines to cover hot west and south facing walls in the summertime? Besides, soil and walls covered in plants looks better, will sequester more carbon from the atmosphere, trap pollutants, as well as buffer urban temperatures and humidity levels. This is an example of how we can use nature to our advantage instead of throwing resources away to fight an endless fight.

In keeping with the move to work with nature and not against it, reducing our car use will also allow us to reduce our need for hard, asphalt surfaces. The prevalence of concrete and asphalt throughout Ithaca and all other cities creates problems with urban heat islands and radiating heat, but it also wreaks havoc on our soils and natural water systems. Ithaca has made some move to use bricks around the commons, which is a little more permeable than asphalt. If we can reduce our hard surfaces, including our hard roof surfaces, then we may use soils and plants to capture, filter and slow down precipitation run-off, and thus reduce pressures on urban waste water systems. Hard surfaces should be minimized. All new buildings should be built with green roofs and many old buildings, such as these, could be retrofitted with green roof systems.

While I was walking around, I noticed that many of the older (pre-airconditioning era) houses had wonderful porches that encouraged their inhabitants to sit outside and be a part of the community. Porches also give people a place to go to escape the heat of the summer while still feeling sheltered.
New homes should include porches in their designs whenever possible instead of just having yards that are focused on the backyard and privacy. Many Ithacans in Fall Creek seem to enjoy being out on their front porches. This is good for them, and is good for the neighborhood at large because it makes it safer when there are more people watching the streets.

As an additional incentive, if we had less radiating heat from all our asphalt roads and driveways, then houses like this might be able to reduce their need for so many airconditioning units:

I took over 50 pictures on my walk around Ithaca. I intended to post as many as possible to create a photojournal, but I am finding to be very long and tiresome when it comes to importing photos. I got some of my group members to try to help me with this, but it seems like blogger doesn't have the same functionality with macs as it does with pc computers.

Week 9/30: Ecocities Ch. 8 and Observation

Summary of Ecocities Chapter 8 “Plunge on in!”

“You can’t solve the problem with the same thinking that created the problem.” ~ Albert Einstein

Register begins by outlining the concept of biomimicry as not just a good idea for sustainability, but an inherent necessity for survival of all things living. The foundation of everything we create is nature, and Register illustrates that we should carry it through as the structure.

Register’s strategy to build an ecocity, which he calls “Four Steps to an Ecology of the Economy,” includes:(1) the map: the planning of the land use and infrastructure.
(2) the list: an inventory of sustainable technologies – creation of green-collar jobs
(3) the incentives: shift from incentives to drive to incentives not to, and similarly switching to all other new green technologies
(4) the people: solidarity, participatory planning, first recruit the willing to give an example to the skeptics

Register talks in length about Joan Bokaer’s building of EcoVillage and vision of a sustainable city of Ithaca! He mentions that a successful element of Joan’s strategy was starting with the 4th step; by gathering the people Joan used community inspiration to fuel the sustainability fire in Ithaca. He describes the economic model of Ithaca’s Green Fund.

Register make specific suggestions for financially supporting ecocity building.

- no shopping at any place that has a gigantic parking not or is served by freeway off-ramps
- no shopping on-line for what you could buy in a walkable neighborhood
- no more new cars, and no old ones either as soon as possible
- no buying into gated, suburban communities
- yes to buying so your money circulates locally


Registers vision of creation of an Ecocity is far easier to imagine in terms of starting from scratch, as opposed to instilling the an ecocity-revitalization within an existing city. Ecovillages’ success as models of civic sustainability is based largely on self-selection of residents. There are so many elements of change that would have to occur on so many levels in a nearly simultaneous highly flexible manner to have a matching example of success within existing city limits. I am NOT saying it’s not possible, I am just wishing, much the same as Register is, that there were examples to show the skeptics who are perfectly happy to keep waiting “until we have all of the answers” to their criticisms (which, of course, as Register says, will never happen).

Observations of Ithaca through Green-colored glasses

I walked from my house on South Hill along State Street to highway 13 and back along Green Street. The “800-pound gorilla” car-based-culture-reality Register forces us to recognize and evaluate was painfully obvious as I walked around Ithaca comparing what I saw to what I could envision based on Joan’s and Rob’s presentations. I have no doubt that Bokaer’s estimation of one-thrid to two-thirds of most US cities surface space being devoted to the car is true in Ithaca’s. Everywhere I looked I saw another aspect of the city that supported the car and the vicious cyclical exponentially increasing investment in the auto industry. Our “unnegotiable life style” (to quote George W. Bush) of consumerism with the car on the pedestal.

Trying to role-play as a local Ithaca small-business merchant, looking at the city if it were to become mostly car-free, I felt very nervous about how the change might hinder my business’ growth. I took on the roles of the owners of the various businesses I walked past. For example, thinking of myself as an owner of a restaurant, and seeing the loading docks made me think of all the huge deliveries that come in transported in semi-trucks to support the amount of food I sell. If I were to switch to only buying from local vendors, they would still need a way to get hundreds of pounds of food to me every week. And I couldn’t help but notice that many of the local businesses would risk becoming obsolete if they were not able to bring in huge shipments from around the globe. It did not make me opposed to the idea of the change, it just made me realize that the change may have a beneficial effect on the city as a whole, but is likely to have a catastrophic effect on many individual’s way of making a living, at least initially.

During my walk I saw two elderly women pushing grocery carts up the hill towards Ithaca College collecting cans and bottles from people’s recycling bins. You know what they say about assuming things – but I went ahead and assumed that these women were poor, and tried to look at the proposed-sustainable-city-changes from their eyes. I was sure that a city that provided walkable proximity from home to commerce/places of employment and to other community services would have been beneficial to anyone struggling to get on their feet financially. I also felt that if everyone, from all levels of the Socio-economic spectrum, were forced to use public transportation, then there would be a status-quo for the quality of the transportation experience. However, I worry that with out much American-dream-mentality we put into our cars, that even sustainable transportation-companies would pop up offering “elite”/first-class transportation that would be faster and more comfortable and separate from that affordable to the poor. And on a 95 degree day in July when a single-mother with 3 kids is trying to get from work to school to pick up her kids to the grocery store and home, she might just feel desperate enough to pay for the faster, more comfortable service to get home and sacrifice something else in her expenditures, such as her dinner. But there I go looking at it without my systems-thinking-hat on. :) Of course, in a systems view of a sustainable city, she would have a job that would pay enough for her to not make either sacrifice. I hope so. I’m just so worried about likelihood of people in this country letting go of “the capitalist dream that we can all get rich,” which contaminates the promise of equity in this green picture.

9/30 - Chapter 8 and Urban Eco Tour

For my previous assignment I chose to read Plunge on In! I found it really interesting yet I lacked some basic elements as chapter 8 built on chapter 7: What to Build. After reading chapter 7 this week I got fixed on Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language. I think the patterns contrived are very interesting and plan on pursuing their content. For Ecocities sake, Register devised his own eco city principles which I found to be the most important content. They included: Build the city like the living system it is, Make the city’s function fit with the patterns of evolution, follow the builder’s sequence – start with the foundation, reverse the transportation hierarchy and build soils and enhance biodiversity. These principles were all-encompassing and really are some interesting points to creating the eco friendly city.

What I found most interesting are the issues that were left out in chapter 7. These include how??? How do you go about “reversing the transportation hierarchy”. This is an impossible job. Transportation is the sole of this country and is what makes everything work together as well as it does. Reversing transportation would potentially bring a country like America back to the 1700s where there was no Midwest because there was no way to get there. Urban ecocity activists encourage walkable cities and light rail but how will this happen without first destroying infrastructure that the economy and society is built on.

The people are already converted; it is now the government that must be too. Sometimes I feel as if there is so much outreach going on with activists trying to convert the public. The public can continue to be “converted” yet more action steps must be taken to get the government involved in subsidies for renewables and alternative resources. Without this support no matter how much the public cares I don’t think much can be done. This may seem like a far-out conclusion from where Register was coming from but I am tired of hearing all the great things that can be done, let’s hear how we can get the “big guys” interested.

This weekend I went with Carlos to the commons to explore the area. We noticed one general attribute as we walked around. Everything was very green and friendly. The commons is a model for a green city as the commons is a city in itself. The commons is probably the most attractive meeting area in Ithaca surrounded by little gardens, trees, the carl sagen memorial and other friendly, fun walkable things. In the commons there are places to eat, get some money from the bank, and even get a hair cut. There are few problems with it logistically and is very walker-friendly.

Ways that the commons could be improved included adding some bike racks to make it more bike accessible. Despite the walker-friendly attitude the commons holds, there is a severe lack of bike racks. If the commons were ever to be expanded (which would be a fantastic idea) there would definitely need to be better access. One of the most fun and interesting parts of the commons is the alley next to cinemetropolis. This charming place allows access to a major road, yet successfully hides the big city feel that the road represents.

Finally, we felt that the commons would benefit more from more events like AppleFest. This was a fantastic community gathering opportunity that allowed Ithacans to get out and see how great their city is. If there were more events such as this Ithaca in general would be a more socially sustainable place to live.

Week 9/30 Chapter 8 and Field assignment

Register begins Chapter 8 by describing the complexity of Earth’s natural systems and the responsibility that man has to take care of them. He then outlines a 4 step method for approaching this complexity: 1) Create maps that highlight our resources, strengths, weaknesses, physical environment, etc. 2) Construct a list of available technologies 3) Provide incentives that encourage sustainable living and 4) Recruit people who will get excited about the plan and who are willing to start making lifestyle changes now. He asserts that we have the power to build our society however we choose. He then expresses his opinion about what this society looks like (socially) and the types of decisions that we should make to start moving in his direction.

Honestly, I was quite disappointed with Chapter 8. I feel like Register makes a lot of ethical and moral judgments about the types of behavior that people should adopt yet offers very little data, fact, or objective observation to back his judgment calls. For example, he claims that “the capitalist dream… contaminates reasonable voting” and that “we need to begin voting for what’s best for the great majority” (225) instead of “thinking as little as possible” (223). He also divides the American public into two categories: those who subscribe to “a false construct based on denial” and those who “shop at the corner store rather than Wal-Mart… because they want to see their money circulate in the community rather than go to Wal Mart owners out of town” (221). If Register wants to encourage people to adopt behavioral changes, he should stop exalting his belief system above those of other people. Moreover, he should also acknowledge that his belief system is not the final authority nor does it represent the absolute best way to live.

As for my journey into Ithaca, I thoroughly enjoyed the time that I spent thinking about the city’s future. I decided to go to the intersection of Cascadilla Street and Cayuga Street—a site that Connect Ithaca describes as a potential urban village. Now that I have seen the site, I agree fully with this description.

When I arrived at the site at 11:30 Friday morning, the area was bustling with activity. The site hosts a wide range of mixed use development which draws people into the urban environment. A small coffee shop sits at one corner of the intersection, while various commercial establishments occupy two of the other corners. A public park rests in the remaining lot. All of these facilities are surrounded by residential development and connected by roads.

If we were to eliminate cars from Ithaca, this intersection could potentially grow into an even more energized commercial and residential hub. I drew several sketches of the site to demonstrate how much space is taken up by roads. If these roads were closed to cars, then we could expand the existing urban block into the street and increase density by a significant amount. The coffee shop already sits inside of a three story building, so I imagine that we could build as high as 5 or 6 stories without disrupting the cohesiveness of the neighborhood. I also think that an elevated rail would fit fine within the context of this neighborhood.

If I were a low income resident, I might not feel completely comfortable in a trendy urban village like the one that we are proposing. Consequently, we must make a conscious effort to preserve the public park at the intersection and to incorporate other public spaces into the plan of the development. We might also provide some sort of affordable housing in the immediate area to ensure that all Ithacans have access to this hub. The proposed improvements to this site will certainly increase land value and attract college students, professors, and professionals to the area (especially with such amazing access to the transit line) so we will have to fight hard to make sure that low income people can claim some part of this project.

field observation

The commons is an interesting space, as much of it is already set up for pedestrian use. Currently the commons is focused around a central area with trees and other items such as a playground and a seating area. The stores face the inside. The main issue is the lack of interaction between the inner walking courtyard area and the outside area that is surrounded by large wide streets. Currently it is almost as if the outside streets compensate (in the negative direction) for the increased area of walking area on the inside. This could be used as an asset. Rob talked about creating public transportation and turning streets into walkable/ bikeable areas. Because the roads are currently so wide, it would be easier to take the first step to creating these new forms of transportation. Because there is more space people are more likely to give up a little of it presently to obtain public transportation, while they most likely would not be if they were told to give up all the streets currently. The space provides both positive and negative aspects for creating mixed use areas. The inner walkable area is separated from the outer part. There is a distinct difference of denser area verses more suburban. This could possibly make it harder to draw people into living above the many stores, but this is also a fixable problem. If the system applied in the commons (which appears to be much more busy and bustling than those areas surrounding it) were to be extended, living above the stores would be more appealing as it would feel more like being part of a community. Mixed income housing could therefore work above different buildings on the outside of what is now the central commons area. One interesting thing to notice about the commons is how many of the spaces created for communal use are not used (like the playground). Again this could have to do with the lack of draw of living in the area. The commons could be turned into a living community, with public transit and bike paths added to the outside, and with delineated areas for bikes within the walking area of the commons as well. Right now the commons serves as a spaces walled in by roads, adding public transportation and better paths with different types of space would help to decrease this feeling. Much of the inner area is bare which would allow for change into greener areas, making it a more appealing area for both living and shopping. After reading chapter 7 in ecocities I think the idea of having people live and use places and public transportation is important. Register discusses how although there are often many creative ideas they often get lost in beurocracy in city officials not voting for different sustainable practices for various reasons. Register talks about how we need to realize people are in different groups, and how working in the commons this way is important, as it is already a developed space that many would say is sustainable due to the high level of walking area.

Eco-cities intro and ch 1 ( i know, I'm a week behind)

The intro to this book discusses cities as they are today. Discussion of how and why they from is followed by a critique of western cities and the huge impact that cars have on the land use and design of cities.

Chapter one starts by laying out the framework for the title of the chapter "As We Build, So SHall We Live." The author talks about the odd dichotomy of people being extremely interested in sustainability and ecocity design and yet the trend is flowing in the opposite direction. This seems to be occurring because people are only thinking in piecemeal ways and not in a comprehensive way. The thinking follows that society no longer has to be at war with nature, we should be able to understand it and use nature's cycles as inspiration for our designs. Register critiques cities with a western influence because the greenspace afforded in european cities is over manicured and essentially only there for visual appeal, as opposed to multiple purposes. The idea that "a man's house is his castle" is harshly critiqued and the dynamics of a european castle city are contrasted to a native community's city. The native city is designed as rooms within one house, while a castle imposes a division of tasks that reduces efficiency. Essentially, if we design on a human scale we will be set for life.

I think that I will have to stop reading the beginning chapters of these books because I keep being frustrated by the romanticism and repetition that flows through these types of books. Register over romanticizes the native style city and his optimism for the optimal eco-city also adds to be urge to reject his other more insightful parts of his writing.

I can connect to this reading and to the critique I'm making to it with the ecovillage at Ithaca. There are numerous assets to this form of community, but at the same time it's residents are disproportionately upper-middle class, middle aged, Caucasian families-- which is certainly no representation of any non-intensional community.

Week 9/30

Register Chapter 10: Tools to Fit the Task

In this chapter Register fleshes out some ideas on how to go from imagination to reality with regard to ecocities. The main tools discussed are ecocity zoning, transfer of development rights, an ecological general plan, and the International Ecological Rebuilding Program. The ecocity zoning map creation necessitates a complete rewriting of the future, a move away from the current zoning practices of separating uses to layering uses one on top of the other in a wonderful jumble of existence, much like the ecology of nature. Building upon the use of the ecocity zoning would be the ecological general plan, which would essentially be the master plan for a community, just with a different focus. The ecological general plan would incorporate ecological health as one of its imperatives, to stand along side the imperative for the health and safety of its people: essentially, taking a whole systems approach to planning.

A tool to achieve the goals of the ecocity zoning and the ecological general plan is Transfer of Development Rights (TDR). Currently in use, TDR allows for sending zones and receiving zones, whereby land can be permanently divested of the right to build upon it. TDR represents a unique and forward thinking way to guide development.

On a broader scale, the International Ecological Rebuilding Program aims to place at the fore a whole system approach to world development. It requires cooperation of world nations, as well as investment in a long-term future rather than short-term returns.

The tools of Register’s ecological city seem grounded in existing frameworks. Zoning, general plans, TDR, and world imperatives all currently exist in today’s world. Register hopes to tweak their uses to better suit his agenda, and he is successful in explaining their relevance to creating ecocities. But it seems as though Register breaks down when it comes to explaining how and why an ecocities future will be adopted. This chapter helped solidify a truth that Register holds self-evident:

“With an ecocity zoning map in hand, supplemented by descriptive explanations, you don’t need to worry about whether anyone supports you initially. What you are saying makes sense.” (259)

Does it? To whom? And for what reason? Register explains: “…you have the logic of the human body’s needs and dimensions and the logic of ecology on your side” (259). It seems like Register is creating an ideology of the ecocity, and that everyone should eventually come around to your (his) way of thinking because it is clearly a superior interpretation of reality. I am a bit concerned by the lack of logic exhibited by Register. Though his ideas are timely and, well, good, I don’t think I could create an ecocities zoning map, present it to a group of concerned community members, and have my argument boil down to “it makes sense because its ecologically logical, you see.” Maybe I am distilling his reasoning too much, oversimplifying the nuances of text, but nuances fall by the wayside in movements much less radical than Register’s.

Despite such a hiccup, Register has inspired in me a path to ecocity-dom. Though change will come slowly, unevenly across the globe, in fits and starts, the major ecological disasters(?) that will undoubtedly transpire in the next +-100 years may do more to force this radical change than the most concerted efforts in the calm before the storm. It may just be human nature to not fix something until it is unquestionably, unavoidably – and most of all annoyingly – broken. I don’t think we are at that point yet.

In the community
I spent the brunt of last semester thinking about the Southwest Area and its future existence. It was a love/hate relationship, one that still lingers in my memory when I look out over Libe slope, drive by on Route 13, or even visit the nearby retail (Lowes, not Wal-Mart). I soon realized, working in the trenches running numbers and facing reality, that the hopes and dreams of ecocities are not easily transferred from paper to product. I think of the decision the city made to move forward with Lowes and Wal-Mart, to effectively cut off the southwest area from true integration with the city, and lament the lost opportunity to create a much better designed segment of Ithaca.

Ecocities Chapter 10 and weekend observations of the Commons and surrounding area


In this chapter of Ecocities Register suggests different tools for reshaping cities, some of which have existed for a long time, and some of which are already being used effectively but should be used more widely. He also suggests that completely new tools need to be created to “fill out a whole new tool box for ecocities.” The suggested tools are as follows:

Mapping of Ecocities. Register acknowledges that it is difficult to gather support for ecocity zoning, but suggests the construction of maps that are “centers-oriented” which is thought through publicly. These maps are overlay “shadow zoning maps,” as they do not represent the actual zoning of a city; “they start from what actually exists and therefore are partially implemented already.”

Transfer of Development Rights (TDR). This is a real estate transaction tool that makes it possible to buy and transfer the rights to develop from one piece of property to another. Double TDRs remove structures at a “sending site” as a condition of the developer being able to build more elsewhere at the “receiving site.” Register suggests that restoration taxes would help to encourage the transfers that open up nature. A revolving fund would be helpful for “rolling back sprawl” through Double TDR, as it would be used to buy land and sell development rights that can be shifted to other parts of town.

The Ecological General Plan. A master or general plan is one of the most important instruments in shaping cities; it is made up of different elements and is a framework for public decision-making… “any ecocity General Plan worthy the name would have to adopt an ecocity zoning map; a very major step would be the establishment of an Office of Ecological Development.”

Register also suggests tools for rolling back sprawl and the foundation of an International Ecological Rebuilding Program. There is also the recommendation for having ecocity organizations that do not focus on one particular problem as many organizations do, but that examines the “truth about the relationship of the physical community to ecology and evolution.”


This weekend I spent several hours walking around the Commons during the Apple Festival and the surrounding area. After walking through the Commons I continued down W. State Street, onto N. Geneva Street, onto East Buffalo, and finishing in Dewitt Park across from Greenstar Cooperative Market.

One major asset of the Commons is the fact that it is a commercial pedestrian plaza which is conducive to business growth. It appears as though it may be mixed-use, with residences above the restaurants and shops. It is clear from being on the Commons for five minutes that it is a place which encourages sustainability, with compost bins alongside trash containers (I'm not sure if these were always here, or were just placed here for the festival). It has a very family-oriented cultural atmosphere, with children running and dancing around musicians/street performer without the threat of automobiles and abundant plant life. I was particularly interested in the fact that there are small "malls" and movie theaters tucked into/under large buildings and they are not obvious to a passer-by.

Once you walk onto W. State Street and N. Geneva though, businesses becomes less dense and metered parking calls to cars. West State Street appears to be a promising extension of the Commons, sans cars and more densely populated with businesses and housing. Although cars would not be allowed in this area, one car parking space could be given up to five bikes, a seemingly popular mode of transportation in the area. It should also be noted that in the Commons (on a regular weekend) businesses and restaurants are bustling with pedestrians, and they are not as much so on W. State Street (auto-centered).

Continuing onto Dewitt Park, the streets north of the Commons are mainly residential. The park itself was full of people gathering to relax and socialize, probably due to its proximity to the Commons. The park has potential to have more natural elements; right now the center of the park is a war memorial. Not to say this is not important, but the addition of maybe a garden or fountain might attract even more people, especially if some of the surrounding homes were converted to multi-family/low-income housing.

9-30-07 Chapter 8

I read chapter 8 “Plunge on in!” because I was curious to know how one can “plunge in” and begin to make major changes to a concrete city. R. Register graphically describes the world’s economy with a layered cake comparison. The bottom layer of the cake, the layer that supports everything else, is the natural economy or the natural “free” resources. I like the image of the layered caked because it expresses the importance of the natural economy and shows that every other economy depends upon the health of the natural resources. “No ecology No economy,” our livelihoods are based on the natural resources that support us.
This chapter outlined four sequential steps to start the progress toward an ecocity. The steps help focus and direct energy in a positive direction. Step one is the need for a comprehensive map. The importance of a map/plan is a recurring theme in all the literature we have read so far. The map would need to contain the framework for the city’s zoning, physical anatomy, future development and non development sites ect. Also, the plan should only serve as a guideline for the city and expect considerable changes. The question that continually arises for me when the idea of a comprehensive map is brought up is how can a small struggling city with limited resources fund the creation of this type of map , like my hometown.
The second step is the compilation of a list of technologies. This data base would serve the community by providing education and information for its future growth. Step Three is incentives for the growth of ecocities. This would be new package of incentives that builds “a society at peace with nature.” The laws, regulations and subsides would have to change from cars/sprawl and oil to a set of regulations that promotes ecocities. The last step is people. It is important to organize people with a common goal, who are “ready and willing” to pick up their lives and make change happen. The next part of the chapter gives the real life example of ITHACA, NY and how the city is using the four steps to accomplish its goals.
The last part of the chapter gives the typical recommendations of how we can support the green cause by, buying locally, getting rid of our cars, boycotting Wal-Mart, and supporting Third Parties in government. The main gist of this chapter was to start planning and more importantly begin to take action. The perfect conditions for change don’t exist so the only way to start change is to just jump in and then adjust as you go.
Field Experience
I tried to picture the light rail running through the Downtown Commons. One of my major concerns is the way the light rail would look and how it would fit in with the aesthetic appeal the Commons now have. Is there a way to change the way the rail or train cars would look in order to make them fit in with the charm of the commons? Or maybe a mixture of light rails and trolley cars. Also I’m not familiar with light rails but I assume they make some kind of noise, which could be a major annoyance. It is estimated that around 20% percent of the population has some type of handicap; I assume the trains would be accessible, but how? I really like the idea of slowly shutting down streets to cars. When you slowly shut down a street to cars it gives people the chance to get used to the change and find other ways to get around.

Week 9/30

Register Ch.10- Tools to Fit the Task

This chapter was alot about creating an ecocity zoning map, transfer of development rights (TDR), restoration tax credit, and the need for an Ecological General Plan. I thought Register managed to make alot of sense as to what should happen and why. Still he himself mentioned some of the barriers that exist to keep such 'utopian' things from happening. The bottom line seems to be that the people in power do not want this and so it will not happen. This chapter only made me realize how silly and idealistic this class makes all our hopes seem when viewed from outside of our jolly bubble of hope. Register states that it is policies that we are lacking, and I agree. When, as he pointed out, someone who claims to be so environmentally concerned reaches a certain amount of power, is the vice president of the US, and still these policies do not pass it does not make me optimistic. Still I agree that tools such as the ecocity zoning map are steps to be taken ahead of time, now, in order to be prepared for our great hope should it come, "the awakening". This chapter made me realize that although I do not tend to be as quickly believing as I used to be I still await in the "shadow". Trying to educate myself for that day when we will need to take over.
I’m not certain how much we are expected to write concerning our walk for there were plenty of questions. I picked a place I often walk through at all hours, that is The Commons. I noted that there are dwellings above the stores. That many of the stores are local. The area seems to be relatively shady and many sorts of people gather in it to mingle. The structures could be taller, something at least one store worker would not mind after inquiry. I also noted that the Commons is relatively short, and could easily be extended across Cayuga Street. It seems there is more walking, business, and residential potential there. Only the stores across there now don’t seem to be quite so visited. Also, although the trees are great to have it would be nice to see the sun in The Commons. The concrete walks look rather filthy and something like grass would make a huge difference in making the environment seem more clean and refreshing. I know that there is already work being done to try to get a monorail or PRT through this area, and I think that it would look fine and I could only hope that with it would come many more businesses. It seems the Commons is good for perhaps a bit of Ithacan culture, but as far as practicality it is lacking. Most people wouldn’t go to The Commons for a pair of pants, for a heater, for groceries, or toilet paper. The area seems to cater to only a small group of people, those with money and those that would be called “Hippies”. Bringing in a more affordable grocery store, more residences above the stores, an actual theater playing big movies, an arcade, some more ‘restaurants’ (not expensive!!, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘fastfood’ either), clothes stores (clothes everyday people would buy), and a supply store (with towels, dishes, etc). All these things would bring all sorts of people as long as the prices weren’t extraordinary due to location. The artistic stores that are already there would be great as well, offering a bit of exoticness. Another really neat thing would be a few fresh fruit and vegetable stands. All this, with prices all could afford, would bring Ithaca together.

9/30: Urban Exploration + ecocities

Last week I read Chapter 10 in Ecocities because I was eager for some practical tools. This week I decided to back up a bit to Chapter 7 and actually read about Register’s vision for an ecocity. It’s not exactly what I expected. The chapter has been summarized several times since last week, and I had similar comments and criticisms as other bloggers. While I appreciate the fullness of his vision and can see how the EZ map, the Ecological Plan and other tools introduced in Chapter 10 could pave the way for making his vision into reality, it’s a long way from the creation of an EZ map to his futuristic bike ride through an ecocity.

As I felt myself getting more and more cynical, I turned back to page 184 and reread the sentence, “Let’s say we land on Earth about 100 year (sic) from now.” Well, maybe we’re aliens, whatever. The key to my buying into this vision is the time horizon: In 100 years, I think some very dramatic events (peak oil, climate change, perhaps more war) will have wrought profound change, and we cannot begin to predict what shape the urban form will take. In that respect, I believe that Register’s ecocity vision is not just compelling, but feasible. Also, keep in mind that the modes of transportation and the organization of space may not come about by popular choice, but by necessity. If that’s the case, then I hope the new urban form is as vibrant as he describes it.

Still, how do we get there from here? I think it’s possible—and desirable—to create an urban palimpsest wherein buildings and patterns are not discarded but modified, emergent forms and functions superimposed, old materials juxtaposed against new ones. I considered this as I observed the Commons, thinking about how it might look in 10, 50, or 100 years. Below are my flaneuristic observations, in discrete thoughts so that this doesn’t turn into a five-page narrative:

The Commons is already mixed use, and could be more so: In the corridor along State St., build multi-story apartment, retail, and office buildings, give the first two or three floors to commercial use. Maybe the south side of the street has a height limit of six stories to allow southern exposure to the street, while the north side can be taller.

Build more Seneca Places (but deep-six the Starbucks—this is Gimme! Coffee territory).

Build a hydroponic greenhouse that can be the home of FingerLakes Fresh. Put a multistory grocery store and greenmarket next door (or where Center Ithaca is—someone tear down that eyesore—please!).

Speaking of urban infill, build into the pedestrian space of the Commons. Build buildings that connect one side with the other, leaving the bottom two stories permeable to people and a streetcar. Create an arcade like the ones they have in Paris—a big glass dome spanning a city block or two. It could have operable louvers to take advantage of convection and natural heating and cooling. All the buildings' roofs could be year-round gardens. (Picture at top is a famous arcade in Paris. For more info, google Walter Benjamin Arcades Project)

Speaking of streetcars: I don’t love the idea of the overhead rail—it’s way too expensive and not necessary. But Ithaca’s downtown is perfectly configured for a streetcar. The main branch could run up and down State St. and auxiliary lines could cut across Aurora, Cayuga, and Plain. We don’t have to wait for a car-free world to do this; just eliminate one side of street parking, or have all one-way streets downtown (already a near-reality in Ithaca).

And last, about the car-free street or streets. I would strongly caution against this effort. Fall Creek, Northside, and now Southside are enjoying a renaissance. There was a time when this wasn’t always the case. We are lucky to have strong downtown neighborhoods like these and should view them as the building blocks of Ecocity Ithaca. If one of the streets were made car-free anytime soon, I fear that those blocks would suffer from declining population and property values in a dramatic and severe way. Until we have a speedy, convenient, well-connected system of public transit (and TCAT does not exactly fit the bill), it is unwise to deprive residents of a primary mode of transportation. You really expect someone living on Cayuga St. to bike up to the office park at the airport? To take a bus that only runs every 45 minutes and takes 45 minutes to get there? No. People would just park their cars on Tioga or Geneva, which would increase traffic and car presence on those streets. It’s patently unfair and rash, in my opinion. Get the streetcar, get the network. Do it in order. Do it right.

Ecocities, Preserving Community in the Face of PRTs: Case Study - State Street

I had several experiences this weekend that combined nicely with the assignment. I chose to read Ch. 8 in Ecocities because I felt that reading Register's summary of Joan's work would help to prime me for the second part of the project. I also attended the Apple Festival, which several people have mentioned for its community togetherness (and delicious funnel cakes). And lastly, with my Urban Co-op block group I attended the Ecovillage free community tour on Saturday afternoon. It was interesting to contrast the peace and quiet of a trip to Ecovillage with the hubbub of the Commons on the busiest day of the year. Taking into account Elan's questions and directions for the assignment I decided to focus on the block of State Street directly before the Commons as my space and to look at the viability of incorporating PRT's from a preservation stand-point. Rob offered some renderings of the space as it could look in the future, and made several important observations about the area.

The buildings on this portion of State Street have a maximum height of 3 stories. There are about half and half historic buildings and "new" construction. There is a vacant lot, as well as the State Theater, a historic resource the community has put significant effort into restoring. There is an Ithaca Downtown Historic District, which does encompass this portion of State Street and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Historic Districts are often seen as a hindrance to new development as well as some of our sustainability ideals such as density. However, preservation is undertaken to protect the quality of our built environment. The Urban Renewal of the 50's and 60's destroyed thousands and thousands of buildings - and through that - thousands of neighborhoods. It also displaced many thousands of people, many of whom where low-income minorities. I think it is important to bring up here because what is paramount to remember when talking about city transformation is that the planners and politicians who designed and implemented Urban Renewal projects believed passionately that they were transforming cities which were no longer functioning as healthy environments for their inhabitants. I bring this up because many Urban Renewal projects did little to help the people they displaced and additionally provided high density public housing built on green-space: a Corbusian design which I am not alone in contending simply does not work in addressing affordable housing issues.

To return to my project space, I will say that I would not want more than 3-story buildings on this pleasant "Main Street" type area. And to be honest, I'm not sure I want to see Bladerunner-type PRTs whizzing above my head. I do believe that public transportation is a huge concern for the city but it is important not to rush into something under the guise of sustainability that will drastically alter people's environment without other factors being considered. While standing along State Street I thought a lot about underground transportation systems. Of course, I would imagine this would be prohibitively expensive in Ithaca. Additionally, it seems to me that some of the benefits of an above ground system would be increased safety and visibility. My conclusion is that it will likely be extremely difficult to get a PRT system supported by preservationists, but it is clear that the automobile is also detrimental to our neighborhood character. So I don't really have any answer, as usual I see my preservationist self grapple with my sustainability self and I still don't think those passions have to be exclusive.

Register, Chapter 10

For this week I read Chapter 10, Tools to Fit the Task. I still resent having to read from this author, but this selection was slightly more tolerable than Chapter 7. Register goes over some of the ways in which to arrive at the city, citing an ecocity zoning map, transfer of development rights, and the international ecological rebuilding program. The basic objective of an ecocity zoning map is “to open up landscapes covered by car-dependent development and recover agricultural and natural landscapes while shifting density toward centers.” Register’s vision relies on building concentric circular zones, where density is highest in the center and thins out at each outlying circle. He argues this is more feasible than corridor development, which is harder to maintain. The transfer of development rights (TDR) seems like a very sensible solution to sprawl and involves people on the periphery selling their development rights to projects in the city center, leading to higher densities. I was less clear on how the International Ecological Rebuilding Program is a “tool”- sounds more like a bunch of rhetoric. Register advices that there be a more concerted effort to initiate global action, and that certain policies should be passed into law- but how do we get there? He says automobile subsidies must be stopped, and sure, that would be nice. He seems to forget though the lobbying power of car manufacturers and oil companies and the general weakness of our current legislative body. I mentioned this in my last post, but Register has this utopian view of how everything should look and feel in an ecocity, but he implies that any deviation from this picture is ill-advised and would incur devastating effects. He is incredibly elitist in his writing, and very presumptuous in assuming that everyone shares his values and thinking.

For the fieldwork assignment, I made observations of the southwest development site. The obvious asset here is that it gives planners a (relatively) blank canvas with which to work. Some of the limitations include the Wal-Mart bordering the site, the train tracks, and the marshlands spotting the area. Provided that a rail system is built connecting downtown/Cornell with the big box developments, this site could help to bolster the sustainability of Ithaca. The ideas I have laid out below are all things that can be incorporated into a contract made with the developer, whereby the city sets certain requirements that must be met by the company winning the bid. A required insurance policy purchased by the developer would guarantee that the company follows these guidelines (this was discussed by the Caroline group, I forget the actual name of the insurance though).

I would locate a town center in the middle of the city (something like a circular open space), surrounded by high-density mixed-use development (not to exceed eight stories). Yes, there will be car access- this is necessary in order for businesses in the center to receive shipments, to allow disabled patrons to be dropped off near the center, etc. However, any roads close to the center will be single lane, with parking on one side to serve as a traffic-calming device and to discourage car use in general. Pedestrians will have easy access to the center through a vast network of sidewalks, and because traffic will not be as heavy bikers will feel safer riding to the center. The more heavily forested area located near the southwest side of the site will be preserved to provide residents with a natural area and to promote greater bio diversity. Linking the development to the water system will be more difficult though because of the train tracks.

Tools to Fit the Task--Register, Ch. 11

Ultimately, as before, I both agree and disagree with what Register has to say. Many of the things he sees as serious problems, so do I. It brings me to an interesting question-- one to do with Democracy (capital D) and history. What is the value and place of dissent when there is an overwhelming sense of urgency to fix, fix, fix the destruction we see?
To clarify: Much of Chapter 11 proved useful, interesting, and empowering. I enjoyed the discussion of zoning as a means, rather than a structure with which to agree or not. It is like math, I think, or maybe more like statistics. It can be really useful for creating a picture, for shaping our built environment, for protecting people and the environment, if it is well understood and used properly. But it can also do a lot of harm if it isn't understood within its specific context. As much as we want to know where the numbers come from, so do we want to know why a zoning ordinance exists or doesn't.
The idea of "balanced development" also seems useful and I like the way we can really take a systems approach through this to understand how we can, well, balance development.

Some of my concerns included de-development. Bluntly put, what does he recommend we do with all that junk? Another was the equity question. This all might be nice for people in a place like Ithaca, where there are more PhDs per capita than who knows where, and maybe people have the time and resources to make nice zoning maps, and probably have the connections they need to get represented. Now, my complaint is not that none of this should take place, more that I wonder what's going to happen in the rest of the world?

And again, like before, I am concerned about saying how things "should" be. I don't know, I don't have the answer. I just wonder if this isn't Step 3 or Step 4, and maybe we should go through the steps of providing things like education and health care that would make it possible for more and more people to have a hand in creating society (built and social). Then, we can see what a sustainable, equitable, beautiful city might look like and feel like.


I spent a lot of time walking around Ithaca in the last few days. Starting from my house, on Stewart Ave, on Saturday morning, I walked up through the frat ghetto to Collegetown to do my laundry and have a bagel at CTB. I was interested in the possibility that the block from CTB to Starbucks could be made into a pedestrian zone. The road is already narrow and it would have been a more peaceful morning if I had not been dodging speeding cars and trucks. But then I wondered where all the cars would go if not down that road. So I thought about the possibility that maybe there could be car-free times of day, like Saturday when lots of people want to walk to breakfast or brunch. Or maybe if the Connect Ithaca public transit works out, there would just be less cars.
Then I walked down to the Apple Fest. It was great, as Carlos already described in his post. There was a real sense of community, and it was a joy to be able to walk on State St without fear of death by car or worse, bus. So what if we extended the Commons one more block along State St? It might enliven the block around State Theater. Of course it was the same question, and came with similar answers. What about the cars and buses? Redirect them or make car-free times.
And then, this morning, I walked to the Farmer's Market. It was a long walk, which was fine, I was planning on that. But once again, I was forced to face my own mortality. Crossing Route 13 is asking for it, I'm telling you. So what about some crosswalks there, what about engaging the residents in the low-income housing so that they can enjoy the famous Farmer's Market? It was interesting to walk down Third Street, and observe how quickly it stops looking like the Ithaca I know, the one that's advertised. And it's something you don't have to see if you can drive your car to the market. But if you can't, because you don't have a car, you get a chance to see what lies between the Gimme! Coffee on Cayuga and Route 13.
I think cars are not only seriously affecting the environment, but they are making it possible for us to live in our own reality. I don't think that's very healthy, for anyone.

Tools and Field Observations


There are several tools that are useful in creating ecocities. As the chapter emphasizes, an ecocity zoning map can prove to be very useful in guiding development and conveying to people what the basic beneficial features of an ecocity are. An ecocity map shows the natural areas in and surrounding the city, the places of potential high-density centers, corridors where agriculture and forests or shrubs should be in place, and clearly point out where areas of accessible transportation would have to go. In addition to this, the ecocity zoning map allows people, especially policymakers and residents, to see what the city could look like in the future if the correct actions are taken. The ecocity zoning map is therefore the framework by which cities can be redesigned and envisioned for a sustainable future.

Another tool that is very important is the Transfer of Development Rights. With this tool, the right to develop an area outside the city is purchased. This area is then designated for agriculture, forest, or open space, and the payer receives a bonus by getting the right to build in the city, where the opportunity for business and demand are higher. The development rights inside the city can be designated to meet needs of the city. For example, if there’s a lack of housing, incentives could be put into place for developers to build housing units instead of something that abounds already in the city. In the case of a Double TDR, developers receives more than what he would have otherwise had because of the higher density in the city. The TDR is an important tool for reversing sprawl and making the ecocity denser.

The Ecological General Plan is basically the guiding law that enforces an ecocity zoning map. It has all the details about where development is allowed, what the city will look like in the future, and how incentives are given for ecocity development. Together, these tools are crucial to the important task of reversing sprawl in the United States and other countries where sprawl is on the rise. Applied internationally, they could potentially reduce our overall ecological footprint by creating cities that are truly sustainable. Though it will come at an initial cost, the long-term benefits will largely outweigh the efforts. And in the process, job creation and economic growth will be typical features.

Field Observations

Gregory and I walked through The Commons during AppleFest. One of the key assets of this area is that its people have a vested interest in sustainability. Many businesses use locally made or green products; most customers are willing to pay the premium on these products that results from government subsidies and Asian imports; and the community is so involved that it seems like Ithacans have created this city themselves. There also a very strong sense of community in The Commons, and the place is designed in such a way that it attracts people.

One of the barriers, however, is better access. For people who wish to bike to that area, there aren’t enough bike racks distributed around The Commons. The ones that exist are towards the ends; perhaps these are not necessary because the demand for them is not there, but that’s something to be explored. Also, the heavily trafficked streets around The Commons need to be, over the long-term, opened for pedestrians. During AppleFest, one of the streets was closed for cars, and it was wonderful to walk in the street and see people selling their products. An affordable overhead mobility system would allow for this to happen. Such a system would increase access to The Commons and allow for people to come more often to the center area to sell their products, like they did during AppleFest. This, in turn, would increase economic growth.

Finally, The Commons would benefit from more regular events like AppleFest. It would be great to see events featuring green products, school projects, local foods (farmers market in The Commons), and celebrating community assets. These features would attract people to live in the city center and would make businesses more vibrant. A fast, radical redesign could start with the construction of the affordable overhead mobility system, followed by the eventual partial or complete closedown of some surrounding roads.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

TCAT website

In case you don't often use the bus, you can use the above link to identify which will be the best route for you to take to the Commons for the upcoming field trip.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Local gov't contacts for Team Garden

Potential gov’t. contacts for community garden project:

Natural Areas Commission:

Chair: Zev Ross

Planning & Development Board:

Chair: John Schroeder

Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency:

Chair: Carolyn K. Peterson

Environment and Neighborhood Quality Committee:

Chair: Alderperson Robin Holtham Korherr

Planning & Economic Development Committee:

Chair: Alderperson Mary Tomlan

City Clerk’s Office: 108 Green Street, 607-274-6570

Planning & Development Department: 607-274-6550


Director: H. Matthys VanCort

more to come...

Whole Community Project team

Here are some links that I shared with my team early on, but which might also be of interest to the rest of the class. The list is of important organizations/groups in the County which support childhood obesity prevention in some way, but more generally it provides a picture of Tompkins County as a system:

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County (Check out the BuyLocal, low-income CSA share, nutrition, and youth services/4-H pages)

Human Services Coalition

Ithaca Free Clinic

Buy Local Food Campaign Gains Momentum in Ithaca

Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC)

Southside Community Center

Brooktondale Community Center

Food Bank of the Southern Tier

Greenstar Cooperative Market

Tompkins Community Action

Ithaca Youth Bureau

Tompkins County Legislature

Ithaca City Planning Office

Tompkins County Planning Department

Tompkins County-Ithaca YMCA

Ithaca Public Education Initiative

Ithaca City School District

Trumansburg Central Schools

Newfield Central Schools

Lansing Central Schools

Groton Central Schools

Dryden Central Schools

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pigeon Paradox

The Pigeon Paradox: Dependence of Global Conservation on Urban Nature by Robert Dunn, M. Gavin, M. Sanchez, and J. Solomon.

An exciting article in the December 2006 issue of Conservation Biology discusses achieving global conservation by promoting direct experiences with urban species. It is thought that people are more likely to become involved in conservation action when they have direct experiences in the natural world. 80% of people are found in cities, therefore, humans mostly experience nature though much maligned urban species such as pigeons and other introduced species thought of as urban pests. The paper examines the idea that perhaps global conservation will depend more and more on people's interactions with urban ecosystems.

Read the short article here.

Week of 9/30 Urban Form Fieldwork Assignment

Week of 9/30 Urban Form Fieldwork Assignment
A) Read one more chapter (at least) in the second half of Ecocities book, e.g., Chapters 7, 8, 10, 12, focusing on tools and applying the key design ideas.

B) Walk through a downtown area (Commons, Northside, Southside, Fall Creek) OR a proposed new development area of Ithaca (Southwest Park, Cherry Street industrial area, Inlet Island) for at least an hour. You do not need to cover a lot of ground, and you may wish to cover enough ground to make comparisons and contrasts. Make observations and jot down notes about the design & infrastructure issues we discussed in relation to Rob & Joan’s presentations and the material from the related Ecocities and Green Urbanism chapters (see sample questions below)

C) Write a blog entry that summarizes the chapter you read, your field observations, and perhaps some emerging ideas about what a Sustainable Ithaca might look like. (Extra credit: and how we might get there)


Questions for the field experience:
Take time to observe carefully. You just need to consider a few of the questions and a few of the roles suggested below. No need to be overwhelmed or try too hard. At different points consider how the following questions might feel to you if you were a merchant in this neighborhood, an Ithaca city planner, a low-income resident, a person considering retiring to a walkable urban area, a Cornell employee living in the Enfield or Danby areas, and, also, yourself.

1) From the point of view of sustainable urban development, what are some of the current assets, promising possibilities, and major liabilities of this place, as far as I know or can guess from observing it?
2) How and where might mixed-use buildings with mixed-income housing work in this place?
2) How much density and how much vertical development might work here, and might I be comfortable with?
3) How might a mostly car-free area here improve or hinder economic development in this neighborhood/on this block? What kind of green economic development might be possible here?
4) How would an overhead or an on–the-ground light rail system look and feel here, given the character and history of this place? Pros and cons.
6) How & where could street space, parking lots, and single story buildings best be converted into more attractive and sustainable possibilities? What might they be?
7) How could this neighborhood be more integrated as a healthy ecosystem, and as part of a city-as-organism?
8) How could design changes support multicultural community building processes? What might most draw diverse people together here?
9) What quality of life improvements seem most likely to bring about here?
10) How might a radical redesign actually come about here in the next 5 or 10 years?
11) What might prevent gentrification?
12) Would I consider actually living in this transformed place? What about the other characters I’ve been role-playing?


Team Garden: Where are we headed?

Ideas for project focus:

Primarily, we are interested in looking at the difference between
city-supported vs. spontaneous community gardens.

This interest has led us to focus on looking at the “roots” :-) of the garden – what were the founders’ original intentions for the garden? How does the original vision compare to what has taken place over the years and what will happen in the future?

It was brought up that it would be interesting to look at the (implied) mission of the gardens (that are intended for public use) regarding access. Which gardens (city-supported or spontaneous) appear to be more successful at being accessible to the community?

What elements define “success” of a community garden - from both the perspectives of the gardeners themselves and the surrounding community?


- Interviews and/or survey
o community gardeners
o non-gardeners in the local neighborhood
o home-gardeners in the local neighborhood

Through our work, our goal would be to find a common ground :-) between community gardeners (both in public-supported and spontaneous gardens) and city planners. We discussed a few potential “end-products” which, once determined, will help us narrow down the focus of our work.

Potential end products:

- to invite gardeners and city planners to a presentation of our findings
- to present our findings AND facilitate a community meeting between gardeners and planners - to write a paper on our findings (and try to publish?)

Some questions that came up:

- Should the community “control group” we use for comparison be home-gardeners or non-gardeners in the surrounding community?
- How are we defining “access”? Do we take a quantitative approach and examine (map) proximity to gardens from different income areas? Do we take a qualitative approach and interview local residents and ask them about their interest in their local community garden, and if they even know about it? Both?
- How is a community garden defined? If a community garden has exclusive membership, (whether it’s overt or implied) is it still considered a “community” garden?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Green Collar Jobs: follow-up

Hi folks
To follow up on our brief but crucial discussion on how many jobs the green economy will generate and who will get those jobs, check out “Community Jobs and the Green Economy”, a groundbreaking report by Apollo Alliance and Urban Habitat

or, for a briefer intro, with some nice links to related articles

I have hard copies of this report on order for each of you, and you can also order them free directly from

Also see related articles by Van Jones and others in the Just Sustainability Resources I gave out and put on the blog

Resource for Social Behavior Change

Hi Folks
Here's a resource I've put together that may help if you're looking for more ways to advance the Social Change efforts. the lens used here is Building Social Capital.

Ideas for Building Social Capital- 09/24/2007

Get to know 1 or 2 of your immediate neighbors on the bloc, on the floor you live or work on, etc., in an ongoing, substantial way

Recognize others in your everyday life (bank tellers, grocery clerks, colleagues, etc.) for their unique presence and gifts, as you go about your day. Be open and loving to a wider range of people than is your current pattern.

Get to know one or two people well over time who are part of a world you rarely connect with (elders/children, low-income/working class people, people of color/immigrants, people with disabilities, people with different sexual preferences than yours, etc.)

Practice being a bridge. Link isolated parts of your community and your life. See yourself as a connector between people, groups, disconnected domains (such as the social justice and sustainability worlds)

Help your social group/block/neighborhood/community etc. find effective, engaging ways to discover & share:
• Common skills and interests
• Common needs they have, barriers to meeting those needs, and ways to overcome the barriers
• Playful ways to connect outside of the usual talking mode (games, music, dance, outdoor experiences, etc.)
• How they are shaped by their diverse backgrounds, cultural heritages. Could also include ways to celebrate those heritages
• A common vision and core values, and ways to realize that vision
• Stories of our lives (could include drawing & sharing a timeline of key turning points in one’s life, or a map of key elements of one’s life)
• Facilitation, communication and other community-building skills

Link people by supporting each other’s wish to live more sustainably, such as:
• Finding alternatives to solo car travel
• Creating a local/organic food purchasing coop, community garden, etc.
• Sharing resources of any kind (tools, skills, vehicles, local knowledge, childcare, garden produce and seeds, etc.)
• Home energy efficiency parties
• Monitoring and reducing trash levels, ecological footprint, energy use levels , etc.
• Creating sustainable living learning circles and/or video/discussion series
• Etc

Co-create attractive common indoor & outdoor places for people in your life to connect in

Create shared artistic experiences, (visual, musical, theatrical, movement, etc.) in common spaces

Create festivals for sharing peoples’ different cultures

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ecocities/Green Urbanism

For my chapter I read chapter 4, history and the city. Register provides a background for the evolution of the village to the city. He explains how often cities formed with a "ehh.. why not?" mentality, in that what wasn't allowed in the villages due to culture watching (he gives the example of the village not allowing the destruction of a tree). He then goes on to explain the role industry had on cities, how automobiles defined space, how they also created assembly lines, creating the ideal of efficiency. He explains the purposeful destruction of rail lines by parties interested in the financial benefit of automobiles. He also takes positive aspects of the past life of the village and how they could apply to the present city.

I choose this article to begin with because every action is placed in relation to its past as well as present. While creating visions off of the present is important, it is just as important to understand how they got there, what made these factors stay the way they were, and which ones of them are easily changed. While Register provided an interesting examination of cities movements away from villages, he occasionally seemed to put too much desire for the past, ignoring the present. He idolized the cultures of the village and living off the land, and seemed to advocate a movement back, however this is obviously not viable with todays conditions. The interesting and important idea to take away from Register is his idea of cohesive planning. After switching out of architecture I can understand his worry about the architect who builds to separate from the local environment. All too often architecture is viewed as creating the next most amazing piece of lived in artwork, and the architect does not focus enough on how the building sits in the environment or the message it send. He/she may build to zoning codes, or go through the steps to make what is an eco-friendly building but if it is not put into the bigger whole how effective is it really? Despite what I found to occationally be maybe slightly unrealistic ideas posed by Richardson, he did bring up many ways to begin creating ecocities, like that of creating 1/4 mile radius walking areas. Beatly also discusses the issues of time in creating the city, but places it in a much more realistic light, realizing that the we cannot backtrack on what we have done, that we must move forward. Other interesting points brought up by Beatly are the idea of privatization of space (if it wasn't directly talked about it was definitely in there), a question to consider is how to create spaces while still keeping them public.

One issue or rather worry that I found with Richard Register's ideas was his occasional lack of the social issue. This issue came up with the idolizing of the past as well, one idea that slightly disturbed me (and I might have just been reading wrong) was Register's lack of seeing the positives to the present city, not considering social mixing. He urges to bridge history, nature, and evolution, but where are the people in this equation? Other issues I found with Richardson was the worry of gentrification when it comes to adding in the public transportation.

Behavioral Changes Journal Blog

My environmental goal was to try to grow some of my own food. My idea was to try to promote my own access to fresh food, and to gain a deeper respect for local produce. Having just moved to Ithaca, I have been very impressed with the overall availability of local food. I have rarely seen a community so dedicated to this cause through amazing farmers markets, great grocery stores (GreenStar & Wegman’s) and with local products sold in cafes and restaurants. This being said, what better way to reduce the trip from grower to your table than to actually grow and make nourishing food yourself.

My initial plan was to grow vegetables and herbs in my garden, and then inside when it starts to get colder. I found some basil seedlings at the farmer’s market and planted them in my garden (with permission and encouragement from my wonderful, green-thumbed landlady). After overcoming some lack of rain, the plants are doing great. I am planning to sow some more greens and herbs, but I have been having a very hard time finding seeds to buy at this time of the year. It is strange that they are not available because this (along with the cool springtime) is the best time to plant many delicious greens. Other local gardeners I have talked to have been complaining about this lack of seasonal seed availability too. After searching for a few weeks, I just bit the bullet and ordered seeds through Thompson and Morgan seed company over the internet. I ordered packages of mesclun mix, spinach, rocket, basil, thyme, sprouts (for indoor growing) and a few flowers for good measure (I couldn’t resist). I hope they arrive in time for me to plant them out. If they don’t, I will have to grow them under lights inside the house. I’m not sure if growing food under lights in the winter is considered sustainable, but I think the pros outweigh the cons.

Since I have been bent on growing some of my own food, I have been lucky to have been given lots of fresh food by my landlady, who also has a vegetable garden nearby. While I didn’t grow it myself, I know that the food did not have to travel far to get to me. I have also been trying to bake my own bread (which I have done twice so far) and make my own food as much as possible (which is always a challenge when you are a busy person). I really enjoy cooking and baking, but I also enjoy eating out. Ithaca seems to have great restaurants that support local food producers, but I need to try to be mindful of where my food comes from. While I love nothing more than a freshly-picked, home-grown tomato, I also have exotic tastes for sushi, mangos, avocados, foreign wine and many other products that may travel thousands of miles to get to me. I’m not sure that Northern communities would be able to sustain themselves on their own products at this point, but I believe that we have to support our own local food producers as much as possible or else they won’t be able to survive for long. While I am not quite ready to start the 100-mile challenge, I need to be aware of how far my food has travelled, and how it was produced.

I mentioned in my journal entry for September 4th that I also wanted to get some worms to make a worm-composter. I have yet to do this because I have to find the worms. I just got a pamphlet from Cornell Cooperative Extension that has a “rotline” that you can call to get more info on vermicomposting and worm sourcing. I’ll have to call to inquire about where to procure some red wigglers to poop out some great fertilizer!

My social sustainability goal was initially difficult to come up with, but once we had discussed some options in class, I decided to join the Greenstar Cooperative and try to become a working member. I thought that this would be a great way to get involved in a community-based business, and I am very interested in learning more about the management of a successful cooperative. This organization also relates to my interest in sourcing local food and products because they offer more local supplies than any other store around, and at reasonable prices.

It was easy enough to join the cooperative: I just had to pay around $4 to round out the $9 membership fee for the remainder of the year. This gave me bona-fide membership to the cooperative and entitled me to a 2% discount on all my purchases in the stores. However, aside from helping to support a local, sustainable business using purchasing power, this was not the type of “cooperating” that truly promotes social sustainability. I was more interested in becoming a working member (or “member-owner”) that works weekly (a super-worker, entitled to a 17% discount) or monthly (entitled to a 10% discount) in order to get more involved with the cooperative. I thought this would give me an inside perspective on how cooperatives work, expose me to interesting new people, and help out the business itself. Getting purchasing discounts is a bonus as well.

I was a little disappointed to learn that just because I offer my services as a worker doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be a place for me to work right away. After debating on whether or not to try to work weekly or monthly, I realized that I could only make a serious commitment over the long term on a monthly basis. I finally handed in my application with my availability, so now I have to wait for them to call me and offer me a work position. It is a lot more like applying to a job than I thought it would be. This makes sense because it is a real business and not a charity group, but I somehow had the conceited misconception that I would be welcomed into the fold as a prized volunteer. I guess being a little bit selective about who you allow to work in your cooperative is a very smart business practice for an organization that operates so democratically. I am also impressed with how many solid workers they must already have at the cooperative because finding a worker time slot is not all that easy -we must be a dime a dozen in Ithaca!

While I wait to be called in for work, I intend to go to the Greenstar Council meeting on October 11th to see how the democratic process works in this organization.

Ecocities 1 & 8, Behavior Change

I really enjoyed reading the First and Eighth chapters of Richard Register's Ecocities. In the introduction and first chapter he gives us the scathing and disturbing picture of earth as we know it and the trajectory we as humans have sent it in, whether by action or inaction. It's easy to argue with some of the points Register brings up, and I think this was a conscious choice on his part to instigate honest and blunt discussion about what he understands to be the greatest task of humanity now: how to deal with our dinosaurs.

I especially appreciated his call for "a fundamentally new approach to building and living in cities, towns, and villages" (1) and his quoting Einstein: one cannot solve the problem with the thinking that created it. We need a profoundly new and creative way to interact with the world we've built. But, this brings me to a point on which I cheerfully disagree, and am happy to think more about. I don't know who said it, but it was a female poet of the Beat Generation who corrected a fellow poet who had proposed that form is an extension of content, by posing that form is a revelation of content. Thus I believe that although Register is doing the brave deed of imploring us to address environmental degradation by facing what he calls the root problem: the way we build our "built" environment. Now, I can see this is true, but my intuition tells me, screams at me, that unless we can dig deeply within our own individual human nature and create the paradigm shift within ourselves that we will be condemned to another round at this game of life. Unless there is a fundamental change in the way people choose to live, it will not make any bit of difference how many land uses we can fit in a block.
He writes on page 3, "If the fear of this prospect , instead of the thing itself, motivates us, the next opportunity could be humanity collectively learning how to build a healthy future." Maybe, but I sincerely doubt that fear will make a "sustainable" change, or rather one that heads us in the direction of harmony. It might seem to be working for the Bush administration, but fear mongering will not work in the end.
I think this is a parallel process, a breathing in and breathing out; form affects content and content form.

Also, his emphasis on history, although important (of course!) makes me question him a bit again. We can and better learn from history (or we will be doomed to repeat it). Is he asking for us to repeat some of it? Is that based on needs he has observed? What if humans aren't as social as we think they are? We are madly in love with privacy, even social butterflies. Anyway, lots of thoughts.

As far as Behavior Change, I need more focus. The last week has been maddeningly busy, and entirely without rhythm, and lots of time on the road, which makes all of my goals difficult. But I am still conscious of them and I think it's like McDonald's french fries. I used to love them, but for years and years I slowly quit eating them, and now I never ever want them. So I'm getting there, and it's a longer process than this semester.

I want to add two things to my goals. One is to keep my house clean. It's not that I'm messy, but certain others are, and it clogs my creativity to live in squalor. Another is to support my housemate who started a compost by getting a bucket for the other kitchen that doesn't have one and vocally supporting her with the others.