Sunday, September 23, 2007
My first ecological goal was to completely stop buying disposable water bottles. I bought a few quality refillable water bottles and so far I haven’t bought a single disposable bottle. I have had to change my daily behavior by bringing a water bottle when I leave in the morning and just remembering to keep track of it. I already lost one of the bottles, but I am actually glad because it put a value on it for me. Before I would buy water bottles and not care if I lost them or left them. Now it pains me to see people buying packs of water bottles because when they are available in mass amount they start to lose their value.
My second ecological goal was to only use the reusable grocery bags at Wegmans. I haven’t been as successful at this goal because I keep forgetting to bring the bags with me when I shop. I am working on remember to put the bags in a spot where I will remember to bring them.
The cultural goals were a little bit harder for me because they take me outside my comfort zone. My first goal was to try to subtly start getting my roommates to become more sustainable. I will casually throw in comments about what we could do to be greener because I know if I throw it in their faces they will only reject it.
I have also signed up for Citizens Campaign for the Environment which nonprofit organization that gets people to write about certain environmental subjects to their local and state government. The latest project is trying to get plastic water bottles to receive a 5 cent return fee. I plan on getting involved more in this organization and finding new ways I can participate.Overall the behavior change journal is helping me see how difficult it can be to remember my goals when performing my everyday routine. However, I feel like I am slowing changing my ways and beginning to see the positive effects they are making
Over the past few weeks I have made an effort to only eat meat when I know that it’s from a local source. I have not been completely successful, due to the inconvenience and honestly my own laziness, but I have definitely cut down on my non-local meat consumption, and consequently, on my meat consumption altogether.
Talking to others about what I was doing helped me to change my perception of myself, and to see myself as more environmentally concerned. Even when I would admit to others that I had not been completely successful at abstaining from non-local meat, I still felt a sense of myself as environmentally conscious when I heard myself describing this goal that affects my daily life.
My parents were in town this past week, and when they asked me why I was doing this, and for the first time I had to explain it to a non-academic audience, it made me realize how much I don’t actually know about the reasons for doing this. I felt like a fraud, but in a way that just made me laugh at myself. I am used to being around people here in academia and in the liberal culture of Ithaca who don’t request an explanation because they have been indoctrinated with the reasons. And the main reason I chose to take on this goal in the first place is because of people whom I respect who were doing it, so I automatically assumed that it was something I should do too. I know many of the reasons on a basic level, but having to explain it to someone who knew absolutely nothing about it really made it clear how much more I should familiarize myself with the issue.
I had hoped that the changes I wanted to make to my diet would naturally influence my husband’s dietary choices as well, thereby creating a supportive and encouraging situation for us to motivate each other. However, while he has undoubtedly tried to help me with my goal by buying more non-meat choices for me, I haven’t noticed a big decline in his own non-local-meat consumption. It has made it very easy for me to “cheat” on my diet when he brings home a pepperoni pizza with pepperoni from who knows how far away.
I have tried to motivate myself with some prompts. I put a bumper sticker from Olivia’s Restaurant that says “Local Meat” on my refrigerator, and a little sign I printed out from the “100 Mile Diet” website that has the little bunny in the city saying “Why Eat Local” to remind myself to find out more about why I am doing this – which helps in those moments of weakness when I am hungry for meat even if I’m pretty sure it’s not local.
Social Change Goal(s):
- connecting the Ithaca Children’s Garden to a Cornell grant
- connecting our class to sustainable-themed films
After speaking with Harriet Becker, a co-founder of the Ithaca Children’s Garden, and hearing that they have been hoping to collaborate with a Cornell research project in order to get more secure (and sustainable!) funding, I realized I might be able to act as a bridge and connect her with a professor in the Division of Nutritional Sciences, Ardyth Gillespie, whom I worked with over the summer. Much of the work I did on the research team with Ardyth over the summer involved efforts to stem the rising tide of childhood obesity, and hearing about the projects at ICG such as their salad garden sounded like a perfect opportunity for collaboration. I have been talking to Harriet about this and she is putting together some ideas they would like me to take to Ardyth.
In the meantime, I am also trying to coordinate with either the CRP film series or Cornell Roots and Shoots to show a couple of films that have really influenced me on the theme of sustainable design that I’d like to share with our class. Thanks to suggestions from people in the class, instead of starting my own project which would have not had nearly as much potential for success as attaching on to something already in the works like the CRP group or Roots and Shoots. So far I haven’t been able to reach anyone from Roots and Shoots, but I have been corresponding with a really helpful girl named Sarah with the CRP group and she seems just as interested as I am in working together! Maya in our class emailed me right after class with Sarah’s contact information. Without the opportunity to discuss my social change ideas and difficulties in class, I don’t think I would have made any progress so far. I just love this evidence of everything we are reading and talking about; that sustainable change thrives with supportive community involvement!
What I have found about this action which has been surprising to me is how it has effected my outlook on other aspects of transportation and related topics. For instance I've noticed I am more willing to live in different places, possibly a bit further from certain areas. However other issues I have thought of and considered which apply to creating more sustainable areas are those of safety. "I'm worried for when the winter comes. And for when it gets darker earlier, because then I will no longer feel safe doing the walk, the path is not well lit and one road has no sidewalks. Eyes on the street are important to safety, and therefore to the reality of creating a car-free future. Ithaca is currently not equipped for this type of supervision." Creating sustainable transportation includes more than putting in buses and rail lines, it is making them well lit, safe, and affordable.
I have come to a stagnant point with my ecological goal, I don't really use my car anymore, I was planning on selling it at the end of the semester anyway. This goal seems that it will have little growth from here. I recently realized that "I'm not really willing to give up anything to accomplish my goals, after all the walk to work is 30 min, maybe only 10 min more than it would take me to walk down to my car and drive here." I don't really travel anywhere else, I am worried for how my goal will transfer when I get home and can't get to my friends' suburban homes (even though my house is right off of a train station) or can't travel at night due to safety.
As far as my social goal I have not been doing so well. My goal was twofold I wanted to get at least 10 people to join me in my only eating locally produced food for a week, as well as finding non condescending or over the top ways of talking to people about environmental issues. "I have had problems being either too condescending or being called too much of a hippie," this is pretty much the opposite of what I am trying to accomplish. I have had problems talking to people, and have still not managed to get people to join my goal of the 100 mile food challenge, other than my mother, but I'm not sure she really counts. What I am going to try to work on in the upcoming weeks is working harder on my social goal.
My goals were the following:
1) To turn off the lights that my peers leave on sometimes in the house in which I live.
2) To use less water during my showers (going down from about 10 mins per shower to 5-8 mins per shower).
3) To engage in more social activities, especially community and sharing events on- and off-campus.
As for my first two goals, I'd say I've progressed well. Now that my housemates know me better, they tend to not leave the lights on anymore since they know about my concern for energy use. As for showers, I sometimes take less time but sometimes I feel so in need of warm water that I just go for 10-15 minutes. It depends on how I feel.
As for my social goal, I've tried my best to get involved in community activities. I've gone to different potlucks with different groups, have attended meetings with groups not related to sustainability, and have tried to my best to associate with people from all backgrounds. I really think this has been a great experience so far and it will continue to build up. I've connected to so many people locally in the past few weeks, and I certainly hope to connect with more people. I've learned how important it is to hear what people think about different issues, to speak openly to people about things, and to share with them positive messages that resonate well with them. If there's anything that will allow us to truly become the doers of sustainability, it will be knowing how to associate with people regarldless of who they are and working with them on issues that are important to them.
One concept where I felt that Beatley could have done a better job was in his lack of emphasis on the history of European cities compared to their American counterparts. In this vein, there are two areas that I felt got short-shifted a bit in his analysis. The first is the fact that many modern European cities are more sustainable because… they have sustained over a greater period of time. They are, by example of their successful existence, sustainable. We like to think that our concepts of modern sustainability are unique to our time period, but in fact many concepts have been around for decades and even centuries. Concepts of transportation, convenience of urban density and energy distribution have all helped to shape European cities for a century or more. European cities that have not been able to adapt to social, political and technological change have faded, or become successful and over time declined. American cities have faced many fewer tests, and perhaps haven’t been thinned out. The second point is that many American cities, and especially those in the west, have grown up in the era of the automobile. Though this is mentioned by the author its importance can’t be understated from an urban design standpoint.
Consider the auto-centric development of the American city. Boston, for example, has recently attempted to rectify its condition of having a major traffic artery running right through the center of its downtown. The result was the largest federally funded public works project of its kind (in $’s). It took fourteen billion dollars to essentially bury the highway beneath the city and reintroduce the downtown to Boston’s waterfront. Ironically, the event that caused this dissection of the city by placing a giant raised highway right down the middle of the city happened in the 1950’s in a city that to that point shared more in common with its European counterparts than most American cities gaining prominence at the time. Nonetheless, the issue of undoing the auto-centric infrastructure in American cities is no small matter, and the costs of doing so will be enormous.
At the end of the chapter, Beatley suggests ways in which America can improve its urban planning direction, and adapt more sustainable practices. I think that many of his points are good, but I believe that the amount of work required to make a substantial change will take one of two things, a lot of money (see Boston’s Big Dig) or a lot of time and commitment. The undoing or even modification of the auto-centric architecture is an enormous process. Beatley uses the example of Portland as a city that has had some measure of success when it comes to concentrating development in the downtown area. He then cites the reasons why. Each and every one of the reasons involves a cost of greater regulation. This notion is not one that sits well with many Americans, and is and will continue to be a large impediment when attempting to direct urban redevelopment towards sustainability.
I chose to read Chapter 2, “The City in Evolution” in Ecocities. Register describes the state of our planet with a sense of urgency and apocalyptic dose of reality at times, while maintaining a hopeful outlook; presenting the plausibility that we are not entering the “Ecozoic era.” He makes mention of the architect Paolo Soleri throughout the chapter, beginning with Soleri’s concept of “neomatter,” which is basically all this human-made stuff we have brought into this world and now have the responsibility to find a way deal with.
Register gives a thorough explanation of how the city can and should be designed as an organism (38-39) in order to be sustainable. He gives a very poetic description of Soleri’s concept of “miniaturization … a fundamental rule of evolution, (28)” which I found a little confusing, but will do my best to describe here. Basically, it seems to me, miniaturization (also termed “complexification” and/or “quickening”) occurs, as a universal law of nature, after things fall apart and come (or are brought) back together, and through the process of renewal and revitalization become more intricate and complex systems within systems. An additional factor is that the complexifying intertia “remain[s] on go: they move toward further miniplexion (29).” Register goes so far as to say that “Nothing exists separate from it (29).” To sum up, it seems that this is the process of things coming (back) to life on and exponentially and infinitely smaller and smaller scale.
Another term Register brings up in this chapter is “noosphere,” or sphere of knowledge. True to his description of “complexification” as being part of everything, he describes “noosphere” with Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s argument that “cities brought together concentrations of people and their technologies as nodes of consciousness – nodes of intense complexity and enormous leverage for further evolution – in the evolving noosphere (31).”
Register goes into a description of the inevitable consequences of extinction of various species, from a micro level up, and calls for a need to understand “the relationship between extinctions and evolution … and to explore ways of reversing the process (35).”
Many smart growth policy examples given in Beatley reminded me of the city of Boulder, CO. (Beatley mentions Boulder as a city to have adopted growth containment programs on page 67.) I grew up 20 miles south of Boulder and went to undergrad at the University of Colorado at the School of Architecture and Planning, and so I was exposed to the pride of the city’s minimal growth laws not only within the city limits, but efforts to extend their influence to other parts of Colorado. For example, over the past several years, I remember hearing about Boulder buying up several hundred acres of land from a neighboring county (Jefferson) that would have surely sold the land to developers relinquishing the beautiful prarie to the sprawl that is creeping across the rest of the state. I just looked it up and found a recent article, Sept. 3rd from the Daily Camera:
“The city of Boulder is nearing completion of a $10 million deal it has sought for two decades to keep nearly 300 homes from being built on ranchland in a neighboring county. … The city has wanted to buy the land from the family for more than 20 years, in part, because Jefferson County has zoned the property to allow for up to 295 homes and commercial uses … The chance that a developer could purchase the huge parcel so close to Boulder's interests has prompted city officials to negotiate a conservation easement … "Residents will have the benefit of looking over a beautiful piece of property, rather than 300 homes," she said. "A lot of people are really pleased this keystone piece of property will be available to be preserved."
Beatley describes how contrary to popular belief, European cities illustrate that density and compactness are not antithetical to economic productivity, but actually may enhance it. I was confused as to why most people would assume that cities are antithetical to economic productivity, as I tend to think of cities as just that. Is it because most people assume agriculture in wide open spaces to be the most economically productive?
Beatley gives a few examples of “ideal sustainable” cities, but then admits that these places are not all economically self-sufficient. (Almere, Lelystad, Houten…) I am not saying that they are not worth mentioning unless they are, in fact, ideal, but it just seems like economic self-sufficiency is a key-stone in sustainability of a city. Just like many other components of a holistic system; without enough jobs in a city, the prospect of sustainability falls apart. These sections would have benefited from some examples of cities finding creative ways to develop economic stability, perhaps with “green-jobs”!
Overall, I was impressed with Beatley’s ability to tie up many issues he brought up. Throughout the beginning of the chapter, I found myself feeling very critical of Beatley for giving these examples of European cities, for although they were inspiring, I failed to see how they would work in the current culture in the United States. Especially when it comes to changing the average U.S.-American’s consuming habits. When he mentioned how in Norway “the government, by royal degree, banned new shopping malls located outside of city-centers for a period of five years (p 56)” I laughed at the thought of how this would go over in the U.S. Unfortunately, Americans love their malls. But as I said, Beatley didn’t fail to address this; he brings up American culture with its “American Dream (62)” and “strong anti-city bias (59).” He points out though, that the main objection for Americans of the urban renaissances is “founded in the fear about what he visual implications or ramifications (65)” of density will be. He suggests that the “incorporation of trees, sidewalks, on-street parking, varied rooflines, and so on would substantially improve the attractiveness of higher-density forms of housing (65).” He also asserts that “successful approaches to compact urban form in the United States must consist of making it more difficult to build in the wrong places and making it attractive and desirable to grow in the right places (69).” And finally, he advocates for an “Urban Containment Movement (73)” to get the “process of norm-changing” underway. Although I appreciate that he has made some helpful suggestions, I think the chapter would have been bolstered by more concrete examples of existing successful implementation in the U.S. But the chapter is extremely useful as a thorough examination.
I do worry that there is an underlying assumption that the historical infrastructure in the U.S. is similar enough to that of the European city to implement similar sustainable designs. I am not familiar with what elements exactly of the European infrastructure might facilitate sustainable planning today, but I have a feeling that they are different than those in the U.S.
I love Beatley’s term (and hate the existence of) “soulless sprawl.” I just appreciate (and am saddened by) the name on the face of the endless rows of cookie-cutter houses and big-box stores and endless desecration of open space that has infiltrated this country.
In both of the Beatley and Register readings I was continually bothered by the thought that there seems to be an underlying assumption that people will think that reversing the process of global warming is a) their responsibility and b) possible. Unfortunately, and to our demise, in much of this country especially, I don’t think this is the case.
Something that kept coming to mind in both the Beatley and the Register readings but was not delved into by either author was the issue of the social connections today that exist more and more frequently in cyberspace. The ways our cities are designed seem to push us farther and farther from pedestrian-interaction, and more to our computers for social networking. This is not a criticism that it was not brought up, but I would be interested in a discussion of how the role of the internet has become both constructive and destructive to social capital, and what should be done about it.
I chose to read Chapter 2: The City in Evolution because I wanted to learn more about the belief structure within which Richard Register understands cities. Speaking about time and evolution, both as it has transpired and in predictions for the future, Register creates pseudoscientific arguments for understanding the form of cities and how they relate to the natural environment. As important biological forces, cities currently interact with nature in a way that impoverishes the Earth. To move beyond marginalization of natural resources and biodiversity, cities must be rebuilt to better serve humans and therefore the natural world as a whole.
Throughout Ecocities chapters 1 and 2, Register speaks adamantly about the changing shape and role of the city over time. His idealizations for what cities could be bear surprising resemblance to Clarence Stein’s regional city plan. With many villages, towns, and cities dotting the landscape, of which size restrictions preclude the megalopolis, Stein envisioned a more dispersed, easily traversable landscape of interconnected nodes. So too does Register plan the cities of the future as compact, but dispersed developments: “millions of contiguous acres of the metropolis will have been broken up into smaller, more compact settlements” (19), with “major downtown and smaller neighborhood centers … small enough for most people to easily traverse them on foot” (21). All of these new centers would be surrounded by ribbons of green space. But, the impact on the landscape of such decentralization is questionable, and whether such a regional pattern would produce more or less urbanized land was not calculated by Register, only asserted.
In Green Urbanism, Timothy Beatley describes numerous European cities that have combined high levels of density with green space preservation successfully. All of these cities rely not on the dispersion of urban cores, but on their intensification. Through increased density and continued agglomeration, green space is preserved at the urban edge, and the chopping up of nature so feared by Register – but possibly promoted by his ecocites plan – is actually prevented by this alternate route to city design.
Register fails to note the effects of intense top-down planning exercised by European countries in the shape of modern cities; he instead resorts to an old is good, new is bad rhetoric. Granted, idealizing history makes it easier to point a righteous finger at the problems of the modern world, but it is ultimately a useless charade. The modern city symbols of “money, security, consumerism, and control” (16) are readily apparent in the cities of yore, even as described by Register. Money and consumerism manifest in the “imposing residences” and “fancier administrative building,” security in the city’s wall, while control is undoubtedly the “church, or cathedral spire, spear-like” (15). Was this habit of existence an ecocity? I would argue that the form of the historical city was a function of necessity rather than a reflection of the attitudes of the residents, and that their cities were not ecocities at all, but the best they could do to survive a banal existence.
I have always disliked writing in journals or tracking my own progress. I was always discouraged by how little I have actually accomplished compared to my astronomically high goals set in my journal. Now, making a journal for class, I wanted to find a way around my hatred toward this method of progress tracking. At first I began naming those huge astronomical goals of which I always did including wanting to try and influence my club, Hotelies Serving Society, to branch off from being entirely about volunteerism regarding hospitality to having a focus on sustainable practices. Of course this didn’t work when I brought up the idea so there was another mark of failure in a journal. Then I began to realize that I, personally, like smaller goals. When I read a book, I like long books with short chapters so that I feel as if I am accomplishing something. With this in mind I began creating separate goals, one environmental and one social for myself. This felt unnatural to separate the two after a couple of entries. Now, I am finding good ways of connecting both social and environmental goals. One key aspect that I have focused on recently is the bringing of unlikely social groups together to discuss an environmental challenge.
An example of this is when I wanted to discuss shutting the lights off with my housemates. We had a pretty high energy bill last month and I only fear what it will be in the winter with electric heating. I decided to take the action step I set for myself of bringing together the people I live with and showing them data (they are engineers) as to why it would be both beneficial to us and the environment if we shut the lights off more frequently. This was both an environmental and socially sustainable action I took as I brought together my housemates – who typically do not talk to one another, and discussed an environmental issue.
Because I have found a new way to use the journal I’ve been seeing it become a very useful tool. I think it is great to not only set goals in it but also be able to track my progression.
Ecocities Chapter 8
Of all the chapters in the books we have looked at so far, I have enjoyed this one most. It was about the economics and planning behind an ecocity. It begins with Register describing
The cake chart was preceded by “4 Key Steps to an Ecology of the Economy”(page 213). These described how the economy was directly related to ecology. They included 1. a map to determine the layout of an ecocity, 2. a list of technologies that will help build the ecocity, 3. the incentive package to build an ecocity, and 4. the people and outreach needed to create an ecocity.
I found steps 3 and 4 the most interesting of these steps. In step 3 incentive programs were described in relation to oil and how oil is not as cheap as we may think it is or isn’t. It is all about subsidies. Because the government is so wrapped in oil subsidies it is not making an easy transition to alternative resources and creating subsidies for those. Solar and wind powers could be just as cost-effective if not even more so than coal and oil. Step 4 concerned the outreach and getting communities involved. This particularly interested me because this is part of what my project is about for my group. In Connect Ithaca, it is my group’s responsibility to create an outreach program for the community. It is really exciting seeing my group put some of these theories in the book to practice.
What is even more exciting is that in the following section (after discussing the 4th step) the book mentions Joan and
One question that the book left me with was how to go about the governmental blocks to alternative energies? If the government is so wrapped up in oil and coal how do you begin to make that transition to wind and solar? The book also mentioned how Green parties in politics often “steal” votes from major parties. The Green parties ideas are often taken in by the major parties after being further developed. How can these “stolen” votes for certain issues be incorporated into the major parities so that the ideas are acted on and the votes are not thrown out? I found this very interesting in general.
I began my journal writing experience extremely lost and a bit uncertain. As I mentioned during a class session, although I have been introduced to theories of environmental stability I have never been asked to put those theories into practice. Actually, I guess I have been asked, but I have never seriously challenged myself to make these types of behavioral changes in my life. For me, this expectation to write about my experiences has forced me to make a serious effort to put theory into practice. Interestingly, much of what we have been discussing with Agyeman, falls along the same lines. Agyeman challenges environmental organizations to put their theories of Just Sustainability into practice. Certainly as a planning student I recognize and fully accept the importance of developing ecologically and socially sustainable communities. Looking at the larger picture, I understand why these concepts are extremely important. BUT as they apply to my own personal life, I have never been able to put them into practice. This journal writing experience has been challenging, but it has also been extrenely positive. It is making me accountable and making me take on the difficult task of practicing what I preach.
Journal Entry: September 4, 2007
I'm sitting at my desk attempting to write in my journal, but all I can think about is how horribly I've failed at this behavioral change experiement. Even as I sit here writing, all of my lights are on as well as the television and fan. Not to mention the fact that my garbage, which is begging to be taken out, is unrecycled. The personal goals that I set at the beginning of the semester were rather general. I set out to recycle my garbage and conserve energy more efficiently. I thought that setting general goals would somehow increase my chances of accomplishing them. That obviously is not the case. So, I am going to turn off some lights and take my garbage out, right after I seperate the recyclable from the non recyclable items. I'm a little bit worried though about turning off the fan. My room gets unbearably hot. Its an old house that I live in and the heat gets insufferable. I think I'll leave the fan on and one lamp. Well, maybe I'll leave two lamps on. It's a little bit difficult to write in my journal in the dark. I'm defiantely going to turn the television off though. That appliance is definately unecessary.
In regards to my social interactions, that's coming along just as slowly. My relationships at the moment are in a fixed position. The people that I spoke to yesturday are the same people that I spoke to today and I'm certain that they will be the same people that I'll speak to tomorrow. To add to that, we talk about the same things everyday. Writing in this journal is making me realize how stagnant my relationships are and in some ways how two dimensional they are. I'm going to make an amendment to my social interactions behavioral change experiment. Everyday, I am going to share something new about myself to the people that I trust and love. This will force me to create a deeper more meaningful relationship with the people around me and help me move closer to achieving my goals.
Beatley and Register are in agreement that land use planning is both an ill and a solution in the modern city. Beatley does a good job of comparing American and European zoning and showing how the European is more adapted to sustainable development. One criticism I would level at Beatley is his seemingly random use of statitical data to make some of his key arguements. This first jumped out at me on the second page with table 2.1. Beatley is using this data to compare density figures between European and American cities. Although he is drawing on someone else's research he gives no framework as to why these particular cities are to be compared. His list of American cities includes some of the worst offenders with regard to density (Phoenix, Los Angeles, Dallas) and compares them to European cities that he is lauding as being the greatest models of density. What about San Francisco, St. Paul, or Burlington? I needed some more information as to how these cities made the cut. This chart made me immediately suspicious of Beatley, but I especially liked that he included in the chapter sections hypotheses on why European cities have historically developed more sustainably than American cities. I'll add that with my antenna already raised I thought his comparison of handgun deaths in the UK to those in the entire US a bit overdramatic. Still, Beatley does point out that European cities still face decentralization. It is and will be interesting to learn from how these cities will deal and are dealing with this problem.
Above are pictures of my lettuce garden which I began before this class started but is a huge part of my behavior change centered around trying to purchase only locally grown produce (and its even bigger now!). As we have already thinned the lettuces for many salads and they continue to grow it is great to see a little part of nature and food production on my porch. I have also committed to including more fruits and vegetables in my daily diet. I think my first roadblock/barrier was the assumption that it would be really easy. However, I noticed after the first couple weeks that everytime I went to the store, I simply bought what looked good and what was cheapest. I felt guilty buying more organic and expensive produce because I feel I should be living as cheaply as possible in grad school. After identifying this barrier and noticing that it happened on several occaisions I decided to buy our produce exclusively at the Farmer's Market. For three weeks now I have attended the DeWitt Farmer's Market, only two blocks from my house, every Tuesday (and it is made even easier after being inspired by class earlier in the day). I know by shopping at the FM I can achieve my goal, and while there I can still make choices that I feel are cost effective, so I feel I am reaching my goal while still conserving my money. I've done CSA's in the past and by shopping at the FM I am reminded that as an avid cook I really enjoy having a limited amount of choices (ie things in season and local). It is more inspiring because you have to be more creative in working with produce that you haven't cooked with before or adapting a new vegetable into a favorite recipe.
So how I overcame this barrier was to reread the Tools of Behaviour Change. In my journal I made a list of small steps that would help me overcome my barrier. My list is as follows: 1. Before writing in my journal I will read over my initial goals, being mindful that they may have changed. 2. Establish Sundays, when I usually write my blog to be one of the two days I journal. It is a good time to write after just having been introspective about an academic article. 3. Refine my goals to include some smaller milestones I can meet along the way. 4. Speand more time identifying barriers and creating direct solutions. Creating this list helped put my journaling into a framework that I could follow and setting a schedule helped me make a commitment to myself to stick to it.
Green Urbanism by Timothy Beatley’s Chapter 2: Land Use and Urban Form
After reading the introduction and Chapter 1 of Ecocities, I really wanted to start reading the book from start to finish. In contrast to some of our earlier readings, I am finding Ecocities very easy to read and digest. However, since I had to pick one chapter to blog about, I decided to read Chapter 3: The City in Nature.
Summary of Chapter 3:
Despite the common disconnection between North American concepts of nature and cities, this is a very hopeful chapter -almost utopian in its vision of future human harmony with nature. Richard Register begins with the claim that cities should be able to build resources and biodiversity, not destroy them. Of course, using gardening metaphors throughout the chapter, he posits that we must start from the ground up. He thinks that many of the concepts inherent in city development are sound, but that we must rearrange urban structures, reduce population and cut demand in order to make them sustainable. Cities are a natural extension of human development, and they should not be considered apart from nature, but rather “a natural pattern of organization for cultural living: it is as natural as anything else about us might be natural.” (p.49)
Using the example of elephant gardeners, the Bay area Native American landcare practices, the Kogis of Columbia, and the Hopi tribes, Register points out how organisms can cultivate the land to create more biodiversity. These examples of careful stewardship are contrasted with the wanton destruction and exploitation of natural resources that has been the norm in European cultures over the past several thousand years.
Register incorporates the theories of the preeminent Jane Jacobs into his section on Bioregions, Hinterlands, and Cities. Jacobs theorized that cities are the main organizers and builders of economies. Jacobs also claimed that “import replacement” creates self-sufficiency in nascent cities so that regions may be weaned off the resources of their “parent” cities as they come up with new ways to make similar products themselves.(p.65) Examples of this phenomenon include Venice parenting many European cities during the Renaissance, and European cities parenting the cities of the New World.
As the examination of the meaning behind city development continued, Louis Mumford was also given credit for postulating that cities were originally started by our predisposition to bury our dead in a central location, and then set up camp nearby. One of the most surprising conclusions of the chapter is that cities may actually have begun with hunter-gatherer societies, and thus predated agriculture. This theory shows that “access by proximity” may be one of the most important foundations for city (and even agricultural) development.(p.67) Because of our car-scale development practices, access by proximity is precisely what has been lost by most of our urban development in North America.
Keeping in line with the need for cities with access by proximity, Register likewise pushes for unproductive regions that cannot meet these needs, such as the North American Great Plains/Great Desert, to be returned to the wild. Frank and Deborah Popper called this the Buffalo Commons metaphor, but say that you can use themes like this to create ideologies leading to “soft-edged planning.”(p. 71) This type of planning piques our imaginations first, and then pushes us to action.
In reading Chapters 1 and 3 of Ecocities, I noticed repeated mentions of our need to reduce population levels. In both these chapters, Register only touches on this subject and does not offer any advice on how to do so. Reduction of the world’s population is one of Bill Mollison’s key principles of permaculture, but it is also one of the most controversial. What does population reduction mean in real terms. Is it supposed to happen “naturally” or does it have to be pre-planned? Are we supposed to kill ourselves off or just stop reproducing? Are only certain “special” people to be allowed to procreate? Are we to be looking at China's population controls? I just can’t get that old sci-fi movie Logan’s Run out of my head when I think about this topic. It is my understanding that the Aboriginal cultures of Australia, as well as other successful hunter-gatherer societies living on poor land, had very complex systematic population control measures built into their cultures. Does Register give examples of how we should go about doing this in Ecocities? If anyone else read a chapter that included this topic, I would be very interested in hearing about it. I agree that our human population could reach unsustainable proportions, but I do not think this is a very popular stance to take, nor would I want to be the one to try to implement control measures.
In Chapter 1 of Ecocities, Register says that ecological buildings should be constructed with relationships to the rest of the community. It makes a lot of sense that eco-buildings should be able to share resources, such as walls, with each other in order to be more efficient. What he seems to be criticizing is the fact that many “green” buildings are constructed as islands in the middle of a natural setting. Many of the green buildings that I know of are very far away from urban areas, and are almost green by default. That is, it was cheaper to build on-site waste treatment and solar power than it was to bring the typical sewage and electric infrastructure out to the site. Yes, the agricultural and rural areas need green building strategies too, but the cities need it just as much.
Beatley’s chapter on Land Use & Urban Form was very informative and had tons of interesting statistics pertaining to Europe’s superior urban development plans, but it is a lot less fun to read than Register. Beatley does a great job itemizing all the amazing sustainable activities in Europe, but it somehow lack the passion and idealism of Register’s Ecocities. Chapter 3 of Ecocites claims that with soft-edged planning, “Its objective is not to write laws and ordinances, General Plans, and zoning codes but to create the almost poetic images and understandings that lead such political agreements into a world where our imaginations do right by the place where we live.” Thus, the concept of soft-edged planning seems almost as if it is in opposition to the type of planning listed by Beatley.
The following is a quote from my journal entry on September 16, 2007: “It’s odd; I’m finding that the more I think about my role as a responsible human being, the more I take care of my physical health. I’ve really grown interested in exercise and healthy eating. I don’t look at a long walk as a chore anymore, but I view it as an opportunity to do something good for myself and for the planet (on some small scale). WOW! Some of these things seem so cliché to me, but they’re true.” Although I am a varsity athlete, I have always eaten horrible foods. Yet the more I think about the natural environment and my connection to it, the more inspired I feel to eat healthy food (cucumber is one of my new favorites).
In addition, I am also growing increasingly aware of my responsibility to society and the responsibility of society to the globe (both the natural world and the social world). As we study holistic approaches and asset based development, I tend to look at people differently. Specifically, I feel less self sufficient/independent and more like a member of a team. I actually decided that my social goal would be to get the Red Key Society (an athletic honor society that I am part of) involved in an ongoing commitment with a local community service/ non-profit organization—an organization that takes a holistic approach to community development. At this point I am in contact with GIAC and the Southside Community Center. I am proposing the project at our next meeting.
In all fairness, I cannot attribute all of these changes to the things that I am learning in this course. I think that I have always had a heart to initiate change (within myself and within the community) but that I never really knew how to practically what I should do or what types of paradigms would help me organize my thoughts into action. This course, however, introduced me to sustainability and provided me with the direction that I was lacking. I am by no means equipped to change the world, but I do feel confident in my ability to think through my decisions and make sustainable choices. Moreover, I recognize that my journey has just begun and that I have so many amazing things left to learn.
Beatley's reading wasn't so glamourous to me. I can't stand that book! The things Beatley writes about are important and interesting, but he repeats himself so many times. If he were only concise... All I get from that book is that Europe is doing this and that (though not all of Europe), and the US is doing this and that. I don't feel as though the importance or relevance between the two places is well analyzed. Casestudies are given, and he tries to explain why culturally or whatnot these differences exist, but he doesn't spend near enough time on this. How this is related back to the realworld...well, I suppose some use is to jot down the cities that are doing things, and hopefully one day figure out why what happens one place doesn't happen everywhere.
My social and ecological "goals". My ecological goal has been going well, at least I think. I'm starting to realize that it is about starting with one little thing at a time and after accomplishing that moving on to something else. Or else it just seems overwhelming. I don't use a noise to sleep now, or a radio to do work, or water running to brush my teeth. It took a bit of being aware the first couple of weeks, and now it's almost without thought. Of course it feels strange to do, or not do, something you're used to. It's like crossing your arms the opposite way...you just keep doing it until eventually it doesn't feel strange anymore. After that noise problem was feeling a bit better I went ahead and started a different goal for myself, that is, I started to recycle at home. I felt terrible for never doing it before but it was just never as important to spend the time to take care of that rather than do my schoolwork. I suppose I can include in my social accomplishments that I got my housemate to recycle as well. Although she wasn't exactly opposed to it either, it just didn't seem that important either. It's strange to think I believe something should be done, I just didn't believe my time would mean too much. That's sad. I guess what got me to do it, besides this class and other than wanting to do it before, was finally just being aware of what I was throwing away. I actually started paying attention and suddenly the guilt and importance of it all felt more real. My other social goal was to get a non-for-profit I know of to recycle...I made a few phone calls, but I'm a little hesitant to make the next one. That would be calling the director and asking him what type of building they qualify under in order to find out the fee amount. I'm not too sure he'll be happy about a fee to recycle. I think it's difficult for them to have money for other things they may consider more important, in this light, recycling only seems like an extra luxury...and so a waste of money. Its that whole social justice thing over and over again. People will take care of their basics before they can even think of taking care of others because that's what it seems like. I need to eat, I'll make sure to get the cheapest food. I don't care if it's not local, buying local food means less food for my money. In other words, it's sacrificing my needs for the well-being of a seemingly non-existent "community". On that note, I don't think "communities" are very concrete in people's minds, they're more like some abstract word we use like 'peace' and 'hope'...and 'justice'. Well, that's where I'm at on my goals.
· The city functions as a compact urban center surrounded by the natural environment (wetlands, forests, farms, etc.).
· The least dense development sits at the edge of the city (3 and 4 story residential dwellings) while higher density development concentrates in the center.
· Mixed land use and accessible transportation eliminate the need for automobiles. Residents use a vast network of railways, bicycle paths, bridges (connecting buildings), and pedestrian paths to transport themselves.
· The consistent and functional arrangement of the city facilitates community interaction and individual productivity (services are conveniently located; great views are preserved for public use; etc.).
In the introduction to his book, Register states that he wants to capture our imagination and encourage us to think about all of the possibilities that exist for transforming urban space. I must admit that Chapter 7 truly allowed me to do both of these things. I am primarily interested in the design element of the chapter—sky-bridges, cohesive architecture, public roof tops, dense city centers, and arcologies. Nevertheless, I have several doubts about the feasibilty of his plan. According to Register, over half of the American population lived in suburbs by 1990. Do you really think that these 150+ million suburbanites will trade in their beautiful homes and spacious backyards for a communal experience in the city? I suppose that some could live in villages, but where, then, would they work? I have made similar comments several times in the blog, but we have to realize how difficult it is to sell a belief system and way of life to a stubborn population that likes the way that it lives.
I also wonder if we will ever eliminate automobile use like Register proposes. If we want to eliminate automobile use, then we need to provide automobile users with other efficient means of transportation. Clearly, we are not ready for sky-bridges and people movers just yet. So how can we start reducing automobile usage now? If we look at local patterns, we see that our efforts often leave the population dissatisfied and unsympathetic to the cause. At Cornell, for example, the university discourages students from bringing cars to campus by charging $650 for a parking pass. Although this technique does keep students from bringing their cars, it severely limits students' mobility and access to off-campus recreation and commercial services—services that are usually more affordable and varied than those provided by Cornell. If students have no car, then they must purchase Cornell food, live on (or near) Cornell property, and utilize Cornell services such as banking and printing. I think we can apply this local example to a larger scale. If automobiles are the most efficient method of transportation, then people will certainly use them. Consequently, we must find solutions that will both meet the needs of the population and reduce our dependence upon automobiles. Expensive parking passes and reduced space for parking will definitely keep cars out of our communities, but it will not keep people out of cars. I have no idea how we can both please the population and implement sustainable transportation practices. And Register provided little commentary on the subject. I am stumped.
The challenge for me has been the cultural change. As a student assistant, I assumed it would be easier for me to plan events or activities that bring together a variety of people (students, staff, different cultural backgrounds) in order to build relationships.
“Socially, I’m going to help facilitate a discussion twice a month about making West Campus more sustainable. We’re hoping to have residents from all of the dorms attending the discussions and taking steps to improve the houses. We already have a suggestion for monitoring energy efficiency of windows, we just need volunteers to have a box put on their window sills (and be sure not to disturb it).”
I looked at the website on Fostering Sustainable Behavior and found a few good ideas. ie. Using prompts to remind residents in the Gothic buildings (notorious for drafty windows) to drop their blinds in winter to help reduce heat loss.
The journal has also helped me identify what one of my major barriers to social progress has been:
“So far, I’m feeling very unable to follow through on things due to time constraints. I really wanted to plan a planting event, but I just haven’t had enough time to develop a design to submit to the grounds department. Reading, trips, and work for classes, on top of staff and work commitments, leaves me with almost no time for anything extra.”
He outlines five of his most important EcoCity principles:
*Build the city like the living system it is - “the organic city,” built in imitation of nature, city as an organism
*Make the city’s function fit with the patterns of evolution – Let the city be sustainable, regenerate natural systems, and support and express creativity and compassion, as well as justice, law and beauty.
* Follow the builders’ sequence: start with the foundation, the land use infrastructure
*Reverse the transportation hierarchy:
Pedestrians>Bicycles>Rail>”Flexible” transport (buses)>Cars & Trucks
*Build soils and enhance biodiversity
Register goes on to describe the potential for a New Synthesis Architecture in ecocities, an intricate weaving together of ecology and society, a “multi-species Mardi Gras.” He characterizes ecocities as tall, dense, complex “islands of civilization,” surrounded by belts of nature and agriculture. The Ecocity structure is based on walkable centers, cultural hubs, clustered dwellings and mixed-use buildings, with zero lot line development and shared facilities and rooftop public spaces. Connectivity is a critical concept of the ecocity, with bridges between buildings and at roof level, glass elevators, and primary emphasis on pedestrians and bicycles. Perhaps the epitome of the ecocity is the arcology concept proposed by Soleri – a single-building city, with areas open to weather, vegetation and animals. The ideal ecocity provides habitat, occupies a small land area, uses little energy, is full of dense mixed-used buildings, carefully limits and recycles waste, and approaches a closed-loop system that is integrated with natural systems.
Register’s mixing and integration of functions, commitment to connectivity, importance of city centers, and mixture and diversity of life and activites, ties directly into Beatley’s Green Urbanism discussion, even so far as the mention of green belts as boundary-like rings around development, the use of district heating, and stormwater collection. These seem like concepts that are logical to strive for. His ecocities concept makes sense when considering his Impact = Population x Affluence x Land Use & Infrastructure x Technology formula.
My question is: How do we get there? While Register’s vision is great for inspiration, the chapters I read were lacking in suggestions for how to get from the current urban situations toward his idealized ecocities. Looking at our land use patterns is a great place to start, but where do we go from there? In dense areas that have great connectivity potential, as in New York City for example, it seems possible to convert towering skyscrapers into mixed use buildings, in order to relocate and more evenly distribute goods and services and help to eliminate the need for cars and empower the pedestrian and bicyclist. However, one of my first thoughts was what about emergency services – fire, ambulance, etc? Are these meant to be solely pedestrian-powered?
1. Ecocity Zoning (EZ) Map: In contrast to a traditional zoning map, the EZ map attempts to overlay a city’s ecological, historical, agricultural, nodal, and transit-oriented features in order to determine the most logical and desirable ways to guide development. When the base layer of the EZ map is complete, the urban centers are identified and concentric circles of declining density are drawn around them. The centers, or bullseyes, get upzoned (targeted for increased density), and the very outermost ring gets completely downzoned (targeted for eventual return to wilderness). In the next iteration, the rings begin to deform, either flattening or bulging in response to the incursion of nature—waterways, green zones, etc. The result is a map that shows the potential links between high-density centers and the desired discontinuities where nature can be reintroduced.
2. Transferral of Development Rights (TDR): A practice already activated in some communities, TDR allows real estate owners in areas where development is permitted but not desirable (according to an EZ map or some other planning tool) to sell their development rights to a developer who will use them to get a density bonus in a highly-desirable development location. An example would be a farmer in a designated greenbelt selling his or her rights to an apartment developer in the city center who would like to build eight stories instead of six. In this way, individuals are not stripped of their land rights or values, but can sell them at a profit and maintain or restore the natural integrity of their land.
3. Ecological General (EG) Plan: As opposed to the commonly seen, plain-vanilla comprehensive or general plan evinced by many cities today, the EG plan seeks to adopt the above policies (and other ecocity practices) into the city-planning rhetoric. Armed with the above tools and other ideas, citizens petition the government to formally espouse and adhere to a plan that is long-range and integrates city and nature.
My response: Richard Register does come off as a bit wacky at times (what was that about the roller-skate powered ambulance gurneys?), but this chapter was chock-full of solid ideas that actually stand a chance of getting implemented. The Leopold Bloom-like (a Ulysses ref for all you Joyce fans out there) mental wanderings described in the act of creating the EZ map seemed a little hokey, but the gist of it was to become super well-informed about the natural and economic forces that have shaped your town, and how they might be used to re-envision it. I dig it.
The most polemical idea was that in the outer rings, unfill development (as opposed to infill) would occur—meaning depaving, removing infrastructure, and razing buildings. This notion is of course all tied in with densifying the city, evil cars, peak oil, and the like—and I think most rural homeowners would reach for their shotguns if anyone propositioned them with the idea—but I personally found it very compelling. (And come to think of it, I am a rural homeowner.) Still, if peak oil occurs at a time before any viable alternatives have been implemented, it’s hard to say what people will be willing to do. I don’t see my out-of-shape neighbors embracing the idea of biking five hilly miles to town: they very well could be convinced to move their trailer within walking distance and–who knows?—in a few years rent an apartment in town.
Moving on, TDR is by far my favorite idea. I have only ever seen government-sponsored sale of development rights, where the state or municipality essentially pays a landowner to amend their deed in order to prohibit any future non-agricultural uses, but I really loved Register’s private-market conception of this. It is increasingly difficult for developers to build very dense projects in a city, due to zoning fights and the cost of construction. A taller building means more leasable area, ergo a more profitable project which can offer better amenities like green roofs, graywater recycling, non-VOC materials, etc. I thought it was a pretty damn good idea.
Finally, the need to codify these measures and set the parameters for change is essential, but perhaps the greatest challenge. Simply working on the Caroline project has opened my eyes to the deep-seated resistance to change felt by so many citizens. To wit, Caroline has a comprehensive plan that call for walkable communities, preservation of farmland, and so on, but if the town council started trying to adopt policies that were construed as freedom-limiting, the people would flip out; they can’t even get a noise ordinance passed. I can only imagine the hysterics that most ecocity recommendations would engender if they were raised in most towns and cities across the country.
One last thought: Register’s descriptions of progress are incredibly dynamic, filled with lots of goings on and hustle-bustle. But unless you are in a pretty large metropolitan area, growth is moderate to slow, which also means opportunities for change are moderate to slow. Unless there’s a lot of building activity and/or population growth, eight-story buildings are not going to be dotting the city skyline anytime soon. The City of Ithaca issued less than 60 building permits in 2004, and most of those were for renovation, not new construction. Register recognizes the challenges of effecting this sort of dramatic transformation in a short period, but nonetheless says we should pursue it aggressively. I wonder, what is truly a realistic timeframe for this sort of reimagining?