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.

Ch 7 Ecocites respsonse

Chapter 7 of Ecocities offered the reader a tantalizing view into the world of the future. The author starts with a bit of background information on city planning. He describes it in terms of a traditional house construction. Despite having all the knowledge and materials needed for a real house, if these parts aren’t put together in the proper order, there will be chaos. For example, it doesn’t make sense to start nailing shingles onto the plywood roof until the roof is in place. Otherwise, all your hard spent work may go towards undoing someone else’s hard spent work. In addition, if you construct a building from the top down, all that you will be left with is a mangled pile of building materials and no house to show for it. This example illustrates the need to start from the beginning and think things through before first jumping into a project. Essentially, a project must have a well thought out structure and strategy before any action takes place. Part of this strategy should be based on what he calls the environmental prescriptions, which are conserve, recycle and preserve biodiversity.

After the intro, the author takes us on a fanciful trip through the ecocity of the future. Not by car of course, but by bike. He envisions a condensed city where much of the necessary transportation is done on foot or bike and whole communities of several buildings are connected via roof-top bridges and walkways. Boulevards would be both wide and narrow and be surrounded by buildings with lavish vegetation spilling out of window boxes and where children can play in the street without fear of being run over by a speeding truck. This city of the future also springs out of no where and immediately after the city begins the farm land. I certainly wouldn’t mind living in such a city, but I also don’t see how any such city is conceivable even in the next hundred years. The entirety of the street system is based off of mostly tunnels. Though they allow car-free places and easy deer migration, the cost to put them underground, as Boston’s “Big Dig” has demonstrated, is astronomical and wrought with problems. Also, being able to provide everything a city needs is far more difficult than just throwing a few solar panels on to a building and getting excess food from a nearby ecovillage. Though his view is idealistic at best, he does bring up several great points.

His main attack, and rightfully so, is on urban sprawl. Motivated by easy transportation and cities designed around cars, city centers have begun to spread out, limiting the pedestrian access to such places. This promotes the privately owned mall which serves as nothing more than a collection of stores. Unlike most town centers, there is little or no personality to a mall and little is given back by a mall. There is also a massive waste of space on resources involved in the construction of such malls. Vast plots of land are destroyed to make way for air conditioned boxes with black roofs that only act like heat sink. Inside, they are filled with corporate named stores where much of the money gets sent away from a community to some office in a city far, far away. They do nothing to give back to the community and if anything only tend to weaken it. A booming city center, on the other hand, features stores, restaurants and jobs within walking distance of one’s home and because the stores are owned by the townspeople who run them, most of the community’s money stays in the community and helps strengthen it. These town centers also offer the chance to increase population densities. By having everything needed by a community at street level, the rest of the building is free to be developed into residences. As these residences get condensed even further, the various industries and services required by these homes become centralized, making them far more efficient. Also, people no longer have to drive to get to where they spend their money reducing the need for transportation infrastructure. This means taxes no longer have to go towards fixing roads and may now be used to liven up the neighborhood with murals and concerts. This example shows how population densities are inherent to the way a city runs itself and how a higher population density could prove to be the “magic bullet” that everyone’s looking for.


It’s very interesting to see the “alarmism” behind the peak oil crew is becoming reality today. The price of oil is now around $82/barrel, up from the $50s at the beginning of this year. It looks like the $100/barrel figure is not too far away. Countries dependent on oil imports would be smart to find serious homegrown alternatives. The introduction of Ecocities paints the picture really well. We’ve got all these problems from sprawl to global warming to declining resources. Many organizations focus on tackling these issues directly. Yet cities, which today have more than 50% of the world population, are really the physical root of the problem. Without a major redesign and operational change for all cities, many of these problems will persist.

We have to completely stop sprawling our major cities and encouraging a car culture that is expensive in terms of the resources it uses as well as the health, congestion, and climate problems it causes. As the author says, working on any of the four main problems – sprawl, freeways, cars, and oil – will likely “bring down the whole destructive edifice.” We need to begin implementing new forms of transportation that is accessible, affordable, and timely; we need to create food systems and pass policies that discourage long-distance shipping and cheaper-than-reality food; we need to design cities for people and biodiversity, not for steel and asphalt; and finally we need to shift from negative to positive impact (beyond reducing impact).

In Chapter 8, Richard (the author) clearly shows how we need to view society in order to radically change cities. We have to understand that there is a human economy that is derived from a natural economy, and that there is no alternative to this derivation. The natural economy, or the “resource base,” is the bottom layer of the cake we’re sitting on. In order to ensure that the human economy can continue sitting on the natural economy, we must redesign cities through the following instruments:

1) Maps, which allow us to zone cities in such a way as to increase density, design an efficient transportation system, and provide both open space for recreation and agricultural/extractive activities.
2) Technologies, which can range from renewable energy technologies to bicycles. These are necessary because we can only support such a large population with the technology we’ve been able to develop.
3) Incentives. This is perhaps the most important instrument. People follow incentives. When people are given incentives to do good things, they will do them. However, today we provide incentives for activities such as unsustainable agriculture, fossil fuel extraction, and destructive mining. Shifting these incentives to promote good activities such as renewable energy use are essential to reshaping cities.
4) People. There are 6.7 billion people in the world, and half of them are in cities. We need to work with and capacitate people if we are to reshape cities. Unemployed people, as Joan Bokaer suggests, are a great source of capacity for rebuilding or redesigning cities.

For the rest of the future, cities will be the places where real changes will have to happen. In order to avoid a major collapse of some populations, as it has happened in the past, we must understand what’s at risk and work to reduce that risk substantially.

Ecocities Chapter 2 "The City in Evolution"

Chapter 2 of Ecocities is as the title suggests about the volution of teh modern city throughout time. The author begins at the very begining of the established civilized city, or most acurately a group of people coexisting in one space. In the begining of this chapter he emphasises the fact that so many authors we have read do, everything within the universe is interconnected. He even goes as far as to divise a new term for this connection that he calls miniplexion, in short this means that nothing exists separate from the universe. I think that this is the most important statement within the topic of sustainability, but the broad method in which he chose to primarily address this connection made me wonder where the chapter was going to go and how he was going to tie it back to the evolution of the sustainable or not sustaianable city.

As the chapter progresses he begins to touch upon more modern topics but still he continues to approach these topics in somewhat round about ways. In the section titled the urban comet he begins to introduce very important sustainability issues such as global warming and the heat island effect although he introduces these topics as somehwat stories not facts as i believe would be more effective. He continues with his story about the islands, once again i believe that he touches upon very important sustainability ideas but he does it in a very unapproachable way. Very few people who read this probibly have daily interaction with an island nor do they study the ecology of islands. I believe a much more effective way of conveying his points would be to relate his observations about the island dynamic back to something that most people relate to such as a small city or just normal everyday life a bit more than he already did at the end of the section.

The section that i most enjoyed and that i feel touched on what i was looking for out of this chapter was the city as an organism i loved the very visual way in which he showed his point by actually disecting the parts of a city as if they were an organism. It really makes one think that if i was to mess up a part of my own body what that does to my organism so if we are to mess up a part of teh cities organism what would it do to that? The final two sections regarding practice and lessons were much more approachable as well. I can definitely see why he started off so broad but it was very hard for me to understand and get into i think with the topic of a sustainable city you must give people relatable topics initially or else you will loose their attention, or at least mine.

Behavioral Changes

The most important thing to me in choosing my semester long ecological and social goals was to pick something that i actually could see myself doing. It is very easy to have big fantastic ideas but never actually go through with them, therefore i thought a lot about things that i could work into my already established lifestyle.

First off for my ecological goals, this was much easier for me to outline for myself. I have chosen to make a huge push for waste management and recycling efforts within my house. I love with six other college age kids and after our first week at school we had amassed six can of trash. With a lot of effort of reusing plastic bottles weeding through teh trash for anything that can be recycled we have minimized teh trash down to two can maximum. I have also made a very large push to support the local economy specifically agriculturally. I have begun to buy as many of out fruits and vegetables from local sources i have even started to drive out to small family farms along 89 in order to directly support them. The food is always much better and i feel better about what i am putting into my body while helping the progession of Ithaca at the same time.

My social goals were much more difficult for me to outline. I have decided that as an interior design student i am going to bring the information and thought that i gather in CRP back to my major. We have a semester long project based out of Rochester, NY where i am doing an adaptive reuse of an old clothing factory into a hotel, restaurant, and fitness center my goal is to make the entire facility sustainable and LEED CI certified. My goal within my industry is to show people that luxury and style do not have to be compormisd for sustainability. I plan on doing a lot of research and brining the information that i gather into my class to further their knowledge of the topic. At this point the project is just underway and i have done a lot of gathering of previous examples of hospitality facilities that have been designed and opperated with sustaiability in mind.