Monday, October 29, 2007

Case Study: “Don’t Move: Improve!”

While completing this week’s reading I got excited about the “Don’t Move, Improve” community revitalization campaign that was mentioned in the excerpt from Towards Sustainable Communities. This campaign was a grassroots community response to white flight and urban decay in the South Bronx. Residents and local activists united to address issues of healthcare, daycare, economic education, housing, the environment, transportation, and development. Since its inception, the campaign has successfully channeled millions of dollars of investment into the South Bronx community. In addition, the campaign has aided in the construction of thousands of affordable housing units and financial assistance for local small businesses.

The revitalization of PS 64, formerly a public school building in the South Bronx, is an example of how successful this community group was in their efforts to restore the South Bronx. Residents and non resident cultural groups organized with the non profit organization CHARAS, to reclaim, restore, and revitalize the PS 64 school building and turn it into a community and cultural center, which they called El Bohio. The creation of El Bohio Community and Cultural Center is one of many other visible products of the “Don’t Move: Improve!” Campaign. This campaign is an example of how residents can use grassroots organizing to create a sense of community. As it is explained in Toward Sustainable Communities, creating a sense of place and developing connections between people in a community involves ensuring that the physical environment brings people together and creates a peaceful, secure community that residents can be proud of. The “Don’t Move: Improve!” campaign got residents involved in improving the physical environment in their community, which created a sense of place that went missing after the financial resources relocated to the suburbs and left the South Bronx to suffer in urban decay. With community and cultural centers as well as locally owned small businesses, residents could be proud to call their South Bronx community home. Furthermore, by investing in the community, residents and community groups have insured that the streets are safer and more peaceful. Revitalized and restored buildings replace spaces that can be potentially used for illegal and dangerous activity with spaces that encourage healthy cultural and community activity. El Bohio Community and Cultural Center in the South Bronx is only one of the many buildings that the “Don’t Move: Improve” campaign has restored.

This community revitalization campaign was particularly interesting to me because I think that it incorporates much of our discussions about the importance of grassroots organizing. Furthermore, as a resident of the South Bronx myself, I think that these examples of successful community grassroots organizing are extremely relevant - I think that its pretty clear how this example applies to my own neighborhood. With this campaign, residents were empowered by the opportunity to take control of their community. Residents and non-resident cultural groups reenvisioned their community and then they took action. They not only changed the physical character of the community, but they also changed developed a healthy sense of place within their community. This case study reiterates the undeniable fact that community development, restoration or revitalization works best when the actual community is involved. Who can better dictate what a community should be then the people who live in it?

Application of Beatly Ch. 10, Apollo, and Sustainable Communities to Buffalo, NY

It is probably impossible to write all of the ways that the city of Buffalo, NY could be helped/changed based on the tools and examples presented in Apollo Alliance’s “Create High-Performance Buildings,” Toward Sustainable Communities’ “Housing and Community Development,” and Beatley’s “Building Ecologically: Designing Buildings and Neighborhoods with Nature in Mind.” The themes of affordable housing and having a new skilled labor force resonate especially for Buffalo.

Firstly, after the steel industry failed/ended/left Buffalo, the labor market was essentially destroyed. By updating building codes, providing training programs and supporting/endorsing the newer green technologies that require specific skills, the local government could improve the employment situation immensely. As the city is in a constant state of renovation and development, thousands would be employed in the fields of “green-standards” construction and design, and development and maintenance of such features as solar panels and green roofs.

Secondly, although housing costs in western New York are already incredibly affordable, low employment rates still create a struggle for many residents. Many vacant buildings in the downtown area could be converted to co-housing sites. Also, providing grants for small business owners to help them convert to renewable energy and conduct green-feature renovations would make the daunting and expensive task a little more appealing. Funding for such projects could come from fines from the pollution of Lake Erie, for example. I was especially intrigued by the seemingly-insignificant but successful Green Numbers Program (“Die GrĂ¼ne Hausnummer”) mentioned in Beatley’s chapter. In Buffalo and the surrounding suburbs (as probably in most cities and their suburbs), it is not uncommon to see stickers in business’ front windows saying “Chamber of Commerce Member, 2007” or “’Walk the Village’ Site” or “Downtown Small Business Partnership Member.” These are often used for “bragging rights” or just to attract the attention of passers-by. The Green Numbers Program seems like it would be successful in Buffalo, with businesses implementing green features to amass points that would earn them a plaque to display. This would complement nicely the new form of competition that is emerging with public awareness campaigns for buying green/local.

Lastly, regional green energy projects would be far more effective if they benefited regional residents directly. Anecdote: as a part of my job this summer, I conducted wetland mapping with an environmental consulting firm that was hired by Noble Environmental Power, a power company constructing hundreds of wind turbines across a nearby rural farming county. When asked by friends and family members about the development, the first question was always “who does the power go to?” After explaining that the power is generated, collected, and sent to the national grid which “distributes it all over,” I received grimaces. People were angry that their pristine land and the land of their friends and family was being used up for the construction of windmills (let alone the years of being contacted again and again by the energy company and allowing people from another firm walk all over their land looking for wetlands), yet they didn’t “see” any of the power that was generated. I gained the sense that these people would be FAR more interested in buying renewable green power from this company if they knew that their local sacrifices showed more of a local result. I feel that this might even be more important that financial incentives and tax breaks.

meeting notes: 10/25/07

Meeting Notes (10/25/07)

Potential Product(s)

1. a community gardens pamphlet

2. a survey (or two), first focusing on the visibility of community gardens, then on more details

3. Meeting to Discuss our findings with stakeholders; to explore what community gardening has been and what planners and policy makers want it to be?


Survey: What information are we gathering? Access (transportation, walking distance, joining)? What questions matter?

Pamphlet: Our work – locations, who’s involved

Original Premise:

Are there differences between “Grassroots” community gardens and those that are city-supported?

-gardening as the process -gardens as space - gardeners as actors


Are community gardens basically invisible?

Why are community gardens invisible?

Why does visibility matter? (implication for policy, land use, public opinion)


1. Community gardens want to be invisible (“private world,” squatters – under the radar)

2. Community gardens don’t want to be invisible, but there is a set of constraints or problems that make them invisible (outreach challenge).

3. Community gardens aren’t really invisible, we just haven’t discovered how they’re seen through this process or approach.


1. Community gardening is part of sustainability and green cities.

2. Community gardening happens because people are motivated about sustainability. (or for necessity: food, to work in the ground)

Gardens We’ve Considered:


Backyard Garden (Melanie’s Landlord)

People’s Garden Project

Ithaca Community Garden

Ithaca Children’s Garden

Cornell Garden Plots (Freese Road)

Dilmun Hill

Next steps: survey people about their knowledge of the gardens: are they aware?

Map gardens using concentric rings (1 block, 3 blocks, 5 blocks…) and plot areas of awareness.

Survey Format:

Page one of survey:

Who we are

Why we’re doing the research

Signature Block

Where is your closest community park?

Where is your closest community green space?

Where is your closest community garden?

** use Liechert scale to rate these questions (1-3 blocks, 4-6, 6-9, 10+, don’t know)

--- Want to see: How the public differentiates (if at all) between these three items, how that plays into visibility, and whether the public considers community gardens to be green space.

Page two of survey:

What is the street intersection closest to your home?

Scaled questions/further information

***these questions must be answerable for those who are unaware of community gardens nearby.

Could develop a second survey to administer to those who seem aware of nearby community gardens to obtain more information about their impressions of the gardens.

For each garden point: collect at least 20 initial surveys

Could try to get garden member’s addresses from community garden leaders.

Green Buildings

While reading, I noticed a couple of housing policies that stood out as having a high potential for successful application in the United States. Throughout the course we have talked about the importance of changing mindsets. I believe the difficulty of achieving this can be overcome by building on the values and practices Americans currently hold dear. For instance, there is a strong tradition of competition in this country, one that would aid in the implementation of a program like the green house numbers mentioned in Beatly. The push for green living is starting to catch on in the states, and companies are beginning to boast about the sustainability of their products and fair practices. Why not take this to the next level and have businesses compete through their headquarters buildings? I could see the Baltimore Legg Mason building or the Wachovia headquarters revamping in order to obtain a green plaquard- especially if they would receive the type of media and governement attention that takes place in Europe. Government buildings leading this act would also be important. For example, the Ravens stadium is owned by the Maryland Stadium Authority. If stadium patrons and viewers at home were aware of the fact that the stadium is powered by solar panels, then chances are that would get them to be a little more consious about how they get their energy (and having an institution like a football team going green would help to dispell the myth that environmentalism is only advocated by liberals).

I really liked the idea of green mortgages and bonds as well. Rather than our government spending money directly to install green systems for commercial buildings or private homes, it is simply forgoing the tax revenue they normally receive on investment earnings (which is a strategy used in a number of different community revitalization programs- ie, tax credits for restoring a historical building). Plus, people love taking advantage of tax free oportunities- my dad legitimately gets excited about donating our old clothing and recreation equipment to Salvation Army because he gets to write them off when he does our taxes. If we can emphasize the long-term benefits of installing energy-saving devices combined with the opportunties to take advantage of tax breaks, we can be a lot more successful in marketing these tools to your run-of-the-mill suburban home owner.

Of course, while these policies have major implications for getting the upper middle class and business elite involved in sustainability, they can also be used to generate social justice as well. For instance, as a part of the green mortgages program, the government could stipulate that a certain percentage of funds must be reinvested into affordable housing projects, low-income neighborhoods, etc.

The Building Buzz

It is vital to think about sustainability from the beginning of a project. After a building is constructed, enacting energy saving measures only takes a small chunk out of the energy usage. When energy was cheap, builders and architects didn’t need to think about efficient ventilation and lighting strategies. Any poor design was more than met by hyped up ventilation and cooling setups. Now that energy prices have begun to climb and energy shortages have become a problem, designers and architects have started to change their strategy on building design.

It seems foolish to think that buildings are designed to only take advantage of a plot of land in terms of esthetic values and pay no particular attention to spatial orientation. As the sun moves through the day and through the seasons, it strikes different areas of a building and with differing intensities. Devices such as sun shelves are able to project this light a considerable distance into a building’s interior and by using highly insulated windows, do not bring with it the added heat. During the winter months, this light could be used to shine on dark surfaces such as a dark stone floor allowing heat to be stored in the floor and aid in heating the building. During the summer, this sun could be aimed at a certain part of the roof to create updrafts which pull warm air from inside the building and provide a means of naturally ventilating the building. These examples of passive solar are fairly easy to implement, but must be thought about at the onset of a home, and just by taking advantage of the sun, a building could potentially cut its energy usage in half.

Beatley brings up a slew of examples on how Europeans have begun to implement sustainable aspects into new building design. It seems a shame that Americans have not jumped on this same trend. European policy makers have seen the same trends in energy usage that have been realized in the US, but instead of addressing rising energy demand by increasing supply, they have fought the rising demand through efficiency. Highly subsidized and publicized programs promote the use of energy efficient homes that take advantage of passive solar as described above. To curtail car usage, many cities have enacted high-speed bus loops and tram service which greatly exceeds even the best public transportation systems in the US. Not only does this prevent traffic from excessive car usage, but the cities are seeing reduced road maintenance and fuel use as well.

Beatley sums it up very well saying, “There is simply not enough attention given in the United States to aggressively promoting ecological design and building.”(313) The United States is more interested in keeping everyone happy and blissfully ignorant as it pumps money into oil and auto subsidy programs make it seem as though there are no emerging energy problems. European countries have taken the energy issue head on and along with their powerful building programs are leading the way in sustainability. Though the United States has slowly begun to realize that it is getting left behind on this issue, the few projects that show this awareness are greatly outshined by the poor building practices of the past. Hopefully, the new architects and engineers will change this way of thinking and soon surpass the Europeans in sustainability, making the United States the hallmark of sustainable design.

Oops, seems like I might have gone a different way than most. I read Edens Lost and Found, the chapter on Philadelphia (my hometown). Many points were brought up which lead back to previous topics, as well as bringing up many new ones as well. For me it was interesting to read about the events, places, people, and organizations I grew up around knowing, and understanding them deeper.The chapter discusses the decline of Philadelphia as well as it's possibilities and positive actions being taken all over the city.

The chapter begins by displaying the Philadelphia flower show and its side project Philadelphia green. The Philadelphia flower show is an event which occurs once a year and creates massive displays of both flowers in artistic arangements (see above) and flower gardens. This is an interesting program because it covers multiple tactics. Most importantly the flower show does not work completely to educate, but mostly to amaze. And what better way for people to see the benefits of green in the city? Green Philadelphia continues this program by taking proceeds from the show and using them to create green spaces in the community. However they do not create spaces unless at least 85% of the neighborhood or block wants it. They they have everyone contribute (about $1). This functions as a commitment of the community to keep this space, it makes it theirs. It seems important to consider when doing any type of planning for a city to become part of the city instead of reaching to educate, or to recreate as Register would desire. Another interesting point the chapter brought up was how Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods, and the work is often done neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block. Once again we see the importance of bottom up activity, as well as starting small instead of attempting large scale restructuring which displaces people and communities, while putting in large risks which often fail. We also see how the work can be a slow process, but that doesn't mean it is not moving. Philadelphia is an example of cities that is working to solve it's problems through the benefits of of nature, not solve it's problems of nature. The West Philadelphia initiative is working to add green space and trees to the city, which in turn creates increased aesthetic value, causing more people to see the city as a viable place to live and therefore increasing density.What was most interesting to me was the use of art in sustainability. In a culture that is plagued by sprawl, privatization, and loss of communications, art has the power to unite and recreate community. Philadelphia has many mural programs which range from those created by artists, to children, to prisoners, all in different neighborhoods of the city. The murals often reflect some aspect of the community, creating community pride and an increase in people staying. These murals can also beautify the community without leading to gentrification.

One of the things I was struck by and disappointed with was how the book glossed over some nice little details of the past. For instance it mentions the West Philadelphia Initiative, a part of the University of Pennsylvania as being a revitalizing force of West Philly. While this is true and the organization does work to create a better community, it completely ignores the fact that Penn completely destroyed a neighborhood (not exactly unintentionally either) in order to create university city, a transient area (think collegetown). In my opinion the organization does not do nearly enough to account for the damage it caused, or to account for the incredible seperation between the two parts or types of West Philadelphia, the poorer neighborhood, and that of students and professors. There is a double edged sward to this revitilization as we see prices increase. So once again (I know everyone is getting sick of it) I bring up my point of the real effect that green cities have on it's lower class residents?