Thursday, November 1, 2007

Aging Infrastructure Creates Opportunity : Reflections on Edens, Lost and Found

Today, a greater amount of attention is beginning to focus on our cities aging infrastructure. Recent event in New York City, with a major steam pipe bursting, and in Minneapolis, with the collapsing bridge, have brought more attention to this issue. Many expect that as our cities age and their infrastructure begins to wear, incidents like this will become more common. In reading Edens Lost and Found (Introduction and Los Angeles chapters), there is discussion of the errors that took place in creating our major city’s infrastructure. It occurred to me that as this infrastructure approaches the end of its usable life we have a great opportunity to replace those systems with ecologically superior models, and greatly improve our environment as well as the overall livability of our cities. Los Angeles represents a terrific example of this because its initial infrastructure was so terribly designed by modern standards that perhaps it has the most to gain from its reformation. There are two terrific examples of infrastructure modernization that can make a great difference in LA, floodwater management and transportation.

Los Angeles created a flood management system that pushes all flood waters into giant concrete river basins that divert all water outside of the city. These basins not only do a disservice to the city by removing water that could be put to use, but they also serve to create massive dissections of the city which have an enormous and negative affect on pedestrians and all city dwellers who are now greatly discouraged from crossing the basins. In Edens Lost and Found, the concept of cistern-and-swale technology (though I hesitate to use that term for such a low-tech idea) is discussed as a more viable solution to the massive flood basins currently in place. This technology manages flood water and effectively retains it for later use. The impact of the use of cistern-and-swale instead of the massive basins could have a great impact on the city through improved use of storm water and allowing greater mobility across areas of the city that are affected by these great boundaries of concrete.

Another example of a devastating infrastructure choice made by the city of LA that offers great opportunity for improvement is that relating to transportation. LA is notorious for its traffic, and for good reason. The city was built up around the automobile. LA’s concrete jungle nearly requires inhabitants to use an automobile to get through it. However, as LA’s huge number of bridges and overpasses age, the repair of the auto infrastructure will become more and more expensive. Combined with the price of fuel, there will be great pressure to develop alternative methods of transportation. Though Californians love their autos, it only makes sense that we would have to question the increasing costs associated with maintaining an increasingly expensive and inefficient mode of transportation in light of smarter technologies that move LA’s citizens to work, home, the beaches and the malls.

All in all, our aging cities offer the greatest opportunity to make a real impact on the environment and on the quality of life through smarter infrastructure choices. More people, more money and a greater overall impact make our cities great candidates for an all new infrastructure boom in this country similar to the one that took place in the early-to-mid 20th century, but smarter and more environmentally and socially sound.

Urban Nature-Observation Activities


In the past few weeks, we have seen some interesting Urban Nature presentations of a very general nature that have been useful in opening discussions on human-wildlife interactions and conflict, etc. At this point, we should moving towards more field observations and reports and less internet work. As an example, I have included a web link below to the kind of work imagined.

Let's get creative! Collect some leaves and look for diseases. A tree or leaf handbook and some wax paper are all the materials required. Observe the multitude of migrating birds coming through Ithaca and relate your urban wildlife observations to current environmental issues. Find out where all of the jack-o-lanterns went, and why they aren't ending up in compost heaps in community and home gardens. Let's get those "naturalist" juices flowing and try some observation based hypothesizing.

Check out:

Here are more resources, generated from ecologists who have attempted to develop activities for urban and school contexts:

Betros, H. F. 1972. Understanding Schoolyard Ecology. Jericho, NY: Exposition Press.
Classroom organization techniques plus many activity chapters on plants, animals, soils, and water.

Blaustein, E. and R. Blaustein. 1978. Investigating Ecology. New York: Arco Publishing.
Open-ended set of projects based on ecological principles. Each project has a background section, procedures, and ideas for further investigation.

Booth, C. R. Ecology in the National Curriculum: A Practical Guide to Using School Grounds. Winchester: Learning Through Landscapes Trust.
The British National Curriculum's attainment goals and programs for study for ecology are defined in this resource, as well as outlining investigation questions and methods.

Bowman, M.L. 1976. Environmental Education in the Urban Setting: Rationale and Teaching Activities. Columbus, OH: ERIC/CSMEE.

Busch, P. S. 1972. Exploring as You Walk in the Meadow. J.B. Lippincott Company.

Carman, S. 1992. Guidelines and Features for Outdoor Classrooms. Indiana Department of Natural Resource.
Planning for the development of your schools outdoor lab.

Corvine, C.; Welting, W.; and E. Arms. 1988. Beyond The Classroom: Exploration of Schoolyard and Backyard. Lincoln, MA: Massachusetts Audubon Society.
Introductory section gives rationale and strategies for using the schoolyards for science. Contains a collection of 33 activities in life, physical, and earth science.

Clark, R. and P. Walters. 1992. Trees in the School Grounds. Devin, England: Southgate Publishers.
Background text enhanced with detailed illustrations, this book devotes many chapters to tree activities and projects, such as "discovering tree dwellers", and "investigating wood properties."

Cronin-Jones, L. 1992. The Schoolyard Wildlife Activity Guide. Tallahassee: Florida Game & Freshwater Fish Commission.
Contains a curriculum framework, identifying key ecological concepts addressed in the lesson plans, 35 individual activity lessons, and large appendix and cross reference section.

Debris, J. 1989. Schoolyard-Backyard Cycles of Science. Cartage, IL: Good Apple.
Features reproducible activity pages in physical, biological, earth, and space science. Major emphasis is placed on starter activities to prompt children to ask "why?"

Denny and Hand. Exploring the Secrets of Meadow-Thicket: A Story of Seasonal Activities for the Curious Child.
Cooperative learning activities usable in local parks, fields, lawns, or lots.

Dunning, E. and A.B. Mills. 1992. Backyard and Beyond: A Guide for Discovering the Outdoors. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing.
A how-to book on stalking, tracking, and observing common backyard critters.

Gale, W. and P. Warren. 1989. Ecology Discovery Activities Kit. West NYC, NY: The Center for Applied Research in Education.
49 Easy-to-use, hands-on activities covering the essential areas of ecology: populations, communities, food web/energy flow, recycling. Good for grades 4-8.

Hancock, J. 1991. Biology Is Outdoors! : A Comprehensive Resource for Studying School Environments. Portland, ME: J. Weston Walt.
Consists of 10 investigations in and around the school grounds. Each investigation has reproducible student pages, a teacher's section, spin-off ideas, and references.

Hogan, K. 1994. Eco-Inquiry: A Guide to Ecological Learning Experiences for the Upper Elementary/Middle Grades. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing.
In-depth curriculum focusing on nutrient and energy cycling in ecosystems. The three modules incorporate cooperative learning, inquiry techniques, and alternative assessment.

Hunker, J. 1994. Ecology For All Ages. Old Saybrook, CT: Globe Pequot Press.
Investigative activities and background information about the following topics: backyard ecology, water systems, fields and borders, trees and woods, and dry zones.

Johns, F.; K. Liske; and A. Evans. 1986. Education Goes Outdoors. Menlo Park, CA: Addison Wesley Publishing.
Outdoor activities to integrate into all aspects of curriculum: science beyond the classroom, schoolyard math, outdoor language adventures, group building activities, etc.

McCormack, J. 1979. Outdoor Areas as Learning Centers. Columbus, OH: ERIC/CSMEE.

Perdue, P. 1991. Schoolyard Science. Glenview, IL.: Goodyear Books, Scott, Foresman, and Co.
25 class-tested activities to develop cooperation, thinking, and process skills in physical, soil, life, and environmental science. Grades 2-4.

Roth, C. and L. Lockwood. 1979. Strategies and Activities for Using Local Communities as Environmental Education Sites. Columbus, OH.: ERIC/CSMEE.

Russell, H.R. 1990. Ten Minute Fieldtrips. Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association.
Chapters devoted to different areas of science (includes an ecology section), with lots of teacher background, schoolyard fieldtrip possibilities, and related classroom activities.

Schaefer, J., et al. 1992. Schoolyard Ecosystems for Northeast Florida. Tallahassee, FL: Florida Advisory Council on Environmental Ed.
Focus is on schoolyard enhancements like trails and specialty gardens.

Schiff, P., and C. Smith-Walters. 1993. Wild School Site: A Guide to Preparing for Habitat Improvement Projects on School Grounds. Western Regional Environmental Education Council.

Shaffer, C., and E. Fielder. 1987. City Safaris: A Sierra Club Explorer's Guide to Urban Adventures for Grownups and Kids. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books.
A unique book of ideas for urban fieldtrips in many subject areas: food, trash, and energy expenditure, city people, etc. One chapter devoted to neighborhood wild places.

Smith, D. 1984. Practical Ecology Series. Urban Ecology. London: George Allen and Unwin Publishers, Ltd.
A British resource containing 24 exercises in three main areas of focus: disturbed areas, man-made niches, and pollution.

Thomas, Gill. 1993. Science in the School Grounds. Southgate Publishers.
A British resource with major sections in weather, mini beasts, trees, ponds, grassed areas, wild flowers. Appendix has teacher/parent background sheets and pupil worksheets.

Williams, G. M., and W. H. Dowdeswell. 1990. Ecology For The National Curriculum. London: Unwin Hyman.
Investigations based on ten easily accessible habitats likely to occur around schools.

Young, K. Using School Grounds as an Educational Resource. Learning through Landscapes.