Eating Green

I thought I already began a post about my food choices and how they relate to sustainability. Maybe I made that up, because in my brief search, I couldn’t find it. I promise to get into the details soon. In the interim…. enjoy this little video:

“If all Americans ate no meat or cheese one day a week, it would have the same climate change prevention effect as taking 7.6 million cars off the road for one year”!!!

I cut these food products from my diet every day of the week. And now you know why.

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Jean Renaudie and Renée Gailhoustet’s Housing Building in Ivry-sur-Seine (1969-1975) : socks-studio

Jean Renaudie and Renée Gailhoustet’s Housing Building in Ivry-sur-Seine (1969-1975) : socks-studio.

 

I’m actually quite ignorant of a lot of great architecture and planning work. I’ve heard of Jean Renaudie, but I don’t recall ever seeing this work created by he and his wife! I’m so surprised at the playful dimension of this building. The angles suggest excessive wasted space- it can’t be too energy efficient- but what a great example of how a human environment can seem to grow upward like an ant mound- very ecologically inspired, I think!

The Farm Bill: Local Produce in National Supermarkets

The concept of Food Hubs seems like a no-brainer to me!

The Problem: Residents want better access to affordable, local food. Local farmers want to sell their produce in chain supermarkets, but the grocery stores don’t want 50 farm trucks coming to the store each day to make their deliveries.

The Solution: Food Hubs are regional warehouses that accept deliveries from a variety of local farms. From the food received by these food hubs, a single delivery of a range of local food products may then be made to nearby supermarkets.

I read an article titled Big Food in the latest issue of Urbanite Magazine, my favorite free magazine (also one of my favorite magazines in general). The piece explained the implications of the new Farm Bill and one particular element really sparked my interest. The idea of Food Hubs to make local food a more practical purchase for wholesalers. These warehouses can act as the think between producer and consumer. Whereas before, local foodies would have had to purchase their produce from farmer’s markets or farm-to-table restaurants, local produce can now be made available for any store to carry and all restaurants to serve.

Food Hubs are not a new concept, however; such establishments do currently exist in our country. The USDA estimates that there are about 170 food hubs operating already (The Role of Local Food Systems). Also referred to as an aggregation facility, such market aggregator can operate online, where the service is provided electronically to link producers and buyers. Take MarketMaker, for example. This online connection was created in 2004 in Illinois. An excerpt from the website explains:

“MarketMaker is a national partnership of land grant institutions and State Departments of Agriculture dedicated to the development of a comprehensive interactive data base of food industry marketing and business data. It is currently one of the most extensive collections of searchable food industry related data in the country. All the information can be mapped and queried by the user.”

…A hefty explanation for a simpler service. As it notes, however, it is one of the most extensive databases- imagine a similar operation nationwide! MarketMaker operates in 20 states already.

On the west coast, in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska, a project from the nonprofit, Ecotrust, is another online marketplace. The FoodHub Community connects a range of buyers, including hotels, healthcare facilities, schools, and food assistance programs to local farmers.

This layer of digital connections makes the process much easier, but local and regional warehouses are also required for making the physical connection. The amazing span of these literal food webs can be incredibly far-reaching. Even wineries and distilleries are connected with interested buyers, as are fishermen. Our country has come so far from the days when our food was grown and consumed locally- but it’s critical for our health and sustainability that we return to that mindset. I truly hope that food hubs become a commonplace establishment in the marketplace.

Resources:

“FoodHub.” FoodHub: Where Food People Connect. Ecotrust, n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2012. <http://food-hub.org/home&gt;.

“MarketMaker National Network.” National Food Industry MarketMaker Portal. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2012. <http://national.marketmaker.uiuc.edu/&gt;.

Messner, Rebecca. “Big Food, Making Sense of the Farm Bill.” Urbanite Magazine Aug. 2012: 21+. Print.

The Role of Local Food Systems in U.S. Food Policy. Rep. Congressional Research Service, 4 Apr. 2012. Web. 16 Aug. 2012. <http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42155.pdf&gt;.

How a Children’s Film Can Have a Lasting Impact

 

Princess Mononoke Still

This. This awesome blog post about the film My Neighbor Totoro

Surely most of you (all 5 people who read my blog) must know how much I love Miyazaki films. Particularly My Neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke. What’s that? Oh…you don’t know? Let me just say this- I’m getting imagery from both tattooed on my feet next week =P

These films were very important to me as a child and I recall watching them over and over. I was watching My Neighbor Totoro when I was as young as 6 years old!! And I’ve seen it about 50 times since….okay, well I haven’t counted. But the point is that this film, despite being “just a kids’ movie” has been tremendously influential in my life. It is because of the great forest spirits of the Studio Ghibli films that I work so hard to protect nature. Today, I consider myself an environmentalist- and these two films very well be solely responsible!

Isaac’s post is a wonderfully written, brilliant review of how a “children’s film” can have such a tremendous impact on people as they become adults- and how they can change global perspectives for the better. I wont say more- you have to read the post to get all the great details!

Earning Green by Investing in Public Green Spaces

The Benefits of Bringing Nature to Urban Environments

In a recent meeting with community representatives, I learned of the strong opposition held by  Baltimore City residents towards trees. Of course, this is more true in some parts of the city than in others- anyone who knows Baltimore City also knows that it is a city of neighborhoods, each having their own, very distinct opinions. I assume the sentiment is not as common in the wealthier and historic neighborhoods of Baltimore, where verdant yards are shaded by old trees, but those aren’t the neighborhoods who need trees. Neighborhoods like Baltimore’s Roland Park have trees abound, and clearly recognize a tree’s value (a post written on my old blog about Roland park will be transferred here shortly). Yet in neighborhoods where the typical homes are not large country manors, trees are seen as a nuisance. Care, pruning, raking, etc….it’s all very minor compared to the extensive advantages of having trees in the urban environment.

Social commentator, Julian Dobson, explains, “The nature environment is the foundation of a thriving economy and a healthy society, and we neglect it at our peril” (Abbott, 7).

The benefits of green infrastructure- parks, gardens, trees, a wild landscapes- are observed in three different spheres: environment, public health, and the economy. The most obvious, and perhaps better understood, of the three are the environmental advantages. Global warming- which can hardly still be perceived as a hoax- can be prevented with the introduction of green infrastructure into our largest cities. Green Places Journal recently cited the findings of the Micro-Economic Benefits of Investments in the Environment study, which stated a mere 10% increase in urban green spaces can prevent a temperature rise of more than 3°C. This is a critical impact, considering the predictions made at the University of Manchester which showed that current city temperatures  of 27.9°C were project to rise by 3.7°C by the 2080s. The added infrastructure of green spaces would maintain the current temperatures and avoid such an increase. The more interesting finding, in my humble opinion, is that the removal of green cover would have the inverse impact, with more than double the intensity. A 10% decrease in green cover could produce average temperatures 7-8 warmer (Abbott, 6).

Floating Wetlands in the Baltimore Inner Harbor filter the water below

Of course, there are the more qualitative benefits which cannot be properly measured. For example, green infrastructure perform ecosystem services, meaning they contribute to the cycles within a limited environment. To put it simply, green infrastructure keeps everything in check, even when we humans botch it all up. Green infrastructure helps to keep local and native species alive, as it creates an enriched habitat and increases biodiversity. These advantages are better experienced than perceived on paper, yet invaluable.

Perhaps the least understood is the economic realm of nature’s advantages. Like other nonsense arguments- global warming, evolution, et al.- the economic benefit of a single tree seems to be constantly debated. Yes, up front, a healthy new tree could be seen as costly, but it’s the long run that matters. Unfortunately, most sustainable alternatives face this same fight: the more responsible decision is the least economically feasible. Installing photovoltaic panels is quite an investment, but generating your own energy will pay for itself in time- in some cases as early as 5 years time. And what’s really great is that energy from the sun is FREE! You can’t get anything for free these days! How’s that for an economic benefit?

Landscaped medians- or better yet, storm water filtering bioswales- reduce impervious surfaces in the city

Like solar panels, green infrastructure can sometimes be seen as having more of an initial investment than traditional infrastructure.  Yet green infrastructure may not be much more expensive than the conventional alternative after all. In fact, the study Banking on Green: How Green Infrastructure Saves Municipalities Money and Provides Economic Benefits Community-wide suggests that most green infrastructure projects are just as affordable, if not more so, than traditional “grey” infrastructure (Berg). Evaluating 479 green infrastructure case studies in the United States, the report found that 44% actually brought infrastructure costs down.

Going back to the idea of hefty returns on an original investment, New York City is currently planning a green infrastructure overhaul in order to cut down discharges into the local sewer system. Over the course of 20 years, such a project could save $1.5 billion in treatment and infrastructure costs (Berg). Think, for a moment, about when you go to buy a new pair of shoes. The pair from Wal-Mart may only be a buck, but they’ll break tomorrow. On the other hand, a nice pair could cost you a few pretty pennies, but a good pair of shoes will last years.

Not only can green infrastructure save lots of moolah, it can also increase value. Plant a tree today, and your property will be that much more valuable tomorrow. The findings from the Micro-Economic Benefits of Investment in the Environment Review reported that people are prepared to pay 19% more for a home near a park (Abbott, 6). For good reason, too. Green infrastructure works wonders on the human body. From the late 19th to the early 20th century, cities began to see the value of parks. Leading the Parks Movement, Frederick Law Olmsted, together with his partner Calvert Vaux, designed Central Park in New York City. Considered to be the “lungs of the city,” great urban parks were established in nearly every large city.

Parks were a necessary concept that developed in response to the poor health conditions developing within city limits at the time. Their creation went hand-in-hand with sanitary reform. In addition to their recreational functions, parks served to clear the mind, reduce stress, and provide areas free from industrial pollution. Today’s green infrastructure functions in the very same way. In a country with ever rising obesity rates, it’s worth mentioning the impact that a nearby park has on a city resident.  The same study which reported the affect of green infrastructure on temperatures concluded that people who have good access to green space are 24% more likely to be physically active (Abbott, 6). People who live near parks tend to be healthier and happier. Tying directly into the impact on temperature, green infrastructure prevents and reduces the number of code red air quality days. Cities tend to have an adverse affect on groups of people with sensitive breathing; children, the elderly, and people with asthma experience poor air quality more intensely than do others. Reducing the number of code red days will make cities much more livable for everyone. Furthermore, with less impervious surfaces (asphalt, concrete, brick, etc.) and more natural matter, green infrastructure reduces the urban heat island effect.

For the purpose of saving time and not overloading you with information, I’ll refrain from going into more detail. However, it’s important to understand that the examples mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg. Of course, since I’m sure you’re still interested, I’ll review the above mentioned benefits and list some additional benefits of green infrastructure.

Environmental

  • Reduces air and water pollution
  • Collects and filters storm water
  • Improves air quality

Economic

  • Promotes investment, increases property value
  • Increases energy efficiency, decreases energy demand

Health

  • Controls temperature, reduces heat island effect, reduces number of code red days
  • Reduces stress, offers a vacation for the mind
  • Increases longevity and quality of life

And I STILL haven’t touched on everything! Regardless, I’ll leave it at that.

“It’s as simple as making a choice-” says Landscape designer, Chris Beardshaw, “a choice to put green space high on the agenda of social investment because it is proven that where positive green spaces exist, issues such as crime and deprivation decline, and our health and wellbeing increases.” (Abbott)

Curious about the possibilities? Have a look at this (unfortunately silent) short video about types of green infrastructure:

Resources:

Abbott, Emma, ed. “Groundwork Makes Case for Investment in Green Spaces.” Green Places 85 (2012): 7. Print.

Abbott, Emma, ed. “Green Infrastructure Makes Sound Financial Sense, Says Economist” Green Places 85 (2012): 6. Print.

Berg, Nate. “Green Infrastructure Could Save Cities Billions.” Web log post. The Atlantic CIties. N.p., 24 Apr. 2012. Web. 9 Aug. 2012. <http://www.theatlanticcities.com/technology/2012/04/green-infrastructure-could-cities-save-billions/1832/#&gt;.