The Challenges We Face

I’m here at work creating a list of the challenges we (our firm) face in our work. The next task: to create a list of the problems our clients face. Yet, I find it much easier to view Planet Earth as our client, and its challenges are indeed many.

While I list these threats—all very significant, all looming—I feel surprisingly less uneasy as I would have expected. In fact, I feel relieved; as if listing these massive problems will help me wrap my brain around them, and guide every action from this day forward in an effort to address, resolve, or at least pacify them somewhat.

They are, nevertheless, monumental. My list evolved:

  • Depleted resources
  • Social unrest
  • A changing climate
  • Extreme weather events
  • Global habitat destruction/loss and global species extinction
  • Pollution and contamination of all Earth’s ecosystems (including the omnipresence of trash)
  • Continued and potentially increasing violence, at many scales
  • Extreme population growth
  • Energy dependence (rather than self-reliance)
  • Loss of human interaction; society becomes a slave to technology
  • Worldwide hunger
  • Economic instability (on a national level) and poverty (on the individual level [albeit an issue tied to the entirety of society])
  • Globalization (including the spread of invasive, non-native species and the loss of culture and individuality)

Putting these worries to paper was therapeutic, but putting pen to paper is not a solution. The step, now, is to DO SOMETHING. And every person, no matter how small, has the ability to affect great change. This list will be in the back of my mind, a constant reminder of what I’m fighting for: a safer, healthier, inclusive, equitable, “greener,” cultural, and more sustainable and resilient Earth.

It’s no easy task, but I remain ever the optimist. With collaboration and a concerted effort, we can quell these noisy threats.

Advertisements

How to deal with all that CSA food?

I had 4 beets, 4 radishes, 6 kale leaves, spinach, lettuce and salad greens, garlic scapes, strawberries, and Swiss chard, and cilantro- here are some of my dishes from week 1!
I also made:
rainbow quinoa with Swiss chard and butternut squash,
Black beans with tofu, corn, cilantro, and garlic scapes
Lots of salads
Pasta with spinach and lemon juice

20130613-183301.jpg

20130613-183308.jpg

20130613-183316.jpg

20130613-183322.jpg

20130613-183334.jpg

20130613-183341.jpg

The Divorce Between Human and Habitat

I’m falling behind a bit when it comes to my literature reviews. I realized they were taking up a bulk of my “class time”, and I preferred to do things, read things, rather than just write. So without much fluff, I’ll try to catch up with the following reviews before I move onto Unit 5 | Scale.

Deep Ecological Urbanism | Unit 4: Learning from Nature | Literature Review

Biophilia | Farr, Douglas. (2008). Sustainable Urbanism. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

This book had me really excited but, in truth, I’m quite disappointed. It’s a great resource, indeed, but it’s framed more like a design-manual than a piece for learning about concepts. It’s great for providing technical details of sustainable practices, but this chapter didn’t at all talk about what the term Biophilia actually means. The book does, however, have a great terminology section at the ends, and is very good at providing timelines. Hopefully, I’ll have the chance to review those items. Additionally, it has in-depth reviews of various case studies. It’s formatted like a sustainable urbanist’s guide for design, which is terrific. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t as useful for my studies at this stage.

Then again, some discussion earlier in the book provided some good insight. In Chapter 2, Sustainable Urbanism: Where We Need to Go, I found the definition I was in search of:

Biophilia:  “human love of nature based on  intrinsic interdependence between humans and other living systems.” [page 48]

The chapter went on to describe how humans evolved outdoors, and were previous an integral part of the cycles of nature. Then came the idea of private property. Today, there is a tendency of all types of development to suppress nature. Meanwhile, the truth about the impacts of our actions are hidden from view where we will not be bothered by the stress our lifestyles place on nature. Consequently, we are a disconnected society- disconnected from nature, from each other, from our environments… This disconnect went on to be a primary focus for the rest of this unit.

Nature Deficit Disorder | Egan, Timothy. (March 29, 2012). Nature Deficit Disorder. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/29/nature-deficit-disorder/

“And then, in less than a generation’s time, millions of people completely decoupled themselves from nature.”

The phrase Nature Deficit Disorder was coined by author Richard Louv in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods. I have owned this book for years now, but I have yet to pick it up and read it. I didn’t want to do so for this course, however, because I think I’d prefer to read it in its entirety. But Timothy Egan’s article on The New York Times website provided a nice overview of his concept. The results of our disconnect with nature are devastating: obesity, stress and anxiety, depression, asthma, ADD/ADHD, and the list goes on…  As Egan points out, “medical costs associated with obesity and inactivity are nearly $150 billion a year.”

The list above primarily covers health effects, but the disconnect leads to economic disparities, professional and academic barriers, higher crime rates, and so on. In a later post, I plan to share a list of the benefits of a restored connection with nature which will also shed light on the risks of a disconnect with such.

All Things Are Connected | Ethics Online (Producer), & Jenkins, Joe (Director). (2009). All Things Are Connected [Motion picture]. UK. Watched from http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/all-things-are-connected/

All Things Are Connected is a short [35:03] documentary reviewing our (humans’) history on this planet, telling the story of Earth as if it were that of a 45-year-old woman, Gaia. In her life, it was only…

  • 30 minutes ago that humans invented the wheel…
  • 26 minutes ago that we constructed Stonehenge…
  • 10 minutes ago that Christianity was developed…
  • 2.5 minutes ago that Europeans arrive at the New World
  • 1 minute ago that the Industrial Revolution was sparked, “and our relationship with the Earth changes forever”
  • 57 seconds ago when the human population exceeded 1 billion. Electricity, railways and cars were invented
  • 33 seconds ago, the first world war erupts, followed by the second world war only a few seconds later
  • 22 seconds ago then nuclear age is spawned
  • 10 seconds ago, we first enter space.
  • 3 seconds ago that the population reaches 6 billion; scientists warn that while Gaia will certainly survive…

Our existence has been less than an hour of this woman’s life. The point is, “we owe everything to this membrane of life,” which some will refer to as Mother Earth.

“Gaia is no doting mother, tolerant of our wrong doings, nor is she some delicate damsel in danger from brutal mankind…..She is stern and tough, always keeping the earth comfortable for those who obey the rules but ruthless in her destruction of those who misbehave”. {James Lovelock – Scientist and Author: Gaia, A New Look at Life on Earth, 2008}

The film appropriately points out, however, that although we may think of ourselves as stewards, we are actually the slayers. Biodiversity decreases as we kill off other species; yet, at the same time, the number of creatures on this planet grows as we not only expand our own population but also that of the animals we use as food. There are 2 chickens for every person, and a total of 2 billion pigs.

Such misinformed views may be based in Christianity. We confuse the “dominion“, which is spoken of in the Christian Bible, with domination. And they were surely intensified with the introduction of Francis Bacon’s scientific method- which was based on the idea that only human beings have intrinsic value, while everything else had value only for our use. This idea is caused a major shift in our philosophical views.

Then came the industrial revolution, which caused a major shift in our attitude towards nature. We pursued human progress at all costs. We perceived the natural world as an inert machine, only there to serve humans. We think of ourselves as a glorified species, but how can we argue that we express much intelligence when we have grown so ignorant of the planet? Are we really superior?

The Superior Human? | Meng, Jenia (Producer), & McAnalle, Samuel (Director). (2012). The Superior Human? [Motion picture]. Retrieved from http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/superior-human/

After watching All Things Are Connected, I went on to watch The Superior Human?, a 2012 documentary about our mislead beliefs of superiority. It was a funny little piece that proved the nonsense behind our thoughts of superiority by framing each argument frequently made in defense of human greatness as being tailored to our specific species. Our elaborate architecture would not suit the lifestyles of other creatures, yet the homes they build (some are arguably much more technical and elaborate) are perfectly suited to their own needs. We do not have the largest population, we are not the longest living species, yet we claim our “intelligence” makes us better than all others.

As the previous documentary noted the detrimental effects of Bacon’s Scientific Method, this film noted the introduction of Descartes’ ideas- that mind and body were separate from one another, and that animals lacked the “mind” aspect. Soon came the defense of vivisection. Descartes’ was indeed refuted by some; David Hume, a philosopher and “the greatest skeptic of all time,” apparently made an argument similar to the following:

“The one thing only an idiot would deny- meaning Descartes is that animals have thoughts and feelings.” [Dr. Bernard Rollin in The Superior Human?]

In our history, it is unfortunate that we’ve needed to invent words like racism, sexism, ageism, culturalism, and homophobia. Sadly, we must add one more to the list: speciesism. The term, coined by Richard Ruder, draws attention to the unjustified preference of the human species over all others. “We are all related, other species should be like kin, not like objects.”

Realigning Nature and the City, Coyote Style | Chuck. (February 12, 2013). Realigning Nature and the City, Coyote Style. Myurbanist. Retrieved from http://www.myurbanist.com/archives/9529

I found an interesting article online. The author, simply referred to as “Chuck”, tells of his experience encountering a coyote on an urban street. We commonly think of this idea of the “city in nature” (see Garden City), but what about “nature in the city”? The more artificial examples of nature would be replaced with wild spaces. The article emphasizes coexistence, and the future potential to “reprogram places from built to natural.” The author shares discussions with landscape architects which ponder such a merger. One of the landscape architects talked about this approach and noted his understanding:

“At core, there is nothing natural in the city, he said, and anything we can do that resonates with the public and creates a sustainable result, is defensible, proper and legitimate.”

I really liked the article. However, though it started out by describing a very unexpected and informal encounter, the examples discussed later on were still very manicured and planned. I believe we need to allow for more opportunities of wild growth and development.

I’d like to include one last review before I end the post: another documentary.

The Fuck-It Point | Savage Revival. The Fuck-It Point. [Motion picture]. Savagerevival.net Retrieved from   http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-fuck-it-point/

Pardon the french! This film had the shock factor from the start with its title. What does it mean? The video starts with the following statement:

‘When you have had enough. When you decide to take matter into your own hands and don’t care what’s going to happen to you. When you know that from now on you will resist with whatever tactic you think is most effective.’

It goes back to the disconnect that was mentioned earlier. People don’t care about the planet because they live in cities, they are separated from nature and also from the destruction of so many natural things. So we need to rethink the term sustainability. One major issue, then, which we must face is the continual importation of resources; not very sustainable at all. If it is not possible to sustain civilization, then we have two options. One, we can wait for the end. Or two, we can switch to an alternative. While some people are already working tirelessly to change our current habits, others are oblivious and passive. The idea that humans are separate from nature is a relatively new development.

In the past, we have needed an entire generation to pass before the next would be open to new truths, such as the fact that the Earth was not the center of the universe. Today, however, we cannot wait for the old generation to go before the non-human centric earth belief is accepted.  We view everyone and everything as resources, not as beings with which to share this planet. But it is the best cooperating species who survive together, not the strongest will survive alone.

The documentary concluded with a recommendation that viewers take matters into their own hands, though not necessarily in a peaceful or constructive way. While I don’t exactly agree with this stance, I would recommend this film for the valuable message which was its foundation: that we are no better than other species, we are not separate from nature, and we need to change the way things are…immediately.

Clearly I was much farther behind on my literature review than I thought, as I actually have quite a bit more to share. I’ll have to get to those pieces another time.

Until then, I’d love to hear what you think about all of this! I’ve shared the links to the documentaries; all can be seen for free!

 

Biophilic Cities

This review will be of the first three chapters of Timothy Beatley’s book, Biophilic Cities.

Biophilic Cities | Beatley, Timothy. (2011). Biophilic Cities: Integrating nature into urban design and planning. Washington, DC: Island Press.

The cover of Beatley’s book, Biophilic Cities

 

[Chapter 1 | The Importance of Nature and Wildness in Our Urban Lives]

After just one chapter, I could already tell that this would be an influential book. Author Timothy Beatley introduces the reader to the idea of a Biophilic City in this first chapter by initially drawing attention to the depressing disconnect which separates younger generations from the natural world. He emphasizes the importance of nature in cities, citing economic, physical, psychological, social, and aesthetic benefits while noting measurable statistics. And, much to my liking, he concluded the first chapter by criticizing what he calls the “green urban agenda” for its failure to really address the literal green elements. As I’ve mentioned before, this has been a very big focus of my own concern, and I’m glad to have seen it addressed up-front. This chapter focused on the measurables and quantifiable reasons explaining why we need nature in our cities; yet it only provides a brief glimpse on how we can bring this nature back in. It left me in great anticipation of what was ahead. (This chapter also encouraged me to look back on my own experiences with nature, which I have written about in the post Memories of My Wild Youth)

[Chapter 2 | The Nature of (in) Cities]

The enthusiasm and optimism with which Beatley writes is incredibly inspiring without doubt, it has rubbed off! Reading about the fascinating collections of nature currently thriving in our cities, but that all too often goes unnoticed, ignites a sense of wonder and curiosity.  I must say that Beatley’s optimism is even more encouraging, for not only does he have hope for the future, but he doesn’t ignore the current overlooked presence of many wild elements! It gives me an urge to explore, and I would actually like to go about in Baltimore and document the hidden wildness of the City! It’s possible to bring nature into the city, he explains, and it’s happening! After this chapter, I am thoroughly enjoying this book!

[Chapter 3 | Biophilic Cities: What Are They?]

This book really has some exciting conversations. Although I think this chapter was a bit longer than necessary-I found the text to be somewhat repetitive – it was a good piece to read to understand the key principles and some possible metrics of biophilic urban design. At the start of it, Beatley was listing examples of good biophilic design; yet most of these precedents were greenfield development (entirely new construction on previously undeveloped land). This has been most frustrating to me, knowing that new development, despite whatever green initiatives it may boast, is a waste of resources. Meanwhile, infill development and rehabilitative design would be a much better alternative. Although the intention is good, I can’t help but disagree with the process. I recognize that some new green developments have been able to accomplish much more than would have been possible had there not been a clean slate; but, for me, it is more important to address our existing cities. As I read on, however, I found Beatley was referencing more and more redevelopment and retrofit projects, and was more than pleased with their inclusion.

I think this chapter emphasized the significance of language and knowledge. This reminded me of a Paul Gruchow quote mentioned in the first chapter:

“Can you imagine a satisfactory love relationship with someone whose name you do not know?”

That is such a powerful question, how can we expect people to respect nature if we do not even ensure they know what there is to be protected? The chapter also talked about spirit and sensibility. The understanding and connection we can build between humans and the environment is like a glue which holds everything in this world together.

Beatley also shares a similar criticism of mine: that green urbanism is seriously lacking in the green department! Although the elements of green design (efficiency, conservation, transit, etc.) are very necessary pieces of the sustainability puzzle, they fail to address ecology and biodiversity.

While reading this chapter, every idea just clicked with me and made perfect sense- my views are very much in line with Beatley’s. Incorporating concepts of organic architecture and biomimicry (see some links I’ve shared at the end of this post) in his description, he paints a beautiful picture of the ideal city that never sounds excessively utopian or farfetched. Everything he describes can be accomplished within our current means and capabilities, and have already been proven successful elsewhere. It’s just a matter of combining all of the individual success stories in one place. I didn’t really intend for this to be a review of Beatley’s book more than his ideas, but I really do think that’s what has happened. I completely recommend this reading, especially for planners. So far, it is terrific!

_____

There are some great topics in this book that I wish I had more time to review. Until I do, I recommend checking out the follow sources:

Biomimicry Strategies for Cities (as described by Janine Benyus, on p. 53 of Biophilic Cities)
1.Use waste as a resource.
2.Diversify and cooperate to fully use the habitat.
3.Gather and use energy efficiently.
4.Optimize rather than maximize.
5.Use materials sparingly.
6.Don’t foul their nests.
7.Don’t draw down resources.
8.Remain in balance with the biosphere.
9.Run on information.
10. Shop locally.

What is an EcoCity?

I was trying to have as few candid posts on this blog as possible in order to make it a reliable resource and reference for folks who wish to live an environmentally-friendly lifestyle in the city. My theory was that writing well planned posts for which I’d put in a good deal of research and effort would be the best way to do that. However, I am eager to post and rather than just move all my previous posts (from my old blog host) over at once, I’d like to get some fresh material here. So, here I go….What is an ecocity?

First off, I’m not entirely sure there is one accepted definition. Head over to Google and ask it to “define ecocity” and the results emphasize a Wikipedia submission:

A sustainable city, or eco-city is a city designed with consideration of environmental place inhabited by people dedicated to minimization of required inputs of energy, water and food, and waste output of heat, air pollution – CO2, methane, and water pollution.

This definition is built from the original ideas of theorist and author Richard Register, who first coined the term ecocity in 1987 in his book Ecocity Berkeley: Building Cities for a Healthy Future. On the website of Register’s non-profit, Ecocity Buildings, that definition is much more basic:

Simply put, an ecocity is an ecologically healthy city.

I like both of the definitions, but I think I rather prefer the simplicity of Register’s definition. Being the primary influence on my dedication to creating ecologically healthy cities, Richard Register has influenced me to take my passion to the heart of my design. Specifically, I want ever so much to help transform my hometown of Baltimore into an ecocity.

Adding to the definitions above, I believe ecological balance (which, of course, contributes to ecological health) is just important. Harmony with nature and dedicating space to non-human ecological activities will play a large part in my designs. I’m still trying to conjure up a clever new term- something that I can use as the name of my future design and consultation firm- but in the meantime, I’ll continue to refer to such cities as “ecocities.” The concept had been in my head since long ago, but I hadn’t really given it much depth until I first read one of Richard Register’s books- Ecocities: Rebuilding Cities in Harmony with Nature. It’s a terrific book and I recommend it to any creative-type, nature lover or urbanite- Well, I recommend it to everyone actually. But this book really helped me to define what my life goal was going to be. In the years since reading this book, I’ve tried to imagine what I have to do to make every city an ecocity.

Well I have the hardest time imagining the form of the ideal ecocity- I still can’t say I’ve done it. But over the years, I’ve tried. And oftentimes, I use drawing as a tool for developing my ideas. Below, you’ll see a few renderings I’ve created to illustrate an ecocity. I’m not entirely pleased as both drawings really just look like normal cities with just a bit more green, but my concept is a work in progress.

Megan Griffith working on her "Future Doodle" at the Doo Consulting Park(ing) Day space in Towson, MD. Photo courtesy of Doo Consulting.

Megan Griffith working on her “Future Doodle” at the Doo Consulting Park(ing) Day space in Towson, MD. Photo courtesy of Doo Consulting.

Megan Griffith's rendering of the urban shift- from industrial and dirty to clean and ecological.

Megan Griffith’s rendering of the urban shift- from industrial and dirty to clean and ecological.

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.