Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Earth Day

1.  Remember that denser cities are actually much more "green" than the suburbs.  See the book Green Metropolis.

2.  There are a bunch of interesting articles out there, including one by Jonathan Franzen in The New Yorker about climate change ("The Other Cost of Climate Change"), how individual action at the micro scale is seemingly meaningless, which makes it hard to engage people in "doing things to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

He mentions two small-scale projects in Peru and Costa Rica, to "save places" by actively engaging local residents in managing those places and reaping sustainable economic value from their activities, which incentivizes taking care of those places rather than abusing them.

Still, I suppose then that it is easier to go to a concert over the weekend than to take specific and meaningful actions at the household or community scale.

3.  WAMU-FM/NPR had a nice story on DC's capturing of hazardous wastes ("D.C.'s Last, Best Stop For Electronic Junk And Household Wastes").

And Marketplace reported on something that I have been meaning to write about, that glass bottle recycling is problematic.

Also, plastics recycling is becoming less viable economically because the drop in oil prices means that the cost of new plastic is much cheaper than it had been.

4.  Problems with glass recycling support the concept of bottle deposit laws.  It's not that there isn't any substantial market for recycled glass, but that people put so much stuff in with glass that isn't recyclable, making the cost of sorting astronomical ("High Costs Put Cracks in Glass Recycling Programs," Wall Street Journal). From the article:
Curt Bucey, an executive vice president at the company, said that when used glass arrived at its plants 20 years ago, it was 98% glass and 2% other castoffs, such as paper labels and bottle caps. These days, some truckloads can include up to 50% garbage, he said.

“Now what comes with the glass are rocks, shredded paper, chicken bones people left in their takeout containers, and hypodermic needles,” Mr. Bucey said. The company has had to invest in expensive machinery to separate the glass from the trash, then has to dispose of the garbage, making recycling a much costlier equation.
By contrast, in those states, like Michigan or California, where there are "bottle deposit" laws, so most glass is recycled through collection points rather than through curbside recycling, there is much less contamination of the bottle waste stream.  (Although it's still expensive to ship glass because of the weight.)

5.  Yesterday there was a conference on toward a zero waste agenda for DC, which I forgot about, caught up in the massive rewrite of my transportation wish list for 2015.  I hope that it was recorded.

6.  And DC also released the 2015 Sustainable DC Progress Report.  A couple of weeks ago the City of Los Angeles released it's first sustainability plan.  But I learned at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference in February, that Santa Monica was one of the first cities to adopt a sustainability type plan, in the mid-1990s.
7.  On Sunday, the City of Takoma Park--sponsored by Main Street Takoma and the Takoma Park Food Co-op, had a very good small "Earth Day" Festival, with a mix of for profit vendors, activities for kids, and nonprofit and government agency exhibitors.

I was impressed that one of the exhibitors was Communities for Transit, the advocacy group formed to support Montgomery County's bus rapid transit program.   (Note that there is a disconnect with their logo.  The organization promotes BRT, but the logo is designed around fixed rail transit.)

One of the for profit vendors, Razar Sharp, had a micro-electric lawn mower and an electric-powered chipper-shredder, which I have my eye on.

8.  It's the kind of community outreach and capacity building event that I wish DC would do more often.

The closest DC gets to these kinds of events is a street festival.  Leesburg had their Flower and Garden Festival the weekend of April 18th, but we weren't able to get to it.

So--except for the vagaries of the weather--there is a "hole in the market" for a spring street festival around Earth Day to early May, focusing on green, environment, home and garden type activities.

By co-branding a flower-garden-home festival as a "green" and "Earth Day" type event, I think it could become quite successful.  (I aimed to create a home type event in Brookland when I was the Main Street manager there, but didn't think about the potential for a green-Earth Day tie-in.)

9.  Takoma Park is a semi-finalist participating with 49 other cities in the Georgetown University Energy Prize contest.   They have a variety of neighborhood and citizen engaging programs underway as part of the competition, and as a way to implement sustainability programming.

-- Takoma Park sustainability program

For example, the Takoma Park Library allows people to check out energy use meters, to gather information on their appliances and electronic devices.

One of the programs is modeled in a way after the Certified Wildlife Habitat program of the National Wildlife Foundation.

There are two levels, and participants can get a sign to put in their yard.  It's a Green Home Certification program, which has three levels of certification: light; medium; and dark green; and two categories, for multifamily and single family housing.

I like how Takoma Park uses their city logo as the design foundation for logo designs for initiatives and agencies.  It brings a consistency and reiteration to their communication efforts that other communities often lack.

Serious behavior changes, financial outlays, and outreach to neighbors have to be made in order to get the highest level of certification.

DC does have the RiverSmart Homes program, but this Green Home certification program in Takoma Park is even more impressive.

10  I wish that the US would adopt some best practice promotion practices of the European Union.

One relevant to Earth Day is the "European Green Capital" program, where cities compete for the designation based on their sustainability and environmental practices.

Each year, one city is selected to present a year-long festival of green related actions and activities.   This year the Green Capital is Bristol, England--which is a fascinating city beyond this year's Green Capital event.

11.  Voting day for the UK election is about three weeks away and there is a good chance that Bristol may elect the nation's second Green Party Member of Parliament ("Bristol West: Painting the Town Green," New Statesman).  Candidate Darren Hall ran the application process for the city's candidacy as Green Capital. The city has 6 Green Party Councillors as well.

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At 7:30 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

re: Trash and recycling

To take a step back, the problem is the Solid waste law and recycling mandates by weight. Glass is heavy and so worth collecting.

The article cites brings up the single stream problem. From previous articles the same problem occured with the China based companies that take it back -- they got tired of the trash in the recycle bin.

so, basically, a bottle mandate by removing weight from the trash would make it worse for DC in meeting the mandates.

Bring multi-unit (and thus) private collection into the circle would help.

At 8:37 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

... at the hearing when DC "trashed" recycling, I was followed by the CEO of Tenleytown Trash Removal, and he was really good.

We did talk about this.

2. When I was angrified by the trashing of the recycling, I did some research and got a paper from a Temple professor, hypothesizing how to do recycling at multiunit properties in cities. He focused on Baltimore, using some examples from other places.

I think the problem with multiunit is like the problem with households. Mixing lots of stuff that doesn't belong. I see leaves and branches and stuff in recycling bins all the time out here in the "outer city."

... food, styrofoam, etc.

although partly I think we should mandate use of recyclable-compostable containers, and food containers should have guidance about what's what. (E.g. is an Edy's frozen yogurt container recyclable.)

3. But I agree. I did want to go to that conference yesterday. In my written testimony (which I guess I should put into the blog), I think I suggested that DC has the opportunity to pilot if not best, at least much better practices for multiunit recycling and composting.

Right now that isn't in the Sustainable DC Challenge planning, sadly.

At 9:02 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Lookng through our mutli-unit waste stream, I'd say the recylcing is 90% clean -- the biggest offenders are used pizza boxes.

That said, I'm sure the paper/carbboard there is contaminated and useless.

I'm not even sure our stream (KMG) is recycled or just burned. I'm guessing burned.

FWIW, that is why I take my paper/carbboard out to Arlington still.

At 10:22 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

according to an article on the multi stream recycling facility that I read years ago, they have a chipper for pizza boxes, knowing they'll be discarded into the recycle stream. (It's why I do it now, although sometimes I tear them up for the compost. But it's also one of the reasons it's better to make your own, say with Litteri's dough, although I am working up to making my own... This does require pre-planning though.)

At 12:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

it always puzzles me to see people that insist on recycling, turning off unused lights, etc., who casually get in a huge SUV and commute two hundred miles roundtrip. There is a real disconnect here in this lack of consistency- but I see this constantly. Another item- I also see many so-called counter culture people who are enamored of 1960's cultural movements who are ostensibly " green" oriented but they mostly live in suburban sprawl and live a car- centric lifestyle . They do not understand the personal behavior aspects of living in a walk able transit oriented place- and they seem to associate the country and even suburbs with being more ecologically sound than living in a dense city. This is incredibly backwards but also very widespread behavior and is emblematic of the people who are our age or older Richard. Although I disagree with some statements in Green Metropolis , I also recognize it as a groundbreaking and seminal attack on this complacency that is so endemic among liberal thinkers who call themselves " green" when they are really little different than Rush Limbaugh.


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