Building Repairs May Lower Crime Rates: Is this even a Question?

Here’s an article I came across that discusses the deeper roots about crime within communities with struggling and/or decaying buildings. I think there are many obvious reasons such as long-term poverty, lack of political priority, as well as public and mental health issues that all combine to help determine crime rates in a city or even further into distinct neighborhoods. It only makes sense when one stops to consider how our built and natural environments affect us that we can then start to make some connections between crime rates and decrepit buildings- to me this is obvious.

Homes that have been foreclosed upon and boarded up usually signal that the neighborhood needs help, and typically what comes with that are some urban problems that may be stereotypical but often sadly play out in the real world. Boarded up homes don’t look good to outsiders or those within that community- it’s a constant visual reminder of distress, which only brings on more stress to those that are directly affected by having to witness these homes everyday. Not to mention the activity that can go on in these abandoned buildings- criminal matter, stray animals or simply a dry place for the homeless to sleep in- these buildings can often be hubs for attracting nuisances.

In the article, it talks about an ordinance that Philly used requiring that all abandoned homes have working windows and doors if the neighborhood is 80% inhabited, and thus houses cannot be boarded up. Think about it- most of these homes were in working condition and at least livable before they were vacated, so what’s the point in boarding up perfectly good homes? Naturally, to prevent people from going in. But Philly has taken these steps in efforts to decrease the negative perceptions within communities that have seen vacant homes pop up through parts of neighborhoods. How one perceives where they live impacts their health and productivity, and I’m glad that at least one city is taking this into consideration. A quick search also led me to The Vacant Property Coalition of Detroit. Taken directly from their site:

Michigan Community Resources provides The Vacant Property Coalition of Detroit as a platform to unite diverse residents and neighborhood-based organizations across the city. We equip them with the knowledge, tools and resources to address community concerns related to vacant property through education, advocacy and community-driven problem solving.

I’m glad to see there are a few places out there attempting to do some systemic work towards this issue and I’m sure there are more out there. If you know of any organizations or ventures out there that are working towards keeping housing usable rather than boarding up neighborhoods, join the conversation!

The Northwest Forest Region- Unfinished Business but Room for Improvement

This is a written piece that I submitted in my Geography and Policy class, as we’ve been learning about the expansion Westward and the management of federal resources. I thought I would repost since it’s relevant to sustainable resources and critiques of models and resources out there. If you’re unfamiliar about the forest issues in the Northwest region, their is a great timeline from High Country News. Thanks for reading and sharing!

Nathan Rice’s article, “Seeking Balance in Oregon’s Timber Country” (2013), provides a clear summary of the interwoven issues present throughout the Northwest region. While reading a majority of the articles on High Country News, I kept having the same reoccurring thought: “Why does the government have to separate and deal with issues and solutions in such compartmentalized ways?” By reviewing the Northwest’s history in land use decision-making, political intervention, and economic strife, it’s clear to see that regional efforts have not been as successful as hoped but still leaves room for improvement.

Wilkinson discusses the five “Lords of Yesterday”, which were five political-economical decisions made by the U.S. government, and are all still in existence today in some form or another. These five lords treated land and water management all as separate entities with no relation. Mutual benefits and consequences of these five lords and where they overlap were only considered after problems became too apparent through environmental and political pressures. Even after science could prove that land use affected water use and vice versa, approaches to mitigate problems were often kept separate, which only exacerbated problems.

Though the creation of the Northwest Forest Plan (NFWP) in the 1990s was a critical attempt towards greater regional resource management, “it has proven more successful in stopping actions harmful to conservation of old-growth forests and aquatic systems than in achieving restoration goals and economic and social goals” (Thomas et al., 2005). In other words, it has made progress but has stopped short at improving the interconnected and mutually interdependent relations amongst the many geographical regions involved. This has left these regions’ economies and socio-political beliefs in a state of turmoil which has reinforced negative relationships with the federal government and private enterprises, as well as how to approach environmental conservation.

Platt gives the history from 1970 to 1998, where 26 separate acts and amendments were passed in the name of environmental protection. Many of these acts have been hugely successful, while some have clearly been defeated and are practically nonexistent due to their inability to work within already existing laws in a functional manner. This is more common that not; especially in land use planning laws. For example, comprehensive plans are made often to delegate land use approaches, but usually require zoning ordinances to be changed in order to reflect these appropriate uses. If the zoning cannot be changed, then the comprehensive plan loses its luster and validity overtime.

In “Landscapes of Conflict: The Oregon Story 1940-2000”, Robbins gave examples of the “new” environmental laws throughout the 70s and 80s along with their lawsuits that often resulted in long circular arguments. The use of pesticides and management of old growth forests in Oregon, though seen as separate issues at the time, were ultimately related. After the clear-cutting of old growth trees, pesticide usage prohibited the natural growth of forests, which in turn prevented adequate re-growth of tree varieties that supported the spotted owl. Today after years of protecting old growth forests through the NWFP initiatives, the barred owl has moved into the areas where spotted owls were meant to repopulate. Could it be the forest conservation practices over the last 20 years have allowed for a barred owl population boom? Furthermore, could heavy use of pesticides throughout the 70s have left the spotted owl populations in such a state of genetic vulnerability that their offspring could not possibly make a comeback?

Why has the U.S. continued this approach of separating and compartmentalizing issues and responses of natural resource conservation and sustainable use? It’s generally accepted through science and past political interventions that sustainable use requires looking at the larger scale and accepting its many components as interrelated and dependent on each other. Why is it that solutions are drawn up as separate policy proposals and picked apart so much until they are only minor stand-alone Band-Aid approaches? This is why I am in my dual degree of regional planning and public policy. This country cannot continue making policies that are decided and implemented in a vacuum-sealed fashion.

With the world’s current state in climate change, this compartmentalization approach is also apparent in our international policies in how we mitigate and adapt our resource use and future development. If stakeholders only consider some of the facts and decide which are relevant, rather than looking at the entire picture (the good and the bad) and all of the interconnections, then we will continue to over-use and under-protect natural resources and further degrade the planet. Thomas et al. suggest that focusing on activities that “contribute to all facets of sustainability” is imperative and must be met with “a better balance of short-term and long-term risk” (2005). I agree in that future management must consider social implications of surrounding communities and their reliance on these resources not just for physical consumption, but also economic viability, ecological resilience and political strength.

The ability to consider all of the dynamic facets involved in current management and future sustainability of the Northwest forests region is critical and imperative. Accountability and evaluation should also be strived for to further the NWFP, in order to measure how effectively goals are being met, review strategies and allow for changes if necessary. I believe that as a sustainable planner, decisions cannot be made without considering all of the small parts of the bigger picture. Unfortunately, there is a careful balance that is hard to strike between humans and the environment. Nonetheless, we should always strive for balance at every opportunity we have in sustaining both ecology and the human experience.

The International Drama of E-Waste

While surfing the web, I came across this visual article titled “Computer Recycling in Africa“. This site also has other articles, videos, and is a unique recycling company that accepts donations throughout Sydney of e-waste. Looking through the pictures is pretty horrifying, knowing that these are not made up images of some made up people. Though I’m not sure which countries these are happening in, this form of “recycling” is also happening in other places like China and India. These are real people working with old computers and waste materials in unsafe conditions for little-to-no pay. If you’re not familiar with e-waste, it’s just short for electrical waste, which involves anything technological of the waste stream such as cell phones, computers, laptops, and televisions.

Men working to separate parts from computers to trade in the metal scraps for money. Photo credit http://free-computer-recycling.blogin.com.au/computer-recycling-in-africa/

What’s common with most e-waste of today is that if it’s not refurbished and reused in the country it was originally purchased, it is shipped internationally to countries in Africa or Asia to lay in wastelands, where local inhabitants have developed an economy on scrapping the metal, wires, and parts in order to trade for money or other materials. What is typical of this process is that there are often no regulations in the scrapping process and how these e-waste materials are handled, or who is handling them. In some places, there are settlements that are built on trash dumps, or very close by. Burning, burying, and extracting of the waste is commonplace, without much to be done about the chemicals that are let off into the air, ground, and local water. The saddest part about this is that it’s an understood international practice, usually promoted by countries with high GDPs that can afford the mass amounts of technological wastes and then ship it to countries less developed. Public health, the environment, wages, and thus lifestyles and equity are all jeopardized as part of this process.

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Chart displaying electric products and their disposal/reuse/recycle. http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/ecycling/docs/fact7-08.pdf

Some resources I found about e-waste if you want the numerical facts are here and here. While the sources have varying numbers, it’s safe to say that not enough of e-waste is being recycled and instead is being disposed of in harmful ways. It’s important to stop and think about the privilege many of us having reading this post all of the technology we possess and rely on on a daily basis. It’s even more important to stop and think before you trash your technology because you want/need to replace it, and even more to make sure that when you think you’re recycling, to verify and ask just where and how your electronic waste is being recycled. On the EPA there’s an eCycling page that displays information on where to recycle e-waste in the U.S. There’s an interactive page where you can lookup where to recycle different kinds of e-waste including stores like Best Buy and Staples, as well as the technology companies like Samsung and Panasonic. I know that Whole Foods also allows you to bring in electronic wires/cords and cell phones to recycle. I encourage you to look up where you can recycle your electronic products for the future, so you’ll be ready next time. Yes, it would be great if municipal waste management programs moved towards recycling electronic waste, but the funding for this is probably the largest argument against it. For the time being, it’s on each individual to be mindful and responsible for their purchases as much as they can, cradle to grave.

Passive Homes- Sustainable Architecture at a Cost

A passive house like the one seen above, a project from Parsons the New School for Design in 2011, is so well insulated that it needs little or no energy for heating and cooling. PHOTOGRAPH BY MATT MCCLAIN FOR THE WASHINGTON POST/ GETTY

On National Geographic News, Wendy Koch writes an article piece with video included of new Habitat for Humanity D.C. homes: “Thermos-Like Passive Homes Aggressively Save Energy.” Intrigued, I read the article and watched the video to get a glimpse of the higher cost, certified PassivHaus windows needed for the homes. Morally, I think Habitat for Humanity does overall great work. I also love finding new materials and designs for sustainable and energy efficient architecture. Do I think this is a neat undertaking by the organization? Yes. Do I think it needs more testing in the appropriate environment/weather conditions similar to D.C.? Yes. Should it have been implemented yet? Not sure. Wendy Koch writes:

They stand out in other ways: 12-inch-thick exterior walls and triple-pane, imported-from-Ireland windows offer more than double the insulation required of new homes. In lieu of a furnace, tiny, wall-mounted Mitsubishi units provide heating and cooling. 

After watching the video, Dan Hines (construction superintendent) left me not quite sold that these are the most appropriate approach for D.C. homes. Though he explained that the upfront cost would outweigh the further costs on heating/cooling energy bills, I’m concerned if the building design will be able to stand up to the weather of D.C. and if they will in fact live up to what they promise. What if the humidity of D.C. summers is too much for the tightly constructed homes and thus the owners need to run air conditioning? What if we continue to have extreme cold-blasts? The article then explained:

Set to house low-income families, the rowhouses are on track to do something the president’s place nearby has not—meet perhaps the world’s strictest energy rubric: Passive House, popularized in uber-efficient Germany and now gaining ground in the United States.

I set out to find more information about Passive House and after a quick google search found PassivHaus, the company that originally started the movement in Germany. After thoroughly reading their materials and services, I’m convinced that their architecture is sound for Germany and similar climates.  Maybe this is the skeptic in me but I’m still wondering how these standards and certifications will hold up in the various climates and climate changes experienced in the U.S. and other parts of the world? The U.S. has its own Passive House Institute (PHIUS), started by the German architect Katrin Klingenberg.

They’ve generated their share of controversy. In August 2011, Germany’s Passivhaus leader Wolfgang Feist severed ties to PHIUS, saying it was not requiring enough documentation to certify projects. Feist has also criticized PHIUS’s push to adjust the standard to varying climates.

Apparently in late 2014, Climate Specific Passive Building Standards were reviewed in order to be implemented this year, but I did not see updated standards yet on the PHIUS Technical Committee Overview page.  Thus this leaves me uncertain if these homes are such a great idea to already be built, without definite standards that relate to different U.S. environments. I mean, especially if you’re giving these homes to low-to-zero income families, whom do not have extra money lying around to buy a space heater or air conditioner if necessary, or need to make repairs to the home. Should Passive Home-owners be given tutorials on how to manage their home and make appropriate repairs in order to still be compliant with the strict standards? What if a window breaks, how will these home-owners pay for such expensive, imported constructions? (Yes I know that is such a big what-if, but I still think it’s a legitimate question that needs answering)

Furthermore, I wonder if PHIUS is working with any U.S. companies to design their own windows and insulation products that mimc the materials ordered from Europe? If these designs are really going to work in the U.S. and take off, then there should be building contractors and companies that can work together to support the U.S. economy, as well as make the projects as cost-efficient as possible so that the model is sustainable and continued. Not to mention the “new” technology which could add to the growing sustainable design market.  Apparently the PHIUS consultants cost more for projects to make sure the homes are built certified, but how long will this continue? Also, will architects all eventually have to be some sort of energy-efficient or sustainable-design certified at some point in the future? That last question could spark an entirely new post for another date. 

Habitat for Humanity, keep rocking out. PassivHaus, nice learning about you and keep progressing. PHIUS, some advice. 1) You should probably formalize your slides before posting them to your public site and 2) figure out standards for the U.S. sometime soon if you want to make it big and truly change sustainable architecture.

Automobile Reliance v. Urban Fabric- What’s at Stake?

On reading the post Urban automobility, a dead paradigm that we refuse to abandon.. from the blog Scientia Plus Conscientia, I was reminded of just why I, as a future planner, want to work in the planning field. His post talks about the automobile and the reliance on it overtime, and how ultimately is just unnecessary in many large or megacities. It often creates more of a hassle through traffic and road design and has lessened the social fabric and vibrancy of cities over time. Through suburbanization and a societal built-up reinforcement that the automobile is king, it has disconnected people from their place as they travel about the city in their shielded vehicles, isolated from their surroundings and other people, and thus limiting their interactions with everything around them.

To put it simply, as a planner, I am in it for the people’s interactions with their environment. I’ve always been keen on these interactions since my beginnings in anthropology and later sustainability and civic engagement studies. Seeing how people interact with their “place” and what their sense of place is and means to each person, has just always been of a huge inquiry and passion. When a city becomes dominated by the automobile, that urban fabric, the social interactions and street ballet that Jane Jacobs would refer to, becomes limited naturally so. Many people would ask: “How can a city survive without the automobile?” I’m not arguing that we need to get rid of cars altogether, especially with the point that we would need to figure out how to totally adapt the emergency services as well as long-haul deliveries of goods. But I do think that urban planners and stakeholders could really push for more public transportation methods that could decrease the primary reliance of the car. As Scientia Plus Conscientia writes:

A cleverly and densely laid system of tramways, subways and trolleybus can effectively and cleanly deal with the necessary mobility of millions of people, not to mention that people can be encouraged to walk or cycle. Taking cars out of the streets liberates the space for living and meeting, which leads to enormous positive social side-effects because people start having more opportunities to meet and knit the social mesh, something that it is often lost in modern megacities. We have some good examples of this at hand: Vauban, Freiburg (Germany), Pontevedra (Spain) or Hydra (Greece), where parts of these cities have been closed to car traffic and had then been reclaimed by people as living, playing and meeting space, positively contributing to the local social well being and democracy.

Photo credit: Metro Jacksonville

Photo credit: Metro Jacksonville

A common practice amongst planning committees is to establish a “road diet” within heavily congested cities. This usually means taking out a few roads, or reducing lane sizes on roads, in order to improve other transportation methods throughout the city and/or promote social and commercial interactions. Many international cities are developing their own ideas on how to combat against the automobile and bring the streets back to who they were built for- the people! In 7 Cities that are Starting to go Car-Free, various methods are described such as re-designing streets for pedestrians only like in Madrid, doubling bike lanes in Paris, or encouraging the building of “Green Networks” (roads designed for bikes and walking between various city parks) in Hamburg. Sometimes these initiatives begin as simple experiments, but when the city leaders and transportation or environmental analysts see their positive effects on lowering emissions, traffic, and sometimes increase social spots, they will plans and policies. Some cities are even offering incentives by not driving vehicles, while other cities are witnessing coop or share businesses growing for bicycles or smaller, low-emission cars.

I think that if planners want people from any living area to reduce their reliance on the automobile, they do need to make it easier for the people to make such changes. Incentives and positive reinforcement, just like in education and training children or pets, works great! A system of consequences can also work well, as long as they are strictly enforced, and also made publicly known to civilians. I also think that these decisions should not be made by just the planners or officials, but should actually be mostly developed by the citizens of the community. There are many companies now (this will be in a future post of mine) that work with city officials and planners to get citizen involvement in the decision-making, development and implementation processes. Often times when plans are not made by the citizens, they are not received positively and feel more like an imposition, thus reducing morale and productivity of the policy or plan. When people are engaged in the process of decision-making, there are usually greater results in pride and common goal construction, as well information and resource sharing[1]. Bright Spots is one report that I can share, but there are many other reports out there on the web. This report was found on the awesome website National League of Cities, and they also have a commentary WordPress blog CitiesSpeak. In the end, civilians, planners, and leaders all need to figure out just what they want to prioritize in their communities and just what will work for them. By continuously giving in to the car industry, and pretending that environmental or public health problems- let alone our heavy reliance on oil to power automobiles, we are just denying ourselves the chance to better our communities. Sure it may take some hard work and a bit of ingenuity and borrowing or meshing together of ideas, but isn’t that chance for healthier, livable communities worth it? I think yes.

[1] Head, B. (2007). Community Engagement: Participation On Whose Terms? Australian Journal of Political Science, 42(3), 441-454.

Garden Planner- A Resource for the Food Planner

garden plan

As a resourceful planner, I thought I would see if the Farmer’s Almanac had moved any of their brilliance online, as a way to share resources and farming techniques with others who may not buy the paper almanac. It turns out they did! I discovered on their site Garden Planner, an entire free 30-day resource that allows you to map out your garden space! You can your planning page for $25 for yearly access in order to make modifications to your garden, as well as make additional plans (the free trial only allows you to make one plan). This planner allows you to be realistic about your garden space and how it will be used up within every square foot

There are some tutorials on the main site, as well as a gallery where you can view published garden plans and even look up ones close to where you may live. Plant grow guides are available for most plants, and the site also allows you to add plants they may not have, and edit information about them to publish for future use. The plant varieties are customizable but most varieties are already on there, including organic and hybrid plants.

This site is extremely helpful because it provides a printout of when to sow your plants indoors, outdoors, and when to harvest them according to the month. It can even send you email reminders for when to sow if you allow it! I’m including my garden for a reference, but just want to say that as a visual learner and planner this site really helped to take my ideas and turn them into reality without the scariness of making the drawing accurate. Thank you Farmer’s Almanac Garden Planner!

Recycling Plastic Film Locations- A Resource for Simple Sustainability

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Recently I’ve been considering packaging and how that is a major part of buying anything from the grocery store, or any retail store for that matter. As one of my resolutions, I want to eliminate as much packaging and wasteful plastic use as possible. This is hard to do considering much of the food I buy is from Trader Joe’s- I love the store! However my major issue with them is how most of their produce comes already in plastic bags or cardboard and plastic-wrapped containers.

One of the ways to resolve this could be to shop at other holistic stores and local grocers or farmer’s markets to pick my own produce there, and bring my own bags. This is something I really enjoy and now many cities are offering winter markets, so you can have fresh seasonal produce all year long! I also have made plans to design my own garden (another hobby of mine) so that I can grow most of my food on a plot, instead of having to buy it-this will be in another post titled Garden Planner. Another way I realized I could help is by making sure I save all of the plastic packaging I get and bringing it to a site specifically made to recycle just these materials. In most single or two-stream town recycling programs, there is not a way for the plastic machines to handle the thin plastic sheets and bags that are leftover after we’re done with our products. The plastic is too thin and when it is mixed with the larger, harder plastics, it can actually get stuck in the processing machines and cause them to malfunction. However, more towns are finding ways to handle these plastic films often in the form of plastic shopping bags, Ziploc bags, and plastic packaging.

Recently I found the website PlasticFilmRecycling.org. Here you can find locations by your zip code to see where to drop off your plastic film leftovers. There is also information on what sorts of plastic are accepted, and then eventually what they will be recycled into! The plastics currently not accepted are the plastic bags for pre-washed lettuces and for frozen foods, along with compostable bags. However, there is still a ton of packaging that can now have a place in the recycling stream. There’s even a tab that helps you to start your own collection program, as well as report places that take these recyclables but is not in their directory. Check out the Wrap Recycling Action Program page to see how to get businesses and stakeholders of communities to get involved too! I think this is great especially for communities that are trying to reduce their packaging and being civically involved in a collective effort.

As a planner, an environmentalist, and a civic-minded person, I want to do my part and make sure from now on, I save all of my plastic packaging and film, bring it to the nearest location, and feel good that I do not have to wonder what exactly is going to happen to the leftover packaging. I hope you will visit the site, spread the word about it, and find your nearest location to help recycle these plastics that are often seen as small but really have huge impacts on the environment.

The Social and Health Inequities between Water, Sanitation, and People

Entire Collage

As part of my History and Theory course, we were tasked to create a visual project based on what we chose to focus on at the beginning of the semester. After toiling with many ideas, I decided I wanted to make a collage of photos pasted on canvas portraits that I had lying around for almost a year. Below I included the books and websites I used to find my pictures- there’s even an entire digital format with all photographs of the book How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis! If you hadn’t read it or at least looked at some of the photographs, do so- you’ll be able to see social mindfulness and visual ethnography at its beginnings and documentation of what it was really like to live during the industrialized period. Two other great books to learn about sanitation and clean water history and cultural implications of dirt history are Filth: Dirt, Disgust, And Modern Life and The Sanitary City.

My intention was to show a contrast of present times with the historical beginnings of sanitation methods involving water and clean cities, along with how human interactions with each other and their environments are dependent on the level of sanitation and access to clean water. The contrast of present day color photos with black and white photos from the past are selectively pieced so that black and white historical photos are in the background, though still always present in today’s times of color photos. Many of the photos show humans reliance on water and sanitation for many purposes, such as for drinking, sewer and waste removal, employment, cleanliness, and enjoyment. We see that humans’ struggles, resilience and forms of success through ingenuity with cleaning water and cities is an issue that is present over time, though manifests and changes according to trends and locations around the world and is often done with the aid of planners. Ultimately, lack of clean water and sanitation is a social inequity that leads to health decline in the environments and its people throughout history, and we see that this dynamic though may seem resolved, still needs much work to be done today in order to reach global, social and health equality.

*If you would like more information about where I got my photos from, and what sources I use, please ask. Also, this looked much better when it was hung up on the wall as part of the gallery walk through, but I forgot to take a picture…Each canvas has its own photo as well as the collective piece in one photo.

   

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Bottom Left Corner20141209_231723

Bibliography of Pictures

Cohen, W. (2005). Filth: Dirt Disgust and Modern Life. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

How The Other Half Lives, by Jacob Riis. (2012, July 12). Retrieved November 5, 2014, from http://www.authentichistory.com/1898-1913/2-progressivism/2-riis/index.html

Hoy, S. (1995). Chasing Dirt: The American Pursuit of Happiness. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kostigen, T. (2008, July 10). The World’s Largest Dump: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Retrieved November 5, 2014, from http://discovermagazine.com/2008/jul/10-the-worlds-largest-dump

Melosi, M. (2008). The Sanitary City (Abridged ed.). Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Parker, L. (2014, July 15). First of Its Kind Map Reveals Extent of Ocean Plastic. Retrieved November 5, 2014, from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/07/140715-ocean-plastic-debris-trash-pacific-garbage-patch/