Walkable Cities

For your enjoyment today, I offer this article from Vox.com on why walkable cities are good for people and the economy.

I particularly like this quote from the article: “The most common condition is the poor person who can afford a car but it totally disrupts their finances … The unfortunate circumstance is that most Americans live in places where car ownership is mandatory.” (On this subject, AAA reports that the average cost of owning a car in 2016 was $8,500. And I’ve heard significantly higher figures from other sources.)

I get so mad when I see people of limited financial means getting eaten alive by automobile ownership!

It is challenging but not impossible to retrofit places that have become unwalkable due to the suburbanization and “automobilization” of street planning and development.

Easier, though, if we can get proactive about preserving existing historic streetscapes and town layouts, which were based on walking as the main way for people to get around. Here are some thoughts from Strong Towns on the benefits of walkability. Strong Towns is a powerful grassroots movement for addressing, at the root level, common woes of cities and towns (from fiscal to social).

Another walkability article for you: AARP on the “20-minute village” (a new (old) concept that is gaining popularity). “Although we tend to think of walking to work, shopping, cafés and parks as big city amenities, traveling by foot was the foundation of community life in small towns, suburbs and villages before the dominance of cars, parking lots and malls.

The article talks about a walkable village that rose out of the ruins of a defunct shopping mall: “Belmar — a wholly new community rising from the ruins of the Villa Italia Mall in suburban Lakewood, Colorado — features a town center complete with stores and eateries of every description as well as an Irish pub, bowling alley, ice skating rink and flourishing street life, all conveniently surrounded by townhomes and apartments.”

And from Citylab, 10 Techniques for Making Cities More Walkable.

And finally, from @JeffSpeckAICP on Twitter:

Small brain: How many cars can we move?

Big brain: How many people can we move?

Galactic brain: Why do we need to move people? Put their daily needs close at hand. #Walkability

That’s all for now! I have some other work to do, and then I’m going to meet a friend for lunch at a place that’s a nice 15-minute walk from my house.

PS. In this blog I explore at leisurely length, and in no particular order, a variety of threads related to sustainable living. If you also want a handy, compact, ordered guide that contains in condensed form the basic principles for designing your own low-footprint lifestyle, get yourself a copy of my book Deep Green! It’s available on Amazon or direct through me.

Unintended Ironies

1) Cottage industries (garage-based welding shops, repair shops, cabinetmaking operations, etc.) have been almost completely zoned out of residential neighborhoods because people don’t want the noise and traffic of commerce. But it occurred to me that our “quiet, non-industrial” residential neighborhoods nowadays are filled with the noise and fumes of leafblowers, weed-whackers, ride-on mowers, and landscaping company trucks! The noise level in our quiet neighborhoods has become rather deafening.

2) Until fairly recently in U.S. history, a large percentage of us were farmers, or somehow employed in agriculture. But farming as an occupation came to be seen as laborious drudgery. So we fled the farm for the cubicle. But it occurred to me that we are still farmers! Only difference is, we no longer grow food or wildlife habitat. We are farmers of vanity landscaping, chained to the lawn-treadmill. Oh, and actual food-growing agriculture has been zoned out of most residential neighborhoods. <Cue the theme song to “Green Acres” here.>

Just a couple of unintended ironies that crossed my mind recently. One lesson I see here is that taking some action purely to get rid of or get away from something often produces just a slightly different-flavored version of the situation we had labeled undesirable.

How about you, what would you add to this list?

Urban Food Forest Headline

The City of Atlanta is getting ready to create what will be the largest public food forest in the USA to date. It will be on a 7-acre parcel of land that currently sits vacant.

Atlanta’s move is part of the city’s plan to “strengthen local food economy to ensure 85 percent of the city residents are within one-half mile of fresh food access by 2021.”

Many towns and cities have created food forests in parks, on vacant land, or along public right-of-way.

In my city, Daytona Beach, I can envision a food forest corridor extending along Martin Luther King Blvd (it could be incorporated into the upcoming landscape improvement plan for that street), and continuing along Mary McLeod Bethune Avenue.

Besides providing residents with access to fresh food, the plantings of fruit trees, vines, and vegetables would have several more benefits including:

– improve stormwater mitigation, flood control

– increase urban shade canopy

– reduce crime by creating an attractive amenity that draws people out of their houses to spend time in the public space

– increase property values, make our urban core more attractive to both residents and visitors

– products of the forest-garden would create potential income opportunities for local residents

– shady, walkable corridor would boost local businesses by increasing foot traffic

– “Trojan horse” for the movement to eliminate use of herbicides & pesticides in public spaces

Besides urban rights-of-way, another potential site for food forests is in golf-course residential developments where the golf course has become financially insolvent due to residents’ declining interest in golf (and declining willingness to pay the mandatory club membership fees). This is a growing issue nationwide. We could transform such golf courses into food forest/fitness parks with walking trails. Residents unwilling or unable to pay golf-course membership fees might be happy to pay the fee if it were buying them fresh produce and a walking trail.

Residential developments offering a food forest (or a community-focused farm) as an amenity are called “agri-hoods” and are becoming very popular. The presence of fresh food has been shown to significantly increase property values.

Where in your city or neighborhood would you like to put a food forest(s)?

Micro Eco Actions

Micro eco actions / Bring disproportionately high satisfaction! / And though they are small, / they affect us all! / And the #GrassrootsGreenMobilization gains traction!

What are some of your favorite micro eco actions?

Here are a couple of mine:

  • When you find yourself stuck with non-recyclable plastic that’s flexible, such as those thick plastic bags that are used as packaging for cereal and crackers, or for potting soil, cut the plastic into suitably sized pieces and use as liner material for plant pots. The plastic helps to hold the water in so the plant doesn’t dry out so quickly. When I’m potting a plant these days, I like to start with a thin bottom layer of plastic that would otherwise become trash, then add cardboard or fabric, then rocks or wood chips, then the soil and the plant. (Once the plant is planted, I usually add mulch on top too.)
  • If you like to reuse postal envelopes, the photo above shows an alternative technique: Take apart the envelope, turn it inside out, and secure it with a bit of Elmer’s glue or glue-stick. Presto, brand new writing surface! This method is great for reusing envelopes that have a lot of stamps and writing on them but are still in good shape; for business reply envelopes you’re not using because you interact with the business online rather than by postal mail, etc.
  • I sometimes enjoy mixed drinks with Coke or ginger ale as the mixer. But I don’t enjoy the single-use plastic bottle! So I take one of those giant “Double Gulp” plastic cups (I have about a dozen that have been left behind by departing guests and housemates) and fill it up at the fountain at the convenience store. And keep it in my fridge where it lasts indefinitely, good for many drinks’ worth. (True, the carbonation doesn’t last, but I’m not that picky; I’m mainly after the flavor.) This is a VERY micro eco action (a more major action would be giving up soft drinks entirely, for example), but it makes me happy because it lets me enjoy a Coke now and then without the guilt of the plastic bottle.

May you take delight in all of your eco actions large and small! As I mention in my book, enjoyment is contagious and may be the best ally of green-minded social movements. Or of any beneficial social movement!

By way of a supplemental reading treat for this post, I offer you this gem of an essay about the power of small local initiatives. This piece is actually the preface to a book by John Thackara, called How To Thrive in the Next Economy — Designing Tomorrow’s World Today. But it stands on its own as a fine essay. Enjoy! (And I think I might need to read the book too.)

Beauty, and Multi-functionality

Check out my friend Thays’s ingenious setup for storing her jewelry! Not only is this highly functional; it’s also really pretty.

This creative storage method offers multiple benefits: 1) keeps the jewelry more orderly than a jewelry box – less prone to getting tangled; makes each individual piece easier to find; 2) guards against waste by allowing the user to keep track of what she owns; pass an item on if she is no longer wants it; avoid buying duplicates; 3) frees up space; and 4) creates a beautiful piece of home decor that reflects the personality of an inhabitant.

When one element provides multiple functions in this manner, the term we use in permaculture design is “stacking functions.” This means getting maximum bang for your buck. In a good permaculture design, every element should serve multiple functions. When a home or workplace is burdened by too many items that serve only one function, clutter and waste arise.

One of my permaculture design mentors told us that if an element serves three or more functions, it probably also serves a fourth function: beauty. That’s certainly the case with Thays’s jewelry hanger!

Here’s another example of stacking functions. Let’s say you have a room in your home or workplace that gets very hot in the summer as the sun streams through the window.

To cool the room down, you could simply crank up the A/C. But then you’d be increasing your fossil-fuel consumption (and running up your utility bill).

Alternatively, you could plant a tree outside your window, or put a trellis there and grow a vine plant.

In both cases, your room will be cooler. But in the second scenario, you’ll get multiple benefits beyond just cooling off your room. The tree or vine can serve as a privacy screen. And (if you grow something edible) it can provide you with fresh food. Furthermore, it can serve as habitat for birds or other wildlife. And if it’s a flowering plant, it can provide food for pollinators. That’s five benefits from one element! And six, you will be adding beauty to your place.

What other examples of stacking functions come to your mind? Write me and share some of your favorites!

In closing, I’d like to put in a plug for my aforementioned friend Thays Pagani-França, who is a professional artist. A highly successful and public-spirited one, who often lends her talent to environmental causes such as sea-turtle conservation. Visit her website ArtByThays.com to see her beautiful, brilliantly colored paintings. P.S. She teaches classes too!

A/C Conversations This Week

Conversation #1

Friend on phone: I’m calling because I figured you’d be the person to ask. My air conditioner is quitting on me, and it would cost thousands to get a new one. I’m seriously thinking of not replacing it. Did you tell me you’ve gone without air conditioning before?

Me: Not only have I gone without air conditioning; I have never voluntarily used air conditioning in my adult life. And, you would be surprised how easily the body adjusts. In two or three weeks without a/c, your temperature envelope will have shifted, and after a while, you might start to need long sleeves when the temperature gets below 80! And with the a/c gone, you won’t have to worry about that family member you’ve been having trouble with, who comes and stays for weeks on end and doesn’t contribute any money for bills.

Her: Hmm, good point! That’d be a bonus. Well, I’m going to give it a try. I’m worried about mold and mildew though.

Me: Open the windows. Get rid of the carpet; just use scatter rugs in winter to insulate your feet from the cold bare floor. And don’t try to own too many leather shoes or bags.

Conversation #2

Me on phone: Hi, I need an air conditioner removed. How much would you charge?

A/C company: Removed? Are you getting a new one?

Me: No. I don’t use a/c. I want it gone and the freon properly disposed of.

A/C company: This is literally the most bizarre request I’ve ever heard. You are talking about trying to live without air conditioning in Florida???

Me: Not trying; I already do. It’s actually not a big deal. I didn’t move to Florida to be cold!

A/C company: But – Aren’t you worried about mold and mildew?

Me: Never had it, except for one pair of leather boots that broke out in mildew some years back. [Note: And they were not ruined. I seem to recall I just cleaned them off with a dilute vinegar solution and then oiled them, and they lasted me several more years.]

A/C company: But what about when you sell your house?

Me: The new owners can get themselves an air conditioner if they want. Anyway, I’m not selling my house. I live here.

A/C company: But if the unit isn’t broken, why not just let it stay there?

Me: Ummm, it’s ugly and it’s taking up space. I want to put a bird bath or a rainbarrel there.

A/C company: Unmmmm OK I’ll ask our guys if they can do this.

(She got back to me the next day, but I had already found another licensed a/c professional, who came right over, captured the freon for proper disposal, and had the unit removed. The photo above shows my new birdbath occupying the freed-up space. Now that I have a birdbath in my yard (will be adding more water sources over time, but this is a start), I can apply to the National Wildlife Federation to get my yard certified as wildlife habitat. To find out how you can do the same, see the link at the end of this post.)

Conversation #3

Me: I have a question. Mold, this mold that people say is such a problem if you don’t run the a/c … I’ve never had any! At least I’ve never seen any. Other than one pair of leather boots that got covered with mildew overnight one time. If there were mold, where would it be?

My neighbor who has done some handyman jobs for me: Well, if you had any damp areas of your house. And if you didn’t open the windows. Or maybe if you had carpet. Or closets jammed with shoes and clothes.

Me: Mmkay, I’m probably safe.

[Note: A good friend of mine, who also lives without a/c in Florida by the ocean, says she has on occasion had a bit of mildew on an item of clothing or shoes that were jammed into the back corner of a closet. But it was only on occasion, and the stuff was fine. So even if you have a lot of clothes and shoes, it’s do-able.]


On the subject of wildlife habitat, and getting your yard or balcony certified, the National Wildlife Federation website says, “Rapid and large-scale changes to our lands and waters mean wildlife are losing the habitats they once knew. Every habitat garden is a step toward replenishing resources for wildlife such as bees, butterflies, birds, and amphibians—both locally and along migratory corridors. Visit this NWF page to learn more and find out how to get your yard certified.

And, for tips on living without air conditioning if you want to try it, check out this post I wrote awhile back.