Thursday, January 29, 2015

What are You Wasting?

organic waste
In class on Tuesday we were asked to write about our own excess, or in other words what we are wasting. Last semester we started our Intro to Urban Ecology class by looking at a Starbucks coffee cup, and all the hidden energy it took to make it. We talked about the upstream and downstream cycle of the cup including what materials went into its creation and where it went after its intended use.

I will focus on the after the cup is used cycle, and how it relates to what I have wasted over the last 24 hours. The last few days before this class period, I came home almost every day to find our garbage can full of trash. I'd empty it out only to find it full again within 1 - 2 days. Thinking that I didn't contribute much to the flow of trash out of our house, I thought this a well timed observation.  Here is what I "threw away" in the last 24 hours:
  • 1 craft singles cheese plastic wrapper for my sandwich
  • 1 paper towel 1/2 sheet from wiping the counter
  • 1 inch long piece of spinach stem that fell on the floor
  • 1 Rice-A-Roni Box with mix packet for my lunch
  • Gas in my car that idled for 3 mins (before I turned it off. I was pulled over for doing a California rolling stop at a stop sign at 11:56 PM in the middle of nowhere.)
  • Electricity for my laptop as I browsed the internet.
  • Electricity for the fridge I left open while making a sandwich.
  • Extra water as I left the faucet on while rinsing my mouth after brushing my teeth.
Somehow the garbage can was full again after "throwing away" the few things I did. I was still surprised at the excess waste that I found in my life from just letting things run or needless trash. Honestly, I felt helpless as to what I can do to reduce the things I placed in the trash or how they could be reused. That was until I watched the following video:
I looked up projects for recycling in Orem and found their schedule. They pick up recycling every other week and only accept certain things. Those certain things did not include the following:
  • Plastic bags and clear plastic wrap
  • Video and cassette tapes
  • Shredded paper
  • Glass, plates, mugs, and pots/pans
  • Food, liquids or yard waste (like the organics in the video)
  • Food-soiled cardboard, paper cups/plates
  • Carpet, cloth or textiles
  • Used paper towles/tissues
  • Construction/industrial debris
  • Electronic waste
  • Automotive parts
  • Medical/Bio hazardous waste
Some of the items Orem City won't recycle can be picked up by Dunn Recycling, a private company. For those items still not accepted by these two companies there are other sources in Utah that will take the rest. The recycling program isn't fantastic, but the more we use it the more it will grow.

We could do similar to what is being done in New York, by asking to buy city government's organic waste for our own community and home gardens.
If interests in organic material were to increase in the city's eyes, they would work harder to collect more as they are now able to turn a profit. This could be one potential solution, but what are other potential solutions for helping city and state governments to be more recycle friendly?

Monday, January 26, 2015

There is No Away

As I was looking for my class "Show and Tell" piece I came across this video:
Last semester in Intro to Urban Ecology we talked about the face that there is no “away." I, as I am sure you as well, use the phrase "throw away" on a daily basis.

I see a piece of plastic and I toss it in the trash can, where all useless things go. It's trash, it served its purpose and now has no further use. After watching this video my eyes were opened, and I was reminded of the "away" principle I was taught last semester. There is no away.
I throw a piece of trash away, but where does it go? Most of the time in a trash can which hides it from my view, and masks any potential scent. I empty that trash can into a larger garbage can so a dumpster truck can pick it up, and take it "away" to a refinery or landfill.

Is it "away" from me? Yeah, at least for that moment, but it's not truly away. It could come back by acid rain, toxins in water, stench on a windy day, disease from degraded environments of people or animals, and so many other ways. It's never really away!
recycled products
This video brings value to our everyday trash. The thing I use, might have outworn its use in that form, but what other good could come of it? Next time you place something in your "trash can" think how else it could be used, or what more could come of it! Every pebble has a purpose.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Green Walls

I've heard of (and studied) green roofs, at this point I think everyone has at least heard of them once in their lives. In class on Tuesday I heard a new term that strangely I had never thought of or heard before: green walls.

The term "green walls" includes all vegetated wall surface types. And green façades, living walls, retaining living walls, biowalls, vertical gardens, modular green walls, vegetated mat wall are all types or other names for green walls.

I am not sure why I felt the idea so revolutionary, when it would have been so easy to take the green roof idea and move it down to the walls or even the floor. (Yeah I said it green floors, talk about really being surrounded by nature in it's original state! Wake up in the morning and your feet fall upon warm grass. This isn't me advocating the idea only taking the existing and connecting it to other similar areas.)

As I searched for more information on green walls the first several results, outside of wikipedia's green walls page, were all commercial companies completely ignoring the real benefits of having green walls. They listed things like: "There is no better way to brand your company as being "Green" than with a beautiful Living Green Wall by Ambius." If you want to be superficial that is probably who you should use to build your new green wall.

To their defense they did state a few other benefits to having a green wall, just on other pages:
  • Plants look attractive
  • Provide a pleasant and tranquil environment
  • Plants help reduce stress - "We experience less stress when there are plants around us."
  • Buildings are more stimulating and interesting
  • "People in offices [with green walls] are more productive, take fewer sick days, make fewer mistakes."
  • "Patients in hospitals benefit greatly from being more in touch with nature."
  • "There is even evidence showing students perform better in improved learning environments."
  • Plants improve air quality
Green walls or interior plants also help with:
  • Reducing carbon dioxide levels
  • Increasing humidity
  • Reducing levels of certain pollutants, such as benzene and nitrogen dioxide
  • Reducing airborne dust levels
  • Keeping air temperatures down
  • Plants help lower background noise
(I am using this information from, and a lot of their information can at least in part be supported in the article "The Effect of Indoor Foliage Plants on Health and Discomfort Symptoms among Office Workers")

The best list of benefits I was able to find came from, the Green Roof's website page: (See their page for more information on each benefit)
  • Aesthetic Improvements
  • Reduction of the Urban Heat Island Effect
  • Improved Exterior Air Quality
  • Local Job Creation
  • Improved Energy Efficiency
  • Building Structure Protection
  • Improved Indoor Air Quality
  • Noise Reduction
  • Marketing Potential
  • Increased Biodiversity
  • Improved Health and Well-Being
  • Urban Agriculture
  • Onsite Wastewater Treatment
To close my post, I ask you and me to think about what other current ideas we have, and how can we expand them into other areas?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The City Today and Our Lives as Flâneurs

The title of this post for most of you might be a bit confusing, so let me start out with a definition and explanation.

Flâneur - an idler or lounger, or for purposes of my Green Communities class the word means to be an engaged observer or diagnostician.

Our cities today are the product of years and years of "planning" and refined "best practices" that resulted in massive sprawl and freeways spider webbing throughout the country. In other words we have set rules and guidelines for how to deconstruct your cities, towns, and green spaces while you do your best to make them work.

I used the phrase "make them work" on purpose, as I thought it a great transition into today's topic.

For the longest time we citizens have, for the most part, been silent observers of the chaos happening or rather being planned around us. We haven't had incredible influence into the plans of our cities. If we are the ones using our cities and have little to no say in how they are created, then how will they ever become a place we would love to live?

nothing about us
My professor (Stephen Goldsmith), can often be heard in our lectures saying: "Nothing about us without us is for us." Reread it, and let it sink in: "Nothing about us without us is for us." If anything that has something to do with you is planned without you, how can it ever be for you?

That leads me to the point of the post, I have been observing the path I take in my every day life. I have tried to break every building, road, design, and type of transportation down to its roots to see if there could be a better way to do it; one that is designed for us, with us actually in mind.

U of U Marriott Library
On my way home from school I broke down some of the specific buildings that helped structure my path home. The first being the Marriott Library, as that is where my class was located. I thought it interesting that the only exit points from the library are one on the north east and a second on the north west of the building. From a birds eye view they are seemingly close together, and there is no exit to the south. In addition to this when exiting the building on the east there are cigarette dispensers sitting 30 feet outside of the main doors to the library, which always gives the pleasant aroma of death as soon as you leave the building, because that 30 foot barrier doesn't account for wind.

UTA Trax
As I continued my trek towards the Stadium Trax Station I found myself walking along the raised walkway on the back side of the field house staring at a white wall, and the Trax cables with a backdrop of the stadium's fence. This pathway, as well as many others, weren't designed with people in mind.

So much more could be done with these spaces, and it is our job as the future residents of our cities and towns to rethink every detail and design them in a way that is for us. I challenge each of us to not only evaluate those areas that we just try and make work, but also voice your opinion on them. Take part in your community and let us as a community make it better!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Green Communities Intro

Green community
The posts over the next several weeks will be blog entries from the subjects we discuss in my Green Communities class at the University of Utah. During our first class, we discussed what Green communities are and looked at how "best practices" have all but ruined the economy, environment, and social fabric of our towns and cities. 

This post specifically will discuss my view of what a Green city is and cite text from "EcoCities." 

To start off we were asked to define what we believe a Green Community was, and in the moments we had in class, this is what I was able to pen:
A green community is a sustainable community, one that is not only sustainable but enhances and enriches the environment around it. A green community doesn’t emit toxic or unbalanced levels of anything. A green community if evaluated similar to any other ecosystem in “nature” would look no different or rather would have every part carrying out its ecological function to build or contribute to the whole. In other words zero pollution.

I wanted to build upon the idea, to help others better understand what I believe a Green Community really is. To do this I wanted to share 2 quotes from EcoCities:
  • "The quality of life depends largely on how we build our cities. The higher density and diversity of a city, the less dependent it is on motorized transport; and the fewer resources it requires, the less impact it has on nature." - Richard Register, EcoCities
  • "Cities need to be rebuilt from their roots in the soil, from their concrete and steel foundations on up. They need to be reorganized and rebuilt upon ecological principles." - Ecocities
I believe it should be impossible to differentiate a Green Community from any other ecosystem on paper, their definitions should be the same. There should be no waste which leads to everything in the community being reused exactly how any ecosystem would function. Organisms should build and contribute to the whole, all having their important role in the ecosystem to to play.

"We have overshot the optimum in cars, suburbs, and sprawl and their attendant patterns of energy waste, pollution and environmental destruction. We have overshot the mark in losing community and identity among thousands of acres of huge tract homes in former family farms - with even more demand for more roads, concrete, parking." This, our current model of city needs to be rethought and rebuilt as if from scratch. We need to rethink energy. We need to rethink transportation, social settings, and economy. If we are ever to eliminate our footprint on the planet we need to function fundamentally like the rest of the planet. No waste, no borders, no class or differential treatment.

"Building the ecocity [or green community] will create a new cultural and economic life"

Sustainability News

Check back for more news later


I just wanted to take a moment to send a personal message out to all those in the fields of Landscape Architecture, Gardening, Horticulture, and Urban Planning/Urban Ecology. I created Landscape Connections for the purpose to share my love and passion for Landscape Architecture and Design, and Urban Ecology. I was a Landscape Architecture Major at Utah State University and currently study Urban Ecology at the University of Utah. I am working to compile as much information in the four previously mentioned fields as possible. If you have any further information, or would like to either add information or see information posted to landscape connections please let me know.