Thursday, February 26, 2015

Dumb Design: Mobility

In class Tuesday we discussed the things we saw in our surrounding environment that we thought had a dumb design; and collaborated on how we would fix those issues. Then we were assigned to write again about dumb design, except this time dumb design in mobility.

On my way home from school, I was sitting on the TRAX train and saw the accordion space between the two trains. On one side of the accordion section was seating facing the outcrop of the train to protect the accordion section. The seat closest to the wall was something I had noticed before, but never really questioned until this class. The seat barely fits a smaller person and rarely have I ever seen two people sit together on the seat because of how uncomfortable it is. This was my first example of dumb design in mobility.

The next thing I saw was a walking/biking trail in the new neighborhoods being developed in Vineyard city. This trail is choppy, and difficult to maneuver in sections as the plants have started taking over the territory of the trail. Most people bike, run, or walk along the street as it is more comfortable, and the road isn't, as of yet, highly used. Roundabouts are used to slow traffic in some areas and the walking/biking path looks like an after thought placed in to appease residential complaints for the lack of a sidewalk.

We were asked to "photograph the condition to illustrate your blog, and create a well crafted analysis and description of your design or policy solution."

As far as the seating on the TRAX train I have built a SketchUp model of what I propose for future train seating construction. This allows people to actually sit in the space next to the accordion and more room for people to stand and hold the railings in that space. As of now people just stand hovering over the empty seat. We could also replace the seats facing the accordion section with a bike rack for better bike storage.

When thinking about the redevelopment of the new Vineyard neighborhood roads, they placed in a winding walking path, to I guess make it more interesting. The back and forth bends are fairly frequent and it looks a bit overkill. I would straighten out the path and cut back the plantings on it's edge. Then I would shrink down the lanes from two lanes to one going both ways and add a curb or island protected bike lane on the road so people get in the habit of sharing the road. This would help keep the speeds down on the road even when more commercial and residential developments are built.

I am not sure why we still build residential roads with two lanes both ways and still avoid adding bike lanes consistently, but I wish that would stop. I realize that the second lane "adds infrastructure" for greater developments, but keep it to one lane with a bike lane and walking trail. Cutting back lanes makes people mad, designing a enjoyable bike, car, and pedestrian street makes people feel ownership because they can use it for more than just driving. When we drive on roads we don't get attached as much to the place as if we bike or walk. Add details and green space so everyone can enjoy the street.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Dumb Design

Badly Designed Home
In our last Green Communities class we were asked to blog about dumb design. It was easy to think of things that were considered "dumb design," however, difficult to think of something interesting to write about. After racking my brain for some time, I sort of gave up. This morning, I got in a dumb design and drove to the Frontrunner station. Sitting on the train I looked out over the fields and mountains trying to come up with something. That is when it hit me, the dumb design I choose to write about is our homes.

suburban home
The thing that brought this to my attention was the front door. In most homes it is placed smack dab in the center. Why? It isn't for symmetry, nor is it for convenience for the owners of the home. Most people drive, and even if they ride their bike it is stored in the garage or near the driveway, why not put it closer to that?

The next thing I thought about was storage, that is to say dressers and closets drawers etc. If we spend so much money for homes when we buy them why aren't they built with better closets and storage already built in? Why do we have to turn around and by dressers and other things that cost hundreds to thousands of dollars to add to it all? If we are already going to spend the money on the home why isn't it built more with the user in mind? One potential answer is people like rearranging things and would rather be able to move things for a fresh look to their home. I get that and think it is a valid argument. There still are other storage pieces I wish homes were naturally built with, especially in the garage.

toilet flush
As I continued to think about how many inefficiencies our houses have, I thought about water usage. Water from our toilet is "flushed away," water from our sinks go down the drain away from our sight, water from the shower washes away dirt then also down the drain away from our sight, why isn't any of this water reused in the home? Why doesn't it come out at a more conservation minded flow?

Questions to think about:
Why aren't homes built with better natural insulation right off the bat? Why do we rely some much on electricity and not as much on natural light? Why haven't we put more time and laws into place that force us to use more sustainable energy? Why in school, were we taught that it doesn't cost that much for electricity so it doesn't really matter if we leave the lights on? How have we come to the point where every "waste" goes away from us into someone else's backyard? Why aren't we made more aware of what our waste truly does? Why hasn't recycling been made standardized in our homes, and cities? Why are doors usually made to swing out? Why do we build our homes the way that we do?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Image of a Green Organic City

Green Organic City
We were asked to imagine what it would feel like to be part of a green organic city. Before I describe that, I wanted to get into what it would look like to help you better feel it also.

Picture the last city you were in or the city you currently are, now add a mixture of larger windows and solar panels on the sides of the buildings where the sun hits most. Then, add edible plants and vegetation of all kinds on all their roofs, and outcropping surfaces. These changes would better heat, cool, and power those buildings.

Recycling Center
Next, remove most of the cars and add protected bike commuter lanes. Then add public transportation and run that, as well as stop lights and street lights, on solar power. In between bike and car lanes, and walking paths place sections of edible vegetation. Build or remodel current buildings to be recycle centers, and have them located in every district with recycling bins on several street corners. The recycling centers in every district will also have attached community centers with recreational facilities. These centers will have classes on the reuse of products, bike maintenance, gardening, healthy eating, exercise, finance, and other social, economic, and environmental life skills.

Community Garden
Each neighborhood district will also contain a centralized community garden or energy garden. These gardens will be evaluated and planted with crops or energy sources that best fit its environment. The community cultivates and maintains the gardens and the crop, the crop being energy or food, and is shared with the city as a whole. Revenue generated by the crop will be spent on upkeep of gardens, community centers, recycling centers, and district redevelopment.

With this image of a green organic city now I am able to move onto what it would feel like to be part of it, and allow you to feel and help develop it as well. The first feelings that come to mind after describing this green organic city are: fulfilled, clean, peaceful, healthy, fun, enriching, included, safe, and empowered.

Building Community
This type of city would not only be self sustaining as a whole, every district or community would be a crucial part to a greater economy, healthier environment, and social equality. We would all work together in our communities to make them better, and make other communities within our cities better. We would be united and feel a part of something.

I know that this idea might sound like communism or socialism, or whatever words others would put to it, but what it really is meant to do is bringing responsibility and choice to everyone the opposite of potential critiques. Making us finally accountable for what happens in our neighborhoods, it is making us see and be able to control our own futures.

What is your image of a green organic city?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Soliphilia and the Zero Waste Project

I have been racking my brain to see how I can make a difference today in the world in which we live, in class on Tuesday a young lady came in and spoke to us about the Alta Sustainability Leadership Awards. Although this didn't give me an idea it did solidify a feeling I had the other day to finally put a project into play in order to improve the world around me.

The thought that popped into my head was "Zero Waste", a post that I was trying to write but couldn't get the right angle on how to write it. Today we were asked to write about soliphilia - the love of and responsibility for a place, bioregion, planet and the unity of interrelated interests within it.

This idea of the zero waste stems from my soliphilia for my neighborhood, Orem, Utah County, Utah, the United States, and the world. I have been made aware of my waste and want to participate in not only reducing my waste, but eliminating what I don't recycle. Everything can be reused or repurposed, my problem has been knowing how to do that.

That is why I'm creating the Zero Waste Project. The Zero Waste Project is basically getting educated and making changes in our lives to reduce product purchases and our carbon footprint, reuse products, and recycle everything.

I have almost no clue on how to go about doing this, that is where the other part of soliphilia comes in. We need to work together to get educated, then make a change.

Things I know:
How can I reduce product buying and my carbon footprint?
First a carbon footprint is the measurement of amount of carbon your activity emits on a daily basis.

- Was is this bad? It's bad because the amount of carbon dioxide we emit is messing with the delicate balance in our atmosphere. Too much carbon dioxide = more trapped heat, and that leads to a lot of potentially negative effects.

(Before I started studying Urban Ecology, I had heard the term carbon footprint, but didn't really know what it meant. This part is to help those of you who don't know what it means.)

To reduce our carbon footprint there are a lot of things we can do. Drive less, turn off your car instead of letting it idle, use less of the AC and heater, turn off lights, only plug your phone in when you need to and don't have it plugged in over night, (this one is tough but) watch less tv/netflix, use natural light more, turn off your computer, unplug appliances you aren't using, close the fridge door faster or don't let it stand open, try switching to solar power to charge phones and appliances, or switch your home to solar power better insulate your home, bike more, walk more. There is a ton we can do!

As far as products,
How can I reuse products?
I have a few shirts that have holes in the elbows. I can give them to the DI, mend them, or make them into something else like a blanket, bag, dog toy, scarf, bracelet, braided rug, dish towel, pajama pants, pillow or pillowcase, doll, belt, sling, home decoration, bean bags, beanie, Halloween costume, bibs, patches for other shirts or coats, etc.

Shoes can be donated: Nike's Better World

Here is a list of other ideas on how to reuse your stuff: Ways to Repurpose Old Things

How can I recycle everything?
It's not easy right now to recycle everything, but we can start small and grow from there.

Orem does a recyclables pick up every other week, they just came by this past week which gives us a little bit of time to prepare. Call Orem city and they will get you a blue recycling can, it needs to be the blue one, because everything else gets taken to a landfill.

There are hundreds of ways you can get started in this process, if you have other easy, creative, and/or fun ways please share in the comments below!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Dilemma

In class last Thursday we were broken up into groups of four and each given separate roles in a particular dilemma. One role was a city council member, a second role was a city planner, a third role was a single parent, and the last role a family with a new born on the way.

City Council Member:
The city council member had just received funding for a new school that was to be built a few miles from a higher trafficked highway, and a single parent development that was to be within 300 feet of the highway. They received the funding for that project and were asked to begin the process of designing it and building it. The commercial buildings near the highway bring in a great amount of revenue.

City Planner:
City planner has studied and knows that housing built within 300 feet of higher trafficked roads places children especially those under the age of three at high risk for health problems. It is the city planner's job to make sure all projects that are carried out are done so with all parties in mind, with a focus on improving the social, economic, and environmental health of the city or communities.

Single Parent Family
Single Parent Family:
The parent currently lives in a not as good neighbor hood and sought out a realtor to find a place in the neighborhood where their friends family lives. They have put down a deposit on a dream home in that neighborhood, and then were informed by the realtor that the neighborhood wouldn't be safe for the kids to live in because it is in close proximity to the high trafficked highway. The parent has 12 hours to back out and get their deposit back.

Family with Newborn:
The family loves their home, and neighborhood. It is in close proximity to all the highway entrance for easy access to work, the grocery store, parks and other amenities. It is their dream home, and if what the realtor says is true, it isn't safe for their newborn, and they won't be able to sell their home if others find out.

After receiving this dilemma and having read over our roles we first established the problems or concerns of each party involved.

  • The single parent needs to find a new place to live preferably near their friend, and get their deposit back
  • The family has to figure out how to sell their home if it comes out that it is bad for children. They also need to find a new place to live, that could still be similar to their dream home.
  • The city council member now knowing this information needs to find a new place for the housing development, potentially losing their funding.
  • The city planner needs to figure out a solution that will appease all parties and still be in line with what is best socially, economically, and environmentally for the city and communities. The city planner needs the residents to speak up in order for the housing development to be moved from its current planned location.
We were given 40 minutes to come up with possible solutions to these problems. At first it wasn't easy, we all played our roles and tried to get the best outcome for ourselves. After all our problems were on the table we could start discussing potential solutions.


  • Single parent first should get their deposit back.
  • The neighborhood where the family lives should be rezoned for commercial use, allowing the family to sell their home.
  • Those in the neighborhood informed and encouraged to install HEPA filters and other precautions to reduce potential toxins.
  • The city to build a green screen buffer between highway and residential areas until redevelopment is completed.
  • The new development tabled until better location(s) can be found for the development
  • The current place for the new development rezoned for commercial use, boosting economy further, as well being an appeasement to maintain funding for the development and allowing it to be changed to mixed-use housing with certain portions being designated for single parent families. (Also allowing the single parent family to move to one of these new developments with their friend family.)
  • In further redevelopment of the city bike lanes can be added, bus public transportation increased, and car pool lanes added to promote alternative modes of transportation or reduced traffic on the highway. (Eventually adding in more permanent public transportation systems making the city a more walkable place.)
  • Introduce these issues into the education systems of the city.
Several other solutions were submitted, but as a group we decided on the listed solutions above as they were the solutions with the best possible outcomes for all parties. There will come a time when each of us will play one of these roles, I share this with you all in hopes that it may help you achieve the best possible solutions for your future community as well as understand the process and needs of other all decision making parties. (The process is below.)

  1. Identify all affected parties
  2. Collaborate and list all the potential issues that may arise
  3. Think through all possible solutions and their scenarios
  4. Decide upon best possible solutions
  5. Implement short and long term strategies to help you achieve those solutions in the quickest and most effective time frame.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Precautionary Principle

Precautionary Principle
About 3 hours ago I had no clue what the Precautionary Principle was, so I am not claiming to know everything about the topic, not even slightly. For class we were asked to read the three links at the bottom of this page, and they were listed in the reverse order from how I have them listed. I listed them this way on purpose, because if you actually want to be able to stomach it all this is how I would have read them. You don't have to read them, but I think a lot of people will find them interesting, I did. (Keep in mind the third article on this list is thick with information. If you can make it down to the section on asthma and highway exposure that is where I think it gets most interesting.)

What is the Precautionary Principle?
"The 1998 Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle summarizes the principle this way:
When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.
All statements of the Precautionary Principle contain a version of this formula: When the Health of humans and the environment is at stake, it may not be necessary to with for scientific certainty to take protective action."

The Precautionary Principle
They put it a lot better than I could. If you want to learn more about the principle you will want to start here the Precautionary Principle FAQs, then read the Precautionary Principle background and explanation.

If you are anything like me clicking that link and reading the articles might be too much to ask of you, so here is a synopsis of what is there:

Q: Why should we take action before science tells us what is harmful or what is causing harm?
A: Just because we don't have loads of proof doesn't mean we should wait until we do. An example of this is smoking. They couldn't show case studies that smoking caused cancer until a lot later, but that didn't mean they couldn't tell people to stop because they believe it leads to cancer.

Q: How do we implement the precautionary principle?
A: "Any action that contributes to preventing harm to humans and the environment, learning more about the consequences of actions, and acting appropriately is precautionary." Meaning take measures to stop current harmful actions, and prevent future ones.

Q: Why do we need the precautionary principle now?
A: Why is this even a question? We have so many harmful activities, chemically or otherwise, happening around us right now, and we have the left over toxins from years of harmful activities floating all around us. We need this now more than ever.

Background and Explanation:
"The release and use of toxic substances, the exploitation of resources, and physical alterations of the environment have had substantial unintended consequences affecting human health and the environment. Some of these concerns are high rates of learning deficiencies, asthma, cancer, birth defects, and species extinctions; along with global climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion and worldwide contamination with toxic substances and nuclear materials...We believe there is compelling evidence that damage to humans and the worldwide environment is of such magnitude and seriousness that new principles for conducting human activities are necessary...Therefore, it is necessary to implement the Precautionary Principle: When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically."

After reading all this including this last article on "Near highway pollutants in motor vehicle exhaust" I was surprised we haven't already put an end to our current gas guzzling cars.

This is where the precautionary principle should have kicked in a long time ago. If you don't think cars are a harm to humans and the environment, look up what the top five killers of people in the US are. You can also look up the amount of injuries that occur even on a monthly basis from motor vehicle accidents. This isn't even mentioning the "high rates of learning deficiencies, asthma, cancer, birth defects" that are caused, at least in part, by motor vehicles. If you want to argue any of them go outside any high traffic, or even low traffic road, on a day where inversion is visible and tell me how you feel.

No Cars Beyond This Point
We know that smoking kills, and have made massive strides in eradicating it. We know that cars are the number one killer in the nation, but have done little to nothing to eradicate it. I have a car and drive also, so I am inditing me just as much as anyone else in this. If cars lead to this so often why do we still drive? Add the pollution from cars and highways, lack of exercise, and disconnection from society that leads to suicide and other things and cars just might be the most lethal killer in all of history!

Now what do we do with this information? Public transport is hard to use and can't get you everywhere you want to go. Use it as much as you can. Write to the city and state and ask for lines to be expanded, seek to supplement driving with walking or biking where possible. Do what you can to make our environment, and families safer.


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Are We Nature Hostile People?

During our last Green Communities class we watched 2 Ford Sportka Commercials and discussed the topic "nature hostile." Below I found a clip that puts them both into one. The first one shows a bird against the car, and the second a cat. (I would recommend stopping at 38 seconds, if you don't want to be appalled and horrified.)

We were asked at the end of the class to search for places, experiences, objects, advertisements, and so on that showed a hostility towards nature. I chose the following selections because they aren't done by completely heartless people, as was the one above. They also demonstrate the negative hostility and positive love for nature and our planet. This first one show a negative opinion of nature by attaching the long commercialized feelings towards vultures:

This next video doesn't seem inherently negative towards nature, but there are subtleties like the factory in the middle of a forest, the rabbit being run over (didn't happen in this video but that is what would have happened in real life), and so on.

This next one I selected is positive toward nature. I chose to share positive messages, because, as our professor often says, words create worlds. One of my goals as an Urban Ecologist is to switch the messages we are collectively sending to be ones of positivity. Not only do people respond better to positive messages, but they have a greater effect for change. This video showcases beautiful shots of our country and world and is set to "This Land is Your Land". The message at the end is "The world is a gift. Play Responsibly." One other piece from this video that I wanted to focus on was, the Jeep always being on a road, not roaming all over the countryside. As they stated the world is a gift, not a play thingy. We are responsible for its care, and roaming all over creation destroying habitats is not responsible!

I wanted to list this video to adapt or add to the last video's message. The world is a gift, and we are responsible for its care. We are also responsible for the care of those around us. This video talks about children suffering in other nations, and closes with, "just because it isn't happening here doesn't mean it isn't happening."

I wanted to expand that thought to our environment as well. We can turn on the faucet and water comes out. We can flip a switch and the light comes on. Not everyone has that luxury, and at what costs are we living in luxury?

Downstream the water runs out because how much we use, and to get that electricity, coal is mined by fellow human beings in terrible conditions. "Just because it isn't happening here, doesn't mean it isn't happening."

Water, electricity, gas, and other resources are gifts, we need to employ them responsibly. I used employ instead of use because of its changed meaning. We use something and "throw it away", but as one of my previous posts mentioned, there is no away. Our air pollution in Utah doesn't just affect us, it affects everyone on the planet. That pollution seeps into our streams, and is blown to other areas. What we do affects everyone, we are all connected and there is no away. Let us treat our planet and each other with respect.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Balancing a Planet with 7 Billion People

I was sitting in my Green Communities class the other day and at the beginning of each class we have the opportunity to share something cool that pertains to our field of study. The video below was shared in our last class. After you watch it I wanted to share a few things:

Towards the end of the short clip it says:
"So it's not space we need, it's balance."

7 Billion People
Then gives the following facts:
- 5% of us consume 23% of the world's energy
- 13% of us don't have clean drinking water
- 38% of us lack adequate sanitation
7 Billion People:
- Speaking more than 7,000 languages
- Living in 194 countries

7 billion reasons to think about 7 billion.

I wanted to focus this post on the balance mentioned here. It isn't asking us to live without these things, it is asking us to be aware of them and seek to do better with what we are given.

Often times I feel a little helpless as to what I can do, or even guilty some times at the messages presented to me. You aren't alone, there are 7 billion of us who feel or experience this at one time or another in our lives.

Starfish Story
I want to share a store that, I feel, will help us know at least where to start.

A man was walking along a deserted beach at sunset. As he walked he could see a young boy in the distance, as he drew nearer he noticed that the boy kept bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the water. Time and again he kept hurling things into the ocean.

As the man approached even closer, he was able to see that the boy was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time he was throwing them back into the water.

The man asked the boy what he was doing, the boy replied,"I am throwing these washed up starfish back into the ocean, or else they will die through lack of oxygen. "But", said the man, "You can't possibly save them all, there are thousands on this beach, and this must be happening on hundreds of beaches along the coast. You can't possibly make a difference." The boy looked down, frowning for a moment; then bent down to pick up another starfish, smiling as he threw it back into the sea. He replied, "I made a difference to that one!" 

Leave No Trace
You don't need to do everything yourself, nor can you. In the video over and over again it used "us," meaning together we can make the difference. Turn off a light, start recycling, shut off the water while brushing your teeth, use your car less or walk and bike more. Donate to good causes, or seek to volunteer. Plant a garden or eat locally grown food. Conserve energy, and reuse waste, in Boy Scouts we practiced the motto: leave no trace. These are simple shifts we can all make in our lives to leave smaller traces, and help give back and make the world a more equitable place.

All 7 billion of us are human, and we have a lot more in common than we do differences, no matter where we are from. What more can you do to improve the lives of those around you on our planet?

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.