Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Seeing the Unseen

On Thursday of last week, we were experimented on. No our brains weren't dissected and we weren't left in a room without a way to tell time. What did happen is as normal we all sat down ready for our lecture. About 15 minutes into the class Professor Goldsmith asked us all to stand up and segregate ourselves. The girls stood up and moved to the left side of the room, and the boys stood up and moved to the right side of the room with about a four-five foot dividing line in between us.

Immediately I felt uneasy. Before everyone got up and moved I had a girl to my right, a guy to my left, a girl in front of me to the left, two guys off to the right in front of me, two guys behind me to the right, and one girl behind me to the left. After the move the girl to my right and the boy to my left switched places. The other guys didn't move. The girl in front of my and behind me just moved over a little very little change actually happened around me.

So why did I feel uneasy? In class one of the individuals made a comment to the effect that girls always have to over perform to prove themselves, and guys just have trust and all given to them. It was also mentioned that girls are looked down on as second rate citizens.

Although those feelings maybe true in places I grew up in a home where this wasn't the case. It was in the area I grew up in, and it is sad. The predominant culture where I grew up was much that way.

However I am not! I managed a team that was about 1/2 girls and 1/2 boys at a company I worked for, and they had all mentioned that at other places they felt they were often looked over for leadership positions just because they are women. Not only were they some of my better employees, they became team leads on my team not because they were women, but because they deserved those positions.

It is crazy that these things still happen. I am dating a young lady right now, and she is amazing. Drastically better than myself, although she begs to differ. I might be more adept at some things, but in other things she is well beyond my abilities. We are equals, as we should be.

Sorry for the mini rant back to the experiment...when we were separated I felt tense, unsafe an uncertain about what was happening. It was difficult for me to talk and comment, and I actually started to feel anxiety which I never feel. Why? The people surrounding me almost all stayed the say, they just rearranged.

I finally was able to make a comment, and that comment was the fact that I felt unsafe and a girl rebuttaled with the question, why? (In sort of a demeaning tone.) That stuck with me. Naturally girls are more nurturing than boys, but I feel that some are starting to throw that natural instinct off as if it is a bad thing and puts them behind or something. It doesn't, if anything it gets them ahead in the grand scheme of things.

Why did I feel unsafe, and uneasy? I don't know but everyone else did as well. It might be because I have tried to be as inclusive, understanding, and non-judgmental as possible, and when the barriers that I have personally broken down are forced upon me by others I feel uneasy, just like everyone else was.

So why would another human who knows me by face only ask that question of me? Especially when we are physically lead to be separated or divided into teams. That if anything destroys work that has already been done.

What was interesting to mention, was the fact that on my TRAX ride home I was surrounded by males and didn't feel the same as I did in class. So it had to be the fact of what happens naturally instead of a man made construct of separation. What is the challenge for today? That is a great question, and one to which I really don't have an answer. I guess, try and be as equal to all ethnicities, genders, etc.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Singapore A Model to Follow

Singapore Biophilic city
In class on Tuesday we watched the following video and were asked to write about what inspired us, or repelled us, etc. As I watched the video again and thought about the amazing things they have been able to accomplish in Singapore, it added that much more hope for similar results here.

In the US we have a long way to go, but I can see and feel the momentum building. (Watch the video below)

Green Economy
I mentioned momentum, because these ideas are shared by thousands of individuals across the country, and pin pricks of urban acupuncture are cropping up all over the country. A few weeks ago I didn't know what a green wall was, and actually saw one in real life being utilized in California.

It is awesome to see the changes happening everywhere, and as the evidence builds that these changes are improvements and cost effective they will get routed deeply into our culture, where as now they are only seeds and chutes cropping up here and there. 

Every journey begins with a single step
Again while in California I saw everything from green roofs to green walls to organic greens, bike paths, walkable communities and so much more. And the hardest part to participate in this movement is the start. So as I often quote, Just Do It. Start biking, start recycling, start eating better by growing your own garden, walk to the store, plan a hike, or have an outdoor party with the neighbor. Reconnect with nature!

At the end of the Signapore Prime Minister's life they looked back on his legacy, a legacy of reconnecting people with nature. What will your legacy be? What things will you leave behind, or make better for those to follow? The changes we make today can affect us, and will affect our posterity. I hear all the time "work today for a better tomorrow," but I say work today for a better today and tomorrow will be brighter as well!

All of the things we see in this video are possible, after all the video and the city of Singapore is proof. Let us catch that spirit and cultivate it here in our communities by adding more pin pricks of urban acupuncture to our neighborhoods, and streets. The road to our future starts with a single step!

Find out more of what you can do here: UrbanStrategies.com

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How I Visualize Change

urban acupuncture
I spent my break in California, a place full of environmentalists and new ideas. Not all of them are good ideas, but they are ideas nonetheless.

It was interesting to see some of the ideas that were all over the place, as I visited San Francisco, Santa Cruz, San Jose, and Monterey. In a few areas I saw organically grown sandwich shops that were so expensive I was surprised anyone frequented them. Other areas had raised speed bump looking curbs.

I decided to search for cool urban spaces, and here is what I found:


The videos were interested and exciting to see what is possible, whether practical or not.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Neighborhoods of Tomorrow

Every day in class a few students are given the opportunity to "show and tell" something they found interesting in the world of Urban Planning. On Tuesday one of our classmates shared the following video about an apartment building remodeled:

I was extremely impressed by the drastic change and feel this apartment building had, and all they did was enhance what already existed. They didn't tare the building down, they envisioned what it could be.

For this post we were asked to compare the housing and neighborhood where we live to those described in the reading and in this video and the video at the bottom of this post. I put the other video at the bottom of the post because the narrator is horrific, and background music makes me want to vomit therefore making it hard to watch. Despite his voice and the music there are some cool examples of what we could do here in Orem, Utah.

In that video it states that "Freiburg is...a window to the future," and it is because they use solar energy and have built their city to be strongly oriented towards "walking, bicycling, and public transport, with car-free areas and high levels of accessibility for people of all ages."

The streets are clean and the buildings are colorful, attractive, detailed, and made efficiently. The city looks as though nature is there with dots of civilization, instead of Orem's civilization with dots of nature.

Before I get into the topic of the post, and answer the question we were asked to answer (Are you satisfied with the way the buildings and neighborhoods that engage your life, fill your spirit, preserve your wallet, and allow you to sit more lightly on Earth?) I wanted to share some of my observations, and I guess in sharing them I will be answering the question and getting right to the topic.

In the link that was shared with us WorldHabitatAwards.org it states that Freiburg "is a compact city with car-lite systems, and seeks to be a city of short distances."

In the spring, summer, and fall I bike all over Orem, which is 18.3 square miles, and never feels like a city of short distances, in a car on foot or on a bike. Freiburg, which is 59.1 square miles three times the size of Orem is. Both cities receive massive amounts of sunlight and have a massive road leading through them, but that is where the similarities end.

Orem's population is less than a fifth of the amount of Freiburg, and is built to be a car-heavy system.
"Two-thirds of Freiburg’s land area is devoted to green uses. Just 32% is used for urban development, including all transportation. Forests take up 42%, while 27% of land is used for agriculture, recreation, water protection, etc. 
Freiburg made the saving of resources the most vital factor for all future planning which included the clear prioritization of public transport over individual traffic and goals to reduce energy consumption of buildings and realize future planning areas through self-financing schemes. 
Freiburg’s success owes much to its democratic strength. Three key factors are direct citizen participation, dynamic planning, and consensus."
This all stemmed from Freiburg coming to a giant crossroads of rebuilding. Orem is currently in that phase, and more than ever needs help on those three key factors, citizen participation being the most lacking despite Orem's history of planning.

I am not satisfied with how Orem is developed, and am participating in trying to reshape it. The consensus of Orem residents is they are too busy to care about what is happening around them leaving me one of the few to try and push for this redevelopment to be geared around efficiency of transportation and energy, and addition of green spaces and good methods of pedestrian, bike, and public transportation.

Street sweepers come fairly regularly to wash our streets of the oil, and garbage that stain them. The streets of Freiburg are pristine because the people take care of them. We in Orem seem to want to have that work done by others. We want it "washed away" from us so we don't have to deal with it. House are inefficient and UGLY for the most part, boxy and boring to look at. Lack of easily accessible green space is a huge problem and the smoke cloud that Orem alone causes due to high car traffic could create bad enough inversion to block our view of the mountains and sun.

I would love to bike all year around by streets are plowed of snow onto the sidewalks making it even more difficult. Hills make it almost impossible to cross the line that runs north through Orem at about 800 West, and cars dominate our paths making it dangerous for bikers. Do I want change? Oh course, this city could drastically use designers like those in the video above to remake its buildings to be more attractive and drastically more efficient.

Where do you or I start? Here: CityofOrem.MindMixer.com

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Environmental Policy Alliance

The other day in our Green Communities class we had the privilege to watch the video below (Breaking up with fossil fuels is hard to do). It is both eye opening and comical. Eye opening because I didn't realize the extent of the amount of fossil fuels we are using, and this video helped me realize how quickly we are burning it up.

For those of you not familiar with the battle between renewable energy and fossil fuels let me briefly explain it. Lets say you work on a fixed income, meaning every month you make x. You can technically spend more than x, because of credit. Is it smart? Definitely not, because eventually it will catch up to you. That said fixed income is like fossil fuels, because we aren't going to get anymore, and we are using it up faster than the Earth can produce it. Renewable energy is exactly what the name implies...it renews itself. Examples of this type of energy are wind, water, sun, etc. Wind doesn't run out and when we use it we don't reduce its availability.

The video was put out by the Environmental Policy Alliance, implying that they actually care for the environment and that they are a good company. Going to their website you would be confused as well to what they actually do. After reading through the site, they spin everything to make it look like the "Big Green Radicals" are evil and in all this for profit.

"Big Green Radicals, have become big business. With the top organizations bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars...These groups have huge influence and are among the most powerful lobbyists in Washington. Their main goal is to use regulations, lawsuits, and congress to fundamentally shift how society and our economy work."

This is funny, because after doing some research I verified that the BIGGEST lobbyists in Washington are companies in the transportation, housing, defense, cell phones, medical, tobacco, and entertainment industries as you see above.

Let me clarify what he said in the video because it is tricky:
  • Big Green Radicals have become big business - If a big business is one that brings in 11 Million - 100 Million that what does that make Exxon Mobil a company that made a profit of 32.5 Billion dollars and lobbied 208 Million dollars, that is more than all of the Big Green Radicals (who brought in not profited the amounts listed in the video) combined.
  • With the top organizations bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars - One company outside of the ones listed here brought in over 100 million dollars, which would make the two companies bringing in, yes you guessed it 200 million dollars. Because it is two hundred it is now plural, and therefore not a stretch of the truth to say the top companies brought in hundreds of millions of dollars.
  • These groups have huge influence and are among the most powerful lobbyists in Washington - They have huge influence because they back their information with research, and they are among the most powerful lobbyists in Washington, because all the fossil fuels lobbyists are there. Literately they are among them, that is what you would say about anyone who is in a general group. They aren't the most powerful lobbyists, but are hopefully becoming them because of their facts.
  • Their main goal is to use regulations, lawsuits, and congress to fundamentally shift how society and our economy work - Isn't this exactly what the fossil fuel companies already did? Why would they be angry that green companies are doing the same finally?
Here is the ridiculous video that I mentioned at the beginning of the post:

Breaking up with fossil fuels is hard to do, because those companies don't want to spend money to adapt, and have the real power in Washington. They make it seem like we have no other alternative, but not only do we have a huge list of alternatives to everything mentioned in this video they are cheaper, more environmentally sound, and safer for those who create the products. I don't want to sound like a "Big Green Radical" but you can do the research yourself and see how ridiculous this company is.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Biophilic Cities

Biophilic City
Today we were asked to reflect on our observations of how an attention to biophilic places can be part of a restorative urbanism.

For most of us this is probably a little if not a lot Greek, so I decided to explain all the terms used here before I actually reflect on my observations.

"Biophilia is a term popularized by Harvard University myrmecologist and conservationist E.O. Wilson to describe the extent to which humans are hard-wired to need connection with nature and other forms of life. More specifically, Wilson describes it this way: 'Biophilia…is the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms. Innate means hereditary and hence part of ultimate human nature.' (Wilson, 1993, p.31). To Wilson biophia is really a 'complex of learning rules' developed over thousands of years of evolution and human-environment interaction."

From that definition a biophilic place, is a place where nature is more prevalent apparent or visible. Now that you know the first part of the above sentence I will focus on restorative urbanism.

Restorative - "having the ability to restore health, strength, or a feeling of well-being."
Urbanism - "the lifestyle of city dwellers."

So a definition for restorative urbanism could be as follows...

Restorative Urbanism - having the ability to restore health, strength, or a feeling of well-being to the lifestyle of city dwellers.

The foundation of what these terms mean is set and we can finally respond to the topic of the post which is: to reflect on our observations of how an attention to biophilic places can be part of a restorative urbanism.

biophilic place
How can the attention to these places be part of restorative urbanism? Simply put plant life or nature restores health and a feeling of well-being. In a moment I am going to ask you to close your eyes, but you have to read this first. What I want you to do is imagine yourself sitting in a field. The sun is shining and there is a gentle breeze. You can hear the faint rustle of leaves and birds chirping. The grass is warm and soft as you lay down and let your skin soak up the sun. Now close your eyes. (Because your eyes will be closed, imagine this for a few minutes then open them and read the rest.)
Beautiful Beach
How do you feel? I felt relaxed and calm. I felt at ease and the cares of the world even for a brief moment floated away. The same will happen on the beach, in the mountains, in warm midwestern rain storms, etc. This is an example of biophilia, so if we were to take these types of things and integrate them into our urban spaces how could those urban spaces change for you?

Just think of the DMV, and add plants, an indoor garden, and an aviary. Now how does one of the worst places on earth feel? The point of this is the disconnect we have with the real world is harming our satisfaction in our quality of life. Let us restore a higher quality of urban life by infusing it plant life or rather regrowing it. 

In closing, I wanted to add this list of concepts that help us integrate nature into everyday living:

Important Ties to Place. There are considerable place-strengthening benefits and place-commitments that derive from knowledge of local nature; from direct personal contact; enhanced knowledge, and deeper connections = greater stewardship, and willingness to take personal actions on behalf of place and home;

Connections and Connectedness. Caring for place and environment, essential for human well-being and in turn essential ingredient in caring for each other;

A Need for Wonder and Awe in Our Lives. Nature has the potential to amaze us, stimulate us, propel us forward to want to learn more and understand more fully our world; Nature adds a kind of wonder value to our lives unlike almost anything else;

Meaningful Lives Require Nature. The qualities of wonder and fascination, the ability to nurture deep personal connection and involvement, visceral engagement in something larger than and outside oneself, offer the potential for meaning in life few other things can provide;

biodiverse city
Also here are key qualities of biophilic cities:
  • Biophilic cities are cities of abundant nature in close proximity to large numbers of urbanites; biophilic cities are biodiverse cities, that value, protect and actively restore this biodiversity; biophilic cities are green and growing cities, organic and natureful;
  • In biophilic cities, residents feel a deep affinity with the unique flora, fauna and fungi found there, and with the climate, topography, and other special qualities of place and environment that serve to define the urban home; In biophilic cities citizens can easily recognize common species of trees, flowers, insects and birds (and in turn care deeply about them);
  • Biophilic cities are cities that provide abundant opportunities to be outside and to enjoy nature through strolling, hiking, bicycling, exploring; biophilic cities nudge us to spend more time amongst the trees, birds and sunlight.
  • Biophilic cities are rich multisensory environments, the where the sounds of nature (and other sensory experiences) are as appreciated as much as the visual or ocular experience; biophilic cities celebrate natural forms, shapes, and materials;
  • Biophilic cities place importance on education about nature and biodiversity, and on providing many and varied opportunities to learn about and directly experience nature; In biophilic cities there are many opportunities to join with others in learning about, enjoying, deeply connecting with, and helping to steward over nature, whether though a nature club, organized hikes, camping in city parks, or volunteering for nature restoration projects.
  • Biophilic cities invest in the social and physical infrastructure that helps to bring urbanites in closer connection and understanding of nature, whether through natural history museums, wildlife centers, school-based nature initiatives, or parks and recreation programs and projects, among many others;
  • Biophilic cities are globally responsible cities that recognize the importance of actions to limit the impact of resource use on nature and biodiversity beyond their urban borders; biophilic cities take steps to actively support the conservation global nature;

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Lynch Element Photo Examples: Ballpark Area (SLC)

Lynchs 5 Elements of Urban Design
In our Green Communities class we have been asked to evaluate specific and generic communities. I am currently taking a class on oral, verbal, and visual communication in urban planning as well. Our assignment today had us take pictures of the parts that make up our communities.

Kevin Lynch who studied under Frank Lloyd Wright (one of the most noted architects of all time) at Yale University came up with the idea of elements of a community or city. He called this the mental mapping of the community's citizens. The five elements of any community can be broken down as follows:
  1. Paths: The streets, sidewalks, trails, and other channels in which people travel. Lynch noted that paths were often the predominant elements in people’s image with the other elements being arranged and related along paths.
  2. Edges: May be barriers, more or less penetrable, which close one region off from another, or they may be seams, lines along which two regions are related and joined together.
  3. Districts: Areas characterized by common characteristics, these are the medium to large areas, which observers mentally enter ‘inside of’ and/or have some common identifying character. Distinctive physical characteristics might include ‘thematic continuities’, such as texture, space, form, detail, symbol and building.
  4. Nodes: The strategic spots in a city into which an observer can enter, and which are the intensive foci and from which the person is travelling.
  5. Landmarks: Landmark’s key physical characteristics was singularity some aspect that is unique or memorable in the context. Some landmarks – towers, spires, hills are distant and are typically seen from many angles and from distance, over the top of smaller elements. Other landmarks – sculptures, signs and trees are primarily local being visible only in restricted localities and from certain approaches.

For our assignment today we were asked to take pictures of our assigned community and describe them. Below I have the images I took and the reason why I took them. I am not a professional photographer, but I still think the images of the Ballpark community are quite interesting:

TRAX Station
Path Image: is of the TRAX line running past the Ballpark stop. There are a couple cool elements here: I placed the person in orange just right of center as he creates a main focal point. The TRAX line lead to a point just left of center to help balance the person in orange. The image is heavy on the right side, but is balanced because of the mountain in the back creating a line across the mid section of the image helping create a balance of the heavier right side. The contrast between the bright blue sky and the darker brown ground also creates interest.

Lynch's Urban Design Edge
Edge Image: is of I-15 and the rail line running beneath. 900 South crosses the rail line, and goes under the I-15 bridge. I-15 is an edge of it's own, but the rail line helps to enforce that edge. In addition to the rail line the shadow cast from I-15 also helps define the edge. (I had to wait around a while to get the picture with a train in it so the guard posts would be down as well.) Other interesting things with this photo...in the top right corner you see the bright red sign, that is there on purpose. The shadow line seems to cut the image in 1/2 leading up to that sign. Rail lines have started to make a resurgence, and Union Pacific is one of the biggest, the sign's message makes it a little comical, and again balances the image as most of the weight literally and figuratively is on the left.

Lynch's Urban Design District
District Image: I chose this image to represent the neighborhood district in the Ballpark area. Not only is this image highly typical of suburban neighborhoods, it was highly typical of the neighborhood district of this area. Again you will see the image cut in half with the sidewalk running from the bottom right corner towards the top left. The dark trees fade to the lighter sky and the snow towards the center of the image helps create additional focal points. In usual fashion this image is broken into thirds with the first third being the berm on the left, the center third being the sidewalk and the third section being the grass and houses.

Landmark Image: is of Smith's Ballpark, Home of the Bees. The Smith's Ballpark sign is the center focal point with the large entry way pillars again breaking up the image in very distinct thirds. Your eyes are first drawn to the sign then the pillars, then up toward the sky as the pillars act like giant arrows. The colors draw attention, and although simple the picture has a lot of character.

The next time you walk around your community, see if you can identify it's paths, edges, districts, nodes, and landmarks. Some places might fall into multiple categories, but it will be a fun experiment for you to try.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Cycling in Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City Green Bike
Salt Lake City a City for Bikes? This was the first thing that came to mind when I thought about today's proposed topic. (We were asked to describe our observations of how a commitment to the justice of bicycle mobility may or may not be transformative in Salt Lake City. In other words how would Salt Lake City transform if we mad the walking pedestrian and the bicyclist first priority instead of the car in SLC.)

Salt Lake City is the 124th largest city in the US for population and the 66th as far as size. Portland a more walkable bikeable city is larger in size and population, so size isn't an issue. If there is a will there is a way.

The next argument I though could come up was how Salt Lake City is in the mountains and hilly. Denver, Colorado is #5 for most bikeable cities and is arguably more mountainous or at least equal to Salt Lake City.

Moving Bike
We have a good transit systems and are ranked #22 in the nation for that, which helps us become a city primed and ready for bikes! There are some hills in the city, but there are not only ways to negate the hills, but maybe a little cardio would do us some good.

I two sister-in-laws who have three children, and I think about them when I try and imagine a city based on public transportation, walking, and biking. The thing is you have to imagine the people that will use the space you are trying to develop or plan. If you fail to take thought of all who use the space when developing a plan, your plan will most definitely fail.

I put myself in the shoes of those trying to use the space. For this example I will be in the shoes of my sister-in-laws specifically.

Grocery shopping and taking your kids around, how will that work? These are the questions that have always stumped me in the above type of design. At least I was stumped until I saw this video:

Would this work during the winter? Maybe not as well, but that is where public transportation comes in. Am I saying all of this will work today, with the culture we have? Honestly, not really because it will take a giant culture change in the US for this to become extremely successful. It is possible though. Once people see this as the cool or popular thing, that also saves them money and puts them in better health, it will still take developing the habits and the infrastructure to make it stick.

Winter Biking
As I said before it is possible, as there are already solutions to every question one could potentially ask. Are all those solutions best suited for our needs? I think with a little creativity, community involvement and brilliant design and marketing we could make it work within the next 10 years. You might not think this realistic but I don't. Our generation has a crisis of the imagination, and it isn't because we don't have fantastic imaginations. It is because we don't use them.

In 10 years time we could make massive culture shifts, as we have already done it. 10 years ago, how many people owned cell phones or computers? Think what kind of culture shift that had. So I say again it is possible but it is going to take all of us to do it.

Biking saves you money
This kind of shift would bring economy back into balance as we wouldn't need to spend that $20K for a car, then spend another $1K - $2K on gas and oil changes per year. That isn't even taking into account tires, windshields, and other things that go wrong with the car. Talk about a lot of unneeded debt!

If it was not only safe to ride bikes and walk people could use the money to improve their homes, have a change of clothes, and for some...eat. This would drastically bring our social circles closer together and help to rid our country of the horrid economic gap we now experience. Imagine cycling in Salt Lake City, it's not out of our grasp!

Sustainability News

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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.