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An urban ecosystem

If you’ve ever tried to grow anything in your garden you’ve probably had your share of unrealized visions. In your rookie year perhaps the tomatoes never turned red or the strawberries got munched by bugs. If those mishaps didn't deflate you enough to replace the whole yard with a bocce court, you probably rebooted your spade and tried some different approaches before the next growing season. You may have moved the tomatoes to a sunnier spot and planted some dandelion to see if it would attract ladybugs with an appetite for your unwelcome strawberry-eating visitors.

As the tomatoes got a wee bit tastier and you celebrated your first strawberry (stolen by a finch, of course!), you got inspired and started thinking a bit broader. Perhaps you planted an apple tree and added a bee hive to your garden. You got more curious about soil and water, and started experimenting with compost and catchment bins. The more attention you paid to all the individual residents — both macro and micro — the more visible the interrelatedness between them became.

After watching and listening to your new garden community for a few seasons, you realized that the best way for any individual member to thrive with as little upkeep, energy, water, or pest control as possible, the overall design had to befit and benefit everyone else proportional to their needs and capabilities. You may have moved your daily attention-grabbing strawberries closer to the house and the more resilient dandelion further away. Perhaps you acquired some chickens for their eggs, just to discover that they could also be put to work tilling the topsoil and picking weeds and bugs.

Layer by layer, you cultivated a web of life that could sustain itself on the collective strength of all its threads, making maximum use of the natural climate, soil, and vegetation surrounding your home. In the process, you may have been comparing notes with other gardeners and reading books about this kind of holistic approach to farming. You may even have started calling it permaculture, but really, all you were doing was being patient and paying careful attention to your environment and its natural rhythms.

Skip below the orange wiggler for more digging...

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Reposted from Ecomusings by Sven Eberlein by citisven

Medellín went from being ground zero of Colombia's drug war to UN poster child for urban equality—and the people made it happen, by designing the city they wanted.

Note: This article appears in Cities Are Now, the Winter 2015 issue of YES! Magazine, a nonprofit, independent publication dedicated to solutions-oriented journalism. I wrote it to show what's possible in transforming not only cities but society at large when good governance and a commitment to social justice meet citizen participation and creative resilience. My previous two posts offering more context for my trip to Medellín earlier this year are here and here.

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Posters throughout Comuna 13 neighborhood. The Héroes 13 campaign features gigantic posters of leaders who offer alternative visions to kids and teenagers in a community with little resources. Photo from Pazamanos Foundation.
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Reposted from Climate Action Hub by citisven

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So here I am, fresh off the proverbial boat to witness Week 2 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Lima, Peru, aka COP20, or the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties, which, frankly, feels like the 200th.

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To be sure, under normal circumstances I would have no business getting airlifted here at the expense of a monster carbon footprint, just to post some morbid humor and be another dog barking up the same tree.

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And besides, boatsie, Joshua Wiese, and the entire crew at our very own DK Climate Action Hub are already doing a bang-up job of bringing us all the climate and COP20 news one could possibly be thirsting for.

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Ali Shafei, Iran

However, I was asked to make the trip down here to be part of the Ecocity Builders team, presenting our participatory ecocitizen mapping project to various stakeholders, and to network with local organizations to get the help we'll need to set up neighborhood survey teams here in Lima, our newly announced 4th pilot city.

Turning the traditional top-down approach to urban planning on its head, this new approach uses a framework known as Participatory Action Research (PAR) that challenges structural barriers to information and provides opportunities for communities to directly lead the research process, in an attempt to create community-generated solutions in urban planning and public policy.

Not exactly goose bump-inducing language, so let me paraphrase: Power to the People! If we want to keep our mothership afloat, we've got to educate, engage, and inspire people wherever they are.

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Gou Xucheng, China

A look at the work we did in our first three pilot cities of Medellín, Cairo, and Casablanca explains why it is so important to engage and empower citizens if we are to transform cities into the kind of ecologically healthy, high functioning urban ecosystems that will be needed to meet any serious carbon reduction agreements coming out of the COP negotiations.




Okay, so I admit, I baited you with promises of mind-altering art and humor just to subject you to the nitty gritty of one of the many great efforts happening behind the scenes in a struggle that is much too deep and wide and complex to be solved by headline-inducing high-level statements and agreements.

However, I contend that this intellectual detour is relevant, not only because it tells the story of how I ended up meandering along 120 amazing art pieces created by cartoonists from around the world calling attention to the many ironies of our inaction on the most consequential threat humanity has ever faced, but because just like art and humor, giving voice to people's stories from communities across the globe connects the many dots of climate change more viscerally than numbers and graphs ever could.

That was a chunky sentence. I think we've all earned ourselves a hearty laugh cry...

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or two, because who doesn't like their irony ice-cold...?

Before I show you more of these nuggets, let me just say that so far our mission has been a great success. On Monday, our Executive Director Kirstin Miller got to present the project and announce the launch of the Lima pilot in partnership with the Organization of American States, the US State Department, and the Peruvian Ministry of Environment, at the COP20 US Center.

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Kirstin Miller. photo: Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas

On Tuesday, our Projects Facilitator Ashoka Finley presented maps and diagnostics for resilient cities at the Sustainable Cities Pavillion, or Pabellón Ciudades Sostenibles.

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Ashoka Finley. photo: COP20 Lima

Personally, I hit the ground running yesterday, staffing our booth and pulling out every last of my Spanish vocabulary to answer questions for a very enthusiastic, mostly local crowd. Whenever my brain froze, Holly Pearson, who is our Lima coordinator and fluent in Spanish, bailed me out.

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To make a long story short, in just one afternoon we met several folks both from local universities and organizations who were super psyched about getting involved with the project and connecting us with community leaders.

I did get hungry though, so I left the pavilion to hunt for a bite. Instead of ceviche, I ended up getting nourished by a row of banners along the path that I had hurried past on the way in.

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It's an exhibit entitled VII Salón Internacional de Humor Gráfico, the 7th International Exhibition of Graphic Humor, featuring some of the most talented illustrators from around the globe. This year the theme is Climate Change, which worked out perfectly for COP, who realized the powerful messaging inherent in humor and integrated the show across the conference premises.

Follow me below the orange tidal wave for a look at some of my favorite pieces. The beauty of these is that they need no editorializing, they're best enjoyed raw and unfiltered.

Bottom line: time is running out and we've got to get creative really fast and soon to keep our little round ball from getting buried in the sand.

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Fernando Prado, Spain

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Note: Climate change is the overarching environmental issue of our time and I'm a huge proponent of urging national and world leaders to take action. However, I often wonder what it is they're going to do once a treaty is signed to reduce CO2 emissions. It's not like there's a magic switch that will turn off all the centralized power plants and get most cars off the roads. Our current infrastructure is so inefficient and wasteful at its core that it depends on energy stored in fossils a million years ago just to be maintained. Tinkering around the edges with a few solar panels and bike lanes is not going to be enough. If we're serious about reducing carbon emissions we have to re-envision the biggest things we build — cities. In order to do that, we have to understand how cities work, from the inside out. This is what I've been devoting most of my energy to.

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As part of my work with the Ecocitizen World Map project (EWM) I'm currently learning about Urban Metabolism Information Systems (UMIS), a whole systems analysis that measures everything flowing into and out of a city over time and space. The UMIS methodology was developed by Dr. Sebastian Moffatt and proposes a standardized "source to sink" framework to better understand and analyze urban systems as they process through the built environment. For example, here's a close-up of just one segment of the City of Vancouver, BC's water flow, showing how water is used and where it goes after that.

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In fact, with the help of intrepid citizen activists and students in our pilot cities of Cairo and Casablanca we are taking it even further: turning the tool from the inside out and from the bottom up, we are testing out Participatory Urban Metabolism Information Systems, a method designed to empower people on the ground to map out their own neighborhoods and become participants in transforming their communities into more resilient, equitable, and ecologically healthy settlements.

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Community activists and students at Mundiapolis University in Casablanca getting ready to map out the neighborhood of Roches Noires.

Why is this important? Well, like a human body a city is a living, ever-evolving organism, and in order to have it operate at a healthy level and in sync with its environment you have to know exactly what flows into it, how those things are used, and where they go after the body no longer needs them. Another familiar analogy to think of is a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA), the well established method to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product's life, from cradle to grave. But LCAs only work for products, and cities and neighborhoods aren't products — they are situated in one place, they are complex, ever-changing physical and cultural ecosystems, and they have no lifetime. Cities are eternal.

Cities are also the largest things that humans build, and with the number of cities of 750,000+ inhabitants quadrupling over the last 50 years and 70 percent of the world's population projected to live in urban areas by 2050, the quest to figure out how our urban environments could operate within the earth's carrying capacity ranks as one of the most viable pursuits anyone concerned about climate change, resource depletion, loss of biodiversity, and the human struggles associated with it could undertake. To put it simply, if we don't understand our cities' organisms, we will never be able to have them function in balance with the larger natural organisms within which they reside.

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A Day in a Less Developed Life. Parque Biblioteca España, Medellín.

The desire to create comfort and security for ourselves probably counts as one of the most rudimentary motivations in the human reservoir of instincts. Building a safe nest is one of the impulses that not only transcends cultural boundaries but connects us to most other species on the planet. As a basic principle, wanting the very best for ourselves and even better for our offspring is as relatable as it is admirable, to the point of being socially awkward to desire otherwise.

And yet, within the context of modern society, the lines of what constitutes a fulfilled life can easily get blurred. The simple need for a roof over our heads and food in our bellies alone is already dependent on a complex industrial process, and few of us are aware of the amount of energy, resources, and logistics that goes into the beds we sleep in or the meals we consume. Things get even trickier once our basic needs such as access to clean water, food, and shelter are met and we are presented with a seemingly endless array of choices to "improve" our lives.

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Avenida El Poblado, a street full of development.

Part I of this series about my adventures with the Ecocitizen World Map Project at the Seventh World Urban Forum in Medellín, Colombia explored the meaning of "equity" and how a level playing field must be the foundation for any kind of global-scale environmental improvement. In this second installment I'd like to flip the mirror and look at the other end of the spectrum, at concepts like "development" or "progress" that invariably come up when considering the turf upon which this level playing field should be built.

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Peopled streets: atavistic or visionary? La Carrera Carabobo, Medellín.

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Reposted from Ecomusings by Sven Eberlein by citisven

medellin_128“Is this your first WUF?” is a question commonly asked at the World Urban Forum, a gathering for, by, and about city people that was first convened by UN Habitat in Nairobi in 2002 and descended on Medellín, Colombia last week for its 7th incarnation. While the answer coming out of my mouth was always either “Yes” or “Sí” with a few stray “Ouis” and “Jas” mixed in, the feeling I had for most of the seven days inside the colorful pavilions spread across the Plaza Mayor Convention and Exhibition Center was one of Déjà vu, if not kinship.

After all, the question of how we are going to arrange the two percent of planetary space in which 70 percent of humanity is projected to live by 2050 in a sustainable and dignified fashion has been on my mental drafting board since before the Stone (Temple Pilot) Age. And here I found myself in the presence of 22,000 people of all ages and ethnicities, from every pocket of the world, passionate about co-creating the kinds of urban spaces that can exist in harmony with the little round ball we all call home.

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Hola! Bonjour! As-salam alaykom! Hello!

EcoCitizenWorldMapProjectLogo72It's been a busy four months since I went into woodshed mode to help create the Ecocitizen World Map Project, a portal where citizens can map their communities and share first-hand information for a holistic assessment of their city's ecological and social health. The one thing I've probably missed the most while wading through oodles of HTML, CSS, and GIS has been some good old fashioned ruminating from the spaces between soil and soul. So, I'm taking this opportunity to yak it up about the project and share a few stories and visuals of Medellín, Colombia, one of our initial three pilot cities. (with Casablanca and Cairo completing the awesome triad!)

Speaking of Medellín, we'll be officially launching this groovy tool for sustainable urban development that links community crowdsourced information to national, regional, and global data sets at the upcoming 7th World Urban Forum from April 5-11th.

More about that a bit further on, but as anyone who's ever been deeply immersed in a multifaceted project can attest to, the danger of making sense only to yourself while sounding like a babbling cryptogram to everyone except the people you're working with increases proportionally with each additional hour you spend with your head buried in jargon and code. So at the risk of being a bit long-winded but in the hopes of reclaiming my ability to some day carry a normal conversation at a social gathering again, I will use this opportunity to pretend we're sitting at a pub and you're asking about that crumpled map sticking out of my pocket.

As my favorite author once launched into a story: "All this happened, more or less.”

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Quick: Name a few cities that come to mind when you think of France...

Paris? Bien sûr, but you can do better than that. Cannes? Mais oui, you've been reading the entertainment pages. Marseille? Bordeaux? Lyon? Toulouse? C'est magnifique, you have passed your geography test.

Such a wealth of cultural meccas, and yet, the place most likely to resemble the city of the future is still left off most people's must-know-and-visit list.

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Île de Nantes. Photo: Jean-Dominique Billaud

Please follow me below the orange croissant for a journey to Nantes, the upcoming Ecocity World Summit, and the role of creativity in shaping the cities of the future. This article was originally published at Matador Network, with a few extra links & photos added by Yours Truly.

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Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 08:06 PM PDT

Canal Restorer to River Restorer?

by gmoke

Reposted from gmoke by citisven Editor's Note: fantastic photo essay demonstrating the restorative powers of ecological design. -- citisven

This greenhouse at the former historic Fisherville Mill in South Grafton, Massachusetts, sits on the banks of a canal by the Blackstone River.  It is cleaning stormwater runoff and water contaminated by #6 fuel oil, also known as Bunker C oil, which leaked from underground tanks.  At the end of the process, 95% of the hydrocarbons are removed without the application of chemicals, using only ecological design.

The Blackstone River can rightfully claim to be the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in the USA as in 1790, Samuel Slater built the first water-powered spinning mill in America for Moses Brown, a founder of Brown University, in Pawtucket, RI using the Blackstone River as a power source.  By October 7, 1828, the Blackstone Canal from Providence, RI to Worcester, MA was completed and became the original industrial corridor of the United States.  Some say the Blackstone was the hardest working river of 19th century America with its water powering factories all along its length.

Perhaps now it will become an example of 21st century American technology that uses ecological systems thinking to clean up the wastes industrial development has left in its wake.  

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Sun Aug 04, 2013 at 11:54 AM PDT

Cities Scale: Regenerative Development

by gmoke

Reposted from gmoke by citisven

The majority of the people in the world now live in cities and that will probably only increase as this century goes on.  We need to imagine cities that are sustainable and, even more, regenerative, restorative, ecological.  

"The good news is that there are more and more examples from around the world where the principles of regenerative development are being put into practice, and thanks in part to Professor Girardet's work as a ‘Thinker In Residence' in Adelaide ten years ago, South Australia has become a shining example. In Greater Adelaide, a city region of 1.2 million people, more than 26% of the city's electricity is produced by wind turbines and solar PV panels. There are over 200,000 houses in the city with photovoltaic roofs, making some of them into net electricity generators. Efficient energy use is now mandated for all municipal buildings, reducing their carbon emissions by up to 60%. There has been a large-scale retrofit throughout the city to ensure high standards of energy efficiency in people's homes, and a new-build solar village with 110 homes has been designed to the highest sustainable standards. These initiatives have reduced overall carbon emissions from the city by 15% since 2003.

"In and around Adelaide, nearly 3 million trees have been planted on 2,000 hectares of land, providing carbon dioxide absorption services, as well as countering soil erosion and increasing biodiversity. An ambitious zero-waste policy has been implemented that has enabled the production of 180,000 tonnes of compost a year, made from the city's organic waste. This is then used to improve the fertility and soil structure of 20,000 hectares of land near the city that produces most of the fruit and vegetables the populous consumes. This land is also irrigated with reclaimed waste-water. And to top all of this, Adelaide has the world's first solar powered bus service!"

from http://www.theecologist.org/...
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A couple of days ago I went to a panel discussion entitled A Story of Shuttles at SPUR, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. For those of you not living in SF (and the Bay Area), what's come to be known as "The Google Bus" is a whole fleet of privately run corporate limousine buses that are shuttling employees in the tech industry from hundreds of pick-up places near their homes in SF to their workplaces in Silicon Valley. The premise, according to company representatives at the panel, is that their predominantly young, under 35 workforce is "nauseated by the suburbs" and would rather commute up to 80 miles (round trip) to San Francisco every day than live near their workplace, and so the companies' job is to make that trip as comfortable as possible, to attract and retain their workforce.

According to the SFMTA, there are now almost 40 companies running these shuttles with over two hundred stops across the city. Google alone runs over 100 buses and 380 trips daily across the Bay Area, which has earned them the honor of being the poster child for the luxury liner phenomenon. However, the trend was first started about 7 years ago by some of the more established biotech companies in South San Francisco like Genentech. It wasn't really a big deal when there were just a handful, but the last two years has seen such a rapid explosion of these behemoths into our neighborhood streets that it feels a bit like an invasive species.

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Most of these buses are anonymous entities that often make everything and everyone else dwarf in comparison and clog up the streets...

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but some of them are a bit more ostentatious in their destination...

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They load and unload in the public transit (MUNI) bus stops, and quite frequently just double-park right in an intersection.

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Two deep, about to unload "customers," cars honking and pulling dangerous maneuvers to get past.

They are pretty much everywhere now, even on Valencia St, which has been transformed into a bicycle highway and people friendly walking corridor in recent years, but as a cyclist during rush hour you now have to contend with these guys turning on and off at random intersections. I guess this is one way to get big corporate billboards into a neighborhood that prides itself on protecting its small local merchants from chain store invasions.

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There are some much touted benefits of reducing automobile trips on Bay Area roads, and I definitely appreciate and applaud the good intentions behind these buses, but as someone who has written quite a bit about sustainable urban design, these buses, while addressing one small transportation sliver of the whole livable city ecosystem, raise a whole range of other social, cultural, economic, and environmental issues that are basically being treated as externalities by the people who are enabling the flooding of these private "yachts on wheels" deep into city neighborhoods, without much public discussion.

SPUR's description of the panel had me excited because I thought it would delve into some of the broader ramifications of this transformation:

Those big buses are tough to miss. As employer shuttles sprout up across the Bay Area, what do they tell us about our region, its workers and its employers? What are the benefits and challenges that accompany their increasing presence? This forum will take a closer look at how and why some employers manage worker transportation.
Alas, it did not live up to its billing, and my hope is that this letter will spark further discussion and perhaps another panel where this issue can be addressed on a more meaningful level, perhaps inspiring more integrative solutions to the unsustainable way of life we've created for ourselves.
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Reposted from Hunger in America by citisven

This isn't my usual reading material, but after reading citisven's diary, The Good Food Revolution Goes Vertical, I knew this was a book I had to read. I brought it on the bus to my class at College of the Canyons in Valencia, and, since I'm in a rather hyper-emotional phase of my grieving process, there were tears in my eyes ALL the way there as I read the book. That doesn't usually happen to me. It's a wonderful book about, as the subtitle says, growing healthy food, people and communities, and, since citisven did a wonderful job in HIS diary of conveying the scope of the book, I'm going to be selective. I will say that this changed the way I look at the places where I buy food, and I suspect that unless you're receiving a CSA box every month, it will do the same for you.

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