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Solutions & sustainability - June 25

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Urban spots sprout veggies
Project has neighbourhood green spaces turned into affordable 'edible' landscapes

Matthew Kwong, Globe & Mail
VANCOUVER -- HIV positive and living only "by God's mercy," Maxensia Takiramule sat on the crumbling veranda in her Kampala, Uganda, neighbourhood wondering if misery was all life would ever mean to her.

The hungry widow prayed for nourishment in a capital city where 39 per cent of the population lives in absolute poverty and 43 per cent of citizens are unemployed.

It was at this moment that Ms. Takiramule was given what she described yesterday to World Urban Forum delegates as "the dream of my life." A local community leader strolled towards her and offered her an application form to participate in the Kampala City Council's "edible" landscape project -- an innovative urban planning strategy that turns wasted urban spaces into vegetable gardens.

Ms. Takiramule, who was among 124 project beneficiaries, shared her account of hope amid urban poverty with a packed room yesterday during a WUF networking session on the topic of "edible" cities.

The plan's creator, McGill University architecture professor Vikram Bhatt, said that while rural areas traditionally produce food and bring it to urban centres, the goal of the edible landscapes design is to nurture a "symbiotic relationship" in cities as centres of both production and consumption.

"All open spaces become prime candidates for planning," he said, which results in a garden city concept that is also economical.

Eventually, Mr. Bhatt would like urban agriculture to be a permanent feature in housing design.

The edible lands project planner in Kampala, Margaret Azuba, envisions an agricultural hub in Uganda "where people will grow their own food and they'll grow vegetables that generate income very fast and are also well-liked . . . spinach, pumpkin, local beans, celery."
(22 June 2006)


Greenpeace Launch New Film on Decentralised Energy

Rob Hopkins, Transition Culture
Greenpeace have just launched an excellent new film called Decentralised Energy - what are we waiting for?, which sets out a very clear argument for decentralised energy. It runs for 18 minutes and is narrated by Clive Anderson. The film sets out a very clear argument for a profound rethink of the National Grid, using the argument that climate change means we have a rapidly reduce carbon emissions, rather than the, in my view, equally compelling argument that it is madness to use a depleting resource in such a wasteful way. The film looks at the jewel in the decentralisers’ crown, Woking, and argues that it offers a model for the rest of the UK.

The film doesn’t talk much about what will actually power this new decentralised energy world, my guess is that it assumes natural gas will do that for us. It is a huge question, especially with uncertainty over gas supplies. Wood chips? Anaerobic digestion? The actual pieces of the puzzle aren’t explored, rather the bigger picture. The film does touch on conservation but only in passing, strikes me there is no point putting in DE unless you have maximised your efficiency first. I do think this film missed a golden opportunity to frame the need for DE in the context of peak oil, but it does do a very good job of making DE appear modern, stylish and groovy.

You can either obtain DVD copies of the film direct from Greenpeace, or you can watch the film online at the link above.
(23 June 2006)


Bryant Terry, food-justice activist, answers readers' questions

Grist
Q: I live and work at a natural hair salon in south Georgia. Daily we try to educate people about how their food choices affect their overall well-being and the health of their hair and skin. We get mixed responses. What response do you get from people of color when you present them with information about eating healthily, and how does their response affect your work? -- Danita Campbell, Valdosta, Ga.

A: Like you, I get mixed responses, which are usually influenced by age, class, education, and knowledge about these issues. The key to getting these messages across has been determining what might resonate with my audience and speaking in a language that is accessible to them.

For example, when I talk to a group of young women of color I might open by appealing to their vanity to get them thinking about how the foods they eat affect their physical appearance (e.g., acne and weight gain). Or if I'm talking to a group of older African-American and Latino men, I might start by discussing the way in which preventable diet-related illnesses are plaguing older men of color. Once the conversation gets rolling, we touch on other issues that might not seem as relevant. Creating different age-appropriate, culturally relevant talks usually means more work for me, but I gotta do what I gotta do.

Q: What is one major lie about food that you think we need to unlearn? -- Shilpa Jain, Udaipur, Rajasthan, India

A: One lie that most people need to unlearn is that we need to cook most of our food. While I would not consider myself a "raw foodist," I certainly include lots of uncooked plant-based foods in my diet (especially during the summer and early fall). Living and raw foods have enormously higher nutrient values than foods that have been cooked. It's not about being extreme either way, but most of us could stand to have a few more crunchy veggies in our diet.

Q: Soul (aka Southern) food traditions have undergone lots of revision in the last decade. What do you think are some of the all-stars (ingredients, recipes, approaches) from soul-food traditions? And just where do you stand on okra? -- Kim Ruffin, Lewiston, Maine

A: Soul food is so complex and varied, depending on the region of the South that you're in, and it's hard to reduce it to a few staple products (although many people mistakenly do). There are certain staples that come to mind when I think of "soul food," like collard greens, black-eyed peas, yams, and okra, of course. But these foods are very specific to my memory of growing up in Memphis, Tenn. Someone living in coastal Carolina or Louisiana would probably come up with a different list. I would suggest Jessica B. Harris' Welcome Table for a broad overview of Southern foodways.

As with most cuisines, soul food is a living food tradition. So regardless of what recipes you use, you may need to substitute some ingredients and modify cooking techniques to meet modern-day health concerns. For example, in Grub, I reinvented some family favorite soul-food recipes using health-supportive ingredients and cooking techniques.
(23 June 2006)


EcoCities: Rebuilding Cities in Balance with Nature - new edition

Richard Register, New Society Publishers
Most of the world's population now lives in cities. So if we are to address the problems of environmental deterioration and peak oil adequately, the city has to be a major focus of attention.

EcoCities is about re-building cities and towns based on ecological principles for the long term sustainability, cultural vitality and health of the Earth's biosphere. Unique in the literature is the book's insight that the form of the city really matters — and that it is within our ability to change it, and crucial that we do. Further, that the ecocity within its bioregion is comprehensible and do-able, and can produce a healthy and potentially happy future.

EcoCities describes the place of the city in evolution, nature and history. It pays special attention to the key question of accessibility and transportation, and outlines design principles for the ecocity. The reader is encouraged to plunge in to its economics and politics: the kinds of businesses, planning and leadership required. The book then outlines the tools by which a gradual transition to the ecocity could be accomplished. Throughout, this new edition is generously illustrated with the author's own inspired visions of what such rebuilt cities might actually look like.

Richard Register is one of the world's great theorists and authors in ecological city design and planning. The founder of Urban Ecology and Ecocity Builders, he convened the first International Ecocity Conference in 1990, lectures around the world, and has authored two previous books, as well as an earlier edition of EcoCities.
(June 2006)
Register's introduction to this edition (available at the original article) emphasizes peak oil. Other online portions:
Table of Contents (PDF)
Foreward by Hazel Hendersen (PDF)
-BA


Gardening When It Counts
Growing Food in Hard Times
(new book)
Steve Solomon, New Society Publishers
The decline of cheap oil is inspiring increasing numbers of North Americans to achieve some measure of backyard food self-sufficiency. In hard times, the family can be greatly helped by growing a highly productive food garden, requiring little cash outlay or watering.

Currently popular intensive vegetable gardening methods are largely inappropriate to this new circumstance. Crowded raised beds require high inputs of water, fertility and organic matter, and demand large amounts of human time and effort. But, except for labor, these inputs depend on the price of oil. Prior to the 1970s, North American home food growing used more land with less labor, with wider plant spacing, with less or no irrigation, and all done with sharp hand tools. But these sustainable systems have been largely forgotten. Gardening When It Counts helps readers rediscover traditional low-input gardening methods to produce healthy food.

Designed for readers with no experience and applicable to most areas in the English-speaking world except the tropics and hot deserts, this book shows that any family with access to 3-5,000 sq. ft. of garden land can halve their food costs using a growing system requiring just the odd bucketful of household waste water, perhaps two hundred dollars worth of hand tools, and about the same amount spent on supplies — working an average of two hours a day during the growing season.

Steve Solomon is a well-known west coast gardener and author of five previous books, including Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades which has appeared in five editions.
(January 2006)
Another interesting new book from New Society Publishers. Biography of Solomon The original article has links to the Table of Contents and Chapter One. Excerpt:

Several flows are inevitably joining and reinforcing each other, becoming a global river of change.

We are soon going to base our civilization on something other than oil ... or else we aren’t going to have much of a civilization left. Soon, everything made with oil is going to cost a lot more: gasoline, food, clothing, transportation, heating of houses, etc. And after that, if oil is still the basis for almost everything we do, then everything is going to cost even more.

At the same time as oil is getting scarcer, average people in the countries with older industrial systems are going to have less real purchasing power. This is the inevitable consequence of a global economic system. Attempts to protect English-speaking labor from competition with Chinese or Indian labor will prove futile and self-destructive.Working people will have less to spend, while much of what they have gotten used to buying in these recent fat years is going to cost more.

Many will respond by producing some or much of their own food. But those practicing raised-bed intensive methods will discover that intensive use of land requires large quantities of water, manure/compost, and fertilizer. If they could make a comparison, they would find that highly intensive beds require more of their time and effort than the slightly increased yield justifies.

Water has become scarce in many places. Flow from rural wells is dropping as many new households pump from the same water table. At the same time, watersheds are becoming ever more degraded, lessening the recharge of groundwater. Electricity will go up in price as oil does, so pumping water will also cost more. Folks on municipal water systems will pay more because both purification and pumping are energy dependent. In short, town water may soon cost so much that even if it is available, and even if watering of gardens is allowed, irrigated gardening as it has been done will induce economic pain.

Fortunately, in most temperate climates, vegetables can be grown with little or no irrigation. Our ancestors knew how to do this in the days before water came out of pipes under pressure.


High-Performance Buildings Through Integrated Design

Greg Franta, Rocky Mountain Institute
Just how important are buildings in the big scheme of things?

The built environment, with its broad diversity of sites and buildings, offers a huge opportunity to sustain a desirable quality of life on this planet. Buildings use most of our energy and deplete vast quantities of natural resources. They rely on non-sustainable material harvesting, extracting, and mining. And once built, they pollute water, earth, and air, and can harbor wholly unhealthy indoor environments.

On the contrary, "green" developments typically demonstrate sustainable practices of elegant design, offer responsible stewardship of the natural environment, and make wise investments.

Traditional sources of energy production and use are major culprits of atmospheric pollution. Buildings gobble close to 40 percent of the energy used annually in the United States to heat, cool, ventilate, light, and support other operations.1 This operational energy, plus the energy used to extract, harvest, and manufacture products, transport materials, and construct buildings means the building industry chews through more than half of all the energy used in the United States each year.

Compare that to, say, SUVs, pick-ups, and vans, which together use about 7 percent of the energy used in the United States annually.

...In summary, much of the incredible environmental havoc wreaked by the building industry can be addressed through thoughtful and innovative building design processes, construction, and operation. Integrated design leads to healthful and productive interiors, reduced operating costs, fewer environmental impacts, and restorative landscapes. It is a matter of choice and attitude to implement the best practices with any given project.

Architect Greg Franta, FAIA, is Team Leader of the Institute's RMI/ENSAR Built Environment Team.
(Summer 2006)

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