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tired of Rain = Flooding?

Here in Chicago, new laws will require developers of projects over a certain size to take reasonable action to manage stormwater on their sites using green infrastructure.  The “Watershed Management Ordinance” is up for city evaluation next month.  Might finally hold projects accountable for their footprint.  Contact Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) if you’re keen to have a voice in building this and other cities better.  Pavement is solid, but dumb.  Rain gardens, rain storage and permeable materials make a strong city even stronger.

See also -> dates for community meeting

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well, whaddya know? Locally owned businesses can help communities thrive!

By Stacy Mitchell

small stores on Main StreetmyoldpostcardsSmall businesses offer big benefits.

Cities where small, locally owned businesses account for a relatively large share of the economy have stronger social networks, more engaged citizens, and better success solving problems, according to several recently published studies.

And in the face of climate change, those are just the sort of traits that communities most need if they are to survive massive storms, adapt to changing conditions, find new ways of living more lightly on the planet, and, most important, nurture a vigorous citizenship that can drive major changes in policy.

That there’s a connection between the ownership structure of our economy and the vitality of our democracy may sound a bit odd to modern ears. But this was an article of faith among 18th- and 19th-century Americans, who strictly limited the lifespan of corporations and enacted antitrust laws whose express aim was to protect democracy by maintaining an economy of small businesses.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that this tenet of American political thought was fully superseded by the consumer-focused, bigger-is-better ideology that now dominates our economic policy-making. Ironically, the shift happened just as social scientists were furnishing the first bona fide empirical evidence linking economic scale to civic engagement.

In 1946, Walter Goldschmidt, a USDA sociologist, produced a groundbreaking study comparing two farming towns in California that were almost identical in every respect but one: Dinuba’s economy was composed mainly of family farms, while Arvin’s was dominated by large agribusinesses. Goldschmidt found that Dinuba had a richer civic life, with twice the number of community organizations, twice the number of newspapers, and citizens who were much more engaged than those in Arvin. Not surprisingly, Dinuba also had far superior public infrastructure: In both quality and quantity, the town’s schools, parks, sidewalks, paved streets, and garbage services far surpassed those of Arvin.

At about the same time, two other sociologists, C. Wright Mills and Melville J. Ulmer, were undertaking a similar study of several pairs of manufacturing cities in the Midwest. Their research, conducted on behalf of a congressional committee, found that communities comprised primarily of small, locally owned businesses took much better care of themselves. They beat cities dominated by large, absentee-owned firms on more than 30 measures of well-being, including such things as literacy, acreage of public parks, extent of poverty, and the share of residents who belonged to civic organizations.

One might expect such findings to have had a powerful influence on government policy. In fact, Congress ignored Mills and Ulmer, while Goldschmidt’s study was actively suppressed by his bosses at the USDA, who, under the sway of big agribusiness, treated his research as though it were radioactive. They eventually fired Goldschmidt and abolished his entire department. In the following decades, a wide range of federal policies would work to facilitate and promote the concentration of capital and the rise of big industry.

Today, as we find ourselves struggling with a climate crisis that demands a far more active and creative democracy than we currently have, a new body of research is once again illustrating the civic advantages of decentralizing ownership and transitioning more of our economy to community-scaled enterprises.

“Residents of communities with highly concentrated economies tend to vote less and are less likely to keep up with local affairs, participate in associations, engage in reform efforts or participate in protest activities at the same levels as their counterparts in economically dispersed environments,” sociologists Troy Blanchard and Todd L. Matthews concluded in a 2006 study published in the journal Social Forces. In studies of both agricultural (2001) and manufacturing (2006) communities, the late Cornell sociologist Thomas Lyson also found that those places with a diversity of small-scale enterprises had higher levels of civic participation and better social outcomes than those controlled by a few outside corporations.

It’s not just that cities with more social capital are better able to foster local enterprises and resist corporate consolidation. The causality actually seems to go the other way: Where economic power is diffused, political power is more widely and democratically exercised. And, likewise, as economic power becomes more concentrated, civic engagement slumps. Sociologists Stephan Goetz and Anil Rupasingha, for example, have documented a decline in civic participation, including voter turnout and the number of active nonprofit organizations, after Walmart moves into a community. And, with each Walmart store that opens in a city, social capital further erodes, their 2006 study finds.

Still other research has drawn a link between a small-scale economy and improved community well-being, including lower rates of crime and better public health. A study published in 2011, for example, found: “Counties with a vibrant small-business sector have lower rates of mortality and a lower prevalence of obesity and diabetes.” The authors surmise that a high degree of local ownership improves a community’s “collective efficacy” — the capacity of its residents to act together for mutual benefit. Previous research has linked collective efficacy to population health, finding that engaged communities tend to create the kinds of infrastructure (think of farmers markets and bike lanes) that foster healthier choices.

What is it about a locally rooted economy that fosters social ties and civic engagement? There’s much to be said for the value of doing business with people who know us and whose success is intimately tied to the well-being of the community. Small businesses are not merely smaller versions of large businesses; they are running on a different operating system altogether. Goldman Sachs makes money regardless of whether foreclosures are going up or down. But a local bank only does well when its borrowers do well. Business decisions are thus guided by very different motivations. And, in times of crisis, economic resources that are controlled locally are much more readily marshaled and reconfigured to meet shifting local needs.

Independent businesses also create environments that foster interaction. Research suggests you are roughly seven times as likely to end up in a conversation with another customer at a farmers market or neighborhood bookstore than you are at a big-box store (not to mention the isolating experience of shopping on Amazon). To run one’s errands in places that encourage lingering and conversation, where economic exchange is embedded in human relationships, is to experience the place where you live in a meaningful way. No wonder this leads to more engaged and resilient communities.

Of all the environmental benefits that might flow from shifting to a more locally focused economy — from reducing global shipping to creating systems of production that are better matched to the limits and resources of particular ecosystems — perhaps the most significant would be a renewed capacity to act together for the common good and tackle the looming challenges before us.

Stacy Mitchell is a senior researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. She is the author of Big-Box Swindle and also produces a popular monthly newsletter, the Hometown Advantage Bulletin. Catch her recent TEDx Talk: Why We Can’t Shop Our Way to a Better Economy.

Posted in Uncategorized.

tumblr fun.

Posted in Uncategorized.

Intriguing option for lodging – rustic cave listed on

Alright.  You got my attention.

Being one of travel and hospitality, I’m a huge fan of scoping other options on AirBnB, and other “esoteric” world accommodation sites… I love to browse through the exotic, once-in-the-world type places one can stay while on the road.  Truly inspiring green living options (like this wild Earthship in Normandy) Ridiculous, high-design, cantilevered house-porn type places like out of the blackbooks of architecture students (say, for example, this this jewel in California)… storage units and re-purposed airplanes (like this one in New Zealand), and all sorts of magical train cars, tree houses, houseboats and igloos.  But this one is really out there.  Really on the edge.

Deep in the canyons of Petra (Jordan), owner Ghassab Al-Bedoul has opened his home to travelers and adventurous couch surfers.  The land is beautiful and barren.  The lodging consists of a cave carved out of hard stone, painted with fanciful designs and outfitted with simple but comfortable furniture and bedding.

The article recently featured on CNN’s travel site, and the exposure that comes with it, would, one might think, risk inundating Mr. Al-Bedoul with guests.  … I’d like to think that, as is always the case with traveling, the divine influences of calling, determination and brutal realism will combine to select those travelers who might best fit with a night or two in this unique setting.  Not every road is for every traveler.  Those that want to share this space with Ghassab and explore Petra from that unique launching point will find their way there.  For many, however, this will simply be a reassuring story of the grandness of our world and the warmth of people in distant communities to welcome the world into their home.  I know more than a few great stories have be borne of this man’s hospitality.  Here’s to the backpackers and bold hosts of this world!

Posted in Eco-Tourism, Sustainable Business, Travel.

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Chicago’s First Green Business Incubator and Urban Food Farm Keeps Getting More Awesome

The Plant is getting more national press-  Neato!

This project has been gaining speed over the past couple years, with new small businesses opening in the facility and exciting new urban food projects expanding.

“Over the next few years, the factory will become a zero-energy, food business incubator, research facility, education space, and working urban farm. Plant Chicago is already growing greens and mushrooms and will soon start brewing beer and kombucha and raising tilapia in a sustainable system with zero waste.”  How cool!

Check out this fun video explaining the larger Plant project!  :)

Posted in Chicago, Design, Sustainable Business.

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On my own bias cc worldview and persepctives on technology…

kudos, to Mr. Stephen Corry on npr for saying something along the lines of, “We don’t view the Amish as ‘backward,’ why should we Tribal peoples?” 

I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Corry’s discussion and wholeheartedly support his approach to re-valuing Indigenous and traditional worldview… Well aware of a knee-jerk response on my behalf when he mentioned the above sentiment… As a US city boy, it it really wasn’t until my recent time in Belize that I saw the Amish/Mennonite groups free from a sort of ridicule…

I’ve lived in regions where folks would stick to certain aspects of their traditional culture & lifestyle, while adopting the most of what would be considered a modern way of life.  In viewing the Amish back home, I did see them as a sort of ~backwards ~… But recently have experienced more closely the great efforts these groups go through to maintain certain tenets of their people, WHILE working with neighbors, communities and governments to achieve a sort of understanding…  Living right alongside traditional Mayan communities, these people seemed healthy, happy and were some of the most productive members of the nation.  Shunning modern technology isn’t exactly MY thing, but I got thinking… just because it’s a white person living a few miles away from the nearest station or mall, it really shouldn’t be my impulse to peg them as wacky.  I never really understood- It’s less a choice and more of a culture… A set of traditions honored across generations and generations.  …Definitely found myself guilty of the sort of supremacism I usually argue against…

Posted in Travel, Worldview/Indigenous Concerns.

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Global hardship abounds, meanwhile… All Glory to our Golden Corporate Overlords! America’s CEOs making more than ever!

Great News!  The global economy flounders, Earth’s environmental outlook becomes ever more dire, common folk the world over suffer from lack of opportunity and resources…

John Hammergren, CEO of healthcare provider McKesson, earned $145m last year. Photograph: George Nikitin/AP (he might be a nice guy.  I have no idea.  I’ll assume, with that kind of dough, that he’s really involved in conservation and social concerns.)

John Hammergren, CEO of healthcare provider McKesson, earned $145m last year. Photograph: George Nikitin/AP

But, Cheer up!  Top execs in the US enjoyed pay hikes of between 27 and 40% last year!

Woo-Hoo!  All Glory to the ruling class! We shall build gilded temples to their awesomeness!  Tremendous memorials built on the very backs of a hopeless middle-class; for each top earner a shining colossus in their likeness which shall stand for eons over the shattered landscape they’ve helped create!

We’ve covered some great info-graphics on this trend in previous posts.  

There is no surprise here, for many, in the continued disparity between workers in this world.  While wages for the majority of Americans fail to keep up with inflation, the very wealthiest citizens become ever more “well-to-do.”  What remains completely unfathomable to me, however, is how rapidly we see an increase in failure of schools, public programs and crucial environmental efforts IN THE FACE of this completely insane growth in personal profits.  People will continue to grab what they can.  I don’t expect anything less.  But in these difficult times (for MOST HUMANS), when I see project after project after project struggle to stay afloat and maintain efforts to save individuals in a sensitive ecosystem or troubled community… It makes me sick.  Actually, quite ill.  We have here the refined product of a global system that rapes human and environmental resources for the unsustainable benefit of a very few.  This cannot continue.  Time to step up to the plate, top earners, and pull your head out of your asses.  Falling off a cliff might feel like flying… until we all hit the bottom.  And despite what your chauffeur might tell you, we’re all on this ride together.

Posted in Sustainable Business.

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primo thoughts on the ~Green~ aesthetic in mid-century Modernism

Thoroughly enjoyed “Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman” yesterday,delighted by the abundance of eye-candy presented in archive, but also caught by the thoughts shared with us by the artist himself.  Shulman may have well been the individual most familiar with the modernist wave that swept across America in the late 30s thru 60s…. All those beautiful, clean forms pushing the limit of what could be built in the day, all given the golden touch on film by a single man.

“The reason why this architecture photographs so beautifully is the environmental consideration exercised by the architects,” Shulman writes in his printed collection.

“It was the sense that here we have beautiful canyons, hillsides, views of the ocean. Everyone loves these photographs because the houses are environmentally involved, and this was before the emphasis on what everyone is calling green.”

This perspective on what could be considered the Green aesthetic has always been particularly interesting to me.  Modernist design, sensitive to how structural, functional, and design elements of a building will interact with both its natural surroundings and the people who occupy the spaces, has certainly has a resurgence in recent years.  Although many of these now-classic designs might not be entirely energy efficient by modern standards, a strong attention to surrounding environs truly defined this movement (as well as Shulman’s eye.)  Although Shulman’s work remained primarily in Southern California, this aesthetic was alive and well in the Midwest and East (think snowy snapshots of  Frank Lloyd Wright creations set perfectly into the midwestern landscape). 

All this strikes me as something of a wonderful comment on the awareness championed in any of today’s (good) architecture.  The language and materials have changed over the years, but these visionaries lauded principles then which we now demand of ANY structure which is to be both beautiful and sustainable.   “In any project, we cannot permit the ecology to be destroyed.  That is the lifeblood, the lifeline of our whole people…”

Posted in Design.

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Nifty new water reclamation system for the bathroom (easy to install!)

A follow-up to our earlier piece on Grey Water Systems in the US ->

Schematics of Sloans new water reclamation (GreyWater) system for the bathroom

Schematics of Sloans new water reclamation (GreyWater) system for the bathroom

Check out this nice little addition to the options available in GreyWater systems- Not for gardens, but for in the Home!  :)   The Sloan AQUS water reclamation system runs about $189 each and offers a simple DIY setup to take sink water and recycle it for flushing your toilet!  Folks at Inhabitat claim it could save you up to 6,000 gallons of water each year, AND, it seems you could actually win one through their site if you sign up for the newsletter!  Details Here.

I love the ease of installation Sloan seems to be pushing here.  The easier it gets for people to improve home efficiency, the better.  Put good products in people’s ‘hands, make them affordable, change the world just a little bit  ;)

Posted in Design.

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Tales from a land where kitchen & native plant gardens are a still No-No

Folks in Memphis could use a hand saving a neighborhood garden.  Or at least in adjusting their local land use policies.

Remember back when folks used to get tickets for making beautiful kitchen gardens in their front yards?  I mean, like 10 years ago, when you’d read about those crazy neighborhoods where a tax-paying home owner would receive some sort of cease-and-desist order from their stuffy neighbors for not pumping their yard full of pesticides and grass seed, but instead choosing to grow basil, berries or tomatoes?  …  Yea, I thought we were over that too, but apparently, in Memphis, fear of kitchen gardens remains alive and strong.

Mr. Guerreros home

Mr. Guerrero's home

Adam Guerrero has been a resident of Memphis for 10 years, a high school teacher for 6, and a gardener for ages.  In his front yard he has chosen to nurture produce and wild flowers in place of the standard Americanized lawn.  The garden, which he’s been working on for 2 years now in with help from his students and other kids from the neighborhood, has recently been deemed unsightly and grounds for criminal persecution if continued.

Got a note from the Kitchen Gardeners page (check them out on FaceBook!) describing Adam’s situation.  It’s certainly not unheard of.  We had this debate in Chicago about 10 years ago.  In California and Oregon, they had it 40 years ago.  Of course it creeps back from time to time.  Neighbors like consistency.  And laws concerned with sidewalk access and food safety often keep people from growing produce in their front yards.  But Mr. Guerrero is a home owner.  A tax payer.  This is his private property… and in the opinion of many (perhaps not his immediate neighbors,) he is putting the land to better use than simply greencarpeting it.

My little sister and her housemates have a lovely home in Santa Cruz, California, where, in their front yard, they maintain a massive and intricate garden.  It not only promotes and advertises her housemate’s garden education non-profit, it is the most gorgeous (and delicious,) yard on the block.  Back in Illinois, I recall a debate over the yard in front of a glorious mansion in Evanston (north of Chicago.)  For years, the homeowner had been cultivating a wonderful space for native plants, which, in Chicago, means a beautiful array of flowers and tall grasses that bloom in the spring and die back in the winter.  At some point, new neighbors moved in, and, forgetting we live in the MIDWEST PRAIRIELANDS, demanded the historic property replace its native masterpiece with a shorn expanse of always half-dead/half-cheminfused Frankenlawn.  The community rallied behind the resident and compromise was made.  The yard segment closest to the street would be turned back into good old American/HomeDepot grass seed, while the section closer to the house would be allowed to flourish as a native plant masterpiece, as long as it was kept tidy. 

In the case of Mr. Guerrero’s yard, The Memphis Flyer reports that there’s been no visible trash on the property and plants have been kept off the sidewalk and driveway.  Unfortunately, it sounds like neighbors are demanding a complete return to mowable lawn.  Including shopping down his 7-foot tall sunflowers.  It’s a shame.  The Flyer describes the yard as lovely- “eggplant, tomato, and pepper plants grow in the front yard; the backyard is lined with rows of wooden worm bins; barrels for collecting and storing rainwater are stationed next to his backdoor; his garage is stocked with equipment for making biodiesel and soap; and behind his garage are beehives quietly humming with industry. Elsewhere, passionflowers, butterflies, elderberry bushes, and sunflowers fill out the garden.”  There’s a great slideshow of images from the garden featured in the Flyer article.  Surely not common for a town-like setting, but surely there are others in the community that must recognize the project’s capacity for education and inspiration!

Kitchen Gardens have persevered and flourished in other regions of the country.  Let’s hope a middle ground can be found here- for the sake of Mr. Guerrero, his students, and their community.  Means for voicing support of Adam and his garden can be found here->

-Stand in Solidarity with Adam Guerrero-

Posted in Design, Eco-Tourism, Sustainable Business.

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