Thursday, April 22, 2010

Green Spaces Provide Great Economic Potential

This is a guest column thanks to Jack Lundee - "Taking a more progressive green approach."

Some of the more heavily discussed topics of early 2010 include obesity, green infrastructure, clean water, and more. In particular, the addition and/or substitution of green spaces have been quite controversial as of late. Senior resident of Urban Land Institute Ed T. McMahon states "Green space adds value to property." Not only would these areas of conservation drive economic trends upward, but they also improve the overall health of the surrounding community. For example, substituting things like golf courses with conservation areas would essentially increase surrounding property value while diminishing overpriced maintenance fees. The same holds true for airports and other large acre-eating developments.

Some of these areas are already abandoned or unkempt. For instance, park and recreational areas that were once highly visited have become urban wastelands. In an article from the Salt Lake Tribute, Lindsay Whitehurst discusses how an area that was capped with tennis courts to replace an old reservoir had been empty for some time now. She further explains how the University of Utah received a loan to fill the old reservoir and turn the land into a conservation area. Bob Sperling, manager of the water design team for Salt Lake City public utilities, infers high costs when he mentions challenging structural design. Aside from this, safety was a tremendous issue which was later justified when a large piece of slate gave way. It wasn't soon thereafter that it was noticed by Sperling during a routine inspection.

Much larger metropolitan areas are also playing their role in promoting sustainability by implementing many Green Spaces within the city. In Meg Muckenhoupt's new book Boston's Gardens & Green Spaces, she discusses different green space within the city of Boston. With very low cost maintenance fees and little liability, these areas are perfect for protecting our wildlife and the environment. They also attract further tourism; which would in turn generate revenue from ticket/tour sales.

This aligns with the implications of "economic viability" and long term sustainability, posing the question, "Would the substitution of golf courses and airports in the short term lead to an abrupt economic downfall? It's true that this type of architecture provides undoubtedly high revenue. On the contrary, they both come with ridiculously high expenses and maintenance. Incorporating various elements of green architecture implies things like green roofing, which could in turn drive down electrical/gas costs dramatically.

Larger organizations are already taking a step in the right direction in Haiti. Brainchild behind the CGI (Clinton Global Initiative), Doug Band, has been working closely with organizations like AFH (Architecture for Humanity) to discuss potential means of green restoration. Combined with the additional efforts of many large collaborative units like the USGBC (United States Green Building Council), AFH hopes to shed some light on a terrible situation.

Recent findings have driven people like McMahon and fellow conservationists to investigate further into upgrading and expanding green infrastructure efforts. As earth day 2010 slowly approaches, it's important that we as individuals follow and support these ventures. It's equally important that we adapt greener disciplines to support both our planet and our economy.

Jack Lundee - "Taking a more progressive green approach."

Saturday, April 03, 2010

America's First Composter, George Washington


A knowing farmer, who, Midas like, can convert
everything he touches into manure,
as the first transmutation towards gold.


For 45 years George Washington was the master of Mount Vernon, and he viewed his occupation as farmer very seriously. Beginning as a tobacco planter like his father and older brother before him, Washington devoted himself to producing bounteous crops of the weed for export to England. He realized early on, however, that this plant was ruinous to the fertility of his soil. Therefore, he soon stopped growing tobacco and took up the cultivation of wheat as his primary money maker, complemented by corn and a variety of lesser crops aimed at sustaining his family and slaves. The quest to improve his yields led Washington to explore a wide range of agricultural experiments, including composting as a means of restoring soil nutrients.

In 1794 Washington sadly noted in his diary that, "Unless some practice prevails, my fields will be growing worse every year, until the crops will not defray the expense of the culture of them." Unfortunately for his successors who attempted to farm Mount Vernon after the death of the great man in 1799, this gloomy prediction was all too true. For Mount Vernon's soils were simply too poor to be a good producer no matter what innovative measures were employed. Thin topsoil overlying a dense, impermeable clay foundation was the main culprit, exacerbated by severe erosion caused by the poor practices of the day.

Washington never gave up the challenge to improve his soils, however, and he undertook numerous experiments to find the best form of fertilizer. He subscribed to John Spurrier's The Practical Farmer, which advocated the wise use of agricultural by-products and adding organic matter to improve the soil. Washington revealed an experiment in composting in his diary on April 14, 1760, when he "Mixed my compost in box" with different types in the various apartments. He planted the same number of seeds in each compartment and systematically recorded the results. After many trials, Washington applied manure, river and creek mud, fish heads, and plaster of paris to his fields with some success.

As evidence of George Washington's devotion to composting, he erected a highly unusual building specifically designed to compost "manure" and to facilitate its "curing" into usable fertilizer. Mount Vernon archaeologists have excavated the site of this building, called the "dung repository" or the "stercorary", to gain more insight into Washington's farming activities and to provide the information necessary to reconstruct this interesting structure.
Washington's typically detailed directions for constructing the repository provide several important clues to building details. In a letter to his farm manager in May 1787 he lectured:

When you go about the repository for the compost ... if the bottom should not be of good clay, put the clay there and ram it well before you pave it, to prevent the liquid manure from sinking, and thereby being lost.

*This was co-written with Dennis Pogue, http://www.cityfarmer.org/washington.html