Monthly Archives: February 2013
Across the nation, small groups of citizens are coming together to promote sustainability in their own neighborhoods. Neighbors in Los Angeles are taking a communal approach to green living at the block scale. People are meeting on weekends for de-paving parties in Portland and home weatherization barn raisings in Cambridge. And in Boulder, homeowners are literally bringing the movement to their own backyards by converting lawns to urban farms. In her thesis, Ingrid Heilke (MCP ’10) took stock of these efforts and considered the opportunities for proliferating community-scale sustainability.
Neighborhood-level sustainability is the middle ground between building- and city-scale initiatives. Community-organized efforts can offer economy-of-scale advantages over what an individual could accomplish alone, but have a degree of access to and control over property that surpasses that of city planners. But despite their advantages, these projects are few and far between and there is no current way for these communities to share stories with each other and provide tips for overcoming common barriers.
Ingrid proposes a Green Blocks toolkit that would bring these groups together and provide specific resources for their programs. She envisions an online resource center that provides a menu of tried-and-true community initiatives, a social network that allows local and national allies to interact, and basic management and analytic tools needed for day-to-day operations. These resources would accomplish the dual goals of helping local efforts succeed and creating a network that can grow the neighborhood model.
Community-based sustainability efforts have the potential to go viral and become a legitimate movement. But first, they need a way of spreading good ideas throughout their neighborhoods, cities, and country. Read more about Ingrid’s ideas of how to achieve this in her thesis.
Located 8 miles from downtown Boston, Middlesex Fells provides a rare natural escape from the hustle of urban life. It is a popular retreat for hikers, dog walkers, and mountain bikers. The multiple uses of the Fells has become a source of conflict and reports of off-trail wandering, unfriendly dogs, and unruly bikers have led to animosity among the park-goers.
In 2010, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) set out to address these conflicts and establish a clear set of rules for the park. Andrea Christenson (MCP ’11) was there to document the process. The DCR organized a public forum to discuss the uses that would and wouldn’t be allowed in the Fells, and quickly found itself the subject of an impressive lobbying effort on the part of groups representing the park’s different users. The hostility among groups made it hard to reach agreement, as hikers and mountain bikers traded barbs and op-eds about the destruction that the other group was causing to the park’s trails. Despite this, the DCR made an admirable effort to craft an agreement that worked for the various stakeholder groups invested in the Fells.
The resulting draft Trail System Plan issued by the DCR tried to accommodate the multiple uses of the park and minimize opportunities for conflict among groups. The plan received a mixed welcome, and intentionally left no group fully satisfied. Hikers and their preservationist allies criticized the plan for failing to protect the park from destructive biking uses. Ultimately, DCR bowed to the political pressure that these groups were able to muster and chose not to implement the plan until a larger and more comprehensive Resource Management Plan could be completed.
Andrea’s in-depth narrative offers a close-up view of the challenges that planners face when they try to reconcile the concerns of multiple stakeholder groups. The title of her thesis fittingly describes what so many planners and constituent groups have found to be the truth: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Read more about the planning process at the Middlesex Fells in Andrea’s Thesis here.
Fortunately, Florida saw this problem coming and in 1985 passed a Growth Management Act that required cities and towns to undertake comprehensive land use planning efforts. The resulting plans reserved certain areas for open space and agriculture. But is preparing a plan enough to stop the inexorable expansion of cities? Stephen Lloyd (MCP ’11) aimed to find out.
In many cities, the ability to eat nutritiously is hardly universal. Communities that are not fortunate enough to have a local supermarket are left without a means of obtaining fresh produce. Corner stores are generally seen as part of the problem as they provide easy access to tobacco and junk food but rarely reserve space on their shelves for produce. Advocates for healthy communities would score a major victory if they could work with these small retail outlets to revamp their product lines and include healthy alternatives.