Sustainable Living: Under city lights, urban camping takes root

Posted on August 12, 2013 | green living, New York, San Fran, sustainable living
Summer begins with a lot of good intentions, plans to get back into nature and reconnect with our roots.  But, if your camping ambitions have yet to materialize, don’t despair: a night under the stars might be closer than you think!

City governments and urban entrepreneurs across the world are now paying increased attention to providing camping options within city limits.  Sound like an oxymoron?  Well it is, which is why urban camping is blossoming into an outdoor experience unto itself: not quite rural romping not quite city hustling.

One fascinating example is taking root in Amsterdam where architects Oscar Rommens and Joris Van Reuseldrew drew inspiration from the skyscraper but gave it a campy twist.  Their creation is a small-scale, mobile, urban camping facility.  The unit is a literal and figurative platform for city explorers to  stay overnight (avoid exorbitant hotel prices), connect with other travelers and rediscover urbanity in a totally new way.

While vertical camping catalyzes innovative new designs, it also creates room for the bare-boned traditionalists.  Spearheading this approach are the folks at Bivouac, a summer rooftop art instillation that doubles as 15-person campsite. The project is currently running in New York, Boston and across the pond in London.
The campers here aren’t typically travelers, Bivouac is more an experiment in day-to-day life in the high-tech city jungle. Guests are encouraged to live their normal daily lives, taking the subway and working as usual, before retreating to their low-fi oasis at night (without showers, internet or electricity). Interested in setting up camp? Check it out here.

In the Midwest, urban camping has a unique iteration that’s more nature-focused.  North Face has teamed up with the Chicago parks department to create the Camping 101 Program, giving novice campers and their families the chance to have a slumber-party in select public parks.  The initiative is so well-loved that North Face is teaming up with other state park agencies in California, Idaho, Massachusetts, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Oregon.

The consensus when it comes to easily-accessible camping is clearly more, more, more! Have you pitched a tent in an urban jungle? 

We’d love to hear about your adventures.

Sustainable Living: When Nerds Meet Nature

Love has moved online, and not just for personal relationships. The matchmaking potential for business romances (aka partnerships) is a burgeoning area in which savoy innovators, with a social conscience, are building new platforms.
Nerds for Nature are the superhero-cupids of this new frontier, an eclectic mix of techies, hackers, activists and environmentalists in the San Fransisco Bay area. They noticed that, while the non-profit industry stood the most to gain by harnessing the low-cost and high-impact power of new technologies, they were the most reticent and unsure how to do so.
Victoria Bogdan, a NFN member, recently told The Grist, “We thought, if we could bring together the tech-capable with the environmental professionals, and facilitate an exchange of ideas – just begin that dialogue – that would be something new”. So Nerds for Nature got to work, launching officially one short year ago at the Code for Oakland civic hackathon. And the sparks are flying.
So far, Nerds for Nature is facilitating matches through their widely successful Speed dating events.  They also run a BioBlitz meet-up in McLauren Park where nature Nerds, scientists, and amateur naturalists embark on a scavenger hunt of sorts to identify as many species as possible using the iNaturalist app to record their findings.  This is the new equivalent of dinner and a movie for industry dating.
We will be following closely to see what genius brainchildren Nerds for Nature can take responsibility for in the future!

Sustainable Living: Born to Die Phones

At ExchangeMyPhone there’s nothing we’re more seriously passionate about than fighting e-waste; it is quite literally what we’re all about.  So naturally, nothing makes us smile like when others join the crusade.
John Rogers, lead material scientist and resident e-waste butt-kicker at UI Urbana-Champaign, has just wrapped up a project developing circuit boards, specifically for cell phones, that dissolve when wet and know to break down when they have become obsolete.  The project has appropriately been dubbed “Born to Die.”
So, what does cell phone expiration look like? Basically a slow withering away that Rogers likens to a dead plant drying up. So far, the largest challenge is ensuring that the devices to not perish prematurely; so other words, if you spill your tea your cellphone won’t dissolve on the counter-top.  Such cell phones would have a “use before” date just like edible commodities.
“We’re talking about electronics that are very specifically engineered to have excellent properties, time independent, until the programmed moment at which you don’t need the device anymore, and then is dissolves away…” Rogers says, “that’s the trick.”

We are incredibly excited to see where Rogers’ research goes and will be cheering on our new ally!

Sustainable Living: 5 Best Ways To Beat The Heat And Spare Your Wallet

Heat like the sort the East Coast has been experiencing has many different effects but perhaps the most ubiquitous is just how lazy it makes us.  No one wants to tackle insulating the attic when its 100 degrees outside, even if it would make your home significantly cooler.  So let’s take it slow.  Here are our top five small, simple steps you can take to beat the heat: guaranteed to make a difference you can fell but the environment and your bank account won’t even notice!

1. Got AC?  Let it sit around 78 degrees.  While you might be tempted to set it to “arctic”- running your unit at temperatures lower than 78 will not cool things down any faster or more effectively.  What it will do however, is force the system to work harder, use more energy and force you to pay up more at the end of the month.  Think of your AC as a baseline tool to be used in conjunction with other tricks.
2. Fan of a good fan?  Try placing one or two frozen water bottles in front of your fan, it is effective, low-cost and low impact.  But the best part?  You’ll never have that panic-stricken moment of “did I leave the AC blasting at home?”  Frozen water bottles aren’t just low maintenance, they’re no maintenance.
3. Sheets to the wind. This is one old wives’ tale that you can trust.  Plus, we love it because its so simple; just hang a damp sheet in front of your window and the sheet will cool air entering your home.  It is also a great way to dry your sheets when they come out of the wash as using the dryer heats up small homes quickly. Which leads us to…
4. Unplug your life.  Turn off any heat-generating devices: the dryer, the iron, the hairdryer, the toaster and oven.  Even small electronics, like laptops, when used frequently can generate heat that you may not notice to the touch but contribute to rising indoor temperatures.  A great excuse to put down the tablets and phones and head out to a barbeque!
5.  Spice. Hydrate. Repeat.  We all know that body temperature can also be changed from the inside out.  Heatwaves are a great excuse to order delivery (you can’t use the oven after all) from your favorite Thai, Indian or Ethiopian place.  It is no coincidence that cultures originating from sizzling parts of the globe typically have equally sizzling native cuisines.  The wisdom in spicing up your insides is that it generates sweat – activating the body’s natural cooling system. In terms of your liquids it is also important to keep very well hydrated and drink much more water than you normally would.  A simple glass of ice water might be the most effective coolant of all, though a cold beer with your spicy Mexican food is also advisable!

Cheers to staying cool this summer.

Green Living: The Surprising Truth About Urban Trees

Most city-dwellers operate under the assumption that, like binoculars and snow tires, the United States Park Service is simply irrelevant to their urban existence.  But, as it turns out, the Forest Service has been hard at work pounding the pavement of America’s major city centers to bring us the surprising truth about city trees: they’re saving our lives, quite literally.

In the first of two recently published studies, director Geoffrey Donovan and his team revealed a direct and dramatic correlation between loss of trees and loss of human life in city centers. According to the study, as deforestation of urban areas spread across the country there was an increase in mortality related to cardiovascular and lower-respiratory-tract illness: 6,113 related lower respiratory system-related deaths and 15,080 cardiovascular-related deaths.

According to Donovan, the research warrants a value shift in popular opinion; rather than equating trees with recreation/decoration we need to think of them as pillars in the infrastructure of public health. We need to starting taking trees very seriously.

The second study surveyed the tree populations of 10 major cities (Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Syracuse) to determine how effectively they were filtering out air pollutants.  And guess what? They’re doing a phenomenal job, so much so that urban trees and forests are saving an average of one life per year per city. That means in New York City alone, trees save an average of eight lives annually.

We hope that this newly reveled super power will inspire city residents to get involved planting more trees in their communities.

If you’re looking for ways to get involved, there are dozens of non-profits looking for volunteers.  Friends of the Urban Forest in San Francisco for instance has planted more than 47,000 trees since 1981.  They have also earned bragging rights by planting 43% of the city’s street tree canopy, and now, as it turns out, saving some lives along the way!

Sandy and Sustainability: Defining Resilience

Summertime at the boardwalk: melting Popsicles, sea salt in the air, freckled shoulders, and long, sun-drenched days stretching into nights illuminated by arcade lights and the crack of a firework across the sky.

There a few scenes as quintessentially American, as East Coast, as New York.

The shore is a beloved piece of our identity and one of the reasons that the devastation caused by super storm Sandy was so painful.  The now iconic image of the Seaside Heights’ Star Jet roller coaster in washed out into the grey waters of the Atlantic perhaps best encapsulates the loss of joy and innocence Sandy inflicted: that which was sacred, larger-than-life, reduced to driftwood and debris.

The recovery process has been an arduous one for private citizens and communities alike.  For those on the shore the summer’s opening weekend, Memorial Day, was the goal everyone was striving towards, the light on the horizon. With summer now upon us, all their herculean rebuilding efforts finally on display! 

One of these most interesting acts of resilience has been the redesign of the system of lifeguard stands that dotted the New York coastline and were nearly all destroyed. City architects took this challenge as an opportunity to reimaging the stands and go above and beyond when it comes to sustainability as well as functionality.

A regular overhaul of this scope would take up to two years but this was an eight -month challenge from design to unveiling. The units were built in modules and each includes an office, public washroom and ample office space. Sustainability and flood resistance were at the center of the design. Therefore, the structures rely on solar heat, photovoltaics, and skylight ventilators, boast a net zero energy system and are elevated above FEMA’s most recent storm surge number. Nineteen new stations are now up and running.

Perhaps the most moving detail is the city architects’ use of boardwalk planks that were salvaged from Sandy’s destruction. In a seamless integration of reuse and remembrance, the summers on the shore will always carry with them a piece of their essence and a token resilience.

Sustainable Living: One Nation’s Trash…

During these turbulent economic times, while many national economies are burning through bailouts and austerity funds, Norway has taking a different approach. They have opted to burn through something more sustainable: garbage.  Oslo, the country’s capital city, has long recognized the value of recycling on a municipal level and half the education institutions are heated by electricity generated by incinerated waste (no easy task in this chilly Northern city).
But, through this hyper-efficient model, Oslo has also encountered a unique problem: lack of trash.  It seems that the urban population simply cannot produce enough waste to meet the demand of a trash-based heating system.  The solution? Imports.
While most of the world’s countries pay to have their garbage exported (the U.S. for instance ships millions of pounds of e-waste to Africa each year), Norway (and other Scandinavian countries like Sweden) are doing the opposite.  So much so, that Stockholm competes with Oslo to get the trash of Norwegian border cities to convert into energy.
“There’s a European waste market — it is a commodity.” Hege Rooth Olbergsveen, the senior adviser to Oslo’s waste recovery program, told the New York Times, “It’s a growing market.”

However, these waste-to-energy programs have left some environmentalist questioning the true efficiency of transporting garbage from further afield as Norway establishes relationships with Leeds, England and perhaps later on, with garbage-rich Southern Italy and Spain. The carbon footprint of the journeys are sizable, not to mention the safety risk of incinerating waste from countries with less than stringent disposal regulations.

But, despite criticisms, one fact remains indisputable: there is real, viable, economic value in what we throw away. And, as the world of reuse expands, this reality only gains momentum.

How do you think the commodification of trash will change the landscape of the global economy? Share your thoughts with us here!

Sustainable Living: A Bumpy Road For The Citi Bike Share

Posted on April 29, 2013 | green innovation, New York, sustainable living
There’s no place like New York. There’s also no debating the fact that the city leads the world in many arenas. However, when it comes to bike culture, New York lags behind other global metropolises like Paris, Toronto, Barcelona, London and Berlin. But this is all about to change: the Big Apple is kicking its bike presence into high gear with the May launch of Citi Bike, the long-awaited public bike sharing program.
It has been an uphill battle for the program to gain approval with members of the public, with residents protesting everything from safety concerns to the defacement of historical streets by bank adverts. Disgruntled Fort Greeners took to plastering the bike kiosks with protest stickers that read, “Residential landmark blocks are not for advertising or commercial activity.”  Others have expressed fears that the bikes infringe on parking spaces.  The most recent critics of NYC bike sharing program came just this weekend from local street venders, those who have been forced out of their regular corners by the racks. One of the protesters told CBS New York, “Many vendors are already crunched for space in the city.”
But the program has prevailed, and soon the bikes will be unveiled. 600 bike kiosks are now in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene and Clinton Hill neighborhoods alone.  The program will run as a pilot in Brooklyn, but Manhattan expansions are well underway (as you can see in the proposal map below):

The Citi Bike program offers annual memberships as well as twenty four hour ($9.95) or seven ($25.00) day options ($95.00).  So, ExchangeMyPhone readers, will you be buying a pass or taking a pass on the Citi bike sharing program?  Share your thoughts!

Sustainable Living: Houseplant 2.0

Spring has sprung and though your neighbor’s perfect garden is beautiful, it may leave you feeling inadequate about your plant-rearing abilities (not to mention this year’s houseplant casualties).  But, even for the world’s worst gardeners, the tech world is offering a solution: the Smart Herb Garden.
These small indoor gardens produce herbs without water or fertilizer (basically without any effort at all). Inspired by NASA, the engineers behind these gardens discovered that using nano material to grow vegetation is actually more efficient than conventional practices.
The principle is as simple as cartridge coffee makers: each Smart Herb Garden comes with cartridges for different plants. You simply plug in your garden, insert a cartridge and add water.
And, the seeds are spreading: more than 50,000 homes are enjoying basil, thyme, lemon balm- even mini tomatoes and strawberries from their click and grow gardens.  If you would like to contribute to the Kickstarter campaign and join the houseplant revolution learn more here.

Sustainable Living: The Incredible, Edible World

We often think of wealthy, urban centers as the crucibles of change in sustainable living. We think of cities as the place where the world’s innovators, and the necessary capital, collide and ideas become real.  We also tend to think that social change proliferates, dilutes and finally trickles down into smaller communities.  Well, the people of Todmorden, West Yorkshire, (a market town in Northern England) have a word for this ideology: bologna.
This small community of around 14,000 began a project in 2008 that is now shaping the way world leaders see sustainable agriculture and, just like their growing practices, the change was from the ground up! These motivated citizens did not wait for politicians, or the next urban zeitgeist, they simply got to work.
What work exactly?  The project is in essence an community gardening venture established by Pamela Warhurst, Mary Clear and a group of neighbors. Incredible Edible Todmorden aims to connect residents through local food-based activism and promote a world of kindness, both towards each other and the environment.
The word “homegrown” describes the fruits of the town’s labor, but it also encapsulates the flare with which they have executed the project.  According to Warhust, there were no action plans, no proposals and “we sure didn’t ask anybody’s permission.”  This spirited-roll up your sleeves-playfulness permeates every aspect of the project: from what they call “propaganda gardening” (planting corn stalks in front of the police station) to their beloved “sprouting cemeteries” (where they the soil they say, is very rich!).  In Todmorden there is none of the calculated, media-combed, dryness that is more and more germane to gross roots movements.
The three pillars of their project are simple: community, education and business. They believe that, if they can keep all these plates spinning, they will be sustainably self-sufficient.  The project started as a seed swap and has grown exponentially.  Volunteers have created vegetable tourism and an edible path tour of the town.  The local high school now teaches horticulture and local farmers have seen their profits increase so much they can now move into other areas like cheese and beer manufacturing.
In Incredible Edible Todmorden the motto is simple “If you eat, you’re in.”  And, as a result, the idea is spreading fast.  There are now more than 30 Incredible Edible towns worldwide from England to America, Japan to New Zealand.  People are getting a taste of this small town’s genius and coming back for seconds!