Tag Archives: environment

(706) The chains around our necks

fast foodUntil Tim Horton’s recent big layoff you could at least pretend to justify the fast food economy as a source of basic, low-paying jobs.  Not so sure about that now on top of everything else…

Chain restaurants are killing us: billionaire bankers, minimum-wage toilers and the nasty truth about fast-food nation. This is what we eat, this is where we work, this is what we do to our land: it’s nasty and must be rethought

(657) Snow days

snoplowHeavy weather stories are often carried far and wide.  And then are promptly dumped for some other easy-to-handle, self-contained media topic.  Buffalo’s insane recent few days of lake effect snow has been a typical example.  Impressive images of the speed and ferocity of the snow preceded features of the neighbours-helping-neighbours type.  Then the news machine simply moves on.  That’s why we liked this item on The Buffalo News.

Snowed-in workers wonder about employers’ pay policies

See also: (421) Let it snow

(432) Suburban poverty & the environment

Homeland City LimitsGood urban design, climate change and emerging demographic shifts are cross connected in this piece in a common sense fashion.  The energy efficiency of walkable, higher density urban areas could end up being offset if North America’s lower income people are pushed to the periphery where stitching together employment, social services and community life requires mandatory car ownership.

Pushing Poor People to the Suburbs Is Bad for the Environment

Mother Jones

image: Amin Eshaiker via Wikimedia Commons

(284) Birds

swallowsLoss of diversity of bird life can apparently be attached to the growth of low income, low population density, aesthetically unattractive, socially unequal human communities.  If we were sprawl, well, we would probably be feeling a little queasy after reading the item below, hosted at urbanhabitats.org.  The author of the paper is Stephanie J Melles and she is associated with the University of Toronto’s Department of Zoology.

“…wealthier neighborhoods have more native species of birds and …these native species increase in abundance as the socioeconomic status of the neighborhood improves.  With two-thirds of the world’s population expected to live in cities by 2030, more and more people will grow up surrounded by a depauperate community of birds, and this could adversely affect the way people perceive, appreciate, and understand nature.  Ultimately, as city birdlife diminishes and urban dwellers become dissociated from the natural diversity it represents, popular support for preserving and restoring such diversity may wane, allowing ecological conditions to further erode.” …says Ms. Melles.  Her report blends socioeconomic data and bird count data for Greater Vancouver including suburban areas.

How are the birds doing where you live?

Urban Bird Diversity as an Indicator of Human Social Diversity and Economic Inequality in Vancouver, British Columbia
24-page .pdf file

see also (155) Tree cover

 image: tree swallow via Wikimedia Commons

(283) Natural capital near the GTHA [Report]

new high point mall 200Something like half of Canada’s best farm country can be seen from the top of the CN Tower.  Sure, that Toronto edifice is the world’s tallest free standing structure but that doesn’t make for a lot of farm land for Canada to feed herself from.  Both of these ideas are cliches that have been in circulation since the mid 1970s.

What you can also see from up there is a zillion dollars worth of suburban development.  In a growth-crazed Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area few can imagine life any other way.  In time, we may come to ask if exchanging all that good, green, food-producing land for a brittle horizon filled with worn out, low grade garbage architecture was all that good an idea.  Better the questions start now while there is something to conserve.  This is what the Suzuki Foundation has in mind with its most recent report.  An opinion piece in the Toronto Star introduces the report, a document deserving wide readership.

From the report:

“Some regions of the country, like the Golden Horseshoe surrounding Toronto, have been blessed with an abundance of Class 1 soils. But an increasing proportion of the best soils in the Golden Horseshoe and in most urbanized regions of Canada now lie beneath sprawling housing developments, highways, strip malls and other infrastructure. As urban communities have grown over the years, agricultural lands and natural areas have far too often been drained, dug up and paved over.
…our growing cities sprawl over what once was mostly farmland. Only 5 per cent of Canada’s entire land base is suitable for growing food. At the same time, urban uses have consumed more than 7,400 square kilometres of dependable farmland in recent decades.”

Urban sprawl is destroying Ontario’s farmland star.com

Nature on the Edge: natural capital and Ontario’s growing Golden Horseshoe
davidsuzuki.org for full report as a 31-page .pdf file

(186) Over hill and dale… and everything else

An NRDC blogger recently urged a consideration of suburban sprawl and the environment.  Specifically, we need to consider drought and sprawl as contiguous problems.  In the larger developed countries (Canada, Australia, United States) we certainly have seen the permanent destruction of vast acreages of agricultural land for suburban development.

America’s archetypal Levittowns were put down in potato fields on Long Island in the late 1940s.  Drought in America this summer upped food prices.  Australia’s Murray-Darling basin is the country’s food basket and is heavily settled and has experienced serious drought.  Canada’s largest province, Ontario, lost nearly twenty per-cent of its best class of farmland just between the mid-seventies and mid-nineties alone – during a period of population growth.  Surpassing these done deals is the expansion of ex-urban living in the developing countries.  Predictions are for inevitable amounts of massive, unevenly managed growth there.

Population, energy, water, land, agriculture, infrastructure.  These issues require a complex set of decisions.  Who will make them and what will the outcomes be?  Who will pay?

How sprawl worsens the impacts of drought and how smart growth can help

photo: files from Wikimedia Commons

(128) Scrapping the suburbs

Descriptions of where suburbia is at call forth questions about its future.  Some of the predictions of where it’s all going for suburbia are dire indeed.  In a world of capital and energy problems the growth of suburbia is safely described as over.  Does that mean we are looking at decay and contraction or adaptation?  Is it possible that we’ll see an element of scrapping, reclaiming and recycling of the very fabric of suburbia? Maybe.  There’s hundreds of thousands of tons, nay millions of tons, of everything from wood to asphalt to aluminium and copper out there.  If it is deployed in a built environment that increasingly is either unsustainable or simply doesn’t meet human needs what will happen to it?  Humans are inventive critters so we’ll probably see all three: adaptation, contraction and physical reclamation of useful materials.

With that in mind we’d like you to meet two guys already at it.  Kenny Chumsky of New Jersey and a Canadian in southern Ontario named Jack-the-Scrapper.  These dudes troll the suburbs garbage picking and scrapping.  They live off the consumer insanity of suburbia but could easily have their way with the very bones and flesh of it without much difficulty we imagine.  Kenny has a charming New Jersey accent and looks a little worse for wear, he doesn’t even don work gloves as he demolishes everything from TV sets to swing sets.  Jack is younger  and could easily be a comedian with his own reality show.  He’s almost as funny as the Chief Publisher here at suburban-poverty.com.  Jack doesn’t look half as rough as Kenny, …must be all that socialist public health care forced on him by his vile government.  Either way, these two men are out there on the edge, testing the future one discarded cast aluminium barbecue at a time.

How to scrap metal from a TV: for copper, wire and aluminum Caution: awesome!
How to scrap a flat TV for cash $$$$ “I’m gonna hit that TV with this axe!”

If you live in a suburban area in North America you probably have noticed a serious rise in scrapping and garbage picking.  Such things were staples of the economic life of developing countries and their visibility here probably speaks volumes.  Copper wire is currently worth about $3.00 a pound and that is why the cords disappear from the toasters and video tape players that go out on garbage day.  Pop cans and scrap aluminium is worth less than a dollar a pound.  Other times scrappers repair or reuse objects and the internet abounds with tales of perfectly good stuff hauled out of the garbage.  Outside the suburban-poverty.com office the first wave of scrappers in vans and pickups, often with trailers, rolls by mid-afternoon garbage day.  There’s another wave around dinner time. Sometimes one around 20:00 and another at 23:00.  Individual pickers and scrappers can cruise by at any time on garbage day.  There’s a man nearby here who scraps on foot with a specially adapted baby buggy.  Not something really anticipated when this grand, sprawling suburban creature was birthed officially in 1974.

(94) Demolition Man: UBC’s Bill Rees on sustainability

Bill Rees is a Canadian academic from the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning.  Here he gives a deft and noteless lecture weighted with facts on the ground.  Rees is all over the changing context of urbanization, technology, consumption, sustainability, and energy.  Apparently what North Americans have come to think of as normal is really the single most anomalous moment in all of human history.  Cutesy ideas like green consumerism, hybrid SUVs, green architecture and biofuels don’t last long in front of scientist Rees.  Short term profit in the run-up to complete catastrophe have distorted our reality so much it looks like we can’t change in time.  None of this means wealth and happiness for humans, suburban or otherwise.  Boy, it gets depressing maintaining your own meta-blog some times.  No wonder people drink.