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SR Sandy Project

August 24, 2013

Stefan Rurak of Brooklyn-based SR Furniture has initiated a project called the SR Sandy Project to reuse debris from the storm. After salvaging a sugar maple, he began making pendants, and is now building stools like the ones below and taking custom furniture orders. A portion of the proceeds all go to the Mayor’s Fund to help with the relief effort.

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I’m also particularly fond of this table, made from reclaimed wood from a New York water tower.

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Imageall images via SR

Mt. Everest’s Pollution Problem

June 24, 2013

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photo via Martin Edstrom

It’s been just sixty years since the first ascent up the venerable Mt. Everest, but during that time, things have shifted dramatically: It’s no longer just the climbers that face danger, but the Himalayan ecosystem as well. With greater numbers of visitors to the mountain and hundreds of climbers every season, comes accumulating waste and pollution. 

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Climbers clog passes like the Hillary Step (shown below), some waiting as long as two hours before they can continue to the summit.

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As climbers ascend, roughly 50 tons of trash is discarded every year including oxygen tanks, food packaging, climbing equipment, and human waste. 

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Thankfully, people behind projects like Saving Mount Everest are working to draw attention to this growing pollution problem and to begin to put clean up efforts and plans in place. Waste bins, toilets, and a must-sign Code of Conduct for climbers are just some of the ways the project hopes to keep the mountain cleaner. In 2011 alone, team members brought 8 tons of garbage off the mountain. 

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It’s a tricky balance between the tourism and money Mt. Everest brings into the local economy, and sustaining the environment and ecosystem that draws people to the place to begin with.

Incredible timelapse shows changing planet

May 19, 2013

Using Landsat satellite data, Google Earth has compiled global timelapse GIFs of our planet to show how it has changed over the past 29 years. From looking at the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest to the drying of the Aral Sea to the urban growth of Las Vegas, these are fascinating compilations of data that visualize our impact on the planet. My only wish is that you could slow it down a little bit more.

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To get a better sense of how much growth and change has occurred over the past 29 years, watch these. And imagine what we would see if we had satellite imagery from the past hundred or even thousand years. The coolest part is you can search anywhere in the world and watch a timelapse!

A Bright Future: the MwangaBora Lamp

May 2, 2013

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Hundreds of millions of households in rural areas without electricity rely on the light provided by kerosene lanterns, but these also have an adverse affect on health and the environment. Between 7 -9% of the kerosene in wick lamps is converted into black carbon when burned, a major driver in climate change (right up there with CO2). People also inhale the smoke causing myriad health problems, among them respiratory issues and eye damage.

Evans Wadongo grew up in rural Kenya where much of his studying and work was done by the light of a kerosene lamp. He grew up seeing a disparity in education between those who had access to electricity and those who didn’t. When he was just 19 and studying at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, he designed an alternative to kerosene lamps: He engineered a solar-powered LED lamp, called the MwangaBora meaning “good light”.

Evans Wadongo is now the Chairman and Executive Director of Sustainable Development For All-Kenya (S.D.F.A-Kenya) where he continues his work under the initiative ‘Use Solar, Save Lives‘ to help promote the use of clean sources of energy in Kenya. He also heads the Just One Lamp organization, which he says aims to “directly impact at least five hundred thousand people by 2015 and raise a million people out of poverty by 2018.”

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The lamps are now part of a display at a New York gallery, Friedman Benda, where sales are helping to raise awareness and money, and provide thousands of lamps to households in rural Africa. Innovation at its best.

 

One Week Later

April 22, 2013

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The news has been my houseguest for the past week. First, images of explosions, marathoners stumbling over their last strides, chaos, and raw emotion intruded into an otherwise beautiful, relaxing Patriot’s Day. I watched the news splashing across the tv screen, trying to wrap my mind around what was happening, and perhaps more to the point, why. Then I became glued to my iPhone as friends, family, and people from all corners of my life were trying to figure out where I was and if I was ok.

In the aftermath of the bombings, I turned once again to the tv, but also to twitter, facebook, news websites to keep up with the developments, but many of those days seemed a blur and only to reiterate what I had seen so many times on Monday afternoon. As the week went by, I streamed eloquent speeches by numerous city officials, and by the President, happy to put words to all that I was feeling. By Thursday, when the FBI showed two suspects in hope that crowdsourcing would help draw them out, the news had made the transition from a welcome short-term visitor who provided useful information, to an emotional, needy one who caused me stress. How many times must I be confronted with images that reinforce the fragility of life? The proximity of hate?

After a walk to try to help absorb (and simultaneously remove) the images I had seen so many times throughout the day, I ended up on Boylston street where a makeshift memorial to the victims has forever implanted in my mind. TV be damned, this actually made those hairs on my arm stand up. Finally Friday morning I awoke thinking I might go for a run but instead heard my phone buzzing filled with messages to stay safe and stay home from work. Good thing the media had pretty much moved in; as fast as my fingers could go I was on Facebook and Twitter, the tv a constant noise in the background telling me that the two bombers had been living a mere 10 minutes from where I was sitting in my pajamas.

And, lockdown. Just me, my roommate, and as much information as the internet can contain. We watched the news for 11 hours straight, hoping minute by minute, that this would all be over. After what felt like a bad mashup of CSI, criminal minds, and Homeland, it was over. Videos of people celebrating in Boston Common took over large chunks of the news websites; patriotism lit up the city like fireworks on the fourth of July.

But the news remained a permanent fixture in my life, even as I ran out of the city, it was all anyone wanted to discuss. Who are these people? Why did they do this? Where is Chechnya?

Today marks one week since the bombings. I can say that thankfully, the news has pretty much moved out. I no longer feel trapped under its heavy addicting presence, like if I moved away I’d surely miss some crucial development or public safety concern.

As the events of the past week settle in and I’ve had the chance to reflect, I can join the symphony of voices to say that I am proud to be a Bostonian. I have come to realize the power of community. The immediacy with which people turned to help is astounding. A google doc detailing free places to stay was viral in no time, chalk messages of strength and love are all over the back bay, anyone with any medical training or inclination jumped into the fury to bring people to area hospitals . . . the sense of community was palpable. Boston is a strong community; one that believes in the power of sports to instill spirit, one full of generosity and and one that finds strength among loss.

So yes, it is perhaps more dangerous to live in a city and congregate in large groups as many people did around the Boston Marathon finish line, but it is perhaps nearly as dangerous to avoid that risk. Recently, a number of thoughtful articles have articulated both the danger and the resilience that stems from us living in such close proximity and interacting as we do in cities. The Boston Globe published a great article about the vulnerability of urban living, stating that within that risk may also lie the seeds of recovery. An MIT urban planning student published a thoughtful post about the systems we’ve created and perhaps the ripple effects those systems may create. The Atlantic Cities describes the psychology of a city lockdown and how the city actually locked itself down.

Cities are constantly changing, and hopefully in the face of natural disasters and horrific events like the one a week ago, we can help cities become increasingly resilient. As was echoed across the Commonwealth today at 2:50pm, just a week after the bombings, we are #BostonStrong. I believe in the power of people now more than ever, and I believe in the power of community. Happy Earth Day!

Boston 1860 to 2012

April 16, 2013

In light of the recent events in Boston, I’ve been thinking a lot about the city and its history. The Boston Marathon was in its 117th year this year, and has been an institution that brings joy to the city’s residents and visitors since 1897, something that hopefully will not be changed by the tragedy that befell the event this year.

So what did the city look like at that point? The MET has a photo, one of the first aerials taken of the city taken from a hot air balloon that shows the layout of the city from 1860, about 40 years before the marathon started. Called “Boston, as the Eagle and the Wild Goose See It”, it was taken by James Wallace Black from about 2,000 feet in the air:

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And here is what that same aerial view looks like today, using Google Earth and GIMP (from David A. Dalrymple):

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To get a sense of the growth of the city, check out David’s fade from what the city was in 1860 to what it is today here.

Despite being truly saddened by the tragic events that unfolded at this year’s marathon, I’ve watched the city’s people and spirit prevail and been really proud to be a part of a community that comes together in such a strong way. Everything changes — especially our cities — but it’s that growth and adaptation that really defines our legacy.

Becoming the World’s Greenest City

April 6, 2013

Vancouver 2020 // A Bright Green Future is a plan designed to make Vancouver the greenest city in the world by 2020. It is a fantastic action plan outlining long-term goals and the necessary actions to achieve those goals– from clean water, air and food, to access to green space, to leading the construction and design industry in green building. The executive summary states that “Vancouverites want to live in a city that is vibrant, affordable and sustainable,” but don’t we all? I love this excerpt from the report:

Why green? Because in the highly competitive, highly mobile modern world, the elements that make a community healthy also make it wealthy. Functionally, a compact, efficient city with a well-organized transportation system and a light environmental footprint is cheaper to run and easier to maintain. The bright, creative people who are the key to conceiving and expanding a globally competitive economy also gravitate to the most desirable – most livable – cities.

 

I highly suggest reading the whole report, but for some of the highlights, check out this cartoon-esque explanation of what makes a good, green city: