Monday, October 4, 2010

Why I Live in the Suburbs

This blog is something of a reply to Roberta Brandes Gratz, who spoke eloquently at the recent Syracuse Center of Excellence Symposium about the need for [post-industrial, rust-belt, downsized, creatively shrunk] cities such as Syracuse to "re-densify" as a step toward sustainable growth. Excerpts from Gratz's speech can be found at syracuse.com.

I live in the suburbs of Syracuse—in Baldwinsville, NY—and do so for several reasons that in my opinion must be addressed if a city like Syracuse's is to attract middle-class professionals of my generation (that would be "X") with families.
  • Schools—Quality of city versus urban schools is one of the most common reasons why families move to the suburbs. This issue raises deep, sometimes ugly feelings and history, and I don't pretend to be able to address them in this blog. Suffice it to say, as an Englishman, I have always found America's way of funding schools—funding directly from a local town/village tax base rather than a more equitable, centralized (county/state) system—to be structurally unfair. A re-densification movement would surely have to work to change the vicious (and for the wealthy suburbs, virtuous) circles the current system causes.
  • Gardens/Allotments—Gardeners in my very densified home town of Brighton, England make do very well with municipal garden allotments, usually on the edge of town. My need to have a large vegetable garden was a "deal-breaker" when it came to looking for a new home. A Sustainable Syracuse would need to offer what an English city-dweller considers a "basic amenity."
  • Walkable Neighborhoods & Parks—Baldwinsville's quiet street and large front lawns make up for my village's lack of real sidewalks and mini parks. But a city must have sidewalks, verges, crosswalks, bike lanes, and parks large and small if families are going to live in apartments or townhouses.
  • Safety—The British have always had a good model for community policing: the "Bobby on the Beat." The simple act of a policeman walking (or biking) on a regular beat around a neighborhood, much like a postal worker getting to know everybody, goes along way toward having ordinary citizens take control of their own safety. But much like cops all over America (and increasingly in Britain), Syracuse cops rely on intimidating, hermetically sealed police cruisers to get around. There are a few bike cops, especially in Armory Square, but we need more Syracuse Bobbies!
  • Shops—Basic stores such as a grocery and hardware/general stores are essential. Central Syracuse does quite poorly in this regard, although a downtown citizen does not have to go far (Erie Blvd) to find what he or she needs. The C.L. Evers grocery in the Amos Building wasn't all that clever, as it turns out—its foot traffic was too light and its hours not aggressive enough. In Britain, mega-grocer Tesco has a variety of store models ("Extra," "Express," and "Metro" stores), from out-of-town superstores to corner shops and even gas station stores: would all-powerful Wegmans ever do the same?
—Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence



Friday, September 10, 2010

Ten (Green) Things for Syracuse

I brought my soap box into work this morning, so without further ado, here's my list of Ten (Green) Things I'd like to see for Syracuse. Forgive me if you've heard me grumble about some of these before, but I do go on, don't I ...
  • Walkable neighborhoods—My colleague Carissa Matthews walks to work, and this morning enjoyed chatting with school kids waiting for their bus and other neighbors she might not have bumped into in a car, one of whom was helped after she tripped on a broken sidewalk. Yes, walkable neighborhoods means fixing sidewalks, painting lines, making pedestrian crossings work, planting grass—not weed—verges.
  • Abandoned Office Building Law—Once an office building has been unoccupied for five years, a review must be held to determine whether it's allowed another five years on the market, or whether it qualifies as historic or significant, or whether it should be deconstructed. There are way too many abandoned office buildings in our downsized city, giving us a "rotting teeth" look.
  • Mini-Parks in abandoned lots—The mini-park on Warren Street is an excellent example of what can be done with an abandoned lot, whether short term or long. More mini-parks, less parking lots.
  • Environmentally friendly parking lots—But if Murbro or another parking company buys a lot, their contract must stipulate environmentally and aesthetically friendly features, such as rainwater capture and green infrastructure landscaping.
  • Plastic bag ban—I wrote about this in my last blog, and, amazingly, California voted down the ban. So, Syracuse, we could be a national leader if we ban the biggest symbol of our throw-away, oil-dependent culture/economy!
  • Municipal Composting & Recycling Centers—I've been longing for composting centers ever since I started traveling to Montreal, where large composting bins are all over the Outremont district, and close to garden allotments. In my home town of Brighton, England, glass/plastic/paper recycling centers (on street corners) have been commonplace since the late 1980s.
  • Pedestrian Zones—Another common feature in English and other European cities. Armory Square in particular could go completely pedestrian or allow buses and taxis only (as the main shopping street in Brighton—Western Road—does). This, of course, encourages a public transportation/walking/biking culture.
  • Return of Erie Blvd median to a naturalized state—I understand local green infrastructure experts are thinking of ways to return some areas of Syracuse to its naturalized (swampy) state, as a way to solve our storm/sewer issue. Erie Blvd east of the city is massively, stupidly wide (because it was a canal, then a railroad—much too wide for a road!) The median of this thoroughfare could be turned into a beautiful and useful pilot/demonstration project.
  • Parking rates that pay by the size of car—Economic incentives work. Until Australia-bound prison ships were paid by the inmate walking off the ship rather than onto it, death rates on those ships were as high as 50%. The economic incentive to treat prisoners well reduced it to 1%. So, stop people using F-350s and Suburbans as commuter cars and introduce "pay by the weight" (or by the class: sub-compact, compact, etc) parking in our city.
  • Tear down I-81—It will be a huge project and one that will cause plenty of inconvenience, but it will create jobs (the Obama Administration is thinking along these public works lines) and we already have the alternative north-south route in place (I-481). Let's git r done!
Got any (green) wish list items for Syracuse? If so, please e-mail them to me!

—Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Whither Resilience?

Two recent news stories—one from China and one from Chile—has made me think about the nature of resilience. The word has become a common term in sustainability circles, where it has roughly the same meaning as it does in psychology: the positive ability of people (or communities or human-made or natural systems) to withstand stress and catastrophe.

An example of a resilient human community might be New Orleans, which is showing resilience in the face of two disasters in five years: Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. It's still to be determined whether a related natural system—the Mississippi River Delta wetlands—having suffered for years from the slow catastrophe of human colonization, will have the resilience to bounce back from these recent disasters. However, the discovery of new species of oil-eating bacteria in the Gulf of Mexico may mean those waters have evolved resilience, thanks to the existence of large natural oil seeps.

So, resilience usually has positive connotations, and that's the kind of resilience I hope the 33 gold/copper ore miners in Chile exhibit. As of this writing, these men have been trapped in their collapsed mine for more than three weeks. Yet despite their almost hopeless plight—they'll have to survive for as many as three months before a bore large enough to rescue them can be drilled—they were incredibly upbeat (singing patriotic songs, no less) when a lowered camera enabled them to contact the outside world.

In fact, notes sent up by the miners—short and poetic, and in one case, asking for a sweetheart's hand in marriage—have captivated Chile and earned praise around the world for their expression of fortitude, hope, and brotherhood. To put it in colloquial terms, these miners are hard as nails.

On the other hand, we have the Chinese drivers who had to live through an ordeal that, although pale in comparison with the Chilean mine disaster, would bring most of us to our knees. The "Great Crawl of China" was a traffic jam that lasted for 11 days and was 60 miles long at its peak. There are photographs of the, um, "inmates" entertaining themselves playing cards, washing themselves down on the road, getting fed and watered by opportunistic vendors, and sleeping under trucks.

That's the problem with human resilience. As a species we have a remarkable ability to suffer slings and arrows. But when stress and catastrophe far exceed what other species or habitats can resist, that spells environmental trouble. After all, humans can survive low oxygen (Tibetans), extreme cold (Inuit), and extreme heat (Tuareg), environments that kill most species—we are extremophiles. The Chinese drivers were just applying that evolved resilience to a disastrous, disgusting, and dismal human-made environment.

This is worrying. It's often said that the majority of our population will only get the message on, say, the threat of global warning when disaster strikes home. But what if—like the clueless frog dropped in a pan of water being heated to a boil—we simply and slowly become resilient to the catastrophic world we are creating?

—Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Electric Event

Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles (PHVs) were delivered to SyracuseCoE this morning. These are demonstration concept cars that drive about 13 miles on a full electric charge before switching over to the Prius' regular hybrid system. Out of 600 PHVs delivered worldwide, Syracuse has six, with Syracuse University, SyracuseCoE, and CuseCar taking possession of two cars each. Toyota is partnering with universities and other organizations in order to get real-world driving data with the hope of improving the PHVs for the mass market.

Syracuse is a great place to test the cars, of course. We have, um, "robust four-season weather," so if the Toyota engineers were wondering how the cars will charge up when the temperature is 20 below or how the system will fare with a temperature swing of 60 degrees in a day, they've come to the right place. Thanks to some excellent lobbying by Barry Carr of Clean Communities of CNY, Toyota also know that this city has been used as a test bed for all sorts of products over the years and that our city's green reputation is growing stronger each day.

It's easy to be cynical about technologies such as Plug-In Hybrids. To some, it might be seen as "too little too late," and the 13-mile driving charge simply too small to be effective. But think for a minute about your typical driving day. For me, during the week, it's a 16 mile door-to-door commute, and if staying at home on a weekend, it's chores in the village, a mile from my house. That is, the 13-mile charge will do very well for a typical week's driving.

In fact, the average commute distance for Americans is 16 miles. And that fact might be the key to what Toyota want to achieve with these concept PHVs. It'll be awfully difficult weaning Americans off the internal combustion engine, and one drawback to electric cars in the minds of many drivers (I heard this comment more than once at today's press conference) is the fear that losing charge in a car will leave the driver stranded.

To make a bridge for the consumer between gasoline engines and fully electric cars, the Toyota PHVs parked at SyracuseCoE not only have a charge that more or less matches the country's average commute distance, they have an easy-to-use system that allows the car to be plugged into a regular 125 volt outlet (for a slow charge) as well as a 240 volt outlet (like the outlet that runs your clothes dryer, for a quick charge).

Where electric cars should get to, as I wrote in an earlier post, is an exchangeable, generic battery system and a national network of battery changing stations, ideally using locally produced energy to charge banks of batteries. We may get there some day, but for now, Toyota should be given points for developing a car that helps pave the way.

—Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence




Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Fit to Print?

Is the survival of the "serious news business" a sustainability issue? By serious news business, I mean the kind of in-depth, worldwide reporting outfit once taken for granted but that is now—in the US especially—an endangered species. In print especially: the New York Times and Washington Post are moribund, both having slashed their staffs and bureaus. Once-indispensible Newsweek was recently unload for one Yankee dollar.

On TV, the situation is in some ways more dire. A short while ago, my brother was visiting from England and wanted to watch "the news." It was 8:30 pm, and there was no news to be had. On every "news channel"—MSNBC, CNN, Fox, and even CNN Headline News—there was a talking head, the TV equivalent of the bloviating news blogger, with entertainment gossip or sports scores scrolling across the bottom of the screen.

TV news as it is consumed in England doesn't really exist in the US anymore. There is no 24 hour reportage of world events on American TV, no equivalent of BBC24 or, dare I say, Al Jazeera. America's 24-hour news outfits tend to focus on just a few "sexy" domestic political events, which sooner or later are turned into a horse-race-for-the-presidency story. The traditional 6:30 pm newscasts of ABC, CBS, and NBC are so obviously skewed to an aging audience that if I can't stand to watch them, why would a 21-year-old!

I suggested my brother go online—to the huffingtonpost, for instance—but there again, the narratives drive toward comment, not in-depth reporting, and gossip, not hard news. There are bright spots: NPR is a growing concern and does a decent job of worldwide news gathering and investigation with its limited resources and somewhat limiting medium. And let's not forget how American filmmakers have revived both the arts of documentary making and muckraking, led by the indomitable Michael Moore!

Many social, political, and cultural movements suffer from the parallel downward spirals of shrinking news bureaus, increasingly soft-edged reporters, marginalization of investigative reporters (did I mention Michael Moore), proliferation of partisan commentators, and infotainment. But consider how deleterious this death spiral is to the national conversations that surround the Four Pillars of Sustainability, serious conversations that can only take place with serious amounts of research and reporting ...

• Ecological Sustainability—Climate Change is real, is happening, and needs solutions, although the climate change story that gained the most traction recently was the one about UEA climate scientists' supposedly damning internal e-mails.
• Social Sustainability—The media has always played a crucial role as watchdog to monitor the progress of human rights, labor rights, and corporate governance, but how well is it doing when it comes to the national conversation about US immigration reform?
• Economic Sustainability—The sub-prime mortgage disaster was also a disaster for the media. They got to the story after the fact, and, thanks to news units' financial wings, actually contributed to the mess.
• Cultural Sustainability—The genius of the First Amendment of the US Constitution was that it deliberately recognized the growing power of the media and found a place for it within a democratic republic. Thus the media became a vital part of American culture, both political and social—but what happens now that the media is devolving back into partisan soapboxes, entertainment rags, and sports pages?

—Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

How Bizarre Would You Be?

One of my favorite TV shows is Bizarre Foods with chef and writer Andrew Zimmern. He's smart and funny and truly adventurous when it comes to trying out local cuisine. Street food, bush tucker, state fair deep fried anything ... he'll try it all, and I believe he's only thrown up on camera once!

Zimmern's show of course is an exercise in sustainable eating and localism, and the title of his show somewhat ironic. After all, the foods that seem bizarre to Americans are simply "food" to other cultures. Of course, there are some truly strange victuals out there. I stopped watching once after Zimmern was offered a glass of sake with a beating frog's heart in it—but in this case he was at a Japanese restaurant famous for concocting weird edibles as tests of resilience and strength, a holdover from Samurai culture.

Mostly Zimmern spends his time eating head cheese, blood sausage, chitterlings, knuckle, tongue, sweetbread, etc—reminding us of a time when it was quite common to eat every last part of an animal in one sausage form or soup other. The show is also a reminder of just how narrow the modern factory farmed and processed American diet has become, to the point at which lamb or liver or hocks are as bizarre as most folks will ever get.

Growing up in England, with parents and grandparents who went through WWII (and in one case WWI), my diet still contained elements of more sustainable times, as well as times of hardship. We sometimes ate inexpensive and nutritious foods such as liver, tongue, haslet, blood puddings, pilchards, and suet—the last two are considered in this country things to feed cats or birds! If we had a beef roast on Sunday, then for evening tea we would eat drippings on toast—the beef fat cooled and congealed to a spread.

I often think of sustainable living in terms of "what era do we need to go back to?" In the case of diet—to use our food resources more frugally and to add more variety and localism—we'd need to travel back to at least 1940, the age before Kraft cheese, margarine, and Jello!

But I wonder if folks have the stomach for this? Well, how about a test?! At Wegmans in Fairmount, NY, you can go to the international foods aisle and purchase a classic British "throwback" food from the turn of the last century: Marmite. It's a sticky, brown, salty spread made from the yeast sludge left over from beer brewing. Deelish! Buy a jar and spread it on toast—if you pass the Marmite test, you'll have the stomach for other "bizarre foods!"

—Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence



Thursday, July 15, 2010

Renewable Energy Alchemy












Let me tell you about the wonderful opportunity I had recently, where I spent the day with the SUNY Oswego Energy Institute. This past Tuesday, students in the summer Energy Institute took part in an engaging, day-long training at the Renewable Energy Training Center at SUNY Morrisville.

Fifteen students attended the training which began with an overview of the facility and the various training programs offered. The attendees spent the morning exploring fundamentals of wood gasification and then created their own wood gasification “stove”. Here’s an example on YouTube that is similar.

The afternoon was spent gaining exposure to the RETC’s small anaerobic digester, producing methane currently from a couple of apples that have been digesting for several months. We then took a short field trip to a more macro-example in the form of the large scale anaerobic digester linked to a 270 head dairy operation producing energy from the digestion of the dairy waste stream.

It was a very instructive day for the Energy Institute students, and led to considerable discussion on the ride home for the practicalities, and possibilities of other renewable energy projects.

Thanks much to Ben Ballard for the opportunity to see all that the RETC has to offer!

-Thad Mantaro, SUNY Oswego










Wednesday, July 7, 2010

All Hail BP!

It occurs to me that mega-corpoations such as BP act like arrogant, bullying, empire-building nation states of yore because, well, they have grown so large—in terms of wealth and assets—that they are now analogues of nation states. One example of their wealth: Exxon's annual profit in 2006 was $39.5 billion, the equivalent of Ghana's GDP. It's "much reduced" $19.3 billion profit in 2009 is at the level Macedonia's GDP.

I'd go further to say we may be entering a phase in which certain corporations—most obviously banks and oil companies—will dominate even supposedly powerful real nations, dictating domestic and foreign policy beyond the specific areas of finances and energy.

There's nothing new in the corporate control of nations: Britain (arrogantly, bullishly) outsourced its empire building to the British East India Company. In modern times, oil companies have become quite used to the de facto control of territory, as the inhabitants of the Niger Delta have discovered. What's new in the case of BP is that the arrogance and bullying has clearly infiltrated the so-called First World: America, in other words, is experiencing what the Niger Delta, the Persian Gulf, and countless so-called Developing Nations have experienced: oil spills, environmental degradation, human displacement, compliant (or just plain scared) governments. The acceptable risks of the oil business.

Where will this end? A dystopian outcome might be war—the point when oil resources become so low and sought-after that real nations and oil companies begin to fight each other for them‚the oil companies employing mercenary armies they have gotten to know in recent wars, I imagine. The commerce-driven Opium Wars between Britain (dba the British East India Company) and China might be a template for this sort of conflict.

Too fanciful, I think. More likely is what already seems to be happening to BP. Older nation states often pulled themselves apart and went bankrupt when their arrogance and bullying—and empire building—created unsustainable financial situations—taxes that led to riots, ill-conceived alliances that led to more conflict (World War I), and so on.

BP may already be at this stage. One shocking part of the whole Gulf of Mexico oil spill for me is not just that BP had a poorly conceived clean-up and containment plan for the spill, it's that by not having one, they put the company at risk. In other words, BP is on the verge of bankruptcy. These mega-corporations--like Britain's King John—might just stupid themselves into irrelevance!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Citizens Academy Roadshow

In September, the SUNY Oswego Office of Business and Community Relations will partner with Beaver Lake Nature Center to offer a citizens academy on sustainability at Beaver Lake Nature Center.

A citizens academy is an interactive educational program that helps citizens learn what they can do to sustain a healthy, eco-friendly community. Weekly topics will include ecological principles, water and energy efficiency, sustainable food and buying and sustainable communities.

Meetings will run 11 a.m. to noon, Wednesdays from September 29th through November 10at Beaver Lake Nature Center. There is an all inclusive $10 fee for the discussion style class and materials, and the program is underwritten by SUNY Oswego.

We are very excited to offer the Citizens Academy in partnership with Beaver Lake Nature Center and we’re also very excited to have two a program graduates, Linda Costello and Mary Fran Yafchak, lead the program. Linda and Mary Fran completed the course together in the first Citizen's Academy in 2009. They found that experience to be motivating as well as informative and are eager to expand the discussion. Linda, in particular, has over twenty years environmental experience. This experience includes being a trained Habitat Steward, and teaching zoo camp at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo.

Those who complete the program will receive a certificate of participation and information on how to become engaged with local sustainability activities. Participants must preregister by calling Beaver Lake at 315.638.2519.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Skinny on Sustainability

This blog was inspired--if I can use that word in this case--by an observation I made yesterday as I was driving to work: the first five people I saw in downtown Syracuse (walking, it has to be said) were obese. A coincidence, surely, although one that has greater odds of occurring now that obesity has become an epidemic in the US. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 32 states have an obesity prevalence of more than 25% of the population. Obesity is defined by the CDC as a Body Mass Index of 30 or greater.

Obesity is a real and present health crisis. But is it, I wondered, a sustainability issue? Actually, the CDC seems to think so, judging by the introduction to its website section devoted to the issue: "American society has become 'obesogenic,' characterized by environments that promote increased food intake, nonhealthful foods, and physical inactivity. Policy and environmental change initiatives that make healthy choices in nutrition and physical activity available, affordable, and easy will likely prove most effective in combating obesity."

The key sustainability phrases of this statement in order:
  • Increased food intake—Eating too much is by no means the only cause of obesity, although the culture of super-sizing certainly contributes to the epidemic. Super-sizing meets sustainability head-on when it's not just food portions, but vehicles (SUVs), houses (McMansions), and other necessities that have grown out of proportion to our true needs. Behavior, policy, and culture must change if we are to "reduce" and well as "reuse and recycle."
  • Nonhealthful foods—"Food cues" are everywhere in our culture, and what's advertised is usually some delicious combination of sugar, fat, and salt. Processed food, in other words. The sustainable trends of localism and slow food directly confront the processed food industry, as does the re-emergence of vegetable gardening, or should I say "domestic terraforming!"
  • Physical inactivity—We drive too much, we are too sedentary at work, we live in neighborhoods without sidewalks or bike lanes: at the heart of smart growth and LEED-Neighborhood Development initiatives is the premise that a walkable/bikeable neighborhood is also a healthy neighborhood.
  • Policy and environmental change initiatives—The keys to wholesale sustainability, although the fate of one example policy initiative in New York State shows how difficult they can be to implement. Remember the Expanded Bottle Bill? This win (health)/win (litter)/win (money for state coffers) bill took seven years of acrimonious effort to implement—so good luck with the soda tax, Gov. Paterson!
—Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Earth Is in the Balance—Someone Tell Jeep!

With the Gulf of Mexico disaster as an oily backdrop, Chrysler have re-launched themselves by offering the public an exciting new model.

No, it's not an electric car or a super-fuel-efficient compact—it's the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, the granddaddy of SUVs. Well done Chrysler for meeting our energy and transportation crisis in a head-on collision with a vehicle that gets 20 mpg on the highway!

Still, Chrysler could design all the electric cars in the world and it would mean nothing without robust government policy intervention. After all, the rise and rise of the gasoline powered internal combustion engine was made possibly by the government standardization of gasoline, as well as other policies that made possible our vast network of cookie-cutter gas stations.

Just think of the situation if, after a Sunday drive in your brand new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, you had to search for a Chrysler-only gas station (or a Ford-only diesel station or Subaru-only ethanol station). But until we have a standard for batteries and a network of battery stations (that frankly could become a new line of business for existing gas stations), electric cars will remain a novelty. (This is not to mention the need to have a power and grid network that could handle millions of batteries needing a re-charge.)

The point is that the driver of an electric car, when his or her standard Lithium Ion or whatever battery is dying, should be able to swing into a "gas" station and switch out a battery as easily as filling up a gas tank, knowing that the battery is made to a standard that will work in any car.

The extent of the government regulation needed--in the service of competition, mind (nobody argues about the stifling hand of government when it comes to gasoline standards and regulations)--might seem overwhelming. However, there are signs that sweeping sustainable regulations are taking hold in Europe: check out this link to read about Copenhagen's new green roof policy.

--Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Local food is good food

I’m currently reading a book titled The Town that Food Saved. The jacket liner describes the it as: “Lively, funny and candid, The Town that Food Saved tells the fascinating story of an unassuming community and its extraordinary determination to build a vibrant local food system unlike anything in America.”

In the early pages the author explores the transition of Hardwick, Vermont from a manufacturing economy to a new food economy based upon several different boutique enterprises: artisanal cheese, tofu production, yogurt, a seed company, composting, and apiaries. What caught my attention, on page 70 was his exposition on how much of the products from the above companies leave the local economy for sale in the more upscale economies of Boston, New York City and San Francisco. The author, Ben Hewitt, poses a question that had lurked in the background of his consciousness, which is: If local boutique food producers are actually concerned with local production, shouldn’t they be creating a product that local buyers can and will (can afford to) buy?

On a local scale in and around Oswego County I’m wondering the same thing. As we imagine the transition that may occur with the decline of peak petroleum to a more local food economy, I’m wondering are there similar ventures? The answer is “yes.”

Over the last several months I’ve researched local producers as a means of informing discussion in the SUNY Oswego Citizens Academy. I’ve visited two local farms—Grindstone Farm, and Happy Hooves Organic Farm. Both of these farms sell their own product to consumers locally, which increasingly local consumers choose and are able to afford. I’m hoping that over time we will see more businesses, not only producing products locally, but that are of course serving local consumers.

Let me introduce you to the two I mention above:
Grindstone Farm, with“…over 25 years of rich experience in growing a wide range of high quality, certified organic fruits, vegetables, and other organic items, … has become a well-known leader in Central New York. Providing a full line of produce, sometimes more than 120 varieties, you'll find everything from A (asparagus and arugula) to Z (zucchini and zinnia).”

Happy Hooves Organic Farm focuses on meat production including beef, pork, venison and chickens. Their website states: “We… have pastured pork, free range turkeys, free range chicken eggs, farm-raised venison, and home grown horseradish and rhubarb for tasty condiment sauces for those delicious meats and sides. Everything we do here is organic and as much space and free range is allowed our animals as permitted for their own safety. This gives you the maximum health benefits from your food that you can find.”

Next time you are considering buying organic, consider buying local if possible. More information about these two producers can be found on their websites at: http://www.grindstonefarm.com/ and http://www.betterbeef4u.com/ .

-Thad Mantaro, SUNY Oswego

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

More T's, less A/C!

Lowering this country's energy bill and making buildings—especially office buildings—more sustainable will require a host of technological innovations, from smart meters to energy efficient lighting to onsite renewable energy production. But it will also require changes in human behavior, work rules, and company policies.

Take dress codes, for instance. Modern energy efficient buildings call for the installation of energy efficient air conditioners that can talk to other building systems, such as occupancy sensors and air quality sensors that allow for windows to be opened. But how many companies occupying these buildings are scrapping stuffy business attire and allowing workers to dress comfortably and appropriately for the climate or season—while maintaining a professional level of, um, couture.

It's 90 degrees in Syracuse today (yay!) and, because the staff is in a fairly relaxed mode, some of us have come to work dressed for the weather, both outside (where the heat island effect in downtown Syracuse makes it pretty steamy) and inside (so we don't have to crank up the a/c).

Sure, T-shirts and flip-flops may be too casual for most business, but on the other hand, do men really have to dress in a suit and tie (or women in hosiery) on very hot days?

My colleague Ana Fernandez comes from Puerto Rico. I asked about dress codes in offices there, and she mentioned that her father had a formal job at a water department but that he "refused to wear a suit" in such a tropical climate. Instead he wore guayabera, an elegant, customary shirt that is a sensible choice for hot weather. Ana noted that in Puerto Rican offices where suits are mandatory for men and women, air conditioning works overtime to keep people comfortable.

There's even been research on this subject. World-class indoor environmental quality scientist Shin-Ichi Tanabe —who spoke at Healthy Buildings 2009 in Syracuse—is an expert on dress codes and climate settings in office buildings, especially in Japan where business culture encourages people to dress formally. His recommendation? Relax dress codes and save on energy!

—Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence

For the want of a nail...

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting sponsored by SUNY Oswego’s RSVP program on Bee Keeping. The presentation was conducted by two former staff members of SUNY Oswego, who in their retirement have turned to Bee Keeping as both a hobby and an educational endeavor. Although I thought I knew a bit about bees, the program was exceptionally informative and consistent with the permaculture thread I said that I would pursue in the next few installments of this blog.

Consider for example, the following: could anyone build a bee, let alone program thousands to act in harmony as a hive? These small creatures, like other social insects, live incredibly complex lives, with both genetically determined and socially prescribed roles. Through some mystery (pheromones?) they communicate complex information with each other, leading to the sustained, collaborative production of honey, their brood, and the perpetuation of their colony.

Without bees and other pollinators, many plants would be unable to reproduce. The “miracle” of agribusiness and large scale crop production would cease. No amount of GMOs, or mechanization can replace this small, but fundamental role:

Honeybees are predominantly responsible for the pollination (and thus reproduction) of nearly 100 commonly consumed crops — roughly one-third of the U.S.’ agricultural production. Honeybees pollinate all the heart-healthy and cancer-preventing foods that the USDA, physicians and our health-conscious friends have finally convinced us to eat and love.

‘The USDA recognizes that the honeybee is the backbone of America’s agricultural system,’ explains Gloria Degrandi-Hoffman, a leading bee researcher for the USDA.

Honeybees pollinate crops like almonds, berries, apples, cantaloupe and cucumbers. Oh yeah, and honeybees make honey!” (from http://blog.gaiam.com/blog/help-keep-the-bees-a-buzz/)

While pollination occurs for many farms only during the bloom of plants, at organic farms apiaries are often set up long term to be part of the gestalt of the enterprise—i.e. permaculture. However, in recent years nearly one third of hives have been hit by a mysterious disruption called Colony Collapse Disorder. For some reason, the worker bees leave the colony abandoning their queen, brood and food, never to return. The bees simply disappear without apparent cause, although a variety of stressors are indicated.


Last night, I had the chance finally to watch a film I’ve been waiting-dreading to see—Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”. In this post-apocalyptic landscape, a father struggles to save his son as they trek through a nightmarish gauntlet of cannibalism, ecological destruction and the total collapse of civil society. There’s no food, nothing grows. A fine silt of ash covers everything, and at each turn one successive horror after another threatens to overtake them.

The book the film was based on has been declared by some reviewers as "the most important environmental book ever." I’m hopeful that post-decline of Peak Oil, our civil institutions and progressive ideas like permaculture will help bridge the terror this film conjures. I remain optimistic that we will seek and find solutions that will allow us to live harmoniously, like bees, each with an interconnected sustainable role.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Earth Is in the Balance—Someone Tell Lexmark!

You'd think that after contributing to the downfall of the American car industry, planned obsolescence as a design, engineering, and business strategy would be dead, but Lexmark—manufacturers of printers and desktop copiers—seem to be happily placing bets on this incredibly unsustainable idea.

Once upon a time, American car manufacturers thought it was an excellence notion to introduce a new model every year, so that customers would feel compelled to keep up with the Joneses and crave ever larger tail fins.

Planned obsolescence as a marketing strategy eventually was backed up with planned obsolescence as an engineering strategy. Who needs a car to last more than a few years when its body design will be outdated come August? American cars became notoriously unreliable (sabotage by disgruntled employees didn't help). When the likes of Subaru came along, selling reliable models year-in-year out with one basic body design, evolution took over. I had a friend in grad school who put 400,000 miles on his Subaru wagon.

To marketing and engineering obsolescence, add software obsolescence. Take my Lexmark desktop printer. Please. I hooked it up to my new Macintosh the other day and realized I needed to download the driver. The Mac didn't have one for my model. There didn't seem to be one at Lexmark.com. A phone call to the help desk revealed that my printer—functioning normally as it has done for about four years—is too out-dated to warrant a new driver for Mac OS 10.6.

Planned obsolescence and sustainability are obviously anathema. Luckily, my Lexmark was saved from becoming e-waste because we'd given my old computer to my son, and the driver still lives on that computer. But planned obsolescence will only become obsolete if consumers punish companies such as Lexmark for using this strategy. I'll be looking to another company for my next printer, and will definitely ask about their reliability, software updates, and recycling policies.

—Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence



Friday, May 7, 2010

Paradise Lost

The more exposure I gain to it, the more I’ve started to think that Permaculture has an image problem. It seems the brand suffers from an unclear message among possible adherents, leaving all but the early adopters (to borrow from Malcolm Gladwell) convinced that only those willing to allow their yards to become overgrown compost heaps, or purchase hemp clothing can join the priesthood. When I think permaculture—and I apologize for my shallowness—I think Old Testament, five foot long beards, the Twits (visuals only), and “Brother’s Keeper” the documentary (again visual context only). See this video for a comparison view: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nl8HGJpjbN0&feature=channel. The message is ok-good, but the messenger needs a shave.

I know…I’m crass, and subject to first impressions, and probably am hypnotized by agribusiness. (Anyone got a Dorito?) I’m also immature enough to think that it’s remarkable someone hasn’t already done the “Spinal Tap” version of permaculture—or “Permaculture--the reality show”. See this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u75q3KaZGy4&feature=related. Can’t you just see Christopher Guest doing this guy?

But the truth is there is much sense in what he’s going on about, and if you’ll allow me to draw it, the link between peak oil and adaptations that human populations will need to make is a remarkable elephant in the living room that almost no one is addressing. I don’t know about you, but I’m scared to death that one day I will wake up and “the revolution will not [have] be(en) televised”—no countdown to zero oil, no alternative fuel vehicle fleet, no Gaia. With a slate of apocalyptic movies recently—“The Road,” “The Valley of Eli,” even “Zombieland”—a construction or near celebration of the dystopian has occurred, and this reflects an arguably collective unconscious concern with uncontrollable change.

Permaculture offers a pleasant, if somewhat gushing, alternative with a utopian vision of humans in balance with nature. But wherever I turn, I see and hear new age, sing-song, Kumbaya-loving versions of it. After taking a few books out of the library (including the definitive—“Permaculture: a designer’s manual”, reading online, and watching various media, I’m still not sure what it means. One guy says permaculture is about “relationship,” another “earth care, people care, fair share”…I’m not sure how I’d explain it to either my seventy year old father, or my twelve year old niece. I’ve heard it referred to as ecological gardening, and one of the most interesting, mind-blowing examples of its practical application can be found at this link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sohI6vnWZmk

But what I’m hoping to discover as I begin to read more, and try to educate myself more, is can permaculture be a sustainable solution to agribusiness? Can it stave off starvation for 7 billion people when the oil is all gone? Is it landscape architecture, design ecology, an “informal institution of social ideals”…?

And does it “…go better with Coke”?

Thad Mantaro--SUNY Oswego

(Part one in a series of three).

On Yer Bike!

A six-month survey of Syracuse streets has been launched by AARP and F.O.C.U.S. Greater Syracuse. It's aim is to tally the amount of "complete streets" in our city. A "complete street" has safe access for cars, pedestrians (sidewalks), and bicyclists (bike lanes).

Cyclists should be especially happy if the survey results in more/better bicycle lanes. Not many people cycle around this city, but there may be a chicken-and-egg situation behind this—at present, cycling around Syracuse and its near suburbs can be a dangerous and unpleasant experience.

I used to cycle to work occasionally when I live in Solvay and worked in Armory Square. On a nice Friday, when I could dress down and didn't have to worry about messing up work clothes, I'd bike down Milton Ave, then Erie Blvd, then Fayette and into work. The trip took about 40 minutes and was mostly flat expect for a few spots in Solvay—not a bad way to go to work, all things considered. (Although no radio on the bike, so no All Things Considered on the way home!)

BUT ... no bike lanes, so cars either did not share the road fairly, or worse, they simply did not know how to act around a bike. Sometimes a driver thought he or she shouldn't overtake me and instead would drive at my pace behind me till I stopped and "let them pass!" Plus, the roads and sidewalks were often in poor shape, making for a bone-shaking ride, and you were always in danger of a puncture—especially on Fayette in the Near Westside—because of the amazing amount of glass in the gutter!

Yes, more bike lanes might encourage folks to cycle around this town, which, at least off the SU hill, is flat enough that cycling could be an option. (Plus we have some great bike stores in town, including the newly opened Mello Velo!)

But at the same time, there'll need to be a shift in attitude by drivers, many of whom are never taught how to act around cyclists or have very little experience driving near them. In England, driving tests are very strict and lessons are a must, and I remember having to negotiate around cyclists constantly with my instructor patiently teaching me how to do it. Besides, I was a cyclist back then, so felt more inclined to share the road. On the other hand, in Amsterdam, where many folks cycle, it's the cars that have to watch out for the crazy cyclists!

So, bicycle lanes are a start, but driver awareness and education about sharing the road with bikes (and pedestrians) is a must—and, oh, regular street cleaning to mop up glass and nails and other gutter junk would be great too!

—Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence



Thursday, April 22, 2010

Trash Pickers Unite!

Happy Earth Day! This morning, staff at Syracuse Center of Excellence celebrated by cleaning up the trash around our perimeter, the Almond/Water/Washington/Forman streets block in downtown Syracuse.

Our neighborhood is, in terms of infrastructure, urban planning, and landscaping, pretty ugly. The sidewalks have been cracked by years of ice and snow removal, dandelions appear to have won their battle with grass on what verges are still green, and trash—a modern human response to an ugly environment—was everywhere.

We—Carissa Matthews, Aimee Clinkhammer, Stacy Bunce, and Elysa Smigielski, and myself—picked up around 15 pounds of trash from the curbs, our perimeter fence, our parking lot, and the "grass" verges. The items we picked up offer both an instant archeological record of our society and evidence that there are a few industries and companies who are responsible for the lion's share of the unrecyclable materials that become trash. Pressure should be put on them to change their ways, just as pressure was put on the tobacco industry when society decided it had had enough of smoking.
  • Cigarette butts were everywhere, actually, in various slow stages of decomposition, most abundant at intersections where smokers casually toss them out of cars. That the smoking industry has yet to offer a compostable filter is amazing. They've only had 85 years; the filter was invented (using sustainable materials, in fact) in 1925.
  • Fast food wrappers, and especially plastic straws and plastic cup lids, were common. The fast food industry must be persuaded—by a combination of legislation and demand—to offer these items in recyclable form: compostable plastic lids and paper straws, for instance.
  • Small (quarter size) pieces of styrofoam—mostly packaging material, on its way to breaking down and down and down until it enters the soil and water as undissolvable pieces too small to see. Styrofoam as a material of "throwaway items" such as cups and packaging ought to be banned.
  • Candy wrappers—the candy industry needs to assess the ecological costs of using plastic wrappers when alternatives exist. Again, a combination of top down (legislation) and bottom up (consumer demand) tactics should be used on Mars, Nestle, and the industry's other behemoths, who both create trash and contribute to the public health crisis of obesity.
We sent two bags to the recycling bins—paper/cardboard and bottles/metal—and sent the rest to the landfill. Here's hoping there's less work for us to do on Earth Day 2011.

—Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence

Monday, April 19, 2010

Not all who wander are lost

As I become increasingly known in some circles as the “sustainability guy” I’ve had a number of people forward to me interesting articles. Recently, someone sent to me several lovely pieces on pollinators, and another on seeking quantifiable means to measure a manufacturer’s overall sustainability “index”. These are really germane concerns, and from the lowly honeybee to the global chemical manufacturer, span the complexity of the solutions we must generate.

I’ve been sticking with my effort to ride my bike to work, and barring rain, or other commitments (today I drove because at lunch I need to lug an ailing appliance to the repair shop=sustainability), have been very faithful to this practice. I feel better, and enjoy the breeze on my face in the mornings, and most of all it adds a peaceful time to my day. I arrive at work invigorated and less stressed.

Recently, however, (my ego smarting) my wife told me that my practice made me look like I’d“just had my third DWI, had lost my license and looked like an inebriate, derelict.” I mistakenly posted this to facebook (hoping for some spousal reckoning and validation), and remarkably (OK, not remarkably—I know the kinds of friends I have) many of my friends jumped on the bandwagon adding insult to injury with varied and scathing raspberries. Only one of such friends, commented encouragingly, and he remarked that in Albany how nearly 30% of his coworkers ride to work.

Joking aside, it made me reflect how important regional variations are in the success of sustainability practices. In other places there appears to be a more broad appreciation of the environment, with a more clearly galvanized core population of advocates. I have a hard time imagining how discourse around biking lanes would be received in the Oswego community (regional weather challenges aside), and how many takers there would really be. (But perhaps, “if we build it, they would come”…who knows?!).

Now, I don’t want to make more of my friends’ playful derision than is justified, but I think this minor example does speak to the nature of public education efforts around sustainability. If my wife (who really does “get it”) finds my riding a bike to work reminds her more of miscreants and violators of drunk driving laws than to create an mental image of a healthy and sustainabile lifestyle, than imagine how many challenges lie ahead as we try to transition to a more sustainable community. Can't wait to tell her about my plans for a composting toilet....

Monday, April 12, 2010

Catch the Litter Bug

Two recent letters to the Syracuse Post-Standard inspired me to write about littering, especially since my colleagues and I are planning to do something about the trash around the Syracuse Center of Excellence's perimeter fence on April 22, aka Earth Day.

The letters express dismay and disgust at the amount of litter around Syracuse. Of course, one culprit is spring—that is, as soon as the snow banks melt you get to see what's hidden beneath the carpet, so speak. Earth Day clean-ups are a chance for all of us to spring clean our neighborhoods and communities.

One letter attempts to empathize with the litterers, but "Who they are, or why they litter, I don't completely understand." I originally was going to ask the question in the blog, "Is picking up litter a sustainable practice?" A pretty basic hypothesis, I admit, but I wanted to ask essentially the same question as Mary Armstrong of Cazenovia: "Why do people litter?" So, for my benefit and Mary's, some possible answers ...
  • Litterers are unaware of the lifecycle of materials and how toxic some are—which is why we all need to educate ourselves about what materials go into products and how/if they breakdown if not properly disposed of. Plastic bags are a great example of a common throwaway item that has a very troubling lifecycle beyond its immediate use.
  • Litterers are unable to find proper places for trash or enough bins—Lack of trash cans is a perennial problem for many towns, especially a cash-strapped one such as Syracuse. And municipal recycling bins are even harder to find. However, tossing trash out of a car window is a pretty lazy option when one of those plastic bags could be used in a car to collect cigarette packets and burger wrappers.
  • Disrespect for environment or community—I think Syracuse's historically poor urban planning has lead to a certain amount of disrespect for the environment that leads to excessive littering. Beautification, green space, and smart growth, should have the effect of reducing littering as a form of civil disobedience!
  • Overwhelmed by trash (packaging)—Packaging is excessive these days and being overwhelmed by lots of fiddly bits of plastic—think of all the stuff that encases and protects something as common as an ibuprofen bottle—doesn't help matters. Reduced packaging means less litter. Packaging that can be be easily recycled or that naturally breaks down means less litter.
  • Other people will clean it up—At great expense to our community, which is the subject of the other Post-Standard litter letter, by Alicia Murray of East Syracuse. A public education campaign might help explain to folks that sales/property taxes are affected by littering when the somebody picking up the trash is a city worker.
—Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence

Friday, April 2, 2010

Cooking (without) gasoline







I made a spring resolution this week, and as I live in close proximity to work have decided that I will try to ride to work whenever it’s feasible. This week, I’ve pedaled my way to campus every day except for one day when I had to attend an activity in Fulton at the start of the work day. This process has meant I’m now rifling through biking websites searching for new tires, a bottom bracket wrench, fenders for the rainy days, flash flag, rear view mirror, and a bike rack. Additionally, I have plans a la “instructables.com” to build my own panniers and a bike rack box so that I can start cycling to the grocery store and on other local trips.

The upshot was that today, as I was working on a plan to conduct a sustainability experiment at work, you would find me cycling to work with a five gallon contractors bucket, a automotive sun shade, thermometer, non-stick pans, eggs and milk in a coffee thermos, and a box of Jiffy brand corn muffin mix straddled against my handlebars. Today, I decided, was Solar Cooker day, and utilizing a model found on the internet (http://solarcooking.org/plans/windshield-cooker.htm) I attempted to cook corn muffin mix at work, with only a few handy home items and some reliance on the sun.

I decided I would make something simple like corn muffin mix in a pan rather than try individual muffins. I mixed the corn muffin mix in our staff lunch room, put it in a pan, and placed it in the cooker. For the next 2.5 hours, I watched as the temp climbed at one point to a max of around 200 degrees at 2:30 pm, and then held steady around 175 the rest of the time. As you can see I would consider it a moderate success; the muffin mix started to bake, and next time with a slightly more reflective shade, I think the muffins will completely cook.

The purpose, for me, and for others for this experiment was to underscore how with simple technology those that live in less developed conditions could use the sun cooker to cook their food. This frees them from searching for fuel, and being exposed to the harmful smoke from the fires. In Haiti, and other places suffering from natural disasters people can cook, and have safe drinking water with little need for fuel to burn. Overall, we can have less reliance on cooking fuels like gas and electricity.

-Thad Mantaro, SUNY Oswego

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Some Good (Green) Ideas!

My colleague Carissa Matthews and I manned (and womanned) the Syracuse Center of Excellence Booth at the Syracuse Chamber Show last week. We were in the Green Business section, along with NY's Creative Core, The Clean Tech Center, and many others.

We had the SyracuseCoE "Green Ideas Tree" up and encouraged anyone who stopped by to "leaf" a green idea for Syracuse, in exchange for a squishy Creative Core apple. Young and old alike left us some pretty good ideas, and the tree—appropriately enough seeing as it's spring—got well covered in "leaves."

Here's a few of the ideas posted on the tree ...
  • Establish a "sustainability cooperative" for local businesses, to explore sustainable innovations such as green supply chains, community purchasing, etc
  • Walk to your neighborhood store, don't drive
  • Grow vegetables on city roofs
  • Have bicycle rentals in downtown Syracuse
  • Less buildings falling apart, more parks
  • Biodegradable plastic bags for supermarkets
  • Plant more trees around Onondaga Lake
  • Put recycling bins on every street corner
  • Reclaim rain water
Given Central Upstate New York's history of environmental and engineering innovation, it's not surprising to find folks rising to the challenge of the new industrial revolution. Don't forget, if you know of a "hidden" green business, entrepreneur/inventor, or school/college group, enter them (and/or yourself) in the Green of the Crop competition (deadline: April 9, 2010).

—Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence

Friday, March 19, 2010

They blinded me with science!

I had the opportunity yesterday to talk with some very exciting environmentalists—a group of middle school students who were taking part in the 8th Annual Environmental Challenge at SUNY ESF. According to the organizers, something like 600 students from the Syracuse City School District participated and over 140 community members volunteered to help judge the exhibits. I was proud to serve among the latter, reviewing the various exhibits containing myriad hypotheses and scientific experiments, some fun (like the student who wanted to know if house plants could survive in a world without people), many focused on solutions.

It was extraordinary to me, to see so many students cranked about science. I thought in a world of facebook and Miley Cyrus, that somehow science would be déclassé. I was wrong. Dead wrong. Maybe it’s just middle school hormones, but they were on fire for their projects. Some of the exhibits had a clear environmental focus; others less so. One young man was trying to see if he could render a magnetic field apparent with simple home objects, another tried and managed to magnetize a nail. Two young women created an experiment to see if they could determine which antacid had the greatest palliative power (note to self: the generic brand does not work better—you apparently get what you pay for), and another pair created a unique experiment to see which home objects could best help purify water (a t-shirt works pretty good, better than a coffee filter, on a certain range of indicators). Finally another pair of young men tested to see which sled (foam or plastic) met the need for speed. Turns out…foam’s the ticket.

With so much buzz, and so many engaged students, it was to me a stellar example of what we are hoping education, and co-curricular offerings can provide as we seek to develop scientists and problem solvers equipped to meet and address 21st century challenges. The most remarkable thing to me was the capacity for young people to understand and implement experiments utilizing the scientific method. Kudos to all the Science Teachers mentoring these students! The joy and commitment the students evinced was moving, and as I considered the future for my young daughter, I thought positively of working on similar science projects with her as she grows to explore her world.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sustaining Happiness

The recent national, as-objective-as-they-could-probably-get survey of happiness wasn't good reading for New Yorkers. Downright depressing, actually. The list of happiest states, originally published in Science in December 2009, has New York dead last. Louisiana, Hawaii, and Florida apparently have the happiest folks, despite, in order, hurricane devastation, expensive gas, and crazy politics/spring break/girls gone wild/bad traffic/alligators/etc.

First off, a quick defense of Central Upstate New York (yes, maybe our downstate friends were skewing the survey!) from the perspective of a British native who moved to Syracuse from West Lafayette, IN, where, apart from Purdue University, they ain't nothing but corn, soy, humid summers, and cold winters.

My wife and I certainly were happy to move to an area where outdoor recreation is second to none—fishing, kayaking, hiking, skiing, sledding—and some of the world's greatest cities are a car ride away. Yes, on this bright spring day (after a pretty hard winter, no question), I'd say I was pretty happy. Maybe not Louisiana happy (?!) but surely up there with Wyoming (#13), North Dakota (#25), or Kansas (#32).

Second, the objectivity of a survey such as this has to be questioned. Even the word "happiness" is pretty difficult to define. For instance, "pursuit of happiness" in the Constitution actually means something like "pursuit of things that make a life comfortable and prosperous" not necessarily "pursuit of an inane grin and beer hats."

Looked at with the Constitutional happiness in mind, the list of What Makes Us Happy makes a lot of sense. It was also interesting to view the list with sustainability in mind. Some of the criteria, as my gloss below attempts to make clear, address key points and/or goals of sustainability, healthy communities, smart growth, and environmentalism ...
  • Commuting time less than 20 minutes (that is, smartly grown cities and no urban sprawl)
  • Low rate of violent crime
  • Good air quality (inside and out, I hope!)
  • Low student/teacher ratios
  • Low tax rates (this criterion begins a bit of a rough patch in the list for Syracuse!!)
  • Less than 35 inches of rain annually
  • Temperate climate
  • 59% days of sunshine
  • Access to coastal or inland water (that is, clean and abundant water sources)
  • State and national parks (green, natural spaces—and I would hope this extends to green spaces within cities)
  • Environmental regulations (need I say more!)
—Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence