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Weekend headlines April 6, 2008

Transplant micro greens. Check. Plant organic Cherokee Purple tomato. Check. Plant Golden Bell sweet pepper. Check.

Three small garden tasks but huge satisfaction from being outside with the sun at my back. Now I am back indoors to blog about recent headlines. In this weekend’s New York Times you can read about a 7,000 square foot North Stamford, Conn. house applying for LEED certification. The house is one of 24 houses on “74 partly wooded acres with a private lake.” Also in the Business section is a story about the Audubon Society’s new and smaller headquarters in Manhattan; the organization’s president is reported to have said that Audubon “went well beyond the criteria needed to be awarded the highest, or platinum, LEED certification.”

The Times also reported on “a shift in the debate over global warming.” Economists and scientists are emphasizing the role of more efficient technology over emissions caps in cutting emissions long term. One of the more efficient technologies cited is “lighter vehicles with more efficient engines.” I was surprised to read this because I heard at Saturday’s TALC Summit that “the more we drive [even if the car is a Prius] outweighs the benefits of technology.” The ClimatePlan California presenters emphasized changing travel behaviors over advances in transportation technology. For example, people who live within a 1/2 mile radius of where they live or work are 10 times more likely to use transit than people who do not. People who live in walkable, mixed use neighborhoods take 30% fewer driving trips than those who do not. The ClimatePlan brochure can be downloaded here.

Of course, neighborhoods also have to be attractive, or possess quality pedestrian environments. A group of physicians and public health professionals from the SF Public Health Department at the TALC Summit presented, among other indexes, the Pedestrian Environmental Quality Index. Many of the elements that encourage pedestrian activity fall under the purview of the landscape architect. Coincidentally, April is National Landscape Architecture Month. Two Orion magazine essays unintentionally honor the field of landscape architecture: “A swamp forest grows in Brooklyn and “Managing the trees of Arlington Cemetery.

Plants are a major element in landscape architectural practice. Issue 010 of Good magazine has run several short features on the uses of vegetation. The Science Barge is a project of New York Sun Works, an organization that “provides technical services in support of rooftop greenhouses and building-integrated agriculture in both educational and commercial settings worldwide.” The Barge, floating on the Hudson River, is an urban farm operated with rain and river water as well as sunlight and wind power.

At a smaller scale, Mathieu Lehanneaur and David Edwards (Harvard scientist) have created the Bel-Air filter, powered by plants. The filter works as follows: “the air circulates among the leaves, and then the filter forces it out through the plant’s roots” (Good, page 26). Click here to see the Bel-Air. No species is specified for the filter, but it would probably be a common indoor plant. Indoor and outdoor plants that “mollify” toxics and purify the air, according to Good, include peace lily (benzene in detergents and trichloroethylene in paints); English ivy (trichloroethylene in tobacco smoke); Poinsettia (formaldehyde in water repellent); Gerbera daisy (trichloroethylene in dry cleaning and inks); Azalea (formaldehyde in foam insulation); and Chrysanthemum (benzene in plastics, trichloroethylene in inks, and formaldehyde in household cleaners).

Now back to the start of this post - food plants. The Food Trust in Philadelphia advocates for community health via access to healthy food. For example, the organization assisted a small corner store in a Philadelphia neighborhood to dramatically increase its fresh food selection [via Good]. More locally, Public Health Law & Policy in Oakland has published the “How to make healthy changes in your neighborhood” guide. The brochure first poses three questions. One, do you live near a community garden? Two, does your neighborhood grocery store sell good-quality, low-cost fruits and vegetables? And three, is there a farmers’ market in your neighborhood? If a reader answers “no” to just one of the questions, the brochure offers the reader eight steps “to get more fruits and vegetables” into her neighborhood (also in Spanish). My answer to all three questions is yes, but the community garden closest to me is a school garden and thus inaccessible. However, I manage to grow a few things in my 1′ x 10′ home garden. My neighborhood grocery store is Berkeley Bowl which is known for its affordable, varied, and good quality produce. The closest farmers’ market, four blocks away, is the Tuesday market at Derby and Milvia.