A Star in Our Future?

5 11 2008

If only Obama would select a pedestrian and bicycling advocate as Transpo. Secretary….

…Seems Oberstar (D-Minn) and Blumenauer (D-Ore) are on the short list.

Yes we can!


Can we realistically stop a leaky dam with bubble gum?

21 10 2008

I’m reminded of this scene in the National Lampoon’s Las Vegas Movie (Viva Las Vegas I think it’s called…). The usual group of suspects, including Chevy Chase and the brainless character Eddie, is visiting the Hoover Dam. They come across a water leak while touring the dam and one of them has the bright idea to try and stop the leak with bubble gum – they cover one leak and seconds later the water flows from another spot…they repeat the process many times only to find very similar results. Gravity can do amazing things…

I’m taken to this scene by Prop 2 in California and a post I read on someone else’s blog. In essence the proposition, which is to be voted on in less than three weeks, basically vows to stop the inhumane transportation and treatment of animals. By voting yes on prop 2 you are saying animals shouldn’t be cramped into small cages where they can’t spread their wings, move around, and so on. …And as a side note, and a vegetarian, I am completely for Prop 2…I think it’s great and long overdue.

So in my mind I never had any second guesses about how I am to vote on prop 2…you can’t go wrong by voting yes, right? Well maybe…

Last week I spoke with Cheryl Sternman Rule – a freelance writer in Silicon Valley and who’s blog I mention above. After our conversation I decided to check out her website and blog. Through perusing her website and blog (which has wonderful photography) I came across a specific blog about Prop 2. She made some very interesting points about prop 2…will the proposition’s outcome match the intent? If the prop is to pass it would place a great burden on the large industrial factory farms has they have to go about converting their pigeon hole cages to more humane living quarters (among other things). As always nothing is free and this process would cost the farms the invaluable dollar. Who is to see the impact of this change…none other than me and you – the American consumer. Most Americans, especially in tough economic times, will look to the cheapest buy they can get for their money, which in this case their eggs won’t be coming from California farms but farms in Mexico and China, which produce cheaper eggs from chickens most likely kept in inhumane and cruel conditions.

So on a prop that takes aim at improving our health and food safety we may, in essence, do neither…unless we set-up that proposed FDA Office in China (Great Idea!). You can’t win for losing, right? Well not necessarily…it goes back to the bubble gum/leaky dam analogy. You can’t truly fix the overarching system by going from leak to leak…we just create new leaks. You vote yes on prop 2 with environmental and health intentions but in someways we create larger issues with food security and an increase in food mileage. We, along with policy makers, elected officials, etc., must take a look at the larger system and create policies that are “leak” proof.

So, prop 2, what should the vote be? Yes.

Livable Communities Similar to 500-Piece Puzzles

20 10 2008

I’ve been meaning to write this post for sometime now, but have never had the time to get around to what I had hoped to incorporate. As it stands I figure it’s best to go ahead and write it without my initial thoughts for visual representation….and off we go

What are livable communities? How are they created? The answer to both questions is quite complex – it isn’t as simple as changing one variable or the other. Transforming communities from car-crazed environments is intensive – both in time and energy. This transformation isn’t one that happens overnight and most certainly requires the dedication, passion, and buy-in from everyone in the overarching community – from elected officials to homeowners. Just as intensive as the transformation, the answer to the conversion is doubly complex. It takes a host of solutions working together in harmony to create the grand picture…much like that of a large puzzle.

So what makes a livable community? Well to begin with it is a focus on people and the community. Within this post I’ve called out three main, integral parts of a livable community – people-friendly streets, the use of green principles, and proper planning. These three areas hold the key to creating livable communities.

People-friendly streets, what are they? Well for one they are not car-friendly streets. These type streets, neighborhoods, and environments induce a type of community spirit and engagement that can’t be found inside a typical suburb. They include things like complete street policies that look at everyone’s perspective as it relates to how they use the roadways. It takes an approach to looking at how people should live, how they go about their daily lives and how they can do it without a vehicle. It involves access to parks, open spaces, trails, access to grocery stores, centers of shopping, and so on. In my mind this is the biggest puzzle piece, although in someways they should carry equal weight. But without people-friendly streets you can’t make the case for livable places…and once you have these type streets and environments many of the other puzzle pieces fall into place.

The second piece is the use of “green” principles. You might think this is only isolated to L.E.E.D and the creation of green buildings, but it goes much deeper. Certainly there is an approach that deals with building green buildings, but it includes a look at how we build our communities and what that interface is with the natural environment. Are we reclaiming our water? Are we utilizing natural sunlight – for energy, warmth, indoor lighting. Are we creating communities that have positive impact on the environment? Are we preventing pollutant spill off from getting into our rivers and streams? Historical our cities, our communities, and our neighborhoods have wreaked havoc on the environment – they have done nothing but cause burden and negative impact. Communities can be successful, vibrant, and environmentally-friendly though…and those are what I call livable communities.

Lastly we must include a proper planning puzzle piece – not just planning for today but focused planning for tomorrow. How do we design our communities for today? We include things like mixed-use buildings and neighborhoods, traffic calming practices, transit corridors, and accessibility by foot or by bike. We must also look ahead. With a growing population putting an ever-increasing strain on the environment we must look at ways to reverse that.

What are the benefits of livable communities? Numerous…too many to list off. Namely though they include enormous public health benefit, positive environmental impact, and local economic success. The health of the public is impacted both directly by action and indirectly by environment. Walking and biking are far greater for health than sitting in a car. Living in a apartment with clean air circulation and minimal toxins are far better for a person’s health than breathing in V.O.C. paints or other toxins normally used in homes and buildings.

The idea of comparing livable communities to puzzles isn’t to show the complexity of such a community, but to show the depth of involvement. Livable communities are complex to create but the positive impact on the community far outweighs the energy in which it takes to create it.

Lastly, I will say this…above all livable communities must include everyone in the community – regardless of race, social class, income status, and street address. What good is a livable community where residents have a median income of $150,000? What about the family of four, living on half of that only one mile away- don’t they deserve the same community? If we are to make real change, swing the needle in both public health (i.e. obesity, diabetes) and environmental health (i.e. CO2 emissions, global warming) we must involve everyone and think about how we create these communities to encompass everyone.

It can be done.

Walk/Bike to School Day – Washington Elementary 10/08

9 10 2008

Walk and Roll 2008!

As part of a Bike/Ped Workgroup that is under the Santa Clara County Public Health Dept, I made it out to the Washington Elementary School this morning for International Bike and Walk to School Day. The work is focused on Safe Routes to School and incorporates Bike/Walk to School Week.

The event was great – engaging the overall school and neighborhood community – parents, teachers, administrators, elected officials, etc.

Walking and Biking to school hit on so many facets – environmental, physical health, mental health, and, in someways, even spiritual health. Which child learns best – one driven to school or one who rides his/her bike to school? Which child is more physically fit – one who uses his/her own feet/legs to get to and from school or one who sits there and back?

Great stuff…glad to be a part…

Farm Tour(s) – 09/28

8 10 2008

Took to a farm tour of two different farms in Northern California – about three hours north of S.F. They were good, it was hot…really, really hot, to the tune of 95 degrees.

The tour was coordinated and conducted by CUESA, which is based in S/F and promotes education and learning about local foods, farms, etc….oh and they also run the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market…that big sharing of food (good times!).

The first stop on the tour was Woodleaf Orchards in Oroville.

Describing the Orchards

Describing the Orchards

Ole' Faithful

Ole' Faithful

Second stop was Massa Organics – an organic rice field about 45 minutes separated from the first stop. Massa not only focuses on rice but they’ve also started growing wheat and almonds. Great tour and really cool family.

Rice is #1

Rice is #1

Child's Play

Child's Play

As with the previous post, I hope to write a real article or report back and my going-ons but right now don’t have the time…I will find it tho’

Healthy Communities Conference – 10/03

8 10 2008
Returning from my long-term mental and written absence…
Dr. Richard Jackson - Keynote Speech

Dr. Richard Jackson - Keynote Speech

Healthy Silicon Valley, the collaborative of which I work so closely with just had their 3rd annual Healthy Communities Taking Action Conference…first conference with a theme…”Green Health”.

Two Wheels = Green Health

Two Wheels = Green Health

We highly encouraged arrival by alternative transit…to the point of incentivizing it. It turned out well…people took the bus, their bike as seen above, and walked.

Conference Legislative Panel

Conference Legislative Panel

The conference also included a legislative panel, which was moderated by Michael Krasny of KQED. The panel featured California Senator Elaine Alquist, Mt. View Vice Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga, SJ Councilmember Sam Liccardo, and Robert Ogilvie of Public Health Law and Policy.

Looking Up

Looking Up

Hope to have more time to write a real report/article…for now I’ll stick with more of a scrap book of the event…

Where’s the Balance?

26 09 2008

Highly interesting excerpt from Colin Beavan’s (No Impact Man) blog a couple of days ago regarding an event that took place between he and New York State Senator Jeff Klein…

“Weigh it up: “he might scratch my black Mercedes” against “he might cause my little girl to be left fatherless.”

Weigh it up again: One guy is riding a bike that weighs a grand total of 22 pounds and has a relatively small potential to harm others. The other guy is in charge of a powerful machine that weighs a couple of tons. Which person has the greater responsibility to watch out for the care and welfare of people who may get in their path, by their own fault or not?”

Check out the full post here.

…I love the wording, he couldn’t have said it any better. Where do we, as society, place importance? What do we value most?

Moreover, going beyond the writing and the diction, was the way he turned, what could have been a very negative event, into a positive spin…creating the opportunity to meet with the Senator and place him with valuable information that could change his tune on NYC transportation, thus transforming the city into a more bikeable, walkable, and livable community.

Certainly inspiring and hopeful.