What Makes a City Green?

Copenhagen. Portland. Bogotá. Even though these cities are scattered across different continents, there is at least one thing they have in common in terms of function and culture: They are considered to be some of greenest cities in the world.

What do these cities do to become world leaders in urban conservation? From transportation to harnessing solar power, their policies and actions can help be applied to your city or town to create a more sustainable environment.

Here are some examples of what makes a city green:

Efficient Public Transportation and Biking

bike-lane-sign

One thing top green cities have in common is their public transportation and the prevalence of bike lanes and bike-friendly commuting.

Sustainable cities have more efficient and accessible public transportation from subways to metros. Los Angeles has lanes specifically for their buses. Portland, Ore. utilized the city’s layout to build light rails.

Metro bus lines are also working hard to become an easier option than driving to your destination. Metros that rework their master plan can make more direct routes and less stops, making transit by bus quicker, so it allows commuters to leave their cars at home, and some cities are decking out buses with new technology to make them greener. For example, Reykjavik has made the switch to hydrogen powered buses.

Green cities also put a heavier emphasis on biking instead of driving, but biking in high density urban areas can be a challenge if there are no viable options other than riding in the street, which often is a safety risk.

Cities like Copenhagen and Malmö, Sweden combat this by installing separate bike lanes. Other cities are taking action by getting buses to allow bikes on board for longer trips and creating bike sharing programs. Right now in Copenhagen, 33 percent of commuters choose to go by bike, and that number is expected to grow to 50 percent by 2015.

Using Local, Renewable Sources

solar-panels-871284454772qkB9

Solar energy, hydroelectric power and geothermal energy are all renewable sources that eco-friendly cities harness to be more sustainable.

Solar energy is probably the easiest energy to obtain and it can be used in both smaller and larger capacities. For example, Chicago, Vancouver and Philadelphia have solar-powered trash compactors. These cans from BigBelly Solar are the size of a normal garbage can, but its solar panels allow it to operate without electricity and it acts as a trash compactor, allowing five times as much garbage in a single bag.

Solar panels are also used to operate buildings. The Cincinnati Zoo recently installed solar panels over their parking lot, making it the biggest publicly accessible solar panel display in the country. The energy harvested from these panels are used to operate the entire zoo, and on sunny days the zoo can operate fully off the grid. Any leftover energy can be stored and used on cloudy days and throughout the winter when daylight is weaker.

Some cities have other renewable energy options available to them due to their geographical locations. Reykjavik is completely powered by renewable energy because they are surrounded by geothermal energy which can be converted into clean energy. Ninety percent of Vancouver is powered by renewable energy through hydroelectric, solar, wave, wind and tidal energy.

Leadership

White House Leadership Summit on Women, Climate and Energy
White House Leadership Summit on Women, Climate and Energy

In the end, creating sustainable cities comes down to leaders who are serious about environmental policy and who want to make an impact. From a single citizen to the local or national government, anybody can be a green leader. Portland became green because its city’s government was the first in the United States to take climate change seriously. Their planning and lawmaking allowed for the changes necessary to make their city sustainable.

Leaders both in science and government made it possible for Iceland to harness geothermal energy and run their capital entirely on it. Business can make changes by building to LEED standards.

Saving the environment relies on leadership, and that all comes down to every single person. You can take action by making small changes like riding the bus or biking to work and by voting for politicians at all levels of government who want to use their position to make the city or country greener.

Back and Greener Than Ever

After a hiatus that was much longer than I intended, I’m back! Once you stop doing something it gets harder and harder to start it up again, and I began seeing this blog as an obligation instead of a passion project. It was a burden to try to create content when I wasn’t really sure of the direction I wanted it to go in, but now I have a better perspective and I’m ready for an overhaul and relaunch of Urban Conserve.

I first started this blog as a school project, and I knew I wanted to write about the environment, but that’s such a broad topic and it was hard to narrow it into a precise direction. I tried writing about sustainability in my hometown of Cincinnati, calling the blog Urban Conserve, but then I sort of expanded to conservation and sustainability throughout the world, then tried to shrink it back to just Cincinnati while throwing in some DIY projects. It was a headache, and I felt like I was missing out narrowing my blog into such a tiny space. There was no room to grow.

Now, I know I want to write all-encompassing posts about urban conservation topics and news that affect cities and the environment. So now at Urban Conserve, you will find broader green posts, but with the same urban angle. You will still find DIY tips and tricks in addition to environmental news and features because you are still a large part of creating a sustainable Earth.

So past and new readers, welcome to the new Urban Conserve!

Farewell For Now

By no means is this a goodbye post. I want to stick around with this blog, but it was started as a class project. Now that the class is over I just want to thank all my wonderful classmates who read and commented on this blog. You made my job a whole lot easier. Mainly I want to say I hope you learned from this blog as I have learned while I was writing posts. I started out passionate about the subject but not very knowledgeable.

This was how I started out. One of my readers and classmates Katie wrote after my intro post:

Honestly, I can’t wait to read more. I’m highly interested in this kind of stuff, but I never knew where to start.

I didn’t know where to start either. I always valued the environment and wanted to help save it, but it’s hard to know what you can do when you don’t know the exact problem. Katie, I hope my posts have given you an idea of where to start. I think honestly this blog was my starting point. It gave me a place to share new information I learned and build from there.

When I wrote my Valentine’s Day post I kind of had an “aha” moment. I could buy things that would help my cause? That was a great feeling. When I reached out and asked if anyone else had ever bought local or fair trade products, Austin said:

I haven’t. but i might by green gifts, they always seem so much more expensive though. I see the benefits of buying fair and free trade gifts as well.

I’m so happy that one of my readers learned something from this blog, and maybe had an “aha” moment of their own. It was also great to see that I could dispense information and others could utilize it for a great cause.

And I continued to learn and grow from writing this blog. When I came across an article on reusing items I thought it would a wonderful addition to the blog. The reuse of eggshells seemed really popular. My reader and classmate Natalya wrote:

Wow this is very interesting. I never knew that! Ha, I remember when I was little I would break the pieces off and make a mess everywhere lol. I’ve actually never tried reusing them, but it’s worth a shot now! Stuff I usually reuse like shoe boxes for storage and things like that.

Once again, it was great to see that my readers could take valuable information away from here. I learned so much from just starting this little blog and now I feel like I have a great place to keep adding and dispensing information that I learned. It was also wonderful that my readers helped me out by reading and commenting. Thank you guys so much! I hope I really was able to be entertaining and informative at the same time. Good luck to you all and thanks again!

Greener Than We Seem

If you caught the Enquirer this Sunday you have may have seen their article in the Local section “Greener Than We Seem”. I’ve said it many times before here on the blog, but I’ll repeat it. Cincinnati may not be the first city that comes to mind when you think about going green, but as the article argues we really deserve some recognition. We’re 10 years ahead of our fellow Midwestern cities. Since I’ve started this blog my eyes have been opened to the great green initiatives we have here, but my readers have also showed some knowledge on the subject and have weighed in on their favorite  green Cincinnati attractions:

I wrote a post awhile back about the Cincinnati Zoo’s green initiatives. One great one I failed to mention was the zoo’s African Savanna exhibit. One of my readers, Marisa, wrote:

Did they tell you about the Sahara they’re making that’s going to have lions? It’s the fenced off area by the giraffes and flamingos. It’s apparently going to be *super* green-friendly.

The Savanna exhibit is projected to receive LEED Platinum certification when completed. This is huge accomplishment for an animal exhibit.

Cincinnati is also home to many businesses that sell fair trade goods. My reader, Holly wrote:

I also want to give a shout out to Trader Joe’s, a grocery store you left off your list. Trader Joe’s is the most fair priced store of the whole “natural” lot. Plus, the majority of its food and products are sourced locally. I love it.

I always manage to forget about Trader Joe’s out near Kenwood Mall, but I had no idea they sold fair trade items plus local food. It’s great to see that not just specialty shops in Cincinnati are committed to sustainability, fair trade and buying and selling local.

Finally we have places devoted to urban, community garden. Holly also wrote:

I love urban and community gardening! I suggest checking out the Civic Garden Center. They do great community gardening work for the communities around Cincinnati! Very inspiring.

The Civic Garden Center on Reading Road has a long history of philanthropy and advocacy for community. It’s the second oldest non-profit civic garden center in Ohio. In 1981 it became a center for community outreach, having volunteers from the neighborhood join and maintain the gardens. Its success encouraged other programs like it around the country.

So while we don’t have the flash that other cities may have when it comes to being green, Cincinnati is very much worthy of being called a “green city”. With our subtlety and ingenuity, we are leaders for a greener generation.

Green Collar Jobs

As the green industry is growing, there are jobs available even in these economic times. While other areas of industry are suffering, green careers seem to be the new wave of the future. This is great because it’s predicted that green jobs are going to be sustainable as many more people are getting involved in conservation and going green. In this era of the green economy these are the job that are projected to be in high demand:

1. Solar Power Installer

Much of our energy is now being harvested from the sun. After being proven incredibly effective, solar power is becoming much more prominent and many places are making the switch to save money. So anyone going into construction might consider specializing in installing solar-thermal water heaters and rooftop photovoltaic cells as they are in increasing demand.

2. Conservation Biologist

The direction of our education is steadily becoming more focused on the sciences as that is the direction our economy is heading. If you majored in science in college, you could be a great conservation biologist. There is a renewal in the desire to preserve the environment, so there is a growing demand for scientists who are knowledgeable and willing to study and work with ecosystems and wildlife.  This will also open opportunities to teach or participate in research.

3. Urban Planner

As the urban aspect of environmentalism is the focus of this blog, the job of urban planner needs to be included. Urban planners are key to lowering America’s carbon footprint.Urban planners are responsible for designing metropolises so the flow of potential problems, many of the environmental like garbage and flooding, is limited. Employment in this sector is projected to grow 15 percent by 2016.

 

DIY Compost Pile

Last week I wrote about how you can actually use egg shells in your compost pile, but then I realized I haven’t written anything about starting a compost pile. It’s actually really simple and really effective if you like to garden. You can even start a compost bin in an apartment. Here’s how you get started:

1. Get a bin

You can actually just make a compost pile an actual pile, but everyone recommends getting a bin for the sake of neatness and organization. Also if you plan on composting food scraps, it’s better for keeping the animals away. Below is what a typical compost bin looks like:

This commercial bin stacks for easy turning.

Ideally, you’ll want a bin that is about a cubic yard, but you can work with one that’s smaller.

2. Green, brown and everything in between

A good mixture of green and brown scraps is recommended. Green scraps such as grass trimmings, young weeds and comfrey leaves provide nitrogen to the pile and generates heat. Brown scraps are high in carbon and add fiber. You can use dead plants, autumn leaves and even cardboard to give this kick to your compost. Coffee grounds, hair and paper towels can also be composted, but use these items sparingly.

Make sure you mix everything in the bin really well too. You want to layer it so it’s even and there’s no compact areas of green or brown. Depending on the materials you have available either do a mixture of 3 parts brown to 1 part green, or half and half. Use a pitchfork or a shovel to turn your pile once a week to ensure the mixture keeps decomposing.

3. Maintain

Like I said above, you need to turn the pile once a week. This keeps the air flowing through the pile to help the  anaerobic decomposition. But you also want to keep the pile damp. Depending on the weather where you live, you might need to add water to it. The temperature is important also. The best way to test temperature is to feel the top of the pile. If it’s warm or hot, the compost pile is working. If not, just add more green material high in nitrogen.

4. Don’ts of Composting

Try to avoid composting bread, nuts, pasta or cooked food. They don’t break down well and cause your compost to turn slimy. Also out of health and safety reasons, never try to compost meat, bones, plastic, oil, fats, human or animal waste (ew) or magazines.

Give it some time then harvest it. You have been successfully sustainable!

3 Things You Can Effectively Reuse

I was watching TV the other night when a commercial came on. CBS Cares was advocating for reusing items instead of trashing them. I was so excited! Then I saw them drop a coin into a bank fashioned out of a pop liter, and I raised my eyebrows.

Look CBS, I know you care, but who is going to want to keep a pop bottle piggy bank around for years? Eventually it’s going to end up in a landfill anyways. Don’t misunderstand me, a pop bottle piggy bank is very clever, but there are items you can reuse more effectively. So I wanted to name a few:

1. Eggshells

Eggshells are great for composting. They decompose quickly and enrich the soil with calcium. Crushed eggshells sprinkled into the soil also acts as a great insect and pest repellent for gardens. And if you’re into Pinterest I bet you’ve seen this:

eggs

You can reuse eggshells to grow seedlings. Just fill with potting soil and plant the seeds. They transfer easily into the ground once the seedlings are too big for their containers.

Eggshells also can make coffee less bitter, just crush them up and line a coffee filter. When you’re done, toss into a compost pile if you have one.

And if you’re brave, eggshells and apple cider vinegar can even be combined to produce a home remedy for minor skin irritations.

Also, researchers at the Ohio State University are developing ways to use discarded chicken egg shells into a sustainable hydrogen fuel. Turns out these little powerhouses are all sorts of useful.

2. T-Shirts

When you don’t know what to do with your old t-shirts, don’t throw them away. Start a DIY project!

I have plenty of old t-shirts from high school that I don’t wear anymore because they’ve shrank or became worn and dingy. Instead of tossing them though, I’m always looking for ways to give them a second life. Earth 911 has some great ideas you can utilize to reuse your old shirts. Don’t worry if you’re not handy with a needle and thread, many of these ideas only require scissors or glue. I particularly like the idea of making a shirt to make a shopping bag.

Market-Tote

3. Packing Peanuts

Packing peanuts are often thought of as little environmental nightmares. While the best thing to do is find a recycling center who will take them off your hands, there are things you can do with them.

polystyrene-packing-peanuts-how-to-recycle

For one, you can save them and store them away until you need to mail something. By paying them forward, you reduce the need for more packing peanuts, and you can request the next recipient do the same. If you have a green thumb, packing peanuts can also be used in lieu of gravel for gardens and potted plants. The biodegradable variety are great for drainage and they’ll make potted plants lighter. Packing peanuts also keep ice from melting quickly. All you have to do is fill a plastic baggie with them and place them on top of ice in a cooler.

So have you ever tried reusing any of these items? Are there any household items you do reuse or are interested in their reuse potential?

The Reduce, Reuse and Recycle Revolution