Understanding your city by understanding its flow: towards Participatory Urban Metabolism Information Systems

August 27, 2014

by Sven Eberlein

Originally posted on the Ecocity World Map Project website

4-sharaf-allet-sankey-thumb

Exciting times for our EWM team! We are currently learning about, developing, and applying Urban Metabolism Information Systems (UMIS), a whole systems analysis that measures everything flowing into and out of a city over time and space. Created by the Consensus Institute‘s Executive Director and EWM team member Sebastian Moffatt, UMIS provides an open-source, easy-to-access visualization tool for the mapping of energy, water and resource flows through cities, neighborhoods, and buildings, from source to sink. For example, here’s a close-up of just one segment of the City of Vancouver, BC’s water flow, showing how water is used and where it goes after that.

sankey-toilets

In fact, with the help of intrepid citizen activists and students in our pilot cities of Cairo and Casablanca we are taking it even further: turning the tool from the inside out and from the bottom up, we are testing out Participatory Urban Metabolism Information Systems, a method designed to empower people on the ground to map out their own neighborhoods and become participants in transforming their communities into more resilient, equitable, and ecologically healthy settlements.

ewm-team-casablanca
Community activists and students at Mundiapolis University in Casablanca getting ready to map out the neighborhood of Roches Noires.

Why is this important? Well, like a human body a city is a living, ever-evolving organism, and in order to have it operate at a healthy level and in sync with its environment you have to know exactly what flows into it, how those things are used, and where they go after the body no longer needs them. Another familiar analogy to think of is a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA), the well established method to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product’s life, from cradle to grave. But LCAs only work for products, and cities and neighborhoods aren’t products — they are situated in one place, they are complex, ever-changing physical and cultural ecosystems, and they have no lifetime. Cities are eternal.

Cities are also the largest things that humans build, and with the number of cities of 750,000+ inhabitants quadrupling over the last 50 years and 70 percent of the world’s population projected to live in urban areas by 2050, the quest to figure out how our urban environments could operate within the earth’s carrying capacity ranks as one of the most viable pursuits anyone concerned about climate change, resource depletion, loss of biodiversity, and the human struggles associated with it could undertake. To put it simply, if we don’t understand our cities’ organisms, we will never be able to have them function in balance with the larger natural organisms within which they reside.

Slide22

The Urban Metabolism

Urban metabolism as a concept is not entirely new. In fact, back in the 19th century, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels recognized that human activity alters the biophysical processes by analyzing the dynamic internal relationships between humans and nature. Unfortunately, most of the intellectual heavyweights since then have been busy thinking about economy in terms of how quickly and efficiently we can extract, produce, consume, and trash the planet’s natural treasures without regard to the shortsightedness of such an approach.

It wasn’t until over a hundred years later that a more holistic assessment of a city’s anatomy was formally developed for the first time. In a 2007 paper entitled “The Changing Metabolism of Cities,” Christopher Kennedy and a team of civil engineers from the University of Toronto defined urban metabolism as “the sum total of the technical and socio-economic process that occur in cities, resulting in growth, production of energy and elimination of waste.”

However, up until very recently this was mostly a theoretical exercise, albeit an important one. It’s a big step for the western industrial mindset used to externalizing (i.e. ignoring) any costs outside of narrow short-term benefits within a limited area and for a very targeted group of recipients to come to a whole systems understanding of the world in which everything is interdependent and nothing ever goes “away.” To be sure, the reality of dwindling fossil fuels and melting ice caps is no longer affording us the luxury of one-dimensional thinking if we’re planning on sticking around for a while.

Whatever the motivation, the benefits of treating urban environments in such holistic fashion are similar in nature to being tuned in to the rhythm of our bodies — the more we know about the effects of different components like diet, exercise, sleep, or laughter on our physical and emotional well being, the more likely we are to live balanced and healthy lives. Figuring out the intricacies of our bodies is tricky enough, but how do we analyze something as complex as a modern industrial city, with all its physical and cultural microcosms, its ever-shifting flows of people, ideas, buildings, and materials?

Well, if we had a platform that could organize and visualize the data of the various in- and outputs of a city — food, water, energy, transportation, etc — and the conversions that happen between, you’d get an honest picture of where in the system most of the waste, pollution, and externalizations occur and which adjustments or loops might produce a more streamlined, efficient, and ecologically healthy process.

Urban Metabolism Information Systems (UMIS)

umis

Sebastian has been thinking about how to create this kind of whole systems analysis that can draw a picture of where everything is coming from and where it’s going to for a while. The first planner in modern times to develop long-term sustainability plans for cities that integrate resiliency as a key theme, he has taken the urban metabolism field to a new level by creating the tools to estimate the flows of energy, water and materials through cities and illustrate them in a simple and standardized way.

The key to this tracking and visualization of the material flow that constitutes an urban metabolism are meta diagrams. Based on a Sankey diagram, a flow diagram named after an Irish Captain who came up with it in 1898, meta diagrams put visual emphasis on the major transfers or flows within a system, with the width of the arrows shown proportionally to the flow quantity. They are most commonly used to visualize the energy or material flow accounts on a regional or national level (the US Energy Information Agency uses them for their annual report), but they can be used any time you have a number of different sources, distributions, and outputs.

For example, here’s a simple and fun meta diagram that illustrates Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music’s recital distribution diagram from January to April 2014.


From Steve Wexler’s blog ‘Data Revelations’ on Sankey diagrams: Music Major, Data Miner.

The shades of brown describe the various types of recitals as the source (hover at this link to see weddings, church services, school recitals, funerals, etc), the composers as the outcome, and the thin and thick waves between them as the distribution. Turns out they played Bach at weddings, concerts and funerals, but not at church services and recitals.

Not surprisingly, it gets more complex than that. Sebastian delved into the development of what he calls MetaFlow diagrams for entire urban systems as part of the Eco2 Cities: Ecological Cities as Economic Cities project (published in 2010), an analytical and operational framework that offers strategic guidance to cities on sustainable and integrated urban development. Seeking to offer ground-level perspective, they conducted case-studies in cities across Asia that would help to showcase the cities’ current flow and offer insights on how these flows could be better looped in order to avoid so much waste and leakage.

A MetaFlow diagram of the energy system of Jinze, Shanghai, for example, shows the discrepancy between the current system (left) and a scenario for an advanced system (right).


Source: Author elaboration (Sebastian Moffatt) with approximate data provided by Professor Jinsheng Li, Tongii University, Shanghai.

In the current system, energy pretty much goes straight from source to consumption to sink, with very little capturing, reuse, or conservation happening in between. It’s a bit like heating your house with all the windows open — it may achieve the goal of keeping you warm, but the price in energy, pollution, and money to do so is huge. On the other hand, the MetaFlow diagram on the right with all the cascading lines provides a scenario for an advanced system that helps reduce emissions and costs and increases local jobs and energy security. In this example, a local electricity generation facility is powered by liquified natural gas and provides a majority of the electricity needs as well as hot and cool water for industry.

If you think of it like an onion, with things going in at the top and coming out at the bottom, then the fatter and more twirly the middle the more efficiently a city is using its resources and the closer to being resilient and ecologically balanced it is getting. To put it in “body language” terms, the more diversified, fresh, and nutritious your diet, the smaller the portions you need, the better you feel, the healthier your soils, and the less fossil fuels needed to produce your food.

Recently, Sebastian did a number of MetaFlow diagrams for the City of Vancouver B.C.. The energy diagram shows a very typical modern centralized system, with small amounts of locally sourced electricity, not much energy diversity, and minimal cascading (very little efficiency, recycling, or dual use). Basically, most of Vancouver’s energy comes from non-renewable sources (except hydro) and ends up in the air after being used for a single purpose at a single time.

umis-vancouver-energy

Speaking of body language, here’s a MetaFlow diagram for food, which I think is worth zooming in a bit.

MetaFlow-Food-Vancouver

As you can see, there’s a lot more cascading at the top, which is partly because there are more diverse food-types than energy-types, with local farms supplying a visible share of different foods. Fruits and veggies are a substantial amount of the total organic material flow. On the other end though you can see how the sinks are much less textured, with most of Vancouver’s food waste (which typically represents about 50% of the entire waste stream) going to transfer stations and incinerators, from where it’s going to landfill or is released into the air. Many strategies could be considered for looping and cascading these flows, that is, to create a more connected food web within the city. For example, if food waste is composted as soil, the soil can be used locally for farming or landscaping and the city has less need for hauling material by truck and acquiring land for landfill.

As Sebastian likes to point out, these diagrams are worth a thousand pie charts. But this is not all of it. What if you could drill deeper into the metabolism of a city by looking at each neighborhood, everything it needs to stay alive, and all it disposes? The data you get from official sources usually is very static and general. A utility company can only tell you how many gallons of water the entire city consumes per year, but it doesn’t tell you how much of it goes to toilets, laundry, or showers, or how usage varies from neighborhood to neighborhood. This makes it hard to adopt relevant conservation or catchment strategies.

This is where the on-the-ground crowd-mapping tools and initiatives of the Ecocitizen World Map Project come in.

Participatory Urban Metabolism Information Systems (PUMIS)

EFE_05
Mundiapolis University students and community members on their way to surveying residents of Casablanca’s Roches Noires neighborhood.

The premise of the Ecocitizen World Map Project is that if we all take coordinated actions towards a shared vision of a sustainable and equitable urban environment we can address even the most serious problems facing the planet and its inhabitants. As citizens of living urban organisms it’s only logical that we would be active participants in the maintenance and evolution of the intricate webs that sustain us, and we each bring a unique set of knowledge and sensitivity to our local physical and cultural micro-organisms.

The fact that currently the MetaFlow diagrams of most cities in the world would look similar to Vancouver’s — with very unbending and centralized flows that leave little room for localized and adaptable ways to make better use of both natural and human resources — shows that there’s a real need for tools that enable communities to better understand their own neighborhoods and identify the areas where more looping and cascading could be applied as systems become more ecological. If we’re serious about sustainability, we have to do an honest audit of our cities from the inside out instead of the current superficial top-down assessments that all too often falsely proclaim cities with gigantic ecological footprints to be sustainable.

Consequently, if we want to find out how the resources and materials that flow through an urban ecosystem are being used and distributed within that ecosystem, we have to survey residents about how they’re using those resources. And that’s exactly what we did in our pilot cities Cairo and Casablanca.

Cairo_survey-heba

 

 

Cairo_survey-heba3
Conducting citizen surveys and parcel audits in Cairo’s Imbaba neighborhood.

Going into neighborhoods and getting all kinds of local information is not only great because you get a lot of previously unknown data, but it makes residents curious about things they may not have thought of before, giving them incentive to become involved in finding solutions to problems that may exist. For example, in Casablanca, water samples that participants in our “bootcamps” took in the Roches Noires neighborhood turned out to be not as clean as the city claims, which led to further questions about the water cycle and a dialog between residents and the utility company.

EFE_08
Ecocitizens testing water from Roches Noires, Casablanca.

Water is a very precious and expensive resource in communities like Roches Noires and Imbaba, so finding out where waste occurs and how you could loop more gray water, for example, is really meaningful. Organizing the data from the surveys into an easily understandable format is key. This is where grassroots citizen participation meets MetaFlow.

Let’s look at the water that flows through the building at 4 Sharaf Allet in Imbaba and its corresponding diagram that you can find on the interactive ecocitizen map on our Cairo pilot page.

4-sharaf-allet-parcel4-sharaf-allet-sankey

After learning to use the UMIS data templates, the citizen surveyors can customize the templates according to archetypes that represent parcels with similar structures and characteristics. This way a lot of the values that may be the same in similar structures can be set as default. For example, the template for a UMIS water survey may look something like this.

umis water use

Once you’ve completed the survey you can create a MetaFlow diagram for just that parcel as it relates to the city’s sources, conversions, and sinks. It’s pretty cool to see it in detail.

4-sharaf-allet-sankey

You can see that all the water used for hygiene (shower/bath) comprises just a very small part of overall water use, but is looped back into the toilets through an onsite greywater system. At the same time, water from the kitchen which comprises the lion’s share of water use at 4 Sharaf Allet is for the most part going straight to the city’s wastewater treatment on its way to the ocean. However, a small amount is reclaimed and goes to a neighborhood water facility. Residents may ask themselves whether it would be possible to recycle more of the water that flows through their kitchens.

This, of course, is very specific data, but analyzing these localized metabolisms leads to the patterns and trends necessary to make specific adjustments on a larger scale. Just as in any sampling or polling, you have to survey just enough people or units to get a meaningful representation of a larger population or neighborhood.

In the case of the UMIS system, it is set up with a structure designed to permit easy aggregation of the parcel-scale urban metabolisms. Once separated according to archetype, the parcels can be averaged, multiplied by the population they represent, and then summed with other archetypes. In other words, the audited parcels can be used to generate accurate and precise estimates of all the systemic flows for different combinations of parcels, or for the neighborhood as a whole.

Once we get these kinds of citizen-generated reports based on real-life conditions and structured around a holistic framework, the patterns that emerge allow for both residents and planners to ask the kind of questions that can lead to both local and regional ecological improvements. What could we do for people to get by on rainwater? How could the city avoid leakage in their water and energy systems?. How do we stay within the carrying capacity?

Or as Sebastian likes to say, “we can use these diagrams to tell the story of where we want to go and why!”


The breathtaking ecotecture designs of Vo Trong Nghia

August 20, 2014

Vo Trong Nghia architects of Vietnam have unveiled a newly constructed eco house project that aims to address Ho Chi Minh City’s treeless urbanism. According the the designers, “only 0.25% area of the entire city is covered by greenery. Over-abundance of motorbikes causes daily traffic congestion as well as serious air pollution. As a result, new generations in urban areas are losing their connections with nature.”

The project perfectly encompasses several core ecocity principles.

Copyright Vo Trong Nghia Architects, 2013

The compound is a single family home constructed of several blocks arranged around a central courtyard. Most remarkably, each of the five blocks are crowned by banyan trees. The trees were chosen for their above ground root structure. The trees are planted in 1.5 meters of soil and the roofs are designed to collect rainwater. Reinforced walls allow the structures to accommodate the weight of water and the growing trees.

Copright Vo Trong Nghia, 2013

Copright Vo Trong Nghia Architects, 2013

The compound provides an engaging irregular angled entrance to a courtyard paved in permeable tiles and grass. Each room opens to views of greenery and the building blocks are connected by shaded sky walks on the second floor. The rooms are oriented towards the communal spaces on the cool lower floors, including the courtyard, and blend the inside and outside environments.

The architects used local and natural materials where possible to reduce the project’s carbon footprint and costs. The exterior walls are composed of  in-situ concrete poured between bamboo lattice. The interior walls are constructed from locally sourced brick. “House for Trees” was built with a budget of only 155,000 USD. If multiplied across the city, these tree-houses have the potential to reduce flooding, pollution, and ambient urban temperatures significantly.

Copyright Vo Trong Nghia, 2013

Copyright Vo Trong Nghia Architects, 2013

Copyright Vo Trong Nghia Architects, 2013

Copyright Vo Trong Nghia Architects, 2013


Car Free Journey: North Conway, NH

July 23, 2014

Car Free Journey: August, 2014—by Steve Atlas

 

Northern New Hampshire is the epitome of Northeastern natural beauty. While attractive any time of the year, late summer and fall are particularly beautiful times to savor the beauty of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. The charming settlement of North Conway is an excellent base for visitors without cars to explore Mt Washington Valley and the White Mountain National Forest. In addition to being compact, very walkable, and easy to reach from Boston by bus, North Conway Village is home to both natural attractions and tax-free shopping. Sites of interest not within walking distance can be reached using Fast Taxi, a local taxi company in North Conway.

For these reasons, our August Car Free Journey column spotlights North Conway, New Hampshire.

North Conway, New Hampshire

Mt Washington Valley is a collection of 27 towns and villages all surrounding Mount Washington, the tallest mountain peak in the North East. The geographic center of Mt Washington Valley, is North Conway, NH. The entire valley is surrounded by the 660,000 acre White Mountain National Forest, offering seemingly endless hiking, biking, rock/ice climbing, waterfall viewing opportunities and scenic beauty. During each season this region offers gorgeous vistas and plenty of natural and man-made recreation. The region also offers 10 golf courses, adventure and water parks, the Conway Scenic Railroad, and 200 tax-free outlets, shops, boutiques and stores. There is no sales tax in New Hampshire (there is, however, a 9% rooms and meals tax).

 

Welcome to North Conway

North Conway is a year-round resort area in eastern Carroll County, New Hampshire, with a population of 2,349 (2010 U.S. Census). North Conway is the largest village within the town of Conway, which is bounded on the east by the Maine state line and the White Mountain National Forest on the west and north. Conway is home to Cathedral Ledge (popular with climbers), Echo Lake State Park, and Cranmore Mountain Resort.

Chartered in 1765 by Colonial Governor Benning Wentworth, the town is named for Henry Seymour Conway: ambitious son of a prominent English family, who was elected to the House of Commons at age twenty, fought at Culloden, and became Secretary of State.

The White Mountains became a popular destination for artists in the 19th century. Their paintings, known collectively as White Mountain Art, attracted tourists to the area, particularly after the Portsmouth, Great Falls & Conway Railroad extended service here in 1872. In 1932, “snow trains” began carrying enthusiasts to the area. However, by the 1950s increasing automobile travel brought the decline of trains. The railroad abandoned passenger service to the area in 1961, and freight service in 1972. In 1974, the Conway Scenic Railroad was established. It offers visitors a tour of the region, including Crawford Notch. Its Victorian station is on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979.

North Conway and its surrounding towns offer stupendous hiking in the White Mountain National Forest. The area, particularly Cathedral Ledge in Echo Lake State Park, is a major rock climbing destination. The 500-foot (150 m) cliff overlooks Echo Lake and North Conway from the west. Visitors without cars can call Fast Taxi to drive them to the Cathedral Ledge summit to enjoy the fine views of the Saco River Valley.

Come here to the White Mountains to enjoy autumn colors on the surrounding mountains and forests late September through early October. The Conway Scenic Railroad offers train rides that leave from the village’s Victorian station. In winter, the village is the destination for skiers visiting area resorts such as Cranmore Mountain (located in North Conway), Attitash Mountain Resort, Black Mountain, King Pine, Shawnee Peak and Wildcat Mountain, plus six additional ski resorts.

 

Getting Here

The only way for non-drivers to get to Mt Washington Valley is by bus. Concord Coach (formerly Concord Trailways). The best place to start your trip is in Boston at either Logan International Airport or South Station (a connection from Amtrak trains or Greyhound bus). At the time of this column, there were two daily trips in each direction. The cost is $30 one-way and $56 round trip. (For more details, visit http://www.concordcoachlines.com, or call toll-free 800-639-3317 or the local number: 603-228-3300).

Buses leave Logan Airport at 9:25 a.m. and 3:40 p.m., South Station at 10:00 a.m. and 4:15, and arrive in North Conway at 1:35 p.m., and 7:40 p.m.

Returning buses leave North Conway at 8:30 a.m. and 2:35 p.m., and arrive at South Station 12:20 p.m. and 6:20 p.m., and Logan International Airport at 12:35 p.m. and 6:35. p.m.

The Concord Coach stops at the Eastern Slope Inn in the heart of North Conway Village.   (http://www.concordcoachlines.com/index.php/nh/north-conway) From there, all of North Conway Village is easily walkable.

Another option is Sutton Luxury Limousine, which will pick you up at any New England airport and take you to North Conway. For details and reservations, visit www.suttonlimos.com, or call 603-387-3663.

 

After You Arrive

North Conway is a small village and you can pretty much walk to anywhere here. Taxi services are available to take you throughout North Conway. Fast Taxi delivery and shuttle service will be your best friend. They are reliable, friendly and very knowledgeable about the Mt Washington Valley and can take you anywhere you want to go. Info: www.fasttaxianddeliverysvc.com, or call 603-356-0000.

 

Where to Stay

The best bet is to stay in North Conway Village. There are a number of inns and B&Bs in the Village, including the Cranmore Inn, the Kearsarge Inn, Spruce Moose Lodge and the Nereledge Inn. If you want a larger hotel/resort property, stay at the Eastern Slope Inn and Resort. Another option is the Briarcliff Motel.

Further down the road, try Hampton Inn and Suites, Comfort Inn North Conway, Green Granite Inn, North Conway Grand or Residence Inn.

All of these accommodations are within easy walking distance of “the village” (i.e. North Conway Village). For more information (including phone numbers, web sites, and e-mails) about these and other places to stay, visit:

http://www.mtwashingtonvalley.org/visit/where-to-stay.cfm, or call toll-free: 877-948-6867. For reviews of North Conway accommodations, Trip Advisor is a good resource. You can find their reviews at http://www.tripadvisor.com/Tourism-g46186-North_Conway_New_Hampshire-Vacations.html.

 

Getting Around

North Conway is very walkable. For times when you need a ride to attractions and locations outside the village, Fast Taxi (www.fasttaxianddeliverysvc.com, or call 603-356-0000) is the best transportation resource available. Sutton Limousine provides limousine service when needed (www.suttonlimos.com, or call 603-387-3663).

Both road and mountain bikes are available for rent in the village. Any of the three biking shops within walking distance of the Concord Coach bus station can give you information about trails and other places to bike. For more information about renting bikes and where to bike, visit: Joe Jones Sun and Ski Sports (www.joejonessports.com/ or call 603-356-9411), Red Jersey Cyclery (www.redjerseycyclery.com or call 603-356-7520), or Stan & Dan Sports (www.stananddansports.com/ or call 603-356-5997).

Mount Washington Cog Railway Start.jpg
Mount Washington Cog Railway Start” by Dan Crow – Self-published work by Dan Crow. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

 

What to Do

The Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau recommend the following attractions that are within walking distance of most parts of North Conway:

Walk to:

Conway Scenic Railroad: scenic train rides and dinner rides: www.conwayscenic.com.

Cranmore Adventure Park – www.cranmore.com.

MWV Children’s Museum: http://www.mtwashingtonvalley.org/newhampshire/attractions/mwv-childrens-museum.cfm?SectionID=3.

Zeb’s General Store – largest collection of New England-made specialty foods in the country: www.zebs.com.

 

Take Fast Taxi to the Following Attractions Outside of North Conway

Here are a few ideas for local travel without a car, using Fast Taxi, plus the cost of getting there each way:

Northern Extremes Kayak & Canoe Rental with Shuttle Service
Cab fare: $8 for 1-4 people from North Conway

The Saco River’s crystal clear waters and wide sandy beaches make for some excellent canoeing and kayaking.

Rent canoes, kayaks or tubes and spend your day meandering down the river, then take advantage of shuttle transportation back.

Cranmore Mountain –Includes Zip lines, Bungy Trampoline, Climbing Wall, scenic chair rides,

Summer Tubing, Gem mining, Giant Swing and a small bouncy House. Cab fare: $8 for 1-4 people

Here’s one adventure park with something for everyone.  Scenic chairlift rides take you to the top of the mountain where a new trail offers the perfect loop and picnics are more scenic than ever.  Cranmore Mountain has plenty of exhilarating fun for the whole family.

Diana’s Bath’s has a free hiking trail with beautiful waterfalls and clean water to relax in
Cab fare: $12 for 1-4 people

Take the 6/10 mile hike into this cascading series of pools, waterfalls and natural swimming holes.

This is one of the most special places in Mt Washington Valley.

Mt Washington Auto Road has guided tours to the top of Mt Washington.
Cab fare: $75 for 1-4 people (call for details)

On a clear day, see into four states and Canada from the top of Mount Washington.  Don’t miss the newly opened Extreme Mount Washington Museum on the summit, chronicling the history of extreme weather on the tallest peak in the Northeast.

Storyland- great theme park for children and all.

Cab fare: $20 for 1-4 people

Story Land, celebrating its 60th anniversary, is where fantasy lives! Don’t miss the brand new one-of-a-kind wooden roller coaster Roar-O-Saurus and the new dino-park.

Settlers Green Outlet Shopping: This outlet center has over 60 outlets.

Cab fare: $10 for 1-4 people

Here’s the ideal spot for back-to-school shopping.  More than 60 tax-free manufacturers outlet stores offer everything from shoes to apparel, kitchenware, specialty foods, books, gadgets and much more.

White Mountains panorama.jpg
White Mountains panorama” by Charlie DeTar (Yourcelf (talk)) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Special Attractions

Mt Washington Valley is world known for its weather. For decades it held the record for the highest winds ever recorded (in April, 1934) atop Mt Washington. The world-famous Mt Washington Observatory is located on the summit of Mt Washington, but it also operates the Weather Discovery Center in the heart of North Conway village.

The Weather Discovery Center is the only museum in the country totally dedicated to weather. Whether or not you are a weather buff, this museum, filled with interactive displays and fun experiments, is a must-see. There’s even the opportunity to go into a recreation of the building atop Mt Washington where the highest winds were recorded and see, hear and feel what it was like to be there back in 1934.

For more information, visit http://www.mtwashingtonvalley.org/newhampshire/recreation/mount-washington-observatory-weather-discovery-center.cfm.

 

Where to Eat:

The Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau offers these suggestions: There are a number of great restaurants in North Conway Village:

  • Horsefeathers Restaurant – American food, casual
  • Hooligans Restaurant – American food, casual
  • Elvios Pizza
  • The Met Coffee House – coffee, pastries
  • Frontside Grind – coffee, light fare
  • White Mountain Cupcakery – fabulous cupcakes (owners won an episode of Cupcake Wars)
  • Stairway Café – breakfast, lunch
  • Pricilla’s – breakfast, lunch
  • Flatbread’s Pizza (located at the Eastern Slope Inn) – organic pizza
  • Chef’s Market of North Conway – sandwiches & soups + gourmet meals to go
  • Courtyard Café – light sandwiches, smoothies, coffee
  • Shalimar of India – Indian cuisine
  • North Conway Golf Course – eat lunch on the deck overlooking the 18th hole and Cathedral ledge beyond.
  • Vito Marcello’s Italian Bistro – fine Italian cuisine

Also, look for the Valley Originals flags (yellow with a fork) outside restaurants. This is a collection of 30+ independently owned restaurants dedicated to community spirit and finest local cuisine.

For more details, phone numbers and web sites for these restaurants, visit www.mountwashington.org.

 

For More Information

The Mt Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau is your best resource for all vacation planning and help while in the Valley. It’s located in the heart of North Conway Village at

2617 Main St # 1, North Conway, NH. You can reach them via phone at 800-DO-SEE-NH (800-367-3364) or locally at 603-356-5701. Vacation planning concierge and staff are on hand 9-5pm (M-F) to answer questions.

Their website offers the perfect resource for planning your lodging, dining, and recreation. Go to www.mtwashingtonvalley.org for complete information. Additionally, the Information booth managed by the Mt Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce is a cute yellow building adjacent to the chamber offices and an easy stroll from anywhere in North Conway village. It’s packed with brochures, maps and more plus very knowledgeable and friendly volunteers who will be happy to offer assistance and ideas for those without cars.

_______________________________________________________________________________

Do you have a favorite getaway or vacation destination you would like spotlighted in a future Car Free Journey column? E-mail Steve at steveatlas45@yahoo.com. Steve also loves to hear comments and suggestions from readers about recent Car Free Journey columns.

 

 


Ecocity Insights: Preliminary Comparison of IEFS with ISO 37120

July 14, 2014

by Jennie Moore, Director, Sustainable Development and Environmental Stewardship, British Colombia Institute of Technology

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has just released ISO 37120 Sustainable development of communities — Indicators for city services and quality of life (http://www.iso.org/iso/catalogue_detail.htm?csnumber=62436). The purpose is to advance a holistic and integrated approach to sustainable development through uniform measurement of standardized indicators. The hope is that the indicators will be used to track and monitor city performance towards the goal of achieving sustainability. However, conformance to the standard does not confer sustainability status.

The ISO 37120 indicators are categorized as “core” (mandatory), “supporting” (voluntary), and “profile” (descriptive). The Ecocity Framework and Standards (IEFS) groups headings of indicators according to “Urban Design,” “Bio-Geo Physical Features,” “Socio-Cultural Features,” and “Ecological Imperatives.” Both IEFS and ISO 37120:2014 are intended to be applicable to any city, municipality or local government regardless of size, location, or level of development. Using standardized indicators helps to make the performance of these cities comparable. A key consideration for both is that the methodology for measurement of indicators is consistent and verifiable. The IEFS indicators emphasize ecological sustainability and social equity in an attempt to distinguish the achievement of a minimum ecocity standard of performance, meaning a city that exists in balance with nature. ISO37120 indicators emphasize city services and quality of life. In the future these indicators could also be used with ISO37101: Sustainable development in communities – Management systems – General principles and requirements anticipated for release in 2016 (http://www.iso.org/iso/home/news_index/news_archive/news.htm?refid=Ref1856). Anyone interested in participating in this standard can send an e-mail to harjung@iso.org.

In a preliminary comparison of the ISO37120 with the IEFS (see Table 1), several important similarities and distinctions are noticeable. Both ISO37120 and IEFS present commonality in addressing topics related to education, economy, and energy. However, there are no headings in the ISO37120 to address food or soils, arguably important gaps where sustainability and resilience are concerned Whereas ISO37120 captures multiple indicators under the heading of “Environment,” the IEFS breaks these down into more refined categories including: “Ecological Carrying Capacity,” “Ecological Integrity,” “Clean Air,” etc. On the other hand, ISO37120 introduces multiple category headings to deal with “Water and Sanitation,” as well as “Wastewater.” The IEFS captures these under one heading: “Clean and Safe Water.” Similarly, ISO37120 introduces multiple category headings for “Health,” “Safety,” “Recreation,” “Urban Planning,” “Telecommunication and Innovation,” and “Finance.” Most of these issues are grouped within the IEFS under two headings: “Healthy Culture,” and “Well Being/Quality of Life.”

There are also differences in terms used for headings that seem to approach measurement of similar phenomenon, e.g. ISO37120 identifies “Transportation” whereas the IEFS identifies “Access by Proximity.” In the case of the latter, the IEFS includes access to shelter within this category, whereas ISO 37120 establishes a separate heading for “Shelter.” Similarly, ISO 37120 introduces “Governance” as a heading, whereas IEFS addresses this topic under the heading “Community Capacity Building.” Where ISO37120 identifies “Solid Waste,” the IEFS identifies “Responsible Resources/Materials.”

These distinctions reveal important nuances in the values and thought-processes that contribute to the emergence of different indicator groupings. The evolution of indicators to measure city performance is an important step towards sustainable community development and specifically what can be defined as an ecocity.

Table 1: Comparison of IEFS and ISO37120 Categories and Headings

British Columbia Institute of Technology School of Construction and the Environment is Lead Sponsor of the International Ecocity Framework and Standards Initiative


Swarms and Smart Hives, Part 2

June 28, 2014

In his last post, Warren Karlenzig discussed how cities enabled by data and modeled after beehives can improve our urban experience. Here is part 2 of his discussion, including a mention of Ecocity Builder’s Ecocitizen World Map Project.

swarm

Recently I explained how cities benefit from open data-enabled “swarms” of sustainability apps for energy, the built environment, mobility, food and more, transforming them into “Smart Hives.” The focus was on the rise of citizen-business user sharing apps and crowd-sourced capabilities emerging in the Silicon Valley as the Next Big investment wave. Let’s look at how global cities can plan capacities to attract and facilitate these emergent Sharing Economy swarms. Read the rest of this entry »


Car Free Journey: Churchill, Manitoba

June 24, 2014

Several months ago my wife and I visited the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore and enjoyed a polar bear exhibit. After marveling at the bears, we read about Churchill, Manitoba: Polar Bear Capital of the World. We learned that Churchill, located in the far north of the Canadian province of Manitoba, is one of the few destinations that cannot be reached by automobile. The only ways to get to Churchill are by passenger train or air. For that reason, Churchill is our featured destination in this month’s Car Free Journey.

Welcome to Churchill

Churchill is a town of just over 800 permanent residents (according to the Canadian 2011 Census) on the west shore of Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada. The location is most famous for the many polar bears that migrate toward the shore in the autumn, leading to the nickname “Polar Bear Capital of the World”. In 1717 the Hudson’s Bay Company built the first permanent settlement in the area, Churchill River Post, which was only a log fort a few miles upstream from the mouth of the Churchill River. The trading post and river were named after John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (an ancestor of Winston Churchill) who was governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company in the late 17th century. Read the rest of this entry »


Reflections on Gross National Happiness

June 3, 2014

On Friday, May 23rd Ecocity Builders had the pleasure of hosting Latha Chhetri, Chief Urban Planner for the country of Bhutan. Ms. Chhetri spoke to a packed room about her country’s development policies. She enlightened us about the cautious steps Bhutan is making to ensure development aligns with their cultural and historical values. Ecocity Builders’s president Richard Register also presented slides from his recent work in Bhutan.

Bhutan has a commitment to Ecocity principles nearly unparalleled in the world. Thanks to strong nature-respecting traditions, the government has sworn off any environmentally damaging industry. Electricity is produced from renewable hydropower. The government has just announced the goal to have 100% percent organic agriculture by 2025. Growth is strictly constrained to traditional styles and materials in carefully guarded development corridors.

Until the 1972 Bhutan remained a highly conservative nation closed off to outside influence. The progressive 4th Dragon King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck was disturbed by the effects of westernization was wrecking on neighboring countries but opened the country to modernization after taking the throne. Cell phones have become available only as of 2008. Yet while many of Bhutan’s citizens were kept literally in the dark beyond their neighbors, the wisdom of King Wangchuck’s hesitancy about modern conveniences has been revealed with time. Bhutan managed to avoid the disastrous industrial rush that has so irreversibly damaged much of the world. They are now entering modernity at a time of greater reflection on the practices of development.

King Wangchuck IV abdicated the throne in 2006 and turned power over to a newly established parliament. His son, Wangchuck V, holds no executive power but exercises important influence over the country. Wangchuck V is committed to carrying on the legacy of his father, most notably, the policy of Gross National Happiness. This concept, invented by the Fourth King, was also adopted by the government of Bhutan as a foundation for all their decision making.

GNH is a simple yet brilliant concept. It states that a country’s wellbeing cannot be measured by wealth, growth, or power alone, but by the wellbeing of its citizens. Gross National Happiness asks with every economic or political decision: will this result in the best outcome for the long-term happiness of our people?

Tied into this web of wellbeing is, of course, ecological health.

GNH measures closely reflect the goals of the International Ecocity Framework and Standards (IEFS): easy access to meaningful employment, healthcare, and cultural activities; clean water, air, and good food. GNH recognizes that life is full of complex systems that cannot be removed from each other. Environmental quality is integral to health and happiness. Healthy, happy people, at the same time, are more inclined and able to care for their environment and each other.

How refreshing–relieving, even–to meet with a government that gets it at a fundamental level. Meeting with Latha and hearing her stories provided all in attendance with renewed hope and drive for an ecologically healthy future. In the midst of the anger, rhetoric, and willful denial that is keeping so many nations on a track for disaster, there are indeed beautiful things being done all the time. Even better to see them at such high levels of governance.

When I asked Latha what the greatest challenge was facing GNH and the ecocity goals of her country she had a familiar answer: “The people who just don’t understand what we’re trying to do.” For example, since urban growth is highly constrained, many individuals moving to the cities now build illegally outside of the city limits (and, therefore, the approval process). This practice not only frustrates the ability of planners to protect natural resources, but puts these individuals in danger of flood and earthquake-prone zones.

At an aggregated level, this behavior is maddening. At an individual level, it’s understandable. People want to move to the cities, which they have a right to do. They have few resources, and see open land. They build. And build and build.

Again, the fundamental challenge to our survival is what has allowed us as a species to get so far in the first place: the human ego, the tendency to think short term and about the self only. This isn’t an American problem, or a Bhutanese problem. It isn’t a problem of the rich or of the poor. This is a human brain problem.

Luckily, our biology and our culture also gives us the counter ability: to be altruistic, to think long-term and globally, and to care and create close bonds with others. Some cultures such as that of Bhutan promote the bonds of family and community more powerfully. Tradition, respect, and obligation are honored in these cultures. The Western perspective, and particularly in America, promotes independence, individual innovation, and self-reliance. These are also good qualities too! Yet they lean too far to only individual considerations…to disastrous results.

I don’t want to oversimplify the cultural divide. Tradition and community respecting cultures have mostly fared no better in protecting human rights and the environment (India, China). Still, the fact that the people of Bhutan have adopted GNH in the first place perhaps does come from a place of understanding the connection between the self and the other (and nature) a bit better than we do here in the West. Still the problem of egocentric thinking remains–and the urban peripheries in Bhutan expand bit by bit.

It is a human problem.

To move forward with an ecologically and socially healthy future, both the world and the ecocity movement will have strike that fine balance between promoting responsibility to others and allowing personal freedom. We will all need to give up a little bit of the comfort of our daily lives for the greater good. Yet we needn’t give up all. The fear of that “perfect” world and society is all too obvious in the dystopian paradises of Brave New World and countless other fictions. It’s most vocal in the knee-jerk rantings of the Agenda 21 conspiracy theorists. Whether or not this fear is realistic, the ecocity movement must recognize that it is very real, and is its chief obstacle. Every human reacts negatively when he or she feels agency and independence is threatened. Getting past that instinct is the challenge.

The solution is education, as difficult as it may be. Importantly, people need to understand the constraints we ask them to abide by in order to agree to them. It is a simple but heavy lesson in cause and effect, of how individual actions aggregate into mass impact. But at the core of these lessons is what I think an uplifting message: the truth is that individually we are all powerful. Each individual life’s actions matter, whether you are simply using reusable shopping bags, or leading an eco-crusade. Or building or dumping illegally.

Embrace your own influence, and understand, in the words of a great American icon, “With great power comes great responsibility.”


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.