Under the Smog: Going Green in the Inner-City

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Here on this blog, I’ve spent some time talking about the importance of cultural shifts when it comes to urban planning. But what are some actionable strategies that every day people can do to help affect this shift? And how are some cities supporting those efforts?

Guest poster Joy Paley weighs in on the ins and outs of turning things around when it comes to shifting the paradigm from that of the 20th Century to the 21st, along with new city legislation that supports those changes. But, what kind of changes are we talking about? Read on, gentle reader …

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These days, you can’t turn around without running into some instance of green marketing. Really, Clorox? I’m not sure if I’m buying into your new “eco-friendly” line of bleach. While small consumer purchases can make a difference over the long run, as far as being environmentally friendly, urban planning is really where it’s at. Greening cities on a large scale can have a real impact, and city-wide initiatives help involve large numbers of people in more earth-friendly practices. Here are some exciting things going on in the world of inner-city environmentalism.

Green Urban Planning:
Environmentally sound urban planning doesn’t necessarily have to be as dramatic as retrofitting every building in town. In Berkeley, California, for example, building new green buildings is only part of the formula. Measure R, which passed in the November elections, aims to increase the density of the city’s downtown and encourage new residents to move into areas near public transit. Increasing the density of the city’s center will decrease sprawl, as well as revitalize local businesses.
The measure also includes the creation of a “Green Pathway,” an innovative downtown residential space with apartments of all costs, to appeal to a variety of people. The new buildings will be an example of the latest in green tech, with amenities like rainwater catchment.

Photo: Henry Leong

Mandatory Composting
In San Francisco, failing to compost your veggie scraps and old food is a crime. Okay, you won’t go to prison, but the town does have the strictest composting program in the nation. The plan was implemented last fall, in an effort to cut down on the amount of waste the city sends to the landfill. Residents or businesses who get caught not composting can face $100-1000 fines, depending on how many warnings they’ve received. While it might cost a careless citizen, the plan definitely saves the city money—composting companies are happy to take the organic waste off the city’s hands, and Bay Area farmers aren’t complaining either.
Rooftop Farming
Cities might not have a lot of open greenspace, but there’s one underutilized resource they do have: rooftops. Rooftop gardening isn’t just for the one crazy lady in your building anymore. In some cities, green entrepreneurs and nonprofits are realizing the potential of using these spaces, and attempting to turn rooftop farming into a successful business venture. Inner-city rooftop farming creates sustainable, local food; you don’t have to ship the food far to find many eager buyers.

Photo: Gabriel Kamener

Inner-City Schools
Schools are a great place to start better ecological practices, because they can teach the next generation about the importance of living in environmentally sound ways. One school in Boston has children swinging on real tree branches, rather than plastic jungle gyms. They are part of a growing movement that replaces the regular schoolyard play area with trees and grass. The plan is to help kids suffering from a lack of green space and “nature deficit disorder.” [ed: see also ‘Eco-Psychology’]

Other schools are starting their own gardens, whether they’re on the roof or in a nearby under-utilized piece of land. School gardens provide wholesome food for the cafeteria, while also teaching kids about their food sources.

What You Can Do:
If you want to bring these sort of green initiatives into your community, there are a few things you can do. First, contact your local officials about it—especially if your proposal can save the city money, they might perk up with interest. You can also apply for green grants, to fund a community project. Everyone from the EPA to nonprofits can provide grant money.
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Joy Paley is a guest blogger for My Dog Ate My Blog and a writer on Distance Learning for Guide to Online Schools. You can follow her education-based tweets at @DogAteBlog.

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Rob Jones

Rob served as Editor-In-Chief of BuildDirect Blog: Life At Home from 2007-2016. He is a writer, Dad, content strategist, and music fan.