Category Archives: Site

Happy birthday Gas Tax, it’s time to go!

Descending

Traffic congestion (right) won’t change until we give transit infrastructure (left) a better footing on which to compete.

Today’s apparently the birthday of the Yosemite National Park, NASA, and also the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax.

It’s time to go. Peter Rogoff, the administrator of the Federal Transit Administration said as much yesterday at the American Public Transportation Association annual meeting.

A meeting attendee asked Rogoff, during the Q&A session following his speech, about the insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund, where gas tax revenues go, and from which payments for road, transit, and bike projects are drawn. Rogoff replied,

We see a lot of governors taking this on. Wyoming raised its gas tax 15 cents. And on any given weekend there are more Democrats drinking beer in my backyard than in the entire Wyoming legislature. All options are being considered. Gas tax has diminishing returns. We can’t simultaneously lower independence on foreign oil and fund transportation systems dependent on the consumption of oil.

Here’s why the per-gallon gas tax is unsustainable: it loses purchasing power because of inflation. If it were sales tax based on the total cost of your fillup, this would be a completely different story, by decreasing driving instead of decreasing gas use (and yes, they are different because as cars become more fuel efficient, driving can remain the same or go up while gas use can remain the same or go down).

So “goodbye gas tax, hello mileage tax?”

Cross-posted to the Center for Permaculture and Appropriate Technology.

An app to find places to see permaculture and appropriate technology firsthand

Center for Permaculture and Appropriate Technology app

A screenshot of the Center for Permaculture and Appropriate Technology web app.

I’ve started developing a mobile-oriented web application to provide visitors a brief overview of the permaculture and appropriate technology and then locate the nearest opportunity to visit an organization that practices permaculture or appropriate technology.

The app, in a short walkthrough, will describe how these concepts fit into sustainable building and community design because these concepts are the best methods for eliminating the need for energy use at the current levels in developed countries and that require fossil fuels.

You can demo the app right now.

We’re collecting information about places in North America where permaculture and appropriate technology practices are used. See our current database and leave a comment below with your suggestion about additional locations. (Not every location we’re listing needs to be publicly accessible; in those cases where the public is unable to see the work, this provides the contact information for interested persons to make their own introductions.)

What is permaculture?

Quite simply, permaculture is the human-constructed partnering of plants into communities that produce the greatest human benefit with the least amount of maintenance through emphasizing symbiosis.

raspberries-from-the-vine

The websites Permaculture.orgPermaculturePrincipals.com, and a fun thread at Permies.com, offer great tips and techniques for building an environment based on permaculture principles.

Much of permaculture is based around designing to fit the climate of the landscape so there are resources oriented to promoting techniques designed for specific biomes of the world. These are great go-to sites for the basic biomes of the United States:

Permaculture is based on seven principles.

1. Food Forests – Designed plant communities based around companion planting that match species based on nutrient and bacteria sharing and meeting other land use needs for insects, fungi, animals and people.

2. Living Machines – Taking a foundation from practices like xeriscaping and rainwater capture, living machines also clean waste water from other uses on the site to create irrigation and ultimately a potable source.

3. Soil Improvement – Burming up and submerging (or folding in) an additional nutrient base/decomposition layer to expand humus and enhance water percolation. This technique mimics the natural production of humus in grassland areas. The Ohio State University Extension Office lists some factors of soil health.

4. Nutrient Cycles – Imitating biological processes, biomimicry, symbiosis. Poultry, or pork depending on the size of your site, is nature’s nutrient distributor and contributors, and cows are the compactors. To separate the nutrient producers (animals) from the organisms that require nutrients (plants) by inappropriate scaling creates two problems from a natural coexistence. Allowing animals to share the land with the food forest also increases the value of the land by increasing its yield.

5. Biodeversity – Plant and animal responses to environment are the evolutionary regulators to speciation and variation. This is the importance of seed banks and polyfarms. Cultural appreciation for seasonal and locally produced goods increases the value of a food forest yield and decreases the transportation costs. Specialized products will always be in the global market, but the quantity and quality of importation is reflected in Tom Friedman’s glocalization. A kitchen without olive oil is where some aspects of the 100 mile diet are just illogical (kitchen humor), and one should rely more on a 100 mile market for non-specialty items. Flavorless winter strawberries are the flagship; solar-powered greenhouses provide the only vine sweetened strawberries in winter.

6. Ecobuilding – “The function of what I call design science is to solve problems by introducing into the environment new artifacts, the availability of which will induce their spontaneous employment by humans and thus, coincidentally, cause humans to abandon their previous problem-producing behaviors and devices.” – R. Buckminster Fuller, from Cosmography

7. Environmental Economics – A systems symbiosis. In the traditional economic model, externalities and ecosystem services are not factored into the equation. Environmental Economics teaches that system efficiencies directly result in economic efficiencies, and juxtaposing the two is a farce. A permaculture example of economy from environment is using a biodigester for waste: costs of waste disposal are reduced and profit can be generated from energy production. Herman Daly has long been the champion of Environmental Economics.

Food Desert Mapping

Near West Side Site Food Desert Mapping

Near-West-Side-Site-Outline-web

Site Closeup

The inventory of food provisions in the area confirm Gallagher’s study that Near West Side surrounding UIC is a food desert. Specific to LBC, this inventory can serve as a list of potential businesses that might have waste to process by the plant and/or sell the food and products that are created in the plant. This would serve to imbed the building within the existing marketplace and provide access to wholesale production by local residents.

Population Density around site.

Population Density around site. Data Source: Census Dot Map, Brandon Martin-Anderson

Zoning-1-mi-rad

Zoning Map of area around site. Data Source: Second City Zoning

Method

1. Target area set to approximately 0.5 mile radius (2640.5 ft) from center of site, also measured as a 10 minute walk. Businesses located along both sides of the perimeter streets are included.

-Bounding Box: Lake St (N border), Taylor St (S border), Leavitt St (W border), Loomis St (E border)

Target area set to approximately  1 mile radius

(5280 ft) from center of site, also measured as a 20 minute walk. Businesses located along both sides of the perimeter streets are included.

-Bounding Box: Grand Ave (N border), Roosevelt Ave (S border), Western Ave (W border), Halsted St (E border)

2. Three search engines to identify restaurants and stores in the area – Google, Bing, Yelp

3. Three search terms used: grocery store, market, farmers market

3. All results were categorized into three groups: prepared foods, wholesale foods, retail sales. Specialty vendors were excluded (cakes, candies, toffees, prepared diet plans, etc.)

– Prepared foods are predominantly restaurants

– 50% or greater menu items prepared from fresh foods

– 50% or greater menu items prepared from frozen or packaged foods

– Special category for businesses already selling and incorporating local food and produce

*note that Gallagher uses chain grocers, small grocers, all grocers, and fast food. Her target area is much larger, the entire city has that variety, this is more of a case study to identify the site within the existing market.

4. Basic premises that fresher food has greater nutritional value, locations are quantified not by whether they have  “good” food “tasty” food or other categories. “Fresh” food is the metric in a food desert study.

Results

Food Desert_1 mi_categories

Mapping of all food locations around site. A clear food desert.

The legacy of meatpacking lives on in this district, represented by the large proportion of wholesale food distributors located in the area. Only restaurants that also have a food market were included in this preliminary assessment, but, outside of their specialty imports, these locations serve produce that likely comes from a GFS or SYSCO type of provider and do not meet standards for fresh food sources. A few grocery stores exist, but they are on the edge of other neighborhoods, and at the maximum distance residents of the new site should be expected to walk for groceries.

1 mile radius

Count

Food Provision Type

0

Store sells local produce

7

Store sells produce

11

Store does not sell produce

28

Wholesale produce

0

Restaurant sources from local

0

Restaurant menu items 50% or more fresh ingredients

4

Restaurant menu items 50% or more frozen/packaged ingredients

5

Closed Grocers and Wholesalers

17

Specialty Food Services

The general standard for pedestrian accessible food locations is 0.5 miles or a 10 minute walk. Using this definition, it is very clear that the site is at the center of a food desert.

0.5 mile radius

Count

Food Provision Type

0

Store sells Local Produce

0

Store sells Produce

2

Store does not sell produce

2

Wholesale produce

0

Restaurant sources from local

0

Restaurant menu items 50% or more fresh ingredients

2

Restaurant menu items 50% or more frozen/packaged ingredients

1

Closed Grocers and Wholesalers

0

Specialty Food Services

This can also be represented by comparing the total area of the study region to the count of businesses in each.

Ratio of neighborhood area to Total Business Count

Regions Area in sq ft Total Businesses Area to location ratio
0.5 mile radius

27878400

7

1:3982629

1 mile radius

111513600

72

1:1548800

Food crisis is not an exaggeration

Permaculture guilds for water cleansing and food production.

Permaculture guilds designed for water cleansing and food production.

The New York Times recently highlighted some of the major issues regarding food security, including water reuse, soil retention, waste nutrient capture and seed banking. Resilience to climate change comes from unique solutions and reliance on “dozens of time-tested strategies that our best farmers and ranchers have [revitalized and enhanced with modern technology].”

CLIMATE CHANGE AND PLANT TOLERANCES

Norman Borlaug’s concern for food security, and the resulting Green Revolution, dealt with quantity in relation to population. Today food security relates to quality and location. The mass production monoculture system of agribusiness is a major contributor to food insecurity. Mass production of food and associated long distances between farm and table (storefront) have created a new set of challenges related to how monocultures impact geography and nutrient quality in food. Agribusiness is incredibly petroleum dependent – from the direct fuel for large machinery and water pumping to the indirect use for creation of synthetic fertilizers. All of these factors put this style of farming at risk.

Many proponents of agribusiness believe that the solution to the impending climate threats on food security can be solved through continual genetic modification of crops. Solutions proposed by the agribusiness system are little more than band-aids for symptoms, not solutions to core problems. Organizations like the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project propose a return to small scale, poly-cultured, local permaculture farm plots, urban and rural, as the key to resiliency. Best known leaders of these specific agricultural techniques are Polyface, Growing Power and The Plant, and Michael Pollan is a well known advocate.

The following points are designed to highlight to a few of these issues.

FOOD SUBSIDIES

One of the challenges in fighting the subsidization of corn and soy are actually the non-food products and feed grains that are generated from the monocultures producing these crops. Subsidies for feed corn override the availability of subsidies for small scale, localized and diverse crop farming. Feed crop production, and agribusiness as a whole, have huge lobby clout. The side-effect of this industry is the mass production of low-nutrient, easily packaged food stuffs that spins into over-availability and low cost of these food products – like HFCS. Basically why a bag of Cheetos is cheaper than a stalk of broccoli, and certainly cheaper than a stalk of organic broccoli. The producers of the two documentaries Food Inc. and Fresh have put together a concise fact sheet on these issues.

SEED BANKING

It used to be common practice that farmers would store a certain percent of their crop as seed stock for the next year, and a lot of crop hybridization came from this practice. There is a major battle between GMO seed companies and farmers about the rights to store seeds and having local seed repositories. The biggest challenges for monocultures is combating mass spread of fungus and insect populations, because both go through many life cycles (and opportunities for response genetic mutation) in the single life cycle of a crop. Seed banks not only create a genetic repository for future hybridization efforts that would be required by a response to major climate impacts, but are also an insurance policy against the unthinkable scenarios that end civilizations. There has been talk about having a seed bank on the moon, even though there are a lot of logistical challenges that accompany this idea.

THE PATENTS ON LIVING ORGANISMS

The biggest argument for the need for seed banks has to do with the fact that it is legal to patent life by placing gene markers into the RNA of the seeds they engineer/genetically modify. This opens the door for companies to sue farmers for growing GMO seeds (usually round-up ready are the most controversial) without paying the company holding the patent. The fallout is that nature will cross pollinate, and a field can end up having a marker without the farmer’s intent. While Vernon Hugh Bowman’s case is not the best example it does get at the issue.

GMO IS NOT THE SOLUTION TO CLIMATE CHALLENGES

While the potential health risks have been debated, the biggest concern is the potential to engineer invasives that cannot be controlled. There was a recent issue in Oregon where 8 years after Monsanto’s last field trials, a group of GMO wheat plants volunteered themselves in a farmer’s field that were confirmed to be Roundup Ready. “Nobody knows how widely this genetically engineered wheat has spread, and whether it’s been in fields of wheat that were harvested for food.” Maybe the economics of GMOs will finally make some waves with policy makers in the US, because the EU and Japan do not purchase or condone genetic modification.