No Divide

This semester has been whirlwind of learning environmental issues, finding ways to advocate for these issues, and lastly finding opportunities to incorporate all this knowledge into my design education. What I’ve learned through this process is that there should not be “environmental” work and “regular work. For everything that we do, let us strive for a worthy goal of societal and environmental improvement. As one of my professors said about the design profession, “There should be no divide between public interest and green design. All design should serve the public’s interest. All design should include the processes of nature into it.”

Moreover, through this investigation of how to alter the system, I’ve learned that large scale change  is sadly very infeasible. For example, the Kyoto Protocol would be an excellent platform, however the countries that need to participate, mainly the US, will not sign. Large scale policy requires cooperation among nations, which at this point is very hard to achieve. Community-level change in contrast is much easier to implement change. For example, if the wast collection project I was working on in Bhubaneswar, India was planned to be implemented in the entire state of Orissa, there is no way it would happen. However, because it is specific within a community, it has potential to be successful.

In all that we do, we must think both globally and in futuristically. However, to make change, we need to start within our communities. As communities grow stronger, their knowledge will spread. Just as there should be no divide between green and normal work, so shall the divide between communities fall, and one day, hopefully soon, our local resiliency will be a global one.



Technology for Change

Often in sustainability courses, technology is cited as one of the main components that got us in the whole mess. However, like many issues, it still has potential to help us move towards where we need to be. Especially in the area of communication, it has great power to connect events and communities all over the world. Many organizations, such as and the Sierra Club thrive from online discussions, and use this as their platform to advocate for environmental issues. 

Thus, for this challenge, I decided to incorporate this into the work I do for Global Site Plans. For my internship I have with them, I am responsible for writing a blog for an online forum for city planning and architecture issues in the Twin Cities. For all of posts this semester, I challenged myself to incorporate ecological issues into the blog, and always ask questions to how we can design our communities to be more resiliently in the future. Some of the titles have included (all are linked to the blog);

While I may not get as much publicity as high profile environmental groups, its been a great experience to research issues pertinent to my local community, and to spark discussion, such as the one below on the role of biking in Minneapolis:



Many times in a semester all of my work seems to end up to revolve around one subject. This fall it my studies have chosen a interesting route; waste. In my last post I explained my thoughts  that led me to this discourse, and what I have done to engage sustainable waste collection in the local twin cities community. However, my most recent endeavor has been on a larger scale; India. 

Through my participation with the Acara program, (through the institute on the environment), I have been given the opportunity, along with my other team members, to construct a business plan to address one of India’s many challenges. My plan has decided to create Subajawalla, a door-to-door waste collection in urban households in Bhubaneswar, India. This collection will be done by waste pickers who would otherwise be scrounging landfills to earn a living. Furthermore, this plan requires segregation of waste into wet and dry waste. Wet waste will be composted and dry waste will be sold as recyclables as a profit for the waste pickers. Through this process, almost 85% of the waste will be diverted from the landfill. In February 2014 our team will be participating in a the Acara challenge to be funded to pilot the plan this summer. Creating this plan has taken a great deal of effort, time, and stress, but I happy to have learned so much about solutions out there and the potential to positively affect society through waste alleviation. 



Image by Enrico Fabian Photography

Waste Is But a Figment Of Our Society

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of waste. Why is there all this “stuff” that we believe has no value. How did we design our society to produce so much that has such a short life span. Shouldn’t the objects, buildings, and cities we build have the same value we place upon ourselves? In a recent lecture I attended the professor said something that many of us hardly think about: “Its simple, we are the only species that has ever created something so nonsensical as waste.” Ever since humans started constructing built spaces, we began to leave our mark. The introduction of design into the built environment was a large contributor to the trace we humans leave. However, design now has the opportunity to alter the society we have created to sustain a future for us. 

With all this in mind, for my capstone project I decided to do a study on how to implement curbside composting and recycling in the Twin Cities. Waste Infrastructure in the Minnesota is enormous; every year 3.6 million tons of waste are sent to the landfill every year. To alleviate this problem, we must go to the root of the problem to alter our thought of what waste is and add value to objects, such as organic scraps and plastics, that typically are not seen as having worth. 

Our class presented our project at a Sustainability Fair at Silverlake Park. It was interesting to talk to different residents about their waste, how they believe compost works, and what they hope to see in the future. It was a little frustrating to talk to residents who wanted to participate in composting, but simply did not have the resources to follow through. However, it reaffirmed that we must strive to work directly within communities to engage in the resident’s issues to best implement sustainable solutions. 


A Vision for the Future

In my most recent action to incorporate policy and sustainability, I entered the Global Energy writing contest. In a letter to the UN Secretary General, we were to describe the future we hope to see, and how to achieve that through sustainable energy. While posting the entire 10 page letter might be over kill for a blog, I hope the excerpt below shows the vision I was portraying in my letter:

Here on this brisk October night, I write to you from a quaint corner café. From this café, I can see two different scenes; one from the left and right window. The left window shows the city that resonates deep in the soul. It is the city that has motivated my pursuit of architecture; it is the one to that has inspired so many to call the Twin Cities their home. Looking down the gridded street, I see the center lanes being occupied by public transportation, outside them the bicyclists swerve around traffic, and beyond that, parks form an envelope for the community, of both children and adults joyfully playing and exercising. With a quick shift of my head, from the right window, I see the deteriorating neighborhood. The only residents are seen through the windows of their cars; the light of the street crackles from the fluorescent open signs, and in the distance, the smog stands thick over the abandoned industrial zone.

    Its no secret our world is changing. With a quick 360 glance of one neighborhood, we can see both the past, and sadly the possible future of where of our actions have led us. But let us remember, there is still a left window. Society, like myself, it sitting at the intersection of two different futures, and there are crucial choices to be made .The obstacles are high, but the outcomes are too great to do nothing. Because this fight requires action and knowledge in almost every field, let us begin with the most pertinent issue, energy. 


Recently, I was talking to a fellow student about my ambitions to pursue landscape architecture and urban planning. He, to my surprise asked me if I was more interested in helping humans, or the environment. Me being an optimist, said without thought, hopefully both; and looking out the right window at the people thriving in the environment that caters to the natural world, I cannot help but think that by helping one, we are helping the other. This balance of ecological and human systems won’t come easy, but the premise of our current situation is that there is hope. There is hope in educators to teach students basic ecological principles, in engineers to further develop energy that is wholly renewable, for designers to create buildings that push the limits of how little energy is consumed, and for policy makers to be held responsible to create and uphold laws that adhere to our ecological capacity.

            Here in this café, in this warm and well-light space, the world outside seems grim. The cold has just set in, and as the leaves pile high for the impeding snow, the unadjusted civilians bury in their coats searching for warmth. A scene that may seem uninviting to some, resonates differently with me. It tells me that there is some pattern in our world; that here in the northern state of Minnesota, the drastic seasons of the year still remain. In the coming decade, as shifting of political and economic global unrest will undoubtedly continue to grow, we hopefully will continue to possess some dependency on the earth’s natural cycle. While, because of our actions we are at stake of losing nature’s reliability, we also in the next decade have the opportunity to alter the path we are heading, and maybe one day, someone from the future generation will be sitting where I am at, and see the blissful scene from the left window, in all directions.








The weekend of October 18th, I was privileged to have the opportunity to attend PowerShift in Pittsburg, PA. The conference consisted of workshops and keynote speakers, in a plethora of fields. I left the conference inspired to bring the goal of moving our energy sources, to as Michael Brune said, “Beyond Coal, Beyond Oil, and Beyond Gas.”

Put Yourself Out There

One of my first acts in altering the system we live in was to participate in the Minneapolis Park(ing) Day, on September 21st. A brave soul started this event in San Francisco in 2006 by occupying a parking space for the entire day, to make a statement about the way we use urban public spaces. Now this is an annual tradition, every year having citizens take private city space and make it their own. For my parking space I decided to make a statement about Minnesota’s coal use, while of course promoting for Students of Sustainability. Image

It was really great to see parking spaces to be used creatively by different resides. Especially for myself, who is interested in tactical urban design, it was note worthy  how people can make streets livable by taking away the emphasis of the automobile. It was a little difficult through to talk to people because of the notions people have about sustainability and the political ties it has. However, we did have a conversion with one student, who was so inclined to dance on the street with our signs, chanting, “Cut that coal, ” which is anything anyone could ever hope to have in their day.

I have never been one to put myself out there and vocalize my opinions, but through my involvement in the sustainability movement, I have found it refreshing to talk to others about how our society and environment are so intertwined.