Monday, May 31, 2010

Transformative Community Planning: Empowerment Through Community Development

Prepared for the 1996 Planners Network Conference, "Renewing Hope, Restoring Vision: Progressive Planning in Our Communities."
by Marie Kennedy

What is community development?
I'm going to share some thoughts about some of the elements of effective planning for community development--a planning practice that I sometimes call transformative community planning.
I see real community development as combining material development with the development of people. Real development, as I understand it, necessarily involves increasing a community's capacity for taking control of its own development--building within the community critical thinking and planning abilities, as well as concrete skills, so that development projects and planning processes can be replicated by community members in the future. A good planning project should leave a community not just with more immediate "products"--e.g., housing--but also with an increased capacity to meet future needs.
Effective community development planning takes a comprehensive approach to meeting community needs--an approach that recognizes the interrelationship of economic, physical and social development. Community development is linked to empowerment and to valuing diversity of cultures. This is true whether you are talking about planning in materially underdeveloped communities in the United States or in the so-called developing world.
Manning Marable, an African-American scholar and commentator, in his 1992 book, Crisis of Color and Democracy, offers a concise definition of empowerment, one that I think is particularly apt for planners:
Empowerment is essentially a capacity to define clearly one's interests, and to develop a strategy to achieve those interests. It's the ability to create a plan or program to change one's reality in order to obtain those objectives or interests. Power is not a "thing", it's a process. In other words, you shouldn't say that a group has power, but that, through its conscious activity, a group can empower itself by increasing its ability to achieve its own interests.
And, Kari Polanyi Levitt, an economist working in the Caribbean, in a lecture a couple of years ago to the Association of Caribbean Economists, took on the individualism, selfishness and greed typical of what she calls the "market magic" paradigm, arguing that:
Any meaningful notion of "sustainable development" must begin with the recognition that the diversity of cultures which nourish human creativity is as precious an inheritance as the diversity of plant and animal life.
She goes on to say:
Development cannot be imposed from without. It is a creative social process and its central nervous system, the matrix which nourishes it, is located in the cultural sphere. Development is ultimately not a matter of money or physical capital, or foreign exchange, but of the capacity of a society to tap the root of popular creativity, to free up and empower people to exercise their intelligence and collective wisdom.   
Role of the planner
Unfortunately, in most places, public policy and planning practice don't reflect this understanding of community development. And, in my view, that's why we have so little of it, especially in materially underdeveloped communities.
Most of my experience has been on the community level and it's at this level that you will find most of the practitioners who are trying to work in a transformative way. However, what often blocks success for transformative planners at the community level are decisions taken by planners at the city, state, national or even international level. For transformative planning to work on the community level, planners at all levels, who are framing public problem definitions and policies, writing legislation, designing governmental programs, prioritizing funding targets for private foundations and governmental agencies, or preparing requests for proposals, have to share an understanding of what constitutes community development.
Measuring success
Measuring success primarily, or even exclusively, by the numbers--the number of houses built or the number of clients served or the number of jobs created, or even the number of people whose income has risen about the poverty level, the increased number of high school graduates, the number of rivers cleaned up--measures important outcomes, but outcomes insufficient for community development in the sense that I have defined it. If we measure success by the numbers alone, no matter how laudable our long range goals, we're going to plan research, and design and lend our support to policies and programs that we think are going to be successful in terms of those numbers. Rational, right? Circular, too.... If we don't include less measurable goals (or at least presently less measured goals) in our criteria for success--goals that have to do with empowerment as Marable defines it--we're likely to meet our goals while our communities are increasingly underdeveloped.
If, on the other hand, we have a different version of what constitutes success:
  • a version that does include products of development, but which rests primarily on power and control being increasingly vested in community members;
  • success that is measured by the number of people who have, in the planning process, moved from being an object of planning to being a subject;
  • success measured in terms of increasing numbers of confident, competent, cooperative and purposeful community members;
  • success measured in terms of the ability of people involved in the planning process to replicate their achievements in other situations;
  • success measured in terms of movement towards realizing values of equity and inclusion;
then, we're going to have very different sorts of policies, programs and practices. And, our roles as planners will also be very different. This latter type of practice is what I want to discuss with you today.
Advocacy planning
Now, I'd like to turn to some historical background. By acknowledging the roots of transformative community planning in advocacy planning, I hope to show how we can move beyond the achievements of advocacy planning--achievements which were pathbreaking in the '60's, but of which, in retrospect, we can see the limitations.
Advocacy planning developed within the context of the burgeoning popular movements of the '60's--foremost of which was the Civil Rights Movement and from which grew other movements. Of particular importance to advocacy planning were those primarily localized movements that focused on the urban crisis, and the student movement which demanded relevance in education to social issues, including those connected to the urban crisis. The '60's also saw the real cranking up of urban renewal which concentrated on renewing failing downtowns in order to save our cities (if not our people) and, somewhat later, developing some neighborhoods through gentrification while using other neighborhoods as the dumping grounds for the displaced.
Within this context, planners often came under attack by the community--and by students for that matter--because planners were often amongst the professionals that made the decisions that caused neighborhoods to be uprooted, that caused communities to be destroyed. Progressive planners and students began to look at which groups had access to professional assistance and which did not--it began to occur to us that in working for the interests that could afford to pay us--whether private or governmental--we were in essence advocating the interests of that group--in fact, we came to understand that all planning is advocacy for one set of interests or another. Pushed hard by students and by low-income community groups we had to recognize that even public planners didn't operate in a neutral way, in spite of the avowed purpose of city, state and federal planning agencies to serve the supposedly neutral public interest. On the contrary, low-income communities in particular couldn't depend on publicly-paid planners to represent their interests. Communities which were not part of the power bloc that elected and kept various politicians in office, communities which differed in terms of class, race, gender, whatever, from that power bloc, could pretty much depend on being embattled with public planning agencies.
Recognizing these contradictions, progressive planners across the country began to put their skills at the disposal of groups and interests which hadn't previously had access to their services. Across the country advocacy planning groups sprang up like the San Francisco Design Center, the Architects' Renewal Committee of Harlem, the Pratt Center and Boston's Urban Planning Aid (where I worked for a time in the early '70's). In response to student demands for experience in grappling with real urban problems, these models were simultaneously extended into schools of planning and architecture.
The advocacy planning movement reached its peak in the late '60's, early '70's and had largely died out by the late '70's, at least in terms of being a movement. There are certainly aspects of the practice that have been institutionalized and people still practice as advocate planners, but without the sense of a movement.
In the movement we made some real contributions, the benefits of which are still felt. I would identify four:
  1. First, and most importantly, advocacy planning began to successfully challenge the notion of planning as a "neutral science," as apolitical--removed from the political process. In my view, the break with this technocratic approach was incomplete, but this assessment doesn't invalidate the importance of these first steps that advocacy planning took in the direction of recognizing planning as political.
  2. Secondly, advocacy planning made great strides in institutionalizing the notion of community participation in planning, at least planning in the public sphere. Today, nearly everyone in the US takes this for granted and in most publicly supported planning, at least lip service is paid to citizen participation in the planning process. But, this wasn't always true, and it was something that had to be won. Although participation can be used in a negative way--as a smokescreen to obscure real power relations and agendas, the fact that we have a right to that citizen participation provides an important opening for struggle.
  3. Third, I would count the human legacy of advocacy planning as very important--many of us still active in community development work had our ideas and careers forged in the advocacy planning movement.
  4. And, fourth, the contribution to planning education. The approach to education that includes hands-on field projects with underserved groups is a direct legacy of advocacy planning. Advocacy planning is an important thread of today's transformative community development planning--but, there were significant shortfalls in the vision offered by advocacy planning. Today's debates on the US left about what planning practice should be are connected to these shortfalls.
Overall, we failed to effectively frame technical assistance in relationship to people's movements in such a way as to build those movements. In my view, planning should feed organizing--it shouldn't be planning at the expense of organizing, which was often the case in advocacy planning.
We didn't sufficiently take into account how communities are situated in a larger societal and historic context. We didn't often evaluate the direction of evolution of communities with which we worked, questioning, for example, whether a particular community was developing towards or away from realizing values of inclusion and liberation. Consequently, we didn't effectively target our assistance to particular communities and issues.
We took groups too much at their own self-definition of goals; we didn't work hard enough perhaps to expand the world view of oppressed people, to explicitly counter the ideological oppression which shapes the way in which people think. This populist/majoritarian approach caused us to choose short term victories over the slower process of building a broader vision of the good community. Particularly in working with white communities around their perceived interests, we ran the risk (and sometimes fell into the trap) of supporting essentially exclusionary and racist organizing. At best, the narrow vision of short term and expedient goals meant that groups with whom we worked frequently fell apart when limited goals were achieved.
We also failed to sufficiently expand our notion of what the field of planning includes--this meant a continuing focus on the product, often a physical product and tactics that related to that like producing alternative site plans or fixing up buildings...basically emphasizing the built product, not the movement. Often we didn't change our planning methodologies at all from those we had been using in more traditional practice. We didn't really retool for a new practice--we mostly just changed who got access to our services. The political act was in the choice of client, not in developing a different way of working with people--a new process of planning. This is an important area in which the break with the notion of planning as an objective, neutral science was incomplete.
This led us to have a confused notion of what participation in and control over planning decisions meant--did it mean that everybody was a planner? Or did it mean just a token participation at the fringes? We went in both directions, sometimes simultaneously. We didn't figure out very well how to work in a way that created frameworks for meaningful decisionmaking while allowing organizers to be organizers, neighborhood residents to get on with their lives, and for us to be planners.
Our practice as advocate planners remained primarily representational, rather than participatory. Communities remained the object of planning and rarely did our practice assist their transformation into becoming simultaneously the subject and object of planning.
A comparison of two progressive approaches to planning and organizing
In our chapter "Transformative Populism and the Development of a Community of Color" in the book Dilemmas of Activism, I and my co-author, Chris Tilly, contrast two models of community organizing and planning in Roxbury, Boston's primary black neighborhood. We term these two approaches "redistributive populism" and "transformative populism."
In important ways, the redistributive approach, as we describe it, is an unevolved advocacy planning. This contrasts to the transformative approach which, while it evolves from advocacy planning, adds many other threads from, for example, national liberation struggles and participatory action research.
Redistributive planning, although concerned with economic justice, with redistributing wealth, doesn't seek, in the main part, to support organizing focused on the redistribution of power and it doesn't aim to cede control over planning decisions to oppressed people. The model assumes that the repository of knowledge is in the planners. It's "we'll figure out what's best to do and do it for you" not "we'll help you do it."
Furthermore, although redistributive planners frequently have a critical analysis of the structural nature of social and urban problems, they will support organizing that focuses on issues "where the people are at" rather than trying to take up some of the hard questions such as race. In part this is because the "where the people are at" kind of issues translate more readily into products that are recognizable as legitimate results of a planning process.
Redistributive planning rests on the assumption that community development will proceed incrementally through solving one problem after another and eventually this will mean a qualitative social change. Redistributive planners will often verbalize the same long range and overall goals as transformative or community development planners, but they concentrate on products over process and on efficiency in reaching product-oriented goals over mobilization and empowerment.
Both redistributive and transformative planners would acknowledge that there is a political nature to all we do and that all of our work has implications for the distribution of power in society and that there is no such thing as value-free social science. However, while redistributive populism reserves this awareness to the planner/organizer, transformative populism requires that the raising of political consciousness is a necessary corollary to any successful planning process.
Links to participatory action research
Transformative planning joins participatory action research in the assumption that possession of knowledge is the critical basis of power and control. This is important, There's a tension built in here for the transformative planner to work with.
How knowledge is produced is a great mystery to most folks. Knowledge has become a product bought and sold. In general, ordinary people aren't considered knowledgeable, even about their own reality. The research industry has become more and more specialized and hidden behind a technocratic veil of supposed "scientific method," which effectively excludes laypeople. Conditioned to believe they can't adequately understand their own lives and cut out of participation in research and analysis which might enhance their understanding, ordinary people often simply stop trying. And, in truth, people do often lack the information, skills and experience to critically understand the roots of their powerlessness. Their lack of information and their preoccupation with daily survival interferes with their understanding of how power structures work and affect their lives. Therefore, the oppressed often share the oppressors' viewpoint, blaming themselves for their own poverty and powerlessness--essentially what we know as "internalized oppression."
So, here's a central dilemma for the transformative planner--finding a balance between assuming that oppressed people fully understand their own oppression and the planner does not, or conversely, that the planner fully understands the truth (or has the research and analytical tools to get at the truth) about people's oppression and that the people do not.
The process of achieving this balance isn't mystical, but it does require an ongoing process of evaluation of the actual circumstances in each community planning project undertaken. And, it requires a real commitment to community development as I outlined at the beginning of this paper.
Balancing the roles of the planner and the community
A successful transformative planner must carefully listen and respect what people know; help people acknowledge what they already know; and help them back up this "common sense" and put it in a form that communicates convincingly to others. An example of combining the "common sense" of neighborhood residents with the critical analysis that planners can bring can be found in the investigations around redlining in Boston in the late '80's. Roxbury residents knew for decades that although they could put their money in banks, the banks wouldn't lend it back to them; they also had a feeling that this was particularly true in neighborhoods of color. Planners were able to do a number of studies that produced evidence of the exact nature and extent of redlining by both class and race. The first study was a relatively simple one carried out on the community level through the Greater Roxbury Neighborhood Authority by two MIT graduate planning students. Their findings were provocative enough to push the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and the Boston Redevelopment Authority to conduct other studies, which the community was able to use to put pressure on banks to change. The planner's role in this type of process is critical, but so is the role of the indigenous population--their "common sense" about the situation and their ability to mobilize for change. If the community hadn't mobilized, the studies either wouldn't have been done or wouldn't have focused on the impact of race, or once done, would have simply remained on the shelf.
Correcting for biases, preconceptions and confusing preferences for correctness
Successful transformative planning also means planners who are willing to acknowledge that into each planning situation we bring with us our own attitudes and biases--biases that flow from our own class background and location, our own gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and so forth. And, along with acknowledging the baggage we bring with us, we must recognize that our preferences for certain planning and development outcomes are typically based, at least in part, on these biases and that they're not always (or even often) about being "right", it's not about the "right way"--our preferences are just that, they're our preferences.
Historically, planners have cloaked their preferences--typically those of white, middle-class men--in lots of big words and scientific method and called them "right." That accounts for a lot of the most disastrous planning projects of the past and it continues today. If you've studied the early days of urban renewal, you've probably read some of the sociological, psychological and planning studies of the West End of Boston--the second massive clearance urban renewal project in Boston--generally conceded to be a disaster--an area seen as a slum by the planners, but seen as a thriving multi-ethnic community by residents. Who gets to say an area is a slum? (I should note that while the planners who did this were liberals, progressives aren't immune to this type of narrow vision either.)
Several years ago, over a period of a year, I was in a discussion group every week or so with a group of homeless or previously homeless women. I learned a great deal that is critical of well-intentioned shelter policies. Many have a hard time understanding why, even in winter, some homeless people opt to stay on the street rather than going to a shelter. The homeless women are organizing themselves against the shelters--shelters which were developed by the most well-intentioned, even progressive, people, I'm sure. They also had critical things to say about the attitudes towards homeless that were reflected in rehousing policies--policies that implied that homeless people have no community, have no legitimate preferences in housing accommodations, that they should be grateful for whatever they can get. This comes from planners, however, progressive, focusing only on the housing unit and not on the sense of community and self-dignity of the homeless themselves. For example, a now discredited policy of the City of Cambridge was to rehouse Cambridge homeless several cities away in Lynn where there were cheaper and more units available. If a homeless person didn't accept this relocation (and many didn't), they were bumped to the bottom of the list--after all, they had been offered housing.
Successful transformative planning means wielding our planning tools in a way that frames real alternatives; that elaborates the trade-offs in making one or another choice--that puts real control in people's hands. It does not mean making everybody a professional planner--a possessor of the particular set of skills that planners have developed through professional education and practice. It does mean using our skills so that people can make informed decisions for themselves. And, it means including in the trade-offs the consequences of different decisions in terms of overarching community values--it means challenging people on exclusionary, narrow-minded thinking; having enough respect for people to challenge them. It means framing alternatives that include organizing strategies, political strategies, education strategies, as well as the more traditional planning outcomes--programs, buildings, businesses and so forth.
Successful transformative planning means extending our definition of the planning process to include a capacity building and education/outreach phase on the front end and an evaluation period on the back end. And, it means fighting for funding for this extended process.
In short, it means working with communities in a way that's sensitive, supportive, inquiring and carefully analytical, challenging but not directive or patronizing. Although this may sound like "mom and apple pie," it's all too rare in practice.

This paper has been presented in various versions in lectures at Cornell University (September 1993), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (May 1993), and the Grupo Para el Desarollo Integral de la Capital, Havana, Cuba (July 1992). Published versions are forthcoming in New Solutions (summer 1996) and Indigenous Planning Times (fall 1996).
Marie Kennedy teaches community planning at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Work Ahead

Man, sheep, girl, dog - photo by Shannon Hayes
The separation of work and management is embarrassingly outdated. It's hard work that builds the relationship with land that good stewardship requires.
Photo by Bob Hooper.
May hits us like an ice water dousing on a drowsy morning. It is simultaneously shocking and deeply refreshing. Winter’s leisurely breakfasts are suddenly a thing of the past: Bob and I scarcely have time to join each other for a cup of coffee before we find ourselves on our hands and knees weeding asparagus, donning nets to check on the beehives, pounding posts to trellis new grape vines, digging holes for new fruit trees, or heading down to the farm to make sausage before the farmer's market starts. I help my dad vaccinate the sheep and bag fleeces for the mill; he examines the flock for parasites, moves the broilers out to pasture, checks the fences, hauls hay bales to the cattle to tide them over until the pastures are amply lush, and monitors the grasses and our very pregnant ewes. My mom faces an endless barrage of dishes to wash following our luncheon feasts (made larger to accommodate our springtime appetites), handles the incoming meat orders, and helps us care for the girls. But despite all our activity, we still feel as though we are in the calm before the storm that will hit when lambing season officially begins. All other away-from-home plans are subject to the whims of nature as our family readies to welcome the spring crop of newborns.

Thankfully, the commencement of lambing season also rings in the official start of our summer internships, with one or two students interested in a future in small farming joining us to share the labor and learn how the farm operates. Our relationships with these students often grow very close; over the years they’ve become a colorful web of extended family, delighting us with their ongoing adventures. This year, we have been particularly excited to welcome back a returning, much-adored second-year intern, as well as a new student from one of the state agricultural colleges. Our newest recruit comes from a small family farm that she has chosen to revive, and she is faced with the challenge of proving to her father that it can provide a livelihood before he’ll turn over the reins. Her internship with us is the final requirement for completing a four-year degree in agricultural business, and a springboard for initiating her own family farm renaissance.

New Farmers
New Crop of Farmers

Photo essay: Meet the farmers of America's future.

Thus, we were surprised when, a few weeks ago, she visited my parents with an awkward message from her college adviser. Blushing and avoiding eye contact, she reported, “My adviser says I’m supposed to explain to you that I’m a good student.” When asked to explain the meaning behind her message, she reported (to paraphrase), “He says I’m supposed to be learning how to run a farm, not to do grunt work.”

That was a hard message for us to take. My mother pointed out that absolutely everyone on the farm does physical work. “No one carries a clipboard in this business,” she said. It is the physical work that puts us in tune with the rhythms of nature and sharpens our powers of observation to detect problems. When we have handled 100 robust chickens, our hands can swiftly detect that number 101 is in poor health. When we’ve battled thistles in the pastures, we become sensitive to the dangers of over-grazing. When we feel the meat in our own hands and observe the marbling and fat cover, we connect the quality of the food with the quality of the farming. When we prepare our food and wash our dishes, we become attuned to our own physical needs for rest and nourishment.

It is surprising that the person to raise an objection to this way of life would be a professor of agricultural business. Surely he, of all people, would comprehend that the success of a family farm is drawn from everyone’s involvement in the labor. This is how family farms have managed to survive: We are all both labor and management.

In fact, though, that's not the model for modern, industrial agriculture. In our conventional food system, labor is reserved for people from the most humble backgrounds—those who are paid the least, receive the least amount of education, and who are presumed to be the least intelligent. Management is for the privileged, the educated. Interestingly, our modern homes are run the same way. Many able-bodied, educated Americans leave the home for the workforce, relegating the labor required for the production of their basic necessities—food, childcare, and sometimes even their household upkeep—to those who don’t share their social standing. Physical work, in the case of industrial farming as well as what you might call "industrial housekeeping," is often viewed as lowly, dirty, or unacceptable. From this view, it is understandable how a professor of agricultural business, skeptical of the small farm and local food movements, would despair at seeing a promising student take an interest in family farming and spurn the chance to have smooth, clean, un-calloused hands.

If we want life-serving economies, social justice. and ecological sustainability, then more of us must get our hands dirty.
Happily, though, more and more people are seeing his ideas regarding the separation of work and management as embarrassingly outdated. As we discover the important role of local food in healing our ecosystems, nourishing our health, and building life-serving economies, small farmers are once again becoming valued members of our evolving Earth community. Likewise, we’re building esteem for others whose physical work helps heal our families, communities, and planet: the homemaker who makes prudent use of local bounty or tends his or her own garden or livestock; the commuter who pedals a bicycle; the entrepreneur who repairs material goods so that they needn’t be discarded.

But while no longer disdained, physical work still meets resistance. In recent interviews about my book Radical Homemakers and my life on a family farm, the response from several reporters has been: “Wow. You must work so hard. I could never do that.” I’ve heard from other radical homemakers and farmers who’ve heard similar remarks from the people they meet. In reality, we’re just ordinary people engaging in some healthy labor. By elevating physical labor to the level of superhuman achievement, these apparent admirers are making the same mistake as the professor who thinks it’s only worthy of “grunts.” They’re avoiding work.

How to turn a lawn into lunch, swap preserves, glean, boost your food security, and live the good life.
Avoiding physical work, ironically, has taken its toll in America. We face an obesity epidemic—in part because we are physically inactive and in part because we no longer engage in the labor required to prepare foods from authentic ingredients. Our food is transported thousands of miles at a huge environmental cost because too many of us have been discouraged from the labor required to grow it. Toxic chemicals are dumped into our Earth’s soil and water as a result of the industrial, labor-saving technologies now used to produce it. (Meanwhile, many of us buy exercise machines to counteract the effects of our poor diets and stationary lifestyles, using still more of the Earth’s resources.) If we want life-serving, locally based economies, social justice, ecological sustainability, and shortened production chains, then more of us must get our hands dirty.

I believe that we are faced with the exciting challenge of stewarding our human race through a great evolution whereby we will become a beneficent species on the planet rather than a destructive one. I do not believe this transformation can happen if our bodies, minds, and spirits are divorced from one another. They must perform in a balanced union that enables us to live in ways that are both more joyous and more healthy. Physical work—be it farm labor, cooking, mending, repairing, gardening, or creating—is required by all of us, as we are able. It is neither beneath us nor above us. 

Shannon Hayes 

Shannon Hayes wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Shannon is the author of Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture, The Grassfed Gourmet and The Farmer and the Grill. She is the host of and Hayes works with her family on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in Upstate New York.

Radical HomemakingShannon Hayes’ newest book is Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity From a Consumer Culture, Left to Write Press, 2010.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Urban Planet Project

Welcome to the (urban) jungle
Cities key to conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.
Contact info
For more information on Urban Planet, contact Project leader Danil
+46 73 707 8718
The world is turning increasingly urban with more than five billion people projected to live in cities by 2030. No wonder then that the role of cities in maintaining biodiversity for functional ecosystems is becoming an increasingly important topic on the global agenda.
 High biodiversity richness around cities
In conjunction with the launch of the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, Stockholm Resilience Centre launched Urban Planet, an online tool for sustainable urban development.

Coinciding with the International Biodiversity Day, 22 May, an updated version has been launched with a number of interactive graphics illustrating the links between urban areas and biodiversity.

The new graphics on the Urban Planet website display several dimensions of urbanization and biodiversity, including Cities and Biodiversity Hotspots and Cities and global forest cover change.
Cities and Biodiversity Hotspots. Photo: Conservation International, 2004
It shows how a remarkable amount of native species diversity exist in and around large cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Chicago, Istanbul, Singapore, Cape Town and Stockholm. 
 Today 25 percent of the world´s protected areas are within 17 km of an urban area. In 10 years this is projected to shrink to 15 km making it a hot topic for future urban planning and development.
Cities and Ecoregions. Photo: WWF WildFinder, 2006
Urbanization not just a threat
However, increased urbanization can also represent an opportunity for change. Increasingly growing cities are also hubs for knowledge, innovations and human and financial resources, making them crucial for solving global environmental problems.
 Urban Planet is a joint project of the centre, Albaeco and the Swedish International Centre of Education for Sustainable Development (SWEDESD).
Cities andForestCover. Photo: WRI (World Resources Institute), 1997
Urban Planet is a joint project of the centre, Albaeco and the Swedish International Centre of Education for Sustainable Development (SWEDESD)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Educational resources for Sustainability

Professional Development Topics and Descriptions

Facing the Future provides inservice workshops, consulting, and webinars for teachers at the state, district, school, and department level.

Workshops run from 1 hour to multi-day sessions and can be tailored to meet specific needs and interests. All Facing the Future's workshops are hands-on, interactive explorations of global issues and sustainability. Participants walk away with activity-based curriculum, ideas, and strategies they can put to immediate use in their classrooms.

Below is a list of sample workshop and webinar topics and descriptions. Email us for more information or pricing.

Sustainability and Global Issues Topics

 Curriculum Based Topics

Every child must eat, so food is an excellent way to teach children about sustainability issues. Below are ideas to incorporate The Meatrix into your classes and additional resources for teachers to use in their classroom. If you are a parent, feel free to pass this information on to your children’s teachers.

Meatrix Curricula
Our Meatrix Curricula Contest Winners
Meatrix Curriculum ContestIn 2005, Sustainable Table invited teachers from grades 5-8 to submit a Unit based on the topics covered in The Meatrix. The curriculum could cover all subjects mentioned in the film or could focus on one or two issues in detail.  Two winners were selected to receive cash awards: $1,000 for first place, and $500 for second place.
Melissa Bannister's Lesson Plan [PDF]
Melissa Bannister of Downey Elementary in Harrisburg, PA, developed a lesson plan around The Meatrix which incorporates Language, Science, Social Studies, Math, Technology and Art. The plan covers three weeks worth of 50 minute class periods, and allows students to research, debate and present the topic of factory farming in order to strengthen their questioning, essay writing and public speaking skills. Using library and internet research skills, students are able to investigate the topic after being introduced to it through The Meatrix, and come to their own conclusions. Key elements involve learning how to separate fact from opinion, and learning how to use statistics to construct an argument.
Not only do students learn about the issues, but they can apply them to their own lives, through scientific and intellectual analysis of their own food system and eating habits. The conclusion of the unit allows students to use multiple approaches, both scientific and social, to understand what they eat and why.
VaReane Heese's Lesson Plan [PDF]
In VaReane Heese's lesson plan, students imagine they have just been recruited by a company to research one of the issues relating to sustainable agriculture. The final result is the creation of a brochure and a commercial that is written, videotaped and produced by the students and that informs an audience about their chosen issue. Students are given the opportunity to sharpen their research, writing and communication skills while learning about media and new technologies.
This project is intended to build self-confidence through critical thinking, as students are given contact information for various experts in the field of sustainability and agriculture and asked to interview them. This empowers students to be proactive about information gathering and the research process.
Sustainable Kids!
VaReane Heese's Class
VaReane Heese's future sustainable agriculture experts show off their Meatrix gear.
More Ideas: Activities and Short Lessons
Additional Curricula

Parking Lots to Parks: Designing Livable Cities

by Lester R. Brown
As I was being driven through Tel Aviv from my hotel to a conference center in 1998, I could not help but note the overwhelming presence of cars and parking lots. It was obvious that Tel Aviv, expanding from a small settlement a half-century ago to a city of some 3 million today, had evolved during the automobile era. It occurred to me that the ratio of parks to parking lots may be the best indicator of the livability of a city—an indication of whether the city is designed for people or for cars.

Tel Aviv is not the world’s only fast-growing city. Urbanization is the second dominant demographic trend of our time, after population growth itself. In 1900, some 150 million people lived in cities. By 2000, it was 2.8 billion people, a 19-fold increase. Now more than half of us live in cities—making humans, for the first time, an urban species.

The world’s cities are facing unprecedented challenges. In Mexico City, Tehran, Kolkata, Bangkok, Beijing, and hundreds of other cities, the air is no longer safe to breathe. In some cities the air is so polluted that breathing is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. Respiratory illnesses are rampant. In many places, the number of hours commuters spend sitting in traffic-congested streets and highways climbs higher each year, raising frustration levels.
NYC View, 2004
Credit: Andrew Larsen
In response to these conditions, we are seeing the emergence of a new urbanism, a planning philosophy that environmentalist Francesca Lyman says “seeks to revive the traditional city planning of an era when cities were designed around human beings instead of automobiles.” One of the most remarkable modern urban transformations has occurred in Bogotá, Colombia, where Enrique Peñalosa served as mayor for three years. When he took office in 1998 he did not ask how life could be improved for the 30 percent who owned cars, but for the 70 percent—the majority—who did not.

Peñalosa realized that a city with a pleasant environment for children and the elderly would work for everyone. In just a few years, he transformed the quality of urban life. Under his leadership, the city created or renovated 1,200 parks, introduced a highly successful bus-based rapid transit system, built hundreds of kilometers of bicycle paths and pedestrian streets, reduced rush hour traffic by 40 percent, planted 100,000 trees, and involved local citizens directly in the improvement of their neighborhoods. In doing this, he created a sense of civic pride among the city’s 8 million residents, making the streets of Bogotá in this strife-torn country safer than those in Washington, D.C.

In espousing this new urban philosophy, Peñalosa is not alone. Jaime Lerner, when he was mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, pioneered the design and adoption of an alternative transportation system that is inexpensive and commuter-friendly. Since 1974 Curitiba’s transportation system has been totally restructured. Although 60 percent of the people own cars, busing, biking, and walking account for 80 percent of all trips in the city.

When 95 percent of a city’s workers depend on cars for commuting, as in Atlanta, Georgia, the city is in trouble. By contrast, in Amsterdam 35 percent of all residents bike or walk to work, while one fourth use public transit and 40 percent drive. In Paris, fewer than half of commuters rely on cars, and even this share is shrinking thanks to the efforts of Mayor Bertrand Delanoë. Even though these European cities are older, often with narrow streets, they have far less congestion than Atlanta.

One way to combat congestion is to eliminate the subsidies, often indirect, that many employers provide for parking. In his book The High Cost of Free Parking, Donald Shoup estimates that off-street parking subsidies in the United States are worth at least $127 billion a year, obviously encouraging people to drive. What societies should be striving for is not parking subsidies, but parking fees, reflecting the costs of congestion and the deteriorating quality of life as cars and parking lots take over.

Scores of cities are simply declaring car-free areas, among them New York, Stockholm, Vienna, and Rome. Paris enjoys a total ban on cars along stretches of the Seine River on Sundays and holidays and is looking to permanently ban cars along 1.2 miles of the Seine’s left bank by 2012.

There are two ways of dealing with the environmental challenges facing cities. One is to modify existing cities. On Earth Day 2007, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg announced PlaNYC, a comprehensive plan to improve the city’s environment, strengthen its economy, and make it a better place to live. At the heart of the plan is a 30-percent reduction in the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Thus far, 25 percent of the taxicab fleet has been converted to fuel-efficient gas-electric hybrids, and more than 300,000 trees have been planted. Efforts to raise energy efficiency are under way in dozens of city buildings and many more in the private sector, including the iconic Empire State Building. Just three years into the plan, citywide carbon emissions are down by 9 percent.

The other way is to build new cities from scratch. For example, developer Sydney Kitson has acquired the 91,000-acre Babcock Ranch in southern Florida on which to build a new city. The first step was to help sell more than 73,000 acres of the land to the state government to maintain as a permanent preserve. The heart of the city, intended to be home to 45,000 people, will include a business and commercial center and a high-density residential development. Several satellite communities will be linked to the downtown by public transportation. The purpose of the city is to be both a model green community and a center, a national focal point, for renewable energy research and development firms. Among the distinguishing features of this new community are that it will be powered entirely by solar electricity, all residential and commercial buildings will meet standards set by the Florida Green Building Coalition, and it will have more than 40 miles of greenways, allowing residents to walk or cycle to work.

Half a world away, in oil-rich Abu Dhabi, construction has begun on Masdar City, designed for 50,000 people. The government’s goal here is to create an international renewable energy research and development center, a sort of Silicon Valley East. In addition to being powered largely by solar energy, this town of well-insulated buildings plans to be carless, relying on a rail-based, electrically powered, computer-controlled network of individual passenger vehicles. In this water-scarce part of the world, the plan is to continuously recycle water used in the city. And nothing will go to a landfill; everything will be recycled, composted, or gasified to provide energy. How well these pre-engineered cities will perform and whether they will be attractive places to live and work in remains to be seen.

We are only beginning to glimpse where we want to end up. In 2006, the History Channel sponsored a City of the Future Competition in which architectural firms were given one week to outline a vision of New York in 2106. Terreform, a design studio headed by architect Michael Sorkin, proposed gradually eliminating automobiles and converting half the city’s street space into parks, farms, and gardens. The designers envisioned that by 2038, some 60 percent of New Yorkers would walk to work and that the city would eventually be transformed into a “paradise for people on foot.”

At this point, Terreform’s proposal may seem a little far-fetched, but Manhattan’s daily gridlock must be addressed simply because it has become both a financial burden and a public health threat.  The Partnership for New York City, representing New York’s leading corporate and investment firms, conservatively estimates that traffic congestion in and around the city costs the region more than $13 billion a year in lost time and productivity, wasted fuel, and lost business revenue.

Mayors and city planners the world over are beginning to rethink the role of the automobile, seeking ways to design cities for people, not cars. The integration of walkways and bikeways into urban transport systems anchored by public transportation makes a city eminently more livable than one that relies almost exclusively on private automobiles. Noise, pollution, congestion, and frustration are all lessened—and we and the earth are both healthier.

Adapted from Chapter 6, “Designing Cities for People” in Lester R. Brown, Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009), available on-line at

Ten Green Parenting Tips

Often, by choosing to go green as parents, we are actually able to save money as we are cutting down on consumption and waste. We’re also teaching our kids important lessons about protecting the earth and being conscious

1. Serve organic and locally grown food at home and try to limit processed food. Food grown with pesticides can impact a child’s development and locally grown food will be fresher and in season and will help give your child a taste for fresh fruits and vegetables. Processed chips, snacks and sodas are loaded with salt and sugar and contribute to everything from childhood obesity to attention deficit disorder.
2. Cut down on lunch packaging. Use refillable drink containers instead of juice boxes, and fill your own containers with apple sauce and yogurt. And limit the amount of plastic bags and packaging by filling your own snack containers with crackers, pretzels and other snacks instead of buying “snack sizes.”
3. Buy non-toxic toys. Choose toys from local U.S. companies, check on recalls and choose wood or hard-plastic toys over the soft plastic toys (like rubber ducks) which contain PVC and may impact a child’s hormone development.
4. Turn waste into art. Have the kids reuse materials that would otherwise be wasted: turn old socks into puppets, plastic jugs into watering cans and paper towel rolls into shakers. Using old materials is a great way to get creative and learn about protecting the planet.
5. Get outside! Kids are suffering from “nature deficit disorder”. On average, kids spend just 30 minutes of unstructured time outdoors each week—but they spend 40 minutes a day in front of the TV. Whether hiking and camping as a family, or simply running around the backyard, regular outdoor activity can have huge positive health benefits.
6. Use non-toxic cleaners. Read the labels on cleaners and make sure that they disclose the ingredients, and buy from companies like Seventh Generation whose products you can trust. Cleaners should not contain ammonia or bleach or even artificial fragrances which can cause reactions in kids, particularly those with asthma. You can also make your own safe household cleaner from distilled white vinegar and water.
7. Carpool. Kids are going to so many different lessons and events, but that’s no reason to make tons of separate car trips. New online services like are making it possible for parents to use less gas, save on stress and help conserve energy.
a8. Plant a garden. Even a few tomato plants grown outside in pots can help teach kids about the process of growing, the importance of soil, water and sunshine and the reward of caring for plants that then produce flowers and food.
9. Cut down on consumption. Instead of always buying the latest gadgets, get involved in swapping toys with other parents as kids outgrow them, purchasing used toys, or making alternative toys, like playhouses, out of cardboard boxes.
10. Get active! Encourage your local school to serve healthier lunch options in the cafeteria, campaign to get soda companies out of the schools and to use non-toxic cleaners in the classrooms and organic lawn products on the playing fields. See for ideas.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

GMO Food Dangers

Inspiring Health Videos, Documentaries
Fun health videos and documentaries educate and inspire

Dear friends,

Two short, fun health videos deliver a great educational message in a very fun way. Store Wars is a rich, funny, six-minute parody of the blockbuster film Stars Wars on making healthy choices in your food shopping. The Meatrix is a four-minute spoof on the popular film The Matrix with empowering information on genetically modified foods. Don't miss these two excellent videos at the links below:

Two engaging longer videos can also have a major impact on your health. We received an email from one thankful man saying that the first film on aspartame, Sweet Misery, literally saved his life. He had developed a neurological disorder that ended up costing him his job, his wife, and his family, and was rapidly eroding his sanity. After watching this powerful documentary and cutting aspartame out of his life, he had a rapid, almost miraculous recovery. 

The second film, The Future of Food, provides powerful evidence on how big industry and government collude to endanger your health through preventing the risks and dangers of genetically modified food from being known. Even if you have time for only the first 15 minutes of these two excellent, paradigm-shifting documentaries, you will not regret it. 

For a powerful 10-page summary by a top researcher on the risks of genetically modified foods with lots of footnotes for verification, click here. Together, we can work for a healthier diet for ourselves and for all who share our world. Thanks for caring. 

With heartfelt love and best wishes,

Fred Burks for the inspiring and educational PEERS websites

3 Big Ideas to Make Water Last

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The “Watershed Moments” article in the Summer 2010, ‘Water Solutions’ issue of YES! Magazine.
Only a tiny fraction of Earth’s water is available as fresh water.
We’re already at the limits of supply in parts of the United States. But even with climate change and growing populations, there’s enough for everyone if we work together to keep it clean, use it wisely, and share it fairly.

3 Big Ideas to Make Water Last, YES! Magazine poster
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Purchase the Watershed Moments poster.
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Where is our water?

poster_wave.jpg95.7% of the water on earth is salty. 84% of water in the atmosphere comes from the oceans, than falls as rain.

Of the 2.5% of Earth's water that's fresh, about 70% is ice—and inaccessible. [1]

Of the 2.5% of Earth's water that's fresh, about 30% is groundwater. [2]

Of the 2.5% of Earth's water that's fresh, 0.3% is surface water (in lakes, rivers, and wetlands) or water vapor. [3]

Who takes fresh water?

Who Takes Fresh Water?

3 big ideas to make water last


Take care of the ecosystems that supply us.

  • poster_fish.jpgLower CO2: Mountain snowpacks are shrinking because of climate change. About 75% of the water supplies in the western United States come from snowmelt.
  • Restored wetlands: Clean watersheds save cities billions compared to the cost of water purification plants. New York City is saving $6.5 billion by restoring the Catskill-Delaware watershed. [4]
  • Animal engineers: Beaver ponds slow runoff, letting water percolate into aquifers. Prairie dog tunnels help water soak into the ground.
  • Wild rivers: Naturally meandering rivers reduce erosion, create wildlife habitat, and slow flow, allowing surrounding soil to soak up more water.
  • Refilling aquifers: Groundwater is replenished by surface water, but slowly. Parts of the Ogallala Aquifer recharge at a rate between 0.07 and one inch per year.
  • Rain-friendly design: Porous pavement, rain gardens, and swales let rainwater seep into the soil, rather than overwhelming storm drains.

poster_boat.jpgShare it because it belongs to everyone.

  • Organic fertilizers avoid toxic runoff to rivers and keep fish stocks healthy.
  • Clean Water Act: Watchful Waterkeeper programs and community activists use laws to keep industrial neighbors clean.
  • Protect the commons: Clean and wild waterways allow for both healthy wildlife and human recreation.

Learn to live within our water means.

  • poster_island.jpgWind and solar: Solar panels and wind require little water to generate electricity. Thermoelectric is our single biggest water user.
  • Organic farming methods boost the ability of soil to hold water.
  • Drip irrigation saves up to 50% compared to overhead sprinklers. [5]
  • Native plants: We use 9 billion gallons of water a day on lawns and golf courses. Native plants require little irrigation. [6]
  • Low flow: Fixing leaks and installing low-flow fixtures saves 30% or more on household water use.
  • Reuse: Using reclaimed water for irrigation conserves a community’s drinking water. Reclaimed wastewater contains beneficial nitrogen and phosphorus for plants.
  • Save the rain: Annual rainfall on Los Angeles is equal to two-thirds of the water the city uses each year. Waterloo, Ontario, has given out 40,000 rain barrels. It now uses
    12.7 million gallons less water a year. [7,8]

Doug PibelDoug Pibel researched and edited this poster for Water Solutions, the Summer 2010 issue of YES! Magazine. Doug is managing editor at YES! Magazine. Research assistance by Berit Anderson, Ashlee Green, and Keith Rutowski.
Illustrations by Alexandre Dumas.


  1. Of the 2.5% of Earth’s water that’s fresh, about 70% is ice—and inaccessible.
    Source: Igor Shiklomanov's chapter "World fresh water resources" in Peter H. Gleick (editor), 1993, Water in Crisis: A Guide to the World's Fresh Water Resources (Oxford University Press, New York).

  2. 30.1% of all freshwater is fresh groundwater.

  3. 0.3% or 31,341 trillion gallons are in lakes, rivers and wetlands. Amount also includes water in plants, animals, and the atmosphere. William E. McNulty, NG Staff graphic for April 2010 issue of National Geographic Magazine.  From Igor A. Shiklomanov, State Hydrological Institute, Russia; USGS

  4. “New York City was faced with the potentially enormous cost of an artificial water filtration plant, estimated at as much as $6-$8 billion, plus yearly maintenance expenses amounting to $300-$500 million….With vigorous lobbying, they won agreement from federal regulators to try an alternative: rather than pay for the costly new filtration plant, the city would spend the much smaller amount of about $1.5 billion to protect the upstate watershed, by buying land as buffers and upgrading polluting sewage treatment plants, among other tactics….” Gretchen C. Daily and Katherine Ellison, Orion Magazine, Spring 2002,

  5. "Drip irrigation typically saves between 30-50% of water used on crops and orchards."

  6. Lawns: NY State Department of Environmental Conservation,
    Golf: Golf Course Environmental Profile vol.2: Water Use and Conservation Practices on U.S. Golf Courses, Environmental Institute for Golf."

  7. LA Water usage: Los Angeles Urban Water Management Plan, 2005.

  8. Waterloo, Ontario, has given out 40,000 rainbarrels. It now uses 12.7 million gallons less water a year. Personal interview w. Steve Gombos, Manager, Water Efficiency, Region of Waterloo. April 23, 2010.