Monthly Archives: January 2009

Great expectations for single stream recycling

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Even before the City of Savannah began disclosing the details of its single stream curbside recycling program late last year, the complaints started rolling in. Additional grumbling ensued after the launch of the program earlier this month. From insistence that the program should pay for itself to griping about the color and size of the carts to fretting about the environmental impact of the trucks that would collect the materials, Vox Populi callers and message board posters and letter to the editor writers took their shots.

Most of these critics, it appeared to me, were subjecting the recycling program to rigorous criteria I doubt they would apply to any other local government activity or service.

Are they outraged that the Truman Parkway is not generating a profit? Of course not. Are their aesthetic sensibilities, so offended by the the recycling carts, similarly aggravated by dreadful streetscapes, invasive billboards or eviscerated tree canopies? They probably didn’t notice. Are the folks concerned about the carbon footprint of the recycling collection trucks also worrying about local parking and transportation projects that encourage automobile use? Don’t be silly.

No, recycling is held to a higher standard that is conveniently relaxed when it comes to almost everything else our local governments do. Me, I had only one expectation of the recycling program: that it would happen. And yesterday, one 311 report, one phone call to the recycling center and more than two weeks after the scheduled pick up date, the contents of my completely full recycling cart were collected. Things can only get better.

Another Opportunity to Rethink The Big Box Model

Martin Melaver of local sustainable development company Melaver, Inc., has an interesting post on the Chelsea Green about balancing business, sustainability and placemaking.  An excerpt:

“My hope is that the specific story of Circuit City will serve as something of a morality tale, one that will teach us to rewire the way we think of our communities, the ways in which we attend more to local businesses that need our support, the ways in which we address growth as something more long-term and more deliberate. Perhaps this specific bankruptcy will teach us to re-wire our own circuitry as communities where lasting value is found in more than the latest electronic gadgetry.”

Read the whole thing here.

Yard Clipping Collection

From today’s Savannah Morning News . . .

Along with the start of curbside recycling, Savannah also initiated its yard clipping collection last week.

By state law, yard waste cannot be commingled with household waste in a landfill. Separating it allows the city to compost yard waste.

Yard waste is collected on the day after recycling and household garbage collection. It can be placed in a container of up to 32 gallons in volume, stacked in neat bundles of no more than 4 feet in length, 12 inches in diameter, and 40 pounds, or placed in yard bags.

A city survey indicated the bags are available at these locations:

– Publix – Twelve Oaks and Largo Plaza.

– Home Depot – Abercorn Street and Victory Drive.

– Kroger – Abercorn Street, Mall Boulevard and Ogeechee Road.

– Lowes – Abercorn Street.

Kunstler offers (small) glimmers of hope

James Howard Kunstler’s vision of the future is grim and one that many people would prefer not to consider at all. Former marketing executives working permanently as field hands, dissolution of central government, collapse of social institutions, ongoing civil war, starvation and famine — all happening on America soil — sound like elements from a science fiction novel. And they are.

Kunstler’s novel, “World Made by Hand” convincingly imagines the inhabitants of a fictional New England community coping with the future Kunstler predicts in “The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century.” Kunstler was nice enough to send me a review copy of the novel  shortly before it’s publication last year. I devoured it immediately, but never wrote a review.  There are plenty of reviews out there, so anything I might write about it now would be superfluous.

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I mention it today because the paperback edition came out this week. Also, I learned Kunstler is currently at work on a sequel. At least part of it, he told me yesterday, would be written while waiting on a flight at Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport. “World Made By Hand,” despite its cataclysmic setting, contains some hopeful notes. Can Kunstler offer the similar encouragement for those of us in the real world?

Kunstler’s critics like to paint him as a fear-monger who lacks the educational or professional background to make the kind of forecasts contained in his books and speeches. They point to his past predictions that did not come to pass. They call him a hypocrite for decrying air and car travel while using both while to arrive at speaking engagements all over the country.  They “twang” him, as he likes to say, for failing to offer solutions (despite the fact that he wrote an entire book, “Home from Nowhere: Remaking Our Everyday World for the 21st Century” about solutions).

One solution Kunstler has been promoting for years is rebuilding our railroads. In current economic conditions, he told and audience in Savannah yesterday, a rail revival would mean more than just mobility. Making the trains run on time and to more places with more frequency would would help us prove to ourselves that we are a still nation that can still get things done. Now is the time to rescue rail infrastructure that’s out there “rusting in the rain” and restore our confidence, he said.

Local residents can also take hope in Kunstler’s suggestion that mid-size cities like ours will be “where the action is,” if we can recast our communities using a more sustainable model.

Hoping our next president goes by the book

death-and-life-of-cities.jpg In the Internet circles I frequent there is a great deal of concern about what how President-elect Barack Obama is planning to spend that stimulus money. Will the transportation infrastructure come in the form of projects that will help us lessen our dependence on oil, improve public health, rebuild shattered communities, combat climate change, restore a sense of place, and better equip us to live prosperous, comfortable and meaningful lives in a future of increasingly scarce energy and resources? Or will we get more of the inefficient, neighborhood-destroying, sprawl-producing type of infrastructure that mandates automobile use for all trips and spawns a quantity and variety of negative outcomes that surpass our ability to fully catalog them?

This morning in his City Talk column, Bill Dawers joined others who have found hope in the president-elect’s familiarity with Jane Jacobs’ book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” Did Mr. Obama highlight the same passage in his copy that I did in mine?

“Erosion of cities by automobiles entails so familiar a series of events that these hardly need describing. The erosion proceeds as a kind of nibbling … Because of vehicular congestion, a street is widened here, another is straightened there, a wide avenue is converted to one-way flow, staggered-signal systems are installed for faster movement, a bridge is double-decked… an expressway is cut through yonder, and finally whole webs of expressways. More and more land goes into parking, to accommodate the ever increasing numbers of vehicles while they are idle…”

I thought of this quote today as I took care of my lunchtime errands on foot. I walked about two and a half miles and was dismayed by the number of times I had to walk around idle cars parked on or blocking sidewalks. And this in one of the most walkable cities in North America.

That, in turn, got me thinking about something that’s been bothering me for days. A recent Savannah Morning News story described Chatham County’s first pedestrian fatality of 2009, which motivated my fellow citizens to add despicable comments. Here’s an example:

“If stupid people would stay out of the road, this wouldn’t happen. Now the driver of that van is going to probably need therapy, go through needless hassles with his insurance company, and have the mark of ‘killing someone with his car’ on him, and he didn’t do anything wrong. All because some guy is too retarded to stay out of the road.”

Admittedly, this fatality happened on an Interstate, albeit one that skirts an urban area. Few of us would choose to walk in this environment. But in some situations (if your car breaks down and your cell phone battery is dead, for example) you may find yourself with no choice. And to be honest, this type of blame the victim mentality is regularly applied to pedestrian deaths no matter the location or circumstance.

I get the message: Stay out of the road, but don’t expect us to stay off the sidewalks. The driver is always right.

Bummed? Yes, I was. But then I read this quote from Bike Portland via the Streetsblog Network and was heartened:

“All traffic fatalities are a symptom of the same disease. It’s equally sad and tragic if a person is killed while walking, biking, or driving. It also appears that the conditions that make it safer for the most vulnerable make it safer for everyone. As roads become safe enough that a child can safety walk or bike to their friend’s house, the roads also become safer for driving to that friend’s house when you have to.”

Will our next president’s transportation projects reward the kind of mindset that finds it appropriate to heap insults and blame on dead pedestrians? Or will he choose a path that protects and benefits those who walk, those who bicycle, those who ride transit and those who drive? A chorus of voices, some of them drawing inspiration from Jacobs, are urging Mr. Obama to do the right thing. I hope he hears them and acts accordingly.