Archive for the ‘sustainability’ Category

De-Construction (part I)

It’s unremarkable that the concept has been developed and adopted in multiple cities. Likely, the only remarkable aspect is my noticing it and saving the articles on the different places mentioned in stories.

Most of the demolition of old buildings that I’ve seen has been by bulldozer and grab claw. Of course, most of  what I’ve seen torn down has been cheaply made strip malls and big box sores that have passed their 10-year-old life spans. But when you have real structures, especially old house, row home and factories, the opportunity for deconstruction increases.  Deconstruction is different from salvage. Salvage uses what it can of debris while deconstruction take it apart with the idea of using most or all of it.

It seems like such a good multiple win idea.  it provides jobs for the deconstruction, warehouse management, avoidance of landfills, avoidance of harvesting of new materials,.  While it clearly takes time, and energy (although that’s debatable if you look at the life cycle analysis from initial harvesting of materials and their manufacture).

It’d be wonderful if it could be done on  a grander scale with abandoned and dilapidated buildings. Of course, laws of ownership, vandalizing (which is an uncontrolled, illegal form of deconstruction) and developing the necessary skill sets and all factors limiting it.

But still, it is a great concept; sustainability and Cradle to Cradle at it’s best.

Cobbler commentary

There is a certain very distinctive atmosphere that is part and parcel of a shoe repair shop, that takes me back in time.

I’ve been in shoe repair stores for a large portion of my life.  I had flat feet and needed special shoes and special inserts, so I’d have to go to the cobbler to have the wedge inserted and the heel modified.  The shoes themselves were a particular orthopedic style (which cause me no small amount of unhappiness and teasing when I was younger) with a steel arch.  The shoes were expensive, so there was a need to be able to re-sole and re-heel them on a periodic basis that my friends with tennis shoes and docksiders didn’t have to worry about.

Time has moved on, the orthopedic shoe stores are now gone, and I’ve been reduced to going with standard off-the-shelf shoes from a generic big-box shoe warehouse store.  My newest shoes needed a quick repair on a heel –the heel was hollow, surprisingly. I’d worn through the thin portion of the heel that covered the void, exposing the opening.  The problem with the void was it made sounds when I walked, and was constantly picking up rocks.  So I opted for a quick trip to the local cobbler.


I went to King’s Cobbler in the King Contrivance Village Center.


Walking in, I was immediately aware of the look, the smell, the atmosphere of the store.  Clearly a cobbler live here.  The air was rich with the odor of warm polish and glue. Small piles of shoes, some paired and some not, lay in various parts of the store, waiting for the next task or the next phase of their re-creation. Ahead of me were the equipment of the trade, a craft which despite the years and increased automation in other fields still relies on manual labor, personal skill, and …. equipment that probably hasn’t been built since FDR (okay, likely a bit of hyperbole there, but it certainly looks o-l-d).


It caused me to think back to the days when a cobbler existed in every nearly every mall, every shopping center.  We used to go to the cobbler regularly, working to glean a little more life and time out of our shoes before they had to be replaced.  I remember having shoes re-soled five or six or more times.  Heels were done even more frequently because of the orthopedic issues of how I walked and wore the heels out.

Those days seem to be gone.  Cobblers are not very common anymore, and there seems to be little interest in the millennials to take on the trade craft.  More significantly, the big box shoe stores sell shoes that have little to no leather or repairable materials in them. My last pair of Rockports were not repairable because of the synthetic material employed in the sole. It’s unfortunate that the materials we use aren’t repairable and that the skills needed for repair are themselves becoming endangered.

Time, and society, move on.  Shoes no longer repairable, and no one who can repair them.  Chicken and egg.  But at least in this case I have an idea which came first — unrepairable shoes.

At least I was able to support both the craft of the cobbler and a local business this time 🙂





Winter felled

Marked in summer, demise foretold; Cut down at last, in a season cold

No more shade upon my walk; no more place for birds to talk

A part of the street for 20 years; Passed away with no shed tears

Nothing planted in their place to grow; Nothing to improve the barren show

It takes years and years to grow a tree; Who will see it, I fear ….. not me


Death Marks

I had first seen the signs, but forgot them.


I had passed by the signs on my walks a couple of times, and didn’t pay any attention to them.


And then it hit me.  Death marks.  The trees that graced my walk path were going to be removed.

By paint on the trunk, and marks on the road, the tree is marked for removal.

tree           road

It is, undoubtedly, due to the Emerald Ash Borer.  We’ve lost a lot of trees in the region, and in Columbia, from the pest.  I understand the need to remove them, although the change in the view of my path will be sad to see.  It was right beside the first tree in the first picture that I saw my first (and only) in-person pileated woodpecker.

I suspect my only real compliant with the process is wondering, since it has likely been known for a couple of years that the trees would eventually have to go, why new ones weren’t planted sooner, to give them a little time to grow, to give them a little shade.

It does make me more attuned to the issue of biological diversity.  For history has shown the effects of a dependency on a particular species, whether it is the potato, the elm, or the ash.  And perhaps it should be considered when we think about the other crops of corn, wheat, rice, bananas.  How dependent are we on a single sources, which can be susceptible to a particular disease….or biological weapon.

For now, I know I will have a tree-less promenade next spring and summer, and a significant change in my shade.


Light observation

It occurred to me the other week that I have lived in my apartment for a long time.  In fact, I have lived in my 900 sq ft longer than any other single location in my life.  I moved into the apt as part of the “out of the house” separation prior to the divorce.  That means it has been my domicile for ten years.  It has been my home for only four, because it wasn’t until a serious, weeks long illness in 2012 that I “bonded” with the place and learned to be okay, comfortable, even happy (gasp!) with it.  In one sense I’m surprised it has been so long.  In another…..I’ve forgotten much of what other places were like.


With that as background, I had a light thought the other morning.  I was getting ready for work when I noticed that one of the five lights over the vanity was burned out.  Not an unusual thing –except that it was.  You see, in the ten years that I have been in the apt, this is the FIRST time that a light in the bathroom has burned out.  How can I be sure?  Because it is a non-standard bulb, and it’s one I know I have never had to buy before.  In fact, it is such an odd bulb I’m going to ask building management to replace it.


How did this happen?  I have to wonder, because that light is ALWAYS used!  Every morning it comes on while I shower, shave, get dressed.  Every evening I turn it on when I wash and brush.  Any time during the day when I’m home from work, it is on when I use the bathroom.  For ten years.  And now….the first one goes.   What made these so resilient?  Why did they last so long when the lamp bulbs in the living room and the bedroom get changed out every couple of years?

Just something light to think about 🙂

Lost Direction

It happened while I was out walking this past week. Walking helps me with my thoughts and stirs my creative energies for writing and more….for however creative I am when writing. But at some point on my walk, it struck me.
I’m lost.

Antique Compass on Map
It was a bit of a shock when I realized it. To a fair degree, it snuck up on me and surprised me. I thought I’d had a good plan and direction but…..well, apparently not.

I’ve become lost and direction-less, in life.

In both my work life and my personal life, I’ve lost my bearings. Again. The first time I lost my bearings was in the divorce. The things that I had always assumed would be there in a usual life– home, wife, child, love, connection, growing old — all disappeared. As thought the loss of the marriage wasn’t severe enough, but there was the loss of fatherhood as well. It was quite a shock, and at least one bout of severe depression (nay, nervous breakdown) was the result.

I rebuilt, and up until this past week thought things were going well. I had realized that sustainability was a passion. I was engaged in that at work, driving the vision forward, and doing it as a volunteer at the Robinson Nature Center as well. Add in the blog, walking, and (recently) the cat, and I felt that perhaps I was setting forward on a new path.


The effort at work seems to have slid away. The word has come down that I’m not promoteable, and the sustainability work I’ve been doing has been  usurped , taken over, assumed by a different group that has very different ideas on both what to do with it and how to do it.  Instead of directing the effort that I’ve been leading and championing for a decade, I’m now told that I can help them but that they are setting the course….despite having neither the skill set nor the passion.

The volunteer work on this has also dried up. While the Nature Center is going great guns, there is no longer much interest in the green building portion of it.  The LEED Platinum building is now an only-occasionally considered aspect, and my time as a volunteer is dwindled to almost nothing.

I have become totally unmoored, now drifting along without benefit of goal, direction or guidance. This is quite a shock to me.  I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly resilient person; the breakdown in 2010 was proof of that!  Interestingly, when I think of resiliency in my friends, it is a quality that I think of in a couple of the women that I know — Jen and Jess in particular.

At this point I don’t know what I’ll do.  It is, most likely, a measure of growth to even realize what has happened, to put label to it.  There is a certain degree of comfort in being able to label it, to recognize it.  That recognition has at least caused me to start considering things in a new light.  Are there classes I want to take for which I now could have time?  Is there a degree, another Master’s or a PhD, that I desire?  Or a certification?  Perhaps a new volunteer opportunity.  Or explore writing in greater detail, and act on the children’s books, the technical books, the contemplative book, or the historical books that I have been tossing around in my head for a dozen years.

Meanwhile, I bob along in the waves.  Moor to come 🙂 I hope.


Green roof :) Reblogged

I haven’t reblogged something in a while, but both the topic and the pictures on this one thrilled me.  Both the first picture, from Armenia, and the last picture from Tokyo, appeal to me.  The undulation of the Armenian is very cool both architecturally and vegetatively, while bringing green to the indoor environment would seem to be a great concept.

Enjoy 🙂

Green roofs are a growing trend in both residential and commercial ecologically minded architecture. These types of roofs entail having a garden of sorts above your building instead of, or in addition to, on your grounds. A building with a green roof has vegetation on the roof, as in the example below, where a gardener […]

via Nature on the Rooftops: Green Roofs and the International Green Roof Congress — Urban Scrawl

Walled Off

I have been driving the section of Rt 29 through Columbia for years…decades, actually. And I’ve seen the changes over that time.  I remember driving it when I was in college, going up to Westminster to see my girlfriend Sari.  I remember driving it when I graduated from grad school, and took my first job in Columbia, thinking that I had traveled out into the boonies!  I’ve seen it change as the signalized at-grade intersections were eliminated to accommodate traffic flow (I have bad memories of the old left turn onto Owen Brown, where I had a battery problem and needed a push once day !)

Now I see that there are sound barriers going up and ….I realize it means that the view of Columbia, at least of the communities along the way, will be gone. Last year they gutted the wonderful stands of forsythia that had stood in the median south of Owen Brown, and most of the trees that were around the section at old South Entrance Road.  I hope that there will still be the view of the lake, but the other views will now be of pre-cast textured concrete walls.  No longer will the condos just north of the footbridge be visible.  Nor the old 1960’s era houses south of the footbridge.


I understand their aversion to the traffic noise.  Most assuredly, if I lived there I’d want sound barriers too. It’s just that it seems like there is something that is lost, something connective in the scenery that we pass.  What was connection, or at least noticing, the communities passed through and the history passed through, now becomes another developmental block of featureless nothing.  Where once we saw where others were, what else there was around us, and realized the differences, now we see nothing of the areas we go through.

There is a part of me that says if we HAVE to have these walls, couldn’t we at least green them up?  And I don’t mean wait for two decades for the ivy to eventually start to grow and get a foothold.  I mean intentionally plant not just at the base of the walls, but build into the wall repositories of dirt that would allow flowers or grasses or vines to grow.  Green walls are not new, nor are they even cutting edge.  Couldn’t we at least improve what we seem condemned to live with?

Sigh.  Time rolls on.



Oil and water….and bliss

There are two old expressions that came to mind as I read and thought about an article in the news recently (hang tight, I’ll tell you what they are shortly), an article about…

The Straits of Mackinac.

An area of natural beauty where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron connect.  An area where the past and the present have rubbed together in unexpected ways few would expect, fewer would have anticipated.

The Great Lakes have been a bastion of industry for many, many years, although most have forgotten just how industrial they used to be. Many places suffer from amnesia of past development.  The Lakes and many other areas were the beneficiaries of construction and development projects.  Many of those projects have faded into memory….. even as the projects themselves endured and hummed along in the current world.  Occasionally they blip on our radar screens for one reason or another.  It’s a wide gamut of projects that fall into this category.  Bridges that were built long before current standards in highway design and construction.  Tunnels created before seismic analysis was born.  Dams for power and flood control erected before current materials and processes.  Utilities installed, and forgotten as they continue to operate through their normal life and beyond.

In the Great Lakes, an oil pipeline exists, running through the Strait.  Each day, it has moved thousands and thousand of barrels of oil through the pipe, under one of our more unique aquatic creations.  Industry continued to receive the oil, operators continued to operate the pipeline.  And for everyone it faded into the background, unremembered, invisible, silent.  A tube of metal under the water.  A sixty-year old tube of metal running under the water.

And oil and water don’t mix (see, I told you I’d get to the old expressions).

The response to the discovery of this pipeline, or more properly the re-acknowledgement of the pipeline, has generated a not-unexpected amount of heat and vitriol between those who operate and use the pipe line, and those who demand that it be shut down because it could be a hazard to the water of the Lakes.  A potential hazard that has been there for 60 years.  A potential unrealized for sixty years, laying there unremembered, unknown, blissfully unaware.

“When ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise” (that was the second one).

Interestingly, to the environmentalist in me, is the question of how this situation and challenge will be viewed by the operator, the government, the people.  For I look at it as an interesting risk problem.  The pipe is 60 years old, operating with all the characteristics of an artery.  Fluids pumped through it, water pressure over top of it, corrosion possibilities inside and out.  Clearly it will need to be replaced, clearly it will need maintenance, because NO system lasts forever.

But shutting the pipeline down poses risks on more than one front.  The fluids pumping through the line are part of the status quo of how it handles the physical stresses of its environment.  Stop, or even slow, the pumps and capacity of the line and the pipe may very well shift, rupture or buckle.  At the same time, the alternative ways of transporting the oil– by boat or tanker-trucks — are potentially more dangerous.  Weather on the Lakes is dangerous and dicey (as everyone knows from “The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald”), making shipping a potential spill not out-of-the-question.  Trucks are even worse, especially when given the numbers that would be involved.  And yet…something must be done.  The pipe is sixty years old.  At some point, as age and corrosion and stress increase, it will slowly or catastrophically fail if nothing is done.  It will have to be refurbished, restored, or replaced, and the new risks evaluated.

Quietly it has operated for six decades without spill or accident or incident. Operated in the background, ignored.  Until now.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

Moguls and Mullahs. Or water, water……anywhere?

Hollywood moguls and Muslim mullahs.  I’m relatively sure no one links those two together in a thought or sees their similarities.  I really didn’t either until I was going through the stacks of articles, when I realized they were the same, because their countries were the same.  As are gauchos and Yemenis.

We know the problems of California and their incredible multi-year drought.  Brought on by antiquated water rights, agricultural waste,  and an attitude that resources are endless.  The shots of the reservoirs are shocking, even more so if you realize that what we don’t see are the bone dry, snowpack-less mountains that feed the rivers and reservoirs.  The sources of what should be the seasonal melts that replenish the supply.  But both supply and source are dry.


The problem with the mullahs is the same.  Iran, desert country, has limited water supplies.  Much like California, those supplies have suffered both mismanagement and natural drought.  The mismanagement is in agriculture, groundwater pumping rates, and river damming.  Combined with a sense of entitlement to the water and a lack of responsibility in using it, the effect is the same…rivers running dry, wells going deeper to find scarcer water, people suffering.


Back here, Brazil is suffering from the same issues.  Overuse, underplanning, a lack of understanding of how the rainforest and rivers work…or don’t when you mangle them with human shortsightedness.


Yemen has it from another direction.  A country so dry it just barely survives, now it has a civil war.  One of the casualties of that war is the water infrastructure, which has been bombed, neglected, and abused to the point of failure.

When are we going to realize that resources are not endless?  When do we decide that we need to pay attention to trends and possibilities of problems?  I remember years ago when the Monocacy River was so low that towns were looking to truck in water, when driving across one of the Baltimore reservoirs you could see feet and feet of dry bed that should have been covered in water.  Yes, it is now.  But should we bank on always having so much we train ourselves and the next generation to squander it?

And water is just one item.  Air quality.  Food.  Land.  Forests.  Animals.  All are finite.  I’m not going to go all Malthusian and say we’re going to run out.  But we can run out of the easy, the cheap, the plentiful.  When that happens, systems designed to run on the easy, cheap, plentiful will break down.  That may not be the time to reset; it may be too late then.

We need to value and protect the resource.  I’m not Catholic, but I think I agree with the Pope on this one.  “Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way.”

Sounds good to me.