Do a Google “Images” search for “most walkable cities”.  Note smooth sidewalks broad enough to accommodate sidewalk cafés and wide, zebra-striped pedestrian crossings.  See how city leaders embrace the use of greenery planters and green space.   Observe how the emphasis by planners is on keeping space scaled to humans on foot with people-sized lampposts and dark-sky lighting.  Notice the thought these planners have put into public transportation.  Check out how engineers put pedestrian convenience and safety first when sidewalk foot traffic is diverted for construction projects.  Catch glimpses of police officers on foot, rather than in squad cars or on Segways, who are engaging with citizens or directing traffic to keep people safe.  Walkable cites are designed to be people- rather than car-centric.  Then, marvel at the number of people in these images of walkable cities. 

Throwing up more sign pollution on roadways, as recommended by a local self-described leadership team and reported by the South Bend Tribune’s Heidi Prescott, might inform some folks about independently-owned dining options in downtown South Bend.  Yet, even if sign-weary drivers notice, why drive to South Bend for another park, eat and drive-away experience?  The real solution to encouraging visitors to seek and explore our city’s treasures is to incorporate smart, walkable city design that looks and feels safe and welcoming.

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Urging President Obama to Take the Lead on Global Climate Change

WASHINGTON, DC — Green Party leaders today said that Obama has the chance, when he becomes President, to take the lead on curbing global warming.

In May, 2008, the Green Party’s Eco-Action Committee announced a set of recommendations for environmental actions for the first 100 days as a guide for Green presidential candidates.

Greens are now promoting the “First 100 Days: Energy and Environmental Policy” as a plan for the Obama Administration.

“This is the Green Party’s holiday gift to the new administration — a set of policies and actions that would place the US in the lead among nations fighting the advance of catastrophic climate change,” said Wes Rolley, co-chair of the EcoAction Committee. “After the inconclusive results of the Poznan talks, President Obama has the opportunity to put the US at the forefront by the time nations meet again in Copenhagen next year.”

“Evidence presented by climate experts in Poznan that alternative energy may not be sufficient to solve the crisis. The emphasis must shift more towards conservation, lowered consumption, and drastic reduction in car traffic. The steps taken against global warming and to repair the current economic meltdown must include all three,” said Mr. Rolley.

On December 10, the Green Party published six recommendations for economic recovery that included environmentally based public works, expanded public transportation, and other conservation-based measures .

*First 100 Days: Energy and Environmental Policy: summary of major recommendations*

 -No new coal fired-power plants; no new nuclear power plants; reduce by 90% the mercury emissions of coal-fired power plants by 2012; protect human health and the environment in the disposal of coal-fired power plant wastes

 -Ban mountaintop coal removal; ban the dumping of mountaintop removal wastes in stream beds and valleys

 -Reduce CO2 and SO2 emissions by 80% by 2020

 -Provide incentives for industry and citizens to reduce energy use through conservation and generate more renewable energy sources; enact a mandatory 25% renewable energy mix in the national grid by 2015; encourage all states to do the same (using oil and nuclear subsidy funds); encouraging local energy generation

 -Increase Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards to 60 mpg for cars and 45 mpg for light trucks by 2012

 -Set a national phosphorus standard for all US waters that will protect steams from nutrient growth; strengthen bacteria standards to protect human health

 -Require labeling of imported foods, foods with growth hormones, and foods produced by Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)

 -Stop export of any technology abroad for projects that involve fossil fuel or deforestation

 -Require that all federal agencies continue their policy of direct negotiation with Indian tribes on a government to government basis

 -Protect the rights of Environmental Justice communities to be free from new proposals for permits that would potentially increase their burden of toxic contamination, and prioritize these communities for cleanup.

 

In addition, this writer would have liked to see inclusion of an electric car as an objective for this “wish list”.  BGS Corporation developed the first electric car in this country in 1900, which set a distance record of 180 miles on a single charge.  GM had an electic car in 1996, the EV1, which they leased out in a limited number.  Despite their popularity with those who drove them and growing waiting lists for other interested car drivers to obtain one, GM inexplicably re-possessed all of their leased fleet of EV1’s and had them summarily destroyed.

 

 

Things Continue to Move in a Positive Direction for Hydro Power

in South Bend

On September 15th, 2008, this writer organized a meeting with Gary Gilot, City of South Bend Public Works Director; Mike Keen, Director of IUSB’s Center for a Sustainable Future; Steve Francis, Member of the Sierra Club State Executive Committee; Kerry Temple, Editor, Notre Dame Magazine; Jim Mazurek, Notre Dame Director of Sustainability; and herself at Gary’s office at the County City Building in South Bend. The purpose of the meeting was to facilitate efforts to bringing hydroelectric power to South Bend.

I presented my 3 minute narrated slide show “The Sustaining Waters of the Sagwa” depicting the history of the St Joe River, South Bend’s use of the river for mill and hydroelectric power and the proposed hydroelectric project on the dam at Century Center.

Gary Gilot then gave an overview of the city’s commitment to enhance environmental stewardship and reduce energy use and carbon emissions. He noted the partnership with Notre Dame and the city’s greenhouse to house computers to capture heat and avoid the air conditioning power load for cooling computers. Gary acknowledged more needed to be done and he gave an overview of the potential customers for hydro power. The best economic scenario for the city would be to have one end-user for hydro power. The city has spoken to representatives from Memorial Hospital and Notre Dame, introducing this topic and seeking interest to share hydroelectric facility construction costs and benefits. Notre Dame could be an end user in synergy with water or the wastewater treatment facility. In order for this to happen, the first step would be for the 1980’s Lawson-Fisher feasibility study to be updated. The city would like to secure interest from a partner willing to help fund the feasibility study as well as the facility’s construction. Gary estimated the current cost to build project may be close to $12 million. He also discussed the proposed 50KW demonstration generator, which could be used to power the lights on the East Race (a small $75,000 pilot project).

In response to Kerry asking Jim Mazurek about Notre Dame’s potential interest in the hydro projects, Jim noted ND is committed to address carbon reduction through multi-year projects, including increasing energy efficiency/retrofitting buildings on campus, considering renewable energy credits and considering partnering/funding green energy projects in return for carbon attributes. ND currently generates 70% of their own electricity, purchasing the remaining 30% from AEP. Discussion with ND officials for partnering with South Bend on hydro power is about one month out.

In response to Gary’s concern about the aesthetics of a power generator (John Fisher has asserted the plant would not be visible from the Century Center), Mike Keen suggested the plant could be designed as a museum for visitors, perhaps in partnership with the Children’s Museum. The city would need to educate the public on the energy savings and the reduction in carbon emissions with a project like this.

Steve Francis noted this project could be an important step in bringing South Bend in compliance with the Cool Cities pact to address carbon emissions. He noted hydro power could be part of an organization’s (such as ND) renewable energy portfolio. He noted ND operates the only coal-fired power plant within a 300-mile radius.

This writer expressed the interest members of the community have demonstrated for the viewing chamber to remain part of the project.

Gary noted the feasibility study would have the costs for viewing chamber factored separately.

This writer then asked Gary about possibly funding the project through an optional “green energy up-charge” on resident’s water bills.

Gary reported he would explore this possibility with the city’s legal department. He also noted there are “certificates of participation” available in Indiana for businesses and corporations that may help with funding as well as potential grants or underwriters for the viewing chamber portion of the project.

Kerry noted he has experience with writing grants and would be willing to partner with the viewing chamber part of the project.

Mike noted the first step is to bring partners to the table willing to share in the cost of updated feasibility study.

Gary discussed the need to speak to/form a committee with Paul Kempf, Director of ND utilities and others regarding the options for the possible site points for the energy from a hydro generator (Studebaker corridor for nanotechnology MIND renewable power source/Leeper Park Water Works North Pumping Station, the wastewater treatment plant on Riverside or Notre Dame power transmission/distribution grid, etc.)

Watch this site for further developments!

Gary Gilot, Director of Public Works for the city of South Bend, addressed last night’s meeting of the Community Forum for Economic Development on what the city is doing to become good environmental stewards. In addition to measures to protect the aquifer from which we draw our water and to prevent storm runoff into the river, Mr. Gilot spoke about the steps South Bend is taking to reduce the city’s carbon footprint. Part of South Bend’s effort to meet the goals set in the Cool Cities pact signed by Mayor Luecke on Earth Day, the city is examining the energy being used and what can be done to reduce demand for fossil fuel.

One of the city’s plans to reduce our carbon footprint is to search for funding sources for the hydroelectric generator on the dam at Century Center (what I have been referring to on this blog site as “on the East Race”; Mr. Gilot clarified that the generator is more accurately described as being “on the dam at Century Center”). Mr. Gilot also noted the generator’s plans included a world-class viewing chamber allowing visitors to watch the generator’s powerhouse as well as migrating fish.

What About Wind Energy?

At the meeting tonight, a member of the audience asked if South Bend had looked into wind turbines on some of the city’s rooftops to capture wind energy. Mr. Gilot said he had looked into wind energy a while back but according to his research, South Bend apparently did not have sufficient wind patterns to justify the capital investment. However, he also noted someone had suggested to him he was “looking too broadly” and that wind energy could still be a feasible option for the city.

It seems that if there is cost-benefit data on specific sites in the city, wind energy could be an option in South Bend. One person who may be able to provide more information about this question is Dr. Shrader-Frechette in the Biological Sciences Department at the University of Notre Dame. Professor Shrader-Frechette has written extensively about the market successes and cost-effectiveness of wind energy. (Her recent research “Miscellaneous Data on Renewable-Energy Technologies, 4/20/08” is apparently not yet available in publication, however her article Five Myths About Nuclear Energy does a nice job of explaining the benefits of wind over nuclear energy.)

Now that the city is looking seriously at hydro power and other ways to reduce our carbon footprint, could wind energy in South Bend be a research project for some graduate students of Dr. Shrader-Frechette’s?

“Moving Forward as a Cool City”

On June 10, South Bend Mayor Steve Luecke addressed the Michiana Watershed at a meeting marking the organization’s 50+1 year anniversary. Mr. Luecke used this opportunity to highlight the efforts the city is undertaking to meet the goals set in the “Cool Cities” pact to address global climate change and reduce the city’s carbon footprint.

Mayor Luecke specifically mentioned the East Race Hydroelectric Project:

“The City has begun conversations with key partners to explore the creation of a hydroelectric project at the Century Center dam with public and/or private investment. There are several possibilities: In one scenario, the facility could provide power to the city’s North Pumping Station and possibly provide heat or electricity to nearby vendors. Such a project could include a world-class viewing chamber to see fish climbing the fish ladder as well as the interior of the powerhouse.

It’s not easy being green. It’s hard to always be cool. But with imagination, creativity and the commitment of partners like Michiana Watershed, the City of South Bend will move forward to that end.

Now that it’s closer to reality, can we name it?

How terrific it is to see the hydro project show up in an address by the Mayor and to see he included the viewing chamber as a part of the project. Hopefully soon he’ll begin referring to this feature as the “Sheggwe Viewing Chamber” in honor of the name the Potowatomi Native-Americans gave this river that runs through us!

The Community Forum for Economic Development met on May 20th to discuss the outcomes of breakout sessions from last month’s Third Annual Community Forum on Economic Development: Uniting to Improve Our Quality of Life. There were many positive ideas generated at all the breakout sessions; I had attended two of the breakout sessions at the event in April, Cool Cities: Local Action to Solve Global Warming One City at a Time and Blue-Green Jobs: Creating Jobs with New Technologies. During the Cool Cities session, I was able to put the East Race hydro project on the agenda. As a result, this project came up on the list at the May meeting.

During the comment portion of the meeting, I expressed my interest in the hydro project and desire to follow-up with this on the Cool Cities committee.  Following the meeting, three individuals spoke with me about their interest and ideas for following up with the hydro project. A union plumber asked me about presenting my slide presentation to the Building Trades meeting to elicit “blue” (labor) support for the project. Another person suggested he may know who to contact at Memorial Hospital to request funding support. Yet another individual noted he knew two individuals who had done extensive research on hydro power on the St Joe River and who may be of assistance.  I intend to follow-up with all three of these people.

Mission Statement of the Community Forum for Economic Development:

The Community Forum seeks to promote economic development, the process of increasing the living standards and opportunities for area residents. We believe that our tax resources are best used to improve the quality of life in our community, and that this is also the best way to encourage business investment. Subsidized business investment should provide community benefits and be directed to areas of need. Through education, organizing and advocacy, we hope to open up the economic development process to greater democratic participation.

Helping Preschoolers by Building a “Sustainable” Playground

 

I work as an Occupational Therapist for preschool children with special needs at two schools within the South Bend Community School Corporation.  At one of these sites, our little preschoolers do not have a playground that is appropriate for them to play on.  When my mother discovered this, she immediately thought there had to be grants or other funds from community organizations that could be tapped to finance the construction of a playground for these little ones.

 

Below is a letter composed by her and myself and presented to the school principal for his approval and signature.  This letter requests approval for an Indiana Department of Environmental Management grant for a recycled rubber playground surface.  We hope this is approved as we try to piece together the funds for this much-needed facility.

 

If you know of any businesses, individuals or organizations who may also be interested in helping out with this project, please don’t hesitate to post a comment to this site.

 

 

May 22, 2008

 

Mr. Michael Mendyk

Department of Environmental Management

State House

Indianapolis, IN 46204

 

Dear Mr. Mendyk,

 

Webster defines play as “amusing yourself,” “having fun,” “occupying yourself,” which  makes it seem rather frivolous; but then he goes on to say it is “to participate,” “take part in,” “join in,” which gives it the much more importance in our lives that it deserves. Play is a significant component of everyone’s life; to children it is vital, to children with special needs, it is crucial.

 

To develop young minds to their fullest potential, the importance of gross motor play is well understood. For young children with developmental delays such as autism, Down Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy, the need to climb, jump, swing, and run in a safe environment is even more important. Children with special needs require even greater levels of proprioceptive (spatial awareness) and vestibular (movement) input as a foundation for learning functional educational skills.

 

For example, a four-year-old with autism may be unable to sit still to listen to his Gramma read him a bedtime story. Therefore, learning to sit for a minute or two at “Circle Time” would be one of the goals his teachers, paraprofessionals, the Speech Therapist, and the Occupational Therapist would help him with at his special needs preschool.

 

Incorporating structure and gross motor play into his preschool day is an essential building block in helping our little friend modulate his impulses during teacher-directed learning activities. From learning to attend to a story at Circle Time, he can go on to learn turn-taking for communication and from there – the world is his.

 

The South Bend Community School Corporation’s Special Needs and Abilities Preschool (SNAP) Program has preschool classrooms at several locations, including Darden Primary Center. At Darden, nearly 100 three- to five-year-olds with special needs are enrolled in SNAP classes. Incredibly, Darden does not have a developmentally appropriate outdoor play facility for these youngsters.  With the help of the Indiana Department of Environmental management, it is our hope to rectify this situation and have a suitable playground for the next school year.  Therefore we are requesting our Darden SNAP program be considered a recipient for the recycled rubber play surface grant currently being offered by IDEM.

 

 

We recognize recycled rubber material is one of the most shock-absorbent surfaces available, important for all children, but in particular those children with balance difficulties who may be prone to falls, as well as children with osteogenesis imperfecta, whose delicate bones need extra precautions. The playground being sought should also accommodate the special needs of motorically challenged kids who may be in wheelchairs.

 

Furthermore, South Bend’s mayor, Steve Luecke, recently signed onto a pact to help South Bend become a more environmentally-friendly city. Using recycled rubber for a playground surface also fits right into the city’s mission of becoming more sustainable.

 

Please favorably consider this request for IDEM’s recycled rubber play surface grant for this deserving group of special needs preschoolers.

 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

 

James Bankowski, Principal

Darden Primary Center