Turning Over A New Leaf - PBS's Green Vision for L.A.
By Andy Lipkis
Januart 10, 2007
Think of Los Angeles and what comes to mind? Smog? Gridlock? Massive urban sprawl? Perhaps no longer. Some hard working Angelenos have said enough, and they are putting their backs -- as well as their words -- into the effort to recover the City of Angels. If Southern California with it's excessive resource consumption can solve these problems
there might be hope for the rest of the nation, and the world.
This Thursday, January 11, PBS is airing an inspiring program about megacities. Narrated by actor Jimmy Smits (fresh from the West Wing) Edens Lost & Found: Dream a Different City reports on the environmental transformation of Los Angeles from a poster city for pollution to an emerging role model for sustainable cities.
Yes, it's true, my hometown of Los Angeles is belying the stereotypes and making itself more livable, more breathable, more beautiful, more equitable -- and just in time.
Solutions to mega-problems like climate change, global water shortages, urban decay and environmental injustice must come from wide scale committed local action -- in addition to policy change. Rather than portraying unattainable saint-like heroes, the Edens producers focus on ordinary individuals, warts-and-all, who've made a difference by starting with the seed of an idea and persisting in its care and feeding until it bore fruit.
Edens follows my own work of founding and growing TreePeople from a team of teenagers reforesting the local mountains into an award-winning Citizen Forester movement activating tens of thousands of volunteers to help nature heal their city. TreePeople now brings city residents together with government agencies to transform L.A's vast swaths of concrete and asphalt. We're growing a community forest that captures, cleans and recycles rainwater, prevents ocean pollution, saves energy and improves quality of life.
Beyond palm trees, million dollar movie deals and high-consumer culture, regular Angelenos are pulling from a tapestry of methods to change the face and function of their city. These methods include projects by the city's 24/7 Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, who understands that environmental justice, public health and quality-of-life are all interconnected.
From approaches to revitalizing the LA River, to environmental justice crusader Cindy Montanez, to an urban gardening project that grows "Girls into Women," to the folks who birthed a new light rail line, the stories represent challenges in most every major city. Although each project began with a fairly simple premise, some of them have over time permanently changed the L.A.'s policies and infrastructure systems.
Edens Lost & Found might just be the catalyst that moves you from being a spectator into a participant. "Can the hope and future of a city begin with such a simple act as planting tree?" asks Jimmy Smits. "I believe it not only can, but already has. Hey, I'm from Los Angeles, the home of the happy ending." Edens Lost & Found: Dream a Different City airs on Thursday, January 11 on your local PBS station. For details visit: www.edenslostandfound.org
Bet a Farm on Mira
Philadelphia City Paper
by Bruce Schimmel
June 29, 2006
From a little plane, a thousand feet up, the two huge water tanks look like a couple of cafe tables draped in red-checked cloth. The 5-million-gallon tanks supply fresh water to the surrounding twin homes of Somerton, in the Far Northeast. But from above, the twin tanks look like they've just been prepped for dishes of pasta and broccoli rabe.
In the plane next to me, Mira Kilpatrick cranes to see a small patch of green tucked alongside the tanks. It's a tiny farm, less than three-quarters of an acre. Kilpatrick has spent the last couple of summers at the Somerton Tank Farm as an apprentice farmer, planting seeds, pulling weeds and plucking bugs. No pesticides, no chemicals, 100 varieties of crops are groomed almost entirely by hand.
Kilpatrick loves it, and she says she's ready to strike out on her own. She wants to make a living as a professional urban farmer, and she's looking for usable land somewhere in the city. She scans the land below for some arable patch hidden among rows of homes that extend to the horizon. So far, she's had no luck, but she hasn't given up yet.
The Somerton Tank Farm below us is located on Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) land. This isn't a hobby garden. The project is sponsored by PWD's Department of Economic Development: It's got to be profitable, and it is.
Kilpatrick's mentors are Nicole and Steve Shelly. Their farm is winning praise nationally, featured recently in the prestigious "New Farm" newsletter and in the PBS book Edens Lost and Found: How Ordinary Citizens Are Restoring Our Great Cities.
PWD has started bringing eco-tourists and VIPs to visit their model farm. But getting politicos to buy into the program means producing more than bushels of pretty veggies. PWD is looking for hard numbers to trace how the benefits of locally grown food will cascade into the community. So the Institute for Innovations in Local Farming‚??a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that's partnered with the water department‚??has just commissioned an analysis to quantify the results.
Meanwhile, the numbers the Shellys are getting are growing: from $26,000 to $38,000 to $52,000 last year, and climbing still.
Fifty grand a year isn't living large. But for the Shellys, it's all-they-can-eat‚??and they probably eat better than almost anyone. Besides, Steve would rather push a tiller than jockey a mouse.
The institute hopes to spawn a new generation of professional, college-educated urban farmers to follow their example. And Kilpatrick‚??in her late 20s, with a degree in biology from Smith, living in Center City‚??fits that profile perfectly.
Kilpatrick is ready to go to the head of the elusive "creative class"‚??the young professionals who bring innovation and life to the city. Unfortunately, the bulk of Philly's creative class get their education here, but then take their talents elsewhere.
I fear the same fate for Kilpatrick. If she can't find public land in the city to farm, she says, she will leave.
There's plenty of demand for local, sustainably grown produce, say the Shellys. The farm sells through a buying club, which is now closed to new members. They also go to farmers' markets in Rittenhouse Square, South Street and South Philly.
At the South Philly location recently, older residents and new arrivals swapped recipes with the three farmers. They snapped up salads of ruby amaranth and iridescent Swiss chard. There were piles of purple-tipped onions, Italian and Japan-ese basils, and baby fennels with lacy fronds. Little bags of zucchini blossoms moved quickly: Picked this morning, the bright orange flowers will be filled and batter-fried tonight.
This is real artisanal food, too delicate to survive a trip through a supermarket. And way cheaper than Whole Foods.
The Shellys are ready to graduate Kilpatrick. She's ready to run a farm of her own. But though the water department has some 100 acres of potential land, Kilpatrick has yet to get an offer. I've asked, and I can't find out why. Except for the whispered excuse that bureaucrats fear potential terrorism.
Like she's gonna dump tofu in the water supply?
C'mon. Get real. This is a model that works. It's time to bet a farm on Mira.
TV City in a Garden: Edens Lost & Found
World Business Chicago
"Stormy, husky, brawling, City of Big Shoulders," is how Carl Sandburg described Chicago in 1916.
Today, Sandburg's statement stands true, and a new PBS documentary series, Edens Lost & Found, backs this up. The series focuses on four cities, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Seattle; hour-long shows on each city highlight how integrated resource planning combined with local community support is a source of great hope for our environment and can serve as models for other cities.
Chicago has challenged its citizens to "stand tall or be dwarfed," and the community is meeting this challenge, beginning with Mayor Richard M. Daley. According to Harry Wiland of Wiland-Bell Productions, producers of Edens Lost & Found, when researching cities for the series, Chicago clearly took the lead in community and administrative-based urban sustainability. As Wiland put it, "Mayor Daley really gets it."
The "it" is how integrated resource planning comes together for a sustainable ecosystem, including open space and public parks, urban forestry, watershed management, public art, waste disposal, recycling, green architecture, environmental justice, neighborhood development and mass transit alternatives. Chicago is a prime example of "best practices" in many of these arenas, which lead to improved quality of life for its citizens.
Urban sustainability is not only shaping the next generations' future, it is also a driver for economic success. According to Wiland, soon "blue collar" and "white collar" jobs will also include a third category‚??"green collar," as taking care of our environment becomes paramount.
Mayor Daley has been a crusader, radically changing Chicago by bringing green technology and the greening of the city to the forefront. From the 24-acre Millennium Park, which sits a top a parking garage in the center of downtown and earned the reputation as the city's gem, with its impressive outdoor urban space and gardens, to City Hall's rooftop garden, with 250 varieties of plants that help temper heat and add serenity, to impressive undertakings and support in neighborhood parks, nature preserves and schools, Mayor Daley is known for keeping the environment top of mind.
Chicago's initiatives featured in the documentary also include the Center for Neighborhood Technology, which strives to implement new tools and methods that create livable urban communities for everyone. As Chicago transforms public housing into mixed income alternatives, the center has provided cheap reliable internet access to the underserved, among many other things.
The city is also home to a number of effective community organizations under the Chicago Wilderness umbrella. Made up of 163 private and public organizations, the group works together to find the balance between urban culture/resources and nature.
Other program highlights include Friends of the Chicago River, a group fighting for clean water through recreational events making the river more visible. It also features Calumet City, where steel mills and factories have left way to toxic waste, yet pockets of natural areas are being restored and strung together as parks and a museum featuring the area's history is being built.
The program focuses on citizens' involvement to make their communities livable. From restoration of natural prairie land on the southeast side, to Eden Place in Fuller Park, where kids learn hands-on about ecology, to suburban Elgin High School's outdoor classroom, where the next generation is learning by experience about natural history and how to restore it, every program makes a difference.
The story of Chicago is not one story‚??it is many stories, from its Mayor to a second grade student on the South Side learning the importance of the natural environment. Edens Lost & Found showcases what Chicago is doing well and how our city can serve as a model for others around the world.
The Chicago program will air on PBS‚??May 18, 2006. A screening will be held on May 17th at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago. Click here for more information on Eden's Lost & Found, including action guides for examples of how to get involved in Chicago.