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Bike to Work Day Friday May 15th

Tomorrow, Friday May 15, 2009, is bike to work day, as part of National Bike Month:

May 15, 2009, Friday 6:30 – 9:00 AM
Join Trailnet for a continental breakfast during your bike commute to work! Three refueling stations:

I work from home and suffered a stroke 15 months ago so…

Well, even I decided to get into the spirit this week:

Tuesday evening.
Above: yours truly Tuesday evening.

I didn’t ride far but the important thing is I did ride a bit.  Here is proof:


So if I can get myself onto a trike can’t you ride your bike to work tomorrow?


Greening the City & Suburbs with Street Trees

I think it is safe to say we have more street trees in the City of St. Louis today than at any time in the history of the city.  Historic streetscape photos reveal wonderful architecture and busy sidewalks, but they were sidewalks without trees.  It is understandable why in the middle of the 20th Century planners sought to create open space.  Because there was very little open or green.  I think they went too far and calls today for open space are meaningless when we’ve an excess of open but a strong lack in quality urban space.  I favor infilling our blocks while greening our streets.

This past weekend I was delighted to see the addition of additional street trees on 17th street:

And looking North:

The parked vehicles and street trees help separate the pedestrian on the sidewalk from the passing cars on the road.  Take away the trees and stationary vehicles and the pedestrian experience becomes quite different.

The Blu CitySpaces condo project did the street trees on their side of 17th but also on the West side of 17th in front of the 7-11.   In a few years 17th will have a nice canopy from these trees. In other parts of the city we see many tree-lined streets and many barren streets.  I lived in Old North St. Louis in the early 1990s when we cut the sidewalk along St. Louis Ave to plant street trees.  These are nice and mature.

Regardless of where you live, street trees can make a big difference.  Newer subdivisions in suburbia especially.  Most often these houses have the single tree out in the lawn but nothing lining the street.  If your subdivision has sidewalks one of the best things you and your neighbors can do is to line your street with trees — with trees planted between the curb & sidewalk.


No Child Left Inside

I’ve never been a woodsy type or a parent.  But I have a message out there for parents, get your kids outdoors for free play.   You may tell me they are outside all the time: soccer, little league, etc.  Sorry, that doesn’t count.  I’m talking about time outside to just explore, on their own.

The above book was among one of a couple of books from one of my three Urban Planning courses at Saint Louis University this semester. It was an eye opener!  “Nature-Deficit Disorder” is not some new disorder requiring medicine to cure.  In fact, author Richard Louv suggests that free play outdoors may be the solution to the many issues children face today.

I recall growing up in the 70s, I’d spend hours away from home with friends riding our bikes on dirt trails along creeks near our homes.  I’d come home so dirty my clothes went right into the hamper — my mom not allowing me to walk through the house with them because I’d get red Oklahoma mud everywhere.   Other times I’d go riding off by myself exploring other neighborhoods or riding to the mall to buy something. I’d be miles away from home.

It was a different, more innocent time.  Parents just can’t let their kids do that these days.  But the question is if parents can afford to not let their children have free times outdoors?  Which brings us back to little league and such.  Yes, kids are not all couch potatoes playing Wii (though many are).  Yet organized events such as sports is different in a child’s development from free play.

In my pre-teen years I often walked or rode my bike to elementary & middle school. Most kids are chauffeured to school these days.  I didn’t have a full schedule of play dates and structured events.  The lives of kids today are very different.  An amazing number are diagnosed with ADHD and are medicated.  While Louv has no scientific proof that outdoor free play would reduce ADHD the prospect is interesting to explore.

A decade ago author James Howard Kunstler wrote about the connection between growing up in suburbia and the shootings at Columbine.  The theory goes that youth today do not develop any sense of independence — that suburba is so automobile independent this is compounded.  So while some may think suburbia is the best place to raise a child the fact is the driving lifestyle may prove worse than in more walkable areas. Please don’t confuse ‘suburbia’ with a ‘suburb.’  Suburbia is the worse of auto centric sprawl.  Many older suburbs are as walkable as the core city in regions.

Regardless of where a child is raised it is critical to have free play outside.  You’ll need to read the book for all the reasons.  Clicking on the cover image will take you to the author’s website.

With our education policy so focused on test scores (No Child Left Behind), recess often gets omitted.   Big mistake say some.  A connection to outdoors & nature helps the learning process of young minds.  The counter movement is No Child Left Inside.

As I said at the beginning I’m not a parent.  Odds are high that I never will be.  But as part of society I have an interest in making sure today’s kids grow up in such a way they are well adjusted.

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We Need Industrial Hemp

April 20, 2009 Environment 8 Comments

In December 2007 I wrote a post entitled ‘Congress Wake Up & Let Farmers Grow Industrial Hemp!‘ Since then we’ve had a big shift in the both the Congress and White House.  Hopefully we now have enough leaders that realize industrial hemp is different than pot.

In these economic times we need new entrepreneurs.  Growing and creating durable & green products from industrial hemp is a way to jump start new businesses and create jobs.  Continuing to treat industrial hemp the same as we treat a carcinogenic drug is insane and it puts our country at a disadvantage

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St. Louis-Based Association Has An Issue with the Obama’s Garden

April 16, 2009 Environment 13 Comments

Besides having a new dog, Bo, the first family has a garden at the White House.  Specifically, an organic garden:

The back-to-the-earth movement has gotten the ultimate PR push. First lady Michelle Obama has planted the world’s most famous new garden on the White House grounds. Michelle Obama’s White House garden symbolizes much more than dreams of a few plump tomatoes or juicy snap peas.  (source: USA Today)

First Lady Michelle Obama and White House Horticulturist Dale Haney work with kids from Washingtons Bancroft Elementary School to break ground for a White House garden.   The White House / Joyce N. Boghosian
First Lady Michelle Obama and White House Horticulturist Dale Haney work with kids from Washington's Bancroft Elementary School to break ground for a White House garden. The White House / Joyce N. Boghosian

Seeing our First Lady plant the first White House garden in 60 years warms my heart. I grew up with a garden and my grandparents on both sides of my family had large gardens.  Who doesn’t like a garden?

Just a few days after Michelle Obama invited local fifth graders to help plant the White House Kitchen Garden, the MACA, a group which represents and is comprised of former executives from Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto and DuPont Crop Protection, sent the White House a letter expressing their disappointment that she had not “recognize[d] the role conventional agriculture plays in the US.”  (source: Sustainablog)

Here is part of the letter:

We live in a very different world than that of our grandparents. Americans are juggling jobs with the needs of children and aging parents. The time needed to tend a garden is not there for the majority of our citizens, certainly not a garden of sufficient productivity to supply much of a family’s year-round food needs.

Much of the food considered not wholesome or tasty is the result of how it is stored or prepared rather than how it is grown. Fresh foods grown conventionally are wholesome and flavorful yet more economical. Local and conventional farming is not mutually exclusive. However, a Midwest mother whose child loves strawberries, a good source of Vitamin C, appreciates the ability to offer California strawberries in March a few months before the official Mid-west season.

Bonnie McCarvel, Executive Director
Janet Braun, Program Coordinator
Mid America CropLife Association
11327 Gravois Rd., #201
St. Louis, MO  63126

True, we’d starve if we all had to grow our own food today.  But growing a family garden to supplement what you buy in the store is a good thing.  The decision of Michelle Obama to have an organic garden is practical.

The first family must pay for ingredients in their non-official meals.  Just like you and me, the more they can grow at home, the more money they can save.

There is something too about watchng herbs & veggies grow in the garden and later see them on your dinner plate.  That is an increasingly important mesage for youth to grasp.  They need to understand that we can grow at least part of our food.  And we can do so organically.

But the chemical lobby doesn’t like the idea of our first family growing some organic food.  It sends the wrong message apparently.  I think it sends the right message.

“This is a big day. We’ve been talking it since the day we moved in,” said the First Lady as she and two dozen local students broke ground on the White House Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn of the White House.  Those students will be involved in the garden as it develops and grows, producing delicious, healthy vegetables to be cooked in the White House Kitchen and given to Miriam’s Kitchen, which serves the homeless in Washington, DC.  (Source: The White House Blog)