My Portland Hipster Vacation

FriendsWhen I told people about my plans for a short trip to Portland, OR many were convinced I’d want to make the city my new home. As Portland is the mecca for environmental progressivism, being one of the greenest cities in the United States, I can understand why people would fear I would never return.

Right off the bat, just outside the airport doors, my friend Mary and I jumped right onto the train to the city. Five dollars a day for full use of any kind of transportation is a great deal in my opinion.  Once in the city, we found everything was easily walkable and most people were almost too nice to pedestrians. On countless occasions we had cars stop right in the middle of the road with no stop sign or stop light to let us cross the street. It got a little dangerous though when it was a multi-lane street and only one car would allow you to cross.

Beer beer beer! It seemed to me that beer ran out of the faucets in Portland. Around every corner was another microbrewery severing craft beers for prices that were out of this world for a girl who has spent $7-$8 for a craft beer in Cincinnati. And oh, was the beer good, yay for local business! They were also pretty “crafty” in the kind of buildings that were repurposed for a microbrewery including one of my favorites, a school building.

As you can imagine, bikes were everywhere. The bike lines were painted in fluorescent green and some intersections even had designated traffic lights for bikes so cyclist could cross the street diagonally! I would like to say, hats off to all those bikers who ride in the rain.

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls

Have you ever dreamt of opening your own Etsy inspired gift and retail shop? Perhaps a restaurant that only serves local, organic food? Well, most likely the store or restaurant in your imagination probably already exists in Portland. It’s hard to describe something in Portland as unique and different, when everything there already holds that title. How do the residents keep from taking all this wonderfulness for granted?

And you can’t forget the beautiful natural surroundings in Portland. When you get your first glimpse of the majestic river gorge covered in a misty fog, it feels like a scene right out of the The NeverEnding Story. Even in winter, the beauty of Multnomah Falls is outstanding, and the hike is breathtaking…literally. It was such a misty day my skin was so soft from the waterfall mist, who needs a spa? Speaking of mist, Portland is known for its sputtering rains, and my hair was continually growing and curling like Monica Geller in that Friends episode where they go to the tropics (okay maybe not that bad, but still).

Have I found my new home do you wonder? As much as I loved the environmentally friendly mentality of a city that even has roadside compost pickup, there’s something about being in place where everybody thinks like you do.  As nice as it would be to have all these sustainable options available to me, I can’t help but think of the kind of impact I can make as an environmentalist on a place that isn’t already mostly environmentally friendly. It feels good to be unique in Cincinnati and to be a part of a movement towards a more sustainable city. For now, I’m proud to say Cincinnati is still my home.

Nature’s Delicate Balance

Artwork by: Michael Grab

Artwork by: Michael Grab

 Recently I came across the art of Stone Balancing. I’ve seen this practice before along nature trails, but nothing as brilliant as the work of Michael Grab. Watching him put these structures together is fascinating, and you can see that it takes an extreme amount of patience and intuition to balance the rocks perfectly. It got me thinking about the vulnerability of nature, and how our actions on earth play into the cause and effect.

We learned in school about Newton’s Law of Motion, where all forces in nature have equal and opposite reaction. In other words, the forces of nature are working to find balance. When land is moved, wetlands are drained, minerals are mined, or any other major change to the landscape happens, the earth reacts accordingly.

Lately it’s been hard not to notice that the weather has been a little out of the ordinary. Whether or not humans have the ultimate ability to throw Mother Nature off course, it’s important to remember, like all things in life, our environment reflects its need to return to balance.

Think about what happens when it rains in a city. If the land is unable to absorb the precipitation slowly as it is supposed to, the rain causes flooding and the stormwater rushes into nearest stream. The stream then becomes overwhelmed and the outer edges erode, causing dirt and sediment to dump into the water. Not only that, but flooding also carries all other kinds of pollutants into the water. This is not how a watershed is supposed to operate, but obviously most of us living in the modern world do not want the earth to return to the way it was before humans settled it.

Alternatively, we could plan our development better to bring more harmony between  man and nature. Increasing the use of green infrastructure in cities, restoring wetlands and floodplains when possible, and applying best management practices to farming operations are a few ways help nature and development to coexist with fewer issues.

Storms like Hurricane Sandy have proven that the standards we once built cities from are no longer useable as the norm. As populations grow, development expands, and infrastructure degrades, we cannot afford to sit back and wait to see what will happen and deal with it then. Droughts and storms continue to cost this country a lot of money and the solution cannot be business as usual.

The earth will continue to ebb and flow, as it has since the earth began. Trying to find the culprit to today’s drastic weather patterns is one way to go, but I prefer to find ways to better adapt to what will come. Balance will always be a part of nature, and just like in the art of Stone Balancing, one small adjustment can have a major effect.

Want to know more about how Climate Change will affect water utilities? The US EPA is hosting a series of webinars on the subject starting January 23rd

Wrapping Up on Holiday Shopping

Facing the crowds this holiday season in local shops downtown I’ve encountered a certain whispered phrase time and time again, “don’t buy that here, we can find it cheaper online”.

In a time of recession it is comforting to see people flooding the streets and packing in stores during the weeks leading up to Christmas. However, with cell phone apps that allow consumers to scan bar codes to find a better deal, you wonder how many people are leaving stores empty handed only to do their shopping online.

According to USA Today, sales online from Nov. 1 to Dec. 1 are up 15% this year compared the same month last year. With many sites offering free shipping, and discounted prices, it’s easy to see why many consumers are opting to shop on their computer.

Being of Dutch heritage, I can understand a good deal. I’m the girl you seeing shifting through the sale rack of retail shops and buying the medium drink at a coffee shop instead of the small, just because you get more drink for your money. I also understand that many are strapped for cash these days, and want to be able to get their friends and family something special for the holidays.

In 2008, a study was conducted on the impact of local business on the economy of West Michigan. It was found that for every $100 a person spends at a local business $68 stays within the community, while when the same amount is spent at a non-local business, only $43 remains within the community.

Now think about the money you spend online at businesses that are not even within your community, or within your state or country for that matter. How much purchase revenue is your community missing out on with all the online sales?

Just some food for thought while you finish checking off the rest of the gifts on your list this holiday season. I can’t say that I’ve bought all my gifts at local businesses this year, but it’s nice to know for the ones I did I’m supporting my community in a big way.

Happy shopping!

References:

USA today: http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/retail/story/2011-12-06/online-retail-sales-surge/51682896/1

 LOCAL WORKS! Examining the Impact of Local Business on the West Michigan Economy September 2008

Trash to Treasure

Recycling enthusiast Nancy Judd has a unique way of spreading the word about conservation through public art and couture fashion.

“Waste does not exist, only wasted resources,” said Judd.

Judd was one of over 1500 artists featured at this year’s ArtPrize in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich. ArtPrize is public art contest where the winning pieces are not chosen by professional art critics but instead through a public voting process.

Throughout the past three weeks, when you walked into the large open room of the annex in the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts you might have found Judd sewing away at a red dress (pictured right). On the table surrounding the dress were hundreds of small red circles, cut out from recycled cardboard and painted red with recycled paint.

Anyone who walked by her table was encouraged to write out an “eco pledge” on the front or back of one of the circles. The idea of the “eco pledge” was for a person to make a commitment to change an aspect of their daily routine in order to decrease their environmental impact.

Some of Judd’s favorite pledges were “showering together”, “shop locally”, and “use less water bottles”.

When people came by Judd was happy when she heard them talking about their conservation efforts, especially when it was a parent talking to a child.

“When people make a commitment with a pledge, even if they don’t do it right away, every time they do that thing a little ping will go off in their head,” said Judd. “Maybe that’s what it’s all about.”

In order to reach out to millions of people about sustainability, her collection has appeared on fashion show runways, airports, malls, museums, and other public venues, as well as at hands-on workshops and presentations.

Judd said she likes to show how trash can be used in ways people wouldn’t expect.

“I like to inspire people to look at trash a different way,” said Judd. “Trash is resources, designated as garbage.”

Like many of her other pieces, the dress she made for ArtPrize was specific and unique to this particular event. The ArtPrize dress was titled Eco-Flamenco, and was made from parachute and canvas scraps, recycled cardboard, and recycled paint from Battle Creek, Mich.

Judd doesn’t refer to herself as a fashion designer or as an artist per say, her idea of creating unique clothing items out of recycled material mostly derived from her 20 year career in recycling and solid waste management.

When Judd was in college she saw how the trash near the vending machine would fill up with pop cans. Judd asked to gather up the cans for recycling, and that is how her recycling career began.

Since then Judd feels we have come a long way as a country.

“At this point most people have integrated recycling into their life,” said Judd. “It’s time for this country to dig deeper and starting thinking about how to live lighter on earth,” said Judd.

 

To learn more about Nancy Judd and her work as a public artist and environmental advocate, visit her website: http://recyclerunway.com/