Archive for the 'sustainable places' Category

Simple as a Sidewalk

Maybe it is the recent snow pushing in on the streets and curbsides; or maybe it is the obsession of one of my colleagues, a driving  one woman force, to have sidewalks installed down Brambleton Ave or perhaps the sadness I feel when driving through parts of the town that need sidewalks and are left with dirt paths, whatever the catalyst, the sidewalk issue keeps popping in my head.  One of the lessons from my Georgia Tech days, was that good cities are made from good sidewalks.  This seems to be a simple enough concept therefore I am continually amazed when cities don’t get it.

Basically the concept is this, good sidewalks promote walking within cities. Walking within cities promotes community activity.  When streets are alive with people it becomes safer and more engaging.  It quickly becomes a place that people want to be in.   Bad sidewalks discourage the same activity.  When I lived in Atlanta it was obvious to see the walkable trendy neighborhoods had developed out of good infrastructure. Less desirable parts of town were run down, overgrown weedy roadsides and usually most unfortunately the parts of town where citizens couldn’t afford cars and resorted to public transportation and walking for their transportation.  I can vividly remember the continual news stories of kids being hit by cars as they were walking on the side of the road.  Roads, almost always, without sidewalks.

The story continues in my home of Roanoke, Virginia.  Throughout the downtown area, the sidewalks are in good shape and get proper maintenance but move a few blocks to the north and the parts of town that need the sidewalks are woefully ignored.  Just take a look at 10th street.  This is a major connection corridor.  On the Williamson Rd to 581 overpass part of tenth street, sidewalks no problems.    Once under the overpass, there is more of a gutter/leftover asphalt/trail.  Every Roanoker knows the 10th street cut through, especially fire and rescue. Inches from this busy road a continuous walk path to the local convenience store is ground into the dirt and weed roadside.  Yes I am aware that 10th street is slated to be widened and sidewalks should be put in at that time.  But how far in the future is that?  It is not uncommon to see children alone walking that stretch of road.  This is not a problem that has just occurred, but has festered there for a long time.

Just opposite the aforementioned convenience store the newly paved and barely used Brown-Robertson Park and the greenway gleams  The park has a sea of concrete and the greenway has flashing lights, smooth pathway and crossing with little use.  Now before I offend the local cycle community, please let me state that, the bike paths that Roanoke has developed are wonderful!  I use several of them for recreation regularly. When they all link up that will be a great thing for the Roanoke/Salem/Vinton area.  I already know one of my co-workers that use that particular path to help get from Peter’s Creek to downtown in order to bike to work.  My point is this ……. Cities please don’t turn your back on pedestrian infrastructure in the name of  anything else including greenway paths.  I am all for greenways in addition to sidewalk development but not at the cost of them.  In the current times of increasing cutbacks and budget tightening, sidewalks (repair and maintenance) is one area that cities would do best to continue to invest.  Imagine a walkable Roanoke.


Local Roots opens Friday

We were excited to see the progress two weeks ago.  I have high hopes for this sustainable restaurant in Roanoke.

via Local Roots opens Friday.


Jsut as a follow up on this very col restaurant in Roanoke….. the latest review.


The Farmer’s Market

Growing up in Roanoke in the 70s meant on Saturday mornings we went to the Roanoke Farmer’s Market to shop and lunch at the Roanoke Wiener Stand.  I remember the crowded walkways and holding on to Mom’s hand so not to be swept away.  The fresh produce was endless.  And I even remember the sawdust floor and pungent smell of the meats in the old market building.


Mom buying fresh Virginia grown spinach for tonight's dinner.

Today was a great day on the market.  It was the annual chili cook-off and strawberry festival.  I have always thought this was a strange combination but it seems to workout.  Nice weather, although the clouds were threatening all morning.

Between the strawberries and the chilies, the Roanoke Farmer’s Market is a natural pedestrian link and what a crowd.  It was wonderful to see the market humming.  It reminded me of those Saturday mornings, I was so much smaller than the crowds.  I am hopeful for the vendors on the market, as today was surely a great day for them all.

Farmer’s markets are the sustainably in thing to do these days.  They always have been sustainable.  And like the country song they were sustainable before sustainable was cool.   By shopping for produce at your local farmer’s market, you are supporting locally grown produce by local farmers.  The sustainable benefits include….

  • little transportation costs, straight from the field to the market,
  • no electric consuming big box store just you and the farmer in the elements,
  • you know where your food has been, most of the farmers love to talk about the crops they grow,
  • fresh local food and in some cases organic.
Geraniums ready to be potted.

Geraniums ready to be potted.

We are lucky to have the farmer’s market in our area.  It is one of the oldest continuously operating markets in the state of Virginia, since 1882.  So if you are also lucky enough to have a local Farmer’s Market, go check them out and support their efforts.  If you don’t then check out this great website and find one close to you.  You will be shopping sustainably and your salad bowl will thank you.

Copenhagen on Two Wheels – Part 1

From Kim……. A big welcome to a guest author for the “between yellow and blue” blog to Cyndi.  She is a friend and former classmate from my Georgia Tech days.  Cyndi endured our endless years at our favorite college in the architecture building.  She is one of the few witnesses that I have that can say,  yes Kim did indeed pull one allnighter! One and one only.  

Currently life finds Cyndi newly married (ahhhh newlyweds) and living in Copenhagen.  When we reconnected a few weeks ago, we got talking about things green and one thing led to another.  Here she is to share her sustainable experiences with us from an European view.  You can also keep up with her European life on her personal live journal blog at  Thanks Cyndi, I am looking forward to your contributions!

Trading in my car for a bicycle was one of the best things about moving from the United States to Denmark.  A large number of residents in Denmark use bicycles as their primary mode of transportation.  The established Danish bike culture makes it easy for cyclists to feel safe and encouraged, but how can a city that is addicted to automobiles embrace the bicycle and encourage citizens to make the switch?  The answer is in the infrastructure.  The most crucial step is to add protected bike lanes to existing roads.  Many cities in the United States are already adding bike lanes in an effort to accommodate cyclists.  The problem with these lanes, in all the cases that I have witnessed, is the fact that they offer NO protection from car traffic.  These attempts are cheap, dangerous, and most likely just a political move to pacify activists.  The flush painted bike lanes are seen by drivers as opportunities for on street parking or turn lanes.  There is a wonderful website based in Atlanta, Georgia that documents these infractions around the city.  I am particularly disgusted by the police vehicles caught in violation.

The Danish solution is extremely simple yet amazingly effective.  Bike lanes on high traffic streets have a small curb just like a sidewalk.  Cyclists can and should be protected by this simple 3-6 inch difference just like pedestrians.

There are two additional features to Denmark’s bicycle infrastructure.  The next is the existence of traffic lights for bicycles separate from automotive ones.  At some complicated intersections, it is important to give bicycles their turn.  Even at simple intersections, the bike lights change from red to yellow a little earlier to give the cyclists a chance to start pedaling.  The final feature to the infrastructure is the design of intersections with regard to bike lanes and crosswalks.  An illustration will better explain this than words, so I will start with that.

The crosswalks are pulled in from the the sidewalk corner 6-10 feet.  As a general rule in Denmark, cyclists are required to make a wide left turn where they cross the perpendicular street and wait to cross the original one.  The space between the crosswalk and bike lane becomes a waiting area for the cyclists turning left.  Those who are continuing straight are supposed to stop before the crosswalk.

Many years ago, I attempted to learn the American hand signals .  I have never been able to remember which is which, and I am sure that a majority of others feel the same way.  That does not make an effective system.  The Danish system is much more simple and clear.  If a cyclist is planning on turning left or right, he extends his arm in the respective direction.  Some people point, but my winter mittens do not allow me the pleasure for a good part of the year.  If a cyclist plans on stopping (most commonly when approaching the waiting area for a wide left turn maneuver), he holds up one of his arms as if to take an oath.

All of these features and rules have been developed over time.  Cities that are trying to become friendly to cyclists should study Copenhagen rather than haphazardly trying to reinvent the wheel.

[Next up, Part 2 will cover the cultural aspects of cycling in Denmark]

Flights of Wonder


I want to leave my Disney experience on a good note, so I saved this post for the last.  It has been a few weeks since our visit and this one show keeps coming back in my memory.  After a few thrilling rides on Animal Kingdom’s Everest Expedition.  I stumbled upon the Flights of Wonder exotic bird show.  When at the Animal Kingdom, I strongly recommend that you make the effort to see this show.  The show itself is well done with a strong sustainable message.  It is all held in a shaded caravan styled theater.  The birds are the stars with two human hosts doing the translations for us.

Disney has some pretty impressive bird conservation programs that have restored bird populations to many parts of the world.  Their release programs have been going on for the past decade have made a difference in several endangered and threatened species.

Some of the birds in the show included:


  • Abyssinian Ground Hornbill
  • American Bald Eagle
  • Augur Buzzard
  • Barbary Falcon
  • Eurasian Eagle Owl
  • Gray-Crowned Crane
  • Harris Hawk
  • Ibis
  • Indian Runner Ducks
  • Macaw
  • Pigeon
  • Seriema
  • Toco Toucan
  • Yellow-napped Amazon Parrot

flight-of-wonder-showTo see these birds up close and personal is amazing on it own merit, but to actually learn a little about the birds along the way enriches the experience to a new level of appreciation.  Here are just a few of the things I learned from the show…

  • Littering is one of the top causes of bird death in the US.  What may only be a can or a piece of trash on the side of the road to us is a shiny object to a bird.  When they come down to the roadside to investigate, they are often killed by cars.  I am amazed that people would continue to toss trash instead of disposing of it in a proper place. 
  • Eagles are now off the endangered species list.  Thanks to many groups, not only Disney, that have restored our nation’s symbol to healthy population levels in the wild.
  • The more you duck the lower they swoop.  Yes, you can expect them to fly over you for parts of the show.
  • crane2Cranes are a natural barometer of a river’s health.  Because their food directly comes from the river, numbers of cranes are a good way of determining the health of rivers.  If the river is sick the cranes move on.

Birds are an important part of the eco-system.  Do all you can to protect their habitats.  

Check out the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, they do good stuff and go hand in hand with Animal Kingdom.

Waste Please?

waste1Images strike me at the oddest times. This trash can at Epcot grabbed my attention (and yes it was in America, does anybody see the irony here?)  and all I can say is…..

Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Words are important.  While I am sure the designer of this trash can wasn’t aiming to encourage wastefulness, it it the literal message.  Words have meaning, even the on a meaningless trash can.

Disney Double talk – The Circle of Life

Up to this point I have been pretty happy with the sustainable side of Disney, but like most big companies there is always double talking greenwash.   Unfortunately, this one is aimed at the kids, who will totally buy into the continual stream of happy happy that Disney serves.

In the corner of the Epcot’s Land Pavilion, there is an attraction called The Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable.  This is in the mid sized Harvest Theater.  It is an “educational” film geared to the kids but tolerable for adults.  Timon and Pumbaa are attempting to develop the untamed wild to make a lake side village.  They first dam up the river to create their lake.  Simba steps in and shows the two the error of their ways and saves the day for all the dehydrating wildlife downstream.  Nice story…….. Come on!  Seriously

disney-parkingNo one has dumped more concrete and asphalt into the wilds of Florida than Disney.  They have developed acres upon acres of swamp land.  Ask yourself this, what happened to all of that wildlife.  I know Disney is making tremendous strides in sustainable practices and their wildlife conservation and is stupendous, they are to be applauded for these efforts.  But please don’t tell these kids (aka future developers of the world)  that the exact same thing that you have done is bad for the rest of the world.

Perhaps the story could be better presented on how to build a sustainable lakeside village?  I am sure that the imagineers would be able to craft a sustainable story that wouldn’t be so hypocritical.  Or perhaps an in-depth look on the changes that a developing Disney has made on its environment.

I could not have had a better time while I was at Disney.  I am glad that there are places in the world like this.  But for me, this show was a veiled attempt at green brainwashing in order to secure the future Disney has a bit less competition in the world. 

If you have bought tickets to Disney or paid for a meal at one of their parks you will quickly understand that at Disney it is all about the money.  Disney does not do anything that won’t be profitable for them in some way, either directly or through warm fuzzy feelings.  As one very nice quick witted older man noted as he exited another ride into a gift shop,   …..”ahhh more shopping.  Just watch your money leave your wallet…. It’s Magical!”