a Friday Collective

A little round up on some environmental news and just generally, things of note.

Every time one turns around these days there seems to be a new word on the horizon. Weather it's greenwashing, birther, beer summit, googling, or new urbanism; we seem to be adding words to the popular vernacular these days faster than we can blog about them. An interesting one I've recently come across is called "Demotorization". Demotorization comes from a recent trend in Japan of people forsaking their cars as ancient machines of the 20th century. Basically, as trends show in Japan, the automobile is losing it's emotional appeal. The group where this is most noticeable is the youth, who prefer to spend their money on the latest electronic gadgets like cell phones and personal computers, rather than the latest cars.

Whereas some countries like Germany have seen a decrease in auto sales which can be attributed to the economy, Japan's auto sales have been at a steady decline since 1990. Many factors come into play: Japan's urban areas are densely populated and owning and parking and driving cars is just not convient, so it makes more sense to use their highly efficient public transportation or ride bikes. As well, Japan has a tax on cars that is 4.1 times higher than that in the US. Add in tolls, parking, car insurance and that can add up to an extra $500 a month! According to one young professional interviewed, "Automobiles used to represent a symbol of our status, a western modern lifestyle that we aspired for... but for today's young people... such thinking is completely gone."

And, it's just not in Japan where this has been a trend in purchasing habits. Even here in the US we've seen our own car spending habits tank a little too.

According to a nice little article in Esquire Magazine this demotorization trend is highly unusual for the American consumer, who since someone started keeping track, has been eating more and driving more every year. While we can argue that our rising gas costs and the surge of unemployment are to blame, the regression model presented here shows that with a somewhat higher unemployment rate and much lower gas prices... ideally the lower gas prices should have won out... but, realistically we as a nation have driven less than the model predicted. While it's hard to say if our love affair with the car has dried up, whether we'd rather be spending our money on iphones, or if we really are using public transportation and riding our bikes more. I for one and pretty excited about this trend but then again, I don't live in Detroit nor do I live in mid America.

Ideally, in my world... people would not only be democratic socialists, but we'd move out of the suburbs and back into the big city (which is that word I threw at you earlier, New Urbanism) so that they could commute via public transportation and bikes and live a more condensed and community oriented existence, much like how life was before the automobile I imagine. And this idea, called New Urbanism... is a whole other topic I won't go into right now because it's way to intense for me to describe on this blog (which means you should google it). For example, their are so many facets of New Urbanism, meaning people move back into the cities, it displaces the lower income people who once were the lower class urban population to the once allusive middle to upper class suburbs, which now become the slums, and a whole population shift happens again - just like the Industrial Revolution. There are controlled growth boundaries, green belts, green housing in high density areas, smart design, less cars, less strip malls, less fast food, less waste of land and water, less obesity, less urban sprawl, more gentrification, yada, yada, yada. (You get the picture. I fear for if I started writing on this subject I may never stop.)

And, I think this more progressive thinking of smart living is one thing that led me to Portland in the first place. But for as progressive as Portland is, it's still quite old fashioned. Which is the interesting thing about New Urbanism. Take for example the Cully neighborhood here in town, they started something called the Ainsworth Collective, which is a group of 50 or some households who have gathered together with a mutual interest in sustainability and community. Together, they have created a micro community within a few square blocks where in which they published a directory of services provided by each other. From cat sitting, tax preparation, massage services, tool sharing, car sharing, bulk food buying and even their own farmers market, they've promoted local transactions with their neighbors, community and cutting down on unnecessary trips across town to pick up toilet paper from Costco.

Speaking of living in high density areas.... lets say you want a garden, but you don't have land to plant one. Well, most likely you probably DO have a wall - so perhaps you should look into wall gardens. Wall gardens? Basically, vertical gardens are a natural extension of the green roof movement, which provides much needed evaporative cooling in dense urban environments where trees aren't possible. Unlike green roofs, which are rarely seen and enjoyed by the public, living walls can create instant color and impact and help lower building temperatures in the summer and help insulate in the winter. As well, the walls clean the air, reduce noise, absorb storm water runoff as well as attract birds, insects and honeybees to the urban core.

Really, I wouldn't mind having a vertical garden at my pad. Especially if it helped keep my house cool in the summer. For instance, Portland experienced a massive heat wave this past week. Normally, we'll have a few 90 plus days here and there... but it's not oppressive by any means. As a result, like many people in this great NYTimes article that I mentioned last week, be it environmental or economical, self depravation or just plain survival of the fittest, the majority of people here don't have air conditioning. However, with outside temps reaching almost 110 on Wednesday, many folks were looking for any relief they could find. I for one, escaped my 107 degree house to a friends house that had air conditioning, lets call that an air conditioning collective! If you are like me and don't cool your house in the summer (nor do you heat it in the winter cause you like the feeling of living in an uninsulated cabin year round) check out these tips for keeping cool from the clever and informative folks at Grist.org

However, let's say it's really hot outside, you're stuck in the in the city, you don't have plants growing on your wall, nor do you have a neighborhood collective for air conditioning or a pool.... and you want to camp out, but can't leave or can't find a place to pitch a tent for the night in the city limits. Perhaps you should look into this car... I mean, tent.

I mean, paying for a parking space probably costs less than a hotel room or the KOA for a night - right?

Alrighty folks, have a great weekend. Till next time I'm gonna make up my own new word called "outtahere".


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