True Green Cities / An Elegy for Two Trees

Looking north up the east side of the 500 Block of Main Street.  My building is the 3 story building at the top next to the wonderful trees.

Looking north up the west side of the 500 Block of Main Street. My building is the 3 story building at the top next to the wonderful trees.

Two trees were unceremoniously killed and turned to sawdust in front of my window Tuesday morning, March 18th.  It was shocking; it wasn’t expected.  It was so loud all of my cats and I were shaking.  The sidewalk was then covered with their remains in the form of mounds of sawdust.

A Winter of Discontent

The past five months have been bleak – not just for Buffalo but for most of the eastern half of the country.  It’s been one of the worst winters in recent memory.  Buffalo has had two official blizzards this year, one during the Polar Vortex and one on March 12th.    Before this winter, the last blizzard was in 1993.  Personally, I have had better years.  My 17 year old cat Ramsay, whom I found in the recycling bin of my Manhattan apartment building in 1996, passed away in January and our household has been rather unmoored since then.  I moved back to Buffalo last year for many reasons, one of which was the winters had not been bad in many years.  I don’t like snow, cold, ice or gray – things Buffalo has had an abundance of this year it seems.  I liked living in Seattle and Winston-Salem, NC.  If you want to see snow or ski you drive two hours to the mountains. Then you drive back to the luscious green that lasts all year long. Certainly an occasional ice or snow storm hits Seattle or Winston-Salem (and they’ve gotten hit badly this year also), but it’s typically gone pretty quickly and nowhere has as many gray days as Buffalo it seems.  I know I’ve been complaining a lot and I haven’t liked that.  I just returned from four days in Houston which seemed to revive my spirits until Tuesday morning that was – when the chainsaw came to the 500 Block.

The Trees of Life

Puck sits on the 3rd floor window sill watching birds which have just flown from the tree to the ledge outside the window.

Puck sits on the 3rd floor window sill watching birds which have just flown from the tree to the ledge outside the window.

I live and work in a two story loft on Main Street in downtown Buffalo.  My huge commercial storefront windows face east.  When there is sun, the eastern half of my loft is brilliantly sunlit until about noon.  One of the things I loved about my place were the two huge trees that lived outside my windows, providing much needed shade in the summer and harboring birds and insects that provided my cats with hours of entertainment.  I don’t know what type of trees they were, they were deciduous, they were at least thirty feet high, they were very green. They made me very happy.

I was awakened just after 7 am (I had just gotten home from the airport at 2 am) by sounds I have only heard when I was trapped in the Yucatan during Hurricane Wilma, a Category 5 hurricane in 2005.  I thought a freight train was running through my bedroom.  The cats were shivering under the bed.  I walked to the window to find a man in a cherry picker cutting the trees down, throwing the limbs to a man who was putting them through a mill instantly turning these glorious trees into sawdust, on my sidewalk.  I had no idea the construction for this project was starting on Tuesday, or that all the trees would be “removed.”  I should have realized it – they did the same thing on the other sections of Main Street.

“Car Sharing” on Main Street

A photo I just happened to take of Main Street in 1986.  Bergers (now the Belesario) on the left, the low Gamler's Building with a marble facade in the center and the Hyatt Hotel on the right.

A photo I just happened to take of Main Street in 1986. Bergers (now the Belesario) on the left, the low Gamler’s Building (where I now live) with a marble facade in the center and the Hyatt Hotel on the right.

Vehicular traffic was removed from a stretch of Main Street in the 1980s when the NFTA Metro Rail line was constructed.  Many of the commercial enterprises along Main Street did not survive that construction, although downtown had been dying for quite some time with the flight to the suburbs.  With the light rail running down the center of Main Street, the wide pedestrian zones were always huge swaths of impervious surfaces with little greenery, much of it sadly planted in concrete containers.  But during the summer, Buffalo Place hangs fantastic flower pots on the light poles and these stately trees grew taller every season.  I’m not sure this new plan will be much better.  It’s more asphalt and planters.  I don’t understand why they couldn’t have rain gardens and pervious surfaces.  From the Landscape Plan Design Rendering it looks like it will be very hard surfaces yet again. Few people in Buffalo seem to really understand that sustainability is a way of life that should not include asphalt. For more information on the project, see Cars On Main Street Description Of Work Overview.

If I Could Recycle a Kitten Why Can’t the City of Buffalo Recycle Its Trees?

Puck and Ramsay cuddling on the red leather sofa while Noelle the Himalayan watches from her perch on the conference table.

Puck and Ramsay cuddling on the red leather sofa while Noelle the Himalayan watches from her perch on the conference table.

In 1996, a tiny one pound three week old kitten was found in a recycling bin in my Upper East Side apartment building.  He was sick with many diseases but he grew to be my close companion and great friend; at one time weighing 21 pounds.  He really ran our household and his loss on January 27th was truly almost unimaginable. I miss him every minute of every day.  His great love, Puck, has not yet come out of his fog of grief, and my remaining cats are still trying to figure out who’s in charge.

Losing trees seems to affect people in the same way as losing a dear pet.  When I worked at GSA as the Pacific Northwest federal Historic Preservation Officer and ran public meetings, the removal of trees brought out more of the community than alterations to a historic building ever did.  They add warmth and happiness.  I look out my window now, tree-less, and the bleakness is devastating.  Yes, they’ll be adding trees back a year from now, but why did they have to kill all the trees now?  They even killed the little trees growing in the concrete containers.

The luxuriant trees shading my loft.

The luxuriant trees shading my loft. And the trees in the concrete planters.

First, I really can’t believe the trees couldn’t be saved and relocated somewhere.  Second, if they truly couldn’t be saved, then why not recycle the wood?  Buffalo is filled with wood artists and furniture makers who I am sure would have loved the wood.  Or at the very least, why not cut the trees up for firewood?  Anything, anything but this, this dishonorable devastation – from tree of life to sawdust in an hour.  Farewell, dear trees, thank you for sharing your lives with me, Ramsay, Puck, Noelle and even baby Ariel for the past year and a half.

If you are interested in seeing the removal of the trees, please click on this Facebook Photo Portfolio link (you don’t have to be a Facebook member to view the photos.)

And if you’d like to “subscribe” or follow my blog, True Green Cities, please sign up through the “Subscribe” button at the bottom left of this page. You’ll receive a daily recap when new blogs are posted. Or Sign up for the Feed.

 

 

True Green Cities / Is your furniture safe?

The Truth About Fire RetardantsMost of my thinking, writing and working involves the bigger picture of our places – buildings, landscapes, communities.  But what probably impacts us more every day are our interior spaces – the furniture, fabrics, finishes and things with which we surround ourselves. And I don’t know about you, but I rarely consider how safe I am in my house or my office.  Until, that is, I heard the evaluation on fire retardants that one of my students in FIT’s graduate program of Sustainable Interior Environments presented as her thesis.  Jessica Andrisano’s findings and questions will form the core of a panel on Fire Retardants being presented in New York city on Wednesday, March 5th at Teknion’s showroom on Avenue of the Americas.

The Truth About Fire Retardants

Jessica is a practicing interior designer who works for HDR Architecture who found herself specifying furniture when she had no idea how safe it was. Since she was studying for her Master’s full-time while still working full-time, she realized she could conduct a thesis study that made a true impact on her business.  A summary from Jessica is below:

Chairs

Since I heard Jessica’s research, it makes me wonder how safe anything we live with is, like my Midcentury Modern Kem Weber-like chairs, for example.

“My thesis evolved from a multitude of questions I had about the use of fire retardants in commercial furniture…What exactly are the codes and how are chairs constructed to meet the code?  If flame retardants are used in all commercial furnishings, which ones?

How do manufacturers ensure that a chair complies with fire standards?

As a part of my thesis, I conducted a survey with furniture manufacturers.  The conclusions to my primary research were:

Most commercial upholstered furniture is constructed in a similar manner, with a wood or steel frame, support webbing, foam padding, and fabric.

Manufacturers send products to third party laboratories for fire testing but the three manufacturers that responded to my survey only tested their furniture to the most stringent test, CAL 133 (a burn test).   They did not mention testing to TB 117 or TB 116 (fire behavior and compliance tests).

One of the manufacturers confirmed use of fire retardant materials in their foams but did not provide specific info about the chemicals used.  The polyurethane foam association, however, reported that typical US fire retardant additives for foam are mixtures of brominated flame retardants and phosphate esters such as Firemaster 550 and 600, or chlorinated phosphate esters such as TDCP (a highly toxic fire retardant linked to cancer).

And what about our daily living?  Are our cats and children safe?

And what about our daily living? Are our cats and children safe?

From both this study and secondary research sources, it is perceived that furniture manufacturers are meeting the TB 133 standard by wrapping foam with a barrier material.  The EPA has reported that some barrier materials are natural fibers such as cotton with a chemical treatment, typically boric acid.  Another option is a blend of synthetic materials, such as Kevlar, Nomex, polybenzimidazole, VISIL, Basofil and natural fibers.  A third option is to utilize synthetics fibers with inherent flame resistance.  Fire-retardant films, such as Neoprene, are also being utilized.

Unfortunately, the conclusions from my research are limited because I only received three responses to my questionnaire.  It also seemed that with every response I received that I had another question.  For instance, it seems standard practice to wrap foams in-order to meet TB 133; however the study did not reveal which materials are being used to encase the foam.

It also seems manufacturers are only testing to meet TB 133 meaning they are not testing chair components for compliance with TB 117.   What I have gathered is that they are simply procuring foam and fabrics that meet 117 requirements.

One of the respondents said…“We purchase from a large distributor with little to no control over the ingredients included in the process.  They provide to a massive industrial base, we are small buyer within their portfolio.  Therefore, we do not know the specific FR but they are likely to be halogenated (Br or Cl). “

Because of the complicated supply chains involved in manufacturing, future research may be more viable if conducted first with raw material and/or component suppliers.  After months of research with such a complex topic it seemed most pertinent for my thesis to provide a general overview of the current state of affairs with regards to fire retardants; compiling my secondary and primary research.  I am very happy to report that it seems that some of my research may be null due to the changing regulations.”

Life Cycle Supply Chains

United Nations

It’s mind boggling to think how many furnishings and fabrics are inside the buildings in NYC alone and leaves me pondering if we’re safe anywhere from fire or even the fire retardants!

Understanding life cycle supply chains, throughout everything we have on the planet, is one of the most challenging aspects of our new green world.  No matter how hard we all try, we often seem to be in the same boat as the respondent above who said he has no way of understanding what ingredients they are actually purchasing from their distributor.  Let’s hope that Jessica’s optimism about new regulations starts to permeate more and more of the architectural and interior design supply chain. Brava to Jessica for taking on such a timely and important topic!

If you’re in NYC on Wednesday March 5th and this topic intrigues you, please join our FIT and green building colleagues for “The Truth About Fire Retardants,” at 6:30PM at the Teknion Showroom on 641 Avenue of the Americas.  It’s free and Teknion will provide refreshments.  Sustainability experts and leading practitioners in the field will join Jessica on a panel.

And if you’d like to “subscribe” or follow my blog, True Green Cities, please sign up through the “Subscribe” button at the bottom left of this page. You’ll receive a daily recap when new blogs are posted. Or Sign up for the Feed.

 

True Green Cities / From Main Street to Eco-Districts: Greening Our Communities

Market Street in downtown Corning, NY, the location of "From Main Streets to Eco-Districts: Greening Our Communities."

Market Street in downtown Corning, NY, the location of “From Main Streets to Eco-Districts: Greening Our Communities.”

Using both historic preservation and green building practices, our cities and neighborhoods are becoming more walkable, “sit-able” (to quote my friend Chuck Wolfe) and vital.  We see cities rethinking their codes and zoning to promote smarter growth, open space preservation and diverse walkable neighborhoods.  We see small cities and urban cores encouraging revitalization projects which focus on rehabilitating “upper floors” of their historic 19th century downtown commercial buildings.  And everyone wants to be as green as possible.

I am organizing a two day conference in Corning, New York in May which digs into all of these topics.  AIA Southern New York, the Preservation League of New York State, Market Street Restoration and Corning’s Gaffer District invite  you to the Market Street Restoration project, Corning’s “main street.”  In celebration of Market Street Restoration’s 40th anniversary, attend this two-day conference which features the one-day “Rethinking Downtowns Through a Green Lens” Symposium and the one-day “Making Upper Floors Work Again” Workshop.  Through a combination of keynotes, plenary sessions, and tours, nationally known speakers and local experts will discuss smart growth, downtown revitalization, form-based codes, LEED for Neighborhood Development and green new design and preservation projects.

The Finger Lakes in Spring

One of the many vineyards dotting the Finger Lakes.

One of the many vineyards dotting the Finger Lakes.

Explore the oldest revitalized “main street” in the country and earn up to 15 continuing education credits (AIA, GBCI and APA/AICP).  Enjoy the Finger Lakes in spring and participate in GlassFest  – a four-day celebration of glass and fire arts in America’s crystal city.  Located in venues throughout a city known for its natural beauty and innovative technologies.

A Conference Full of Keynotes!!

Kaid Benfield, Special Counsel for Urban Solutions at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in Washington, DC will lead off the conference.  Kaid is an adjunct professor at the George Washington University School of Law;  co-founder, LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system; co-founder, Smart Growth America coalition; author of several books on smart growth and sprawl, and a regular contributor to the websites The Atlantic Cities, the Sustainable Cities Collective, and NRDC’s Switchboard.  He was selected as one of the world’s “top urban thinkers” on the city planning website Planetizen and one of “the most influential people in sustainable planning and development” by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities.  Kaid has just published People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think about Greener, Healthier Cities. 

Kaid Benfield, one of the rock stars in the smart growth world and preservation world, is the opening keynote.

Kaid Benfield, one of the rock stars in the smart growth world and preservation world, is the opening keynote.

People Habitat explores topics as diverse as “green” housing developments that are no such thing, the tricky matter of gentrifying inner cities, why people don’t walk much anymore, and the relationship between cities and religion.  Written with intellect, insight, and from-the-heart candor, each real-world story in People Habitat will make you see our communities in a new light.

Note from Kaid about People Habitat:

Environmentalists used to think of cities as a source of environmental problems, but I see them as a source of environmental solutions, enabling living patterns that reduce pollution and consumption. At their best, they also support efficient commerce and nurture the human spirit. People Habitat is a collection of thoughts about how to maximize cities’ endless potential to support greener, healthier living.

Norman Mintz of  Norman Mintz Design Associates in Brooklyn, NY opens the second day. Norman is one of the pioneers of the Main Street movement. He is an Industrial Designer and a Historic Preservationist who specializes in providing solutions on matters of Urban Design, Organization and Management while encouraging community participation in all aspects of the downtown revitalization process.

Norman Mintz, one of the founders of the "main street" movement, is the opening keynote for day two of the conference

Norman Mintz, one of the founders of the “main street” movement, is the opening keynote for day two of the conference

His professional career in downtown revitalization began with his direction of the nationally acclaimed Market Street Restoration Project in Corning, New York, where he initiated the role and became recognized as this country’s first Main Street Manager – an essential position now incorporated by hundreds of revitalization programs around the nation. After two decades of providing consulting services and working with two large Business Improvement Districts in Manhattan (Bryant Park Corporation and the 34th Street Partnership), Mr. Mintz now serves as a Senior Associate for Project for Public Spaces (PPS). Based upon his extensive “hands on”  experience, he facilitates PPS ongoing workshops on Placemaking, emphasizing project implementation and Making It Happen.

Mr. Mintz is co-author of the book, Cities Back From The Edge: New Life For Downtown, published by John Wiley & Sons. The book chronicles stories from around the country and illustrates how dozens of commercial neighborhoods, Main Streets and big city business districts have revitalized their commercial centers using small scale innovative programs that encourage local businesses and overall community involvement. The book has received an overwhelmingly positive response and recognition as a “must read”.

Stay for a few days and find out what a "gaffer" does!

Stay for a few days and find out what a “gaffer” does!

Every biography for each of our 14 speakers reads as impressive as Kaid’s and Norman’s and in fact each of them are typically keynotes at conferences themselves.  We offer you a conference full of keynotes!!  Please review the conference details.  You can experience all of this for under $200 in one the most glorious locations in America. Hope to see you  in May!   Please contact me if you questions or would like to reserve your spot.  aiasny.workshop@gmail.com

And if you’d like to “subscribe” or follow my blog, True Green Cities, please sign up through the “Subscribe” button at the bottom left of this page. You’ll receive a daily recap when new blogs are posted. Or Sign up for the Feed.

 

© Copyright Barbara Campagna – True Green Cities - 2011-2013