The Contemporary Intersection of Urban Sustainability & Civil Rights (15)


The systems that prosper under capitalism have historically strained society of natural resources. The value of monetary gain and production vs. environmental sustainability has created an exhaustion of resources and has created hierarches of difference. Ultimately, leading to a chain of events and effects. Distinct environmental crises in vulnerable areas are an example of such. Throughout time, policies at the state and national level have been enacted in order to protect the environment and ultimately impact the quality of life for all. However, many policies have not been regulated and enforced as should.1 To fully understand the current urgency of environmental sustainability, I will be referencing the crisis of the West Calumet Housing Complex (WCSC) in East Chicago, Indiana; a contemporary example of the impacts of non-regulated environmental policies on vulnerable, displaced populations of color.

The West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago was discovered to have high rates of lead contamination in the water and the soil.Information that residents were unaware of until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) informed them in 2008, despite the existing contamination when the complex was built in 1972 on the land of a former plant.2 In Figure A by the New York Times, the proximity of the smelting plant, schools, and urban sections can be seen.


The jeopardization of the health and wellbeing of displaced populations of color serves as the example that environmental sustainability is not accessible to them. Their intersecting identities create the avenue for systematic damage to be done to their lives. Currently, a high number of children have been tested and shown to have large, unhealthy levels of lead in their bodies.4


1 Konisky, D. (2009). Inequities in Enforcement? Environmental Justice and Government Performance. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 28(1), 102-121.


2 Goodnough, A. (2016, August 30). Their Soil Toxic, 1,100 Indiana Residents Scramble to Find New Homes.


3 Image. Varjacques, L. (2017, June 26). The Compounded Pain of Contamination and Dislocation.


4 Varjacques, L. (2017, June 26). The Compounded Pain of Contamination and Dislocation.


5 Kuehn, R. (1994) Environmental Justice: The Merging of Civil Rights and Environmental Activism: Remedying the Unequal Enforcement of Environmental Laws. St. John’s Journal of Legal Commentary.


Infrastructure for Autonomous and Electric Vehicles

Can you imagine buying a car to never drive it once? Soon many consumers will have the luxury of their vehicle navigating through traffic seamlessly without any effort or attention of the owner. The concept of autonomous driving may be hard to grasp for someone hearing it for the first time twenty years ago, but today, it is hard to deny that these self-driving cars will soon be as common as today’s Honda Civic.  Thanks to the innovation of artificial intelligence, and a lot of sensors, automakers are pushing the envelope for autonomous driving as a standard option for cars soon. Another trend that has been gaining traction in the automotive industry is the production of electric vehicles. Traditional combustion engines use a lot of fuel for not a lot of energy, referring to the vehicles thermal efficiency. Most cars average around 20 percent thermal efficiency. Electric vehicles are superior in the sense that the energy is used much more efficiently, as well as serving as physical product of renewable energy. As these cars become more popular, we will begin to see more charging stations and more tax incentives for electric vehicle owners.

As planners, we must think how this major shift in transportation affects our society and how we can accommodate this shift in the form of infrastructure. How does our society benefit from autonomous cars? How will traffic change now that cars are driving themselves? If there is an accident, who is responsible? Should there be a lane on the highway dedicated only for autonomous vehicles? This project will consider some of the possibilities of how we can approach this change in a way that benefits everyone. So, we will look for ways to compliment and welcome this change by implementing technology into infrastructure – not only for our convenience, by our safety as well.

The United States and the automobile industry have had a great relationship over the past century. With the combination of population growth and economic development over the last couple decades, transportation infrastructure has been a huge incentive for Americans to purchase a car that will make their commute that much simpler. As our urban areas became headquarters for economic affairs, our roads and highways have been extended and modified farther out into suburbs to promote driving. In the case of driving in the City of Chicago, you don’t need to drive far to find a segment of a street under construction, as keeping infrastructure safe and drivable is always a work in progress. As planners, we need to understand that as the automotive industry shifts to a more convenient and appealing product, it is up to us to respond in a responsible way through developing and implanting infrastructure that compliments these new cars, as well the general public.


Urban Permaculture

     Today’s agricultural methods have been proven to be destructive to the planet and therefore destructive to the human population. While modern day monoculture does put food on the shelves of the supermarkets of America, it promotes the destruction of the topsoil, intensive irrigation, and industrial farming. Scientists and environmentalists sought a way around this negative cycle that is modern monoculture as we know it by inventing solutions that would be beneficial not only in yield, but as well as for the wellbeing of the environment and the human population[1]. The solution was called permaculture, or permanent agriculture, which is a design based approach that tries to create resilient, sustainable, and self-reliant ecosystems and communities[2].


    While permaculture has been practiced in rural areas since its creation in the early 1970’s, there has been very little research or projects of permaculture in urban areas. One misconception about permaculture is that often brought to designers attention is the amount of space needed to create a sustainable ecosystem. Permaculture can be practiced on any scale, no matter how small or how large. As long as the system or design that has been created is making connections with human beings and the Earth, and creating harmony with all species involved, the scale does not matter[3].  Urban gardens are a great example of this, while small in scale they can be designed to be a self reliant ecosystem that provides the designer with an edible yield. Permaculture ties in many already widely known aspects of sustainability, such as low energy design architecture, a holistic approach to greenspace, and environmental education[4]. Communities are finally starting to accept the concept of permaculture and have adopted it for their own to make use of their small plots of land in low income neighborhoods. Permaculture is possible this way because creating a green space does not always involve a high amount of income to start and it does not force participants away from the current values of the neighborhood[5].        




The Search for Sustainable Farming

Climate change is evident all around us in the world, and the trees we mourn being cut down in the amazon are only part of the deforestation picture. America lost over a quarter million acres of the forests that covered half of the country, partially to help improve the climate, but also for use in agriculture. Humanity has cut down almost half of the trees on earth since the start of civilization for a multitude of reasons. [1] Agriculture uses just over 37% of the land on earth, with livestock taking up about double what crops use, I don’t think that correlation is anything but obvious. [2] Industrial agriculture uses a staggering percent of the earth’s land, but even more of its fresh water, 70 percent. To top off the unsustainable use of fresh water, U.S. agriculture is responsible for 75% of the issues with the quality of its fresh water supplies. [3] A common sight in the Midwest is equipment tilling farmland with huge dust clouds blowing across roads/fields. Those dust clouds are wind erosion at work, another negative factor of conventional farming. Wind erosion degrades soil quality and reduces the amount of topsoil on a farm, and certain types of tilling are especially damaging to the soil. [4] Another overly abundant reality of conventional farming is a lack of biodiversity. It is fundamental to sustainable agroecosystems as well as the surrounding ecosystem’s biodiversity. The impacts from reduced biodiversity range from the further degradation of natural resources to increased food insecurity. [5] Conventional farming is simply not sustainable. Finding a truly sustainable farming method seems pretty difficult with all these obstacles, let alone one that also supports biodiversity and natural resource preservation, but it is possible.






  1. How much of the earth’s land is farmable? Sciencing Web site. Accessed Feb 9, 2018.


  1. Buck S. The first american settlers cut down millions of trees to deliberately engineer climate change. Timeline Web site. Updated 2017. Accessed Feb 6, 2018


  1. The Lynchpin of Industrial Ag. Panna Web site. Accessed Feb 5, 2018


  1. Government of Alberta, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. An introduction to wind erosion control.$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex3524. Accessed Feb 9, 2018.


  1. Thrupp LA. Linking agricultural biodiversity and food security: The valuable role of agrobiodiversity for sustainable agriculture. International affairs. 2000;76(2):265.

Issues with Urban Waste, Solutions with Diversion Methods (12)

One of the benefits of living in an urban environment is convenience; the density of cities allows for a greater abundance of activities and goods, all of which are accessible in a space that’s much smaller than in a rural area or even in the suburbs. However, the abundance of goods in a fast-paced capitalistic society, like Chicago, comes with an issue that’s often thrown by the wayside – waste. In 2013, the United States Environmental Protection Agency reported that in the year 2012, the United States produced 250.9 tons of waste.

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Source: US EPA



Even on a smaller scale, the amount of waste generated is still staggering. A publication from the University of Illinois entitled  Waste and Recycling i

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n Illinois – Illinois Communities 

Cope with Waste in Different Ways” looks at issues with waste diversion, waste management, and waste generation. Authors Don Fullerton and Sarah Miller reported that Cook County residents generated an average of 8.325 pounds of waste per day for a total individual waste of over three tons. While that amount of waste generation on a large scale can seem alarming, one must consider options for getting rid of this waste.


Waste Diversion can be defined as “the combined efforts of waste prevention, reuse, and recycling practices” (CalRecycle). By diverting waste away from landfills, urban sustainability can become a model for environmental sustainability. Urban areas should focus on diverting waste away from landfills because of the sheer amounts of people and waste that exist in urban areas. The environmental hazards and social injustices created by landfills and the waste that fill them are numerous, from the leaching of toxins into groundwater to minority communities becoming home to dangerous industries (Christopher Billas).Options such as composting, recycling, adaptive reuse, and simply purchasing less wasteful products, are options for furthering urban sustainability. For example, many people eat food that comes in plastic containers. One might not give a second thought to throwing the entire container, food included, in a trashcan that is destined for a landfill. However, there are options that don’t rely on one system. The food that is being discarded is compostable, the plastic may be recyclable, and the stickers used to label the product may only be suitable for a landfill.


Billas, Christopher. “ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM AND HAZARDOUS FACILITY SITING DECISIONS: NOBLE CAUSE OR POLITICAL TOOL?” Washington and Lee Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice. Last modified April 1, 1998.

Don Fullerton, and Sarah Miller. “Waste and Recycling in Illinois.” Institute of Government & Public Affairs. Last modified 2010.

“Glossary of Waste Prevention Terms.” CalRecycle Home Page. Last modified March 30, 2017.

“Municipal Solid Waste | Wastes | US EPA.” EPA Archives | US EPA. Last modified March 29, 2016.

US EPA. “MSW Fact Sheet 2012.” EPA Archives | US EPA. Last modified February 2014.


A New World: Sustainable Architecture [28]

With all the technology we’ve created why are we using the same architectural tools as if we were in the 1970s. The environmental protection agency has released information stating that this medieval building technique accounts for 38% of our carbon admissions. How do we live in a world where we can travel to space, but cant properly construct to preserve?

Researchers have provided examples of how to reduce these emissions by way of the concept of sustainable architecture. This entails minimizing the number of resources consumed in the building’s construction, use and operation, as well as reducing the harm done to the environment through the emission, pollution and waste of its components. Due to first world privilege we have the access to create a vanguard structures in unconventional yet renewable ways; for example, using shipping containers for structural outlining and repurposing existing buildings.


130 shipping container



Climate change

Our economy has increased a lot and at the same time everything became efficient, but the process of getting up to this point has affected the natural resources and climate negatively. These days one of the biggest problems in America is to plan cities in order to keep up with climate change. As recent disasters have proven, big scale cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Huston are left defenseless against large disasters caused by the climate change.

         Climate change is one of the disasters that humans in this world are experiencing because of the global warming. It caused many kinds of disaster such as, flood, drought, increasing the sea level, and increasing the average temperature. Historically, state of California had experienced several serious droughts during after beginning of 1900s. There were not only reasons that humans made the drought, but also nature made reasons for the drought. “California’s climate is highly variable both spatially (from temperate rainforest conditions on the North Coast to the extreme aridity of Death Valley) and temporally. Records for maximum annual precipitation range from more than 90 inches on the North Coast to a little over 2 inches in Death Valley. Droughts and floods can occur in close proximity” (CDWR, 2016).    

         Ground water can contribute to surface water, so it can provide drinking water for large portion of people, supplies businesses and industries (USGS, 2017). Seasonal precipitation is the main element to increase the ground water level. But, based on the last paragraph because of the climate change, the groundwater level is keeping decreasing. Residents in California are keep using same amount of water, but because of the climate change groundwater cannot supply the water enough to the residents as past (USGS, 2017). When the temperate rose because of the climate change, snow packs were melted easily and fast. In California snowpack provides about one third of total water supply (Nesbit, 2015). In last three years, the level of the snowpack has been decreased because of reduced snowfall and warm temperatures. Warmer conditions resulted mountain snow to melt faster, snow turns into rain, and soils dry faster.

We are without a doubt in a time in which climate change cannot be disregarded. When we plan our cities we must always take the effects of global warming and climate change seriously. We have seen in recent events how the intensity of Hurricanes has increased and our cities are not prepared. After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has taken action by building a water surge barrier. It is designed to block off the wall of water coming into the city from tropical storms. In addition to these barriers New Orleans has also started investing in green infrastructure. Jeff Herbert, the chief resilience officer in New Orleans says  “So investment in green infrastructure — water gardens, large scale parks and open spaces that can retain water and become sponges for water — that’s the direction we’re going in in New Orleans because the hard infrastructure is just not gonna do it to meet the demands that we’re gonna have over the next 50 years.” (Bender, 2010) This is very important because when we plan we have to think long term. Models and research produced by the Geophysical Fluid Dynamic Laboratory (GFDL), there is not going to necessarily going to be more hurricanes but stronger Hurricanes.


Government of California. California Department of Water Resources. Drought Background. California: State of California, 2017. Web. 04 Dec 2017 URL:

Nesbit, Jeff. “Climate Change Caused California Drought.” U.S. News, 14 Apr. 2015,

Government of California. U.S. Department of the interior, U.S. Geological Survey. California Drought. California: USGS, 2017. 05 Dec 2017. URL:


Bender , M. A. (2010, January 22). Modeled Impact of Anthropogenic Warming on the Frequency of Intense Atlantic Hurricanes. Retrieved February 11, 2018, from


How 3 U.S. Cities Are Adapting To Climate Change. (2016, September 21). Retrieved February 11, 2018, from

Blanket The Homeless (40)

Picture1.pngFor many cities, solving homelessness is an ongoing challenge. From the growing population of homelessness to caring for the ones that are already out there, taking care of the growing issues surrounding homelessness is something that has a huge impact on our lives in an urban setting. According to a recent report, over half a million people were living on the streets, in cars, in homeless shelters, or in subsidized transitional housing during a one-night national survey last January. Of that number, 206,286 were people in families, 358,422 were individuals, and a quarter of the entire group were children. Also, Fifty percent of the homeless population is over the age of 50. These individuals often face additional health and safety risks associated with age. They are more prone to injuries from falls, and may suffer from cognitive impairment, vision or hearing loss, major depression, and chronic conditions like diabetes and arthritis. [1] If we aren’t able to take care of this amount of people just in the United States, then it will negatively affect our future here in an urban society and reflect badly on the state of the people in charge of the districts well-being. A large issue with being homeless is often you are stuck in the situation that you have found yourself in. 83,170 individuals, or 15% of the homeless population, are considered “chronically homeless.” Chronic homelessness is defined as an individual who has a disability and has experienced homelessness for a year or longer, or an individual who has a disability and has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years (must be a cumulative of 12 months). Families with at least one adult member who meets that description are also considered chronically homeless. As the National Alliance to End Homelessness explains, “While people experiencing chronic homelessness make up a small number of the overall homeless population, they are among the most vulnerable. They tend to have high rates of behavioral health problems, including severe mental illness and substance use disorders; conditions that may be exacerbated by physical illness, injury, or trauma.”



The two very preventable conditions that are listed are physical illness and injury. As a homeless person, you have to spend a large portion on your day outside and on the streets. This increase the risk of bacteria growth, injury, and being in danger from the environment. Often times in place such as New York or Chicago, homeless people are left on the streets to just make do on their own in very harsh winters. Thousands of the homeless spend frigid nights out in the world without proper garments to keep them or their family warm enough.



If the City of Chicago deploys a program for a large emergency blanket type design with flannel on one side and the emergency material on the other, it would make a cheap and efficient design that could be used to take care of a large problem that homeless people have in this area. Many pass away from improper insulation.

-Nabeel Mirza WORDPRESSID: nmirza7uic



7. Money Diversity (MSK)

money diversity


Everyday we are bombarded with headlines along the lines of, “The End is Near”. Climate change, acidification of the world’s oceans, overuse of the world’s resources, death of half of the world’s wildlife, financial collapse, healthcare scarcity, homelessness, government shutdowns, war, refugees and terrorism consistently shake us to our core to the point where we are almost desensitized to it. We can no longer afford the emotional currency to handle the daily barrage. It’s as if we must accept things will always be going wrong and we should simply worry only for ourselves because “no one else is going to do anything to change things so why should I”, “China isn’t going to change their pollution policy so why should we”. There is so much focus on “what’s in it for me”, “what’s my return on investment”, and “how will this affect our GDP”. Most people see this as greed which is in all of us to a certain extent but it is also institutionalized and incentivized as a basic principle of our monetary system. Many economists are starting to understand the fact that the economy as a complex flow system just like biomass through an ecosystem, information through our immune systems and electrons through electrical distribution systems. All these systems operate on the same base structural variables of diversity and interconnectivity. When the structure of the flow system is not designed sustainably then anything flowing through the system cannot be sustainable. Therefore, as long as our economic system is organized in itscurrent fashion, with a monoculture of money, we will be facing an impossible task similar to keeping the rising tide from coming in. Since the economy is subject to the same laws that govern nature it would follow that we look for a naturally inspired construction. A monoculture in money means we have a one track money system built on the idea of efficiency. This design is unstable as we have seen with all other forms of monoculture we have created such as agriculture which needs more and more pesticides to continue functioning. A key to sustainability is resilience, which means strength to resist collapse. Resilience, like in any other system, is found in diversity. What it would take to create said diversity in our economic system would be to create another track for money to flow in the form of an entirely different currency. Throughout history there have been thousands of examples of such currencies produced by communities to reinvigorate their local economies. In today’s unstable economic climate, community currencies have made a resurgence. And with the support of the internet new designs are possible to allow for democratic control and easy interchangeability of the rules. In our research project we will explore examples of different styles of currency throughout history to show how a more natural orientation of money can have a domino effect on a myriad of other instability issues which plague modern society. We will begin with a short history of money, followed by a deeper investigation as to why our current economic system is inherently unstable and finish with ideas which have been and can be applied now in a local capacity around the world to help restore balance between humanity and nature.


Here are some resources if you are interested in learning more about money diversity and economic sustainability, enjoy! Copy paste if it is n

Urban Food Gardens (27)

Image result for urban food garden

More and more resources are being used daily and as a result we need to find ways to utilize those resources in a sustainable fashion. One way of doing such is to create urban food gardens which allows for a locally accessible way to get food. If such gardens become a public resource, it can help those who cannot afford fresh foods. According to sources, around 800 million city dwellers worldwide use their agricultural skills to feed their families. This project will seek to find and research what is necessary to create a urban food garden as well as any issues that comes with it such as soil conservation and who can access these gardens and such. Other topics such as issues with the current method of agricultural farming.


Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History Of Four Meals. New York : Penguin Press, 2006. Print.