Monday, February 25, 2008

Pomona's Green Ascent

I recently interviewed Dr. Kyle D. Brown, director of Cal Poly Pomona's Center for Regenerative Studies on how Pomona can become a greener, more sustainable city.

I'm very exicted to post the interview on the blog. Because of it's length, the interview appears after the jump.

GoP: For those unfamiliar, can you introduce yourself and explain what Cal Poly Pomona's Center for Regenerative Studies is all about?

KB: I am Director of the John T. Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies at Cal Poly Pomona University, as well as an Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture. The mission of the Center is to advance the principles of environmentally sustainable living through education, research, demonstration and outreach. While our goal is one of advancing sustainability, that is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, we believe that the best way to achieve this is by designing community systems to restore, renew, revitalize or regenerate themselves. This is why we use the term regenerative in our title.

Located on 16 acres within the Cal Poly Pomona campus, the Lyle Center is designed to demonstrate sustainable living and provide a laboratory for cutting-edge research. The Center demonstrates a wide array of regenerative strategies, including passive-solar building design, energy production technology, organic agriculture, and native plant community restoration Our Master of Science program prepares students to address environmental challenges facing society in the 21st Century.

GoP: Does your center have any particular short and/or long term ideas on how to make Pomona a greener, more sustainable city?

KB: Our approach to sustainable communities emphasizes attention to the systems that serve the community. The most basic physical systems are food, water, energy, shelter and waste. There is great opportunity for sustainable strategies for each of these systems within Pomona. But we are also believers in the notion that sustainable strategies need to be embraced, and even emerge from the community itself. So I hesitate to present a list of ideas that Pomona should embrace. Instead, I would urge the community to ask the following questions:

What are the sources of food serving local communities? In what ways can the community increase local agriculture to provide affordable and nutritious food that is free of harmful additives (e.g. pesticides)? This may lead to ideas like more local community gardens or produce-sharing networks among backyard gardeners.

What are the sources of drinking and irrigation water? In what ways can the community reduce the amount of water they use, particularly water that is imported from great distances? In what ways can the community work to ensure that rainwater is effectively utilized for irrigation and that it is not contaminating the environment? These questions may lead to ideas like water-conserving landscape designs, rainwater capture, or biological approaches to rainwater treatment, such as constructed wetlands.

What are the sources of energy serving local communities? In what ways can the community 1) minimize the amount of energy it uses, and 2) seek to produce or promote alternative renewable energy sources? A significant consumer of energy is transportation, so what potential exists to reduces automobile transportation? Energy consumption is directly related greenhouse gas emissions, so communities concerned with this issue have been focusing on this system in particular. These questions may lead to solar energy initiatives, advocacy for alternative transit or walkable communities.

What kinds of material and energy go into construction of the built environment within the community? What alternative building materials and building designs could be utilized to minimize the use of energy, non-renewable materials, and materials with high embodied energy (e.g. materials that require a lot of energy to produce, extract or transport). These questions may lead to guidelines or assistance for new construction or renovation.

What waste is produced by the community? How can waste, be reduce, reused, or recycled? In what ways can waste materials be utilized as a resource? We're pretty good in this country at recycling, but that's really the third option in the mantra of reduce, reuse, or recycle. Initiatives could be focused on everything from backyard composting to economic development initiatives to create products from waste materials.

You can imagine, there are a variety of ideas that could emerge to creatively address environmental problems within the community. Some may be local in scale, in terms of individual residents taking action. Others may be better addressed at the neighborhood level, city-wide, or beyond the city to the entire region. It's usually easier to begin locally.

GoP: How receptive has The City of Pomona been in the past towards instituting sustainable practices? What are your expectations for the future? Am I right that Pomona, being that we house your campus, is uniquely suited to take advantage of your students, programs and resources --and possibly become one of the greenest city's around? If the City has not been receptive (which frankly looks like the case from the outside, what's your guess as to why?)

KB: I have been involved with the City off and on over the years I've been at Cal Poly Pomona, both through the Lyle Center and through the Landscape Architecture Department. I think one of the challenges has been the high rate of turnover experienced within the City Departments over the years, which makes it difficult to establish long-term working relationships. There has been great interest around some issues at various points in time, but nothing long-term. Cal Poly Pomona is a great potential resource, and I hope the City and the University continue to explore connections. I think ultimately it takes a commitment of resources on both ends and that hasn't really emerged yet.

GoP: Since your department is a big believer in grass roots activity, how can we concerned citizens work with your program to start instituting more sustainable practices? And on that note, what would be a good place to start? Are there specific grassroots activities going on in Pomona as we write that you'd like to mention?

KB: I do think that in order to build up to that commitment of resources on the part of the City, it will take some grass roots mobilization. I would suggest starting small, developing a strategy for addressing one of the questions posed above. A good starting point might be a tour of the Center to learn more about what we're doing, which may lead to some community brainstorming. Many of us live in Pomona and are interested in this issue, so the Center is likely a willing assistant in this process in a limited way. Ultimately, the long-term commitment of resources from Cal Poly Pomona's end will hinge on funding, which may be available in the form of grants or similar programs.

I will mention two things happening that are happening in Pomona that are good examples or have good potential.

1. You profiled the work of a couple of our students back on January 15th, 2008, and their work at the tri-city mental health center. This kind of community garden is very exciting and represents one kind of connection between Cal Poly Pomona and the community (although these guys have been doing this mostly on their own). The Center has been involved in the past in community gardening in the Angela Chanslor neighborhood and other locations in the City.

2. Cal Poly Pomona's President, Dr. Michael Ortiz, recently signed the President's Climate Commitment, a voluntary pledge of university leaders from around the country to make their campuses "carbon neutral" to combat climate change. A key component of this pledge is that the University must demonstrate leadership within the community in confronting climate change. The climate task force convened by the President is currently brainstorming about ways in which this leadership will be demonstrated, but community projects and programs seem to be an excellent opportunity. So this could be important in building the commitment from Cal Poly's perspective.

GoP: It seems that in order to make some inroads in sustainability, you need to work with the local city administration. How does your center "play politics" when it comes to instituting programs in Pomona? How does your program equip students to deal with bureaucracy as they graduate and go into the world?

KB: This is critical. Our students take courses in coalition building, policy analysis and what I would describe as deliberative practice. We learned a long time ago at the Center that the community is the most important element in a sustainable plan. You can develop the most sophisticated technology or physical system to achieve sustainability, but if the community lacks the interest, the need, or the capacity to operate it, then it will be abandoned, and thus be utterly unsustainable. So the kind or practice you describe is integral to our education program and to our approach. It's one of the things I believe that makes us unique from other academic programs in environmental science or environmental studies.

GoP: Are there lessons to be learned from others cities, like Santa Monica and Portland, that have been able to insistute more sustainable practices to help us do it in Pomona? And btw, are there other local cities, like Claremont (the C-word around here) that have taken more advantage of your programs than Pomona has?

There are some good models out there, but again, what works in Santa Monica may not work in Pomona. Often, communities cited for their environmental ethos tend to be affluent and highly-educated. At the Center, we would argue that communities that most need sustainable strategies are lower-income and often marginalized. It's no secret that pollution, flooding and other negative affects of unsustainable development adversely affect low-income, marginalized communities, so one could argue that this is where the need is greatest. Further, sustainable practices are, almost by definition, less resource intensive than unsustainable ones. So it makes economic sense to be sustainable, particularly if you have limited resources.

We serve many communities in Southern California, as well as work we are doing internationally. Yes, many groups from Claremont have visited the Center, but many groups from Pomona have over the years as well.

GoP: Another local blog recently talked about low-cost composters available in other cities. Can you explain the value of composting? Any ideas on how to make it a more wide spread practice (communal composters, etc.)

KB: Composting, if you have the need and ability to use it, is one of the better activities you can practice. It reduces organic waste that may go to landfill, and provides an organic (non-petroleum based) method of fertilizing your garden. There are numerous methods for composting green and vegetable food waste that can be applied in backyards. You can purchase sophisticated units that aide you in turning the compost, or you can do what I do: buy some welded wire mesh and tie it into a 5-foot high cylinder. This works quite well and is very cheap. At the Center, we do both large and small-scale composting. The best solution depends on the need.

GoP: What do you have to say to naysayers who insist that Pomona's working class population is not interested or ready for more sustainable practices?

KB: See my answer to #6 above. As an aside, we currently have a project addressing sustainable housing in informal settlements on the outskirts of Tijuana, Mexico. We have challenged students to develop strategies for providing low-energy shelter that is comfortable and inexpensive. They have been exploring mostly waste products as building materials to keep the cost down. We actively work with the community in Tijuana, which is much more poor than Pomona, and they are all into it. They like that they are helping the environment, but the solutions also improve their quality of life. When that connection is made, everyone is on board.

GoP: Some of the issues I'd like to see addressed - comment if they are something your center is particularly concerned about addressing: lack of bike paths (and hearing that the City was offered free bike paths recently and turned it down) added floridation in water at levels toxic to babies, regular herbicide use by the City and private residents, wide-spread leaf blowing into the air, gas station abandonment, inability to "shop local", pedestrian unfriendliness, unused empty lots that could be greened or used as edible gardens, the ongoing and frequent water use by local lawns, and an ongoing search for local farms and dairies.

KB: Bike Paths. My students in Landscape Architecture actually developed a conceptual bike path plan for the City back in about 2000. This is an example of one of those things affected by turnover at the City. I don't think anyone we worked with is there anymore, and I doubt anyone at the City has that work anymore.

Herbicide and leaf blowers. This is interesting to us, particularly given our climate commitment. There are many who believe the landscape can be effective in sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, because that's what plants do all day as part of the photosynthetic process. So it is receiving lots of attention as a resource for reducing atmospheric carbon, thus offsetting the effects of global warming. However, if you look at the energy inputs (water, herbicide, fertilizers, and gas maintenance equipment) that go into maintaining many park and lawn landscapes, these emissions likely more than offset any benefits of carbon sequestration by the plants. So our interest is how do you design a landscape that optimizes carbon sequestration over time, and minimize resource inputs. A number of us (myself included) at Cal Poly Pomona (and elsewhere) are studying this right now.

GoP: For those interested in learning more about your center, is it open to the public? You have offered to give a tour of the facility. We should set a date for it and announce it on the blog.

KB: We should do a community tour. I'd be glad to lead such an event. I suppose a Saturday or Sunday would be best. If you want to do it soon, maybe the weekend of March 15-16, 22-23, or 29-30 would be best. But later in the spring is fine too. Let's set something up.

GoP: To end on a high note, please tell everyone what city you proudly call home?

KB: I'm proud to live in Pomona (most days).

GoP: Yeah, me too. Thank you for your time. I'll open it for comments about any of those dates, after which time we'll pick a day and spread the word.

Today's photo: the non-fictional, green-lit escalator at the Seattle Public Library.


Ed said...

It's bugging me seeing this post without a comment.

Thanks for the info. Sounds cool.

me said...

Yeah, me too. But that seems to be a pattern. Posts that are longer don't seem to invite the comments that the others do. Some of my better posts here receive no comments at all. Plus, there's nothing to debate. Obviously, Cal POly is a great resource that we should be taking more advantage of. Let's set a date for the tour and get the word out to others. If even 5 people show up for the tour, that's enough to brainstorm and do something.

I was intrigued that the bike path plans are just sitting around somewhere waiting to be picked up and fought for. That invites follow up, since it sounds like a different bike path than the one the NIMBY's vetoed.

Mostly, the interview gave me hope that we're on the right direction in terms of organizing grassroots stuff, and that really there is so much we can do on our own without relying on a city government that clearly doesn't seem to be ABLE to give a damn. And I know that all the city council people, as well as our mayor, started their careers with a base of wanting to do good, it's just at some point they get stuck in the dysfunction. These poor city council people do not even have assistants from what I can tell. I think that alone would bring fresh blood in and get things moving.

Mostly, I just want to get some of this community gardening stuff going, in however small a way.

G of P

John Clifford said...

I, also, wasn't sure what to post because it was all so well stated. The interview was a great read and I can't wait to get final word on the tour as both Mrs. C and I are interested in the outing.

Anonymous said...


I can not believe our city passed up on this opportunity. Along with the community gardens, this would be a great start to making Pomona Green.

REN said...

well as far as reading the post i came back to it a couple of times,its great it planted a seed in my head to think of making pomona a greener city.but i think what it comes down to is cost of up keep.its to bad that we didnt keep a full crew on our parks we count on these outside crews who do a hit and run job on our parks.back in the day some of our parks had a city park guy there full time.

me said...

The tour will be held on Saturday, March 15, 2008 at 10:00 a.m. I will post about it again as we get closer to that date.

G of P