Soft Infrastructure for Sandy

Soft Infrastructure for Sandy

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In an era of decreased budgets at every level of government the disasters caused by storms like Super Storm Sandy present us real problems. They also are causing us to be creative and to form unique partnerships. While building hard infrastructure is expensive and time consuming, partnering with nature and allowing the re-establishment of buffering wetlands may be more cost and outcome effective. Our choices may have more to do with habit than rationality. In his November article on the Sustainable Cities Collective website Colin Cafferty discusses the value of buffering wetlands. Filling in wetlands and building close to the water has made us vulnerable to sea level rise and storms. “New York’s wetlands … are actually a key difference for the protection of the city’s citizens against future flooding disasters. Wetlands provide natural flood control by temporarily holding and absorbing floodwater, reducing the energy of storm surges and helping to control

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Thinking Like a Mountain

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More than half a century ago Aldo Leopold wrote of learning to think like a mountain.  He claimed that this was essential to behaving ecologically. But how does a mountain think?  Leopold provides one significant clue.  He relates the story of seeing the dying “green fire” in the eyes of a wolf mother he shot.  He tells us that a mountain must live in fear of its deer herd, for without predators the deer will eat her bare and the rains will strip her of soil. Let’s follow Leopold’s trail and see where it takes us. His wolf story reminds me of another my friend tells about Yellowstone National Park:  when wolves were reintroduced, they lowered the temperature of the water in many of the streams and rivers. How could this be? In the absence of large predators, ungulates (elk, moose, deer etc.) were unafraid and spent most of their

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Tracking Potential

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While working at the Rodale Institute several years ago ,we were surprised to learn that Robert Rodale, former Institute director and  editor of Organic Gardening magazine was an Olympic skeet shooter. On further thought this made sense. In skeet shooting, one needs to trace the trajectory of the clay pigeon, imagine its future path, and aim leading it to impact it at some future as yet unrealized point. Rodale was expert at seeing the potential of existing trends. It was only natural that he would excel at doing this visually as well.   To many, the idea of tracing trajectory to  imagine future potential may seem abstract and even unprofessional. Most marketing and planning is done looking to the past to guide it. This has been compared to driving by looking in the rear-view mirror. While it is essential to look at the past to imagine the future, it is the

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How do we rebuild our usefulness to one another?

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 If the key to the health and wealth of all living systems, including economies, is based on resources being exchanged and recycled often and locally, how can a national economic stimulus package best help to build local and national economies?  The various programs of the 1930’s often employed numerous people through large-scale projects accomplished with hand labor and small-scale, locally owned equipment. Most modern projects of all kinds concentrate on the use of large, expensive, laborsaving equipment–at the expense of jobs.   In natural systems, any one essential function is provided in multiple ways. Few animals feed on only one species. The most successful ones, like coyotes, feed not only on many animals, but on plants and even insects as well. The really resilient plants are the ones that have many different ways to get and store food and water, and to be pollinated and reproduce. And just as it is essential

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Trickle Down or Trickle Through

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If money is like water then it may be helpful to look at the economic stimulus package from an ecological point of view, since hydrology and ecology are so tightly linked. There is a principle of living systems: it is not the absolute amount of a resource that determines health, but the speed at which the resource moves through the system. This is why our intestines meander. Food and water need to travel something like two miles to get through the few feet between our two ends. This allows our bodies to absorb the greatest amount of nutrients and water possible. Healthy rivers and streams also meander. If a stream moves languidly, the water and nutrients it carries have a greater chance to nourish the landscape. And a well-nourished landscape creates a stable channel and storage system for the stream.