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Monday, November 28, 2011

Design for the Other 90% : Cities

Last week I had the privilege of visiting the exhibit Design for the Other 90% : Cities part of a continuing series of exhibits by the Cooper - Hewitt Museum that highlight design solutions for the 90% of the world's population that usually don't receive the benefits from designers working on products and systems to improve their standard of living. This exhibit is at the United Nations, a fitting venue.

The exhibits were models, full size objects, videos, photos and informational boards that focused on public health, clean water, food access, energy and transport. The designs were created for what are termed informal settlements, groups of people forced to resettle because of famine, war, natural disasters or just the search for a better life. These settlements often have poor housing, sanitation and lack of drinking water.  While not on the same scale  some of the same issues we discuss in reference to the sustainability of community gardens.

One of the exhibits highlighted access to food with a design for a "Garden in a Sack". The sacks are filled with loamy soil and manure, slots are cut on the sides and seedlings planted in the slots. Families can harvest as many as 4 meals per week from their planting. Community groups are adopting the technique in a type of community garden. In some cases they grow enough to sell at market. See my previous posts on Vertical Gardening - growing vegetables in recycled polyester bags from April 15, July 12 and September 26, 2010.
I am also very interested in the use of human power to accomplish tasks that are needed in a garden. Several of the exhibits highlighted using bicycles for transport or producing electricity. One exhibit showed full size examples of a modular bicycle frame that can be used to make a bicycle with a piece of wood or a cart using the same frame. See the included photos.

Another design  uses the bicycle to power a charger for a cell phone.
There was a design that used bicycle pedals to pump water from a water tank through a filter system.

For a view of another system, I made a new video showing the improvements I have made to my design for a bicycle water pump.

This exhibit is well worth a visit if you are in NYC. There is also a detailed website worth exploring and a catalogue that can be purchased through the website.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Community Compost Garden

C4B Bike Trailer
The title of this post could have been Compost Community Garden or Garden (of) Community Compost but I chose Community Compost Garden. Let me explain. I recently visited the Compost for Brooklyn   or C4B garden, a site that I have heard much about but have never had the chance to visit. On a tiny - 45 X 50 foot lot, a small group has converted a vacant space to a very productive one. The space has a dozen compost bins, a couple of compost tumblers, a large compost sifting table and a small shed that collects rainwater. There are also native plantings scattered around the garden.
Browns and Greens
This project is the brainchild of Louise Bruce, a young woman I met a couple of years ago when she was a member of the Green Apple Corps (GAC), an environmental training program that is part of the Dept. of Parks in NYC. The GAC assisted me in the construction of a number of rainwater harvesting systems but Louise's passion was composting. She was able to convince a private landlord to allow her and a small group of helpers to take this vacant lot and turn it into a community compost center.
Rainwater Harvesting Shed
Their first fall they accepted lots of leaves that have turned into the soil base of the garden. They got help from a local woodworker who not only donates his wood shavings (which are a perfect 'brown' to add to all of the 'green' they receive) but also built some of the compost bins for the group. This is a perfect example of the cooperative nature off this undertaking. They not only encourage folks to drop off their vegetable scups from home but welcome and encourage volunteers to help with turning piles, sifting the finished compost and picking up donations from the local Community Supported Agriculture group and Greenmarket. Workshops and assistance are offered for folks who want to compost at home and they teach  a program for children they call Bug Land Builders which teaches kids about the good insect decomposers and pollinators.
Community Compost Sifter
While not a typical example of a community garden, C4B is a great example of a sustainable community garden. A group has taken an underutilized space and turned it into a productive one. Productive not only in the sense of creating a usable product - compost - but also producing community. When I spoke to Louise during my visit, much of our conversation was about the people involved and how she is working hard to create a sustainable community group.
3 of the compost bins
All of the physical sustainable things C4B is doing; making compost, harvesting rainwater, using a cargo bicycle to transport compostable materials all contribute to the social sustainability of this project. People are engaged by doing and learning and future ecologists are being trained.
Bins Buckets Shed Sifter Tumblers
New York City has no landfill or incinerator within it's boundaries. All waste is shipped out of the city. Much has been written about how to solve the solid waste problems that face our cities. Backyard or small scale composting is not considered to be one of the answers. I am sure those folks have not seen Compost for Brooklyn. They might think differently if they did. Anyone who wants to do this kind of project I would recommend modeling your project after C4B. Oh and no smell or signs of vermin!