Last June, I had an incredible opportunity to visit one of the largest and cutting edge campus for sustainable urban innovators. In the following post, I would like to tell you more about this original initiative that takes place in many cities of Europe and brings together people from the different background into the field of sustainability.

The initiative run from April to June, and I was just lucky enough to participate a day before the event concluded. I could not visit every single project and installation because some of the participants had already closed down their stand. But, I believe I could see enough inspiring ideas and projects that deserve to be shared.

fabcity2FabCity is a free-access and temporal, cultural inspiring hub for work, exploration, creation and development. More than 350 students, academics, artists, professionals, citizens, and change-makers are welcome every year to provide solutions for everyday living and self-sustaining cities of the future. This straightforward commitment and collaboration between civic leaders, educational institutions, universities and global maker communities is aimed to develop locally productive cities by revitalizing and incentivizing new economies.

The areas and domains addressed regarding urban issues were primarily on food, water and climate adaptation, mobility and transportation, smart living, and education and research. One of the modules that I found very engaging was the one that addressed the role of data in our society. This particular theme discusses questions such as how do we use data? What are the pros and cons of data-based life? How can we make good use of big data to keep and track progress and change the status quo?  How will data be collected, saved, analyzed and used? What kinds of analytical tools will apply to the sustainability development agenda?

Those question boosted my curiosity and made me think about the importance of big data as a future sustainable practitioner. With this approach, I understood that sustainability is not just about creating the best green, responsible initiative or doing things differently. It is also about visualization and sharing information, resources, and tools for critical decision-making, monitoring the indicators associated with sustainable goals and assessing the impact of sustainable transitions in a urban, regional and even national scale. There is much more we can learn from this so-called  “data revolution”. And this data revolution can offer a unique opportunity to gather data that can be used to reduce vulnerability, model and test a variety of scenarios, get real-time insights, and to mitigate risk. For instance, big data analysis can transform the production and consumption of energy or food, boost resilience in cities, and respond with greater agility to the world’s most pressing challenges. So, next time, you think a bout greener ideas or sustainable initiatives, think also about how to integrate data into day-to-day activities.


To summarize this experience, I would like to cite a section from the Europe By People Program’s Vision Statement, which in insightful words describes the purpose of this groundbreaking initiative. Actually, I though, it would be wonderful to develop and create a FabCity program at the Patel College of Global Sustainability.

“We believe art has the power to create a society that is more confident, beautiful and economically strong – whether it’s design, architecture, fine arts, fashion, theatre, music, dance, film, poetry or literature. And the power of our nation lies in the ability to think innovatively, be creative, work together and connect. This power truly manifests itself in our interaction with other countries and that is why co-operation and co-creation will be at the core of our Cultural Programme and we will focus on engaging the public and on breaking barriers between disciplines.”


In this event, I also had the opportunity to watch a marvelous documentary called Tomorrow – The World is full of Solutions. An extraordinary film that has won the 2016 César Award for best documentary and has achieved more than 1 million admissions in France after its release. This globetrotting documentary focused on providing more solutions than problems and providing a comprehensive look at methods and ideas in which organizers, activists, and everyday citizens are trying to make the world a better, greener, more sustainable place. Find out more about Tomorrow by clicking at the film’s website to explore more.

and check this out:

Here is the Trailer

Note: If you would like to know more about the European City Makers Movement visit the following link:


Making Myself Useful

I’ve spent the last several weeks attempting to synthesize data from nearly 400 surveys. My survey questions run the gamut of demographics, opinions about transportation, considerations, effectiveness of incentives and disincentives, accommodation location, number of visits, etc. The task of sifting through and sorting such an abundance of data has been both arduous and exciting. Attempting to find any and all significant findings by way of filtering reports and cross-tabulating felt, at times, like rolling the dice. But in the end, there were almost too many significant findings to keep straight.

Some of the data may prove useful to inform marketing to certain target groups based on where they are from or what options they indicated that they’d be willing to consider. For example, 56% of personal vehicle drivers arrived from southern Florida, but only around half of those said they would consider driving next trip. Meanwhile, 39% of them said they would consider the ferry and 29% of them said they would consider the Key West International Airport. Effective marketing could help make those considerations a reality, which in turn would likely reduce car arrivals to the island. Of those arriving via those two arrival methods, 67% of Key West Airport arrivals and 78% Key West Express arrivals reported that they did not use a car at all during their visit.

Other data may prove useful for the city planning department in their future development of public transportation systems. For example, tourists most highly rated concerns (of around 8 common concerns) with public transportation were having to wait around and coordinating different schedules. Knowing that these were rated as the most significant barriers to public transit use, the city could develop transportation that would assuage these concerns. For example, the city could focus on creating systems with frequent pickups and easy to remember schedules.

All and all, I am finding the experience of doing something that might actually prove useful to be as satisfying as I expected it would be. With graduation in just a few weeks, I’m trying to keep optimistic about having a big kid job that will both: allow me to make a positive difference in the world and pay the bills 🙂

I could not have done this work without the guidance of Dr. Amy Lester, from USF’s Center for Urban Transportation Research. From the earliest formation of research questions to the arduous task of data analysis, she was an excellent mentor and patient teacher.

I would like to thank the City of Key West planning department for their gracious welcome and enthusiasm throughout this process. In particular, I would like to thank two people: Alison Higgins, whose determination and authoritative presence make her an exceptional advisor and friend, and Chris Hamilton, whose insights were invaluable to our team. Without their encouragement and insistence on the importance of this research, the research simply would not exist.

(Myself, Alison, and Chris are pictured above, in front of KW Planning Department)

Exploratory steps towards a Sustainable Fleet

Exploratory steps towards a Sustainable Fleet in The City of Largo, Florida

I’d like to share a general overview of some of the options for reducing fossil fuel consumption that I chose to look into. Alternative fuel options were one of the ideas I wanted to investigate in terms of how viable it would be to incorporate different fuels into the city’s fuel portfolio to cost-effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions. From the fuel consumption data, I found that the majority of fuel consumption came from diesel vehicles, so the main focus was finding fuel alternatives for heavy-duty diesel vehicles (biodiesel and compressed natural gas). With regards to compressed natural gas, I was looking to figure out the economics of incorporating a new fuel into the city’s fleet as well as the sustainability of natural gas when compared to diesel. In terms of economics, I needed to consider not only the cost of the cost of the fuel, but the cost of accessing the fuel (since CNG fueling facilities are not nearly as ubiquitous as gas stations), differing capital costs for CNG vehicles, cost of retrofitting the maintenance shop to accommodate CNG vehicles, etc. I found that the only pre-existing CNG fueling station in the area is about 7 miles away from the public works complex, which is the home base for many of the heavy-duty vehicles that would potentially be using CNG. I decided to pay a visit the station so that I could see the CNG fueling infrastructure for myself. With a fueling station already existing nearby, CNG may be able to play an important transitional role in the city’s efforts to operate more sustainably.

Making Connections

Over the course of these past weeks, I have had the pleasure to meet with several business owners, distributors, chefs, and industry professionals. These have been some of the most encouraging conversations I have had throughout my entire time at USF.

One of my favorite conversations took place just this last week when the general manager of one of my case study restaurants gave me a call on my lunch break.

We spent nearly an hour discussing their commitment to sustainability, and how it is essential to their business. This is not only because they are cutting costs, but also, they are preserving the area they depend on to attract repeat customers. This business lives and breathes sustainability. He made it known that this was not just some marketing buzzword they like to slap on their website. And their staff is really excited to tell you about it.

It is really nice to step outside the classroom, and see people in our backyard so committed to the changes we are championing.

Hope everyone’s summer is going well!

– Zach

Never Leaving

Well, it’s been a week after I left Kauai and I’m already planning my next trip back.  All together, I would say the experience was more of a personal challenge then an academic one, however, I feel like the few people I interacted with made a lasting impact.  Native Hawaiians, and those who call the island home, are very proud and skeptical of outsiders.  I found my work extremely challenging, with many unanswered calls, ignored emails and awkward encounters, but hopefully I will be able to provide our community partner with some good insight to further their mission.

The last week was spent hiking and swimming.  I can’t say enough for the feeling of freedom and independence.  It will be a while until I’m able to experience that type of lifestyle again and I truly miss Kauai.

Hiking on the back of Sleeping Giant

Casa de Zafra y Comares Palace


This is my last week for my internship in Granada and it’s a bittersweet moment. My research in Granada is based upon two case studies. The Casa de Zafra and the Comares Palace. Casa de Zafra is an amazing example of the 14th Century architecture in Granada, Spain. It resembles the Comares but on a smaller scale. This home is considered a Nazari noble home located in the outskirts of the Alhambra, in an area called the Albaicin. There are many 14th Century architecture and designs that has allowed this home to adapt to the surrounding environment in order to have a desirable indoor temperature, without the use of electricity. These characteristics include: Long axis runs east to west, light colors, wide porches, and water cooling.


Pictures of Casa de Zafra:



The Comares is a beautiful palace that was used as the official residence for the King. Commonly known as the Patio de Comares or Comares Palace, it’s located within the Alhambra and over looks the views of the Albaicin, which is where Casa de Zafra is located. This palace has many similar characteristics to the Casa de Zafra such as having the palace’s long axis running east to west, utilizing light colors, wide porches, and using water to cool the space. However, the Comares does use additional features such as passive ventilation and vegetation. Though Casa de Zafra has some ventilation in place to air out the home, Comares has more of a predominate presence of passive ventilation.


Pictures of the Comares Palace:


The characteristics from both of these building will be used in my research to see if it’s possible to take these features and use them in modern homes in order to conserve energy. Thus far I have found that it is quite possible to adopt most of these features to modern homes. However, using a pool of fresh water for cooling causes some concern because of the sustainability aspect. With a water crisis already upon us, it isn’t wise to use a finite resource to regulate temperature.

Click it! Graph it!

For all of the surveys, I used Qualtrics – a digital surveying program that has the huge advantage of saving me the time of typing hundreds of responses into the computer or sorting the data by hand. I’m sure many of you are thinking, “Who in their right mind would sort through 400 surveys by hand?”

I wanted to make a note, for those of you thinking something along those lines, that dozens of people who I surveyed reminded me of their pre-twenty-first century hardships when doing their own graduate research. I even had one professor say, in jest, “I kind of want to smash this tablet on the ground just so you have to do the pen and paper analysis”. So I thought I would include this as a friendly reminder that we live in an age of convenience, and the cross tabulations that literally take me seconds to do digitally used to take hours. Hours of sorting through a stack of paper data. Hours of math. Hours.

Now that we have all taken a moment to appreciate the convenience of our lives, here are my preliminary findings:

50% of respondents answered that their “primary form of transportation while visiting Key West” was – WALKING!

Aside from creating incentives and disincentives to driving, a good part of this research is aimed at how to market “car-free” to tourists. Knowing that half of people primarily walk around the island may be useful in marketing to tourists. “Car-free is carefree” or “walk in the park” sort of marketing angles may prove useful. Related to this is the finding that:

32% of visitors used a car zero times throughout their visit

Regardless of the number of days they visited, nearly a third of visitors never used a car. Can you remember the last time you went 1, or 5, or 8 days without using a car? Perhaps it was during your last visit to the Keys??

Finally, the most exciting findings of my early analysis: Going into this, the sustainability director for Key West, and one of my advisors for this research, had anecdotal evidence to suggest that first time visitors were more likely to arrive with a vehicle than repeat visitors.

Going into this, the sustainability director for Key West, and one of my advisors for this research had anecdotal evidence to suggest that first time visitors were more likely to arrive with a vehicle than repeat visitors.

  Rented a car for their visit Drove Personal Vehicle
First time visitors 42% 31%
Second time visitors 21% 16%
Visited 3-5 times 18% 28%
Visited 5 or more times 9% 25%

As you can see, her anecdotal evidence was confirmed by my research! For both rental and personal vehicle cases, around half as many second time visitors arrived with cars when compared to first time visitors. This jumps back to the question from my first post – How can we convey the knowledge of repeat visitors to first-time visitors?

Also from the graph you can see that while renters continue to drop over the number of visits, personal vehicle drivers, well, don’t. But the good news is, as I continue with my analysis, I should be able to dig deeper into these numbers. Perhaps personal vehicle drivers are mainly from Florida? So driving may actually be cheaper and easier than other options? We’ll see.

Beep. Bop. Boop.

Until next time….


Beginning to Embracing Granada

I arrived to Granada, Spain on June 5th with an open mind and with an attitude ready to explore such a historic city. To my pleasure, the city has been everything that I imagined and more. It’s a beautiful historic district with live music, great people, and many quaint restaurants. Below are photos of Granada:

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As many internships, the research topic and materials were slightly changed when arriving here. Though this way a huge hiccup, I took this opportunity to learn a huge life lesson which is: Many times things aren’t what you expect them to be, but finding the best out of any situation is what will move you forward and surprisingly may lead you to a better path. Fortunately, my research was changed to a topic that sparks even more interest and excitement than my original plan. My new topic will be looking at how 14th Century architecture provides energy efficiency and ways that these behaviors can be adopted to modern buildings. For instance, the positioning of a home can provide more sunlight for the winter months and less sunlight during the summer months because of the way the home is positioned, which was a common characteristic for the 14th century buildings in Granada, Spain.

More specifically, I will be focusing on a building in the Alhambra and the Casa de Zafra, which is outside the Alhambra. The Alhambra was the arabic’s (Moorish) palace and fortress located in Granada. And the Casa de Zafra is one of the oldest buildings located in the outskirts of the Alhambra and was used for many purposes through the centuries, but was mainly a Nazari noble home. I will be studying the Casa de Zafra and the Alhambra’s building characteristcis that exemplify’s energy efficiency. My whole project plays on the notion that we can look to our past in order to find the answers we need in the future. Below are photo’s of the Casa de Zafra, the first photo shows the Alhambra in the background:

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I’m excited to see how my research develops throughout the course of the internship. I’m hoping to find significant information on how we can make buildings more energy efficient during the developmental stages. Thinking about the positioning of the home, the materials used, and how spaces are designed can significantly reduce the energy usage. And I hope to also tie in the concept of passive homes becoming a more common practice here in Spain, the United States, and potentially throughout the globe.

Perks of Interning…


SO…. I have to admit I was starting to get really down at the fact that I have been surrounded by animals and creating a program to feed them better and I had yet to really get any one on one time with any of them.  I mean let’s face it, a large part of me picked up this second internship because I am an avid animal lover.  I have been accused on many occasions of caring about animals more than humans… May or not be the case.

It was very hot out today and I sweat out about 5 gallons while I was working in the browse garden.  The campers are about to arrive tomorrow and I had about 50 things left on my list to complete.  I admit I may have threatened to go on strike yesterday if I didn’t get to see some animals.  It was made worse by the fact that the safari leaders were showing off pictures of the baby hyena and their visit with him.  This was more than I could take.  I mean come on… A BABY HYENA!! Who wouldn’t be jealous of that.  I have been angling for some behind the scenes time with the kangaroos for a while now because I have a slight obsession with them.  I am sure they fear I will attempt to take one home with me.

Well today was the day I finally won them over.  After all the hard work, I was finally able to go see an animal.  This is not just an ordinary animal.  This is a world famous animal ambassador who has met both Jay Leno and David Letterman ( for those of you born after 1995, they were the late night hosts back when comedy was funny).  I had the awesome pleasure of saying hi to him and spending some quality time feeding him and getting to know him.  I must say he is so gentle.  He is also very old for a sloth.  This means he is even slower than a normal sloth.  I call it Super Sloth speed.

So let me tell you a little bit about my new friend.  He enjoys hanging out (in his tree), sleeping, and eating healthy.  I fed him some papaya, carrots, mango, and some green beans.  He and I are alike in that we don’t really feel for green beans very often.  His hair is soft and at one point he held my hand.  He takes a while to eat because he has lost most of his teeth due to old age.  However, he is still awesome.  He likes to stare right into your eyes while you talk to him or feed him.  Pretty much the coolest thing I have done since getting there a month and a half ago.  I was assured when things with camp settle down that I can have some more encounters.  I am mostly done with setting up my program and hope the kids enjoy it.IMG_20160610_163334

City of Largo – Week 2

This week has been concerned primarily with gaining an understanding of the daily operations of the city’s streets and drainage division and the Envision rating system to see how the sustainable infrastructure principles outlined in the system might be able to fit into the city’s practices. I had a few Ideas to explore right off the bat. Green infrastructure features for stormwater management like bioswales and permeable pavements were a couple of the concrete ideas that I had. I wanted to look into the city’s current utilization of these kinds of features, determine how they could be used more widely, and determine their potential benefits. However, after gaining a better understanding of the public works department’s role in the development of the city’s infrastructure, I found that public works deals primarily with relatively small-scale preventative and reactive maintenance of existing infrastructure.  When any new infrastructure project is undertaken, the responsibility falls to the city’s engineering division, which contracts the project out. Envision is designed for analyzing the start to finish design, management, construction, and operation of major infrastructure projects. Consequently, I’ve found that the kind of operations that public works is concerned with are not conducive for analysis using such a comprehensive rating system as Envision. Of course, this does not mean that the city does not have the potential to use Envision to help with the development of sustainable infrastructure, just that public works may not be the best department to be at the forefront of those efforts. This highlights one of the most valuable aspects of this internship. It is extremely important as an aspiring sustainability professional to have an understanding of the inner workings and organizational structures of both governmental and non-governmental agencies and firms with respect to the ways by which they make decisions to implement concrete sustainability measures in the real world.

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After spending some time out in the field with each of the public works divisions, I was able to get settled here into my desk nook and get started on my projects.