EUROPE BY PEOPLE

 

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.

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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.”

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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. http://www.tomorrow-derfilm.de/

and check this out: https://www.demain-lefilm.com/en/film

Here is the Trailer

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

http://fab.city/

 

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)

Front Page News!

This week of my internship brought many new surprises. I spent the better part of each morning surveying tourists at the southernmost point of the US – a popular tourist destination on the island – marked by a large red and yellow buoy. During peak mid-day hours, the wait for the photo opportunity can reach over 20 minutes, which turns out to be a perfect opportunity for a time killing survey. Unlike other potential survey locations such as the airport or restaurants, those waiting in line at the southernmost point are guaranteed to be tourists.

There was a little problem solving needed early in the week. Since the surveys were created with an online program, the internet and internet capable devices are needed to conduct the surveys. Thankfully a few friends were willing to lend me a tablet and an iPad, and my lovely mother was willing to add a few gigs to her air card and let me borrow it. This provided for easy survey giving, right on the sidewalk, to tourists waiting in line.

In the middle of Tuesdays workday, I received a surprising message from a journalist at the local newspaper, The Key West Citizen. The journalist was sending a photographer over from the paper for the following day’s story on my research! Shortly thereafter I was posing for a photo op with a very nice survey participant. Here is the link: http://keysnews.com/node/75601 The photo above is the print version of the newspaper.

In conjunction with the in-person surveys (given out the in the sweltering heat and humidity of Key West), online surveys were also distributed this week. The good new is, after only a week, over half of the 400 surveys needed are complete! With any luck, the second week of surveying will round out the rest of what is needed and I will be able to begin my analysis of the results.

If you are reading this, have visited Key West before, and still haven’t taken the survey, please consider taking it here: https://usf.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_e4zA5HTJax1axOR

Of course in my free-time I did not forget to enjoy what Key West has to offer. The photo below is from the sunset celebration down on Mallory Square. This escape artist broke free from a straight jacket and chains while riding a unicycle. Quite a show! Check it out: http://www.godanoshow.com

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Successful Camp

The first group completed my camp today.  The good news is it went pretty darn good.  The two campers gave me very positive feedback.  I hope this video works as well because I am not too sure how to add a video.

So this post is going to be very heavy on the visual because it has to do with KANGAROOS!!!! So those of you who know me know that I love KANGAROOS!!!!  So let’s begin at…well…the beginning…I think that should work best.  So today we finally got to try out my entire program.  We had two very brave campers who agreed to be the very first in what will hopefully be a great and long running program.

So the campers came out and planted two plants in the experimental browse garden.  We used Florida native soil that we went ahead and dug two deep holes.  We then lined the wholes with our great animal created compost.  We then filled in the wholes and raked the soil around the two plants.  They came out looking great.

We then moved over to the browse garden that is fully developed.  We trimmed from two trees.  The biggest being the willow tree.  We trimmed 17 branches from one and 15 from the other.  We made sure to trim only the bottom branches to assist with growth.  We then counted the amount of branches on the trees so we could calculate the biomass.  Unfortunately a few of our measuring devices had not arrived yet so we could not do more.

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Since we had extra time, we dropped off some of the browse at the sloth and bunny area.  They were unfortunately leaving for another area so we could not feed the sloths.  Instead we went down to the kangaroo section to drop off the rest.  We were lucky because we were able to go behind the scenes and feed the kangaroos the browse.  They were not a fan of having to do the work, so I found that stripping the leaves and hand feeding was their favorite.  We got to spend about 30 minutes with them and found out they love to have their belly scratched.  After we left, I was able to get feedback from the two campers and they spoke very highly of the program I created and said they would love to be a part of it again.

 

Be the change.

The last few days have included many firsts: first ride on the Key West Express, first bike commute to work, first meeting, first time caught in a rainstorm on my bike ride home, first community forum, first survey participants, and now, first blog.

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I thought it only appropriate, with an internship focused on discouraging personal vehicle arrivals to the island, that I arrive car-free. But let’s take a step back.

Key West has a transportation problem. Or more accurately perhaps, Key West has several transportation problems. The focus of my research is to identify the barriers and benefits to a car-free arrival.

There are two important things to consider about this research. The first is that 45% of Key West tourist arrivals are those who have flown into the Miami airport and rented a car (TDC, 2013). This is our target group. We hope to promote or create alternatives to car rental that will still suit their needs. The second thing to consider is that anecdotal research indicates that repeat visitors are significantly less likely than first-time visitors to arrive with a personal vehicle. If my survey research confirms this, then we will discuss how to successfully market “car-free” arrival to FIRST TIME visitors. It seems that repeat visitors realize that once they arrive, they do not need a car, so they look into other routes for arrival and during their stay that do not involve cars. The question is, What would it take to persuade first-time visitors to have the understanding of repeat visitors? Is there any amount of marketing or article writing that would persuade those accustomed to the autonomy of car travel to consider other options?

Back to what I was saying. I thought it would be hypocritical for me to bring my car down while trying to figure out how to discourage others from bringing theirs. So here I am looking goofy on my bike ride home after my 3.5 hour ferry ride on The Key West Express from Ft. Meyers, Florida.

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My home base is right in the heart of the island, due east from the heart of town. And my place of work is just a 5-minute bicycle ride up Flagler Ave. Not too far if you ask me. But during my initial one-on-one interviews, I heard conflicting reports on the size of the island.

When inquiring with Key West airport departures about why visitors did or did not rent cars during their visit, one middle aged guy insisted “Why would you need a car? Everything is so close. It would be a total waste of money.” Meanwhile, the guy at the table next to him claimed, “People think the island is small, but it’s really not. You need a car to get around.” He further indicated that there was nothing – no discounts, convenient or fun transportation options, parking fees – NOTHING that would discourage him from renting a car during his next visit. And so it begins!

 

 

 

Welcome to the laboratory!

At the beginning of April 2016 I began my internship with the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County (EPC) in their water chemistry laboratory. The staff there is extremely welcoming and down to earth. As any newbie enters into any lab, the paperwork must be accomplished before anything else. I was given a tour of the facility and all of the departments that make up the EPC. Due to my previous laboratory experience (2+ years) in water quality, they informed me that I was the most experienced and qualified intern they’ve seen in years. Also, this meant that I was able to operate laboratory procedure portions on my own, such as, creating standards, filtering samples, and preparing reagents.

The program also supports interns visiting and shadowing other departments to see how the entire operation unfolds. Part of my internship project focuses on nutrient runoff and loading into the Tampa Bay, so I will go into the field, at least once to observe how samples are collected and how they assess on-site issues. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and EPC were already collaborating on nutrient management and runoff prevention, though now I believe the U.S.E.P.A. is now involved which makes my interaction (as an intern) more of a sensitive matter.

However, in the laboratory, I am learning new things every day and loving every moment! The lab already sets up my nutrient filtration station for me to go ahead and begin on my own. I filter the samples and then place parafilm over the tops of the samples that are ready to be analyzed by the machine, but stored in the fridge until needed.

 

I am learning how to operate the Lachat Machine which analyzes Total Phosphorous (TP), Ortho-phosphates, and Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen (TKN) as seen in the image above. I have digested samples, blanks, and standards in the hood (at 365 degrees Celcius), and each digested sample (20mL) goes into another tube to have at least 2mL pass through analysis. I prepared the reagents and standards for the method and all have passed. In order to have a passing analysis, there must be 50% passing on the matrix spikes and relative duplicates.

This laboratory is one of the best environments, I’ve ever had the pleasure & opportunity to participate and experience. I look forward to acquiring more knowledge about the lab and about the Tampa Bay, a place I moved to when I was little, my home, and a place I cherish.

 

Ireland Weeks 8 & 9

Although I have been back from Ireland for a few weeks now I still wanted to finish blogging about my experiences, I just had to write the final paper first.

Weeks 8 & 9 were lots of fun for me. My duties with Coastwatch came to an end so I had a bit of time to do things that I wanted to do. Here are a few of the highlights from my final weeks in Ireland.

Ramsar Meeting

I had the pleasure of traveling south of Dublin to Wexford for a Ramsar meeting where I learned about issues affecting wetlands in Ireland. The name “Ramsar” comes from a city in Iran where the first International convention on wetlands took place in 1971 . Ramsar sites are specially designated wetlands that are critical habitats for waterfowl.

While at the meeting we saw a presentation about Tacumshin Lake where a variety of impacts are affecting the sustainability of the wetlands and habitats of the area. The condensed version goes like this, human impacts are causing the lake to dry up which is destroying the wetlands and reducing habitat space for waterfowl. Other human impacts such as twitchers (extreme birders) and people driving vehicles in the dried up lake are causing further damage.

Botanic Gardens

Over the weekend I visited the Dublin Botanic Gardens with my housemate Emma from France. We saw lots of amazing flowers. My favorites were the orchids and the carnivorous plants.

Dublin Falconry

I had the chance to see a falconry show at Trinity College, thanks to the Zoology club, and it was fantastic! The falconer brought a buzzard, two Harris Hawks, a Barn Owl, an Eagle Owl, a Long-Eared Owl, and two Peregrine Falcons (my favorite birds). It was so amazing to see the bond that he had created with the birds. While he was there we got to pet an owl, and he also flew the harris hawks and barn owl.

Donabate, County Fingal

I also traveled north of Dublin to an area named Donabate. This beach was by far the cleanest beach that I saw during my internship. I found just a few pieces of rubbish while surveying and there was lots of biodiversity. While Surveying I saw Lug worms and Sand masons, Dog Whelks, Sea Anemone, a few different species of birds, and amazing views.

A Green Roof on top of the Global Water Center

Ms. Elizabeth Thelen, Director of Entrepreneurship & Talent,  the Water Council is Pointing to the University of Wisconsin School of Freshwater Sciences.

This was the beginning of an awesome tour of the “rooftop” of the Global Water Center a part of a major emphasis the city has in Milwaukee, a focus on WATER.  Studying at the University of South Florida Patel College of Global Sustainability for the past two years, I have been extremely interested in the topic of green roofs.  Walking through the hallways of the UW Engineering Water Research hallways provided inspiration and amazement at the projects currently being researched within the walls of the Water Center.  So much knowledge and so much expertise in the field of water!  I realize there are so many things I don’t know  and continued learning is so important to me!  We walked up the steps to the rooftop and it was so amazing.  I could see the plants immediately on the rooftop and was drawn immediately to them!

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The view of the rooftop – green roof that is at the Global Water Center in Milwaukee.

Leaving my tour guide and my colleague Mary Jane Sanchez, behind, I quickly walked over to see the rooftop garden I had glimpsed from afar.

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The beginning of spring colors on the Rooftop of the Water Council offices in Milwaukee Wisconsin

During one of the Water Council Meetings, I had met leaders of Hanging Gardens, one of the resident businesses in the building and heard about the green roof on the top of the Global Water Center. However snow, and bad weather had prohibited me from going to the “Top” during those visits!!  Although, a sort of rainy, icky day from my standpoint, it was bright and beautiful on the rooftop.   Although heavy clouds hovered in the sky, the view of the city was beautiful.  Summer is just beginning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and so is the beginning of growth in this garden.

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Always Gracious, Tour Guide Ms. Elizabeth Thelen , Director of Entrepreneurship & Talent, showed me the Green Roof at the Global Water Center!
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Another View of the City and those heavy clouds

Switzerland – Weeks 6 & 7

Hard Works Deserves a Break… and Long Hours in the Office

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Big Ben & Parliament

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Abbey Road Studios
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Big Ben

Bonjour!

The last two weeks were a fairly mixed bag of events. From burying myself in writing and research at the UN from 9am-8pm, to skipping across the English Channel to visit London. I know the last few entries may have eluded to my time here in Switzerland as a vacation, and in many ways it has been, but the work I am doing has been tough. It is hard to put into words on this blog of the work I am doing…. It’s a desk job and usually staring at excel spreadsheets or reading the latest reports on new policies. But more importantly, I am learning a lot. The experience I am gaining and confidence that I am developing is coming onto me quickly. It is moments like when I am sitting in a bar and having an educated discussion with other interns do I appreciate what I am learned; bear in mind I am discussing this with kids who either studied or are currently studying at schools like Yale, Stanford, Columbia, etc. That is a pretty great feeling. Although I love all of this, I really needed a break. AndIMG_2729 what better than to visit a country where English isn’t just common, but where it’s the official language.. England!

When an opportunity to visit London came, I took it. Besides the obvious historical site seeing and fun pub endeavors, I did do some minor ‘research’, if you will, be accident. The hostel I stayed at in London was situated attached to/on top of a local pub. Not bad, right? After doing the typical site seeing, I got to end my day with a pint or two (or three) and listen into the local affairs in assorted accidents that we only hear on BBC. One night I was having a pint and a like aged German couple, also on ‘holiday’, struck up a conversation with me. We were all in college, foreigners, with many curiosities to explore. They fielded me the typical American stereotype questions: “Is it true that you put cheese on everything, “yeah, why limit life?”, Are American food portions really as big as people say? “What can I say, we like a good value”,…are you catching my drift? We are fat, America, everyone is aware about it, and maybe a little concerned. Seriously, nearly 90% of the questions I receive from others is related to our food habits… *sigh*.

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Bike Sharing Station – These were all throughout London

However, when it came time for me to ask questions, I only had one thing on my mind: Energiewende. Well, two if I’m honest… I wanted to talk to them about Oktoberfest..

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Westminster Abbey

Anyhow, when I began researching my potential research topics, the German Energiewende or “energy transition” constantly came up during my searches. The Energiewende is a suite of German policies with the intent to transition away from fossil fuels and nuclear sources and towards renewable energy.

This has resulted into rapid deployment of technologies like solar PV and wind power in both large and small scale. The German model is widely considered the poster child for renewable energy policy. So, since the international community loved the idea, I wanted to know what Germans, and more importantly, Germans of my generations thought of the policy. Their response? They both said, simultaneously, that the transition wasn’t happening fast enough. Incredible. The imperative to invest in cleaner energy sources is instilled in them, and neither of them studied in field where climate change would be on any syllabus. It was so enlightening to hear how the youth in Germany really take clean energy seriously and not just as some sort of packaged “eco-fad” that, frankly, exists in America. It was refreshing.

After the glorious time in London, I had to come back to one hell of week. My supervisor was out of town all week on various missions and left me to review a report that we had been working on since day 1. To cut to the chase, this was the “menu of policy and technology options” report that we were able to finish a draft last week. We submitted to my supervisor’s boss, and received the comments on Monday morning. I am in the office to work on it, but my supervisor wasn’t, nor would he all week. Convenient. Nonetheless, I agreed with most of the comments and understood the direction in which she wanted the facts and information to be presented. I ended up sitting down with her to try and fully understand where she saw this going… basically, we were going to have to re-write or re-phrase most of the paper. Oh, joy. The week was spent entirely on this paper, and this coming week will be as well. Hopefully now that my supervisor will be back, we can make some serious strides.

That’s it for now, sorry for the lack of substance, but the policy work is very monotonous, important, but very boring.

Au revoir!