Categories
design transport urban

Redesigning cities for people

Skye Duncan is an urban designer who is the Director of the Global Designing Cities Initiative at the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) where she has been leading a multi-year program funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies to develop the new Global Street Design Guide.  We talk about changing the narrative to a people centred urban design.

Talking points

I realised a passion for urban scale – designing cities

Urban design is really thinking about cities.  Taking bits of  the languages of architecture, planning, landscape architecture, policy… and pulling all these aspects together and understanding as a designer, how can you try and have a positive impact  – whether it’s environmentally, economically, socially, overall livability.

The design decisions we make from the angle of a park bench…to entire neighbourhood to city-wide policy around public health and environment – you learn to speak a bit of each of the languages.   You need to know a little bit, and when to pull the right person in around the table to make responsible decisions about the future environments that we’re all living in and what we leave for our next generations. .

Looking at how the people use a space tells you 90% of what you need to know….desire lines, goat trails.  Signals in the built environment – signals for how people want to use a space.

It is important that we listen to local expertise.  We can come in with professional expertise, this is what we know is best practice, this is what is done around the world.  But we don’t live on that street, or send our kids to that school.  So understanding what the needs are from that community.

Our streets are our largest public continuous public spaces, but we have applied highway codes  – moving cars as quickly as possible – to communities.  We want our cities and urban spaces to be about people, not about cars.

Guidelines created for cities by cities.

The streets are a contested space but we’ve had the car at the heart of policy decisions.    Now we have a people priority approach.

An inverted hierarchical pyramid.   The car has been king, now the pedestrian is the queen or king of the public space.  Then to prioritise sustainable mobility choices- cycling and transit.  Then making sure we can deliver goods.  And then, when we have space, we give that space to the private car.   This is, of course, highly controversial.

(how do you overcome might is right, speed is right?) Pretty basic: talk about numbers…people die from the speed of our streets. We have the power to avoid that, it’s totally preventable.   Then the environmental side of it.   Physical activity.

One of the most powerful numbers is to talk about the efficiency of space.  Private cars is the least efficient way that we can move people.

We’re all tax payers, but it’s only serving one user – the person in the car.

New canvas for urban life.

Empowering communities to know what to ask for.

We have to give people an alternative. Tipping point of utility.

The bulk of our built environments are already there. So if we don’t go back and ask how are we going to transform those things, we’re going to be in serious trouble.

We have to go back and rethink, redesign our current swathes of asphalt.

Ask what’s possible, and if you have the power to change it, do it.   If you can demand or advocate for something more from your street then do it.

Lowering stress about change.

We have to give people an alternative, if we want  to say people should leave their car at home, we have to make sure they have access to things like car share, bike share, e-bike share.  It’s not about not using cars, just not for every trip.  If we can make it safe to walk to school or the supermarket or visit friends, then we can think about the streets in a different way.

It’s not a matter of if anymore, it’s a matter of when.

Dunedin should be going out and showing how it is done.   This is how we can transform great little cities.

Be proactive, what do we want to become…then design systems to support that.

As communities we have to be proactive and say what do we want to become, how do we protect and enhance what we love and what’s great, and how do we improve what’s not so great.  And then where are the impediments that are stopping us getting there.  Some of them are political, some are detailed policies, some are in changing mindsets – its all of those, and then we can identify how we’re going to get there.

Speak out about it.  Write a letter, speak to politicians – tell them this is the sort of stuff we would love to see in our community.

Sustainable:  A holistic (Brundtland), not the greenwashing version.

Success:  The Global Street Design Guide.  An incredible feeling.

Superpower:   Empowering other people to see what is possible.  Magic glasses.

Activist: Kind of, not in traditional sense, but it’s important to keep challenging the status quo.

Motivation: A better world.  Seeing and feeling change quite immediately.

Challenges: A book supplement  – streets for kids.  And meeting demand since the book was released.

Miracle: Go back to the magic glasses, see the potential.  Every mayor, councillor, city manager…see the potential and understand what they could do to change that so that they feel empowered how to make a difference.

Advice: Open your eyes, be open to change.  Then try and find a way to make your voice heard.  We don’t hear enough positive voices. Take five minutes to think of one thing that you could do in your daily action – professional or not – that would make a difference.  Maybe a phone call or a request, or if you’re a designer, drawing something slightly differently.    Remind ourselves – it seems so basic – our cities are for people.

Categories
art communication community occupational therapy urban

Creating opportunities for resourcefulness

I think if we were living resourcefully, we would make the most of what we had around us, in a way that meant that we came together as communities, to share resources, and that we took responsibility for what happens within the life of the resources that we use, as individuals, and as families and communities.

Recycling, reusing, reducing, remodeling, and reselling! Juliet Arnott’s social enterprise ‘Rekindle’ is all about diverting reusable resources from waste via creativity and craftsmanship.  Juliet Arnott studied at Otago Polytechnic’s School of Occupational Therapy and went on to use her creativity and craftsmanship with community groups, schools, health groups, artists and designers. Rekindle originally focused on diverting timber from waste within residential demolition in Christchurch, turning it into furniture, interiors, sculpture and jewellery. One of Juliet’s more famous projects was Whole House Reuse, where her team deconstructed and transformed an entire earthquake damaged house into beautiful and purposeful artefacts. More than 250 people from around New Zealand and the world were involved, creating everything from a delicately carved taonga puoro to a finely crafted backyard studio.

Juliet will be honoured in May as one of Otago Polytechnic’s distinguished alumni.

 

 

Samuel Mann: Welcome to Sustainable Lens Resilience: On Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. Each week, we talk with someone making a positive difference and applying their skills to a sustainable future. In our conversations, we try to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens is that of Juliet Arnott, the artist, a founder of Rekindle, and an occupational therapist.  You trained at Otago Polytech.

 

Juliet Arnott: That’s right. Yeah.

 

Samuel Mann: Thank you very much for joining me.

 

Juliet Arnott: Pleasure. It’s lovely to be here.

 

Samuel Mann: Let’s start with questions about you. Where did you grow up?

 

Juliet Arnott: I grew up in a little place called Canvastown, in Marlborough. It’s between Nelson and Blenheim, near Havelock. We were farming and pretty self sufficient, really, back then in the 70’s. Yeah, that was pretty …

 

Samuel Mann: Did you say Canvastown?

 

Juliet Arnott: Canvastown.

 

Samuel Mann: Like tents?

 

Juliet Arnott: Which was a gold rush. Yes. It had this wonderful history. In fact, we spent a fair bit of time in our childhood with our gold pans in the river, ever hopeful. It was a pretty lovely existence, living off the land and living pretty closely with the resources around us, I suppose.

 

Samuel Mann: What did you want to be when you grew up?

 

Juliet Arnott: That’s a good question. I don’t know that I really had a clear sense of that. I just remember being encouraged by mum, particularly, towards being creative. But no, generally I don’t recall what I was particularly aiming at.

 

Samuel Mann: What did you get involved in?

 

Juliet Arnott: It was a pretty rural community, so it was barefoot running around. I just remember being outside, I remember being on the farm, involved in all the usual farming activities, and really enjoying that. I do have this story that I recall, which relates to how things did develop in my life, which was Mum and Dad had this beautiful rush basket, that acted as our bread basket. I remember quite clearly, this experience. I must have been really quite young, maybe five or six, going out down to the paddock below the house, which was full of rushes, a different kind of rush, and attempting to weave a basket, but I was completely inept. I absolutely didn’t have the understanding of how to do it, but I remember the magic of that basket as an object, and that’s kind of lingered with me, I think. It’s definitely part of what has since rolled out in my life, I suppose, as that journey towards understanding how those simple resources can be harnessed and valued.

 

Samuel Mann: I won’t make the obvious connection between baskets and occupational therapy, but is that what got you into occupational therapy?

 

Juliet Arnott: It was!  My mother was a nurse, and I think in my teenage years, when I was starting to think about what I wanted to be, she did encourage me, or my parents encouraged me towards a health profession. I remember one day, bizarrely, we were taken on a tour of the local … In Nelson, where I was at school, taken on a tour of the local … What was then a psychiatric institution, called Ngawhatu. It was really the old fashioned style of institution, and we were walked through it, which I look back and think how bizarre that really was for school students. I saw this woman working in the industrial woodwork shop, and I saw her role and thought what an incredible role to have, to be able to work creatively with people, to work practically in that way, I suppose. That was all I really knew of occupational therapy, in some regards. It was only when I showed up at Otago Polytech and got onto the course in 1993, that I realised that actually, I had hit the jackpot and I actually had found something that was really aligned with what I valued and was really intrigued by, I think, by its diversity and the fact that it connects with what we do every day.

 

Samuel Mann: Did it deliver what you were hoping?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yes it did, and it didn’t. It did in the sense that I learnt a lot. I learnt a huge amount through my training, and through the first probably, fifteen years of my practise, where I was attempting to … Where I was learning about the health system and how it functions, and then attempting to find my place within it. In terms of being able to work well, and truly therapeutically within that system. I think I continuously hit up against the struggles of that system, and whether it was the lack of funding around the time that I could spend with people, or the way that services were limited in the way that they could genuinely support people through big change and challenge in their life. It was helpful in learning some realities, but it’s also been frustrating, I suppose, to be exposed to some of the current systemic challenges. But then, it’s pushed me on to look at something beyond that more conventional occupational therapy role.

 

Samuel Mann: Because you wanted to do more than was in those bounds, or …?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yeah. One of the common struggles for me, and I think definitely for other occupational therapists, is that you end up working within the health system, and you work with the people who have needed your support for the time that the service allows them to be a part of that service, but then you have to support that person back into their home, or back into their daily existence outside of the service. And often, there’s not enough there. I’m particularly thinking in terms of mental health services. There’s simply not enough there, to aid that person, to bridge that gap between being really quite unwell and being quite dependent on a service, through to living a really healthy, productive existence, engaged in community. That gap really was something that’s difficult to do anything about, from inside the service. I guess what has happened gradually over the last few years, has been that I have been attempting to create some of these opportunities that I would like for people going through those challenges to have the opportunity to experience. I guess part of the journey recently has been about trying to evolve, and what I was frustrated with the lack of in the past.

 

Samuel Mann: What was your first venture outside of the conventional bounds?

 

Juliet Arnott: In part, it was probably … For quite some years, I worked conventionally as an occupational therapist, but on the side I would continue my own creative practise, and the two co-existed. I would go to work and talk about doing my basket weaving, and my colleagues would laugh at me, and I would try and explain to them how important it actually was. I had these two very separate parts of my life, and the creative practise was very much, that was when I was living in the UK, and it was very much about my own personal connection with the environment that I was living in, but it was also about revealing the value of materials that were being wasted in the community around me. That became a bigger and bigger part of my life outside of occupational therapy, to the point where I was being commissioned to make work, sculpturally, with these waste materials, and would do that half the time, then in the winter when I wasn’t doing it, I would work as an occupational therapist.

 

It’s been a gradual journey to the point where returning to New Zealand, that’s when I started Rekindle and the two came together more indefinitely.

 

Samuel Mann: What prompted the interest in waste materials?

 

Juliet Arnott: I think the reality was, growing up in that fairly idyllic farming situation, you’re exposed to a fairly simple relationship to the resources around you and understanding where the natural limits lie, and how to live well with what you have around you. Then, I was quite struck, in a fairly naïve way, when I did move to the UK in my mid twenties, and even in rural England, was surprised that there was quite a strong culture of consumption and disposal. It was that really, that pushed me to really look around in my day to day existence, and to really want to make something of the material resources that I was seeing around me that were going to waste. That particularly started with things like the prunings from the hedge rose when they were trimmed. Corpus material that was cut from Willow or Hazel trees. Then, that moved on through and to … As I learnt crafts to use those materials, then through to use of a lot of the waste that washes up on the beaches in the UK, a lot of rope and plastics. It evolved as my wanting, needing, to make sense really, of what I was seeing around me, in some sort of vain attempt I suppose, to show the value of what that stuff was, because mostly, it was being ignored.

 

Samuel Mann: And you came back here?

 

Juliet Arnott: I came back in 2009, after 9 years away, and was feeling relatively displaced, and didn’t really have a grand plan for my return home, and found myself in Auckland for the first time, which I enjoyed. But again, I realise now I was quite naively struck by the waste that I found there. I think that I had imagined that in New Zealand we were well beyond things like landfills, but I obviously found we weren’t, and was just surprised at the dependence on the land fill mechanism and at that time. A lot has changed since, but at that time was surprised to find a big pile of wood out at one of the transfer stations in Auckland, and that is what I responded to with the initial furniture designs that I came up with for Rekindle.

 

Samuel Mann: You established Rekindle…so Rekindle 101…?

 

Juliet Arnott: Rekindle 101, yes, it’s definitely been a big journey since then. Rekindle 101, in a sense … I was living in Grey Lynn in Auckland at the time and I was appreciating all the beautiful old villas around in that area, and other suburbs of Auckland, and realising that there was a fairly common sight to see skips with a fair amount of timbers in them, whether renovations were happening, or to see demolitions underway, and I guess that combined with the wood pile I had seen in the transfer station, I was very intrigued to understand what this was all about, and then to learn that of course, demolition and construction waste are such big contributors to our land filling here. I decided to try and come up with a furniture design that would just reveal some of the structural integrity of that material, some of its beautiful aesthetic value and obviously its cultural value, in terms of it being ancient indigenous timber. I did that with the help of a couple of furniture makers in Auckland, we worked together to prototype the first chair, and then tables, stools and the like.

 

I had just started putting those out into the world, and made a first couple of sales up in Auckland, and then started … I guess being aware through my previous relationship with Christchurch, that my old home that I had lived in in my early twenties was now facing of course, this mess of challenge with regards to demolition waste and the dis empowerment that was occurring as part of that hasty process. That was when I started to think about coming back here, and what role I could play really, in that period of demolition.

 

Samuel Mann: Your website makes the connection between not just the waste, but the community?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yeah.

 

Samuel Mann: And you just talked about that sort of, in the dis empowerment and the waste. Tell me how you’re bringing those two things together.

 

Juliet Arnott: I suppose I find it hard to look at waste without wondering how making waste affects us as humans. I think it’s something that we take for granted that we do, which of course, naturally, many of the inhabitants of this earth make waste. I don’t think we think enough about the impact of that. I think when your ability to hold on to something that you value, is taken away from you, and when the resources that you have owned are taken away from you, and their disposal is managed by someone else, that … In terms of how the demolition played out here, was very difficult for a lot of people. When people are choosing to dispose of their own resources, that’s a whole other story, but I think for people to have that choice taken away from them, was very difficult. Both taken away by the earthquakes themselves and by the damage that occurred, and of course, by the bureaucratic processes that would naturally unfold afterwards.

 

I think for me, as an occupational therapist, I see both naturally the environmental concern about the waste, but for me it’s much more than that, it’s the human experience of disposing of materials that we still see as having value. There’s something futile about that, there’s something even a little hopeless about not being able to take the time to value the things that we would perhaps even feel a bit guilty about throwing out ourselves, if we had done it ourselves. It relates to our need to demonstrate value, when that exists. I think if we’re not experiencing that, if we’re not given the opportunity to experience that, that becomes quite problematic.

 

Samuel Mann: Are we not quite happy having somebody take it away?

 

Juliet Arnott: I just think we definitely are –

 

Samuel Mann: We put the bin out at the curb and it disappears.

 

Juliet Arnott: Absolutely. We would say that we probably would, in most cases, not value the material that we’re putting in those bins, versus say the residential demolition. Different thing. I think … It’s such a complex thing, but you know there’s that thing about there’s hidden nature being useful at times, when we don’t have to face the land fill. If the land fill was just over there, and we saw the seagulls, we might feel slightly uncomfortable, versus what we were seeing with the residential process that was that obvious to us, it was in our faces and that was incredibly difficult to witness.

 

Samuel Mann: You arrived back in Christchurch, thousands of houses being knocked down.

 

Juliet Arnott: Yeah.

 

Samuel Mann: Where do you start?

 

Juliet Arnott: It was quite overwhelming. I didn’t really know what the solution was at that time. It was a very difficult bureaucratic process to even understand, let alone intercept. I spent probably a year speaking with demolition contractors, gaining their trust, getting them to understand that what I wanted to do wasn’t crazy, it wasn’t unsafe, that I wouldn’t slow them down. Initially, we did a lot of salvage just on sites where the diggers had been, and they’d just left a pile of crushed timbers and we would haul out what was still viable for furniture. But, over that first year, we worked out a way that worked, and with the contractors so that we would salvage before the diggers arrive. That’s how we got rolling really. It was only a symbolic thing in the sense that we were definitely not [occurring] … We were definitely not able to grow this capacity to salvage timber, to the degree that we could really address the whole problem, but I guess we just did our best within the constraints at play.

 

The second big response I had to the scale of it all, was the Whole House Reuse project, that very much acknowledged the fact that there were at least 9,000 homes in the red zone, and more, demolished beyond that. How on earth do you attempt to make a statement or celebrate the homes that were lost, or even define the value of a home. It was really hard to know how to even begin to think about these issues. I decided that perhaps if we just put all of our energies into this, to the ultimately resourceful response, to just one home, that we might see something from that that feels heartening for us, so that’s what we did. It didn’t happen for the first … We worked on it for years, but didn’t really get underway until Kate McIntyre came on board as the project manager and we managed to get a red zone home from a demolition contractor, and all of the funds raised to allow us to fully deconstruct that home. We then published a book with a catalogue with all the materials from the home. We used that book launch around the country to call for creatives to submit designs of the materials from that home.

 

That lead to those successful designs being then issued. The people that submitted those were then issued the materials. We sent the materials all around the country and across the world, in fact. And then, the successful objects were sent back. We’ve received around 400 objects made from the home that were later exhibited in Canterbury Museum in 2015.

 

Samuel Mann: So, nice and slowly…you took it apart?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yes.

 

Samuel Mann: Piece by piece?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yes.

 

Samuel Mann: Laid it all out somewhere?

 

Juliet Arnott: Literally, Kate and a team of volunteers put it on trailer loads and took it to the storage unit, categorised it, photographed it, measured it, and created this taxonomy of what we think is the first time in the world that a whole house has been classified in that way. We utilised that catalogue to call for designs, then we had designs submitted from all over New Zealand and some from overseas, from people, from professional designers and makers through to hobbyists and school children, and really fantastic craftspeople, legends of their time, like Brian Flintoff who is New Zealand’s, one of the most remarkable carvers of taonga puoro. With things like an amazing artist on the Isle of Tiree in Scotland, we sent her some broken window panes and she sent back some beautiful slumped glass vessels. Some really wonderful creative responses that valued the material.

 

Samuel Mann: Did people put in a bid, and say ‘I want two taps and a cupboard door’?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yes. They all had to kind of … They all had the same catalogue so it was quite a logistical process, making sure that different people didn’t want the same stuff and all of that, and getting it out to people and then getting the finished objects back. But, generally, Kate managed that process and generally it seemed to work quite well.

 

Samuel Mann: What was the most sought after bit?

 

Juliet Arnott: Do you know what, I don’t know. I think the timbers … The obvious things, like the beautiful rimu and things were pretty popular, but that actually worked out, that was actually quite well spread. That was kind of … We also did it in a couple of rounds, so it wasn’t all at once. We had the first wave of designs, then we had the second wave, it was helpful to co-ordinate it in that way. Yeah. Then, the variety of things that people made were just extraordinary.

 

Samuel Mann: What sort of things did you get back?

 

Juliet Arnott: I mentioned Brian’s taonga puoro, he made some beautiful floats and wind instruments, traditionally carved with [inaudible 00:21:30]. He carved these most beautiful boxes that were traditionally made to store the huia feathers, so they were just three really beautiful ornamentally carved, boxes. And we had Tim McGurk who made a whole lot of stuff with his partner Emma Burn. He made a double bass, which was called the Double Basin, which had a basin as the resonator for the instrument, and it was playable. We had David Trubridge make a magazine rack/coffee table. We had Nic Moon and Lynn Russell from Nelson make the largest object, which was this really beautiful studio building, and it was built in Nic’s  –Nic’s an artist in Nelson, it was built in Nic’s garden, built for deconstruction, so that it could be deconstructed to be brought down here to be reconstructed in the museum. That was pretty amazing, and very beautifully furnished. She worked on it very laboriously and the whole finish was very painstaking and beautiful. There are some beautiful images of it on the website, actually.

 

Through to, tiny little pieces of jewellery, beautiful jewellery made by people like Jeremy Leeming, and thinking of also the beautiful wooden type. We had some whole synopsis of type carved out of rimu framing, by a type fanatic, Russell Frost, in London. He’s a New Zealander but he was over there, he did that, and we’ve since been printing with that, so it’s quite beautiful to …

 

Samuel Mann: Did you attempt to value the …

 

Juliet Arnott: What, the outcome?

 

Samuel Mann: Yeah.

 

Juliet Arnott: We’re actually just in the middle of finalising an academic article on this, because we have. What happened at the end of the exhibition was that the makers could decide what happened to the objects. Half of them chose to put the objects forward into a charitable auction, so we literally have a monetary value associated with those objects, as to what they sold for. Some of the makers also chose to gift their objects to the home owners, which was really wonderful, then the rest … Most of the rest either they went back to the makers, because the makers weren’t paid anything, they did this out of their own goodwill, so they could take their objects back or they could gift them into the community, if they had a specific community purpose in Christchurch. We are doing sums around the value, the monetary value, we’re also doing some sums around essentially what was diverted and how much of an impact that would essentially have. That’s quite useful information to reflect on, the rest of what happened here in Christchurch.

 

Samuel Mann: Did you get stuck with anything at the end?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yeah. We really wanted to reuse the whole house. The shame of it all was, we actually ran out of time. We would’ve been able to. We could’ve kept pushing it, but actually we had to commit to the exhibition and we literally ran out of time, so we were left with a couple of toilet bowls. We still had some weird things like corrugated iron. Weird things like buckets of nails, because the other quite interesting thing was that, when the makers received the materials, their waste from their making processes, we asked them to send that back, so we actually received buckets of nails from the de-nailed timber. Things like that had a ready place on the scrap metal market, for example. If nothing else. In the end … I’m trying to think what was really hard to deal with. There were things like the boreded timber, for example. The idea with that was that … We weren’t allowed to go to the Canterbury Museum funnily enough, so that stayed in the paddock. Things like that can become wood chip, depending on it’s use.

 

We did really well. I can’t remember the number of items we had left, but there was a chunk, but not too many given the scale, I think.

 

Samuel Mann: Did the house have visible history? Layers of wallpaper, and things?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yeah, there was some cool things like that. There was things like … And actually, some of the photographs, before we deconstructed the home, we had an amazing photographer, Guy Frederick, come and document the home. There’s things like, there’s this beautiful cupboard in the laundry bathroom area, you opened the cupboard up and inside there was this bright orange patterned wallpaper from the 70’s. There’s definite areas in the home where you could see the patina of life in there. We spent time before we deconstructed it, with the family and we invited in some of the older families that had lived in the home before the current homeowners, so we really traced as much of that history as we could and documented that, and we showed that in the exhibition with photographs and the like.

 

We really wanted to celebrate the life that that home had held.

 

Samuel Mann: Is this story ongoing?

 

Juliet Arnott: Well, it’s paused at the moment. The next part we would really like to raise funds for, is to document where all of these objects have ended up and end in their current use. One of the key criteria that we had in the design brief is that the objects needed to have utility, so we would love to be able to follow the story of the objects and see the full life of the house and its new use. Otherwise, we have looked at, with enviro schools, at creating an educational resource from it also, so hopefully we’ll get to do that at some point. But, that’s probably acting otherwise, but its legacy in the sense that we learnt a lot in that is certainly spilling out into my work now in Kokoda, for example. It was certainly a journey. We were quite pleased to get to the end of the exhibition, just because it literally, physically, it was an enormous process to manage.

 

Samuel Mann: You worked with the museum to do the communication, the narrative around it?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yes, and to show the work there. There’s actually a lovely film online, on the Whole House Reuse website, that depicts the whole story and gives you some sense of what was seen the in museum.

 

Samuel Mann: Would you do it again?

 

Juliet Arnott: Well, it’s funny you ask that. I’ve been asked that several times, in some cases it was a genuine wish to do it again, and I don’t think I would. I think I would do parts of it again. I think there’s ways that it could be done to make it easier. I think there’s ways that it could be done to make it have greater impact, too. I think it’s a wonderful way for a community to come together around something that they’re feeling concerned about.

 

Samuel Mann: You talked about how building the community in terms of volunteers. Are enterprises springing up out of this sort of work?

 

Juliet Arnott: Yeah, I think to a degree. I think there’s various things that happened here, in Christchurch. We certainly saw a boom in the demolition industry and the salvage industry. I don’t know in terms of creative entrepreneurs. I wouldn’t say there’s been that much. My sense about that in Christchurch is that there’s been a lot of things that people have been dealing with. I think when you look at waste minimization across New Zealand though, we are seeing more and more of a thoughtful, creative response to waste, as a means of raising its value, so to divert it from land fill, and it’s really lovely to see that, I think. You know, certainly see that, and the work of the community recycling network across the country, and the awesome organisations like Extreme Zero Waste in Raglan, and Wanaka Wastebusters, and those organisations. They’ve been doing that for some time.

 

Samuel Mann: You talked before about a resourceful response. What’s your take on resourceful?

 

Juliet Arnott: That’s become a really big focus for me, I think. When I finished the Whole House Reuse project, when we packed that up and had taken a bit of a holiday, I realised that I didn’t have the energy left to keep working with the focus of wastefulness. It was too … The machine, the big waste making machine, whatever it might be, and whatever is contributing to that, is so vast and there’s so much of it, that for me intellectually, it was becoming a struggle to see how to keep working with that positively. I did a lot of thinking about what’s the other, what’s the antithesis of wastefulness, and really out of that thought came this notion of resourcefulness. That, if we were to look at our lives in that healthy state, and that opposite state to wastefulness, it would be a resourceful way of life. It would be a way of living that allows us to be very much in touch with the resources around us, with the natural limits of those resources. I think if we were living resourcefully, we would make the most of what we had around us, in a way that meant that we came together as communities, to share resources, and that we took responsibility for what happens within the life of the resources that we use, as individuals, and as families and communities.

 

I think, for me, more and more I’m focused in terms of developing that concept of resourcefulness, what it looks like, what are the realities of that, what do we do, how do we build that positive relationship with the material resources around us. I think you can’t help but reflect on that, by reflecting on your inner resources as well. You can’t just think about … You can’t separate out really, our relationship with what’s around us, without considering how that makes us feel. I can’t, anyway, I should say. Resourcefulness for me, reflects both that positive state, in terms of our [inaudible 00:32:46] and consideration of the earth and the resources that we utilise from it, but also how that impacts on us. If we act resourcefully and repair a piece of furniture, or an appliance that breaks, then that changes the way we feel. We feel it builds our sense of the resources we have to cope, to feel confident, we have what it takes to manage when we don’t have much money, but we have something break on us. It builds our confidence that we have hands that do the things that we need them to do, or that we know about materials, we know about wood, or textiles, you know. That intimacy between us as humans and the resources that we live around constantly, and interact with, is something that is so present that sometimes we don’t really … We almost don’t think about it.

 

Samuel Mann: Do you feel as though you are fighting a machine?

 

Juliet Arnott: I feel less like it now. The work that I’m doing currently with Rekindle, is very much focused on the resourcefulness, on depicting and bringing out experiences of that. Offering people opportunities, to feel resourceful, as well as still doing some work that is directly addressing wastefulness. It’s not that I’ve given up on that, it’s just that the two for me need to … I need to show them both, as parts of a continuum or spectrum, for me to feel that we’re really focusing on what’s positive and possible in all of this.

 

Samuel Mann: What does a resourceful world look like?

 

Juliet Arnott: I think it’s one where we are just fundamentally really aware of our relationship with what’s around us, so therefore we don’t discard of materials before they’ve had a full life. We also don’t chose to use materials that area harmful to their origin, or to the earth or to each other. There’s all of that knowledge about where things come from, where materials have come from, how we use them in relation to how that impacts the environment, and then also how we share those resources. Because, how we share those resources, how they flow within our communities, also relates to our access to resources, and in terms of poverty and the like, I think there’s a huge amount to be gained from living resourcefully in communities, in terms of improving our access to resources.

 

Samuel Mann: Have we lost the ability to do that, though?

 

Juliet Arnott: I think it’s definitely compromised, currently. I think our consumption and a lot of autonomy in our daily lives around … Not so much autonomy, but anonymity, I mean. Each household tends to do whatever they do, with waste. They’re not obviously accountable for anyone else, or anything. There’s not a lot of shared problem solving around that, there’s not a lot of shared responsibility around how we care for the resources that we have. I know for efficiencies sake, it’s good that we have great waste minimization organisations helping streamline that, but the bottom line is that it takes away our sense of need to deal with these things. In some ways, I think that’s problematic.

 

Samuel Mann: Do you have any idea how much of the, whether you want to see it as a positive or a negative, but, how much of our individual contribution to the waste we actually have control of? How much of it is upstream or downstream of us, and we don’t actually have much control over?

 

Juliet Arnott: I think we do. I think nowadays we have significant opportunities to control it. For example, the use of the second-hand market has been demonstrated to be a really considerable opportunity to divert material from land fill. I guess, effectively, simply that choice of buying new or buying second hand, that can really impact what ends up going to land fill. It’s not all about the designers or who’s creating what we find on the supermarket shelves. Yes, that certainly contributes to things, and packaging and all of that is problematic, but we absolutely have the choices. Many of the choices that we need around us, in terms of avoidance of packaging, and buying locally without packaging at all, and shopping second hand. That kind of thing.

 

Samuel Mann: One of the things that we like to talk about is how a sustainable future is a better future, not a lesser future. I think well framing that, in terms of this positive relationship. But, to what extent are you and I, and a disappointingly small band of others, kidding ourselves?

 

Juliet Arnott: The occupational therapist in me, looks at mental health statistics, for example. I can’t help but look at that and think, that is such a massive sign that we as a race are really, really struggling with our current way of doing things, and that our search for meaning if you like, in itself, is really challenged by the current way that we do life. I think things are becoming so dire, both in terms of our mental health, but also in terms of the economic struggles that we’re seeing around the world, struggles over natural resources and the like, that I can’t help but think that when things change, as things change, that there will be some improvements there, because it’s bringing us back to some of the fundamental realities, like the fact that we have limited resources. Therefore, we have to learn to care for what we do have around us. I guess, I’m so biased that I can’t see.

 

Samuel Mann: As a species, you’d like to think we’re not stupid. How come we’ve been distracted by this party going on?

 

Juliet Arnott: I just think it’s so convenient. There’s an allure of the sophistication of being able to purchase what you want, being able to have what you want, being able to wear what you want, when you want, eat whatever food you like, wherever in the world it’s come from, whenever you like, whatever season it is. All of that stuff. But, actually, we’ve splurged on that now. People know that they can … Not everyone of course, but people understand those realities now. The impact is such that it doesn’t really make a difference. It doesn’t really mean that we have everything we need, because in fact it’s distracted us probably from what we really need.

 

Samuel Mann: Okay, some questions to end with. I don’t think we’ve covered this one already, so let’s do it now. What’s your go-to definition of sustainability?

 

Juliet Arnott: You see, I stay well away from the word. Just simply because, I think it is a word that for me, has been overused in some regards. I find it easier to talK about some of the more specific concepts that make up a part of that, like resourcefulness.

 

Samuel Mann: Okay. What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Juliet Arnott: Success. That’s hard. I think probably the most meaningful thing that’s happened in terms of my work, was recently when supporting some of the planning that’s happening up in Kaikoura, post-quake. I was sitting in a room with a lot of others who had been heavily involved in the demolition process of the red zone, here in Christchurch, residential red zone, was to hear the will for change, so that community can be more involved in deconstruction outcomes, following these kinds of disasters. That for me, was incredibly heartening. It felt like a definite sense that we have learnt something from what happened here.

 

Samuel Mann: We’re writing a book of these interviews. We’re calling it ‘Tomorrow’s Heroes.’ Looking back at the people who are doing the work. How would you like to describe your superpower?

 

Juliet Arnott: My superpower. I think probably, it’s something to do with being … My superpower, that’s really …. Something to do with maybe being able to see the inherent value of material resources and being able to transform them.

 

Samuel Mann: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Juliet Arnott: I suppose I do nowadays. I suppose I do. Just in the sense that I can’t help but …

 

Samuel Mann: That sounds reluctant though. A reluctant action, or a reluctant label?

 

Juliet Arnott: A reluctant label. The action isn’t reluctant, it’s something I can’t help. I probably don’t call myself that, no.

 

Samuel Mann: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

 

Juliet Arnott: Just, what’s yet to be done. I guess the opportunities that are there, and the impact that I see that that could have for people who would benefit from, like myself, who would benefit from being creative with resources that are undervalued.

 

Samuel Mann: What are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?

 

Juliet Arnott: I’m looking forward to doing more green wood working. We’ve just got a project that’s being launched at the moment, that’s pushing green wood working into the centre of Christchurch, we’ve set up a workshop in the middle of the city, so I’m looking forward to doing more and more of that myself, working with some beautiful old timbers from within the city.

 

Samuel Mann: Two more. If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, tomorrow morning, what would you like?

 

Juliet Arnott: I would just love to see … I would love to have a huge craft workshop facilities, that had all of the wonderful tools, and everyone knew about them, and people were coming and sharing their skills and I didn’t have to make it happen.

 

Samuel Mann: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Juliet Arnott: Nothing that comes to mind.

 

Samuel Mann: If someone gave you a big billboard that you could write on by a motorway, what would you put on it?

 

Juliet Arnott: I guess I would say something like … I guess I would ask people to consider that wastefulness is kind of like … Them being wasteful, is in effect missed opportunities for resourcefulness, you know? If you think about where those opportunities for resourcefulness lie, and seek them out, that probably will assist your will to get out of bed in the morning.

 

Samuel Mann: Thank you very much. You’ve been listening to Sustainable Lens Resilience, on Radio. A weekly show on sustainability projects, brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. We broadcast on Otago access radio, oar.org.nz, and podcast on sustainablelens.org. On sustainablelens.org we are building up a searchable archive of conversations with people from many different fields, who are applying their skills to a sustainable future.

 

In our conversations we are trying to find out what motivates them, and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens, even if they don’t call it that. Tonight’s sustainable lens was that of Juliet Arnott, founder of Rekindle.

 

You can follow the links on sustainablelens.org to find us on Facebook, to keep in touch, and you can listen to Sustainable Lens via Itunes as well as all the other poddy sorts of places. That was Sustainable Lens, I’m Samuel Mann, I hope you enjoyed the show.

 

Sam’s pictures from the Whole House Reuse exhibition at Canterbury Museum.

Categories
art community urban

Artists shaping the future city

Frances Whitehead Image from http://www.makeartwithpurpose.net/projects.php?id=15&tp=4

Frances Whitehead is an artist working in the Chicago/Gary area of the great lakes basins of the USA. She is a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago andwas in Dunedin for the Art and Future symposium at Otago Polytechnic.   She brings the methods, mindsets, and strategies of contemporary art practice to the process of shaping the future city. Questions of sustainability, culture change, and participation thread through her work as she integrates art and sustainability at the scale of the city.

 

Sam: Welcome to Sustainable Lens: Resilience on Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. Shane is not here tonight, but I’m with Frances Whitehead who is an artist working in the Chicago/Gary area of the great lakes basins of the USA. She is a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and she’s here for a symposium at Otago Polytechnic. Thank you for joining me.

 

Frances: Glad to be here.

 

Sam: Let’s go right back. Where did you grow up?

 

Frances: I grew up in Richmond, Virginia on the East Coast, Middle Atlantic area of the US.

 

Sam: What was it like growing up there?

 

Frances: I wasn’t aware of it at the time but there are two things that have really stuck with me from growing up there. One is a preoccupation that the culture has with its own history and to the point where perhaps it’s almost ancestor worship. The other is that Virginia has four real seasons. I didn’t understand that every place is not. When I moved away, I discovered that every place doesn’t have seasons that look like what shows up in the calendar. That was maybe the beginning of me realising at that place which has become a big issue for me.

 

Sam: What did you want to be when you grew up?

 

Frances: I come from a family of artists. I always say art is the family business. Early on, I’ve always been interested in science and I’m quite good in higher mathematics. I’m a Sputnik Baby as they call it, meaning that when the space race from the Sputnik launch was started, they took a bunch of us and taught us what was called the new math. I’m a new math kid.

 

That interest in math and science coupled with my own family background in art, I think set me going where I am interested in both of those areas in the quals and the quants and I find no conflict between them and for me art is science and vice versa. It’s all inquiry. It’s all ways to understand the world. I think that got me going in a particular direction that has stayed with me.

 

Sam: What did you do about that when you left school?

 

Frances: I went to art school and I think that that was the undertow of my family heritage that in the end, I couldn’t do it any other way. It took me a long time to figure out how to bring my other interests back into the mix.

 

Sam: What sort of art did you do?

 

Frances: You mean as a young person?

 

Sam: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Frances: As a young person, I primarily focused from printmaking. It took me some time to realise that what I liked about it was the equipment in the room which are big mysterious machines with cranks and making images on sheets of copper or images on stone that appear and disappear and that it’s a kind of alchemy that transpires in there.

 

That actually was the process that interested me. Somehow the prints were always a disappointment. I did a lot of lithography. Gradually, I came to realise it was the equipment, and the rocks, and the bottles of acid, and chemistry that interested me. After I graduated, after I already had my MFA which in the states is your terminal degree, I became a sculptor on my own, outside school. In terms of what became my home-based discipline, sculpture is the big tent, but that’s another story. In terms of that, I’m self-taught I suppose.

 

I set upon a course of work that I began to try to figure out first how domesticity might inform creative production and that led me to make a series of what we might call metaobjects. I didn’t have that language at the time, but in retrospect that’s what it was. That was participating in the theory we might now call deconstruction, but we didn’t have that language then. That was an analysis of how classification in taxonomy actually helped us but also hinder us from understanding what’s in front of us.

 

That eventually morphed into a post-industrial look at industrial artefacts because by then I had moved into Chicago and we were moving into the post-industrial although no one had that language or the postmodern, no one had that language. Eventually, I began to garden while I was in the city. We might call that the pastoral response although I didn’t have that language.

 

The question of nature in the post-industrial city crept in organically over a period of 20 years and eventually that career making objects about that condition that I was exhibiting in galleries and museums, I began to have an unease about that practise because it seemed to disconnected from what was going on around me which was the environmental degradation around me.

 

I began to feel it. I gradually became politicised around environmental issues. I would say around 2000, I discovered this emerging discourse that we now call sustainability. Of course it had been around for a while, but nobody was talking about it really. I became aware of it. Once I became aware of it, I always tell people it completely captured my imagination that I am not working out of a sense that will … Maybe a little bit now, but primarily I’m not working out of a sense of social responsibility. I’m working out of a love affair with complexity because it turns out I have a pretty complex world view and that was always a problem.

 

My interests in complexity was a problem because in reductive, essentialized, academic and professional circles, they weren’t broad enough. When I discovered sustainability, it was a way to use my worldview and my appetite for complexity which was a way to use all of my art, math and science capacity in a way that was interesting instead of it becoming always a liability.

 

Sam: If we take a step back, you were talking about the galleries style of work that you did, the nature and the industrial city. Did that come from a wider society, care for the earth, Earth Day, perhaps protest movement or what was driving that?

 

Frances: I was really dealing with these subjects philosophically and even psychologically. I was not at all an activist. I think I had become a climate activist or an activist now, but I have never been a rabble-rouser type activist. Actually much more attuned to what we might call subversive tactics. For example, I have become quite a chameleon in terms of being able to enter the habitués, the world of another discipline, learn to speak their language, understand their values, priorities, methods so that I can connect the dots so that I can collaborate meaningfully.

 

My activism has been … I joke that I’m a double agent working both inside and outside art. Inside and outside civic arenas, inside and outside science as a way to punch holes in disciplinary walls to allow ideas to flow more freely, but that includes art, turning back on art to change art and to change artists and to change the imaginary of what an artist might be in society. I’ve never really been the activist that you’re describing.

 

Sam: You said you were politicised in about 2000. What brought that on?

 

Frances: As I was describing, I had began to garden and this garden that I had next to my house, without me knowing it was actually a reclamation project because the detritus from the building that had been there kept coming up out of the ground. I would reach out to pick up a piece of fluff and it would turn out to be an 8 by 12 rug that was in the soil. It was coming up out of it from some house that have been there before.

 

It was an unintentional reclamation project. After a few years of this, the condition, this post-urban condition was so all round me that it began to actually rattle my beliefs in the family business, in the art that I was making which was seeming increasingly irrelevant. Even as my first moves were to take these themes, environmental themes and move them into the gallery, I quickly became dissatisfied with that because I felt it was pretty clear, I was preaching to the converted.

 

I went from making object sculpture about post-industrial to bringing even living plants into the gallery out of the garden to eventually realising that the garden was the laboratory that had pulled me out of the studio, into public, into public practice, into collaboration with living entities, into confrontation with degraded soils and systems, but also into conversation with neighbours, into working with living systems. It was a step by step process that went on since the mid-80’s and evolved over a 10 or 20 year period.

 

Sam: I missed a step in there … In your garden you were realising that it was a place of urban decay or something that you were trying to reestablish. Tell me nice and slowly what’s linked between that to being critical of the family business?

 

Frances: I mean, you’re basically asking me to recount a history that was not quite so linear. There were many things going on at the same time. I’m teaching at an art school. I’m continuing to participate in the discourse of what we could call normal art in the Thomas Kuhnian sense where he calls normal science and post-normal science.

 

I’m participating in normal art, meanwhile over a long period of time I’m having this garden which is teaching me things as a citizen and I’m capturing some of these insights and I’m trying to bring them into my practise because as an artist there’s no keeping insights out of your practise. They come in and it changes you, but exactly what to do about that took a while.

 

At some point, I began to have this anxiety about what I’m doing, but it was beyond language. It was very intuitive. It was felt. It was not thought. At the same time, I’m teaching at the School of the Art Institute and the school coughed up in an organic way several of us who were having anxieties around the changing conditions about the challenges that that ultimately would make for art practise, again was beyond language. It was felt.

 

One of the people that came forward was actually coming out of the technology sector and had questions about the impact of technology which is of course now very flushed out. We began to realise as a school of art that we couldn’t take on the environmental impacts and the societal impacts of technology in the built world without having a design school.

 

We began to join with a few other faculty to create a design school with the School of the Art Institute. This became what we called the design initiative. We had been a fine arts school, no design to speak of. Now, we have a full-blown design school that we created during this time. In the process of this design school, we began to talk about what kind of design school we wanted to be. We brought in some intellectual leadership in the form of design theorists, Clive Dilnot who brought with him Tony Fry who’s a sustainability theorist from Australia and quite a famous guy.

 

They began to run these really faculty development workshops. This was in about 1998, 1999. I didn’t know anything about design except that I could tell that the largest impacts on the natural world were being created by what we could call design. They were not being created by what we can call art. Just the scale of impacts. That was very interesting to me and Tony Fry was so persuasive about the importance of considering this thing, this theoretical construct called sustainability and that’s where it captured my imagination and began to require that I reinvent myself.

 

The revelation that that was required took some time and then the ability to formulate question and then a platform and then move into what you might call action research to see what those cultural hypothesis might lead to, that took another 10 years. How’s that? Did I connect the dots for you?

 

Sam: You did indeed. You said before, you said a sentence which I really liked which was that your work is a confrontation and conversation with living systems. You went on to say living systems and the social systems around them.

 

Frances: I don’t think I wake up in the morning and think about confronting living systems anymore. I’m too respectful of living systems. I’m not interested in being confrontational. Maybe I was talking about the collision between traditional arts thinking and the realities as they were revealing themselves as we came to understand the interconnectedness.

 

We’re talking about systems thinking now. This is me on a private level doing that thing that so many people have done now which is to begin to see the limits of what can be achieved through a single disciplinary expertise in the face of the systemic reality as it is beginning to reveal itself to us. In a systemic world, what are the limitations of your disciplinary expertise? I begin to feel that and understand that.

 

That of course takes us directly to a critique of the enlightenment and the system of knowledge that comes out of the enlightenment and the limitations of that. Now, we’re talking about starting to understand the need for a post-enlightenment knowledge model and that includes a post-Kuhnian aesthetic model and what would that be?

 

I think that in many ways, I’ve moved from like so many people trying to understand the nature of the condition and the limitations of the knowledge system that we had inherited in the developed north and questioning what another approach might be and what that would look like and then beginning to try to figure out what does that mean for art? What does an artist know that can contribute to the sustainable future?

 

What will we need to do? What bad habits do we have to change? What intellectual errors do we have to correct and what creative possibilities, new creative possibilities are revealed that didn’t seem to exist before which is the part that’s so exciting?

 

Sam: I’m not going to get in trouble for quoting this back at you because it is on your website. What do artists know?

 

Frances: This question,What do artists know?” began as my private question at the beginning around 2000. Tony Fry is talking about the technosphere, semiosphere and the biosphere and he’s laying out these Venn diagrams. We all know about the triple bottom line and then thank goodness, John Hawks comes up with the four pillar model and at least there’s culture there.

 

Actually before I saw Hawk’s model which is so clear and useful with culture as a pillar, the place that I saw that I could enter was the Guattari based model that Fry was using which included the semiosphere. The semiosphere as the realm of the intangible realm of values and meanings, it was very clear to me that as an artist, I had knowledge and expertise of navigating within the semiosphere because art had become primarily a symbolic economy of culture.

 

We were specialists, you might say. Artists, cultural workers are specialists in this symbolic economy. How could I take that expertise and contribute it and thus my question, “What do artists know?” What we’re really talking about is not the explicit knowledge of artists. Artists know how to mix yellow and blue paint and get green. We know how to weld. We know the history of art. We have explicit skills. What we’re really talking about are the tacit methodological procedural knowledge and skills.

 

These are much more difficult to track down. I had a really interesting thing that happened along these lines. I had entered into a two-year conversation early on in this new work that I’m doing under this knowledge platform. I entered into a two-year conversation with the city planners in the city of Cleveland. Classic legacy post-industrial city on the great lakes, steel city, highly polluted, needs a new economy, losing population, classic so-called shrinking city.

 

We’re talking about all of these things and doing this two-year period with these … This was the director of Cuyahoga County planning, the director of Cleveland Parks, Cleveland Metro Parks planning, very level thinkers. It was quite an intellectual conversation. They began to tell me what they think I’m contributing to their thinking. I made a little Word document on my desktop, on my laptop called What Do Artists Know?

 

They would tell me something and I would write it down and then maybe two months later, they’d say something else and I’d write that down. Two months later they’d say something else and I’d write that down. I was just keeping this as a private document and putting it in my own words what I thought they were saying.

 

One day after two years, I looked at this document and there was a full blown document there. I had no idea what it was. It was called What Do Artists Know? You can actually see this online, you can find it. It’s around. I’ve kept the date of 2006 on it. Sometimes people say, “We should go back and work on this language to clean it up a little bit but I feel like as a historical document. I don’t touch it because it’s just the way it arrived to me.

 

The language is interesting because I was very involved in learning their language and they were very much influenced by what we could call innovation speak. This document is a little bit art speak and a little bit innovation speak. Sometimes people get agitated about its oddity in that way. It’s part civic, part art mashed-up together, a linguistic mash-up. This document knocked around in my life for several years and then one day Chris Csikszentmihalyi who was at MIT Media Lab told me one day that he knew what this was.

 

He said, “This is a knowledge claim.” I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting. What the heck is a knowledge claim?” People would say that they’d call it a manifesto and I knew it wasn’t a manifesto. I mean, it’s written a little but like that but it wasn’t really a manifesto. The idea that it was a knowledge claim document was a terrific thing for me because, A, I learned a new word called the knowledge claim but it began to let me understand that this was tacit knowledge.

 

From there, I was able to apply a whole body that’s coming … At the time I was reading these crazy things that you’re probably aware of called knowledge management or change management. This was just emerging out of business schools and the like. Of course this is really not what most artists are thinking about.

 

Yet the history of the avant-garde is nothing more and nothing less than a focus of value proposition on newness and so I began to realise that the experimental thrust of modern art, of contemporary art, the history, the intellectual history of the avant-garde was connected to this idea that something new, something innovative, something experimental would be one of the prime criteria for art and that that might be interesting or useful mapped on to the idea of civic innovation.

 

That came out of the understanding that this thing was a knowledge claim. Based in that, I took that document to the city of Chicago which had just established an innovation programme and showed it to the innovation director and said, “Basically, you should establish a programme embedding artists in city government,” and he said, “Why should I do that?” I’d say, “Because we are the prime innovators and here’s my knowledge claim.” To my amazement, he agreed with me and he said, “Why should I do it? I said, “Because you’re tasked with innovation.”

 

He said, “Oh, you’re right. Let’s do it.” This thing called the Embedded Artists Programme which is a platform for using artists and bringing cultural perspectives to the daily work of the city was born out of this accidental knowledge capture into this document.

 

Sam: The Embedded Artists project, what sorts of things that people get involved in?

 

Frances: The pilot programme which ran in Chicago from 2008 to ’12 was just two artists, myself and another artist. I worked principally at the beginning in the planning office working on the 20, 40, food plan and the idea there would be that I could help them understand the cultural dimension of food planning. However, that engagement was not so fruitful because the outcome was already determined which is to say we were going to write a planning document and I just became one more researcher.

 

You might say an ethnographer could probably have done the same work that I did. My next placement was with the Department of Environment where a very insightful commissioner assigned me to the brownfields division and to her best engineer. Rather than giving us an outcome, she posed a question to us. Her question was actually three questions. One was, “What is a sustainable brownfield cleanup? What does that look like? How do we think about that?”

 

The next question was, “How can this city get practical experience doing an alternative remediation type?” For example like fight over mediation using plants which is what we ended up doing because I work a lot with plants and so I thought, “Oh that’s something that I can contribute to.” Then the third question was, “What can the city do with their 400 plus abandoned gas stations?” Which were all over the city, they revert to city ownership because when the tanks leak and people can’t clean them up, they stop paying property taxes on them and so they revert to city ownership.

 

The city ends up owning all these brownfields, small brownfields, small contaminated properties. What do we do with them? Having given us these three questions, she said, “Okay. Go off and come up with something.” In that framework because it was so open-ended, we began to work on possibilities and came up with this programme called Slow Cleanup and in Slow Cleanup, we realised that if we could identify a much broader range of plants that can clean up petroleum, that we could create a wide range of new urban landscape topologies in the city.

 

We work with the soil scientist and AP Schwab, Dr. Schwab of Purdue University and tested 80 plants, 80 native ornamental plants that had never been tested for petroleum cleanup. We did identify 12 new ones and with the likely prospect of quiet a few more. We didn’t invent the science, we just applied the science to a new set of plant materials knowing that that would then facilitate a whole new kind of urban design.

 

That was a really terrific outcome. There were all kinds of secondary knowledge that were produced. For example, we figured out a new soil prep method that kept all the soil out of the landfills. We involved students in from four communities of practise in the project so value was created at every step of the project.

 

Sam: That has led to larger scale work. I’ve been looking at pictures of The 606 collection of projects. That’s a large park.

 

Frances: Yes, it is. Three miles.

 

Sam: How did that come about?

 

Frances: There were a number of steps between the gas station project. I went off and did a project with Lima, Peru and did some other projects with other city governments but eventually got pulled into The 606 in an interesting way. The people that were doing The 606, it’s a public private partnership so that was the trust republic land, the city of Chicago and the Chicago Park District.

 

The 606 which was originally called the Bloomingdale Trail because it was on Bloomingdale Avenue, is a rail to trails conversion project. It’s an elevated train line, train spur and it was being turned into a bike path and greenway. There had been a phase one which was the public consultancy project and there was some dissatisfaction among people in the city with the level of ideas that were being put forward.

 

I was hearing quite a bit about this and these were the same people in the city that the people from planning that I had done on the food project and the people from Department of Environment, these were the same people involved and they were dissatisfied with where it was going. The project that we did in Cleveland actually involved the trail even though we ended up working slag cement instead but I had produced quite a few documents about integrating art and cultural perspectives into a bike trail.

 

I ended up giving them all of these documents. I mean, why not? We weren’t using them and I said, “Here’s a lot of work. Maybe you can use this. Here, have it added.” I just gave them all of these documents. I remember Cathy Dickhead in planning saying, “This is already more ideas than they’ve come up with in a year.” I’m like, “Good luck with that.”

 

Lo and behold in the next few weeks after giving away all of these good ideas, they came back to us and invited … They came back to me. I always say us because all of my work has become a plural so I just don’t even use the pronoun I anymore, but in this case, they came back to me and invited me to be the lead artist for the design team, the phase two design team which was the team that was going to actually design the trail.

 

What was interesting here was that because there had not been enough ideas in the phase one we had to do the phase one and the phase two at the same time. It was very fast, very large. It’s a three-mile stretch of city and a fairly contentious process and just one thing about that. There was an artist in phase one who was a terrific artist but they had not been working at the scale of the city.

 

They had been working with murals and community-based projects. I think that the reason that I was able to help them in a different way was because I had done these other projects that had ramped up the scale at which I could be created. I had done it gradually overtime from the Cleveland project, the gas station, the work in Lima. By the time I got to The 606, I had figured out how to think at that scale.

 

Artists are not trained to think at that scale, urbanists are. Even for the landscape designers and the engineers, there were 38 bridges on this project, three miles of landscape. It goes to four distinct neighbourhoods that are quiet broad in their profiles. Being able to work at that scale allowed me to do something that I couldn’t have done 20 years before. There was a direct link between Embedded Artists and The 606 in that they came to me because I have that capacity.

 

Sam: Ramping up the scale in which you can be creative, this is not you painting large areas more quickly, this is changing the way in which you work?

 

Frances: Correct. Yes I am coming out of sculpture and the built world and gardens. I’m talking about the work that I do is with soil and pavement. I consider sculpture one of what they called world-making traditions in terms of the built world. I am not my own work. I do some drawings. It’s funny coming out of printmaking but it’s so long ago. My work is with a three dimensional world and living systems with plant systems and water systems, et cetera. By this time I have got quite a bit of experience doing that.

 

Sam: If you have to classify it, you see the whole park or the whole or the whole bits of the plant perhaps as sculptures. Is that how you see it in your head? How does it work?

 

Frances: It’s interesting. The nature of this thing, it can be seen in many ways. It is a transportation quarter. It is heritage infrastructure. Some people likened it to a charm bracelet with charms along the way because there were many, many different pocket parks and sites and interventions. Some were pure designs, some were pure art.

 

For example, there are four locations for large scale commissions, art commissions. Inside that would happen at a smaller scale than what I was operating, but in another way, I did actually without telling anyone conceptualise it as a three-model sculpture. It was a little game I played with myself. At one end, we have an observatory and it is a convex mount. The other end, we had planned a skate park which was not really a skate bowl, it was a plaza style skate park but it was concave.

 

Then perhaps my signature idea that has the most of my intellectual DNA on it is a planted line that runs the full length of the trail that connects the two. This planted line is a climate monitoring planting based on what’s called phrenology which is where you look at bud burst to see microclimate. Because we are east-west in relation to Michigan, the trail is a climate monitoring instrument de facto because of this floral planting that we put.

 

I didn’t really call out to anyone that if you think of … Maybe you can imagine this. If you have a ball at one end and a ball at the other end, concave and convex mirror images of themselves, connect it to a line up the middle, you basically have a baton shape, a three-model baton shape. I never call that out to anyone until it was all done because I thought that … It started because we were doing a line and we were doing the observatory.

 

Then when the skate park happened I began to realise this form was shaping and it became a fun game for myself to see if I could pull it off. I didn’t tell anyone until it was all done and when I did, there was an audible gasp in the room because I thought it would seem megalomaniacal to say, “And by the way, I just made this thing into a three-model object.” It was a fun game for me to think in those terms. I don’t know if that’s what you’re talking about.

 

Sam: How do you go about making a city sculpture? if you were commissioned to make a sculptural whatever, is it the same sort of process for approaching a city degradation problem?

 

Frances: What is sculpture? You’re talking about sculpture as an object, but sculpture expanded beyond the objects many years ago. In the early 70’s, Rosalind Krauss wrote an article called Sculpture in the expanded field where she was talking about art works that had already become earth works, site works and sculpture was returning to its relationship to landscape and architecture which of course is where it was until 100 years before because if you think about the public monument which has an architectural base and maybe it’s a got a guy on a horse or something, this commemorative monument that was always sited, contextualised part of public memory.

 

It was civic. It was frequently tied to some kind of celebratory memorial nature. It was tied to the architecture of the space around it and this thing that we call the sculpture was contextualised in relationship to site and architecture. When sculpture came off of that kind of work and jump off the pedestal and then ran into the art gallery, it left its relationship to place site, civic, and architecture and landscape. It left all of that.

 

By the 60’s and 70’s sculpture was running back out the door and trying to reconnect to all of those things. Krauss calls this the expanded field. In many of their minds, the field of sculpture, we call that the Big Bang or I do anyway and call it Big Bang Moment when sculpture re-expanded and has really just kept expanding.

 

Even though there are people who make objects called sculptures, the field of sculpture has now expanded into what we call sculptural practises or a whole series of expanded practises, critical practises. This includes artist working like I do in ecology, artist working in an urban conditions, artists working with what’s called social practise, artists working with media performance and film video, artists working in all kinds of expanded practises.

 

In many art schools, this lives in the sculpture department. Why does it live there because sculpture is the big tent. It’s the place where whatever goes on in the world, goes on in sculpture. Sculpture as a discipline has become this broad enterprise of practises that include object making but are not limited to it. It’s the home for all of the artistic orphans that don’t seem to go anywhere else. We sometimes joke that if isn’t a painting and it isn’t a photograph and it isn’t something else you can name, it’s a sculpture.

 

Sam: Back to your question, what do artists know? If you were the city planner who’s been told to sort out derelict areas, suburbs, something, why should you involve an artist?

 

Frances: Several reasons. One is for their cultural literacy. For example, if you want to pull forward, contextual dimensions of the site, of the population of the community, this would be a great way to do it. Second reason would be if there are technical challenges about this site, it floods, it’s contaminated, it needs economic revitalization, something and people have tried conventional methods and they have failed.

 

Now artists are not miracle workers but sometimes we have other ideas about things that could be tried. This could be understood as an innovation, but the artists frequently think about things differently and they might see other possibilities. This is what I call the imaginative potential of our artists to deal with issues that where other people see no solutions. Sometimes this is because artists may understand the nature of the condition differently.

 

We call this problem finding rather than problem solving. Maybe it’s not about solving the problem, maybe it’s about understanding that the problem is actually a symptom of some other condition. Artists have been very good at doing a different kind of analysis of what’s going on such that they might be able to offer a different approach.

 

Sam: You may or may not get “artworks” out of that?

 

Frances: The artworks is a completely different question. On the one hand, we’re really talking now about the artists as cultural agent. We’re not talking about the production of artworks. Now, we could say many years ago, it became pretty obvious and this is really a function of logic that the only place you can get art is from artists that there is a necessary and sufficient condition between artists and artworks.

 

What is art? It’s what artists do. What are artists? People who make art. When you involve artists, you could argue that in some way you’re going to get something we could understand as art, but this frequently gets you mired in the question where people want to argue whether or not the product is art which I find a really unproductive place to head. I have turned off the question of art. I changed the channel. I like to say for sure I’m an artist out of habit training and inclination and for sure the work is cultural. The question of art, who knows? Too soon to say.

 

Sam: You talked about ramping up the scale at which you could be creative and you’re currently working at the city suburb level. Can you keep going, scaling up? Is there an optimum at which you think you could operate?

 

Frances: Interestingly, I’ve gone the other direction. After working on The 606, I came away from that project longing to work at a more intimate scale. That and a number of other factors have led me to work around the bottom of the lake in Gary, Indiana. Gary is a smaller city. It’s lost population. It has a lot of available land that needs re-imagining. It needs a new economy because Gary was built as a steel city. US Steel, it was a company town and like it has suffered the faith of company towns.

 

When steel production moved elsewhere, the economy fell apart. People with options left and the people who don’t have as many options have stayed. Gary as a city has got a very extreme version of the post-industrial issues of cities in the great lakes. This has captured my imagination but it also is a place full of possibility.

 

When I did the climate monitoring planting on the 606, the plant that we used called the apple serviceberry, the Amelanchier x grandiflora is actually a member of the apple family. The reason that it’s a great climate indicator is because it’s temperature sensitive. Most fruiting plants are temperature sensitive because the way they bloom, they have to bloom after frost in temperate climates, after frost has passed so that the frost doesn’t kill the fruiting bud and then the fruit.

 

They’re great climate indicators because of that and there also they tend to be beautiful. We all know about the famous Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival which was actually the source, this source idea for that project because people don’t know that the cherry blossoms, the Japanese have … It’s a cultural festival. They have been writing down the bloom date of the cherry bloom since 720 AD. That dataset is one of the most important climate datasets that we have and it was produced by culture. It was by the appreciation of beauty. It was not produced by science and it was not produced by social responsibility.

 

Part of what I had been interested in is can we use this beauty, this engagement with the blooming spectacle to raise consciousness and to engage. On The 606, it was used to raise consciousness of the proximity to the lake and the lake microclimate, but that became … I was calling pink infrastructure, infrastructure for climate awareness.

 

I really wanted to extend that idea. Part of my interest in Gary is that as you moved east around the bottom of Lake Michigan you move towards the Michigan fruit belt. The soils under Chicago are clay, but as the time you get to the bottom of the lake, they turn into sandy lake plain soils. You have the advantageous microclimate tempered by the lake, but you also have improved fruit soils.

 

I began to wonder if a new fruit economy could be … An improvement in the food shed could be developed in Gary. Because I was interested in working at a smaller, more intimate scale, the project that I’ve started with some other people there in the community is a community orchard. Rather than start this through the city even though I’m in conversation with the city and they support the project and they’ve given us some parcels and we can’t do it without them, I am really playing this through the local community.

 

We identified some master gardeners and environmental specialists that live in the neighbourhood and we are it very much bottom up and a small scale and if we can do this orchard as prototype, we might grow ourselves a big programme but we’re going to do it in the opposite way from The 606.

 

Sam: I have some questions to and with. What’s your go-to definition of sustainability?

 

Frances: I hear people say that no one knows what it is. I think this is absolutely incorrect. I think that lots of people know what it is. It’s aspirational. What we don’t know … To me sustainability isn’t aspirational statement. What we disagree with what is contentious is what might the model be. What would be the important components. That’s where you always see those Venn diagrams and then how do you model that in reality, what does that look like?

 

I find multiple models of sustainability useful. I really like the Guattarian model that I mentioned to you, technosphere, semiosphere, biosphere, that model. The idea of attending to all of those systems but that is really academic and abstract. A lot of people for example in business and the city can’t deal with that. They want to use the so-called triple bottom line and it’s been very useful for me just to add the fourth pillar to that.

 

I think critical because one of the problems with the triple bottom line is if you look the qualities, they want it to be viable something unbearable. I think the word is bearable. Who wants to live in a world that … I don’t aspire to bearable. It sounds dreadful.

 

Sam: Hardly inspirational.

 

Frances: Hardly inspirational. Quality of life has to get in there. We’ve got to have that hopeful vitality piece. To me, this is not mysterious. It is not difficult to explain what it is. If you understand it is aspirational and what’s difficult us getting people to change their behaviours.

 

Sam: We’re writing a book of these conversations. We’re calling it tomorrow’s heroes. How would you describe your superpower?

 

Frances: My superpower?

 

Sam: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Frances: You mean what I think I’m really good at? What do you mean by superpower?

 

Sam: What are you bringing to this good fight?

 

Frances: I am a really terrific documenter. I joke that I’m an expert generalist. I think that this actually, this dot connecting and this double agency that I mentioned, comes directly out of the knowledge of the way artists are educated and trained. The ability of artists to see connections among what we might call asymmetrical data. We are excellent at pattern and system recognition, dot connecting and that ability to synthesise things that don’t seem to go together I think is something, maybe our best trick.

 

Sam: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Frances: I think the climate monitoring planting on The 606 would have to be up there. The reason for that is I’m going to be dead and off the planet by the time we know whether or not it worked, but if the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival can produce climate awareness but in an embodied way, in a deeply cultural way, the idea that these floral display along this bike path might change consciousness in a way that is beyond language, beyond mere quantification.

 

I think we have a shot at that. It seems almost inevitable if we can get the plants to become established and to live. I think that that is bound. I’m convinced that will do its magic with or without a citizen science programme, with or without anyone even knowing it’s working. I don’t mind that subversive approach. I don’t mind not having people know that anybody had that in mind.

 

Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Frances: I do consider myself to be an activist now but in that way that we described earlier in that subversive way that I am interested in changing people’s behaviour. I am working for the nonhuman users of the planet, not just the human users. I’m interested in doing something that actually changes the future and not just changes the short-term political conversation.

 

Sam: You might have just answered this but what motivates you?

 

Frances: I think I just answered this.  The nonhuman users, that’s what actually motivates me because we’re taking … if we survive, we’ll survive but we will take out a lot of species with us and I actually find the ethics of that intolerable. We have to get our act together.

 

Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?

 

Frances: I think this new orchard project of the idea that there might be a small fruit economy to be had in this area that really needs … The people there really need new options and I’m very excited about … I consider it about a 10-year project. One thing we didn’t talk about, I don’t think, I’m very interested in this idea of long time, working in long time.

 

We live in a culture of tweets and short political cycles and short media cycles and yet climate change, fruit growing, consciousness, these things happen in long time. I’m really interested in working in these projects that unfold over a long period of time and change people’s conception of time. I might even say that working with time and space as malleable plastic media is the new sculpture.

 

Sam: Are they going to be unfolding over such a long time that you have to relinquish the artist tag on them because all the people are going to be changing it over time.

 

Frances: I already have. What we’re saying about the project in Gary because I’ve already began speaking about what our creativity model is and we’re calling it co-creativity. The very first thing that I did when I got this idea and we were seeking some funding for it is identified my core community partners and invited them to join me in what we’re calling the community orchard collaborative. Walter Jones who’s a long term resident of the Emerson neighbourhood. [Deb Backus 00:55:05] who’s a resident and the environmental engineer.

 

I invited them to immediately become my core collaborative. From the beginning it must be co-creativity and with the city partners because this is not Frances’ orchard. That makes no sense in any way including the question of what happens as I age? By the time the fruit is ready to produce, I will be in my 70’s. It’s got to belong to someone else.

 

Sam: It’s got to belong to people who aren’t born yet. They have to see it as an artwork?

 

Frances: No. I don’t even talk about it as an artwork.

 

Sam: They have to see it as something they want.

 

Frances: Most of what I’m talking about does not need to be seen as an artwork. For people interested in art in the future of art, we can go often talk about it as an artwork but the principal thing is for them to see it as an orchard and we are going to plant in a little bit of an unusual way in a wedge that shows the time that different plants take to become productive.

 

It will form a green wedge that likens itself to the progression of time and our motto is it’s about time. I think that people will see it and go, “Oh, this is a little unusual. This is a little different.” It will be very legible, the time factor in this. That might make them talk about whether or not it’s an artwork. I don’t know but for me it’s primarily making time legible and it’s really a form of embodied environmental education and that’s what’s important about it. If we don’t produce any fruit, it’s all for naught. It’s got to be a productive fruitscape or else what the heck are you doing.

 

Sam: Two more questions. If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, what would it be?

 

Frances: Orchards all over Gary.

 

Sam: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Frances: I have an insight that I’ll offer up and people can chew on it over their breakfast cereal if they’re so inclined or whatever and that is that all of human activity is essentially cultural that it is all artifactual. It is all cultural. We need to see ourselves as the way anthropologists would see us. if we can begin to see ourselves, the way anthropologists would see us and see that all of our activity is cultural, is part of the semiosphere that we would begin to see how value driven our decisions are and maybe have a better chance at understanding how to change our behaviours towards something more sustainable.

 

Sam: Thank you very much for joining me.

 

Frances: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.

 

Sam: You’ve been listening to Sustainable Lens: Resilience on Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. We’re broadcasting on Otago Access Radio, oar.org.nz and podcast on sustainablelens.org. On sustainablelens.org we’re building up a searchable archive of conversations with people from many different fields who are applying their skills to a sustainable future. In our conversations, we try to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens.

 

Tonight’s sustainable lens was that of Frances Whitehead, a civic practise artist from Chicago and Gary, in the great lakes basins in the USA and professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. So many things there I really like. I like the last thing that we just talked about making time legible. I liked that idea a lot.  You can follow the links on sustainablelens.org to find us on Facebook to keep in touch, and you can listen to Sustainable Lens via iTunes and other places as well. That was Sustainable Lens, I’m Samuel Mann. I hope you enjoyed the show.

 

 

The image of Frances Whitehead is from Janeil Engelstad on Make Art With Purpose.

Categories
leadership urban

grand challenge of LA as a global model of urban sustainability

Cassie Rauser

 

 

I said, “No, that’s not ambitious. That’s not acceptable.” I want it to be better. I want urban ecology to be incredible.

 

Dr Cassie Rauser is Director of UCLA’s Sustainable LA grand challenge.

Sam: Welcome to “Sustainable Lens, Resilience on Radio,” a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. Shane’s not here tonight because I’m in Los Angeles at UCLA. Each week we talk with someone making a positive difference and we try to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens is that of Dr. Cassie Rauser. She is the director of UCLA’s sustainable LA grand challenge. We’ll find out what that means. Thank you for joining me.

 

Cassie: Thank for being here and thank you for having me.

 

Sam: We’ll come back to this but let’s start with an introduction to what the sustainable LA grand challenge is.

 

Cassie: Sure. Sustainable LA grand challenge is a campus-wide research initiative. It was introduced by the Chancellor in 2013. It’s a little bit different than business as usual, as far as a research initiative goes for a campus because we are organizing the research and the faculty around a major ambitious goal in sustainability. That goal is, or those goals are, to transition Los Angeles the county to 100% renewable energy, 100% locally-sourced water and enhanced ecosystem health and human health and well-being by 2050.

 

Instead of everyone continuing to work in their silos on their sustainable and environmental issues, we’re really bringing the faculty together from across disciplines to tackle this major problem and to rally them around these ambitious goals.

 

Sam: I read that part of the goal is to have a thriving in a hotter LA and be a global model for urban sustainability.

 

Cassie: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

 

Sam: That’s quite a big call for LA.

 

Cassie: Well, sustainability for LA is a pretty big call, quite honestly. When I heard about the initiative, I wasn’t here at UCLA and I got a phone call and they said, “We think you might be great working on this project. We want to make Los Angeles sustainable.” I kind of laughed and I said, “Yeah, good luck with that.” LA doesn’t have a reputation outside of the LA area as a place that is sustainable. I think that it conjures ideas of smog and urban sprawl and actually a lot of very negative environmental ideas when in fact, LA is really quite fantastic.

 

The folks who had come up with the idea of the grand challenge, they were very inspiring, although very ambitious. I kind of started to feel like, “Gosh, if we can do it in Los Angeles, well then you can do it anywhere.” That’s really the idea is like, “Yes, it’s a big challenge here.” We do have a long history of success overcoming environmental challenges. If you were here in the ’70s or ’80s, you couldn’t breathe. You couldn’t go outside I don’t know how many days per year. Obviously, you’re here today, although a little bit cloudy for Los Angeles, it’s pretty lovely and much clearer and the smog has significantly reduced.

 

We know that we can pull off things like that so in that spirit, I guess, if we can do it here in Los Angeles, if we can get to 100% renewables, if we can start using the water that we do have here, instead of importing up to 60% of our water from over 200 miles away, as a county, if we can do that kind of stuff here, you can do that anywhere in the world. There are so many major mega cities around the world that can use the technologies, the policies, the management strategies etc., that we will develop and implement here in their own backyard. This wouldn’t just be a success for Los Angeles of course; this will be a success for everyone.

 

Sam: Anywhere in the world. Let’s talk about your anywhere in the world. Where did you grow up?

 

Cassie: North Dakota.

 

Sam: I’ve driven through North Dakota.

 

Cassie: Well that’s incredible. I don’t know many people who’ve been to North Dakota. I usually get the response of, “Oh, you’re the first person I’ve ever met from North Dakota.” Well, in fact, there’s less than half a million people there still so that’s not strange. I grew up in a town of about 40 people, not 40,000, but 40 people and my parents still live in the same house that I grew up in, and everyone around us, they were farmers or worked somehow within the farm industry. We’ve had a sugar beet factory in our town where I went to school.

 

In a lot of ways in relation to sustainability I guess, I unknowingly was very much raised in a family that was operating in a sustainable fashion, but maybe for very different motivational reasons or philosophical reasons than kind of how I operate today. You know, not much money, always conserving, always turning the lights off, turning the water off, collecting cans for recycling and making money, but also growing our own food, freezing the food for the winter, bartering … My father was a mechanic and he would fix someone’s tractor and we would get half a pig so I didn’t grow up around fast food.

 

I just didn’t have the distractions and some of the negative aspects, I think, that come along with a major city. It’s a very interesting upbringing, but I knew the whole time that I also didn’t want to live in a small town and I felt like there was something bigger and better for me to do. I moved away, I think, literally the day after I graduated high school.

 

Sam: What did you want to be when you grew up?

 

Cassie: I actually always wanted to be a lawyer, and I always wanted to be an activist of some sort. I wanted to be like a social justice lawyer. I went to college in Minnesota, Minneapolis, St. Paul, at a little liberal arts school and that was just such a fantastic, amazing experience for me having come from such a small town. Everyone was really smart and there were so many options as far as careers went that I had no idea about. I quickly realized that I was very much attracted to environmental justice rather than social justice issues, and almost immediately, I became very involved in the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, the PIRGs, and became active and a leader in that organization. I took a bunch of environmental courses, both on the social and political side, but also started taking them in the science side and realized that, oh gosh, science is really quite easy for me and fun so maybe I should do that. That’s kind of how that all evolved and I always continue to be active in the community movements.

 

I can’t tell you how many Earth Days I’ve co-organized or organized wherever I was. They started there in Minnesota. I found my way actually to Arizona State. I transferred there eventually and finished, but similarly, I think I was the first environmental … I can’t even remember what they called me but for their student counselor, their student union group, they had no environmental representation. I went to them and I said, “Well, gosh. You need recycling here, and you need to have an Earth Day event, and you need this and that,” and they were like, “Do you want to do it?” I said, “Sure,” and so they gave me a little bit of money and I think I did their first Earth Day and I helped them start recycling. I keep doing that because then I did that in Costa Rica, too. Like it’s so crazy. Keeps following me around.

 

Then from there, I went to graduate school. I figured, well, I had done some research and I enjoyed the research, and I thought, “Well, maybe I can contribute the most through getting my graduate degree. I don’t know what I’ll do with that. Maybe I’ll be a professor,” and wasn’t so sure, but enjoyed the learning and always enjoyed the schooling. I went to graduate school in ecology and evolutionary biology and was very, very fascinated by evolution and evolutionary theory, population genetics, how genes are flowing through systems, how it really in the context of sustainability … I mean anyone who knows anything about conservation … how important it is for those genes to continue to be able to flow so that when we’re … When we’re building cities and we’re building walls and we’re building freeways, we’re cutting off this gene flow and that is really affecting plant/animal populations among other organisms. I don’t know, it’s all kind of always been related and always been there.

 

Sam: You started out with explicitly, if not law, but the social sides of the … Is that thread continuing or did that thread continue through that research or did it become more and more technical?

 

Cassie: Oh, the research was much more … It’s much more technical and in fact, my dissertation wasn’t related to sustainability at all. It was very much evolutionary theory and experimental biology, but underlying knowledge that is extremely beneficial and applicable in everything I do because sometimes getting your PhD is much more about the other skills you learn than the tiny bit of knowledge they you know more than anyone else in the world. Yeah, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with that and how to apply it, and I had left many options open. I think I really missed the application maybe, or the activism that was always me and what I had always been doing because those five years of getting a PhD, they were about being in the lab and doing the work, and the other parts kind of dropped off.

 

I did have a fellowship to go to the National Institutes of Health to do a postdoc, and I went to Costa Rica for what was supposed to be three months to take a little break before what, to me, started more and more to feel like my jail time at my postdoc position. I went to Costa Rica to surf and to do some yoga and to just kind of relax, and realized I cannot go back in that lab. I don’t belong in a lab. I need to be out here. I need to be doing something else. I need to be making a big difference in the community. I felt suffocated and I called them and I said, “I’m sorry, I can’t come.” I stayed in Costa Rica and surfed and did yoga for a while because I didn’t have a job. Things came together. You think, “Gosh, I’m in Costa Rica. This is like the biodiversity mecca of the world. There must be so many amazing things you can do, but I’m an American in Costa Rica. I can’t legally work in Costa Rica. It’s a very different infrastructure for how science and conservation work, etc.

 

I explored things I could do in the community, anywhere from essentially volunteering at a preschool and doing what I could with education, art and science. I looked into other teaching opportunities, both high school and there was like some kind of adult community college-ish things going on, but nothing really formal. I explored a lot of different things and in the end, quite honestly, what happened is that that preschool volunteer experience is the thing that paid off because one of the child’s mother’s dad had a development that he was operating in the small beach town where we lived and he heard about me through her. You heard, “There is a woman who lives in this town who has a PhD in biology and I want her to work for my development,” and I said, “No, I am not working for somebody who builds things.” That is the last thing that my conscience would allow me to do. I was convinced by number of folks to meet with him and I did, and I was actually inspired by his vision.

 

The vision really was to build. People were building there anyway, quite honestly, and very irresponsibly. His vision was to build a community and it was a pretty upper-scale type community, but around a nature preserve rather than around a golf course. I thought, “Well, that’s pretty cool.” He had showed me his vision and all of that and what his goals were for it, and he really gave me freedom. I’m not even sure I ever met with him more than two or three times in the couple years I worked there. He just let me do what I wanted and it was really such an amazing experience. The idea was to form a public-private partnership, so a partnership with the equivalent of their national park system, to take some of his land, form this public-private partnership so that we had the expertise and really the legal guidance of their national park system in running a park or preserve, but then he had me obviously representing the private side.

 

I had a lot of both organizational experience and research experience, but in the United States. It’s very different having to translate that into the customs and the laws and the regulations of what are going on in a different country. I worked really, really closely and side-by-side with this fantastic woman from their national park group to do this and we developed community programs, education programs, recycling programs … Recycling keeps coming back.

 

Sam: What was in the preserve part of it?

 

Cassie: It was mostly mangrove wetlands. It was a piece of land that was actually in between two estuaries so we were along the beach. There were two estuaries. Actually, a national park on the other side of one of these estuaries was Las Baulas, Parque Nacionalas Baulus, and that’s the large Las Baulas leatherback sea turtle. That’s a very famous national park and you know, of course, the numbers of turtles coming to lay eggs there had been dwindling and it’s really tough. This was a piece of land that was actually adjacent in a roundabout way to that national parks land so it was an addition in a way to existing parkland. It’s mostly, I would say … Well, it’s seasonal dry forest but other than that, I mean that’s it. It’s really mangrove and seasonal dry forest.

 

Sam: There was development of housing?

 

Cassie: It was housing development and the developments prior to me being there had already made a choice that was legal, but perhaps not wise. They built too close to the mangrove and it really had the community fired up, for good reason, and that was a huge struggle. A lot of the struggle that both myself and the woman I worked with from the park service was community engagement in such a way that … We wanted to do good in the community and that maybe sometimes meant making up for building too close to that mangrove on the first try. Nothing else was along the mangrove. That was just the one very first building they built and that is a thorn in their side until the end, quite honestly. I mean I think the wonderful things that came out of it were a lot of great community engagement and community programmes.

 

This was a very international town. The town on the beach was international with a lot of expatriates and folks from Europe and Argentina, and United States, Canada, the whole thing, but the surrounding communities were all Costa Rican communities and I would’ve never, on my own, been able to go into the Costa Rican communities and have the experiences and the effect that I had without working with this woman, of course, who is Costa Rican. I actually married a Costa Rican and had a Costa Rican daughter. That helped a little bit, but they were very suspicious of course of the developers, and rightfully so, for the most part.

 

I think we had a really lasting impact in bringing good resources and community programs to them. The recycling program which was not started by this group, it was actually started by now my very good friends, Gina and Tony, who live back in Minnesota. They brought me on really early on and we started this recycling program that, to this day, is still happening and I can’t tell you how excited I am. That from once a month, everyone bring us your trash to the beach and we’re going to sort it, and have this guy come in his truck and pick it up and haul it all the way to the capital city like four or five hours away. He sells it. He gets his money, whatever, but we were recycling.

 

Then I helped expand that into the Costa Rican communities and they actually very much had a tradition of recycling because they were used to recycling glass bottles. Many of the older generation folks, they were like, “Why these plastic bottles? What can we do with them? They’re just trash and lying around and we can’t burn them.” It’s too bad, you know. That was a lot of obviously American influence that changed the way that they are bottling and receiving their … things are packaged and receiving their food and drink. These programs have continued and the recycling program evolved into something the municipality actually has undertaken, and by the time I had launched Costa Rica, we had begun talks with the municipality to get them on board to pick up recycling the same way that they would pick up trash. I’m actually very impressed that it ever happens. I think there were some great successes and the project actually ran out of money and that’s why I ended up coming back to the United States, but I think some good things did come out of it.

 

Sam: I was about to ask, but I’ll ask anyway if sustainability is the bit at the intersection of the Venn diagram that I don’t like, but let’s stick with it for the moment. Then it is where the environment and society and economics interact. This seems like a good example of something that’s actually operating in that intersection. I was about to say, “Is it working?” Then you said it’s run out of money.

 

Cassie: Well, 2008 happened. I mean the economic crisis happened. They were trying to sell high-end homes. That’s a second home to people who are buying those homes so they weren’t selling, obviously, at the range that they had thought that they would be selling. Well, the environmental girl was the first person to go. To some extent, I was probably sort of a piece of jewelry for them, right?

 

Sam: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

 

Cassie: They let me do what I wanted to do, but I mean the integration with what they were doing was very minimal.

 

Sam: That’s a shame because what I wanted to know is if it is working at that small community level. Is that the model for what has to happen of the whole … over a huge city such as LA?

 

Cassie: Some of the most valuable things I learned there were from the practices of their national park system and the way that they do approach that. They very much approach it like the Venn diagram, although I’ve never seen any of them use the Venn diagram. They really put effort into educating the communities where they have their parks. With the turtle experience … I’m sure many people know this story. One reason there was decline with the turtles, other than a lot of extra homes and lights and things like that and extra infrastructure, was because people would steal and sell and eat the turtle eggs. These people were making a living on doing that and so for the park system to come in and say, “No, these are a protected species. This is protected land. You can no longer come and take these eggs in the middle of the night,” that was really huge for the community.

 

The way the park system approaches that is that they retrained these individuals to be like where the park. Sometimes I can’t remember the words in English, you know, like the park rangers. They did workforce development and workforce training, and they gave these individuals other career options where they could make money. That was something they consistently did and was there. They were very conscious of that and it was really such a great execution of the Venn diagram of the sustainability model where they weren’t displacing people.

 

Sam: Then you came back. Did you go straight back to Irvine?

 

Cassie: I did. I came back to Irvine. I felt Irvine was a familiar place after four years of living in a let’s-have-coffee-in-a-hammock-in-the-afternoon kind of lifestyle. I mean it was culture shock to come back to the United States. One I did at Irvine actually was a bit different. I kind of left Costa Rica thinking, “Gosh, if I’m going to go back into academia, I don’t think I want to a researcher. What am I going to do? I feel like I don’t have any skills.” You know, I know how to sex a fly. I know how to sequence DNA. It’s like what are my skills? I felt a little bit lost so I thought maybe nonprofit, I am not sure. Anyway, I found my way back to Irvine and it was in a position that’s called research development. What that means is truly the development of research ideas, the research teams of proposals to fund those ideas and those research teams, so it’s the whole gamut of the research enterprise and I don’t just focus anymore on sustainability issues or even biological issues.

 

I was in an office that served all of the sciences, medicine in the stem fields, and the reality is that that type of job utilized all of my organizational skills, all of my community skills, all of my diplomacy skills, all of these skills that being this environmental activist my whole life had given me and I just didn’t realize, gosh, they’re truly applicable in so many ways. It was fantastic to be a part of, in some way, all sorts of kind of science going on. It was never boring. It was always the cutting edge work that was going, and really the focus was to provide support for the faculty and researchers working on interdisciplinary projects which, as you know, it’s not usually within their comfort zone or naturally what occurs in a university.

 

I think the trend in funding has really shifted the trend of what’s going on the university. I also think the fresh, younger professors and researchers are also a lot more keen on interdisciplinary work. I think there’s just a big shift happening in that way and it’s pretty exciting because if you take that back to sustainability, no one discipline could ever solve the problem of sustainability, ever. You know, no one technology is the silver bullet. You need to develop that technology. You need to have the policies in place for that technology to be applicable. Applied, legal, you know there are many technologies that we have that can solve so many of our problems and we can’t use them.

 

From Irvine, I think as I mentioned before, I got the call from UCLA when they were dreaming up this sustainability project. It was a matter of somebody had met me, knew that I did research and proposal development, also knew I spent time in Costa Rica doing environmental work and activism and this and that, and they thought, “My gosh, we need to combine all of that to have somebody come and lead this program,” and quite honestly, that was a great vision that they had because I think this really is just like the perfect job for me. It’s so amazing. It’s so fun to be a part of. I sometimes miss doing the research, but even in this, I’ve been involved as much as I want to be on that side as well.

 

Right when I got here, the first project was truly, “Okay, we need to coordinate and develop a research plan. You know we have these goals, we have this vision but, my gosh, how are we possibly going to get there?” I coordinated and brought together 28 faculty from across campus, so very multidisciplinary, organized them into our three major groups of energy, water, ecosystem health. In that energy room, we had lawyers with engineers with policymakers with urban planners and me, a biologist, and some of those conversations were really hard and when you get people with such different perspectives or different ideas of how the problem should be solved, it can be difficult but when you can get over that hump, it can be incredible and just so rewarding. The ideas that come out of that don’t even compare to what you would get being in the room with just a single type of researcher.

 

Sam: The three goals, renewable energy, locally-sourced water and ecosystem health, which is the hardest one? Which is going to be the hardest one? This is a long-term plan. You said 2050?

 

Cassie: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

 

Sam: You’re going to be here for a while.

 

Cassie: Well, you know. I feel like even if we got 50% of the way there, I feel like it’s still a huge success, right? The hardest … I’ll tell you what. I feel like in energy and water, I think we, even with existing technologies, we can do it. We know it can be done, now can it be done sustainably? Can it be done economically? Can it be done while not imposing hardship on lower-income communities? Can it be done efficiently? Those are all research questions that we need to address in the next five years. With ecosystem health, and that also includes human health and well-being, that one we found was a lot more difficult to, one, define what that meant. You’ll notice it’s the only one that doesn’t have a quantitative goal. It’s not a quantitative goal, I guess, enhanced ecosystem health.

 

The one thing I want to point out that was very important to me to do is that the language for that started out as something along the lines of “without harming biodiversity to achieve these other two goals,” and then just kind of, “let’s not mess it up any more than we’ve already messed it up.” I said, “No, that’s not ambitious. That’s not acceptable.” I want it to be better. I want urban ecology to be incredible. I want people to think about it, to notice it, for it to be a part of their lives, you now? We realized through the process that we don’t know much about urban ecology, that we don’t know much about the species that exist here. LA is really fantastic and I think most people don’t know unless you’ve spent some time here that there is a lot of protected land. We have a lot of protected land in LA County and so we do know a lot about what happens in the Santa Monica Mountains, for example, because it’s natural, protected land and people do research there. People don’t do research in the concrete jungle.

 

People think there’s nothing going on, but I think there really is. It’s not ideal what’s going on and there are a lot of invasive species that have now … not invasive, sorry … non-native species that have found their home here so we have a lot to think about on what do we do with those? How do we integrate them? Is it okay? Can a hard-core ecologist get over the idea that sometimes the non-native is okay? There are a lot of questions. Then we’re also so incredibly culturally diverse in LA County. I think we are the most diverse area in the world and so, culturally, what does biodiversity mean to all of these different groups? What does a lawn mean to different groups? Is it a status of an economic status? What does the rosebush mean? It takes up a lot of water, but I mean these things mean different things to different cultures and I think we need to be really sensitive about those feelings and how we integrate all of this and still make it better. I think that one’s the most challenging, quite honestly.

 

Sam: The lawn was a good example because as you get closer to UCLA and the houses get bigger, the lawns get bigger and the lawns get greener.

 

Cassie: Oh, they do. It’s no secret. Well, it’s kind of a secret because you can’t, of course, see individual water use but there is, of course, a lot of talk that has been going on with regard to lawns and the use of water and the responsible use of water, and how do we price water so that that type of behavior is deterred in some way? Yeah, definitely the poorest communities already use the least amount of water compared to the wealthier communities. There’s a lot of shaming going on. There’s a cultural shift that needs to happen here, but a lot of great, just personal conservation has already happened. Los Angeles, the state has water-mandated goals right now because of the drought and Los Angeles, I believe, has already met the goals or is only about 1% away from meeting their conservation goals with water. People have stepped up and people are conserving, and it’s going in the right direction. It’s definitely motivated by the drought, which is kind of the only good thing about the drought. Hopefully these are types of behaviors that aren’t so much of an imposition that people will continue.

 

Sam: Tim Flannery, who we talked to a few months ago, said that the current El Niño is a good thing because it’s given people a bit of a view into the future. The drought is perhaps doing the same thing.

 

Cassie: Absolutely. Absolutely.

 

Sam: When it starts raining again, will people forget?

 

Cassie: I think so.

 

Sam: Let’s party in the swimming pool again.

 

Cassie: Yeah, everyone was expecting the El Niño to bring us a bunch of water to LA and it didn’t. Prior to El Niño, the Godzilla El Niño, as it was referred to, everyone was just like, “We’re going to be fine. We’re not going to have to conserve water anymore,” and it didn’t happen. It didn’t happen and so that’s an eye-opener, too, that some of these changes need to be permanent. California is just really incredible as far as being a leader on environmental policies so I think it’ll stick. If the policies stick, then I think we have some hope here.

 

Sam: California might be a leader on environmental policies, but it’s also, as you say, a concrete jungle with cars everywhere.

 

Cassie: There are.

 

Sam: Can a city be sustainable just on those grounds? It doesn’t seem to me that that would be a sustainable model for that. Even if it was all electric powered, it still has to come from somewhere.

 

Cassie: Right, but what if all cars were electrified and all of our electricity came from renewable sources? That’s pretty sustainable. We’re going to have self-driving cars and the car culture is changing in a sense like never before and at a very rapid rate. We have shared transportation. We don’t just have public transportation anymore. We have Uber and Lyft and what not, and that has really transformed the way LA operates in a huge way. I am personally getting rid of my car. I live in LA. People would’ve thought you were a nut, like, “You can’t do that.” I take public transportation all the time. I have two children and a husband, and we currently have two cars but our lease is up and I’m done. I’m done so we’ll have one car because my husband drives for his job.

 

It’s not necessary anymore and I think the younger generations, all the studies show the millennials aren’t getting their driver’s license. The millennials are using shared transportation networks and that works better, too, for low-income neighborhoods, you know, the last mile to get to and from public transportation if that’s the hardship. The Los Angeles Metro did just open the train that goes all the way to the Santa Monica Pier now, so that’s the first time since … I can’t remember, the ’60s or something like that. Now, the train, you can go from Downtown Los Angeles all the way to the beach and prior to that, there was essentially no rail transportation on the west side. The greener the lawn, the less public transportation.

 

Sam: When you’re talking about those energy and water, you said they could be done with existing technologies, but can it be done sustainably? That’s a nice model. I like that. Can it work economically? Can it work in terms of social justice? Is that connection widely felt? Yes, we could solve this technical problem, but that’s not necessarily solving the sustainable approach to it.

 

Cassie: In general, I think so, and I think that’s partially because we have such great leadership in the Los Angeles mayor’s office. They developed and released their first sustainable city plan in 2015, and that plan is truly a sustainability plan. It’s not an environmental plan so I think when people hear the word “sustainability” in general, because very often, the word “sustainability” has been used to mean environmental but it has a negative connotation and that anyone who is against the environmental movement, because it’s not thinking about business, it’s not thinking about these other things, can be turned off by that. Sustainability is gaining traction globally as a concept and idea that truly encompasses the economic and societal parts of that. Like you just said, something isn’t sustainable if you can’t economically do it. I’ve had that conversation, I can’t tell you how many times, where I’ve had to remind somebody like, “No, we’re not just going to make you use that or make that technology be the way to go. It has to work economically.”

 

Sam: What’s your go-to definition of sustainability?

 

Cassie: Oh, that’s a good question. I do often refer to, I guess, what you would see in the Venn diagram, but sustainability in general, of course, is something for us to use today that will not harm future generations or will not leave future generations without resources.

 

Sam: A Brundtland definition…

 

Cassie: Yeah, it really is, but that’s what sustainable means, whether you’re talking about the environment or not.

 

Sam: What do we think that those future generations will be thinking about what people are doing in LA now?

 

Cassie: Well, hopefully they’ll look back on sustainable LA and they’ll think it’s just amazing because we will have been successful. Gosh, that’s a good question. I think I feel like we’re in a really great era right now. I feel very positive and I’ve been working in environmental movements long enough now to now have always felt like I was gaining traction or that I was being heard, but now you have major leaders who truly believe in this and are progressive enough and visionary enough to see that, “Gosh, if we continue what we’re doing, there are no future generations. There’s nothing for them.” Even today, this is about making quality of life better today and I think we can do both. I feel really good about it right now and maybe it’s because I live in the bubble of California, but again, hopefully we can continue to serve as a model.

 

Sam: What’s the coolest thing you’ve done in the last couple of years?

 

Cassie: The coolest thing?

 

Sam: Yeah, a thing you’ve seen that you thought, “That’s awesome,” or either you’ve done or you’ve seen one of your colleagues do and you thought, “That’s something we need to bottle. Let’s do that more.”

 

Cassie: Wow. Well, I had a child in the last three years so I’m going to say that’s the coolest thing I’ve done. I have to say that.

 

Sam: Let’s not bottle a child.

 

Cassie: Let’s not bottle the child, but if we could bottle their energy and their spirit, that would be amazing. Gosh, there are so many things. There are a lot of really cool technologies and I feel like everyone has seen this, but I remember that ah-ha amazing moment when I saw the transparent solar, flexible solar panels. I wouldn’t even call them panels, right? You know, the ability to put solar on windows, the ability to put solar in car paint, the ability to put solar on the streets, this is amazing. This is so incredible. We can constantly be getting energy from the sun that comes up every day. That was pretty incredible.

 

Sam: Do you think we can get there with such technologies, the cool stuff, or are we going to have to consume less?

 

Cassie: Both. It’s absolutely a combination of the two and that’s funny. I think people have a very different perspective in that, in that a lot of individuals believe that we can continue to consume and do what we want because technology is always going to come around at some point and fix this, which is a strange way to not really take responsibility for your own actions or to be a part of the solutions. I always believe in being a part of the solution and that means you recycle the inside part of the toilet paper roll at my house. Every little thing counts.

 

I definitely think it’s a combination and in the research plan we developed, that’s really what we came up with, that in order for us to get to local water … We do have quite a bit of rain here in LA, sometimes 12 to 15 inches a year … and that the combination of reduction in consumption and technology combined because with the water, we’re seeing we can already get a huge reduction with just really small behavior changes and so combine that with the technology and yes, that’s how we can get there. Definitely, reduction in consumption needs to happen and we know it can happen and we know we have a lot of room to reduce consumption because if you compare consumption across the world, I mean we have a long way to go. There’s a lot of wiggle room there.

 

Similarly with energy, most of the energy accomplishments that we’ve seen to date are because of efficiency measures, so not only just consumer behavior, but retrofitting light bulbs. These were consumer changes in consumer behaviors in many ways. The first time you started using the different light bulbs, you were like, “That light’s kind of funny. I don’t really like it,” but I think people are really used to it now. They’re saving a lot of money, saving a lot of energy, so those little things make a really big difference and they’re not imposing too much upon the individual.

 

Sam: Will those little things add up? Are they enough?

 

Cassie: Oh, they definitely add up. Those little things, water conservation, we’re a perfect example. That has added up in California. We’re reaching the mandates and we’re doing that simply through our actions. Nobody put in a recycling plant since the mandates came down. This is really all human behavior in reduction and consumption.

 

Sam: Is anybody complaining about that? Are people having a lesser life because of it? Part of the opposition to the sustainability movement is, “You’re wanting me to go back into the caves.”

 

Cassie: Right, it’s about the imposition, so it’s about what the individual feels is an imposition. I think with the combination of technology and slight modifications in behavior, that’s where we come to that equilibrium because if you think of the car and you think of even 10 years ago, who would be driving an electric car, someone who like a Charger or a Mustang probably wasn’t going to be driving an electric car, but now there’s the Tesla and it’s sexy and it’s cool and it’s fast. Now you have a different demographic that would drive an electric car that wouldn’t only 5 or 10 years ago. I think together that these things will bring different populations to a point of not feeling like this is such an imposition on them.

 

Sam: We’re writing a book of these conversations, which is going to be called “Tomorrow’s Heroes.” How would you like your sustainable super power to be seen?

 

Cassie: I think I’m an organizer. I think I’m a matchmaker and I am a very empathetic. I think I have this super-power ability, truly, to understand the different languages that the folks in the different disciplines are speaking, and translating it enough so that they start to understand what the others are doing and what the contributions are realize that they have so much more in common than not. I do often say, because I am always bringing together different groups of researchers and I’m always saying like, “Gosh, I always feel like I’m a translator. It’s so funny and in so many meetings, I will say exactly this, “I think what he’s trying to say is this,” “I think what she’s trying to say is actually this,” and “that you guys are saying the same thing, just from a different perspective.” These folks have gone on to work together, to write grants together, to do projects together, and it would’ve never happened without my super power.

 

Sam: I think you’ve already said that you’ve bridged the qualitative and quantitative, but have you managed to bridge the reductionist and systems thinking people?

 

Cassie: Yeah, a little bit. I definitely am working with those two types of groups. I have had them work together. I brought them in a room together. I do a lot of counseling before and after, truly, but we have some really great visionary system thinkers and they know that they don’t know the tiny details about how the solar is captured and how that’s delivered and how much … They know they don’t know that, but they really are the big system thinkers that we need to kind of help pull this all together. I’ve gotten that group to meet with engineers in water and energy, and it’s tough but they’re working together now because they’re giving them the numbers they need to do the big system calculations. This is one of our first projects that we really hope to have done and released, and I think it will be really provocative and incredible because it’ a “What does LA 2050 look like?” Project. It is a big system thinking project, but it really needed all of the reductionist-type research contributions to make it successful.

 

Sam: Are you funding spaces for the creative people to contribute to those?

 

Cassie: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. That group is actually led by a world-famous architect who is very creative and their visuals are really what drew us to them because they have just amazing ability to create visuals of a city and to the urban fabric and all of that. Additionally, we have other creatives. We are UCLA. We’re in Los Angeles. We have a fantastic film theater television department. We have a great humanities department with an environmental humanities component, and I just met another professor last week who was super interested in being involved and she’s in the arts. They’ve become integrated in different ways. We had a woman in humanities who was fascinated with the idea of trash and has done projects with students on trash and waste, and what does that mean, again, across cultures? Yeah, so this really is interdisciplinary and this can’t be successful without the contribution from all of them.

 

Sam: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?

 

Cassie: I think the release of our research work plan. That was really a year in the making and what I think makes it so successful was the ability to bring together the interdisciplinary groups and really develop a solid comprehensive research plan. This is the research we think, across disciplines, needs to be done in the next five years to answer the questions that we’re still not so sure about so that by 2020, we can develop a blueprint or an implementation plan for how the transition would actually happened by 2050. We’re a research university and so we do research well and will stick to doing the research, and we understand that we can’t do this alone and this is so much dependent on partnerships; partnerships with the city, partnerships with the utilities, with other institutions, with civil society, with NGOs, nonprofits. I mean you name it. We have to partner and we’re building those various relationships as we’re doing the research and together. We really want to develop an implementation plan that has input from all of these stakeholders.

 

Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

 

Cassie: Absolutely, every day, all day long.

 

Sam: At work?

 

Cassie: At work, at home, yeah, absolutely.

 

Sam: What motivates you?

 

Cassie: I think what motivates me most is contributing to positive change in the world. I’m a sucker for humanity.

 

Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?

 

Cassie: The challenges of figuring out how you get this fantastic research translated into something that is applicable and implementable, if that’s a word, because that is the struggle. There are so many amazing ideas bouncing around this campus, on any campus, and the percentage of those ideas that actually get translated and applied are very small. We realize that that is probably the biggest challenge for us.

 

Sam: Speaking in UC Irvine terms, because I don’t know the people here, do you have somebody like Irvine’s Peter Bowler that is going to go out and say, “I’m going to take this neglected area and regenerate it and actually do this work?”

 

Cassie: Oh, definitely. There are very different degrees of folks in all of the disciplines who are doing very applied work. It’s by far not the majority, but there are definitely your Peter Bowlers here and there are your Peter Bowlers in engineering, too, and there are your Peter Bowlers in law and policy. I have a much better understanding of law and policy, researchers and faculty than ever before. I always was working in the sciences, in the hard natural sciences, physical sciences, and quite honestly, what they’re doing is applied work every single day. That’s the applied work. Now, you can do policy research and then you can write your report and it never makes it into the hands of policymakers, but that’s easy to change. It’s easy to give a report to someone. It’s much more difficult to go out and change the swamp into productive land for a native species like Peter does.

 

Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, what would you like to have happen?

 

Cassie: Oh, wow. I think what I would like to have happen the most is equity. I would like to see equity and somebody had brought up the other day in a conference I was at, equality is not the same thing as equity, and that is very much true. With regard to energy, with regard to water, with regard to our health and with regard to our ability to enjoy our ecosystem and receive all of the benefits that this has to offer, I really, at the heart of this, I want to see equity. I want everybody to have that same experience and those same options.

 

Sam: What’s the smallest thing that we could that would have the biggest impact in getting us there?

 

Cassie: That’s a tough one. I think little things make a difference. I think that, quite honestly, if everyone could think of 5 little things they could do in their life, in their daily routine that didn’t, I don’t think, impose on you too much. It’s very slight modifications. If everybody did those 5 little things, that would have a huge impact. We have 10 million people in LA County. If you had 10 million people taking 1 gallon bucket of water from their shower they ran, that’s a lot of water, right. That’s just one little thing so I think it’s the little things. I think everybody engaged in doing some of the little things, that that’s going to make the biggest cumulative impact.

 

Sam: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?

 

Cassie: Advice? Well, if you love sustainability or you love breathing clean air or living in a world that has equity, equality and economic prosperity, then I think everyone can be an activist in a little way. Don’t be discouraged, and that sustainability, as an area, is so broad and so diverse that I think everyone can play an important and interesting role, regardless of what your passion is so take your passion and then you can use your passion for improving life on Earth as we know it.

 

Sam: Thank you very much for joining me.

 

Cassie: Thank you so much. This was fun.

 

Sam: You’ve been listening to “Sustainable Lens, Resilience on Radio,” a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. We’re broadcast on Otago Access Radio, OAR.ORG.NZ and podcast on sustainablelens.org. On sustainablelens.org, we’re building up a searchable archive of conversations of people from many different fields who are applying their skills to a sustainable future. In our conversations, we try to find out what motivates them, what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens. Tonight, the sustainable lens was that of Dr Cassie Rauser, who is director of UCLA’s Sustainable LA grand challenge, and a grand challenge it is. You can follow the links on Sustainable Lens to find us on Facebook, and you can listen to us via iTunes and other places for free. That was “Sustainable Lens,” I’m Samuel Mann. I hope you enjoyed the show.

 

 

 

Categories
geography urban

Place-based sustainability

Harvey Perkins

When you join particular places with people with vision and energy you can create all sorts of interesting places and fascinating opportunities.

Professor Harvey Perkins focusses on aspects of sustainability and urban change. He is interested in innovation for sustainable futures – particularly in the transformation of cities.

Talking Points

Third form social studies…I remember the first week..it was a revelation, I really enjoyed learning about the way people made their lives in places. I dedicated my life to that study.

The most important thing I learnt, the huge variety of ways people make lives in places. Now people talk about mobilities.

When you join particular places with people with vision and energy you can create all sorts of interesting places and fascinating opportunities.

In many respects we are the places we live in. Places give us opportunities, they enable us to do a range of things, but also limit us in some ways.

We clearly live in a more mobile society. Movement – physical through transport, or virtually – but we are always in place, we are always somewhere.

Did you want to change the world? I did when I was young. I still want to change it, but I guess I’m a bit more realistic about what can be done.

I think the world is more complicated that I did when I was younger, there aren’t any simple solutions.

There’s a big gap between those who are doing very well, and those who aren’t. And that’s not going to work.

Inequality is easy to say, but hard, much harder, to find a solution.

There are no simple solutions to complex problems.

Transformation boils down to identifying the right kind of people with the right kinds of skills, who are able to harness resources, and who have a vision to make the best of those resources.

Energetic people with vision have capacity to make a difference

We need to better understand which programmes work, get to know those people, share that knowledge

Political will, vision…energy

(Success?) Transforming Cities work – building an energised community of resources.

(Motivation?) Connecting ideas with practice

(Activist?) No, a scholar which implies a level of activism. (Would 1970s you be happy with that answer?) Probably not.

(Challenges?) I’m semi-retired. Balancing expectation that can do everything.

(Miracle?) All of New Zealand’s settlements flourish. (smallest thing to have biggest achieve that?) adopting a different kind of political economy – one that is much more social democratic.

This conversation was recorded at the conference of the NZ Geographical Society.

Categories
geography history landscape urban

Environmentally engaged students and communities

Eric Pawson

An educational activist…encouraging other people to find out how they can best act in the world.

Eric Pawson is Professor of Geography at the University of Canterbury. He has written several books on New Zealand’s environmental history and his recent work concerns biological economics. He is President of the Ako Aotearoa Academy of Tertiary Teaching Excellence – we discuss his approach to “classrooms without borders” and his experiences in community-based teaching and research in post-quake Christchurch.

Talking points

We saw the industrial revolution as a economic process, rather than a series of independent technological innovations.

Working with local schools…adopting the lake shore as a series of outdoor classrooms.

(Success?) Student projects in the residential red zone

How community aspirations might be accommodated around the landscape transformations

Flashpoints can unstick reputations…water quality may be such a flashpoint for us.

(Motivation?) Working with other people on things that are rewarding – that have intrinsic value and a wider purpose. Rather more that information transmission – I don’t believe in an information transmission model of education – I think that education is something that people create for themselves with a certain amount of assistance and guidance. A process of guided self-discovery.

(Activist?) It depends what you mean by activist. An environmental activist in the conventional sense of the word – no. Yes, an educational activist in the senses that I’ve been describing – perhaps less putting myself forward, and more encouraging other people to find out how they can best act in the world. If that’s an activist, then yes.

(Challenge?) I’m retiring – so many exciting things to do, so many exciting places to go. …I will carry on with the community based teaching.

(Miracle?) Not sure I believe in miracles. (the smallest thing that would make the biggest possible difference?) There are an awful lot of people in my home city (Christchurch) who are still in very difficult situations with insurance companies and unmended homes… it is a travesty that after five years we haven’t been able to take care of everybody. I would like us to wave a collective wand and fix this.

This conversation was recorded at the conference of the NZ Geographical Society.

Categories
education geography urban

Technology as a tempting narrative

Josefin Wangel

There’s a strong technical solution bias – ICT is the new technical fix that will allow us to not change our lifestyles in order to achieve sustainability – and of course that’s hard to say no to, it’s very tempting to believe in such a narrative.

Dr Josefin Wangel is Associate Professor in sustainable urban development at the Division of Environmental Strategies Research at KTH in Sweden. Her focus is on how sustainability is understood and put to practice in urban planning and policy making. She uses futures studies (mainly backcasting and design fictions), systems analysis (including target formulation and sustainability assessments), stakeholder analysis and discourse analysis.

Talking points

I knew wanted to try to save the world through environmental engagement of some sort.

I studied sciences because I thought that if I knew the sciences then people would listen to me – today I can see that that was a naïve understanding of the workings of society.

As an 18 year old, my understanding of a lack sustainability was that it was a lack of knowledge that makes society unsustainable.

I quickly realised that people knew, that it was bad for the environment to drive a car, for example, but still they drove a car -and that is when I realised that my natural science based education wasn’t really apt for answering the questions that I had.

Today if I had to choose, I would place myself more in the social sciences than the natural sciences.

Why aren’t we behaving in the way we should be behaving in order to save the planet?

The discrepancy between our stated intention and what we actually do can be found at all layers of society from the individual, through the community to the planners and politicians. I think this is where we can find leverage points to actually start doing sustainability.

Environmental effects are disconnected in time and space. If I eat chocolate I know the effects on me, but if I drive the car everyday then the effects are somewhere else, ten years from now – these effects are harder to grasp.

Sustainability issues are the result of collective action, or collective inaction. I don’t gain weight when my partner eats chocolate.

Sustainability is more than the functioning of ecosystems, the other dimension is social issues. However, I don’t think sustainability is the right word for social issues, it should be social justice or social desirabilities – for me sustainability – the ability to sustain is very much connected to the ecosystems.

Three step model: Brundtland…pillars interact. Then de-construct…a discursive perspective, talking of multiple sustainabilities, that our understanding of the world is always socially constructed…then students have to make up their own construction…that links to their own discipline.

It is important to dare to be very serious about the threats implied by surpassing the planetary boundaries.

The trick is to get them to realise at the bottom of their hearts what sustainability is about, and how deeply unsustainable and unfair the world is today. And then provide them with the tools for doing something about that.

If want sustainability to last…then people have to care at a personal level,

“Sustainable” urban development areas in Stockholm…show window for Swedish sustainability and ecotechnologies…however none of these areas are actually sustainable if by sustainable you have an understanding of absolute levels of pressure that the ecosystem – if you look at resource use, these areas aren’t sustainable, and if you look at resource use in terms of the global population it becomes obvious these areas aren’t socially just either.

This does come very close to greenwash.

There’s a strong technical solution bias – ICT is the new technical fix that will allow us to not change our lifestyles in order to achieve sustainability – and of course that’s hard to say no to, it’s very tempting to believe in such a narrative.

We in Sweden have wonderful life, but that is only possible because people in other parts of the world have lousy working conditions and suffer environmental degradation that the production of consumption good sold in Sweden results in.

For us, the status quo looks like the best option, but at the global scale, and taking social justice into consideration, then it isn’t sustainable.

As an individual it is hard, sometimes impossible, to see the consequences of collective actions and take responsibility for it.

(is sustainability a luxury?) You choose what to invest funds in, you can choose to invest in highways, or you can choose to invest in railways.

Do it yourself urbanism: people having opportunity to influence built environments themselves.

(Success) Interview in a big daily newspaper, I was able to start a national discussion about alternative discourses of sustainability.

(Activist) I used to be.

(Your teaching and research is normative) if you have a title with the word sustainability in it, then you are, at least if you are doing what your title says you are.

(Motivatation) I really love my work. I get to work on something I find super interesting and important.

(Challenges) Getting married. I was just appointed of director of collaboration and impact.

(Miracle) That everyone would realise the two dimensions ecological sustainability and social justice – and that economy is just a part of the social. The wedding cake, but with only two layers.

Categories
ecology education restoration ecology urban

Interdisciplinary ecological restoration

Bruce Clarkson

The problems of degradation are not just the sole domain of biophysical scientists.

Professor Bruce Clarkson is Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Waikato, and is the Interim Director of the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge. He is recognised as one of New Zealand’s foremost authorities on ecological restoration. We talk about his background, what we learnt from island and mainland sanctuaries, and the opportunities and challenges of restoring ecosystems in urban environments.

Talking points

Most people don’t experience nature in a way we did in previous generations

How might you restore indigenous nature in an environment where people can access them more easily?

New Zealand has extremely high levels of endemism…if we don’t look after these native plants and animals, no one else is going to do it…this is our responsibility.

This is our biological heritage, this is what makes NZ special and different, it’s our responsibility as stewards of the land to maintain our natural heritage.

What you are really trying to do is manage the whole system, but a focus on birds will have positive spinoffs for the rest of the ecosystem

So what you are trying to achieve in the longer term is a recovery of the whole system, not just the bird populations.

It has to be a mix and match of approaches and a portfolio of places.

We’re working for the very long term so we have to build resilience into the system.

If we don’t do it, we will be responsible for the extinctions because we brought in the agents of change.

If we protect species, we protect their house.

We can treat our native birds as the umbrella species for the whole system that we’re trying to maintain, protect and restore.

Cities have some advantages over wildlands in terms of protecting native plants and animals…just think of the example of grazing animals.. you don’t have to confront the problems of goats and grazing cattle.

Looking after your own backyard and being a steward of something you cherish.

Start at a scale you can manage, have a plan and progressively recover what you are trying to achieve.

You can make big mistakes, the classic mistake people make in gully restoration is that they bite off more than they can handle.

I tend to be an optimist. Yes, there’s a lot of negative out there, and there’s a lot of degradation of the environment still going on. It would be an interesting research question, what would be the threshold point at which recovery tipped the balance back to the point where there was more improvement going on than degradation? I think in some points in our region we are very close to that threshold. Overall it is still a fact that New Zealand is still losing things. Forests are being cleared, wetlands are being drained, nowhere near the rates they were previously when we were in the land development phase, but some of that is still going on. There are large parts of the Department of Conservation estate where there little active management is occurring, and those areas are also going backwards. But the point is that there are significant areas where we are making a difference. So I see it in a more optimistic way. Know also, that we do have the technologies to do more and more of this restoration, it’s really a question of how much time, effort and funding is New Zealand as a nation prepared to put into it to get us to the threshold of recovery at regional and national scale.

We’re trying to bridge the interdisciplinary gaps.

The point is how we deal with interdisciplinary problems.

The problems of degradation are not just the sole domain of biophysical scientists. To get the results that you want you need expertise in a wide range of areas. This is another advantage of working in urban areas, there are a lot of professions, all with interests in how we might restore urban environments.

We want engineers who not only know about engineering, but know about the environment as well.

I think the solutions to most (environmental) problems are actually about how we build bridges between the different disciplines…to come together and work collaboratively.

Increasingly, graduates from university are expected not just to know about their discipline, they are expected to work in multidisciplinary teams, on projects where people are trying to achieve solutions to particular problems.

It’s not just about a technical fix, it’s about understanding how you can do things in different ways, often the ways things use to be.

Restoration ecology is difficult, reconstructing an ecosystem takes time, but if you go into it knowing that and how the system works, you can make a long term plan for restoration, a plan for a process that might be inter-generational.

A 500 year plan, with milestones along the way

Once you’ve started a project, once you see process, people take pride in the process. It’s quite inspirational what a change you can make on the landscape in such a short time.

(Activist?) People who work in universities in many respects are people who love ideas, and love the debate around ideas – and if that is what an activist is, then essentially that’s what you are. You’re looking at systems, you’re understanding the system, and you’re trying to pass on your knowledge of how best to manage that system in an effective way. If that is what an activist is, then that’s what you are.

(Motivation?) Students, seeing the progress my students make, and where they end up. Being able to contribute to knowledge and process. The process of protecting and restoring plant communities and the animals that go with them – for some reason as a child that gelled with me, and I’m still passionate about achieving the same thing. Making a difference.

(Challenges?) Staying fit and healthy and keeping going.

(Miracle?) A silver bullet for pest control. Some new way that is socially acceptable for controlling mammalian predators that prey on our native birds. That would very rapidly and radically alter our landscape.

(Advice?) Look around your own neighbourhood, find out who are the people doing this sort of work and go along and give them a hand because they need all the help they can get.

Categories
architecture community urban

If you want to do something, do it

Lancaster Cohousing

If you want to do something, do it.

Lancaster Cohousing is an intentional community built beside the River Lune, in Lancaster UK.  We speak with residents Kathy Bashford and Alison Cahn about  Forgebank, a cohousing project of private homes,community facilities, workshops/offices/studios and shared outdoor space.  Kathy and Alison take us on the journey from the idea of living close to friends in an eco way, through the design and build of the homes at Forgebank, to the ins and outs of living in an intentional community.

Talking points

We wanted to bring the ethos of cohousing to the workplace

Things we try for are mixing private space and communal space; collaboration and community cooperation; and being sustainable

Trust, respect, friendship and understanding, not rules and regulations

It is us, we, why would we cheat?

We have to find decisions everyone can live with, if you don’t like it, then you are expected to go beyond “no” to “what about…”

Motivation:  We wanted to live in eco-homes and in an intentional community

Motivation:  I was looking for an adventure. We’re doing a lot of really interesting stuff, learning as we go along, getting involved in things.

Activist: I’m not an activist, I’m me.

We want to inspire others to do the same.

It’s just a beautiful place

Awards, give us credibility in inspiring others, feels good too and that’s not bad.

Advice: you can do things.   This shows you don’t have to be an expert, you don’t have to be “the establishment”, you can do things.   You can find experts when you need them if you are committed, determined, energetic…

 

 

 

 

Categories
policy urban

Sustainability at scale

Thomas Bergendorff

The first step is getting the people in the room, and then you have to get something done

Thomas Bergendorff is coordinator at Stockholm Royal Seaport Innovation. Thomas is goal is finding innovative sustainable solutions on a large scale. He does this by bringing together companies, academics and the City of Stockholm, working across sectoral boundaries to work towards delivering upon ambitious environmental and sustainability targets for a large scale sustainable urban development.

Talking points

The first step is getting the people in the room, and then you have to get something done

We have to change the world

We have to do something, we can’t just point finger and hope that someone else will fix it for us

I have got the best job in the world.

We have to keep working, knowing a miracle isn’t going to happen, we have to keep working at it bit by bit.

Transformation depends on what timescale you are looking at, incremental change looked at over a longer time scale – we can look back and realise that was a transformation.

Short term thinking is part of the problem, that’s what got us here. Thinking like little kids.

We need a transformational change, that’s a lot of incremental changes to get us there. But it’s not all linear, those incremental changes are getting us to the window of opportunity – an institutional, political, financial, right-people-at-the-right-time window. You do incremental change until you get to the window of opportunity, and then you go with a big, real transformation.

(Activist) Not really, a facilitator that enables other people to be activists, much as I would like to be an activist, because it’s much more romantic to be an activist. I’m doing the necessary work so that other people will be the activists.

I’m a generalist with a wide ranging programme. But how do I prioritse, am I doing the right thing today?

How do we do as much as possible? What are the optimal processes and tools?

My goal has to be to get as many things off the ground as possible. We need tools and processes to do that.

Don’t worry too much, just follow your heart and work hard.

Categories
climate change local government urban

Cities of change

Jinty MacTavish

Cities all across the planet are coming from the same place – a desire to ensure that our communities are prepared to play our role in both responding to and mitigating possible future shocks.

Jinty MacTavish is a Dunedin City Councillor. She recently returned from presenting a Council initiative at ICLEI resilient cities in Bonn, and took the opportunity to visit several inspiring developments across Europe.

This is a wide ranging conversation, with many highlights, including:

  • ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability. Resilient Cities Congress 2014. Jinty talks about various blue-green approaches such as Copenhagen’s stormwater management.
  • Copenhagen said ‘we need to have a Climate Change adaptation strategy that prepares us for these big rainfall events that we’ll be getting on a more regular basis, how do we do that instead of just putting in more pipes and more channels and more grey infrastructure, how do we do that in a way that promotes other outcomes – that promotes biodiversity, promotes our city’s livability, the needs we have around recreational space, avenues for active transport. With that overlay, as soon as you start to see things in that way…their entire climate change adaptation programme is based around expanding green space and enhancing water retention capacity in their blue space.

    The Copenhagen approach is to say “we don’t want this climate change adaption to be a negative, we want it to work for us in terms of improving livability”.

  • Berlin’s Templehof airport as a centre for urban regeneration (, 2).
  • Leipzig urban regeneration and Clara Park
  • Freiburg integrated transport planning (Academic paper 1, )
  • Freiburg has seen 30 years of unflinching investment in integrated transport hub with a focus on active and public transport.

    I get frustrated with the speed of change, we can’t move the discussion on fast enough, part of that is that we are hindered by finances, we can’t do things fast enough and comprehensively enough that we can’t prove it works, we do these bits…people say it’s not connected…now we’re focussing on a complete network

  • Locality: Local by Default
  • Bristol: Bristol Pound and Bristol 2015 European Green Capital
  • Local currency has transformed the visitor experience in that community.

    You really get a sense of what an empowered community can achieve when you visit Bristol – there’s not a street that doesn’t have some form of community enterprise on it

  • Cardiff Food Council