A Dozen Chicks in the Hot Tub?!

Chirp chirp chirp

Chirp chirp chirp

Well, that seemed to get your attention, you dirty birdy! In our quest to be like Tom and Barbara from the 70’s British sitcom, The Good Life, we got ourselves a dozen chickens the other day. We hope that, unlike the chickens we had in San Diego who didn’t lay very much, these girls will supply us with enough eggs to satisfy our growing egg habit (and have a few left over for the neighbors and maybe to sell by the road). They’re still young and fuzzy—it’ll be a few more months until they’re ready to lay eggs. But for now, they’ll be kept warm by the warming lamp until we have their coop and run ready.

I learned a very valuable lesson in planning this week, when we harvested a ridiculous amount of spinach and lettuce. I understand why real farmers plant things in rows now; my haphazard tossing of seeds within a designated area led to confusion as the plants were growing (every day was a game of “plant I planted or unwelcomed guest?”) and it made it more difficult to harvest the crops when they were ready. This time, when I was ready for the next round of seeds, I planted them in rows.

No, dear, those aren't for eating.

No, dear, those aren’t for eating.

Take-home gardening tip: Always plant things in rows; it makes the harvest less of a clusterfudge. 

My son used his brand new pint-sized wheelbarrow to help carry the harvest to the house. Random sticks and his cars keep the harvest company as he pushed it across the courtyard. While he was certainly stoked on carrying the plants to the house, it was another story when it came to eating them for dinner. He’ll only eat greens when they’re blended into a smoothie or when someone else is eating them and he wants them. When they’re on his plate in front of him, he’ll pick them up and drop them on the floor. There’s still time to convert him.

LiveWork: The Eco-Development of the Future

According to the latest McGraw Hill Report, green home construction is on the upswing—it’s projected to receive a five-fold boost by 2016. However, there is debate as to how green these homes are. Surely, it’s more sustainable to buy an existing home and add green features to it (after recycling or reusing the items and materials replaced, of course). Additionally, many home developers are building these so-called sustainable homes and neighborhoods in suburban areas, much to the ire of many environmentalists—how green can it be if the owner still has to drive their vehicle everywhere?

Just when I was feeling a bit bummed about sustainable home building, I read this article in Fast Company, which profiles the LiveWork project, a sustainable housing plan out of Athens, Georgia that is the brainchild of two architectural students, Eric Laine and Suzanne Steelman. Taking into account the environment, economics and social factors, LiveWork consists of three single-family units that feature living spaces above commercial space. The family that lives on the second floor can choose to open their own business, lease the space to another business or let the Homeowner Association lease it to another business. With unemployment still high and many people foregoing the job hunt in favor of starting their own businesses, this is the ideal option. Additionally, since the business is so close to home, families with children may be able to save on childcare expenses as well as have the opportunity to use the time they would have spend commuting (an average of 30 minutes each way) with their kids instead.

LiveWork is intended to encourage sustainable living. The net-zero design is made of steel, which can be recycled, reclaimed or disassembled and used in another project. Additionally, it’s insulated with sheep’s wool, a material that features an R-value of a whopping 34.5! That’s a super tightly insulated home. Water is collected on the roof and stored underground for non-potable use, and a green screen encourages passive solar. Energy is derived from 95 photovoltaic panels, and is shared by all residents as well as sold back to the grid. Since the building is occupied, either by residents or businesses, 24-hours a day, energy is more efficiently used.

This is a great idea that really plays off traditional planning models. When the majority of people lived in cities, it wasn’t unusual for people to live above businesses, specifically their business. It makes sense and is a far easier commute than having to trudge along in traffic with thousands of other disgruntled and tired commuters who are sucking down coffee, McMuffins and Powerbars. I think as more people, especially the younger generation (who are essentially economically screwed, but also overflowing with confidence, bless their little hearts), reclaiming urban areas and looking to escape the monotony of the cubicle farm, the LiveWork concept will become a desirable solution and means of maintaining a sustainable economic and environmental existence without having to sacrifice relationships.

Three Advantages of an American Bicycle Culture

Long Beach, California is getting attention in planning circles due to its commitment to creating bike-friendly districts within the community. Certainly it helps that the mayor, Bob Foster, is a cyclist himself. Under his watch, the city has revamped its image and put in bike trails, new bike racks, protected bike lanes and now bike-friendly shopping districts. The city has reached out to local businesses to demonstrate how attracting more bike traffic can add to their bottom line. Bike racks boost visibility and draw customers to the stores. As someone who cycles to most places, it’s really nice to see bike racks outside of shops instead of having to lock my ride to the nearest tree or fence.

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Cities such as Minneapolis, Portland and Long Beach are demonstrating that bikes belong in our communities. The advantages of a bike-friendly community:

  1. A healthier populace. America is fat. The majority of Americans are big fat fatties, shoving fast food down their gobs as they drive their giant SUVs around town and blame having increasingly sedentary lives on their jobs and other obligations. By getting out and making short-distance trips by bicycle, people will find that they have more energy as they burn calories and get things done.
  2. Less traffic congestion. More bikes on the road mean fewer vehicles, which in turn translates to less traffic congestion for those who have to drive.
  3. Vibrant communities. The easiest way to get to know your local community is to get out of your vehicle. You can’t meet the people on your street if you’re stuck sitting between four walls. On your bicycle or on foot, you can greet your neighbors, which leads to a safer neighborhood.

There’s a fourth, more obvious advantage, which is cleaner air. The fewer the vehicles that are on the road, the less pollution that fills the air, leading to healthier lungs and less incidence of asthma and other lung ailments.

While we’re not quite at the level of creating a bicycle superhighway like Sweden, our cities can get to the point where cycling is encouraged in the community.

Green Gains Ground for Recent Homebuyers

As the American housing market continues to recover, more buyers are interested in the green features a home offers. According to the most recent NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 6% of home buyers in 2010 cited green/environmentally friendly community features as one of the reasons they chose to purchase a home in the neighborhood they did. This was most commonly cited by buyers in urban areas and married couples, and is an increase from 5% in 2009. Although it’s a modest increase, it is an important one, one that may reflect increased knowledge of green solutions for the home or one that indicates a generational shift in priorities.

Or perhaps it shows recognition by homebuyers that long-term costs associated with green alternatives saves the other kind of green as well. The top three green features of importance include heating and cooling costs, energy efficient appliances and energy efficient lighting. While landscaping for energy conservation and eco-friendly community features were deemed “not important,” this may change in the future as energy costs increase. Buyers in the South were more likely to say that the top three green features were important, which may be surprising to some, until you realize that the costs associated with air conditioning—a necessity for many during the hot, sticky summer months—can drive up the monthly electric bill to several hundred dollars. That’s a huge bill to face each month.

While an energy efficient oven or clothes washer/dryer may have higher costs upfront, they have been shown to save the owner money over time…and decrease that hard-to-swallow electric bill. Similarly, conducting an energy audit, adding insulation, installing awnings or whole house fans, or upgrading to low-E windows may cause some homeowners to balk at the initial costs, the potential savings are huge and can make those high electric bills a distant bad memory.

For an overview of energy consumption in the home, and to find ways to reduce your footprint, go tohttp://www.energysavers.gov/pdfs/energy_savers.pdf