Creative Genius – In or Out

Although I’ve not (yet) read Elizabeth Gilbert‘s Eat, Pray, Love, I am currently reading The Last American Man by her. It was a National Book Award Finalist selection and profiles Eustace Conway, a committed and genuine ‘backwoods man’ living in a teepee in the mountains where I myself grew up. Because I’m enjoying the writing so much, I decided to google Elizabeth Gilbert and I discovered this truely outstanding video of her TED presentation that I want to keep for myself and share:

First 100 Feet for Green


One of Philadelphia’s greatest assets is it’s Delaware River waterfront. It is a real shame that the city does not seem to know how to use it. The Penn’s Landing amphitheater and festival area were steps in the right direction but they come across as rather half-hearted, neglected, and now out-dated. During Mayor Street’s administration there were plans for a retail mall, an outlet-type mall no less, which fell through — luckily. The festival area was even closed for several years and the cultural celebrations which took place there each summer were re-located to a pier further north then to a huge, ugly parking lot at Broad and Washington.

That nightmare seems to be over and Penn’s Landing is now being used again by Philadelphians for summer fun. Even the fountains have been filled with water – such extravagance! But, seriously, Philadelphia should be ashamed that it has squandered this potentially awesome space.

Now it seems something sensible has happened which could lead to environmentally responsible and asthetically appealing development. Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Jeff Shields reports that the Philadelphia City Council passed a bill to require 100-foot setback from the river for green space. Developers, of course, are ticked off and claim it will hinder development. Well, what has passed for development/plans for development over the last 20 years has sucked. Now, any future plans must respect the uniqueness of the waterfront and its value in the civic life of the city. This is one little ground rule, but an essential beginning, in responsible, world-class civic space development for the city of Philadelphia.

Sprouting everywhere like mushrooms – Trash Compactors

Rittenhouse Square Trash Muncher
Rittenhouse Square Trash Muncher

Last July I blogged about a small test the city of Philadelphia was running with 3 solar-powered trash compactors ( Solar-powered Trashcan Test ). Cool idea, I thought, but I did not hear anything else about them. Then over the last three weeks I’ve started seeing them everywhere. Even better — they are now paired up with recycling bins. Clearly, I missed this article on May 1 on Hot idea: Solar-powered trash crushers. There will be 500 of these “Big Bellies”, as they are called, distributed around Center City. 210 will be paired with recycling bins (see picture above).

This is great news for a city that has long been plagued by litter. I’ve come to realize that most (okay, many) Philadelphians will use a waste basket. In truth, the 700 wire baskets with plastic liners that are being replaced were really a  main part of the litter problem. Those baskets were often overflowing, and since they had no tops the wind would often pluck light stuff out of them and spread it down the streets. Sometimes a strong gust would completely lift the liner out of the mesh basket and dump everything out. Yet now, nothing will escape the ‘big bellies’ once they have a hold of it, and compactors offer a lot of advantages for a cash-strapped city hoping to clean up its act:

The compactors require fewer collections, which saves the city on fuel for sanitation vehicles and frees up workers for other tasks, officials said.

They also hold up to 200 gallons of trash, compared with the 55-gallon capacity of a regular wire trash basket.

Because of that capacity they require five weekly collections, compared with the 19 for a regular trash basket. That means only eight workers will be assigned to collect litter baskets, compared with the current 33, said Streets Commissioner Clarena Tolson. (

The presence of the recycle bins in high traffic areas, like Rittenhouse Square, will also serve to remind and encourage folks to do just that — recycle. It is easier to do when it is made so convenient.

Former Mayor (and current PA Governor) Ed Rendell made huge strides in rejuvenating Philadelphia. I moved to the city the year before he was elected and I saw the progress first-hand. Now, current Mayor Michael Nutter seems ready to take it to the next level.

See also:
Philly Brings on the Big Bellies
Philadelphia Begins Rollout…
Solar Trash Compactor Firm BigBelly Raises $3.2 M

Preparing to go where no two shuttles have gone before


NBC News space analyst James Oberg’s article: NASA set for dramatic shuttle rescue is a clear and interesting report on what plans NASA has for rescuing the crew of STS-125/Atlantis should Atlantis be damaged during its mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. The article appeared the same day that the new Star Trek movie premiered and I think that the synchronicity of the two is worth noting. The reality of real and present space flight is much grittier and limited than flight in the future fiction of Star Trek, yet the human willingess to accept danger and reach out from our planet to take a place in the heavens beyond it is comparable. In our enthusiasm to witness the emotion and drama of movies like Star Trek let’s just not forget that there is plenty of drama surrounding our real-life, present-day forays into space. Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

The Franklin Institute’s Red Tail

(Photo copyrighted by Derek Ram 2007, GNU Free Documentation Lic., posted to Wikipedia)

Two red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) set up housekeeping on the side of Philadelphia’s science museum – The Franklin Institute. Staff members have installed a web cam so that anyone can follow the pair’s efforts to raise their three, very recently hatched, chicks. There is no artificial lighting so you’ll need to watch during daylight hours (Eastern Daylight Time).

Also recently hatched are three bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) chicks in Sidney, British Columbia. This nest can be seen on the Hancock Wildlife Foundation, a site for streaming wildlife cams.

Depression in a Café

Suppenküche Chicago (1931)
Suppenküche Chicago (1931)

Financial depression, that is. I’m sitting at LaVa on 21st and South St. reading an issue of the German magazine Der Spiegel from Sept. 29, 2008. The picture above is of a Great Depression food line. On the window are the words ‘free soup’. The white banner above the door says in part: ‘Free Coffee & Doughnuts For The Unemployed.’ The caption reads: Suppenküche in Chicago (1931): Geschichte wiederholt sich nicht. And it is true, history does not repeat itself, esp. if we pay attention. So many things are dramatically different — the interconnectedness of the world, the uniqueness of having the first African-American president, the experience of looking at pictures like this which warn and motivate. Some things do remain — the emotions that arise in the face of an highly uncertain future.

(This post was made from G1 phone using wpToGo free software)

Contemplating Loss of Green Friends

Although it is overcast today the weather is very pleasant. There is the slightest breath of a breeze and the temperature is a comfortable 64F (17.8C). What a great day to be having coffee on the deck!

The cats are out too. Fleck is doing that funny chattering thing that cats do when they see pigeons. Kai, the hyper-alert one, is scanning everything around him like a radar scope. Since the deck is 10ft high and has no stairs to the garden, it is essentially a giant outdoor play pen for them and they love it. I’m enjoying it quite a bit myself, but as I look at the garden below and imagine how it will be greening up soon, I notice that our largest hemlock is not well.

The graceful thirty foot tall tree, one of an original four, is dying. The hemlock at the back wall died last year. This one nearer the deck will die this year–next year at the latest. Its normal dark green needles have been yellowing and thinning out since last fall. I knew it was likely to happen, although I vainly hoped that our garden in Center City Philadelphia was isolated enough that the woolly adelgids would not find it. Clearly, there is no where for hemlocks to hide from this insect. It has been killing them everywhere and will probably wipe them out much like the chestnut blight wiped out mature American chestnuts from 1904 to 1940.

Worse than contemplating the loss of our garden trees is the thought of the changes this introduced pest is causing to the forests near Asheville, NC where I grew up. A recent article in Science Daily reports that the dying is progressing faster there than previously thought. I saw signs of it myself last September when I visited the area.

We will replace the dead hemlocks in our garden with something else. I wonder what will take the place of the ones in the coves of the southern Appalachians. Something will, as oaks replaced chestnuts, and spring will still come, but saying good-bye to the hemlocks is still not an easy thing to do.

Tandayapa, Ecuador Photos

Cloud forest

Originally uploaded by Michlt

I’ve added an additional set of  Ecuador photos to my account. These are selected photos taken while we were staying at Tandayapa Bird Lodge. While there we birded on the old Nono-Mindo road and we spent the better part of a day at Angel Paz’ family farm. Their main crop is blackberries, but they also raise cattle and grow corn and ‘tree tomatoes’ (tomate de árbol). They supplement their farming income with eco-tourism dollars. The big draw is an Andean cock-of-the-rock lek and three different antpittas (giant, yellow-breasted, and moustached) which Angel, by means of extreme patience, has persuaded to overcome their renowned timidity…. for wages — he pays with clean and carefully cut up earthworms.

Cabañas San Isidro and Guango Lodge

Our recent trip to Ecuador was booked through Carmen Bustamante of Cabañas San Isidro. Carmen was exceptional and the lodges that her family runs were outstanding (esp. the food!). We booked a private tour, and Carmen arranged the driver, the hotel in Quito and three nature lodges (two belonging to her family and one not), and she made a great choice for our birding guide, Narby Lopez. We highly recommend Carmen and Cabañas San Isidro if you are booking a tour to the Andes of Ecuador. Guango Lodge