Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Long Count – Maybe the Mayan Calendar has 2012 as a Year of Huge Change

[Note -- Sustainability action plans and these "cool cities/cool counties" intiatives and all the news about mayors signing onto climate change plans, all of that is important up to a point. These steps (incremental) are happening all around the USA and world. But it's a fact that we have not put fire to the feet of CEOs. It's a world where corporations and state governments are not doing enough to push for big measures to deal with climate change, respect for cultures, and sane planning for a clean world and restoration of environments and ecosystems already slashed by man. More than US 500 cities and counties have adopted some sort of sustainability plan. Spokane has, but it's been contentious to the point of silly and retrograde, as some council members yammer on about how the earth is cooling or how the earth is only 6800 years old, therefor, all the scientists are wrong about EVERYTHING.

This opinion piece looks at Spokane as a microcosm to the United States' challenge to change over to a carbon free world. It also looks at the world from the view of true sustainability. Much needs to be addressed when it comes to ecosystems, oceans dying, and resources plundered and carbon footprint inequities. It always comes back to what corporations and their industries are doing to screw the planet, us. That's a future column-blog.]

Can Sustainability Be the Answer to the Collapsing World?

By Paul K. Haeder

The brouhaha over the so-called sustainability plan for Spokane is being muddied with several axiomatic problems that illustrate just how far we need to move our collective heads to get way beyond oil. The faux clashing of ideals – radical libertarian “let the country sink or swim” ethos, or the light-weight greens -- is discordance in the troubling echo chamber of our bizarre political theater.

In one corner, the greens and sustainability proponents have their collective heads wrapped around the right issues, but they are scattered, mired in a capitalistic system that depends on war and resource exploitation. The other corner, as I have confronted many times – the Arizona or Texas militia or “minutemen” come quickly to mind – are these self-described patriot and tea party nihilists who demonstrate how a little misinformation about a complex series of issues – climate change, global warming, geologic and atmospheric tipping points, feedback loops, energy, economics, resource peaks, collapsing systems like the seas going more acidic, poverty, hunger, war – can jam up true forward progress toward working hard to find those “ten technologies to save the planet” (to use the first part of the title of Chris Goodall’s new book).

The Lyndon LaRouche and John Birch Society backers also showed up June 28 to stymie adoption of the mayor’s Sustainability Task Force report (it passed, 5-2) , a flimsy document considering where we are at now. First the oil:

USA 20, 680, 000 barrels per day
China 7, 578,000 BBL/day
Russia 2, 858,00 BBL/day
Canada 2,371,00 BBL/day
UK 1,763,000 BBL/day

As far as other un-sustainable factoids tied to this last year in the first decade of the 21st Century, 2010:

• four million gallons of oil a day gushing into a large chunk of complex ecosystems (Gulf Coast)
• the US is fighting two overt wars to position itself around oil and natural gas reserves
• China is buying up huge swaths of land in Africa and South America to feed its energy, resource and food appetites
• myriad scientists are warning of acidified oceans caused by CO2 and methane release
• ice shelves are melting at alarming rates
• vector borne diseases are scooting along in all the newest places over the globe
• 20 or more percent of the world’s species are on their way to be wiped out by 2050
• water shortages are limiting food production growth so the world needs to raise water productivity/efficiency similar to that which nearly tripled land productivity over the last half-century, according to Lester Brown
• “At the beginning of 2009, the World Bank reported that between 2005 and 2008 the incidence of poverty increased in East Asia, the Middle East, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa largely because of higher food prices, which hit the poor hard,” writes Brown

The Task Force and the so-called action plan were flawed from the start basically because the intent was not to create a living, expanding and applicable set of policies and developmental strategies and technical and entrepreneurial incentives to move Spokane, the County and the region toward a real cutting edge implementation plan to get us positioned to meet the problems of our time: expensive and more difficult to get at fossil fuels, climate change and basic energy demands. Plus, true sustainability is about fixing poverty and making citizens healthy and accessing education and decent housing.

The plan has no real vision, no teeth, no real rubber meeting the pavement policies or nuances. No incentives, no department set up to go after investors, venture capital, innovative private-public partnerships. What adoption does is give Spokane the chance to at least get to the dance floor to either sink or swim when competing for state and federal loans and grants for big projects like sewer or rainwater remediation.

The current Washington State mandate caveats cities and counties have to have “mitigation” (ugly overused empty term) measures to reduce greenhouse gasses, but in reality, what we need is a complete change in our age – how we get, use and reduce energy.

Hands down, the world needs to reduce energy use, develop huge technological advances, and agree to significant lifestyle changes if we are to stop and eventually reverse the rise in greenhouse gasses.

After 16 years reading books on climate change and talking with experts in dozens of fields, and after spending time in Vietnam working on biodiversity transects and other studies, I understand clearly the science of climate change. In reality, I never really spent much time looking at UN materials.

We have to do the big lift, the big projects, the big transition, and, unfortunately, we have to employ some of the enemies of the environment like Boeing and Exxon and Halliburton to move forward on wind, solar, wave, biomass power, as well as electric cars, biochar, and soil and forest remediation.

“Some of the technologies in this book will fail,” writes Chris Goodall in his book, Ten Technologies to Save the Planet: Energy Options for a Low-carbon Future. “. . . and it is a reasonable bet that a clear majority of the innovative companies that I briefly profile will not even exist in ten year’s time. This shouldn’t particularly concern us. All that matters is that those technologies that do eventually succeed are rolled out on a massive scale.”

What has been passed by the 5 council members is a philosophical treatise with no teeth, no alarms, zero physical blueprints, no funding, no incentives and no deep analysis of how Spokane can go at its future as a low-carbon partner in a global community that will face many of the same issues concurrently and symbiotically. It’s boiler plate language already put forth in many dozens of other city sustainability action manifestos. Voting against it is like refusing to swallow.

The Sustainability Plan is just that, a skeleton of ideas, brainstorming sessions, rumination and hopes and dreams of people who want a better world. Whether 800 individuals had input into “the plan” or if 80,000 had their say, we are now – or have been for 20 or 30 years – at the precipice looking over.

The main Task Force was comprised of 13 members, not a very nice cross-section or much depth to the line of thinking. An Avista VP was positioned as chair of the committee. Lots of mistakes there. Plus, the mayor’s office of sustainability was disbanded or disheveled soon thereafter.

You have to have teeth, muscle and a constant flow of intellectual, creative and scientific energy in an office of sustainability; much that this city does – maybe it’s DNA related – is slow, circling the wagons mentality, and fearing being ahead of the pack.

Business, academia, government, private local, state, national and international business, and other partnerships have to be tapped, nurtured and be convinced to sacrifice. Corporations and agencies have to be forced to allow release time for the tens of thousands of people with the skills sets and impetus to begin cracking the whip around sustainability in the large sense.

This next 50 years involves a ship-load of sacrifice, as in the FDR and JFK kind, and that’s not just the individual who must sacrifice – the corporations have to be stopped from making profits hand over fist in their unsustainable businesses.

Many people on the “green” side I’ve talked with for the past two years have put tongue in cheek when confronted with the fact that the real science and work on energy and climate change paint a really bleak picture, one that needs atonement through massive change. The Sustainability Task Force report is feel-good lingo with zero impact on the problem of climate change and peak oil.

Yes, it’s bizarre to hear Spokane council members Nancy McLaughlin and Bob Apple yammer on about not believing in global warming, misanthropically saying the world is cooling, maybe believing the Grand Canyon is the way their creator made on the first day of seven. Absolutely obscene really, since I have acquaintances and have interviewed many more in the sciences or with development agency work under their belts who know their stuff – like natural history and earth sciences.

It’s more than an affront to these scientists from MIT, Scripps, Tulane and all points in between to be denigrated by lesser folk who foul the discussion with superstition and ignorance. It’s bad enough that American citizens are calling scientists communists or brainwashed by the United Nations when they feel compelled to study the collision of crashing ecosystems and earth life supports degrading. When the county and city pols echo that position in any shape or form, they need the boot.

Burning fossil fuel pollutes the atmosphere, and the oceans are absorbing carbon dioxide and are becoming more acidic. Forests are being cut down. Methane is being released because of man’s direct handicraft– golf courses, cattle raising, and rice paddies – and because of disturbances of methane and methane hydrates due to drilling and warming tundra.

These are dramatic times, with the northern sea ice melting, storms increasing in intensity, drought causing starvation, forests dwindling, crop yields falling. Major rivers in Asia will be dry during summers. We have 600 million cars competing with 7 billion people.

None of what these people are working on to figure out how the global community might function as tipping points begin to cantilever sideways has anything to do with a conspiracy to take away individual rights, to stop free enterprise or to create a one world government.

There are, though, some mighty big swatches of the green washing veiling smothering real progress.

I hate invoking a politician and the Federal Trade Commission to come to my aid defining sustainability or green, but it seems apropos that we give middle of the road folk wanting to do something good for the planet a bit of reality therapy: sustainability plans and small micro-measures like individual recycling are feel good efforts but do little to curb greenhouse gasses or stop the cycle of death of ecosystems. As several writers have mentioned recently, working in the biological sciences with ecosystems and species is like being a hospice worker.

The fact is corporations need to be forced to change their high carbon and highly wasteful ways – not just how dirty or how much energy they consume to make the junk they do, but also externalizing costs to the detriment of culture, non-human species and entire peoples and generations.

Too many people are making too much money calling the new black green. It’s more than just green washing, as in the term, “white washing away” truth. It’s unpatriotic, and, as the term eco-pornography evokes, absolute prostitution of the good intention of people trying to solve our problems but by ripping off the intent by making money inside a corporate structure whose sole purpose is to reap profits at the expense of people and environment.

Here’s what Bobby Rush, D-Ill., chairman of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said at a hearing a year ago about the issue of green washing: “More than ever before, the shelves of our supermarkets, hardware, ‘Big Box,’ home improvement, and pet stores are being lined with goods bearing labels touting themselves as ‘natural,’ ‘biodegradable,’ ‘eco- friendly,’ ‘sustainable,’ ‘carbon-neutral,’ ‘recyclable’ and ‘non-toxic,’ just to name a few.” Congressman Rush is also concerned about inauthentic green certification labels, noting, “For a fee, these companies will certify anything as green, affording false comfort to purchasers that the products meet environmental and safety standards.”
The hearing, ironically, was titled, “It’s Too Easy Being Green: Defining Fair Green Marketing Practices.” Still, the enforcement division of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection is still having issues with creating these “green guides” to police environmental marketing claims.

I’ve been working the sustainability movement for more than 10 years, specifically sustainability with a big S, but before that, I worked on environmental movements, campaigns, and reported on and wrote about the environment as a journalist; been on campaigns to stop the Rio Grande from being polluted, worked on stopping New York sludge from being spread on West Texas soil by the train load. I’ve worked in communities dealing with political refugees during the Reagan and Bush–One administrations. I’ve seen sleepy fishing villages in Mexico and Central America turn into over-built tourist zones of toxicity.

I cut my teeth on the Sea of Cortez, as a diver and a college student. Those first dives in 1972 were like entering underwater heaven, or floating through an oceanic rain forest. Famed explorer and documentarian, Jacques Yves Cousteau, called the Sea of Cortez “the world’s aquarium.” More than 800 marine animals with hundreds of subspecies to their ranks inhabit the Sea of Cortez. I bring up that “locked sea” to finish this essay on sustainability as a capstone to how flimsy the terminology and the operating systems of developers, planners and technocrats have become when it comes to so-deemed “sustainable development.”

That place is barely a shadow of itself now, with so much over harvesting and large sections of the edge of the ocean destroyed and way too much sewage, wastes and other toxins put into it. That is unsustainable, for now and for future generations.

On the Baja side, facing that wondrous azure, is Loreto, where I spent many a weird and intense days and nights diving the reefs in 1980 and ‘81. It was an outback kind of place, but now, 30 years later, the bastardization of sustainable development is clashing with the values of local people.

It’s development in the name of tourism, retirement and fun in the sun, as the local activists and scientists are trying to pry apart the concept of sustainability as it applies to a golf course, rainwater and aquifer redesign (damming and catchments), and 6,000 condo dwellings constructed in an area labeled as a World Heritage site after the United Nations in 2006 added 244 islands, inlets and coastal zones in an effort to protect Sea of Cortez’s biological diversity.

Enter The Loreto Bay Company, the Mexican tourism development office and a Canadian firm, the Trust for Sustainable Development, whose director is a prominent developer.

It’s a tale of two sides, two stories, two narrative frames, but the bottom line is that the development is not as sustainable as the developers and Mexican government profess; in fact, much of the project, from guaranteeing protection to flora, fauna, and reefs, to respecting the indigenous cultural heritage and architecture, to dealing with trash, recyclables, to the amount of water being used per person, all the way through the project, it’s really questionable that moving into a unique ecosystem to create these high density tourism developments can even be anywhere near sustainable in the true sense of the word.

This is a beautiful and tough area to settle in, with one rain event happening sometimes every 14 months. The developers, architects, designers, engineers and government tourism guys who are looking for long and deep revenue streams really have little to show for a total systems approach to sustainability.

Development that has solar, wind, non-toxic paint, etc. Is that enough to deem a project sustainable? Hardly. Everything about the Loreto Bay project is tweaked with missteps and misapplication of the ideas of sustainability. They are even “importing” mainland labor to work cheaply and live in congested camps. It’s sustainable, alright – in terms of turning a profit margin while exploiting the people, natural bounty, future.

Therein lays the problem with confronting sustainability, climate change, post-carbon adaptation and such. There has to be common sense, and a systems approach to thinking things through. Tourists will drop trash, dump their waste stream somewhere, trample the beaches where animals reside and nest. It’s just a clear tragedy of the commons. A tragedy that North Americans and others want to ship themselves and their consumption habits to an area south of the border to find themselves or recreate?

All of this and more are what a real sustainability platform and development plan would consider. So, call the June 28, 2010 adoption of this Spokane plan, “Sustainability Action Plan: Addressing Climate Mitigation, Climate Adaptation, and Energy Security,” a small step, or inching forward. Don’t let either side co-opt fear, or market it for what it isn’t or can’t do as a 23-page document.

Patriot Party and Tea Party hangers on have gotten almost everything wrong when it comes to climate change, ecological collapse and sustainability. The green side has the heart in the right place, and the mind sort of there too, but they can only imagine a few years or decades into the future, and really both camps just can’t fathom a world where we all have to make huge financial and personal lifestyle sacrifices.

Yet that’s what the tea leaves say. Or as my old Greek friend in El Paso used to say, “That’s the way the baklava falls.”

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

To Bee or Not to Bee

Want to Help Save the World? Get Yourself a Hive or Two

By Paul K. Haeder

If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.
– erroneously attributed to Albert Einsten

We think of ourselves as a species that’s as busy as bees, 7 billion of us seemingly clamoring to keep active doing good things to do good for the whole. Some of us hold onto postage-stamp sized spits of land in our urban mega cities of 10 million or more (18 total thus far in the world).

While we look like bees in Tokyo (35 million) or Mubai, our carbon footprints are huge as we require more and more land for food and resources to feed our oil addiction.

We build and destroy cities. We create culture and live for the moment, consuming vast quantities of junk. We spray land with chemicals to get more from it and kill more biodiversity to control what we need. We love genetically altering organisms, damming river systems, and plowing under rainforest for a mono-crop, for instance, palm oil, so chocolate and crackers taste creamy and snappy.

A thing left out of this process is that we are just ONE part of nature, a link that has so much viral power to alter all other niches, ecosystems and individual species like polar bears or woodpeckers.

Busy as bees we are not, since these amazing creatures – especially the Mediterranean and Russian varieties – are built to move mountains. According to its Greek origins, Apis mellifera is the “honey-carrying” bee, although in reality it carries nectar and pollen. Linnaeus wanted to rename it Apis mellifica, “honey-making” bee, but taxonomical protocol trumped that idea.

For one Cheney couple, bee keeping and leaving the madhouse of Southern California may have saved them.

“We were seeing everything collapse,” Martin Davis said while looking out at his property, Bee-Chicken Farm, in the Hog Creek basin, abutting DNR wetlands. “The oceans were dying before my eyes. Each year I went spear fishing, I could see more pollution from all those people … and less fish.”

Martin surfed and scuba dived those ecosystems, and while jostling in his neighborhood for parking when 30 cars at a time were cruising for curb space, it was nothing compared to seeing 18 million people’s voracious appetites help destroy his recreational world.

Finding 20 acres here in 2005 was an act of self-preservation for themselves and their 24-year-old daughter, Martina.

Little did the Davises know their project to escape traffic, polluted surf, long store queues (“lines everywhere, even at 1 in the morning”) and the ‘reckless self-organizing of humanity’ (land use planning) in a place like LA or Ventura would include a complete transformation into bee keepers.

Each of their hives supports 30,000-40,000 animals, though 60,000 to 90,000 bees in one hive is not uncommon.

The bees’ self-organizing campaign and wondrous efficiency looking for nectar and pollen are beyond anything humans, even with a bank of hard drives and a million robotic gizmos, could muster.

The Davises now have their sustainable farm up and running — they’ve decided to eliminate any chemical inputs for bees and the egg- laying, meat-providing chickens. Marcia even makes dog food for their three mutts.

“I really have no faith in corporations knowing what they put into anything… dog food or human, it doesn’t matter, I don’t trust them to do the right thing,” Marcia said, emphasizing the recent cases of pet deaths because of melamine-enhanced wheat gluten from China.

She’s got engineering under her belt all the way back to the University of Texas-Arlington and her current position is with the City of Spokane as a civil engineer in the capital facilities department.

Bee-Chicken produces several types of honey, including snowberry, a buckwheat variety and mixed varieties sourced from indigenous flowering plants and trees, to orchards in the area. One honey from Zambia is amazingly complex and evocative of those variable terroirs used in the wine grower’s parlance. Each elixir has complex layers of flavors and various potency tones and hues that play magic on the tongue.

They plan to make the land pay off with more chickens, bees, and sustainable living. They talked about how their daughter struggled in California with mood disorders and behavior issues, caused in part by what Martin connects to the synergistic effects of bad stuff in the water, food, air and the spiritual deficit of Southern California.

The Davises believe we as a species are causing our own demise. Looking at the incredible death rates of hives all over the U.S., called Colony Collapse Disorder, they make the connection to our own species being overly revved up on stimulants like consumerism, hydrocarbon burning and junk entertainment. We’re too fat on bad food, and we are so chewed up genetically and endocrine-wise because of our plasticized and chemically-induced stupor that we too experience a sort of civilization
collapse disorder.

Marcia admitted that our wet and cold weather plays havoc on hives, and she agonizes over each bee, hitting near rock bottom emotionally when an entire hive was wiped out last winter. Martin is a doting parent checking his hives daily, and is confounded by the region’s extreme weather.

The couple forgives coyotes, owls and red-tailed hawks that snatch up a few of their egg-laying and meat-producing chickens. They’ve enlisted the services of a rooster to guard the hens.

While they understand the issues behind books like “The End of Food” and “Fast Food Nation,” or films like “Food, Inc., and “Big Corn,” Marcia feels that a transition into a sustainable food system will take time.

“We have to have a plan for transition. We can’t close all the CAFOs [concentrated animal feeding operations] and stop the main industrial producers of food overnight. We’d see a lot of social disorder… hunger, I believe,” she said.

The couple has been moved by recent films like “The Last Bee Keeper” and “Vanishing of the Bees,” but don’t give up hope as they are active in the West Plains Beekeeper Association, learning all the ins and outs of good beekeeping.

Martin is pursuing a degree in entomology after spending 30 years as a union man in the area of interior finish carpentry. He’s supervised construction projects, like interiors for Star Trek theme parks and all sorts of projects in Las Vegas and Burbank. Marcia went through an intensive 14-week training course on forestland management and worked with a logger to thin out ponderosa pines.

Theories as to why bees are dying are tied to six or seven major vectors, and they’re studying each, applying essential oils from thyme, peppermint and eucalyptus to treat hives for some of the top culprits.

The varroa (vampire) mite is one pest which takes advantage of the human connection to altering the bees’ home — the honey frames man designed 100 years ago. Honeycomb cells are larger than what bees make in a wild hive, allowing for more mites to live and lay eggs.

Then there’s foulbrood, a contagious disease, and Nosema ceranae, a digestive problem which bees contract over long, cold winters when confined to their hives for extended periods. Beekeepers also face wax moths. Conventional remedies in our modern age have involved antibiotics, mitacides, fungicides even moth balls. Their local association has nothing to do with these modern chemical cocktails.

They recently threw a party for their bees – pounds and pounds of seeds for flowering plants sowed all over their new forest floor.

For Martin and Marcia Davis, education, experience and a group of beekeepers are the only way to manage bees correctly.

Yet, there are limits, as Marcia says: “We don’t control the bee, really.”

For more information on Bee-Chicken Farm please contact (509) 239-4592 or email

Monday, July 5, 2010

Dispatches from a Disaster continued.... Some Say Character Develops in Darkness

One Gulf Coast Photographer
Looks at the Ordinary
to Fix Place into Art

By Paul K. Haeder

“It was absolutely fascinating to me. It was like being in the darkest of Africa… alligators, palmettos and Spanish moss. I tell you, it really grabbed a hold of me. To me it was pure adventure, I loved it.” — Fonville Winans about his early days on Grand Isle, Louisiana.

For photographers of any ilk, the place is the making of the artist. For one Upstate New York transplant, the Gulf of Mexico is now in his photographic DNA.

For fine art photographer Matthew White, 43, the Gulf Coast has inoculated him from any sort of jaded look at the world. Originally from New York, White moved south, from Binghamton (vis-à-vis Boston, with a degree in music under his belt), first to Richmond, Va, in 1990 where he played in and toured with the rock band, Mile Zero.

From 1993 to 2003 he worked for National Public Radio, was a music producer and played in dozens of bands while in Athens, Ga. He also photographed.

It was the move to New Orleans seven years ago where his status as “a fish out of water” allowed him to understand the discordance and syncopation of this place that is, for White, a paradise of American music, American South. “Music comes from this city that couldn’t come from anywhere else … the blues, Cajun … it’s a language unto itself.”

White’s shutter bug started on his 16th birthday when he got his first single lens reflex 35 mm camera. Then, he was waylaid artistically by Joel Meyerowitz, who made Cape Cod famous in his minimalist way, conveying “a silent, powerful beauty to his images … so much so that you have to step into the photos to understand them.”

He steeled himself for the lifelong project of photographing wetlands and beaches, fishing communities leveled by time, and now, oil. All of that coast and cultural ground is being changed by the British Petroleum blowout of up to 150 million gallons of oil, and counting.

Now White continues in the blustery tsunami of toxic waters and wind whipped up by the incompetence of BP and all the other agencies cowing to the worst of the worst in the oil business. His viewfinder, he admits, is the convergence of dead animals and the goo of formerly white beaches turned bituminous.

He has his favorite places, and like a scientist looking for the formation of a larger frame from which to test a theory, White goes back to spots, replicating the same angle and depth of field, to plot the swirl of color and shadow.

“I’m able to see how this place changes over time, over seasons. I want people to feel what I’m feeling,” White said in a phone interview while readying himself for more Grand Isle and marshland photo shoots.

It’s not about trickery of lens, digital manipulation or “going for the emotional jugular,” White insisted. He wants us to see what he sees, and he’s quick to criticize the high drama being demanded of him and other photographers now that the Gulf is in the international limelight. “Wide angle shots, I understand the technique. To get in real close to these people. I don’t want to use a tool as blunt as a camera to pry into people’s lives.”

He saw the same sort of photojournalistic techniques employed after Katrina. He insisted on photographing the land, the raw structure of New Orleans after the storm upheaval altered land use, time, and memory.

We’ve been able to capture some of White’s words in both a radio interview and photographs of the unfolding effects of oil. He’s going to be a semi-regular call in on Tipping Points: Voices from the Edge, on KYRS, as I’ve devoted air time and writing space to continuing the coverage of the Gulf Coast.

White’s admonition is for the story not to fade away, and he’s both impressed and thankful that Spokane, through myself and Marc Gauthier, is interested in Grand Isle and the plight of the fishers, both human and non-human.

He’s gracious to acknowledge the work of predecessors, and White’s large sweep of photographic history is impressive, and the perfect underpinning for the work he is now undertaking to make sure the truth is presented, illuminated, considered.

The death of the Gulf has been a quick process over the past 90 years, but White has seen some profusion of elegant beauty in bursts and spurts over the more than 18 years he’s been photographing here. He harkens back to Fonville Winans, who chronicled for more than 50 years this region’s human, cultural and natural life.

Winans came to the Gulf Coast as a construction worker. Then onto Grand Isle specifically, and with that first camera, a Kodak 3A camera for which he bought on a whim and other gear, Winans captured governors, other politicos and the enduring diverse and quirky world of the Gulf Coast.

Selling three continuous works of photographic elegance is White’s goal. He’s got one project, “End of the Great River, ” chronicling lower Plaquemine’s Parish, where the greatest river in the U.S. unfolds into the Gulf. “What is it, half a million people a year visit that little pond in Minnesota [Lake Itasca] that is the source of the Mississippi. You’d think the same number of people would want to see its end point.”

Another book follows years of photographing in and around Cameron Parish. The third one is “South Florida Unseen,” a book of photographs “tracing the Everglades watershed along the line where man stops and nature begins.”

The images are stark in their beauty and editorial thrust. “Florida has been developed block by block,” White said. “All of a sudden it just stops and there it is, the Everglades. There’s a sadness and loneliness in [the photographs].”

He uses the allusion of a street, Southwest 360th Avenue, just disappearing into the sawgrass. “It represents broken dreams. It’s fascinating, really, how all that unfolds.”

It’s a collection no one else has, White insisted. And it’s still not done, and he needs the money to get charters and guides to access “a damned dangerous place … where you can get a leg bit off, or drown, die of a snake bite … or just get lost in a boat.”

For now, White photographs the soiled Gulf but plans to get to those last angles and landscapes. He’s tiring of all the requests for shots capturing “the drama of the oil.”

“I’d like Anderson Cooper to call up and ask for some of the photographs of this area before the oil spill,” White said. “Yeah, all the shots of the BP oil spill are forcing people to react, I know. But what would they think if they could actually see the beauty of the land, what could be lost forever?”

Photographer: Matthew D. White

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Terms of Public Market Endearment

South Perry great example of a market gone right

By Paul K. Haeder

There were more than 17 vendors or sellers at the opening of the South Perry Thursday farmer’s market, June 3, 2010, in its new location at The Shop. Market director Brian Estes saw the day as a good omen, with the weather, the number of first-day sellers and the crowds getting high marks. He’s open to squeezing in another 11 stalls if need be.

It was clear some sort of magic was present, for that 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. market explosion. Organizers of Spokane Public Market are hoping for similar magic, even with a larger project with a broader set of goals.

David O’Neil is the guru of historical and international markets. He was a writer and advisor to the Urban Land Institute’s book, “Public Markets and Community Revitalization.”

It’s his mantra that individuals make a market, not architecture. Planning and designing, and then developing and operating markets take unique skills and talents, to be sure. But sellers and participants in that exchange make the market.

When O’Neil was in Spokane talking about the proposed site, 2nd Avenue, Pacific, and Browne, he laid out the major characteristics and some processes that can make a public market attractive and successful.

Public markets renew downtowns, jump-start surrounding neighborhoods, and attract development and infill. They bring diverse people together in social interaction. This public space creation is key to David’s thesis. “Farmer’s need the city, and the city needs farmers.”

That linking of urban and rural economies is key to national resiliency and community and regional solvency. Public markets with an emphasis on fresh produce and food that is freshly prepared promote public health. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a multibillion dollar non-profit, invests in projects that solve the challenge of having healthy food be available to poor neighborhoods and promoted for unhealthy people.

O”Neil works for the Project for Public Spaces and ULI, and both organizations see the economic opportunities developing with a public market, especially for those business owners who have been shut out far too long to the retail market by large chains and corporations.

All those parts add up to the right vendors, the right location, the correct mix of activities and stuff to sell, a strong, clear and locally-generated mission, and public spaces for both low- income and high-income customers where moderately-priced food and goods are sold.

Traffic calming can tweak busy thoroughfares. Parking sort of takes care of itself, and the Spokane Public Market has plenty of parking. Pedestrian flow is important, too.

But too much of a good thing like over-designing the space can kill the heart and soul of a market. O’Neil is actually an expert on “detouristification,” the art of getting the tourists out of the public market because they can ruin a market with junk, trinkets and overpriced food.

While the U.S. only has fewer than 100 historic markets left or up and running through revitalization plans, there is no question that markets are great places for immigrants to get started. Enriching the social fabric, O’Neil says, is what markets can do; it’s a calming element to a city or neighborhood, providing a safe public gathering place for a diverse set of activities.

He’s at the cutting edge of researching social integration and the process of upward mobility through the economics of informal economies. Wholesaling to restaurants while processing and making foods on the spot, as well as selling raw ingredients, makes for a great new-old relationship that’s not just about hawking goods.

Can Spokane support or envision a market district where wholesaling is occurring as well as multiple sheds or spaces for things like farmer’s produce and products; clothing; flowers; cheese; wine; pasta; meats?

He showed us a photograph of three Latvians selling potatoes and other produce on a roadside stand — just a wormy wood plank and grimy canvas canopy. “”It’s not about architecture. You just don’t want to mess with what happens in markets. Those Latvians have been selling like that for a thousand years … still do today.”

While we won’t ever be Barcelona, where urban markets have been thriving for centuries … and received a boost in 1857 when the mayor declared no one would have to walk more than 10 minutes from home to reach a market, Spokane can achieve something if the right ingredients come together in Spokane, O’Neil stressed.

We need to get county commissioners, GSI members, city council members, state representatives, the governor’s office and others to put the value back in community development and neighborhood public places.

“China is putting in $1 billion a year to invest in public markets, what they call free markets,” O’Neil added. “We, on the other hand, have to beg the USDA to even see that an investment in public markets is economically sound.”

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Public market expert looking at Spokane’s possibilities


How to concoct the perfect public market:

2 parts people
2 parts smiles
2 parts farmers
1 part food
3 parts community exchange
2 parts children
1 part music
1 ½ part cash
2 parts space/place-making

Mix above ingredients, but first find a large or semi-large space – plenty of sun, or not. Sprinkle with ancient spice “food-produce-product exchange” and blend gently with the magic called the social health of the community. Call the neighbors while whipping it up. You might need other ingredients folded in from the private-public sectors, plus chutzpah from county, city and state leaders to ensure plenty of allowances for food carts, tables, farm stands, trinkets and crafts. Make sure code enforcers make it easy for small retailers and producers to do business. Serve and enjoy.

While the public market movement today, from Louisville to Detroit, from Minneapolis to Boston, certainly finds its impetus in downtown revitalization efforts, as well as the under-girdering of business and real estate development partnerships, there’s no getting around markets aren’t made from the buildings, can’t depend on architecture to thrive, and can get by with lousy locations.

A market or public space is the sum total of all activities within, around and nearby. People power is key.

“Markets create value, and not just in transaction value. They create valuable places that, in turn, spur additional investment,” said David O’Neil, market researcher, developer, writer and public space consultant extraordinaire.

A former manager of Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia and now a researcher with the Ford Foundation and director of the Public Market Collaborative of the Project for Public Spaces, he sings the praises of public space investment, market development and urban revitalization.

He’s visited the world’s great markets and lately has worked with the Spokane Public Market board, BR3 Development Group, architects from Nystrom, Olsen, Collins, Inc., and others to develop a city block on the south side of Second edged by Pacific and Browne.

The market’s location is slated for a 25,200-square-foot former flower warehouse space. The idea is to have a year-round indoor market with outdoor vending space when the climate’s agreeable, and a separate and different market district from the farmer’s market.

The DNA of the place, O’Neil said, is strong, with a latent market district in its history. It’s near low-income buildings, and there are a few empty buildings. There also would be challenges to retrofitting, razing and repurposing another area to create a new market district.

O’Neil said a public market reflects the community, its economic viability, but more importantly its cultural and physical health.

Sometimes a market sprouts up from historical places, in warehouse districts, milling and flower wholesale locations. Other times investors try to reinvent the wheel with huge private-public financing schemes to create turbo-charged food courts.

Then there’s magic, serendipity and frustration with business as usual, and, voila , you have a place like Pike Place Market.

In 1907, Seattle’s regional farmers were feeling the pinch of the middleman, so small, independent truck farmers gathered at Pike Place to sell directly to the consumer. This Nirvana of U.S. public-private markets recently received the backing of Seattle’s citizenry with the passage of a $65 million revitalization bond.

Pike Place has withstood a lot of challenges, while many of country’s top public markets have withstood greater obstacles, such as pillaging, cultural changes, weather, fires, Diasporas, and hostile takeovers by gentrification development plans.

Unfortunately, like the goodness milled and bleached out of bread, other central public markets have lost out to more than 50 years of industrialization, suburbanization, Walmart-ification, automobiles, the Internet and retail chains.

“People left the cities after the Depression, and with that we lost our urban compass,” said O’Neil. “We’ve redlined neighborhoods and cut them to bits with the saber tooth saws called roads.”

It seems like a heavy lift for Spokane to propose a Spokane Public Market on a block near the House of Charity, in buildings totaling 75,000 square feet, but O’Neil knows his way around managing markets and developing them as public markets. He says that block “has good DNA” for not only a public market, but an entire district.

The term ‘agora’ denotes a marketplace, often heard regarding the Ancient Greek gathering places where orators held speeches and citizens met to debate.

Just hanging out at The Shop, on Perry, for the first of the season’s Thursday South Perry Street Markets, the elegance and simplicity of these exchanges, families carousing to music or old people sucking on honey sticks, it was obvious that a market’s enterprise can be this sort of gathering, with a few pop-up canopies and banged-up tables.

I asked the farmers there about the Spokane Public Market proposal, including South Perry Street Market Director Brian Estes, who owns Vinegar Flats Farm, and bread maker, Louise Tuffin, with Tom and Louise’s Arabesque Farms and Bakery.

Both are working hard with market season in full swing, so getting in on the design and feedback sessions for the Public Market proposal has been difficult. They see Spokane as having the right ingredients for a year-round market, but also the dark, hovering cloud of, well, Spokane.

It’s about capacity, about communication (or lack thereof), about buy-in, and convincing many citizens with a 1950s vision to break into the 21st century in terms of seeing potential of a market as proposed through O’Neil’s presentation.

Sam Nystrom, president of the architecture firm helping BR3, understands the need for urban infill, and knows the block is a long-term project.

Getting feedback from possible users is valuable in the process to get a public market off the ground, but Nystrom still professes the traditional architect’s take on the world – “Creating the right space, from an aesthetically pleasing and functional point of view, drives the market’s viability.”

They say they have letters of intent from anchor businesses and prospective tenants, and some of the funding “is in place,” close to $1.5 million, but the Spokane Public Market board needs commitment from growers, producers, sellers and the buyers/public to get that space vibrant.

It may be a low-income and shoddy area of town, but O’Neil and others know that once you put people there, and have things happening, a lot of problems like crime or fear of crime melt away.

Grungy is how many see the historic Lexington Market, but it represents a big slice of that city’s culture. In the U.S., farmer’s markets have grown like gangbusters in the past two decades, over 6,000 at last count. Community Support edAgriculture businesses (CSAs) have also burgeoned the past decade.

The key to Spokane’s public market future is to make the connection to all the neighborhood farmer’s markets, and tie into a regional food shed – about 200 miles in radius.

“A market should suit its place. It’s like if you plant a seed, and put it too deep and add too much water, it’s not going to grow,” O’Neil said.

The big question on many farmers’ minds is whether it is the right time for Spokane, the right dimension and scale, and if there is enough capacity, farm-wise.

For those looking for resiliency in a future world of struggling oil and energy availability and affordability, maybe a public square, a public node of buildings, booths and stores where entertainment and affordable, and healthy food and local goods and services are available, is just the recipe for building community and restarting history.

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