A new way of thinking about sustainability

The journal Nature published a commentary on March 21 that argues for a new way of thinking about sustainability, with the traditional three pillars of economy, environment, and society instead conceptualized as a nested set, as in the illustration below.

Sustainable Development Goals

As the global population increases towards nine billion people sustainable development should be seen as an economy serving society within Earth’s life support system, not as three pillars,” says co-author Dr. Priya Shyamsundar from the South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics, Nepal.

Is the three pillars of sustainability model outdated and no longer serving us? We  find ourselves often struggling to fully integrate our own thinking – humans are categorizers, a trait that has served us well throughout history up until recent times. But now it is obvious that even our conception of sustainability has been flawed and does not reflect reality.

This new way of thinking about sustainability comes in the wake of last week’s UN meeting on the definition of sustainable development goals. The researchers believe that “ending poverty and safeguarding Earth’s life support system must be the twin priorities for the Sustainable Development Goals.

We find ourselves still struggling to convince people that the economy and environment are not in conflict and that the economy should be designed for human well-being. Perhaps with this new concept, thinking will begin to shift.

“Ultimately, the choice of goals is a political decision. But science can inform what combination of goals can achieve a sustainable future. And science can identify measurable targets and indicators,” said Dr Stafford Smith.

At the Council for Watershed Health, we believe that identifying and tracking measurable goals is vital to achieving that sustainable future. These new Sustainable Development Goals and the conceptual model should be adopted to advance “The Future We Want.”

How to create a clean water alley, Part 5

While the concrete cured, the crew focused on several elements as illustrated in the following photographs

Refining grade elevations for the bio-swale.
Refining grade elevations for the bio-swale.
Prepping the wall for paint.
Using a roller prevents overspray into adjacent properties
Using a roller prevents overspray into adjacent properties

At the end of November, rain was predicted, and with an incomplee bio-swale, the crew protected the project site from sediment carried in runoff. Construction was halted for several days.

Preparing for rain

Preparing for rain

Rain delayed construction

Rain delayed construction

The storm was an opportunity to see how run-off would flow through the bio-swale.

When it was dry enough to work, the crew focused on completing the forebay and the weir apron.

Placing cobble in the forebay.
Placing cobble in the forebay.
Cobble in forebay almost complete.
Cobble in forebay almost complete.

If you’ve ever wondered, bollards” are structural elements – often posts – that allow pedestrians access but block vehicles from entry. Bollards at the entries of the Paseo make it easier for pedestrians, strollers, and carts to acces the Paseo.

Placing the bollards
Placing the bollards
Making sure the bollard is level.
Making sure the bollard is level.

During the final days of construction, the crew installed the green screen, refined the eleveation points for the bio-swale, and planted more than 10,000 plants native to southern California.

A green screen provides a structure for native vines to grow and adds an element of interest to the length of the Paseo.

Installing the green screen.
Installing the green screen.
Final bio-swale elevation points.
Final bio-swale elevation points.
Placed, spaced, and ready for planting.
Native plants placed, spaced, and ready for planting.
Bio-swale planted…
…and mulched.

A resident appreciated the opportunity to test the “strollability” of the almost complete Paseo.

Testing the ‘strollability’.

The Paseo, ready for pedestrians and rain.

Paseo north entry

The Council for Watershed Health would like to express our appreciation to the residents adjacent to the Paseo and in the neighborhood for their patience with the various construction activities.

We also thank our project funders:

Urban Greening Proposition 84, Strategic Growth Councill, State of California

Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy

Proposition O, Bureau of Sanitation, City of Los Angeles

Department of Water & Power, City of Los Angeles

What’s next for green streets? How about green alleys!

Imagine living next to a blighted alleyway. You’d like to use it to walk to church or school or the bus stop, but it’s unsafe and ugly. This is the situation that used to exist in the Elmer Avenue neighborhood. Step one was just cleaning up the Paseo so people could use it again – getting the abandoned cars towed, adding a light, and painting over the graffiti. Thankfully, the City of Los Angeles took the first step in making the Elmer Paseo a safer walkway back in 2009.

But, the Paseo still flooded, making it unusable and unsafe many days of the year. This year, the Council for Watershed Health took the next step.

In October, out came the asphalt paving and in went the construction crew to begin excavation for a new Paseo that will capture between 1.3 to 1.9 million gallons water annually, provide a safe and comfortable pedestrian connection to local goods and services, reduce localized temperatures, attract birds and butterflies, and raise community awareness about their local watershed.

Stay tuned for regular construction updates!

Solutions for Dirty Stormwater

In these dog days of summer, its nice to see a fresh new video from NRDC on “stormwater runoff 101.” Starting with the end in mind, NRDC shows how people can do simple things to keep rivers, beaches, and oceans clean. I also like the video because they feature Elmer Avenue as an example of doing things right.