How Small Industrial Cities Can Rejuvenate The US Economy

It’s America’s small to midsize cities – Syracuse, Peoria, Rochester, Rockford – forgotten towns beaten down by deindustrialization, and outsourcing, that can become the economic engines of the future economy.

That is the premise of Small, Gritty, and Green: The Promise of America’s Smaller Industrial Cities in a Low-Carbon World by Catherine Tumber, a journalist and Research Affiliate in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

Tumbler, who interviewed city planners  in twenty-five cities in the Northeast and Midwest US, arrived at some insightful conclusions on how smaller cities, and not megalopolises like New York City, can be the new engines of the  US economy.

How is this possible? By using under-appreciated assets that most small cities already have, like arable land in close proximity,  smaller governments and the manufacturing skills of a willing but underemployed population.

The author also cautions that the rampant urban sprawl we see today endangers the economic viability of these smaller cities. The sprawl of plazas and rows of tacky suburban houses ruin agricultural land that could be better leveraged for crops and green industry jobs, even as energy and climate change realities disrupt the long supply chains we currently rely on.

You can hear Catherine Tumber talk about these midsize city solutions on the KunstlerCast podcast with American author James Howard Kunstler.

11

07 2012

Take a Humane Stance with Ants

In the last blog post we discussed how to humanely remove bats and raccoons from your property, this month we discover what carpenter ants are really about, and how to deal with them.

Like all insects, carpenter ants (Camponotus pennsylvanicus) are cold blooded. They congregate in dead trees and other hidden places during the winter and search for food in the warmer spring and summer months.

It’s during this time, as the sun shines through your kitchen window, you’ll notice carpenter ants on your hardwood or linoleum floor. They are red or black ants that vary in length from 6 to 25 mm. They are on a trek for carbohydrate-rich foods.

Carpenter ants are omnivorous. They can eat a wide variety of plant and animal foods, including fruits, sweets such as syrup and jam, and meat. Despite what their name implies, they cannot digest wood cellulose like termites.

Typically, when a person spots a carpenter ant inside the home, they assume the worst. They fear a swarming, thriving ant colony is breeding within the house. This is rarely the case. Carpenter ants live in hollow trees, logs, landscaping timbers, and soil, and will march hundreds of metres from their colony in search of food.

According to Gary Umphrey, an ant expert and mathematics professor at the University of Guelph, there’s a 90% likelihood the ants are only passing through.

The 10% exception is homes with decaying wood structures due to an ongoing moisture problem. Carpenter ants will burrow and nest in the moist, decaying wood. Evidence of them nesting in your home may include small holes and trails of sawdust.

If these signs of infestation are visible, structural damage may be extreme. You’ll want to contact a Registered Home Inspector for professional advice.

To deal with carpenter ants, the federal government’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency recommends correcting humidity issues that may be affecting wood structures, removing sweets, grains and meat products, and carting away firewood that may have transported ants into the house.

Other natural and humane ways to keep ants at bay include:

  • sprinkling bay leaves or cayenne pepper near cracks and entry points. Ants hate the scent and will move elsewhere.
  • spray a cleaning solution of vinegar, water, and about ten drops of tea tree oil around your counters and doorway
  • draw chalk lines around your doorways and windowsills. Ants do not like particles sticking to their feet
  • If a colony is well established in the home, various chemical treatments are available (although they are not at all ecologically friendly or humane)

 

Regardless, you’ll see ants less in the summer months. Ants, like humans, tend to scale back their work activities as the weather gets hotter. In the autumn, as their food stores fill, they become even more scarce before disappearing for the winter.

 

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31

05 2012

Raccoons and Bats on Your Property? Here’s What to Do

Raccoons in your home

As urban sprawl continues to destroy natural habitat and displace wildlife, homeowners may find themselves sharing their dwellings with wild species that are forced into close proximity with humans. Fortunately, there are humane ways of extricating these unwanted guests from your home to somewhere else suitable.

A win/win for you and Mother Nature.

Two animals that may take refuge in your home during this time of year are bats and raccoons. Let’s discuss the bat first.

 

THE TRUTH ABOUT BATS

You’ve likely seen vampire movies where bats have been depicted as scary creatures intent on harming humans. In reality, the opposite is true.

Bat are harmless, timid animals that may live in your home without you even knowing. They are beneficial to the ecosystem and to humans because their primary diet is crop destroying moths and blood-sucking mosquitoes. Bats are estimated to save farmers millions of dollars a year in pesticide applications. Farmers don’t need to use pesticides because bats protect the crops.

Less pesticide use means healthier produce at the grocery store.

 

IF A BAT IS IN YOUR HOME

Bats commonly dwell in attics, but may appear in other rooms of your home. If you discover a bat in your home, the worst thing you can do is swing a tennis racket around like Andre Agassi at the US Open. Doing so could injure yourself, damage your furniture, and cause undo stress on an animal that is more frightened than even you are.

Another bad idea is to try and remove bats yourself.

Some people resort to gimmicky bat-removal products they find online. For example, ultrasonic pest-control devices that purportedly emit a high-frequency sound to chase away bats are ineffective and claims about their efficacy fraudulent. They are expensive and a waste of money and time.

The best action to take is to call an experienced wildlife control expert to humanely remove the bats. These “pest” control professionals will conduct a thorough inspection of your home to identify all entry points, then install bat exclusion valves at the entry points that get the bats out of your home for good.

 

RACCOONS

Raccoons, the animal that looks like the McDonald’s Hamburgler, are becoming increasingly common in suburbs and cities at large. The mask-like brown-black streak that extends from forehead to nose is somewhat fitting, since they are active mostly at night. Raccoons are also noted for their intelligence, with studies showing that they are able to remember the solution to tasks up to three years later.

 

IF A RACCOON IS ON YOUR PROPERTY

After a night of foraging for food, raccoons may sleep during the day in attics, lofts and chimneys. If you discover a raccoon living in one of these places during the months of March and June, it may be a mother and it’s babies. The worst thing you could do is try to smoke them out. They will not be able to escape and they will die in the chimney.

A better, kinder alternative is exercise a little patience and allow the mother and her young to find an alternative home. In the middle months of summer, when the young are stronger and able to move on their own, you can give eviction notice. Try placing an ammonia-soaked rag in the fireplace, shining bright lights in their hiding places with a flashlight or playing a radio loud.

When the raccoons leave your home (and you can confirm this is so), install a chimney cap and remove any large tree branches that may be a bridge to your roof.

The best plan of action is to call wildlife control experts to remove and relocate the critters.

Please be aware that in Ontario, raccoon trapping and relocation is illegal. According to studies conducted by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources regulations, relocating raccoons more than a kilometre away, in contravention of the regulations, will condemn the animal to death, as it is in an unfamiliar environment where it must compete for food sources already claimed.

Improper use of a trap that results in animal suffering could lead to animal cruelty charges through the Ontario SPCA Act.

One more important reason not to try and remove these animals yourself: although rare, raccoons and bats may have rabies, which humans can contract. Raccoons can also become violent if they feel threatened. Never try and handle them yourself.

For more information, contact pest control experts in your area. They will be able to answer all your questions and alleviate any concerns you have. Education, as always, can go a long way.

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21

03 2012

A Big Reason Canadians Are So Happy (And Why It’s At Risk)

Photo by eflon

In a study conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development(OECD), Canada ranks number six for happiest country in the world.

We Canadian’s have much to be happy about, particularly in comparison to developing nations and those with oppressive regimes. A big reason Canadian’s are of a more positive mental state is because we live in a country “where pines and maples grow, great prairies spread and lordly rivers flow“. Canada is renowned for it’s natural beauty. Nature provides for us a retreat from the bustle of urban life.

Studies show nature relaxes us and improves mental and physical health. The research data indicates that people only need to look at gardens and plants and their stress reactions are healthier than unlucky folks who don’t see nature.

However, according to the Federation of Ontario Naturalists and other wildlife protection organizations, nature is at risk due to rapid urban sprawl. (For those unfamiliar with the term, urban sprawl is the outward spreading of a city and its suburbs to automobile-dependent developments on rural land).

At the current rate, natural forests and farmland nearly double the size of Toronto will be converted to asphalt and concrete by 2021.

Urban sprawl annihilates wildlife and farmland, pollutes our waterways and forces over dependence on automobiles. More cars and trucks mean more smog, more commuting, more stress.

It also decentralizes the city and weakens the downtown core. Municipalities with carefree urban sprawl developments often have downtowns that are slowly dying. They are no longer a central place of entertainment and commerce, and the local businesses suffer economically.

Urban Sprawl also means more taxes for everyone. As new suburb developments extend further and further, so must the city’s electric power distribution, water and sewage systems. Garbage and recycling trucks must service the new areas, as do the public transit routes. There is increased pressure on fire departments and police stations as they must cover more territory, and the list goes on.

Everyone pays for urban sprawl, but few benefit.

In contrast, cities and counties that respect the boundaries of natural habitats are more likely to enjoy vibrant downtowns and an environment which encourages local business. A city where people want to live and work. This mindset of urban planning is known as smart growth.

Smart growth is realistic in it’s assumption cities will grow, but offers a mix of alternatives to urban sprawl which includes:

  • Incentives to reclaim older buildings and re-develop “brownfields”, which are abandoned industrial parks.
  • Offers pedestrian friendly, community-oriented living areas with houses of many different types and costs.
  • Provides robust public transit services and bike routes which offer an alternative to driving.

Smart growth takes the long view of environmental and economic sustainability. It resists the quick gratification of urban sprawl. It preserves some nature and the animals that reside there for our children and their children to enjoy.

Now that’s something to be happy about.

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05

10 2011

James Howard Kunstler: The Tragedy of Suburbia

My first exposure to James Howard Kunstler was back in 2007 while watching the The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream. The documentary stayed with me for some time, and I’ve followed Howard Kunstler on his popular podcast ever since.

Jim Kunstler at SFU: The Long Emergency is Surrey’s Problem Too from SFU Urban Studies on Vimeo.

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27

09 2011