Friday, November 30, 2012

First Report from ICLEI-Canada Livable Cities Forum

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Post - On Sharing and Alternative Economies as Climate Action

On this Thanksgiving Day, this inspiring NYT dotearth blog--featuring "Reverend" Billy Talen preaching to people to share rather than shop, partly as a strategy for climate action--inspired me to write a special holiday post on this topic, and to hold my 2nd post on Sensory Engagement for next week.

But, Talen's group, The Church of Stop Shopping, is in fact a stellar example of sensory engagement. Talen is not a reverend but a performance artist, and the church is not a church. Here is how they describe themselves and their mission on their website:

"The Church of Stop Shopping is a New York City based radical performance community, with 50 performing members and a congregation in the thousands. They are wild anti-consumerist gospel shouters, earth loving urban activists who have worked with communities on 4 continents defending land, life and imagination from reckless development and the extractive imperatives of global capital. They employ multiple tactics and creative strategies, including cash register exorcisms, retail interventions, cell phone operas combined with grass roots organizing and media activism. They are entertainers and artists, performing regularly throughout The US and Europe."

My team's research and my work on climate action have revealed some wonderful local examples of how Chicago communities are enacting and creating alternative consumer systems, some of which focus on sharing and others of which focus on DIY (do-it-yourself) and local economies. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. A young Polish woman founded and runs the Chicago Dog Academy, which she calls "the first Polish dog academy" at her home, serving a primarily Polish clientele. She is concerned about the environment and climate change and expresses this concern in her business by selling natural dog food and grooming products. Read more about her work in our report on the Polish community (see p.21).

 2. Gingko Organic Gardens in Uptown is run by community volunteers but they don't grow the produce for themselves. Rather, they donate all of it to a food pantry; and the parts of the veggies that people don't eat, they donate to a local rabbit animal shelter.

3. In Chicago’s Roseland neighborhoodFernwood United Methodist Church and their organization, George Washington Carver F.A.R.M.S., hosts a Soul Food Farmers’ Market featuring African-American farmers from the Pembroke community in Kankakee, just outside of Chicago. The market promotes the living traditions of African-American farmers to counter negative associations that many African Americans make with slave-farming and sharecropping. The church composts and encourages community members to donate leaves and food scraps in return for a discount on market goods. Read more about Fernwood in the Roseland community report.

 4. Billy Talen, along with others, has been writing about the sharing, gift economy, and sense of community that has emerged from Hurricane Sandy. Our research revealed a few examples of the strong sense of community that disaster can lead to. Indeed, in the Polish community study, we highlight "mobilizing the community to address crises" as a model of community engagement and explain that Chicago's Polish community institutions and individuals have been generously responding to crises in Poland since WWII. This includes contractors travelling back to Poland at their own expense to help people rebuild homes that collapsed from severe flooding.

5. Our best example of social entrepreneurship and local economic development is Toolkit Bronzeville partners' efforts to revitalize their community by making it a hub for sustainable, healthy, African cuisine. To learn more, watch the Bronzeville Toolkit documentary.

6. And finally, the Pilsen report and others highlight repurposing as a type of "DIY" take on the climate action strategy of waste reduction, and all our reports feature a number of stories and photos of creating re-use, thrift stores, flea markets, and repair shops.

Not to mention...we emphasize sharing STORIES!

So please share yours...
How do you participate in alternative economies?
What does Thanksgiving prompt you to think about?


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Multi-sensory Engagement for Sustainability and Climate Action

What is your most powerful sense? I remember about a year ago walking around downtown Chicago and all of a sudden thinking about the neighborhood where I lived in Tokyo years ago. At first I wondered what triggered the memory, but then I noticed the wafting smell of soup--much like the soup of the noodle shops that dotted my Japanese neighborhood of Ogikubo, famous for its ramen.

Many years ago, I met a graduate student in design who wanted to invent a camera that captured smells along with visuals. How would such a device help us strengthen connections between people and the natural environment? How can we deepen these connections through deeper sensory engagement, using devices that actually exist?

This has been my latest obsession in the climate action engagement realm: exploring creative ways to use multiple sensory experiences to help people relate to sustainability and climate change and to interest them in taking action. Here are some examples of the ways in which I've used multi-sensory engagement in our work. Next week I will write a post about the creative ways in which others are using it around the country and even in Europe.

At the Great Lakes Bioneers conference a few weeks ago, I led a workshop on this topic with my colleague Lexy Winter from The Field Museum.  

Lexy presented examples of multi-sensory engagement from our 

Here are a few of my favorites:

 Chef Tsadakeeyah of demonstrates vegan soul food cooking in the Bronzeville Garden. 
See the steam? Smell and taste are such powerful senses. 

When I was in the garden with Chef T one day, a man who was walking by stopped in and Chef T asked him, "Do you want some soup?" "Is it vegetarian?" the man asked. When Chef T told him it was, I asked if he was a vegetarian. He told us that he had become one a few years ago after he was shot because his body can't handle meat anymore. 
There's a climate action "co-benefit" if I ever heard one...
A woman from the Forest Glen neighborhood on Chicago's far northwest side shows our researchers examples of climate change in her community's forest preserve.

In the research I have led, and in the Toolkit, we always ask people to think about changes they have experienced in weather patterns, over the decades. Whenever possible, we take people out into the community to look for and point out these changes, as well as to identify concrete examples of climate action. See, for example, two tools: 

Activists from South Chicago pose for a photo in front of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, with an old photo of their relatives who immigrated to Chicago.

We have started to think about memory itself as a sixth sense. What can we learn from the past about creating a more sustainable future? My colleague Sarah told me about a great saying that she found on a thrift shop object: “My grandma used it, my mom gave it away, and then I bought it.” How can we make old sustainable practices new and hip again?

A participant in our South Chicago "Reminiscences" workshop shared a story about what it was like to live on the Southeast Side many years ago.

Based on our presentation, the participants in our Bioneers workshop brainstormed ideas for how to engage people in climate change education and action using multiple senses...

... and then came up with lots of creative suggestions.

Are you wondering what the cards on this cool "sticky wall" say? Well, wonder no more, here they are! We got all their ideas up on the wall and then organized them into four categories (organically, not pre-determined). See what you think...

And then please share:
What's your strongest sense?
How could that sense be employed to engage you more deeply in climate change action?
What idea would you add to this list?

COMING NEXT WEEK: Climate action sensory engagement examples from across the globe...


Question: How can we use multi-sensory engagement to help people relate more deeply to climate change and become more interested in climate action?

Opportunities to create place and personalize public space + habitat
Pop-up gardens
Community recycled play lot
Sensory emotive walk school to nature
Seductive sustainable smells
Voices/sounds in parkways, under viaduct, walkways
Smart building that raises energy consciousness
Human interaction in contrasting environments

Authentic Community Connection:
Focus on real people, real things
People to people encouraging action (rather than just people-nature)
Senior citizen story club
Symbols as indicators: patterns make sense (help make connections)
Interpretive education inviting biodynamics

Tactile dried plants exhibit (result of drought) (bring dried plants to the city to show people the results of the drought and let them touch them)
Create healthy human touch experiences (eg back massages)
Sensory garden
Find different textures in nature (eg Smooth, textured, dry)
“Water bucket dumping” fountain

Spontaneous food action or offerings
Promote potlucks in community  meetings (eg Bless Food, Honor farmers & other helpers, Acknowledgment of body nourishment, Energy to do good work)
Citric acid in water: let people taste acidification
Almanac climate zones + eat food (connect changes in plant hardiness zone with changes in what we'll have available to eat)

New URL for this blog - did you get this post in your email?

Dear Friends,

As you know, I am just learning how to manage this blog. And I have changed the URL to:

If you share the blog, please use this new address.

I do not believe that your email subscriptions will be impacted by this change. And this post is the test to make sure it hasn't been. Please let me know if you received it by adding a comment!

Thanks for your patience as I work out the kinks.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Accelerating Sustainability in Chicago's 77 Communities

What will it look like to "accelerate" sustainability in Chicago's 77 communities?

That is the goal of The Institute of Cultural Affairs' "Accelerate 77" program. During the first part of this program two years ago, over 200 interns scoured Chicago neighborhoods identifying sustainability initiatives of all sorts happening all over the city. The second part of the program was the "Share Fair," held on September 15 of this year at Truman College, which brought representatives from many of those initiatives together to share their work and learn about resources available to enhance it. 

I joined ICA as a Fellow in August, after leaving The Field Museum, and now I'm working with them to build on the Toolkit approach for the next phase of their "Accelerate 77" program.

Here's the project concept. What do you think? We are looking for input, so please share your thoughts!

P.S. ICA is a very unique example of sustainable, intergenerational living and working. They own and operate out of the oldest social service center in the Midwest, and the 7th and 8th floors are an intentional learning community. They are now in their 50th year--"Midway in a Century of Care" is their slogan for the year. ICA'ers have run community development projects all around the world. At any given time, there are many of them wandering the halls at ICA, volunteering their time and always ready and eager to share their knowledge and give advice and new ideas. It's an amazing environment to work in. They decided that sustainability is the community question of our century--which is why they started the A77 project.

Learn more on their website.
Also see a great video about their intentional living community.

It's a wonderful home and I feel so honored to be welcomed there.

Project Concept for Accelerate 77:  Phase III

Goal:  Build on previous project phases of Accelerate 77, ICA’s expertise in participatory facilitation and leadership development, and the assets of the Greenrise building to design a framework that will allow for maximum impact on community sustainability and resiliency in Chicago neighborhoods.

Objective: Encourage and support grassroots initiatives that, in a bottom-up fashion, will assist in realizing regional sustainability and climate action plans, e.g., “Sustainable Chicago 2015.”

1.  Collaborate in the implementation of Community-Led Sustainability Roadmaps in three community clusters. With an emphasis on action, ICA will engage residents in identifying best practices and effective solutions to accomplish pilot projects of sustainability. This process, which can be replicated in other Chicago communities, will occur through an ongoing mix of participatory planning, coordinated action, and collective reflection to garner lessons learned.

2.  Create a Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network that provides training through workshops on facilitation and sustainable practices; develops a collective voice around key sustainability issues in Chicago; and, engages leaders in peer sharing and cross-community mentoring.

3.  Produce a Sustainability Resources Database organized by geography and topic and made available on the A77 website.  Asset maps from community workshops would be incorporated into the database.

4.  Demonstrate a model of creative sustainable culture for living and working at the ICA building -- the “Greenrise Uptown Learning Laboratory. This vintage 8-story landmark building is the largest non-profit service center in the Midwest and is home to diverse tenants that include many social service agencies and a residential community of voluntary simplicity. Because a dynamic “green culture” and energy efficient eco-system are being established here, it is an engaging venue for hosting community organizations and training community leaders in community resiliency.  

5.  Facilitate Intergenerational Intern Learning and Engagement in addressing environmental, economic, and social justice challenges in local communities.  From high school and university students through retirees, interns will learn and work together on community engagement, training and communication as described in the project components above.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Do Disasters Increase Climate Change Awareness, Concern, and Engagement?

In a lively exchange on the Garrison listserv, communicators, journalists, developers, activists, and educators from around the country have been debating whether disasters like Hurricane Sandy and Katrina may lead to more belief in and concern about climate change. My Chicago work suggests that this is definitely a possibility:

  • Our research studies in Roseland and Bronzeville suggest correlation between knowledge of and experiences with Hurricane Katrina and concern with climate change, as it will impact African Americans in general and people's communities and lives more specifically. 
  • Similarly, many in the Polish community in Chicago relate to climate change through their own and others' experiences with serious flooding over the past decade in Poland. 
  • And in Pilsen, the Mexican community references experiences from childhood and more recently with drought--and some leaders even see Mexicans displaced from their homelands by drought and other weather disasters as climate refugees.

My colleague George Marshall, an applied sociologist and founder of the UK's Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN), however, is engaged in research that suggests that the link between disaster and increased climate change awareness and concern is not so straightforward. Over the last week, a lively debate unfolded on the list of the Garrison Institute's Climate, Mind and Behavior Initiative. 

George's post was by far the most intriguing, and was subsequently re-posted, as a more polished essay, by New York Times dotearth blogger Andrew Revkin. George relates data from interviews with leaders and residents in Bastrop, Texas about their experiences with the worst fires in Texas history, which destroyed 1,700 homes. He concludes that overall people never became interested in talking about anthropogenic climate change and what they could do about it for the future, even despite the fact that the state climatologist made a causal connection. Read the whole fascinating post: Why Climate Disasters Might Not Boost Public Engagement on Climate Change.

If you are intrigued with George, as I am, and want to hear more from him, watch his presentation from the Garrison Institute Climate, Mind and Behavior Symposium last year. He used to be a stand up comic--and his presentation will definitely be the most engaging presentation you've ever watched on climate change communication (which may not say much considering that most of you have not likely watched many of these videos, but hey--). 

Check it out--watch it in chunks if you must, but you are guaranteed to enjoy and learn:
Hearth and Hiraeth - Building Values-Based Climate Change Narratives in the Celtic Heartland 

And then share your experiences:
Have you found that disasters related to extreme weather increase conversation, concern, and action related to climate change?
Do you have some specific stories about this that you can share? I want to hear them!


Saturday, November 10, 2012

What Do Daycare and Soul Food Have to Do with Climate Change? Check out the Chicago Community Climate Action Toolkit on Facebook

It’s fall in Chicago. On the far Northwest Side, Boy Scouts install bat boxes in their neighborhood forest preserve. On the far Southeast Side, youth from a local church interview residents about their energy practices. In Pilsen, on the Near West Side, staff from a Mexican hometown association and a daycare plant milkweed in a new native plant play garden installed on a vacant lot. A few miles away, in Bronzeville, residents take a tour of the South Side green economy, which will end with a vegan soul food cooking demonstration in a community garden.

What do these diverse projects have in common? They are all part of the Chicago Community ClimateAction Toolkit, which I have been actively promoting since it launched last May, through social media and presentations in Chicago, around the country, and in Canada. The projects draw on heritage traditions and other assets to implement mitigation and adaptation strategies from the region’s climate action plans—and improve local quality of life at the same time. Project stories are told through video documentaries on the Toolkit website.

The Toolkit is the last project my team created at The Field Museum. It includes 60 multimedia tools—created with the help of over 40 partner organizationsto help others start their own projects, with diverse partners. The tools build on research that we conducted in 9 Chicago communities all around the city that identified community assets and concerns that can serve as springboards for advancing community-based climate action.

Keep up with the Toolkit by LIKING the Facebook page
I post on their on average 1-2 times a day, not only promoting the tools, but linking to timely conversations and articles from Chicago and elsewhere that demonstrate what asset-based, community-based climate action looks like and challenge all of us to think in new ways. 

I also announce when I will be presenting the Toolkit at conferences. I'd love to have you join me at a workshop sometime soon!

Friday, November 9, 2012

This One's for Debbie: Worldviews, Nature, and ... Lots of Food!

Thanks to colleague Debbie Hillman for posting the first comment! She is always insightful and I appreciate her pointing out that sustainable thinking and being has always been part of Native American lifeways.

One of my favorite projects related to this in the Chicago area is the partnership between the American Indian Center and Northwestern University, exploring how different worldviews result in different relationships to nature.

Here's a teaser--and the punchline:
"Native kids [....] come to see the biological world in terms of relationships and connections – what psychologists call “systems-level thinking.” Non-Native kids, on the other hand, generally think more in hierarchical categories like taxonomy – kingdom, phylum, species, etc. So the human-centered learning may not be universal after all, but instead flavored by the culture we grow up in."

Check out this short article about the project and listen to the radio interview, on WBEZ's Clever Apes.

 Menominee reservation

Debbie also pointed out the central role that food plays as an issue that connects all people to sustainability. All of my work has proven this to be true. Food--to grow, eat, and build community--is always one of the key issues that comes up when looking at sustainability from a community perspective. And promoting sustainable local food is an important strategy in metropolitan Chicago's Go To 2040 regional plan.

Below are a few of the most intriguing examples I have come across in my work on sustainability and food innovations around the Chicago region. Take a look at them.

Then...please comment:
1. Which ones intrigue you most?
2. What are some sustainable food innovations you love in the Chicago area--or elsewhere? Please share!

These are a few of my favorite things...
Sustainable Food Innovations...Chicago Is Leading the Way!
1. Debbie Hillman's work:
Of course I have to start with Debbie's own work. She is one of our region's leading food activists. Check out these videos:
  • Humble Strength, made by Debbie's daughter. (Trust me, you will be humbled.) 
  • The Talking Farm (scroll down to Video 13; there are 2 parts), made by my team at The Field Museum five years ago as part of our New Allies for Nature and Culture project, which aimed to increase collaborations among organizations working on social, cultural, and environmental issues. Here's the farm website.logo
2. Jane Addams Hull-House: Rethinking Soup
This is one of my all-time favorites. Years ago, when I read Chicago author Louise Knight's biography of Jane Addams, Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy, I finally knew how I would answer that hard college essay question, "If you could talk with anyone, dead or alive, for 15 minutes, who would it be?" I greatly admire Addams' intellectual approach to learning and action. Hull-House's initiatives link environmental action with social justice. Besides Rethinking Soup, read about their Heirloom Farm--a partnership with UIC's cultural centers, led by my former colleagues Rosa Cabrera and Lori Baptista (and highlighted as a UIC sustainability innovation in the project I am now consulting on, UIC's Sustainability Strategic Thinking Process)--and The Heirloom Seed Library. 

The seed library is a Chicago manifestation of an international movement to not only preserve biodiversity, but allow farmers and others to continue growing their own food and plants outside of agribusiness. At the Chicago Bioneers conference this past weekend, internationally renowned environmental activist Vandana Shiva talked of the potential for abundance in one seed--and of having dedicated her life to saving seeds and keeping them free.

3. Garlic & Greens: accessible soul food stories
I can't say enough about this amazing project of artist Fereshteh Toosi, which explores "the intersections between food heritage, migration history, social justice, the arts, and disability studies." As a visual anthropologist, I emphasize the importance of using multisensory engagement to help people relate to issues--especially ones as distant as sustainability and climate change. Fereshteh is now producing a "tactile book"--more of a learning box, actually--containing a CD of stories that Chicago African-Americans shared with her about their "soul food memories" and objects to touch, feel, taste, and smell as you listen to the stories. When Fereshteh and I talked about this project, she told me that when she asked people about food, they often talked about family--so she started thinking about the food-related objects as "family heirlooms." 

We have also been talking about different ways to use the senses--including but beyond the visual--to engage diverse groups in sustainability and climate change work. Fereshteh's interest, like mine, is to focus on stories--and to help people experience natural landscapes in terms of their social, historical, and cultural layers.

On that note, here's a good way to end: with one of my favorite quotes these days on exactly this topic, from another anthropologist:

“…humans experience the world through active engagement with their environments. […] the landscape is constituted as an enduring record of, and testimony to, the lives and works of past generations who have dwelt within it, and in so doing have left there something of themselves.
” - Daniel H. De Vries, Anthropologist 

Bon appetit!

Monday, November 5, 2012


Blog Post 1, November 5, 2012
In her classic song, "What's Love Got To With It?," icon Tina Turner admits that love is a "second hand emotion" and a "sweet old fashioned notion." People often think the same about "culture" and "community engagement." It's loosey-goosey. It's mushy. It's emotional rather than rational. And it can't be measured.

And that's all exactly true! But just like in Tina's song, culture (and love) underlies many of our beliefs, values, and behaviors. And sustainability, just like everything else in life, is a cultural as much as an environmental issue--as these beautiful quotes by two environmental anthropologists explain so eloquently:

“…‘landscapes are not just “views” but intimate encounters. 
They are not just about seeing, but about experiencing with all the senses.’”
  - Barbara Bender, Anthropologist

“…humans experience the world through active engagement with their environments. […] the landscape is constituted as an enduring record of, and testimony to, the lives and works of past generations who have dwelt within it, and in so doing have left there something of themselves.”
  - Daniel H. De Vries, Anthropologist

In this blog, I will draw on my own work as an applied anthropologist and share the work of others to explore the cultural questions of sustainability and climate action, like: How do people's communities and family histories influence their sustainability beliefs and actions? How can we communicate climate change in culturally motivating ways? How can we work collaboratively with diverse communities to expand and implement the menu of possible solutions?

I will focus a bit on the social science issue related to sustainability and climate action that gets the most attention nationally and internationally: behavior change. But I am more interested in the question of cultural transformation. To address this major challenge, we need to nurture a broad-based movement that further integrates sustainable, climate-friendly living into people's everyday lives. Sustainability needs to become like church. People tithe more in a recession, not less. And we need to develop new, sustainable lifeways that persist, and perhaps become stronger, even when they might not make economic sense. 

This will require lots of creativity. On this blog, I will post the most creative initiatives and solutions I come across.

Sustainability needs to be about community-building. About inspiring new participation and leadership. And working together, and separately, to come up with a huge menu of creative solutions to this big challenge that can be replicated and adapted in different places.

I have been wanting to start a network of people working on cultural engagement in sustainability and climate action--and this is the beginning of that network. Please join and share your thoughts!