Trendster Book Review Part II: Bulldozer in the Countryside

The following is the second of a two-part book review installment by current SUMA student, Zach Zill.  Complimentary in topic to the review in Part I of William Cronon’s book Nature’s Metropolis, the following covers Adam Rome’s book, Bulldozer in the Countrysidewhich chronicles the massive expansion of post-World War II suburban tract housing development. Both books uncover a rich history of philosophical debate about humanity’s relationship to the natural world, and show how past efforts to improve that relationship have explicitly questioned the basic forms of property and ownership at the root of our legal and economic structures.

Bulldozer in the Countryside covers a more recent and less geographically-specific story. Rome chronicles how mass-produced, energy-inefficient tract housing became the solution for the U.S. housing shortage that existed at the end of the second World War. The results: runaway energy usage due to the abandonment of traditional, climate-specific house designs; poisoning of soil and water from widespread and inappropriate usage of septic tanks; and destruction of critical habitat and protective ecosystems that left both human settlements and other species’ homes more vulnerable to environmental threats. Like Nature’s Metropolis, this is the tale of intensive market expansion leading to extreme ecological consequences. Rome argues that “the postwar building boom was an environmental catastrophe on the scale of the Dust Bowl.”

Bulldozer-in-the-Countryside-SDL406231245-1-1c0c3 Continue reading “Trendster Book Review Part II: Bulldozer in the Countryside”

SkillSpeak Series #8: Professor Gregory Falco

The following interview is a part of SkillSpeak, a series of short interviews with SUMA professors, where they share bits of wisdom and knowledge, advising on skills that are crucial for a successful career in sustainability. This week we have Gregory Falco who teaches a course on Sustainable Technology & the Evolution of Smart Cities. This interview was conducted by Mitika Bajpai, SUMANI Vice President & Director of Events.

Name: Gregory Falco

Academic Background: BS in Hotel Administration from Cornell University;  MS in Sustainability Management from Columbia University; PhD (in progress) in Cybersecurity of Critical Urban Infrastructure at MIT

Current Professional Title: Smart City Strategy Lead, Accenture; Adjunct Professor, Columbia University; Research Assistant, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, MIT

What field within the sustainability realm do you work in?

There is really no single field that I work in for sustainability. I live in a world of data, analytics, sensors and connected devices, which I apply to sustainability problems. The sustainability problems are sometimes related to energy, water, healthcare, transportation or waste. For these topics, I try to figure out how we can collect relevant data from these areas, analyze it, and then take corrective actions to help improve the way we live.

What skills have you leveraged on so far, to expand your presence in your field of sustainability?

Leveraging my knowledge of the power of big data has been invaluable to pushing the boundaries in the sustainability realm. Understanding the ecosystem of IoT sensors and devices has enabled me to bring a skill set to the sustainability landscape that is still nascent thereby allowing me to add value to the field overall. Continue reading “SkillSpeak Series #8: Professor Gregory Falco”

Trendster Book Review Part I: Nature’s Metropolis

The following is a book review of Nature’s Metropolis, by William Cronon. Written by current SUMA student, Zach Zill. “In this groundbreaking work, William Cronon gives us an environmental perspective on the history of nineteenth-century America. By exploring the ecological and economic changes that made Chicago America’s most dynamic city and the Great West its hinterland, Mr. Cronon opens a new window onto our national past.”

We live in a moment in which belief in the values and mechanisms of free market capitalism seem to infiltrate most aspects of culture and society. Despite the popularity of the presidential campaign of nominal socialist Bernie Sanders, in the realm of policy and practice, the free market rules the day. Among professionals in the field of sustainability, attempts to use market instruments to address climate change and other environmental problems are widespread. In our professional organizations, degree programs, and think tanks, representatives of the big banks and real estate development firms are presented as authoritative voices on how to reconcile humanity’s destructive approach to the natural world. Economists, policymakers, and sustainability professionals pour a great deal of intellectual and financial resources into discovering ways to make markets work for the environment. Yet perhaps we should rethink our approach.

Nature's Metropolis Continue reading “Trendster Book Review Part I: Nature’s Metropolis”

SkillSpeak Series #7: Professor Jeffrey Potent

The following interview is a part of SkillSpeak, a series of short interviews with SUMA professors, where they share bits of wisdom and knowledge, advising on skills that are crucial for a successful career in sustainability. This week we have Jeffrey Potent who teaches courses on sustainable agriculture and systems thinking. This interview was conducted by Khyati Thakkar, SUMANI Events Director.

Name: Jeffrey Potent

Academic Background: Master’s degree in public policy, with a focus on environmental and energy policy, New School University

Current Professional Title: Adjunct professor, Columbia University School of International and Public Administration and the Columbia University Earth Institute

What field within the sustainability realm do you work in?

My focus areas include corporate and agricultural sustainability.

What skills have you leveraged on so far, to expand your presence in your field of sustainability?

I have a diverse background in government (federal, state and local), business (small business and corporate) and academia (with faculty positions at Columbia, Cornell and Rutgers Universities). Within these organizations, I have been charged to address a multiplicity of environmental and sustainability issues and craft an array of management approaches. Each experience not only served to increase my understanding of the topic at hand, but also has helped me to embrace a systems perspective, wherein I have gained the capacity to understand dynamic interactions among individuals, organizations and the natural systems within which we all function.  It has also helped me to perceive that most of the environmental and social problems that we face as a society have resulted from a lack of understanding and appreciation of the ultimate interrelatedness and interdependency of all things within the biosphere.

What are some of the most relevant skill-building opportunities offered by the SUMA program?

While my Columbia course offerings are outside of the SUMA program, I have learned from my SUMA students and my faculty colleagues teaching within the SUMA program that a key element of the SUMA curriculum is the integration of sustainable development understanding and skills with practical management systems and practices. Continue reading “SkillSpeak Series #7: Professor Jeffrey Potent”

SkillSpeak Series #6: Professor Klaus Jacob

The following interview is a part of SkillSpeak, a series of short interviews with SUMA professors, where they share bits of wisdom and knowledge, advising on skills that are crucial for a successful career in sustainability. This week we have Klaus Jacob who teaches Disaster Risk Management and Urban Resilience. The interview was conducted by Mitika Bajpai, SUMANI Vice President & Director of Events.

Name: Klaus Jacob

Academic Background: Ph.D in Geophysics (Univ. Frankfurt, Germany)

Current Professional Title: Special Research Scientist (Emeritus Research Professor), Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Earth Institute, Columbia University. Disaster Risk Management and Urban Resilience Professor, Sustainability Management Masters Program

What field within the sustainability realm do you work in?

I specialize in disaster risk assessment and focus on building sustainable resilience in large cities threatened by sea level rise and climate change. Since 1968, I have been advising government, NGO and private sector stakeholders on climate change adaptation options and providing a sound scientific basis to make climate smart decisions. I focus on urban scales, infrastructure systems and on longer time horizons to balance most stakeholders’ short term approaches. The idea is to come up with sustainable measures, that may include iterative and adaptive methodologies.

What skills have you leveraged on so far, to expand your presence in your field of sustainability?

I have leveraged my Earth Science geological-time-scale perspective to ensure long-term sustainability of communities is fully considered when addressing their short-term needs. A technical skill that I found very useful in my career is the presentation of data in a visual form, specifically GIS. Your visual data can convey a very powerful message, if used in the right context. I also found it integral to balance knowledge with emotions. Don’t ever be afraid to apply your knowledge and voice your opinion. Continue reading “SkillSpeak Series #6: Professor Klaus Jacob”

SkillSpeak Series #5: Professor Lynnette Widder

The following interview is a part of SkillSpeak, a series of short interviews with SUMA professors, where they share bits of wisdom and knowledge, advising on skills that are crucial for a successful career in sustainability. This week we have Lynnette Widder who teaches Resiliency and Responsiveness in the Built Environment as well as Hungry City Workshop. The interview was conducted by Ian Brecher, SUMANI Trendster Editor and Knowledge Partner.

Name: Lynnette Widder

Academic Background: Master of Architecture from Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture; BA from Barnard College; academic focus on architecture and construction history.

Current Professional Title: Lecturer in Discipline

What field within the sustainability realm do you work in?

I work in the sustainable built environment, from building to urban scale. I also write, curate, design and build various topics in architecture more generally.

What skills have you leveraged on so far, to expand your presence in your field of sustainability?

My work in sustainability includes teaching, research (building energy assessment, lightweight panelized construction for high performance building, various topics in big data for tracking patterns in urban resource flows around human behavior), R &D for my sister’s small textile company (textile-reinforced earth block and adobe construction) and some consulting. I became involved in sustainability because of my interest in the historical connection between building construction and architecture. This may sound obvious to a non-architect, but the way in which buildings are realized is central to the quality of the spaces they make, and the culture they engender. From that kind of involvement in material culture, wanting to know more about the energy/material link was natural.

What are some of the most relevant skill-building opportunities offered by the SUMA program?

I take a broader view on the idea of “skills”. Technology and standards change all the time, so most techniques and methodologies have an expiration date built in. That is not to say these are not vital components of a masters degree, but it is as important to see as skills the kinds of things that seem totally academic at first glance: understanding the history and theory of your field, keeping an open mind to problem definition rather than starting from finite problem solving, creative analysis (design thinking). Open research is another skill that this program cultivates, and which has infinite application to a “wicked problem” like sustainability. Continue reading “SkillSpeak Series #5: Professor Lynnette Widder”

7 Ways to Give Back to the City that Never Sleeps

A friend once told me “If the Internet was a city, it would be New York.” Meaning that in New York City, you can get virtually anything you desire at any time. There is endless access to interesting activities, rare commodities, and delicious food. Amid the many opportunities for all types of consumption, there are also a multitude of ways to contribute. There’s a lot of reasons to volunteer in your community, like supporting a cause you feel passionately about, gaining new skills and experiences, or simply wanting to feel like you are using your free time productively. However, because living in New York City is synonymous with having a chaotic, busy lifestyle, it can be hard to know how to give back with the precious little free time you have. So without further ado, here are 7 great places to volunteer this summer that will provide a fun and meaningful opportunity to give back to your NYC community!

 

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Aerial Photo of Jamaica Bay, Source: Wikimedia Commons
  1. Beach Clean Up in Jamaica Bay

On top of being a unique point of beauty in an industrial city, Jamaica Bay offers a rich habitat for a variety of fish, insects, plants, and birds. Its conservation is crucial to maintaining the ecology and biodiversity of our coastlines. The Beach Clean Up in Jamaica Bay is an ongoing volunteer project in collaboration with the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, continuing every Saturday throughout the summer.

The clean-up efforts will take place many different places along the bay, beginning with the North Channel Bridge beach area. Contact Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge Volunteer Program Manager Tim Farrell at 718-318-4382 to get involved. Continue reading “7 Ways to Give Back to the City that Never Sleeps”