Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What's been keeping me busy? Trash

Plastic debris fouls a bridge over the Catawba River. Photo: Nancy Pierce
What's been keeping me from blogging regularly these days? Trash.

To be more specific, I've become involved in a three-year project, through the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute and the UNC Charlotte College of Arts + Architecture, to highlight environmental issues in and around Charlotte. We call it KEEPING WATCH.

Year One, which we are in the middle of, is KEEPING WATCH on PLASTICS and focuses on plastics and recycling. We're working with a whole flock of community partners -- you can read the long and growing list at

If you missed it Sunday, here's a lengthy article in The Charlotte Observer that goes into much detail. "Debris to beauty: Keeping WATCH exhibitions reveal the beauty in discarded plastics" describes many of the arts-related events taking place this spring. Disclosure: The "Aurora Robson: Stayin Alive" exhibit at McColl Center for Visual Art was planned separately but the concept dovetails well with the overall theme. Robson's work will be on display through July 26.

We'll host a "Clean Martini night" June 13 at UNC Charlotte Center City, 6-9 p.m., with locally sourced drinks sponsored by Slow Food Charlotte, locally sourced nibbles, and a screening of the film "Growing Cities." It's free and open to the public.

Other pieces of the project have included articles at from local writer Mae Israel:

Finally, the Sustain Me Baby exhibit at the UNC Charlotte Center City gallery highlights recyclable plastics and the problem of plastics in the oceans. And Is This Yours takes art out of the gallery, with totems made of bales of recycled plastic, by Kurt Warnke, displayed in uptown Charlotte as well as placing recyclable vinyl stickers with photos by Nancy Pierce. all over town. 

Next year's KEEPING WATCH will be bigger and better. We'll focus on Charlotte's creeks, those maligned and mistreated urban streams that are finally being taken seriously as amenities. Well, some of them are... 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Can traffic deaths go the way of smallpox?

In the United States we have become desensitized to traffic deaths. That doesn't mean we don't mourn, of course, but it means we seem to have accepted them as just a normal part of living - much the way people used to accept death from smallpox or cholera. I've never understood why the continual stream of students killed driving to and from school is not cause for the sort of national campaigns that attended, for instance, the now-debunked idea that inoculations cause autism.

Isn't there a different way to view traffic safety? There is. A New York Times article this week described how Sweden is pushing to reduce the country's traffic deaths to as close to zero as they can get.

In "De Blasio Looks Toward Sweden for Road Safety," reporter Matt Flegenheimer describes how the Swedish Parliament adopted Vision Zero in 1997 as the national foundation for all its road safety operations. Since then the number of traffic fatalities in Sweden has been cut in half. The fatality rate in Stockholm, 1.1 deaths per 100,000, is less than one-third of New York City’s rate. The national rate in Sweden, 2.7 deaths per 100,000, is the world's lowest.

The article notes that in American states with Vision Zero policies, including Minnesota and Utah, fatality rates fell more than 25 percent more quickly than the national rate.

And, it says, Swedish authorities weren't keen on the value of education or enforcement on pedestrian safety. (In 2012, after two men were hit in two days at Stonewall and College streets in uptown Charlotte, and one died, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police began a brief campaign of ticketing jaywalkers, although the two men who were hit were crossing the street in crosswalks.)

Tree ordinance proposal raises alarms around N.C.

Photo: Nancy Pierce
Charlotte likes to boast of its tree canopy, so a proposal at the state level to gut N.C. cities' tree ordinances has gotten Charlotte City Council's attention. At the council' Environment Committee meeting on Wednesday, after a briefing about the measure, the committee referred the issue to another committee to devise a lobbying strategy with N.C. legislators. Here's the article I wrote yesterday after the meeting.

But if you'd like to burrow a bit deeper into the issue, here are links to news coverage from around the state:
 It's not entirely clear how the proposal emerged late in April from a state study panel, the Agriculture and Forestry Services Study Commission, its members appointed by the legislature and the governor.

But at one March meeting, the commission heard from an Iredell County nurseryman upset over municipal regulations in some cities over who pays for trees that get planted and aren't acceptable to local government officials. And some state legislators, as well as developer lobbying groups, have said for years that some cities over-reach in their ordinances affecting private property.

Here's a link to the agenda materials for the study commission's March 28 meeting, with a copy of a

Thursday, May 1, 2014

What does Anthony Foxx have to say about transportation funding?

Former Charlotte Mayor and current Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx gave an interview to Yonah Freemark of the website The Transport Politic. As Freemark points out, despite Foxx saying things many transportation and transit fans agree with, the secretary didn't make any commitments to changing the way U.S. transportation is funded. As Freemark says: "At the heart of the problem, as we all know, is that the transportatoin user fee model (premised on fuel tax revenues) has collapsed and no one is willing to do much of anything about it."

Read the interview here:
"An interview with Secretary Foxx"