Sunday, January 11, 2015

Why Placemaking is Integral to a Sustainable Community

Written for Healthy Indoors Magazine - January 2015

“Build and they will come!” has been the mantra of more than one Western city, especially since the 1950’s; many of which are now dealing with sprawl, urban heat island effect, loss of historic buildings and air pollution.

Take my current residence Phoenix, Arizona for example. In 1950, the population of Phoenix was 106,818 and was comprised of 55 square miles. In 2010, population reached 1,445,632 people, spread out over 1,147 square miles, or basically about the same size as the state of Rhode Island.

Within this sprawling land of beige & stucco, gated communities and strip malls however, there are some very integral neighborhoods that have a strong sense of community, and have done an excellent job of placemaking. The mainly grassroots community activism and action has reaped the rewards of not only national press, but is home to one of the largest self-guided art walks in the country – Roosevelt Row’s First Fridays. This is the neighborhood where both my business and accidental gallery, Treeo are located. It is the neighborhood I’ve chosen to spend the majority of my time when not at home since moving to Phoenix, mainly because I like the way it feels. Warm. Friendly. Inviting.

So what is placemaking?
“Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Placemaking capitalizes on a local community's assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people's health, happiness, and well-being.”

This neighborhood feels good to me for various reasons. It is one of the only walkable areas in Phoenix in my opinion. Because the district is located in an arts overlay, many of the old bungalow homes and buildings were converted to gallery spaces, cafes and retail stores. There is life on the street and human scale buildings. There are trees and people and interesting murals everywhere. Even though Phoenix is a young city, many of the buildings in the neighborhood are from the 40’s and 50’s which helps give it a sense of place.

Before sprawl, the automatic garage door opener and high walls around properties, people would gather in community areas and talk. They would meet new people, connect with one another, and help each other out. When people care about their community, they look after it. They are invested in something bigger than just themselves.

Explaining placemaking to most developers and politicians is like speaking Pig Latin to your two year old and expecting them to understand you. Nine out of ten times they won’t, nor do they really care. They just want what they want.

And so it is that the neighborhood I love is in the sights of several developers looking to sanitize and beige-wash my ‘hood.

From tearing down some of the oldest murals in the state of Arizona which were painted by famous artist Ted DeGrazia (there is a petition if you’d like to sign it) to tearing down many of the old, human-scale buildings within a two block stretch to build 4-story residential dwellings they’ll most certainly call lofts, even though they’ll just be regular ‘ol apartments. The term “life on the street” is lost in translation as things are tucked behind nondescript walls and a shiny marketing brochure points out the private gym and community grilling area.

Everything which once drew national media attention – the vibrancy, the art, the eclectic feeling of the place, will be lost to a numbers game as many are priced out, become bored or simply wish to move on to greener pastures.

A sustainable city is a livable city. It is lively, diverse, animated and community oriented. The neighborhoods should be shaped by those who reside in them. Buildings should be repurposed and reused whenever possible. New development should incorporate itself into the neighborhood in a way that is friendly and beneficial.

Though downtown Phoenix is indeed in dire need of density, razing old buildings in one of the only lively arts districts to make way for suburban feeling apartment complexes isn’t going to bring an economic boom to our city as I think some are anticipating. There are numerous vacant lots which could be better utilized for this use in my opinion. A mixture of building types, uses and sizes is key, as is weaving together an interesting tapestry that blends old with new, valuing local businesses and arts and culture, and not continuing to ignore the voices of those who call the place home.

Though I speak of Phoenix, this is a story for everywhere. Placemaking. We all can get involved in shaping and adding to the places we live, work and play. It is sustainability at its core.

One of the best placemakers of our time, Jane Jacobs, said it best:

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

I hope Phoenix will hear this in time…

Love and laughter,

Ms. Champion

Sustainability Snippets

Written for Healthy Indoors Magazine - September 2014

There are so many things I’m excited about this month, I couldn’t choose just one topic. We’re down to a balmy 102 degrees in Phoenix, Arizona and I’m counting the days until I can wear boots and a sweater.

So in the spirit of weather, here’s what’s on my HOT list for the month.

On September 19th, metered parking spaces around the globe will be transformed into miniature parks. It’s not a day to necessarily be anti-automobile, but rather a day to be pro-people. What if our cities were designed for people first, rather than cars? How important are small, green spaces within the urban fabric? PARK(ing) Day brings these questions to light.

This will be our 6th annual PARK(ing) Day in Phoenix, I’ve been the organizer for four years now and involved since year one. What started out as a very grassroots effort with a handful of people, has grown every year, garnered lots of press and has warmed the city up to the idea of parklets. Last year we even got some national exposure. You can check out photos from our past Phoenix PARK(ing) Day events HERE. If you’d like to bring more parklets to your own community, check out Pavement to Parks for ideas and resources.

After PARK(ing) Day, I’ll be jumping on a red-eye flight with my 15 year old son Zane to attend what will hopefully be the largest march on climate change to date. Numerous events are planned through the weekend, culminating with a two mile march through the streets of New York City on Sunday, September 22nd.

The march will take place prior to a UN summit on the climate crisis which world leaders will be attending. I’ll be writing about our experience at the march next month, so stay tuned…

The Better Block Project is all about revitalizing a neighborhood block in a grassroots way. It’s like a real-life charrette to envision real change in a neighborhood. On September 27th it’s happening in downtown Phoenix. Vibrant communities are created one block at a time. You can learn more about The Better Block Project HERE.

Here’s a list of some interesting things to check out:
·         Amazing nature art
·         People St

Until next month…

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
― Anne Frank

Love and Laughter,

Ms.  Champion


Green Guatemala

Written for Healthy Indoors Magazine - July 2014

I’ve made it a favorite pastime to have adventures in cooler climates during the 115+ degree days that are all too common in Phoenix, Arizona during the summer months. Like many people, I have a bucket list of places I want to visit and things I want to do. Guatemala has been on that list for many years.

Mexico and Central America have always intrigued me. I love the history, the ruins, the people and the simplicity of day to day living. My last trip to Costa Rica five years ago was amazing, so when a friend told me at brunch she had some friends with a vacation rental house on Lake Atitlán in Guatemala, I was hooked. Serendipity.

We booked the trip within several days of talking about it, and planned a dinner with Earl and Suzanne, the owners of the house who split their time between Phoenix and Antigua, Guatemala. I was even more drawn to this house and these people because Earl and Suzanne have a non-profit in Guatemala called Seeds for a Future.

Guatemala is home to 13 million people, approximately 75% of whom live in poverty.  The country has the highest malnutrition rate in Latin America, and the fourth highest in the world. Ironic, as much of the produce we consume in the U.S., along with the coffee we drink, is grown and harvested in Guatemala. (On a side note, I was reading a sign while in Guatemala about coffee, and it said by the time the coffee is grown, harvested, processed, shipped and consumed as a $5 latte in the U.S., only about 3 cents makes its way back to Guatemala.) Even more reason to pay attention to buying fair trade.

PBS recently did a segment on the child malnutrition problem in Guatemala.

“In the Americas, the situation is most dire in Guatemala, where roughly 50 percent of the children are so malnourished they’re stunted, physically and developmentally, for life.”

Seeds for a Future is working to combat this heartbreaking crisis. In rural Guatemala, adults on average have less than a 6th grade education. The program takes a holistic approach by offering both hands-on education with regard to community and family gardening, harvesting and nutrition instruction, as well as a community library where computer training, adult education, women's health education and much needed pre-school programs are taught. Nearly 500 families are currently taking part in the various programs.  I encourage you to check out the Seeds for a Future website to learn more and follow them on Facebook too!

Now back to the adventure…

We flew into Guatemala City, where we were greeted by our driver David, who drove us to a lovely B & B in Antigua, about a 45 minute drive. I’ll also add that I was traveling with two other women, Mara and Michelle, so we were the three amigas.

Antigua, Guatemala is a beautiful city full of Spanish colonial architecture, fountains, ruins, markets (mercados) and brightly colored buildings- a treat after living in the land of beige for so long.

The streets are cobblestone, the sidewalks narrow, the people friendly and we spent hours just walking and exploring, soaking in the sights, sounds and smells.  Ornate wooden gates with small, decorative openings stand out amid the blue, yellow and red walls, beckoning you to come in and explore the lush interiors.

One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life was Casa Santo Domingo. It was the largest monastery in Antigua and was founded by Dominican friars in 1542. Three 18th century earthquakes wreaked their havoc on the monastery along with pillaging of materials. It was taken over as a private residence by an American archeologist in 1970, then converted to a 5 star hotel and museum, which is what it currently is today.

To say the grounds are breathtaking, especially after dark when lit by candlelight, is truly an understatement. Mara and I wandered the estate one evening for several hours. The way they’ve incorporated modern conveniences such as a large shade structure to blend into the surroundings aesthetically was very inspiring.  You can read more about it here and if you’re ever in Antigua, put it on your not to miss list.

The following morning we traveled by car to Panajchel, also known as Pana which is about a 2 hour ride and located in the Western Highlands of Guatemala on Lake Atitlán.  The lake, renowned as one of the most beautiful in the world, is the deepest in Central America, measuring depths of over 1000 feet. It’s surrounded by three volcanoes (San Pedro, Atitlan, and Toliman) and is ringed with many indigenous Mayan villages, Pana being the main village for port of entry.

A boat ride from Pana delivered us to the dock of the house which would be our home for the next five days. Nicholas and his family, the caretakers of the property, welcomed us and gave us a tour.  We fell in love with the warmth and hospitality of this local family. Wife Rosa, who prepared us delicious local food and freshly caught tilapia from the lake. Joanna, their vibrant 4 year old who would teach me words in Spanish and always start my day with a big hug. The teenaged children who we briefly met but who always seemed to be helping their parents and always had a smile. Even Rocky the dog and the two adopted puppies were friendly and lovely. Clothes would be hanging out on the line in the morning, and there was a conscious effort to reuse and not waste, which was apparent daily.

The house is nearest to SanMarcos La Laguna, which is a small village and only accessible from the house by trekking up a picturesque flight of stone steps to the main road or by taking the boat to the village dock. Many of the sidewalks in the village are simple dirt paths, and local women line these streets with fruit and vegetable stands. We met many expats in San Marcos who had come to the lake on holiday, and simply decided to stay. I can’t say that I blamed them…

Water cisterns are everywhere and many of the walls are made with recycled bottles. We also saw bottles used to separate garden beds and other creative uses. This is a place that was built around nature, versus on top of it. Many of the roads and sidewalks are pervious to allow the rainwater to go back into the ground easily. Composting is done everywhere. People walk and use their bodies and it’s not uncommon to see local women with a baby in a sling, a basket on their head and a bag in their hand.

For all of Guatemala’s beauty, it certainly isn’t without its environmental and sustainability challenges, including poverty and malnourished children. There has been an ongoing effort to clean up Lake Atitlan which has been on the decline from raw sewage, fertilizers and trash either being dumped into, or making its way into the lake.  You can read more about it here. In 2009, Global Nature Fund listed Atitlán its “Threatened Lake of the Year.” We noticed in our travels throughout Guatemala that there were very few, if any, trash cans in sight. Progress has been made, and I can only hope it continues to save such a magical gem of a place.

Other issues, which commonly plague developing and third-world countries in general, include:
·         Lack of access to potable water (especially in rural areas)
·         Poor air quality
·         Tropical deforestation
·         Soil erosion
·         Natural resource extraction issues (mining, petroleum, etc.)

I’m encouraged by the number of public/private partnerships I’ve seen to address many of these problems, and it appears there is increasing awareness of these concerns worldwide, which gives me hope.

If you’ve ever thought about visiting Guatemala, I would highly encourage you to make the trip.  I’m planning to escape the commercialism of the holidays and take my children, so they too can experience this captivating country and have their eyes opened to a different reality.

Stepping outside of our comfort zone to see how others live in different parts of the world is important. After watching Nicholas make the journey into the village just to bring us five gallons of clean water to drink, I came home with a renewed appreciation for the tap I’d been taking for granted. This is just one of many examples I could give.

Green Guatemala is in my dreams for now…

Love and Laughter,
Ms. Champion


“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
― Gustave Flaubert

The Human Face of Climate Change

Written for Healthy Indoors Magazine - June 2014

Do you ever wonder what it would be like to live inside an oven? Welcome to Phoenix, Arizona summertime. Yes, it’s summer here now in my mind, as we roll into our first full week of triple digit temperatures. There are two seasons here. I refer to them as Perfect Season and I’m In a Giant Frickin’ Oven Season.

But while I can escape to the comfortable confines of my balmy 79 to 80 degree house, my air-conditioned car and my air-conditioned stores, many people can’t.

And heat kills.

Last July, I organized an Act on Climate event. Because the majority of the media here doesn’t do such a great job at covering environmental issues, I’ve learned to use big, visual props to make it hard for them to ignore. Even better if these props have a function.

I ordered 150 red umbrellas and had #ActOnClimate printed on them. 150 people holding these umbrellas served as the backdrop for our press conference. I included people to speak on behalf of small business, faith-based groups, the poor and working class, science and the homeless population. I also included several elected officials and our state climatologist. We also held a water drive for Lodestar Day Resource Center.

Though the event was well-attended and people stopped whining about being hot once they were gently reminded why they were there, I was forever changed by what happened after the event.

As the amazing Paolo Soleri so eloquently said in 2010, just a few years before his death: "The umbrella and parasol are self-generating comfort zones; light, moveable, energy independent, technologically optimal, inexpensive, a great service to the poor and to the very poor. They constitute mini-housing for tens of millions, for pharaohs and kings alike."

I went to pass out the 150 umbrellas on that hot July day to our homeless population. I visited two parks, then went down to the streets surrounding our main urban homeless shelter, CASS.

According to Arizona’s 2012 statistics on homelessness, there were 28,000 people in Arizona who experienced homelessness. Of those people, 5,805 of them are children. 28,000 people experiencing triple digit temperatures for prolonged periods of time, including nearly 6000 kids. This is tragic. These people are among the most vulnerable population when it comes to heat related illness and death.

As I passed out the umbrellas, I had people smile, hug me and even cry. People acted shocked at being given something, and I would assure them the umbrella was a gift and I wanted nothing in return.

“Please use this for shade.” I would say. “Please try to keep yourself cool.”

When I ran out of umbrellas, I was still surrounded by a large group of people.

People.

I often think about how different our world would be if our people were treated with as much love, care and understanding as our animals. Why is it that we’ll rescue a stray animal off the street but not think about buying a fellow human a meal, or at least a nice cold jug of water? Check out my friend Jon Linton’s The I Have A Name Project for a good reminder on the importance of practicing compassion.

I left the streets feeling both grateful and heartbroken.

When I got back to my car, I broke into tears, overwhelmed with emotion.

I needed more umbrellas.

A quick crowdfunding campaign generated the means for me to purchase 150 more umbrellas that several volunteers helped me pass out on a Sunday afternoon. This is my idea of church…

Now, nearly one year later, I still see the red umbrellas around town on occasion and it almost makes me cry every time. If any of you have ties to an umbrella manufacturer or want to buy me several thousand umbrellas that would be ridiculously awesome. And I’m serious.

Heat related illness and death is bound to increase in the years to come from what studies such as this one tell us.

Heat waves, commonly defined as a few consecutive days with high temperature above a certain threshold, are the leading cause of weather-related mortality in the United States (Davis et al. 2003). 

Even more alarming, the nighttime temperatures are going to increase in Phoenix according to a new Arizona State University study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

Cities (including Phoenix) would be wise to get their Climate Change Adaptation Plans in place quickly if they haven’t been done, start busting butt on minimizing urban heatisland effect and work much harder to decrease greenhouse gas emissions

Speaking of which, a Washington Post-ABC newspoll  released yesterday in light of the new EPA CleanPower Plant Proposed Rule to reduce carbon pollution from power plants gave me hope that Americans are starting to see the light when it comes to climate change. It’s good to have hope in humanity.

Now we need to just start seeing the people. The people with faces and names. The human faces of climate change.

I truly believe if we can learn to look out for each other- our fellow humans- caring for our planet comes naturally. We shouldn’t live in a world where dying from heat is even an option.

Please think about this as you travel throughout your days and lives. Have kindness and empathy for those around you. Give someone the gift of an umbrella or a drink of water, or even a smile.
Let your small gestures of kindness become dominoes to help create a more sustainable and hospitable world. Be kind.

“You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Love and laughter,
Ms. Champion


Plastic and Bottles and Paper, Oh My…!

Written for Healthy Indoors Magazine - May, 2014.


Can I just get a little recycling around here?!?! I live in Phoenix, Arizona which is currently the sixth largest city in the United States. We have sprawl, sunshine and some stuff to sort out when it comes to our recycling initiatives and waste diversion goals.

Across the country (and world) cities, people and industry are ramping up their recycling initiatives for a myriad of reasons:
·         To help curb greenhouse gas emissions.
·         To conserve precious land.
·         To earn revenue.
·         To turn waste to energy.
·         Or simply to be good stewards to the earth and because it’s the right thing to do.

Looking at the lifecycle of a product- from natural resource through end of product life- should help make the importance of recycling (and reusing) even more apparent.

* Check out TheStory of Stuff Project for good perspective on this.

Many cities, including Phoenix, have set waste diversion goals. When we throw something “away,” that place “away” is most likely a landfill. A place where we bury our waste, where it then slowly breaks down and contributes to climate change by emitting Methane (CH4) which is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the U.S. attributed to human activities. According to the EPA: “Landfills are the third largest source of CH4 emissions in the United States.” So the less we throw “away,” the better…

About a year ago, Phoenix launched its 40 by 20 campaign (40% waste diversion by the year 2020) along with a nice new logo and educational/outreach campaign called Reimagine Phoenix. And just in case you’re wondering, yes, I can reimagine Phoenix in more ways than one, but that’s a story for another day.

Phoenix’s waste diversion rate for fiscal year 2011-2012 was a meager 13% which is far below the national average.

About one year prior to the Phoenix 40 by 20 launch (in early 2012) I discovered something that was very disturbing to me, especially with our embarrassing waste diversion number. I learned there was/is a city ordinance (27-21 Residential collection) that says:

“The City does not provide solid waste collection service to commercial or industrial establishments or to any building with more than 30 multi-family dwelling units, except as provided in subsection A.2 of this section. *1”

In case you’re curious, here’s what subsection A-2 says: “The City will provide solid waste collection service to all dwelling units including: *1 - All buildings with less than five dwelling units, including duplex, triplex and four-plex units, and all buildings with five or more units that have been receiving City solid waste collection continuously since May 30, 1979. Multiple buildings on one lot cannot be aggregated to avoid the provisions of this chapter. *1

Phoenix does provide solid waste collection (along with recycling services) to residential customers, and of course those “less than five dwelling units.”

What I really want to know though, is where the seemingly random ‘continuous service since May 30, 1979’ date came from? I can’t help but picture a group of private solid waste company bigwigs sitting around a table saying “Hey Johnny, throw a date into the hat!”

What the hell?! It’s no wonder Phoenix was at 13% waste diversion rate when the customers who could contribute the largest amounts to the bulk of recycling (and thus revenue for our city) – commercial business and apartment dwellers- were purposefully, and probably strategically, being excluded. “Away” is big money in case you didn’t know. The solid waste industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, and Phoenix, with all of our sprawl, has lots of open land to bury it.

Just after this time, I was informed the Phoenix Environmental Quality Commission had made a recommendation to City Council to change the city ordinance banning the city from offering services, including recycling to commercial businesses and multi-family units.

I created an online petition to lay on some community pressure to make this happen.

Well, nearly two years has gone by, it still hasn’t happened, and the only way Phoenix businesses or apartment buildings get recycling is if they pay the private solid waste company to provide it.
I think this is bullshit.

On the flip side of this, I will say I personally know several people in the Phoenix Public Works Department who are fantastic humans doing good work and their hearts are in the right place. What they’ve done so far is a step in the right direction, albeit a tiny baby step when compared to other cities, but we’ll delve into that a little deeper below.

I believe this city ordinance is more of a political power play than anything else, and would love to see the list of political contributions made to City Council member campaigns from private solid waste bigwigs.

So how does the 6th largest city in the United States compare with the 5 bigger cities with regard to waste diversion goals? Let’s start with Phoenix and count down from there.

#6 – Phoenix, Arizona – Population: 1,488,750 (2012 estimate)
Goal: 40% by 2020
2011-2012: 13%

#5 – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Population: 1,547,607 (2012 estimate)
Goal: Zero Waste
2011: 77%

#4 – Houston, Texas – Population:  2,160,821 (2012 estimate)
Goal: 75%
2013: 14%

#3 – Chicago, Illinois – Population: 2,714,856 (2012 estimate)
Goal: Zero Waste
2009: 45%

#2 – Los Angeles, California – Population: 3,857,799 (2012 estimate)
Goal: Zero Waste
2012: 76.4%

#1 – New York, New York – Population: 8,336,697 (2012 estimate)
Goal: 30% by 2017 & 75% by 2030
2012:15%

* If anyone has data more current than what I found, please don’t hesitate to share.

So, what I’ve learned from this, is that Phoenix is at the bottom of the barrel with regard to where we are currently with our waste diversion rate, as well as our goals for the future. Especially when you keep digging and looking at cities like the ones outlined here in this article.

I understand the need to set achievable goals, because hey, who likes to fail? But when I see our closest rival in population, Philadelphia, hitting a 77% waste diversion rate in 2011 with a goal of zero, what the hell is our excuse in Phoenix?

Oh yeah. There’s that pesky city ordinance prohibiting us from playing catch up.

And given the fact the city of Phoenix has a $38 million dollar deficit wouldn’t it also make sense for the city to take over and ramp up the recycling for business and multi-family dwellings to save itself money, and even potentially earn some? Other cities have benefited.

So where does your city stack up? Are you a die-hard recycler, or do you not give it much thought? Are there things your city could be doing smarter to reduce waste? I’d love to hear your comments!

Further reading on Zero Waste:

Onward with fingers crossed for a more sustainable Phoenix!

Love and laughter,
-Ms. Champion

“The case for recycling is strong. The bottom line is clear. Recycling requires a trivial amount of our time. Recycling saves money and reduces pollution. Recycling creates more jobs than landfilling or incineration. And a largely ignored but very important consideration, recycling reduces our need to dump our garbage in someone else’s backyard.” – David Morris
 

Green Eggs and Spam

Written for Healthy Indoors Magazine - March 2014

Oh my GOSH - I'm so busy!

We've all said it before, haven't we?  And while yep, it's true we really are pretty busy these days, after all, I myself am a mom with two kids, pets, a house to take care of and my own small business to juggle; I started to ponder that title statement a little deeper lately and question whether: a. it's true b. we've just become a totally self-absorbed society or c. our priorities are just all f%&ked up.  (Of course, it could indeed be a combination of all of the above - and probably is...)  But me being me, I wanted to delve in a little deeper.

So how is it that we have all this crazy technology that's supposed to make our lives easier, yet we seem to be "busier" than ever - which I believe is drawing us further and further away from any real sense of community, and along with it, accountability.

I keep joking around about wanting to get a land line phone with an old-fashioned answering machine and limiting my "online" computer time to no more than two hours a day.  I'm secretly not joking.

I want to listen to records instead of an iPod, read books instead of a Kindle, and buy 95% of what I need within 1 square mile of my house.  I want to talk instead of text - preferably face to face, not care if someone I haven't seen in 15 years removes me as their Facebook "friend," and have people really show up when they say on an "evite" that they're going to.  I want people online to only "say" things they'd be willing to publicly say out loud in person, instead of hiding behind their World of Warcraft warlock alias, and basically just be fricking decent human beings for a change.

Do you realize the average American spends anywhere from forty minutes to three and a half hours per week deleting spam from their inbox?  Isn't that just stupid?  I'm not immune to any of this stuff either, and am quite a pro at getting side-tracked and wasting time on what I would consider to be pretty petty, time-sucking, stupid crap.  I'm sick of the bullshit.  I want to be more present on a daily basis, help build our community and do what I'm able to do to make things better in the time I'm on this planet.

Would any of the great movements (Civil Rights, Women's Rights, etc. etc.) have been successful if they had taken place in today's ADHD world?  I'm really not so sure...

"Hey! A squirrel.  What's the game score? Hold on, I'm sending a text.  I need a Farmville cow.  Biggest Loser is on.  Did you tweet that?  I have to research my 752 other options before I decide.  Skype me.  No, instant message me.  Are you my LinkedIn contact? Did you read that in People? I hope Bieber gets sober.  I'll upload your download to my iPad."
Seriously.  It's really starting to get to me.  Propaganda A.K.A. PR (good 'ol public relations) has really truly done its job at turning us into a seriously dumbed down, numb, gadget collecting, small town superstar society.  Don't believe me?  Just watch the BBC documentary series "The Century of the Self" and see for yourselves.

It's all been on purpose and we've happily been sucking down the Kool-Aid power pops and snorting all the Pixie Stix, people.  Yuck.

Phoenix is a great place to watch this in action.  Having lived in Arizona for 15+ years now, I've had my own "coming to Jesus" moments with the fact this place really is my home, and is in fact the only place my kids have ever lived.  There are a whole lot of transients and transplants in Arizona, which I think lends itself to part of the "it's not my shit" problem we have going on here, and everywhere for that matter.

Well guess what?  IT IS YOUR SHIT.  And even if it really isn't your shit, but you stepped in it, are you the kind of person who will just leave a pile of poo in the middle of the sidewalk for someone else to step in too?  Are you the kind of person who won't clean the poo off your shoe so everyone you encounter has to smell it too?  We all can and should help clean it up.
Okay. Back to technology, being present, community and what this has to do with cleaning up poop and being really busy. I will also add that I’m a bit of an idealist, so do have hope for our society.

The past couple of weeks here in Arizona made me very proud of my community. While the national media and late night talk show hosts were (rightfully) slamming Arizona over the blatantly discriminatory Senate Bill 1062, I watched a beautiful, community driven, grassroots effort unfold before my eyes.

Technology was utilized for good to share information regarding rally times and online petitions were quickly created. The Governor’s inbox was flooded with emails urging her to veto the bill. I wrote a pro bono media alert for a food truck owner who passed out 150 free cheeseburgers to rally attendees (http://bit.ly/NKLkmk). Hundreds of people showed up for days on end to use their voices and time for good. The pictures shared through social media were amazing. Very powerful stuff…
Though our state has some serious reputation management to contend with in the coming months and years (which I discussed on Channel 12the day of the veto) -- the bottom line is that people came out en masse to help clean up the shit. Together, the community took action. In my opinion, this is a tipping point for us and one that can serve as an example to other communities.

If we can all spend three hours a week deleting spam from our inbox, and another 32+ hours a week looking at crap online and another 16+ hours a week watching television shows; then surely we can find the time out of our very busy schedules to attend something worthwhile that will create positive changes within our community for not just us now, but also future generations.  A rally, a community empowering event, a documentary screening, or a roundtable discussion.  If you're not a creator, be a supporter.  Just get off your ass and help pick up the poop.

Let's start being pro-active so we don't have to be so reactive.
If you’re interested in tracking state and federal legislation so you too can create positive change, here’s a tool to help.

A sustainable community is a diverse community. Sustainability big picture should touch each and every socioeconomic class, every race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and most importantly, should embrace everyone.

“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

Love and laughter,

Msss. Champion

Champion for Change – How To Be An Activist + Educated Consumer

Written for Healthy Indoors Magazine - February 2014

January was an intense month for me. My Rogue Green group co-hosted a screening of the documentary Unacceptable Levels which is featured in this issue of Healthy Indoor Environments Magazine. I saw Gary Hirshberg, Chairman of Stonyfield Organic and Just Label It speak at an ASU Global Institute of Sustainability event about organic farming, GMO’s and the innovative things their company is doing to make a difference. My best friend Mara discovered that the water in her city has some high levels of various carcinogens. I also had a strange run in with a random neighbor who I caught in my front yard, spraying weed killer on our clover. I don’t think that neighbor will ever step foot in my yard again…

Technology brings knowledge. Sometimes that knowledge can completely freak us out and make us feel helpless. The problems are so big, yet we’re just one person. What can I possibly do to create positive change? Well I’m here to tell you- you can do a LOT.

I remember the feeling of helplessness the deeper and deeper I delved into environmental issues, both inside and outside my home. I was a young, new mom at the time, and though I’d always felt like I was a conscious consumer, my head was reeling with information.

And then my mama bear came out. I got angry. Angry in a positive, protective way. Angry in a lemons to lemonade kind of way. Little did I know at the time that this feeling, attitude and tenacity would change my path and being forever.

I was hell bent on creating positive change, not only for me and my family, but for all families and future generations too.

Being a conscious consumer isn’t always easy. Nor is being an activist. When you’re stirring a big pot of corruption and greed, the chances are pretty good that you’re bound to get scratched off some holiday card lists and piss some people off. That’s okay though. In the great words of Mahatma Gandhi, “You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.” I’m a results driven kind of person. You can be too.

At this point in my life and career, I have some good positive wins under my belt. I’ve helped save a beautiful, large ficus tree that our city was going to remove because it was in the middle of where a new sidewalk was supposed to go. I organize our annual PARK(ing) Day event to promote the importance of green, public space in our urban core.  I’ve fought to stop bad development (and supported the good). I’ve promoted bike share, sustainability initiatives and have pushed my city to step up their recycling program to include multi-family housing and commercial business. Sometimes though, activism takes place more behind the scenes, under the radar in the grand scheme of things, but can have a very big and positive impact.

I’ll share with you one of my favorites. There is a large toxic plume underneath a portion of Phoenix, Arizona. It is a Superfund Site. Many people who live here are unaware that it even exists.
From the Region 9 EPA website:

The Motorola, Inc. (52nd Street Plant) Superfund Site (Motorola 52nd Street Site) was added to the National Priorities List (NPL) in 1989. The former Motorola 52nd Street Plant (now operated by ON Semiconductor) is a 90-acre semiconductor manufacturing plant located on McDowell Road, in a residential and commercial area. In 1982, Motorola discovered that a 1,1,1-trichloroethane (1,1,1-TCA) underground storage tank was leaking at their facility. Further investigations determined that the soil and groundwater is contaminated with a variety of chlorinated solvents which are volatile organic compounds (VOC) that were used in Motorola's semiconductor manufacturing operations. Motorola is conducting investigations and cleanup activities of this contamination.

In June of 2012, I found out from a reporter friend who covers environmental stories that the Balsz Elementary School District Board was going to vote on allowing water from the Motorola treatment facility to be piped under an elementary school, which would then discharge into a canal behind the playground that isn’t a source of drinking water. She informed me that the majority of school board members were in favor of the proposal, which would pay the district $20,000 per year. A very small price to pay for the health and well-being of hundreds of students in my opinion, and something that needed to be quickly stopped.

Many of the families whose children could be impacted probably never even found out what was going on, as meeting times and locations were not announced until the last minute and it was the beginning of the summer break. I was irate.

As soon as the small story broke in our local newspaper, I created a Facebook event and gave everyone the names, emails and phone numbers of the school board members, urging the public to call and write to let them know our children’s health is not for sale. I contacted the media to tell them what was happening. I organized to have as many people as possible attend the school board meeting to voice opposition.

We packed the room that evening and several news cameras were in attendance too. The Balsz Elementary School Board members ultimately rejected the proposition, mainly I believe due to the public outcry and media attention. Collectively, we made a difference. You can read about the story and watch the video HERE.

These atrocities and acts of environmental injustice happen all over our world on a daily basis. I wanted to share the above story to illustrate how you can get involved to do something about it.
Every day, we’re given numerous choices to be conscious consumers and community activists – on both a small and large scale. Our political votes are always important, but never forget that we vote with our dollars too. From the food we buy, to the products we use in our homes and on our bodies; every decision we make can have an impact. We all have the ability to help shape our schools, our workplaces and our communities.

Here are some tools for you to educate yourself, get involved and help create positive change.

Get Educated, Get Involved, Get Inspired

·         Watch a documentary.
·         Visit Moms Clean Air Force.
·         Read some inspiring quotes.

While I was working on this story, my 7 year old daughter Zoe asked me what I was writing about. We ended up having a lengthy conversation about why I buy organic food whenever possible and try to keep as many chemicals out of our house as I can. Kids are great at connecting the dots and simplifying the issue. I was explaining how pesticides are neurotoxins, and yet they’re used on many foods and products. Zoe said “If they know it’s poisonous, why would they still give it to kids?” This is a tough question to answer as a mom…

Zoe asked if she could be involved somehow with this article. We ended up collaborating on an essay, then I videotaped her reading it. You can watch it HERE.

Together we CAN create positive change.


“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It's not.”
― Dr. SeussThe Lorax