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To the joy of many Phoenicians, the Downtown Civic Space Park  opened this past Thursday. As a resident of Phoenix, I’ve watched  over the past several months as the park’s grown from a dirt lot to this:

Civic Space Park Opening mlt

And while some people may criticize Her Secret is Patience, I believe it will become an iconic part of Phoenix like the Love Statue is for New York.  But I’m not writing about the park  because of its statue or its 2.77 acres of land now set aside for nature, but because of the green features that make it unique from other run-of-the-mill parks.

On top of the shade structures throughout the park are giant sets of solar panels to absorb the ample rays of the Arizona sun:

civic space solar panels mlt

Which is good, because the energy they generate can help power some of the park’s light features like these:

Day

Day

Night

Night

Light Feature 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to a Phoenix press release, the park also has pervious concrete. The concrete’s perviousness cuts down the amount of heat it reflects and allows water to flow through it, keeping water from running off  and causing flooding.  Here’s a picture of the pervious concrete along one of the planters at the park:

Pervious Concrete

The park also has a rainfall collection system that stores rain, waters the park’s plants and lets the leftover water seep naturally into the ground. This pervious concrete and collection system will help with water runoff and the heat island effect, two environmental issues many large urban cities struggle with.

Civic Space also has native Arizona plants like agave and yucca that require less water and exist naturally in the desert environment.  These little natives will get a boost from the park’s specially-selected soil and a grate system for roots that will keep the soil from getting too compact and prevent root damage.

Agave mlt Yucca mlt

I also had the chance to speak shortly with Terrence Gellenbeck, Solid Waste Administrative Analyst for Phoenix at the opening.  He said that the public works department would be attempting a trial run of Civic Space recycling cans sometime in the future to see if it could be successful. He said contamination (where people throw non-recyclable items in recycle cans and render all the items in them un-reusable) had been common in parks they’d tried to start recycling programs in in the past, but that they were hopeful the cans would be more successful at Civic Space.

I predict parks like Civic Space will gradually become the norm rather than the exception for public parks. The innovative  use of unobtrusive green features in places like Civic Space makes me optimistic for the incorporation of green design  into other parts of our society and everyday lives.

So make a park a part of your day today and go see Civic Space for yourself or appreciate a local park near you. Until then, I leave you with this:

“The fundamental idea behind the parks is native. It is, in brief, that the country belongs to the people, that it is in the process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us. The parks stand as the outward symbol of this great human principle.” -Franklin D. Roosevelt

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has issued a High Pollution Advisory for the Phoenix Metropolitan Area today, saying wind will be stirring up a lot of PM10 (particles like dust, dirt and other things capable of floating through the air that are 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller).

According to the ADEQ, “these particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause…irritation of the airways, coughing, difficulty breathing, decreased lung function, asthma, development of chronic bronchitis, irregular heartbeat, heart attacks and premature death in people with heart or lung disease.”

In a nutshell, avoid going outside today. Try not to use leaf blowers and don’t have fires in your home, as today is officialy a No-Burn Day.

Only three months in to 2009, there have already been several High Pollution Advisories. There have been multiple days where the  ADEQ reported the air quality as “Moderate”, “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” and “Unhealthy for All”, particularly in January.

Air pollution has always been a major challenge for Arizona. The AQEQ’s put together a page on its stratagies to prevent pollution and some ways you can help.

I took some photos of the skyline from my home in downtown Phoenix today at 12:40. So far, it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of visible dust and particulates in the air, but it could get worse as the day goes on:

 So to all the readers out there, be mindful about going outside today and make sure you take care of your lungs-you might need them later.

EDIT

After I posted this entry, the wind started to pick up. Here’s one of the same areas at 6:30-it is now the first picture in the photo group. You can see the dust blowing.

hpa-day-phoenix-5-mlt5

Earth Hour is next Saturday, March 28 at “8:30 p.m. local time, wherever you live on planet earth,”  until 9:30.

Earth Hour’s an event created by the World Wildlife Fund  to encourage responsible energy use, calling on people to turn off their lights/electric devices for one hour to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions. 

This event first started in Sydney in 2007. Since then, cities around the world have joined in, including Phoenix. Here’s a video with more information about Earth Hour. You can see Phoenix going dark at 1:50:

 

 

Unfortunately, according to a Phoenix New Times piece, Phoenix won’t be participating in Earth Hour this year.  City officials have claimed it’s cheaper leaving lights on to rack up the electric bill than paying people overtime to turn them off. 

But that doesn’t mean you can’t contribute. If you’re looking for ways to participate in Earth Hour besides sitting by yourself in a dark room, the Arizona Science Center will be offering stargazing  through telescopes in Heritage Square from 8-10 p.m.  

 You can also calculate your household emission levels with U.S. Environmental Protections Agency’s great household emissions calculator and use its tips to cut back on greenhouse gasses while saving money in the process.

Judy’s Phoenix Blog offers a list of Ten Things You Can Do in the Dark if you’re looking for a few more ways to spice up your Earth Hour.

Whether you decide to gaze through a telescope, snuggle up to your significant other or just turn off that unnecessary lamp, use Earth Hour as an opportunity to be mindful of how small actions can have a big impact.

EDIT

For those of you in Tucson looking for something to do for Earth Hour, there’s a concert under the stars at Sabino Canyon.  Western, chorus and smooth jazz bands will be playing along with the U.S. Forest Service’s string band  The Fiddlin’ Foresters.

The concert will go from 5-9 p.m. and the parking’s free. The concert suggested donation is $5 a person and $10 for a family, with the proceeds going towards Friends of  Sabino Canyon. In addition to the concert, there will be telescopes to look at the stars, a silent auction, food and drinks, as well as storytelling and Smokey Bear for kids.

Monday marked the start of  Wildlife Week, a week to help people celebrate their love of nature through participation in conservation and community service.  You can celebrate this 71-year-old event through even the simplest of gestures like picking up some trash or exploring a beautiful  piece of Arizona nature you’ve never encountered before. 

The  Website  offers more ideas for participation that span a wide range of ages and interests.  The National Wildlife Federation also has a great Wildlife Watch interactive map where you can log animal and plant species you see around your home to help track the health and population trends of wildlife across Arizona and the country.

Whatever you do, take some time to appreciate your own little patch of Arizona Terra. We live in an amazing state. 

sedona-photo-by-megan-l-thomas

Western Climate Initiative is quickly becoming a buzz phrase for emission standards and fighting greenhouse gasses. I like to think of it as the Justice League of air quality.

The WCI is composed of seven states (including Arizona) and four Canadian provinces, all of which have banned together to cut greenhouse emissions by 2020 to 15 percent below 2005 levels.

Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Director Steve Owens and Gov. Napolitano spearheaded the effort of joining the WCI and getting the state to cut its emissions sooner rather than later.

I had the opportunity to interview Owens last September about the initiative. He emphasized his belief that regulating emissions now would be a lot cheaper for Arizona than dealing with the fallout of unregulated greenhouse gasses in the future.

Gov. Jan Brewer, it seems, does not share that opinion. It has been going around for a while now that Jan Brewer is not a big fan of the WCI and has been considering scaling back Arizona’s involvement in the effort.

Rep. Andy Biggs introduced a bill last week that aims to remove Arizona from the initiative altogether. Advocates of the initiative criticized the bill, saying it would only  lose the state green jobs and increase Arizona’s high asthma rates.

As the battle over emission control continues and the anti-WCI bill weaves its way through the capitol,  Arizonans are left holding their breath waiting to hear the future of their state’s air quality.

P is for Parks

If one thing’s for certain, environmental causes have been suffering in Arizona’s economic recession.

 In the first week of February, Arizona State Parks recommended closing eight parks  at a public hearing  as it struggles with budget cuts. Many members of the public expressed dismay about the potential closures at the hearing. The  Arizona State Parks Board has asked Arizona State Parks to consider employee furloughs and less park hours in place of closures before their next meeting February 20.  

Arizona State Parks has already been forced to cancel its large Civil War re-enactment event to save money. More of the agency’s educational programs and events may face the chopping block as the legislature shaves away at funding throughout the state. Arizona State Parks officials  expressed their uncertainty that the agency would survive the year even after the park closures due to lack of funding.

Everything is connected. Just like in nature when one link of the ecosystem chain is removed, the elimination of one part of a community (parks) results in a ripple effect that hurts everyone.  Some of the environmental resources and historic artifacts of the closing parks will be left in the hands of private citizens to protect. Cities and businesses will receive less revenue from visiting park guests. Citizens will have eight less places to go at a time people are desperate for free recreational venues. The repercussions go on and on.

It may look grim for Arizona’s environmental programs now, but it may get even uglier. The legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer continue to cut and divert funds supporting environmental organizations including Arizona State Parks and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. 

If you believe the environmental causes of Arizona deserve more funding, write to your representatives.

Jan Brewer, the 26th Arizona governor replacing Janet Napolitano, has so far shown little support for environmental protection and preservation. The Sierra Club itself said Arizona is “in a world of hurt” with Brewer at the helm and that the days of environmental progress are numbered.  So far, the Sierra Club’s prophecy has rung true.

Only in office for  17 days, Brewer has already begun cutting away at environmental protections. On Jan. 27, Brewer was reportedly considering axing the clean car emissions standards Napolitano enacted. These standards would require cars sold in state to meet certain emission standards starting 2011.

If Brewer has her way, the standards may become much more lenient for the auto industry. As Arizona development and population continues to grow, pollution problems only threaten to get worse. Weak auto emission standards are a step down the slippery slope towards high air pollution and the subsequent health problems that result.

In a very short amount of time, Brewer has started an environmental precedent that will cause many environmentalists and conservationists to worry-and rightly so. Yet perhaps Brewer will alter her approach to environmental policy as time goes on.

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