The Economic High Road

An editorial in Artvoice discusses some salient themes for economic development in Buffalo and Upstate New York that will be the focus of an upcoming conference on September 27-28 in downtown Buffalo called “The High Road Runs Through the City.” The essay begins with some surprising news to me at least that Buffalo was now according to the federal government the second poorest city in the nation (here’s an alternative news source WNED News). Here are some of the main speakers and brief summary of their ideas on economic development from the editorial:

The keynote speaker is global warming activist and author Bill McKibben, whose latest book, Deep Economy, argues for economies built not on growth but on sustainability, not on globalization but on localism, not on “more” but on “better.” Other speakers include Patricia Smith, the New York Commissioner of Labor; Jen Kern, the nation’s leading living wage advocate; and J. Phillip Thompson III, whose book Double Trouble explores the dilemmas of African-American mayors in impoverished cities.

Greg LeRoy, another speaker, is the founder of Good Jobs First and the author of The Great American Jobs Scam, which argues persuasively that states and cities are wasting enormous resources by offering tax subsidies to big corporations in return for promises of jobs. According to LeRoy’s extensive evidence, companies almost never base location decisions on tax subsidies; more often, they decide where they want to locate, and then milk the government for the maximum amount of subsidies by pretending to consider other locations.

The conference also features Wisconsin professor Joel Rogers, one of the inventors of the term “high road economic development,” which he defines as “high-wage, low-waste, worker-friendly, and publicly-accountable.” Rogers has written several books outlining pragmatic steps toward the high road and has organized a group of progressive mayors who are putting high road ideas to the test.

Anyone who frequents to read this blog should take the time to read through the Artvoice article; it hits on several important points that are important not only for Buffalo but for the entire Upstate New York Region. (I wish I had time to discuss it more in depth, but I have kids who need to get to school…)

Posted in Commentary, New York Economy | 4 Comments

EcoVillage at Ithaca

EcoVillage at Ithaca (EVI) is a local “ecovilliage” in upstate New York where residence live share in a variety of community responsibilities, attempt to maintain a sustainable, low-impact lifetyle, and present an alternative vision of suburban living. The “village currently includes two 30-home cohousing neighborhoods, an organic CSA vegetable farm, an organic berry farm, office spaces for cottage industry, an education office, a neighborhood root cellar, a warm-season grasses ecosystem restoration project, a sheep pasture, and varied natural areas. Over 80% of the 175 acre site is planned to remain green space, including 55 acres in a conservation easement held by the Finger Lakes Land Trust.Village residents share common dinners several times per week in the two Common Houses, and volunteer about 2-3 hours per week on various work teams to keep things running smoothly: outdoor maintenance, finances, governance, future projects, and more.”

Time Magazine recently profiled the community in a short article (Bryan Wlash, Sept. 6, 2007, “Green Acres”, Time Magazine) where the first thing they emphasize is that this is not a commune:

The 60 tidy homes, all duplexes to save energy, are privately owned by the residents, who pay a monthly fee for the upkeep of common buildings and future capital projects, like a shared root cellar for storing vegetables. Most of the territory is undeveloped and reserved for community space, where parents allow their kids to go free range, trusting that other villagers will be there to look out for them. strategies pay genuine environmental dividends. Even though EVI is still on the electrical grid and many residents commute by car to their jobs – as far as 20 miles (about 30 km) away – the group estimates it has an ecological impact 40% smaller than that of a comparable mainstream community.

Certainly this is not everyone’s idea of an ideal community but its an interesting experiment in alternative community design. EVI may lie at one extreme but there are community planning ideas being explored that could enrich any neighborhood. For more on ecovillages, there is the “Global Ecovillage Network”.

Posted in Local Communities, Sightings, Urbanism and Planning | 1 Comment

Cool v. Uncool Cities

The need to cultivate a “creative class” in a region has become a recurring theme in discussions about economic development and planning in Central New York – and elsewhere. The organization “40 Below” is certainly an outgrowth of this thinking; and here is a recent article in the Albany Time-Union, “How to turn Albany into technology hub” that hits on this theme. Despite the discussion on cultivating the creative class, it remains obvious that in Central New York continues to move in a different direction. The oft cited Brooking Institute report on sprawl in Central New York, Sprawl Without Growth: The Upstate Paradox, suggests that movement from the “cool” city to the “uncool” suburb remains a dominant paradigm defining demographic patterns in Central New York.

In light of these trends I found this 3-part blog post by Bill Fulton on the California Planning & Development Report website enlightening. Fulton essentially sees the debate falling along a spectrum between Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class and LA business journalist Joel Kotkin and his defense of the “uncool” city (and by extension suburb) – the “nerdistans”. Fulton takes Kotkin to task for reducing the “creative class” to “entertainment and tourism” instead of understanding the full economic dimensions undergirding the concept. He brings up a local example:

Not long ago I was giving a speech in just about the most blue-collar city you can imagine – Buffalo – and I made the Florida argument. New York State was investing hundreds of millions of dollars in life sciences research in Buffalo in an effort to compete with Georgia, Arizona, and California in this sector of huge economic opportunity. But I pointed out that the prevalent new development pattern in Buffalo was the creation of three-acre suburban lots. I suggested that research scientists trying to cure cancer did not want to spend all weekend on a riding mower.

Afterwards, one woman came up to me and told me – in the broadest, flat-a Upstate accent you can imagine—that she works at a cancer research institute. “You’re right,” she said of the scientists. “At the end of the day all they want is a restaurant, a gym, and a loft.”

Fulton’s conclusion is that neither approach (cool versus uncool or whatever you want to call it) will solve the problem. Rather successful economic planning can only emerge from an understanding of both these end-members of the cultural-economic spectrum.

Posted in Upstate Companies, Urbanism and Planning | Leave a comment

TCE Testing in Binghamton

TCE testing has just mushroomed across the state as the DEC revisits hazardous waste sites looking for toxic soil gas. Here’s an example from today’s Press & Sun-Bulletin, TCE hunt expands in city:

BINGHAMTON —The long, slow search for hazardous chemicals under a neighborhood on the north side of Binghamton literally broke new ground this week, as workers implanted pollution-detection probes outside a chemical warehousing plant and planned to retest air inside nearby homes.

Contractors, trying to pinpoint the source of subterranean pollution, drilled holes Tuesday outside the Ashland Distribution Co. on Broad Street. The work, which extends to a rail bed on the west side of the plant, is expected to continue this week, said Jim Vitak, a company spokesman.

So far, four homes in the area to the west of the company have tested positive for unacceptable levels of trichloroethylene (TCE) and were fitted with systems to prevent subterranean fumes from entering through foundations. Tests earlier this year showed TCE levels in at least four other homes were within state safety guidelines, but they will be re-tested during the upcoming heating season because of concerns related to fluctuating levels of the chemicals beneath their foundations, according to information from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

TCE exposure has been linked with illnesses ranging from cancer to skin disease, but there is little consensus among policymakers of the effects of longer-term exposure to trace amounts. (Tom Wilbur, Wednesday August 29, 2007)

Posted in Hazardous Waste, Regional News | Leave a comment

Why the Media Stumble Over the Environment

Andrew C. Revkin, a science journalist for over two decades, has a chapter The Daily Planet: Why the Media Stumble Over the Environment, from “A Field Guide for Science Writers,” that provides insight into the pitfalls of scientific journalism that might be interesting bloggers and blog readers alike. He outlines some of the “fundamental characteristics of the news process that…impede or distort environmental coverage” that could apply to any scientific reporting.

The Tyranny of the News Peg: the instinct to find the “front-page” or juiciest angle to scientific research.

The Tyranny of Balance: the need to frame scientific issues between two opposing sides no matter the scientific consensus or how far out on the fringe sides may get.

The Twin Tyrannies of Time and Space: these involve the practical concerns of a journalist (1) to meet the deadline and (2) write a story in a limited space that is understandable to a readership assumed to have limited or no background in the science matter at hand.

An finally, Heat Versus Light: the need to balance what resonates emotionally in a good news story with the cold-hard (and often boring) scientific facts behind the issue.

Good science journalism, Revkin concludes, is about writing stories that bridge the “great divide” between the scientific community and the public. This can only be achieved if the journalist is able… communicate more with scientists. By getting a better feel for the breakthrough–setback rhythms of research, a reporter is less likely to forget that the state of knowledge now about endocrine disruptors or PCBs or climate is in flux. This requires using those rare quiet moments between breaking-news days…to talk to ecologists or toxicologists who aren’t on the spot because their university has just issued a press release.

A weblog can serve an important role in this regard since blogs are clearly no limited by the same institutional constraints. But this is a double-edged sword because the same lack of constraint that enables one writer to fully explore a scientific issue at the same time allows another writer to distort issues for ideological or other aims. But these are tyrannies of a a different sort

Posted in Blogs, Internets, Research | 1 Comment

Finding path to upstate renewal

Albany’s Times-Union has an interesting blurb on the seminar “Can Upstate Cities Save Themselves?” at the Albany Institute of History and Art. Of course it boils down to redesigning our cities, the young are fleeing upstate (oh dear!), economic development, blah blah blah. Anyone even remotely familiar with the upstate blogosphere should be all-too-familiar with these “recommendations”. Not that I disagree with these assessments, I just woke up grouchy:

Finding path to upstate renewal
Cities are advised to rely on themselves, instead of on state or federal help

By ERIC ANDERSON Deputy business editor
Click byline for more stories by writer.
First published: Thursday, June 7, 2007

ALBANY —Former Milwaukee Mayor John A. Norquist had some advice Wednesday for upstate mayors seeking help from state agencies: Go home.

Norquist, now president and chief executive of Chicago-based Congress for the New Urbanism, which advocates walkable, neighborhood-based development, has little confidence in the ability of outsiders—either at the state or federal level—to help a city improve itself.

He described how state officials replaced a boulevard in Buffalo with a superhighway that cut the city off from its waterfront. “It was eviscerated by the state,” he said.

Norquist was among the speakers at the seminar “Can Upstate Cities Save Themselves?” at the Albany Institute of History and Art. The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, which advocates market solutions to urban problems, sponsored the event.

Posted in Local Communities, Urbanism and Planning | Leave a comment

Mercury Levels Rising as Clark Reservation’s Glacier Lake

From Sunday’s Post-Standard, Tim Knauss reports on the rising mercury levels in sediments analyzed in Glacial Lake at Clark Reservation State Park in Jamesville.

Glacier Lake at Clark Reservation State Park, in Jamesville, is an ideal barometer for measuring mercury that falls out of the atmosphere, according to Charles T. Driscoll Jr., a mercury expert at Syracuse University. And something has caused the barometer to rise in recent years.

According to an analysis of sediment beneath the lake by Driscoll and other researchers, the amount of mercury settling into Glacier Lake started increasing in the early 1990s, after falling sharply for the preceding two decades. That bucks a trend Driscoll has seen at most of the 50 other Northeastern lakes he’s studied: In most lakes, mercury deposition has steadily declined since the 1970s. The decline mirrors a decrease in regional mercury emissions over that time.

Why Glacier? What’s different at Glacier Lake? One source of mercury that may explain the upswing is Onondaga County’s trash-burning power plant, Driscoll said. The plant, less than 1.5 miles upwind of Glacier Lake, started operations in late 1994. Its smokestacks emit between eight and 18 pounds of mercury per year, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The article goes on to state that air testing and other sampling by the health department has indicated that mercury and other metal pollution is not a problem as far as the incinerated was concerned. Also there is a state-of-the-art mercury control systems in place as well as efforts to reduce metal contaminates in the waste stream before they get into the incinerator.

This may not be a problem but I was still surprised by the amount of mercury being spewed by the incinerator. Doesn’t everyone use those orange battery bags? For some reason, I think not.

Posted in Pollution, Regional News, Watersheds, Rivers, Lakes | Leave a comment

New York aims to clean waters of mercury

In an effort to push the Federal government to adopt more stringent mercury emission standards, more about New York is entering a regional pact with six New England States.


The state Department of Environmental Conservation has issued a draft plan intended to cut smokestack mercury emissions to the point that all New York fish are safe to eat again.

New York and six New England states — Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont — are collaborating in an effort to prompt the federal government and other states to follow their lead. The draft plan is called the Northeast Regional Mercury Total Maximum Daily Load.

The states have cut their mercury emissions and discharges in the past decade by more than 70 percent, especially from incinerators, the DEC said. But since they are downwind, their waterways are also contaminated by air emissions farther west.

Also NYTimes: States Seek Tightening of Standards for Mercury.

Posted in Pollution, Regional News | 1 Comment


From Wikipedia, diagnosis

Pneumonia is an illness of the lungs and respiratory system in which the alveoli (microscopic air-filled sacs of the lung responsible for absorbing oxygen from the atmosphere) become inflamed and flooded with fluid…

Typical symptoms associated with pneumonia include cough, nurse chest pain, fever, difficulty in breathing, and the inability or lack of desire to blog

Posted in Misc | Leave a comment

Other Global Warming Tid-bits

Some other global warming articles that may be of interest:

The Toronto Globe and Mail has an article discussing how our lifestyles and specifically urban sprawl need to be addressed with regard to global warming. Its from a decidedly Canandian perspective but thought-provking nonetheless. (see How urban sprawl goes against the green)

This article, discount Bird species showing up farther north, dosage from USA Today points to changes in the range of birds as possible indicators that Birds are starting to adapt to global warming.

Finally, NY Times columnist David Leonhardt has some insightful commentary about global warming and the correct use of incentives from an economic perspective. Shorter Leonhardt:

  • Acknowledge the costs of addressing global warming

  • The market created this problem, and the market is going to have to solve it.

  • The solution should be clear and straightforward and cover the entire economy

Posted in Climate, General News | Leave a comment