Monthly Archives: March 2014

Retro Green Film Screening at Pratt Library April 1

Every Spring, Pratt Institute puts on a Green Week of presentations and exhibits.  As part of this year’s Green Week, on Tuesday, April 1, I will participate in the Pratt Library’s “Retro ‘Green’ Film Screening” of vintage educational short films.

Come watch five environmentally-themed 16mm short films from the Pratt Institute Library’s collection.  These vintage “educational” films dating from the 60s, 70s, and 80s are a mix of animation and live action and cover such subjects as waste collection, alternative energies, and the environmental impact of cars and traffic. Among the films is a rare 1977 film Collection and Disposal: A Job for the Birds, a look at garbage collection and collectors in New York City that features fascinating footage of the city in the 1970s.

The screenings start at 4:30pm Tuesday in the library’s lower level.  Cookies and coffee provided. Max. 20 attendees RSVP to video.library@pratt.edu. A complete schedule of Green Week events may be found here.

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Pratt’s Green Week Begins March 29

canalEvery Spring, Pratt Institute puts on a Green Week of presentations and exhibits.  This year’s Green Week begins March 29 with the Sustainability Crash Course, a one-day discussion of a variety of environmental talks.  The Center for Sustainable Design Strategies has put up the preliminary list of presentations.  I will talk about my experiences developing field trips on toxic bodies of water (including the Gowanus Canal, seen here from the MTA’s 9th Street Station).

On Tuesday, April 1, I will participate in the Pratt Library’s “Retro ‘Green’ Film Screening” of vintage educational short films. Cookies and coffee provided. Max. 20 attendees RSVP to video.library@pratt.edu.

Registration for the Sustainability Crash Course is free.  A schedule of Green Week events may be found here.

Kelly Larsen’s “Beached” Opens at Pratt March 24

Kelly Larsen is completing his MFA at Pratt.  A few weeks ago, he reached out on Freecycle for plastics to complete this work, and my wife Jen got in touch.  As this piece is directly relevant to my concerns, I am happy to spread the word.

kLarsen_beached

beached: MFA Exhibition
March 24 – March 28
Opening Reception: Monday, March 24, 6:00 – 10:00 pm
Pratt Institute Brooklyn Campus
200 Willoughby Avenue
Juliana Curran Terian Design Center
Steuben Gallery
Clinton-Washington stop on the G train

kLarsen_gutsThere is a growing landscape of discarded plastic. In many urban cities this accumulation of plastic, particularly bottles, gets picked through and collected by Canners, who then sell the materials back to the manufacturer. This garbage picking economic system not only sustains their life but also the environment, by slowing the buildup of those materials into mountains or becoming swirling islands.

A plastic redemption organization in Brooklyn, Sure We Can, Inc., promotes this practice and seeks to make it more accessible. According to their website, “The overall goal of Sure We Can is to remove some of the current hardships that accompany canning; both for those who already use it as a means of survival and for those who would like to do so. Sure We Can was founded in 2007 by Canners themselves…” and “supports the city’s only licensed, not-for-profit, homeless-friendly redemption center.”

“beached” was made possible in part by the efforts of these Canners who collected the materials that comprise the guts of this project. Still, much of this plastic cannot be sold back to manufacturers, and is inevitably condemned to waste.

Please join me for a critical reflection on the practice of canning and other alternative economies that might combat the rapid accumulation of what we praise as convenient.

Kelly Larsen
Pratt MFA Candidate

Register for Fall 2014 Sustainability Courses at Pratt

How do humans live in concert with the environment?  Discuss this question in these two Fall 2013 courses.

How do humans live in concert with the environment? Discuss this question in these two Fall 2014 courses.

I am teaching two sustainability seminars at Pratt in Fall 2014.  Each of these courses may count as a Social Science or Philosophy elective, each counts toward the Sustainability Studies minor (indeed, one is required for the minor) and there are no prerequisites for either course..

SUST 405-01 Production, Consumption, and Waste is a seminar that examines the ways production and consumption patterns from the start of the Industrial Revolution to the present day have shaped the waste stream, the ways we have defined and handled waste, the consequences of that waste, and ways in which we might reduce the impact of our waste.  Here’s a quick summary:

SUST 405-01 Production, Consumption, and Waste
No product or building is adequately designed without considering the consequences of Its deterioration and disposal. Evaluating the ways in which consumers. states, and manufacturers define and classify waste allows us to consider those consequences. In this course, students analyze ways in which waste is created, defined, and managed in industrial society, and they create recommendations for improving problems with the waste stream.

Fall 2014: Tuesdays, 2pm-4:50pm.  3 credit hours.

The range of topics will in many ways resemble the scope of the Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage, as I kept in mind that reference work’s utility in the classroom when I was editing it.  (Students will not have to buy that book, let alone lug it around!)

While Production, Consumption, and Waste has filled up, space is still available in my other course — and it’s an especially good choice for students wishing to get an introduction to the practice of sustainability both at Pratt and in general.  I am leading a team of Pratt Institute faculty teaching the third offering of SUST 201 The Sustainable Core.  This course is designed as our introduction to sustainability, and it is a required course for Pratt’s Sustainability Studies minor.

SUST 201-01 The Sustainable Core
This course provides an overview of sustainability by exploring definitions, controversies, trends, and case-studies in various systems and locales (urban/rural, local/national/global). Investigation of critical elements of sustainability, including environmental history and urban ecology, sustainable development and landscape transformations, recycling/waste management, ecosystem restoration, and environmental justice.

Fall 2014: Mondays, 2pm-4:50pm.  3 credit hours.

This course may count as a Social Science or Philosophy elective, and has no prerequisites. If you are a Pratt student and have any questions for me about either of these courses, please feel free to contact me at czimring@pratt.edu.

Chicago Recycling Coalition Archives Now at Chicago History Museum

ChicagoRecyclingCoalitionMy last post celebrated the City of Chicago’s 177th birthday with recognition that more effort is necessary to make Chicago a sustainable city.  Over the past three decades, the Chicago Recycling Coalition has fought for sustainable waste management practices in Chicago, including shutting down the Northwest Incinerator, opposing new landfills in the city, and advocating for effective curbside recycling collection for all Chicagoans.

This work continues, and I am proud to be on the CRC’s board of directors as the struggle to ensure all Chicagoans have recycling services marches on.  While much work remains to be done in the future, CRC’s past is worth examining and scholars may now do so at the Chicago History Museum.  Last year, the CRC donated 17 linear feet of documents from the years 1985-2007, and these records are now available to the public.  The CRC’s story would make a fine urban environmental history dissertation and/or book, and these records are vital to telling that story.

The City of Chicago is 177 Today

A man stands upon waste on Bubbly Creek, 1911.  Chicago Daily News.

A man stands upon waste on Bubbly Creek, 1911. Chicago Daily News.

On this date in 1837, the City of Chicago incorporated. Within half a century, it would (as William Cronon described in Nature’s Metropolis) be an engine of industrial capitalism, transforming the trees, plants, and animals of the Midwest into commodified lumber, grain, and meat.

Roosevelt University students and faculty enter Bubbly Creek, 2009.  Photograph by Laura Bryson.

Roosevelt University students and faculty enter Bubbly Creek, 2009. Photograph by Laura Bryson.

Chicagoans and people across the United States are still living with the environmental consequences of this history. As Mike Bryson and I observed when we team-taught “The Sustainable City” at Roosevelt University (and will discuss in greater depth in a forthcoming article), the Bubbly Creek fork of the South Branch of the Chicago River remains an example of waterway as sink for wastes more than forty years after the last slaughterhouse closed in Chicago.  Chicago’s attention to environmental concerns, including finally moving to disinfect its wastewater, provides reason for optimism as the city turns 177.  The current state of the stagnant and polluted Bubbly Creek, however, is a reminder that much effort is required to make Chicago a sustainable city in the future.

Here’s to that effort as we wish the city a happy birthday.