Archive for July, 2018


Protect Your Drains

Let’s be honest, we are ALL guilty of rinsing dishes or throwing leftovers or scrapes into our “garbage disposal” in our sinks. After all, if that’s not what it’s meant for, why do we have them? Garbage disposals are great additions to homes. For example, they:

  1. reduce the use of plastic trash bags that end up in landfills and waterways
  2. reduce food waste in landfills, which helps reduce greenhouse gases like methane
  3. send wastewater to water treatment plants where it is then recycled into fertilizer and other energy sources

Despite its benefits, it turns out that garbage disposals are not a trash can substitute. Although it may be convenient, disposing certain things through the sink and garbage disposal does more harm than good to your plumbing, expenses, and to the general quality of water. For example, grease should never be poured down the drain. When fats and grease cool, they solidify, thus creating blockage in the system. Also, grease and water do not mix. If a food item is covered by grease the grease builds up over time making it harder for the water to pass it through the system. On a neighborhood scale, pouring grease in your drains affects  the sewage, water pressure, and water quality for you and your neighbors.

Try to avoid disposing the following into your drains and garbage disposals for the sake of your expenses and the health of the region:

  1. Grease – for the reasons stated above.
  2. Pasta and Rice- When exposed to water, they expand, meaning they will clog your drain.
  3. Bones- The thickness and strength of a bone can reduce the strength and sharpness of the blades and eventually ruin your disposal.
  4. Seeds, apple cores and other solids- these items are too solid for the disposal and, like the bones, can break down your system.
  5. High-fiber foods and egg shells- The fiber in foods like celery, kale, potato peelings and asparagus can entangle the blades, thus slowing down the equipment and dulling the blades.
  6. Hair- Like fibrous foods, hair can get tangled in the drain, creating more blockage, slowing down the equipment and dulling the blades.
  7. Coffee Grounds- This tends to get caught in the drain trap.
  8. Non-food items- The quickest way to ruin your system is to place plastic items such as utensils, plates or even napkins into the garbage disposal. If is harder for such items to pass and can destroy or back up a system.
  9. Chemicals- Though household cleaners and items like bleach and paint are liquids, they can cause damage to the drain. Also most contain toxic chemicals that are then passed into the water system and are much harder to filter.

So what is safe to go down the drain? Below are things most disposals and drains are equipped to handle:

  1. Water- It’s a best practice to rinse your drain and disposal first before running food through it.
  2. Liquids and soft foods- It’s important to specify here that chemicals are inappropriate. Juices, vinegar,milk, etc are ok. As far as foods, blend or chop up the food as much as possible. The consensus is that if it’s smooth or soft enough for a baby to eat, then it is ok for the drain.
  3. Ice- this may help break up any build up in the pipes while also giving it a good rinse.

Key takeaway: Do not place non-food items into the garbage disposal. This will save you money, time, and frustration within your home and extend the longevity and quality of the regional water and sewer system. Remember, every small action has large scale consequences for the region and individual alike.
For more information on how to protect your drains, check out sites like the North Texas “Defend Your Drains” Program or your city’s recommendations on composting, recycling and waste management. And in case you forget, check out this infographic by 1st call drains at

Drainage Clearance

Drainage Clearance

Christie Holland is an urban planner from St. Louis, MO interested in community development, transportation planning, infrastructure, and urban design challenges. 



ADA and The Built Environment

Much of the built environment in America was designed for able-bodied males.  Thankfully the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was put into law in 1990.  That is less than 30 years ago.  Imagine how difficult it was and is for anyone who is not able bodied enough to traverse urban spaces whether it be entering a building or simply leaving a curb to cross the street. Despite the progress made with this act, the ADA falls short of creating environments that accommodate all users.

The specific accommodations I am referring to are those that are for deaf or hard of hearing people.  Most ADA accommodations in the physical and built environment apply to those who are physically and visibly disabled to where they are unable to have the same physical motion as a person who is able bodied.  This leaves people who are kinetically able-bodied, yet still disabled, at a disadvantage.  Consequently, deaf or hard of hearing people are forced to navigate a sensory world where the design caters to those who are capable of hearing.  This serves as a challenge for them as many of the people who belong to the deaf community utilize sight, touch, and spatial awareness to orient themselves.

What does planning for the deaf look like?

There are several keys to planning for the deaf community.  One of them is maximizing sensory reach in public spaces.  When sight is your main tool of observing your surroundings, it is important that your vision is not obstructed or impaired.  Solutions to these issues could appear in the form of making sure that spaces at night are well lit so that deaf people can properly see each other while communicating with one another through American Sign Language (ASL).  Because deaf people use their hands, face, and body to communicate, they need to be able to clearly see with good lighting and minimal physical obstructions.

Two additional keys to planning spaces for deaf people are space and proximity.  Deaf people need space to communicate.  Space is a necessity so that a person may stand at a good enough distance to view the entire message.  This is also important if there are groups of people communicating using ASL.  Space is important so that everyone in the group may be able to remain engaged in the conversation through proper viewing of the person leading the discussion.  An example of how this can be executed is by constructing sidewalks in urban spaces that are wide enough to accommodate groups who are communicating with their bodies.

What’s Good for the Disabled, is Good for Everyone

The built environment must be inclusively designed for everyone who interacts with it.  If we keep people with disabilities in mind, we can successfully accommodate able-bodied hearing people as well.  ADA accommodations are not prone to disadvantaging able-bodied hearing people, so making changes in how we design can only improve our communities.

For more details on planning for the deaf as well as the DeafSpace project by Hansel Bauman of hbhm Architects, visit .


Greg Grant is an Urban Planner from Houston, TX who is interested in planning equitable transportation and environmental solutions for communities.  In his spare time he enjoys cooking and DJing, but not at the same time.



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