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Recharging Batteries in Hawaii

I grew up in a valley surrounded by the magnificent mountain of “El Avila” in Caracas, Venezuela. During some school breaks, I traveled with my family through the Andes mountain ranges to get to the Venezuelan “llanos,” a vast tropical grassland plain. I enjoyed admiring the wonderful landscapes, the diverse flora and fauna, and even the cultural changes among the towns we passed by. These trips piqued my curiosity about how the earth formed the way it did, and how living beings adapted to each variation of land. I love nature and being in contact with it, not only because of the psychological and emotional benefits it provides (topic for another blog), but also because it makes me feel part of something bigger, ancient, and powerful. That is one of the reasons I decided to pursue the career of Geography in the first place

I recently had the opportunity to visit part of the earth that is still actively growing: the wonderful islands of Hawaii. As soon as I saw land from the plane after a 6-hour flight from San Diego, CA, I was delighted to see the beautiful landscape that form the islands. From the plane, I could see Honolulu, a city surrounded by water and mountains. In the picture below, you can see the huge Diamond Head crater, which is one of the footprints of the ancient volcanic activity that created and formed the island of Oahu.

My husband and I stayed in Honolulu the first night. The next day we drove to the east side of the island, where we stay in an Airbnb near one of the best beaches in the U.S. and the world (according to TripAdvisor): Lanikai Beach in Kailua.

Lanikai Beach, Oahu, HI

Lanikai Beach, Oahu, HI

The next day, we decided to explore the northeast side of the island. As recommended by a taxi driver, we downloaded a mobile app that provided us with a guided tour around the island explaining the magnificent formations, beaches, places, and cultural activities as we drove by them.

Gypsy Oahu mobile application

Gypsy Oahu mobile application

 

We headed to the north side of the Island appreciating the beautiful beaches to our right and the magnificent mountains of Oahu to our left, until we got to the North Shore and Sunset Beach where we arrived just in time to watch the sunset.

View of the mountain from Kualua Point, Oahu, HI

View of the mountain from Kualoa Point, Oahu, HI

 

 

Panoramic photo of the sunset at Sunset Beach, Oahu, HI

Sunset at Sunset Beach, Oahu, HI

 

The next day, while relaxing on Lanikai beach, we saw people hiking on a mountain behind us, so we decided to hike the trail. The hike was call the “Pillbox Hike” and the view was incredible from there. Here are a few pictures:

Panoramic photo of Lanikai Beach from Pillbox Hike mountain Oahu, HI

Pillbox Hike near Lanikai Beach, Oahu, HI

For our last day, we visited the Big island, which is the only one with an active volcano. The weather conditions didn’t allow us to see the volcano or the flowing lava, but were able to enjoy our day a very unique and amazing beach scenery at the Black Sand beach. As its name indicates, the sand is black since it was recently formed by lava that cool down with the sea. We were also surprised to see sea turtles relaxing at the beach and swimming in the sea.

Turtles at the Black Beach, Island of Hawaii, HI

Turtles at the Black Beach, Island of Hawaii, HI

Being this close to the evidence of how Hawaiians islands were formed and still are forming is incredibly energizing and fascinating. Similar to my family trips around Venezuela, admiring these diverse and imposing landscapes make feel revitalized and refreshed. I highly recommend you to visit Hawaii, and enjoy its incredible landscapes, as well as its super friendly people that will received you with a warm “Aloha.”

 

Fabiana I. Paez is passionate about creating visual designs to communicate and engage people in urban planning projects, as well as social and environmental causes.

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When Access to Transportation Impacts Your Potential!

I grew up in Selma, Alabama, which is a small town in the deep south, where the options for public transportation were walking and taking a cab. While people rode bikes, they weren’t used to commute but more for little kids to visit their friends around the neighborhood. Growing up I considered having a car as a luxury item that was far beyond the reach of my household. I reflect now, as an adult, and realize the immense impact that growing up without a car in my household had on the opportunities that I could pursue.

For background, my grandmother raised a lot of her grandchildren and we were always dependent on another family member or friend to take us to places such as church, the grocery story, or special occasions. We all walked to school. I walked to my elementary, middle, and high school. All of these were nearly a mile or more away through a variety of neighborhoods. I can vividly recall during my elementary and middle school years jumping across or walking under trains when they obstructed our path home. Dangerous, right? But in our naivety we didn’t want to wait thirty or more minutes for the train to move.

Our lack of viable transportation options impacted all of our decisions. In third grade, I scored highly on an achievement test and was labeled as gifted. I was presented the opportunity to be a part of the gifted program, but there was one immediate challenge, the school that hosted the gifted program was a few miles away and I didn’t have a way to get there. As great as the opportunity was, we had to say no. I’ll never know what other opportunities this might have led to.

Other times, I felt the impacts of a lack of transportation. Around the age of 10, I started piano lessons ; however, I soon had to quit because  paying cab fees or gas money for someone to take me combined with the costs of the lesson became too much for my grandmother to bear. In high school, I got my first job at a local restaurant. I took a cab to and from work every day but when I realized that the hours that I was assigned barely compensated for the cab fare, I quit the job. Anything that I had to do solo was a burden because my transportation options were so limited.

Not until high school did I start overloading my schedule with extracurricular activities because I could finagle a ride from classmates who had cars or those who had parents who were gracious enough to give me a ride. Of course by that time, there were other things that I could not participate in because the foundation had not been set at an early age such as dance, band, and some sports.

Unfortunately, Selma has not changed regarding transportation access. It makes me think of all of the young kids who do not participate simply because they don’t have a ride to tee-ball, softball, football, band practice, or whatever their hearts desire. This lack of transportation leads to new generations of missed opportunities and access to programs that could lead them to a different future. In a place where the high school dropout and crime rate is high, I wonder if access to transportation could be one factor in changing that paradigm.

At Nspiregreen, I’m the environmental principal, but this is what I love about the work we do. We help build and expand transportation systems to improve access and mobility for all people. Through our work, I want to make sure that no one misses an opportunity simply because they did not have a ride.

Chanceé Lundy Russell is the Co-Founder of Nspiregreen LLC an environmental consulting, urban planning and public engagement firm based in Washington, DC. The Selma, Alabama native received her BS in Environmental Science from Alabama A&M University and her MS in Civil Engineering from Florida State University. She is passionate about environmental justice issues and works to create healthy, livable communities for all.

 

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Environmental Impacts: Know Better, Do Better

Dear Blog,
I have a confession to make…I was once an environmental offender.

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Not in an illegal sense and I was never fined for my actions, but if I knew then what I know now, I would have scolded tiny Christine. I never fully connected the dots until I started researching pollutant loads and working on the District’s TMDL Plan.

Growing up in Louisiana, especially with a bayou in my backyard, I wish I would have known more about the functions of a bayou’s ecosystem and how to minimize our impacts. I used to leave our dog’s poop on the ground, help wash our car in the driveway, put grass clippings and leaves in the storm drain, and other environmental offenses that I was not aware of at the time.

Along the banks of the bayou, where I played with my friends, there were huge pipes that stuck out of the earth that were almost 3 feet tall. My friends and I used them as hurdles as we ran along, playing pretend games of pirates or cops and robbers. I later learned they were outfall pipes that allow stormwater and even raw sewage to go into the bayou during heavy rain events.

Here are some key topics that kids and families can understand through easy graphics and outreach:

  1. Pet Waste: Growing up we had a dog, Ralph, a lab mix that we walked around the neighborhood and in the backyard. I hated picking up his poop- it was gross, it smelled bad, and attracted bugs. I would leave it in the yards, in the very yard I ran in, or if I had to pick it up I used a shovel to fling it into the bushes. Out of sight, out of mind, right? WRONG, tiny Christine.
    1. Why it matters: Aside from being really gross to step in, pet waste contains fecal coliform bacteria- one of the worst environmental offenders and most prevalent polluters of our waterways. Just one gram of dog poop contains over 13 million strains of fecal bacteria. Not only does it make waterways unsafe, it helps in acidifying the water, and robs it of valuable oxygen for the underwater ecosystem. Ever seen a fish survive in a tank without an air pump or regularly changed water? Me either!
    2. What you can do: Pick up that poop. Every time. Don’t just give those that leave the poop a dirty look, tell them about it! Educate your fellow neighbors and keep your open spaces clean.
  2. Organic Material: Grass clippings, fall leaves and pine needles, sediment. In suburbia, people love their lawns. They spend painstaking time carefully cultivating the perfect green carpet. It felt like my dad and our neighbor had an informal competition for who had the best patch of grass. This maintenance involved much grass mowing and raking of leaves by your disgruntled children- for zero allowance, I might add. But no matter the care you take to clean up afterwards, inevitably grass clippings and piles of leaves make their way into the storm drain, or if you are a lazy, angst-y teenager that doesn’t want to carry the wheelbarrow back to the compost pile, maybe you just dump it directly into the storm drain (sorry, bayou).
    1. Why it matters? Green materials like grass clippings carry nitrates into the waterways which sparks a process called “eutrophication” which basically causes plant life and algae to grow and choke off the animal life by absorbing all of the oxygen in waterbodies or waterways.
    2. What you can do: Compost it! Bag it and leave it for the recycling program! Your local state or town might just have a composting program that you can help contribute to. Also- monitor those lazy teenagers!
  3. Fertilizer and Pesticides: Similar to the impacts of grass clippings, fertilizing the lawn and applying pesticides are also harmful for waterways.
    1. Why it matters: The nutrient group known as NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium) can also cause eutrophication.
    2. What you can do: Follow state or local guidelines for fertilizer use, or, my preference- abandon the lawn completely! Planting your lawn more densely with beds of native plants makes for a more effective use of water (they don’t need it as often) and require less fertilization and reliance on pesticides because they are specifically tailored to your climate. Or, and the best option in my opinion, grow food not lawns! Agricultural land is quickly disappearing and with it, biodiversity of our fruits and vegetables. You can use your yard to grow food for you, your family, and neighbors and delight in the delicious varieties you won’t find in the grocery store. Just get your soil tested to be sure it is contaminant-free!
  4. Heavy Metals, Oils, Grease, and Surfactants: In residential areas, we have driveways and in those driveways we have cars, and when those cars get dirty, we wash them in our driveways, or on the streets. I bet you can just hear the 80’s hair metal and flop of sudsy sponges on the windows.
    1. Why it matters: Sure, car washing gets the sediment and dust off of your car, but the water carries that sediment along with oils from the car and the cleaning chemicals (called surfactants) into storm drains that then flow into waterways. Also, it’s just a waste of water.
    2. What you can do: Official car washing businesses have special requirements for filtration and retention of the soapy, oily, and sediment-laden water. Turn on Rose Royce’s “Car Wash” and go support those businesses.

I hope this helped enlighten a few of you. Educating each other and modeling better behaviors for our younger generations can help improve behaviors and waterways at the same time. If you need some help in explaining these or any other environmental issues you know who to call. We are relying on you-reader of this blog- now that you know better, do better. Pass it on!

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Christine E. Mayeur is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and interests. She has been called a “renaissance woman” by her coworkers and is interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grass-roots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems that meet the needs of all users. 





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