Saturday, March 30, 2013

Thanks for a Big March and Celebratory Music

A big thanks to all of my readers for making this March the most active month in the history of On the Brink.  I really appreciate everyone who takes the time to visit the site and make comments to me personally, on my Facebook page, or in the comments section of the blog.

To celebrate, let's enjoy some Mr. Ho's Orchestra.

Friday, March 29, 2013

First Ever Solar Energy Requirement in Lancaster, CA

Check out this article noting the first ever city requirement for solar energy on new homes.  The innovative rule is from Lancaster,
California poppies in bloom near Lancaster, California.
Click for photo credit.
California.  The mayor is a leading advocate for energy independence in the U.S.  The rule requires new homes to produce 1-1.5 kilowatts per 7000 square foot lot.

The mayor, Republican R. Rex Parris, was quoted in the article that there was very little opposition to the new rule.  The community is known as being very favorable to sustainability initiatives.

What type of zoning or building rules do you have in your community that helps to promote sustainability?  How can you get involved to try to make your community greener?

Green Opening Day of Baseball

Signs of a green opening day of baseball (reposted from 2012).
What is your team doing to go green?  (Click for photo credit).
1.  Bats.  The Twins plant 100 trees for every bat their pitchers break.  Last year they planted over 17,000 trees in state parks and lands.  What is your team doing?

2.  Organic and Local Food.  The New York Yankees have a Healthy Home Plate program focused on healthy eating for kids.

3.  Green Ball Parks.  Washington Nationals play home games in a LEED Silver stadium.

4.  Energy.  Boston's Fenway Park uses solar energy to heat 37% of the hot water that it uses.

5.  Water.  The Phillies use runoff from their stadium to water landscape plants.

What is your team doing?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

New Report Shows Half of Nation's Streams in Bad Shape

The Fox River near Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Click for photo credit.
The EPA came out with a new report this week that indicates that approximately half of U.S. streams are impaired for aquatic life--largely as a result of non-point pollution.  It is an important report and worth a read.  As far as I know, this is the most comprehensive study of US streams ever undertaken.

The study tested chemical, physical, and biological stressors of nearly 2000 streams in 2008 and 2009.  The results are fascinating and I urge you to take a look at the report to delve into the details.

Some of the key points of interest to me were:

  • 55% of the streams are in poor biological condition and only 21% in good biological condition
  • nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer (and other sources) runoff are among the main reasons that the streams are impaired  
  • 40% of streams in the U.S. contain high levels of phosphorus
  • fish collected from 9% the length of streams sampled contained levels of mercury that are hazardous to human health
  • the eastern U.S. highlands is the region of the U.S. with the most impaired streams

One of the most significant pollution problems we have in the U.S. is nutrient pollution from storm water, sewage treatment plants, and other point and non-point sources.  There are a variety of policies in place to try to deal with this problem, but it is difficult to change our behavior around nutrients.  Many folks want green lawns and it is difficult for communities to pay for advanced forms of sewage treatment that would remove nutrients.

To address these problems, some communities have developed fertilizer bans and other organizations have developed guidelines for fertilizer management.  But it is clear that we are not doing enough at this point.  What do you think are the next steps we need to take as a nation to improve our overall stream water quality?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Poem for Sunday

Valley of the Pines
by Ethel Brinkmann

Valley of the pines was a dream
Dream of a nature paradise
Where peace and love can reign supreme
As the golden years slip away and die.
God give me time to build my dream
For birds, brooks, flowers and trees.
Then let no man destroy my dream
But let it live for all to see.

(Poem by my Grandmother, Ethel Brinkmann (1899-1982), sent to me by my cousin, Carol Ellebracht.)

New High School Diploma Tracking in Florida?

Click for photo credit.
Those who have been following public education in Florida know that Florida went big into the effort to test kids prior to graduating high school in order to ensure that they had a particular competency.  The state also mandated a series of exams that checks on the progress of schools, teachers, and students.    Schools are given grades that evaluates their ability to perform to state standards and teachers are required to teach competency skills determined by the state.  Many call this approach "teaching to the test."

If you know anyone in education in Florida (and other states that have adopted this approach), you've heard them complain about teaching to the test and the overall lack of creativity in the teaching profession these days.  According to my sources, the paperwork is mountainous and teachers have reduced time actually teaching because of the assessment and record keeping associated with the state's rules.

Within this mix, comes word today from The Miami Herald that the state is now looking at having three different types of high school degrees because students cannot pass the state's graduation requirements of passing exams in algebra, biology, and geometry. For example, only 59 percent of students passed the algebra exam last year.

The three graduation tracks would be for 1) students entering the work force after graduation; 2) students going to college after graduation; and 3) students seeking to go on for high level degrees after a four-year college diploma.

Public education in Florida is really tough.  People from all over the country move to Florida during different phases of their lives.  Kids come into Florida classrooms with very different backgrounds.  In addition, Florida is a mecca for international migration and many students do not have English as their first language.  That state's one size fits all rule for schools just doesn't work with the reality of the state's educational needs.

Many have critiqued the state's strong approach at trying to improve education in the state as too heavy handed, particularly given the state's ratings as one of the worst funded school systems in the country.  Florida consistently falls within the bottom few states in school funding.

Within this context, it makes sense to develop the three diploma option.  In many ways, it is a retreat from the state legislature's foray into educational tinkering and a return to what existed prior to the exam requirements--it just provides formalized tracking, and perhaps stigmatization, that didn't exist before.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Distinguished Faculty Lecture at Hofstra

If you happen to be in the New York area on April 10th, stop by Hofstra University at 11:15 when I will be giving this semester's Distinguished Faculty Lecture.  It is titled, "From Arsenic to Zinc:  Understanding Pollution Around Us".  The event is scheduled to go until 12:40, although my lecture will last approximately forty minutes.  For more information about the event, please click here.

I will be reviewing my research on environmental pollution conducted over the last 20 years or so in urban and suburban areas.  I'll also be presenting some new research on lead pollution in Levittown, New York, America's first mass produced suburb.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Last Cold Spell of the Year

Yes, we had snow on Long Island last night, but it is all but gone as the weather warms toward spring.  We are just a day or two away from the scene below.

Pope Francis' Environmental Message

Click for photo credit.
CNN published a quote from Pope Francis' inauguration in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City that demonstrates that this Pope is making the environment one of his key areas of interest.  He is quoted as saying that we must protect "all creation, the beauty of the created world" by "means respecting each of God's creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about."  The blog, Catholic Ecology, has a longer series of quotes with some reflection that some may find interesting here

I've written before about the role of religion in the environmental movement, most recently here.  While the previous pope also wrote and spoke quite a bit on environnmental issues, Pope Francis seems to have elevated environmental concerns with his inaugural comments.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Where Did our Coast Go to go to the Supremes

Kivalina, Alaska is in the news again.  If you recall from one of my earlier posts, Kivalina is an Alaskan village that is suing the world's largest energy companies for damages due to climate change.  The village has experienced significant coastal erosion because sea ice no longer protects the coast from strong fall and spring storms.  The village needs to relocate from its barrier island location.

The courts have agreed that the damages to the village are caused by global climate change, but felt that the village doesn't have grounds to sue because, in part, we are all responsible for the impacts of global climate change.  However, the village, in using tactics out the tobacco lawsuits of the past, noted that the energy companies continued to sell their products even though they knew that the products caused global climate change.  Thus, according to the village, the energy companies acted irresponsibly and these actions directly impacted the village. 

So, to date, Kivalina has not won the case in any court of law.  According to this article, the village decided to take the case to the Supreme Court for a final determination.  It will be interesting to see if the court decides to take up the case.  If it does and the case is decided in favor of Kivalina, it would open up the door to a range of legal actions against major energy producers for damages as a result of global climate change.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Lead Poisoning in the Middle Class

This NASA image shows New York City and Long Island.  The Island
is home to the country's oldest suburbs and it is likely that there are
lead pollution and poisoning problems in some of these oldest suburbs.
Click for photo credit.
I ran into this article today about lead poisoning in the middle class of the United States.  While I am always sorry to hear about lead poisoning cases, I am glad that this issue is getting attention.  One large component of my own research is on lead pollution in soils in urban and suburban areas.  I've been finding elevated lead levels adjacent to older homes in a wide variety of neighborhoods for decades.  It doesn't matter who lives in the home--rich, poor, middle class--the residents are exposed to the pollution daily.

Yet the policy of public health officials and the U.S. Government over the years was to test only the poor and often minority children.  Thus, for decades, lead was seen as a problem for poor black children in dense urban areas.  There is no doubt that this population was exposed disproportionately to lead and should have been tested.  However, the official policy did not fully address the problem.  Lead pollution does not select individuals.  It is associated with past usage.  There is no doubt in my mind that many kids with lead poisoning were not tested because the problem was mainly addressed in poor communities.

Over the years when I conducted field work in middle class or wealthy areas, I met may people who discouraged me from taking samples in their yards.  They felt that it wasn't worth my time to take soil samples in an area that didn't have any pollution in it.  Of course, I did usually find some lead pollution in these neighborhoods and I found it frustrating that the homeowners had an incorrect perception of the problem.

I'm starting a new project on lead pollution in soils in older suburbs of Long Island that were built in the 1940's and 1950's--a time when lead paint was used on exteriors of homes.  I was out in the field yesterday with my crew taking soil samples and again, we ran into folks who felt that lead was not a problem for them.  The odds are actually quite good that we will find lead pollution adjacent to some of the homes where we were testing.

Our study site is in an area where most wouldn't think lead pollution or poisoning is a problem.  It's a largely white suburban middle class area.  The article referenced above highlights how places like this might be hiding unexpected poisoning cases.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Saturday Theremin Blogging with Armen Ra

Catching up with some work this weekend and enjoying a mix of music.  Thought you might enjoy this piece played by one of the world's most accomplished theremin players, Armen Ra.

3 Ways to Stop the Decline of Rural America and Improve the Environment

Click for photo credit.
The U.S. Census just came out with a report that 1 in 3 counties in the U.S. are seeing population decreases--largely as a result of natural decreases from death as reported here.

The spatial distribution of counties that are experiencing decreases is uneven.  Most of the declining counties are in rural areas or exurban (suburban areas beyond older suburbs) counties outside of cities.  These are places where the economic opportunities are low and it is difficult to attract young people to expand economic activity.  Instead, young people are more frequently opting to move to dense, urban areas with a high quality of life and range of opportunities and activities.

The distribution of decline is also highly regional.  Most of the declines have been in the Midwest and Northeast, but all regions are seeing some form of rural decline in some areas.

Immigration is seen as the only way that some of these communities can survive.  On Long Island, for example, some suburban communities are now the first point of entry for many immigrants.  In the past, New York City would have been the first point settlement site for new arrivals.

But many are concerned that some areas of rural America are in a severe economic whirlpool of decline.  Perhaps they are, but I think that there are ways to take advantage of natural assets in these areas in order to develop some economic activities that might improve the economy in these declining areas.

1.  Reforestation.  This is a long-term solution without immediate impact.  However, forest products have tremendous value in today's market, depending on type and location.  Reforestation has the potential to improve ecosystems and promote recreation.  Many areas of the American south underwent significant reforestation in the second half of the last century after the decline of cotton.  Today, the American south is a leader in forestry products.

2.  Niche Agriculture.  One of the reasons that rural American is declining is that it is difficult for farmers to compete with big agricultural enterprises.  In addition, American agriculture is highly productive and farmers who grow traditional crops cannot compete with huge corporatized agricultural enterprises.  However, there is a growing demand for niche crops and for new forms of agriculture such as community sponsored agriculture and organically grown produce.  Many of the agricultural enterprises in Long Island have such efforts or promote agritourism, farm to table operations, or unique products.  Today, Long Island agriculture has the greatest value in all of the state of New York.

3.  Ecosystem Services.  There is a movement within the environmental community to put value on ecosystem services.  For example, a natural marsh removes nutrients from water before it enters a surface water body.  If the marsh wasn't there, the cost of removing the nutrients has a dollar value X.  Thus, the marsh has X dollars in value.  Rural areas have tremendous opportunities to get into the ecosystem services business by reconstructing wetlands that were lost in the past during agricultural development, by planting forests for carbon storage, and by improving overall ecosystem health.

There are certainly other ways to promote rural economic development, but I am highlighting these three as some key ones that come to my mind based on current opportunities.  While they do not necessarily address population loss, they provide ways for individuals to earn income while improving the environment.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday Silliness: Raccoon Playing with a Swing

It's Friday!

Everglades National Park

As part of our series highlighting interesting open access Flickr photos of all 59 U.S. National Parks, we travel to Everglades National Park in Florida.  For more information about the park, click here.  We'll run through all 59 National Parks in alphabetical order.  If you have any photos that you would like to share from any national park that I could post, please send them along.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pope Francis and Climate Change

I've written before about the importance of support for climate change policy within faith-based communities.  I particularly discussed the Young Evangelicals for Climate Action.  They visited Hofstra last year to attend the activities around the town hall presidential debate we hosted.
St. Francis.  Click for photo credit.

There is another group that I found out about some time ago that is particularly pertinent at the present moment given the name of the new pope.  The group is called the Catholic Climate Covenant, which has the motto, care for creation, care for the poor.  They have been urging Catholics to take the St. Francis Pledge, which "is a commitment by Catholic individuals, families, parishes, organizations and institutions to live our faith by protecting God's Creation and advocating on behalf of people in poverty who face the harshest impacts of global climate change."

The pledge has five parts:

1.  Pray and reflect on the duty to care for God's Creation and protect the poor and vulnerable.

2.  Learn about and educate others on the causes and moral dimensions of climate change.

3.  Assess how we-as individuals and in our families, parishes and other affiliations-contribute to climate change by our own energy use, consumption, waste, etc.

4.  Act to change our choices and behaviors to reduce ways we contribute to climate change.

5.  Advocate for Catholic principles and priorities in climate change discussions and decisions, especially as they impact those who are poor and vulnerable.

The Catholic Church has spoken out quite a bit on climate change over the last decade.  It will be interesting to see how Pope Francis addresses this issue.  Based on my reading about him, he appears to be rather conservative on some social issues, but rather liberal on social justice issues.  Given the name he selected, I expect we will hear from him on climate change issues.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Five Signs of Spring on a College Campus

The Hofstra campus in spring.  Click for photo credit.
It's not quite Spring Break here on the Hofstra campus, but spring is definitely in the air.  Hofstra's famous spring bulbs are peeking out of the ground and it will only be a few weeks before the campus looks glorious. 

Yet, there are more than just the natural signs of spring that make it feel like winter is almost over.  Other signs are out there if you only look.  Here are my top five signs of spring on a college campus.

1.  Shorts.  College students are the first ones to don shorts once the daytime weather gets above freezing.  I've noticed the first pair of shorts on campus this week, indicating the true start of the spring season.

2. Summer Panic.  One of the big issues for most college students this time of year involves what to do over the summer.  Should they travel?  Do an internship?  Work?  These issues start to nag on the mind of students once the last of the snow starts to disappear from the parking lots.

3.  Romance.  Toujours l'amour.  Enough said.

4.  Shakespeare, Theater, Concerts.  At Hofstra, there is a Shakespeare Festival every spring (for 64 years!).  This year it the play is Antony and Cleopatra.  Every campus has a spring event that marks the near end of the academic year.

5.  Daydreaming Faculty.  We've made it from the end of the Winter Break to the Spring Break and everyone needs a breather--even the faculty.  You'll see them whistfully looking out a winder while they sip their coffee, or pausing while grading to enjoy a memory. 

The signs are all around!  What are the non-natural signs on your campus, workplace, or neighborhood?

Pig Probe Proves Policy Problems

A pig farmer in China.  Click for photo credit.
Like many areas of the world, China is experiencing some environmental growing pains.  The Chinese official press has been covering the discovery of hundreds of pig carcasses in the Huangpu River, one of the sources of water for Shanghai.

Based on this article from the China Daily, it is likely that a farmer or farmers dumped the pigs in the river after a viral outbreak on a farm.  The article points out that there are some problems with agricultural policy and the handling of sick animals on farms.

The Chinese press has been covering a variety of environmental stories as of late, signaling that the government of China is making the environment a major priority.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Conference Redux

Cornelius Adjei from the University of South Florida presenting
a paper at Hofstra University.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
On March 7, 8, and 9,  Hofstra hosted a major conference on suburban sustainability.  As far as I know, it is the only conference of its kind and it was exciting to be one of the organizers of it.

Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate, which made things a bit iffy for a while.  This was fascinating to many of us because the conference was postponed due to the impacts of Hurricane Sandy last fall.  This time around we had a nor'easter and a second surprise overnight snowstorm.  Nevertheless, everyone who attended was rather intrepid and things went well.

I was impressed with all of the presentations at the conference.  There were so many interesting research topics and issues discussed that it is impossible to give it a full review.  Suffice it to say that more and more researchers are coming to understand that suburban areas are where the need is for sustainability inquiry.  We pretty much understand how heavily urbanized areas can become more sustainable.  What about our suburban landscapes?  Research on suburban sustainability was a big focus of the conference.

A big thanks to everyone involved with the conference.  It was a great success.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

May I Suggest

by Susan Werner.  Enjoy!  Perfect for a mellow Sunday after a very very busy conference.

Friday, March 8, 2013

International Women's Day: A Repost

Below is a post I did some time ago for International Women's Day.  It think its message is still pertinent:

Today is International Women’s Day.  This event has been celebrated every year since the early 20th century.  The themes of the event have changed with time, but the overall goal of the day is to celebrate the various achievements of women.

The U.N. recognizes that the role of women in society indicates various levels of development.  Specifically, in their International Human Development Index, they provide five specific gender related indicators:  maternal mortality, adolescent fertility rate, male/female labor force participation rate, male/female parliamentary seats, and secondary education of women.  When looking only at these indicators and giving them equal weights, one finds that the top ten countries are:  Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Netherlands, Denmark, Rwanda, Belgium, Germany and New Zealand.  The U.S. is ranked 45th.

When combining gender with a variety of other indictors, such as education, gross national product per capita, and life expectancy, one gets very different results.  Using this broader scale, the UN ranks the US as #4 (after Norway, Australia, and New Zealand).  Clearly, the gender rankings are not given a high weight using the UN system.  You can build your own index on their website.

My Grandmother
In my own family, four generations of women provide a glimpse into the changing world of gender in the United States.  My Grandmother, Felicia Josephine, was born in Poland and came to the U.S. early in the 20th Century.  She gave birth to a number of children and lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her husband and children.  She did not work outside of the home, but instead focused her attention on her family.

My Mother
My mother, Evelyn, shown here on her wedding day, the same day in which the picture of my grandmother was taken, lived with my father and their 6 children (me included) in a small town outside of Milwaukee.  In many ways, they were amongst the first suburbanites who fled the city to live in a small town environment.  My father commuted into Milwaukee to work as an engineer for Allis Chalmers.  My mother worked for a short time after she graduated from high school, but she did not work after marriage and instead focused her attention on her home, her children, and her garden. 

My Sister Sharon
My Sister Patty
Her daughter, my sister Patty, like the rest of my siblings, went immediately to college after high school.  She was the first woman in my immediate family to go to college and she earned a degree in Library Science and education.  She was my Junior High English and French teacher!  Her picture here is one of her school pictures taken when she was a teacher in the 1970s.  She was a successful teacher at Fox River School until her retirement.

My sister Sharon also went directly to college. She and her husband had two children and she eventually earned a masters degree.  Like many families today, she has a higher level of education than her husband.  In this blog is her high school photo.  She has a successful career and is the first woman in my immediate family to earn a masters degree.

My Niece Adriane
My Niece Michelle with Mario and Me
Her daughters Michelle and Adriane have college degrees.  Michelle has two stepchildren and Adriane does not have any children at this point.  Both Michelle and Adriane have moved away from southeastern Wisconsin where their female ancestors lived for three generations.  They have led interesting lives (not that their ancestors didn't) and made choices different from their mother, grandmother, and great grandmother.

The decisions of women in my family mirror those of other women in our society within their generation.  As educational and career opportunities increase for women, they have fewer children.  In addition, women are much more mobile now and are not as closely tied to extended families.

I know that as the youngest of 6 children, I am delighted that I was born!  But, I wonder what my family would have been like if there were more opportunities for my mother and my grandmother?  They were both rather bright women who were rather interesting.  Did having so many children limit their opportunities?  I believe that they were quite content with their choices.  They were part of the broader culture of the early and mid 20th century.  But, what will the future hold for the next generation of women?

Happy International Women’s Day to the women in my family.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Outside In Conference Day 1 + Hofstra Prof in Wall Street Journal

Today, tomorrow, and Saturday, Hofstra University is hosting the Outside In:  Sustainable Futures for Global Cities and Suburbs.  I am one of the co-Directors of the conference.  It has been an amazing first day.  I attended several panels and paper sessions, all with fantastic speakers who spoke on a variety of topics.

If you get a chance, stop by and spend some time at the conference.  For more information, see this site.

In other exciting news, one of my Hofstra colleagues, Mary Anne Traschiatti, was featured in the Wall Street Journal for her oral history study of the impact of Hurricane Sandy on residents of Long Beach on Long Island.  You can read the story here.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Dry Tortugas National Park

As part of our series highlighting interesting open access Flickr photos of all 59 U.S. National Parks, we travel to Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida.  For more information about the park, click here.  We'll run through all 59 National Parks in alphabetical order.  If you have any photos that you would like to share from any national park that I could post, please send them along.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sinkholes in New York City? Part 2

A pseudosinkhole grows in Brooklyn.
Click for photo credit.
Yesterday I wrote about the difference between sinkholes and pseudosinkholes.  I noted that geologic sinkholes do not form in the New York City area.  The reason for this is that the New York area is largely underlain by insoluble metamorphic rocks such as schist and gneiss.  There are some marble formations, but sinkholes are not known from this formation in New York City based on my reading.  In many places, glacial sediments cover the rocks with layers of sand, silt, clay, and boulders of varying thicknesses.  None of these materials are particularly soluble and sinkholes are not expected to form in either the rocks or the sediments.

Yet, ground collapses do occur in New York City on occasion.  Why do these pseudosinkholes form?

They form because of the collapse of tunnels, pipes, or other open spaces underground built by man.

Take for example this story from the International Business Times that reports of a sinkhole in Brooklyn--the second one in 2012.  As a geologist reading this story, I cringed when I saw the word "sinkhole" used to describe a hole caused by a leaking pipe.  But, the reality is that most "sinkholes" that form in cities are pseudosinkholes caused by some type of collapse derived from broken infrastructure or other man-made problems.

If you ever hear of a sinkhole forming in New York City, it is not a natural phenomenon.  It is a man-made event.

So, do sinkholes form in New York City?  No.  Do Pseudosinkholes form?  Regularly.

Is your future in jeopardy?

Photo Credit: Long Island Report
Is your future in jeopardy? With food security, climate change, and other environmental issues becoming increasingly important to our society, questioning our future is not too far fetched.

I have always been in touch with nature and loved to create my own products from natural ingredients, but I never seriously thought about sustainability until I got involved with my work at the National Center for Suburban Studies and the Sustainability Studies program at Hofstra University.
Sustainability and going 'green' are the new buzzwords, but what exactly is sustainability and why should any of us care.
Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment.  Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.
Sustainability is important to making sure that we have and will continue to have,  the water, materials, and resources to protect human health and our environment. - EPA
It is a fairly simple definition and encompasses every academic  and professional discipline. To endure our environment, economic well-being, and equity, we must find cohesion.
Cohesion can be met, by education and collaboration.

If you are in the New York area this week, you have the chance to educate yourself on sustainability and see how academia and community can collaborate on creating a world that will survive after we are all gone.

From the Outside in: Sustainable Futures for Global Cities and Suburbs is a conference taking place at Hofstra University Thursday- Saturday March 7-9.

This interdisciplinary conference will bring together scholars, activists, and practitioners from around the world to explore how to create more sustainable communities in densely populated regions, beginning with the suburbs.

Thursday and Friday, will host a full days worth of sessions on public health, education, urban planning, and housing. The keynote speaker for Thursday is Dr. Robert Bullard, who is the father of the environmental justice movement and on Friday, William Fulton, who is a smart growth expert. In addition to these great keynote speakers a few sessions might be of interest to the general public:

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre
  • Youth Scholars Discuss Sustainability
  • Suburban Food Production and Distribution
  • Sustainability on Long Island
  • Planning and Sustainability
  • Suburban Public Health
  • Parks, Public Spaces, and Livable Cities
  • Community Gardens and Ecoliteracy
  • Designing Suburban Futures
  • Diversity, Immigration and Maturing Futures
  • Housing, Sustainability, and Suburban Crisis
Saturday will be a full day devoted to the effects of Super Storm Sandy and the importance of protecting metropolitan regions and their vulnerable suburbs from the next natural disaster. Leading experts, first responders, and public officials will share their firsthand experiences with the storm.

The keynote speaker on Saturday will be Burrell Montz, an expert on hurricanes and hazard management. In addition to this great keynote speaker, a few sessions might be of interest to the general public:

  • Sustainable Planning in the region
  • Sandy, Long Beach, NY, and Environmental Justice
  • Sustainability, Post-Sandy
In addition to all these great sessions on sustainability as it pertains to suburbia, Hofstra will be hosting a traveling photography exhibit called The Art of Destruction: Images of Superstorm Sandy.

If you are interested in attending the conference, send me an email (

If you are a Long Island community member, there are 100 complimentary slots open for Saturday! Don't miss out on this chance to hear experts discuss how Sandy will impact Long Island. Saturday also includes breakfast and lunch.

For more information about the event visit


Monday, March 4, 2013

Sinkholes in New York City?

Little Italy New York.  Photo by
Bob Brinkmann
Sinkholes in New York City?  That is one of the questions I got from one of my readers yesterday on my post about the Tampa Sinkhole Vortex.  It was a follow up piece from my review of the sinkhole tragedy in the Tampa Bay area.

The answer to that question is no and yes.  It depends upon how you look at it.

Sinkholes typically form when there are collapses of ground over subsurface void spaces.  Genetically, this happens naturally in soluble carbonate rock, particularly limestone and dolomite.  These rocks are highly soluble in water.  Therefore, sinkholes are typically associated with these carbonate minerals--especially in humid areas.  This is how the sinkhole formed that killed the man in Seffner late last week.

However, most associate the term sinkhole with any collapse of the earth's surface.  Many holes form as a result of leaking underground pipes, tunnel collapses, or when organic matter buried in the development process decomposes.  These sinkholes, to a geologist, are not true sinkholes. We just call them collapses or sometimes pseudosinkholes.

I noticed that reporters, in covering the Seffner sinkhole, showed pictures of other killer sinkholes around the world.  Most of the images they used showed the pseudosinkhole variety.  I think geologists around the world cringed.

Yet the public widely accepts the term sinkhole for any type of collapse, so I think we can go ahead and live with this usage, even though it is not the most accurate word choice.  But as a geologist, sinkholes do not form in New York city.  But as a reporter, I would say they do.  I'll explain why there is the potential for pseudosinkhole formation tomorrow.