Chip Measures Garbage by the Pound

Trash containers of the future might contain an information chip that encourages people to recycle. A manufacturing company says the technology could change the way cities administer their trash programs.
The GLRC’s Kaomi Goetz reports:

Transcript

Trash containers of the future might contain an information chip that
encourages people to recycle. A manufacturing company says the
technology could change the way cities administer their trash
programs. The GLRC’s Kaomi Goetz reports:


The way it works is recycling containers are embedded with a chip
that can register the weight of the contents as they’re dumped into the
truck. The information is then tracked to the homeowner and
tabulated to their online account.


Cascade Engineering of Grand Rapids is making the containers.
Spokesman John Kowalski says assessing by weight is part of a
new trend in the solid waste industry.


“Landfill rates are just sky-rocketing, so we’re trying to do anything
we can do to reduce that cost, but also help the environment.
Anything we can do to increase recycling is good for everybody.”


So far, the technology is being used as part of a pilot recycling
rewards program in Philadelphia. It offers discount coupons for
coffee and groceries based on the amount of recycling.


The company says the technology can also be used by cities to
charge for trash removal based on weight, which it says could also
encourage recycling.


For the GLRC, I’m Kaomi Goetz.

Reviving Inner Cities and Slowing Sprawl


Many large and midsize cities in the Great Lakes region are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to revitalizing the city center and preventing unfettered development in the surrounding suburbs. There is one place, however, where a progressive mayor has turned a once deserted downtown into a lively place, full of urban amenities and street life. At the same time, he’s teamed up with nearby villages and townships to slow down the widening circle of unplanned development around the city. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Gretchen Millich reports:

Transcript

Many large and midsize cities in the Great Lakes region
are fighting an uphill battle when to comes to revitalizing the city
center and preventing unfettered development in the surrounding
suburbs. There is one place, however, where a progressive
mayor has turned a once deserted downtown into a lively place, full of urban amenities and street
life. At the same time, he’s teamed up with nearby villages and townships to slow down the
widening circle of unplanned development around the city. Gretchen Millich of the Great Lakes
Radio Consortium reports:


On the list of the most sprawling cities in the United
States, Grand Rapids, Michigan is right in the middle. Over the
last 10 years, the metropolitan area has seen a huge increase in
roads, subdivisions, shopping malls and industrial parks.


But Grand Rapids and neighboring villages and townships
started planning years ago to rescue the city from the problems
that accompany sprawl. And that planning is starting to pay off.


A key factor in Grand Rapids’ success has been the
mayor, John Logie. He’s retiring this year after 12 years in
office. Logie has lived in Grand Rapids for most of his life. He
recalls how the city looked when he returned after serving in the
Navy.


“When I came back to Grand Rapids in the late 60’s, I could have taken my bowling ball in any
downtown street at 5:18 PM and hurled it down the sidewalk as hard as I could, secure in the
knowledge I’d never break an ankle, because nobody was there.”


Logie realized then that his beloved city would not survive unless something was done to revitalize
the downtown and encourage people to live there. In the 1970’s, he helped
write a state law that allowed local governments to set up historic districts. Grand Rapids now has
five historic neighborhoods, including Heritage Hill, where Logie lives in a
Queen Anne style home.


“And also I had read Jane Jacobs book years ago, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”
and she talks in there about the need to preserve what you’ve got. And
the need to find adaptive re-use when a buggy whip manufacturing company goes out of business
because the automobile has replaced the horse-drawn carriage. There’s a building there that needs
new life.”


To that end, Logie helped write another state law setting up Renaissance zones in inner cities where
businesses and residents could get substantial tax breaks for re-using old
buildings. Grand Rapids now has seven Renaissance districts. The city also changed the zoning on
several old warehouses and industrial buildings to encourage what Logie
calls “layer cakes” – retails stores, restaurants, offices and apartments – all in the same building.
Some of the old furniture factories have been renovated, including the Burkey and Gay building –
built in the late 1800’s. Burkey and Gay went out of business in the 1950’s.


“It had been sitting cold iron for 50 years. And now it’s all back to life. Two-hundred sixty middle
of the road apartments, and some offices.


“We got tired of the quiet life and wanted a little diversity.”


Connie Thompson and her husband Jim used to live in a
new suburb north of Grand Rapids. About a year and a half
ago, they moved into an apartment in the Burkey Gay building.


“We like the downtown city feel, which is really fun. We can walk to a bakery, we can walk to
shopping.”


“Grand Rapids has almost got kind of a European feel to it. There’s a couple of little side walk
cafes – during the summer – it doesn’t work too well in the winter. But, yeah, we
like it. I think we’re more city people than the country people we tried to be for a while there.”


But it wasn’t enough just to work within the city limits. Grand Rapids Mayor John Logie knew he
had to work with planners in the surrounding suburbs to promote better land-use
policies. He convinced local officials in 47 different jurisdictions to set limits on how far their
communities would grow around Grand Rapids.


“We invited each of them to draw a line somewhere in the middle of their real estate. And you
decide where that line should go. And then we’ll create a formula together that you’re going to
encourage future growth inside that line and discourage it out until you get to a certain level of
density – at which point you can move the line.”


Logie says the growth boundaries have kept the population closer to the inner city, cutting down on
long commutes, pollution and preserving at least some of the farmland
around the metropolitan area.


As he prepares to step down as mayor at the end of the year, Logie says he’s proud of what he’s
accomplished. He says it’s not rocket science – just common sense about what
makes a city a good place to live.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Gretchen Millich.

Related Links

Soundscape: Sentinel Over the Water

  • Volunteer lighthouse keepers at Big Sable Point appreciate the allure of these historical buildings.

Lighthouses used to guide ships to safe waters. These days they mainly beckon to tourists. The Great Lakes are a popular destination for lighthouse buffs because of the lighthouses lining the shores. All summer long at Ludington State Park in Michigan, visitors walk two miles from their cars and campers to visit Big Sable Point Lighthouse. When they get there, the tourists are greeted by volunteer lighthouse keepers. The keepers have been through a lengthy application process for the privilege of living at the lighthouse for two weeks. During that time they clean the port-a-potty’s, sweep the sand off the stairs, and show visitors around. But each volunteer lightkeeper is also getting a sense for why lighthouses are such an attraction. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar Charney prepared this audio postcard:

Transcript

Lighthouses used to guide ships to safe waters, these days they
mainly beckon to tourists. The Great Lakes are a popular destination
for
lighthouse buffs because of the lighthouses lining the shores. All
summer long at Ludington State Park in Michigan visitors to the park
walk
2 miles from their cars and campers to visit Big Sable Point
Lighthouse. When they get there, the tourists are greeted by six
volunteer lighthouse keepers. The keepers have been through a lengthy
application process for the privilege of living at the lighthouse for two
weeks. During that time they clean the port-a-potty’s, sweep the sand
off
the lighthouse stairs, and show visitors around. But each volunteer
lightkeeper is also getting a chance to try to figure out for themselves
why lighthouses are such an attraction. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Tamar Charney prepared this audio postcard:

(sounds of waves)

Harold Triezenberg: “We’d like to welcome you to the Big Sable Point
Lighthouse. Does anyone know why its called big sable? No. No. No.
What
does sable mean? Sable means sand.”

(sounds of waves)

Shirley Mitchell: “It’s a beautiful area lighthouses are in with
the water and that always attracts people. They think of the loneliness
and in a lot of books it’s the source of a lot of adventure. You’re out
here by yourself and have to do for yourself with what you’ve got.
There’s
the thrill of maybe rescuing someone off of a ship. Being the one that’s
responsible for keeping the light going to make sure the ships won’t
crash
into the rocks or into the shore. People are trying to capture a lot of
that We’re not in control. It’s mother nature that is in control.”

(waves fade out)

(sounds of steps being climbed)

Harold Triezenberg: “There’s 130 steps from the bottom to the very
top.”

(steps)

“I think lighthouses are a very important part of our American heritage.
What they stand for. What they’ve done. What they mean. Even though
they
are not necessarily used to guide ships because of global positioning, I
think
a lighthouse is a symbol of mankind. A symbol of us as citizens to be
also
lighthouses to be guides to people to those around us.”

(walking outside & wind)

“When you look out here you’re looking at the same very same scenery,
the
people who built this tower seen. They seen the very same thing the
same
water, beach same probably the sand dunes and the same forest in the
background.”

“Those are little markers that tell us the distance to cities around here
Chicago 160 and as we walk around we see other markers, Ludington 7
miles,
Grand Rapids, 85, Lansing, 130, and as we keep going around we see
more
stickers that tell us the direction and how far the cities are… (wind)
It is very remote.”

(sound of waves)

(wood steps)

Phyllis Triezenberg: “This is one of the bedrooms it happens to be the
bedroom I’m staying in. Very nicely furnished. Lots of closets in this
place and we assume it’s because they had to have lots of supplies for
a
long period of time.
The keepers quarters were built the same time as the
lighthouse, 1867. Their main job was to tend the light back before
electricity they had to keep the lamp burning.”

“I’m very nostalgic. I like history things that people did a long time ago. I
like to see things where other people have been just to think that now I’m
experiencing what they’ve experienced.”

(waves)

Julie Koviak: “It would have been a very hard life – especially the nights
the
fog horn was running cause it would run sometimes for 4 days at a time
and they couldn’t talk. They’d have to time their conversation to speak in
between the blasts of the fog horn.”

“I think I got totally interested in them when I saw this one walking out
here. Just because of the beauty it was almost a religious experience
seeing
that sentinel stand over the water. You know, ‘I am the light, I’ll show you
the way. Know what I mean?”

(Waves)

TAG: Shirley Mitchell, Harold and Phyllis Triezenberg, and
Julie Koviak are volunteer lighthouse keepers at Big Sable
Point Lighthouse near Ludington, Michigan.

Keeping Amtrak on Track

Lawmakers in Michigan are working with Amtrak officials to keep passenger service on two major rail lines from being discontinued. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jerome Vaughn has details:

Transcript

Lawmakers in Michigan are working with Amtrak officials to keep passenger
service on two major rail lines from being discontinued. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jerome Vaughn has details:


(sound in – train)


Amtrak officials say they will have to end service on its Chicago to Grand
Rapids and Chicago to Toronto routes unless Michigan provides additional
funding.


The train system says it needs just over seven million dollars per year to
operate the two routes, but the state currently caps aid to Amtrak at
five point-seven million dollars.


State Representative Lauren Hagen has introduced a bill to increase
available funding. He says the routes are vital for residents throughout
the region.


“It’s a need for many people: for handicapped people, for senior
citizens, and people who want an alternative way to travel.”


Amtrak says about 150-thousand passengers traveled the routes last
year, but that’s still not enough riders to pay for the service through
fares alone.


Rail service in Missouri is also threatened because of reduced funding.


The Michigan legislature has found enough money to keep the service running
until mid-May, but additional funding may be hard to find with the state
facing a one-point-nine billion dollar budget deficit.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Jerome Vaughn in Detroit.

A Cure for Sprawl

Sprawl affects urban and rural residents of every Great Lakes state. Rapid development continues to swallow farmland and leave impoverished urban cores in its wake. But one Great Lakes mayor believes there’s still time to preserve land and revive cities. Mayor John Logie shares this commentary:

Transcript

Sprawl affects urban and rural residents of every Great Lakes state. Rapid development continues to swallow farmland and leave impoverished urban cores in its wake. But one Great Lakes mayor believes there’s still time to preserve land and revive cities. Mayor John Logie shares this commentary.


Urban sprawl is alive and well in Grand Rapids, my hometown. The term refers to the insidious way that webs of suburbs, manufacturing plants, etc., are expanding in unplanned, ever-widening circles around our city. Such sprawl results in longer commutes, pollution, and the loss of undeveloped land. The American Farmland Trust reports that 70% of the country’s prime farmland is now in the path of rapid development. On the list of 30 of the most sprawling cities in the entire United States, Grand Rapids, which has experienced a 48% increase in its urban area between 1990 and 1996, ranks right in the middle, behind such hyper-growth communities as Las Vegas, Austin, and Tucson, but well ahead of Cleveland, Chicago, and Portland in our rate of sprawl increase.


This Land-use change has rarely been done in a responsible fashion. Some sprawl apologists say what we’ve ended up with is that’s the American Dream, and any problems are easy to fix. They say there’s plenty of land left in America. They say congestion would go away if we just build more roads. But sprawl matters. Pollsters say it’s the most important issue in the Country.


Distress about urban sprawl arises from many factors: loss of open space, traffic congestion, economic segregation, a lack of affordable housing, and a lost sense of community. According to Harvard University political scientist Robert Putnam, the longer people spend in traffic, the less likely they are to be involved in their community and family.


To solve these problems, it takes a combination of land conservation and real free market economics, which can actually provide smaller lots for those who want them. However, many communities try to maintain what they believe are high property values by allowing only large-lot homes to be built. This effectively excludes several types of households, including singles, some empty nesters, single-parents, and the elderly, along with lower-income people. And the favored “middle-class family” with kids, today represents just 25% of new homebuyers. Only 11% of U.S. households are “traditional” families with children and just one wage earner. One size no longer fits us all.


Here’s what we need now.


We need smaller houses in walkable clusters, town homes in real “towns,” lofts in vital urban neighborhoods, and affordable housing just about anywhere. The development of compact communities that offer urban amenities and street life will show that the market actually supports more density and more housing diversity—not less. But we’re not building communities like those; communities that can help reduce many symptoms of sprawl, including traffic. Instead, we’re just building new roads. But for every 10% increase in new freeway miles, a 9% increase in traffic is generated within 5 years as sprawl continues. You just can’t build your way out of gridlock. More importantly, today we can no longer afford to keep building new freeways. The key is building more walkable communities. All this depends on promoting different land-use patterns, and not just building new roads.


Property rights advocates argue against regional planning, or any planning for that matter. They say that people should have a right to develop their properties as they please. As a historic preservationist, I have heard that for years. But what if one person’s development decision adversely impacts another’s property, or the whole neighborhood, or the whole region? What if certain choices require more public tax dollars to pay for infrastructure and services than others? At the regional level, it is public dollars that enable development on private property. Without highways, roads, sewers, water systems, and public services, development cannot occur. Therefore, we must use the tool of government spending appropriately – and seek out and implement the most cost-effective public investments which creatively and positively support growth, but discourage sprawl. My name is John Logie, I’m the Mayor of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Rat Patrol

They can chew through cinderblock…tread water for days…And survive…if necessary, by just eating dog feces. But they’re not some kind of mutant superhero…they’re rats. And in cities, where rat populations can quickly explode, there’s a constant battle against the resilient rodents. Today, some cities are winning the war with some surprisingly simple solutions. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson explains: