Joining the Family Business

In a search for meaning, a social entrepreneur gets back to her roots

Illustration by Faye Zhang

Illustration by Faye Zhang

Essay by Nancy S. Cleveland

I had an uncle we thought must be a CIA operative.

At his memorial service, I was talking with one of his colleagues (a guy whose body language screamed, “Don’t ask me what I do!”). I was prattling on about my uncle’s purposeful, passion-driven work and how I wanted to do something meaningful like that. 

With an intensely penetrating look, he responded, “So, what’s stopping you?” 

It was a question that spun me around. 

I thought about my long career as a lawyer and how I’d reinvented myself many times. I’d worked as a litigator, in real estate and in telecom, building out wireless communications infrastructure. Despite a lot of career reboots, for me, practicing law evoked a near constant yearning for more purposeful work. My primary way of doing good was writing checks to charities. Good, but not that personally inspiring or meaningful.

I thought about my mother and her lifelong passion: women’s empowerment. Her passion for helping women inspired her to scale new ways of getting women into the skilled workforce that she needed for her local medical practice. She changed lives. Maybe not a lot of lives, but over time, her efforts had a ripple effect through two generations. It was from her that I learned two important lessons: Social impact doesn’t have to be monumental to be meaningful and important, and a strong and passionate belief in the change you seek can make a difference. 

I grew up in a family where making a difference was just what people were supposed to do. I was hardwired to become a social entrepreneur. And yet, there I stood at my uncle’s funeral, and a man I’d never met before was asking me directly: What’s stopping you?

The answer? Me.

Anyone considering an entrepreneurial move faces the risk and fear of failing. But those aren’t the only things you have to hurdle. It requires some soul-searching with questions like, What would I sacrifice? What will I gain? Is the change important enough to me? You have to knock down a lot of barriers to succeed as a social entrepreneur. But just getting started, getting out of your comfort zone, is the first and biggest—and one that I realized I had control over. 

That conversation at my uncle’s funeral was 13 years ago. It took me two years to find a strong enough passion, another year to change career paths and 10 more to hone ideas, meet my co-founder, assemble a team and launch a totally new software-based approach to sustainability management for business. Every day, it’s the purposeful, passion-driven work I was yearning for. 

Bringing a social-impact product to market is never the result of a single human being’s efforts. It is evolutionary, dynamic, collaborative and complex. And those are also the qualities that make being a social entrepreneur hugely rewarding, never lonely and well worth it. 

My mom passed away a few months before my uncle, so she never got to witness my journey. But I know she would be proud of the work my team is doing to make the world a better place. It makes me happy to think that, in a way, I’ve finally joined the family business.

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Nancy S. Cleveland is a principal at Sustrana, a software company that provides sustainability management solutions.

Our Collective Climate Delusion

If we’ve all lost our minds together, can we really know what’s happening?

Illustration by Jameela Wahlgren

Illustration by Jameela Wahlgren

Interview by Heather Shayne Blakeslee

Occasionally, a great reckoning will sweep through a culture, unveiling a world that will be shocking to some and unsurprising to others, but forcing change nonetheless. Take, for instance, the election of Donald Trump, which has thrown America’s long history of racism and our culture’s pervasive misogyny into the center ring of our current cultural, post-truth circus. But what will finally force a real conversation about the global threat of climate change? In his eloquent and unsparing book, “The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable,” Indian writer Amitav Ghosh explores the cultural, political and psychological history of our species’ inability to grasp that our daily habits are threatening our lives. He seamlessly weaves together stories and statistics to remind us that the world humans have constructed is by no means under our control: Earth has limits, and so do we. But at what point will we recognize—and reckon with—that fact? And how do the stories we tell ourselves about the past and the future contribute to that reckoning?

You are best known as a fiction writer. What made you decide to write the lectures that constitute “The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable”? And what role does fiction, or the humanities in general, play in helping us to process and understand our world?
AG: For me, climate change is impossible to ignore: It is the most important question of our times, and I wrote the book because I felt that it demands a response from every thinking person. Just as people once asked their parents, “What did you do during the war?” a future generation is going to ask their parents, “Why didn’t you pay attention to climate change?” 

As human beings, stories are fundamental to our understanding of the world. Perhaps if we listened to different stories we would better appreciate the scale of the challenge that we now face as a species.

You write in the book that our lives are not guided by reason but by “inertia and habitual motion” and that “those who uproot themselves and make the right preparations [for climate change] are precisely those obsessed monomaniacs who appear to be on the borderline of lunacy.” And you very specifically chose to use the word “derangement” in relation to the vast majority of people who cannot comprehend climate change. What does it mean to be sane at this point in our history as humans?
AG: I don’t think any of us can claim to be sane at this moment. We are all living in a kind of collective delusion, in which the political and economic discourse continues to conjure up horizons of unlimited “growth,” and we continue to use the very things that will ultimately destroy us—cars, planes, etc.

You observe that one effect of modernity is the shift in how we think about nature. In our literature and in our art, nature used to be an awesome force to be feared, respected and revered. And then—through our increased proficiencies in science, technology, engineering and math—we came to believe that we could control nature. How does it feel to you to be witnessing the results of our limitations? Of our hubris?
AG: It wasn’t just that modernity led people to believe that “nature” could be controlled—it led them to believe that the earth is inert. It is this illusion that has been shattered by climate change. James Lovelock’s seminal book “Gaia” showed us that in many respects the Earth functions as a living organism. But, of course,  this is what most premodern cultures believed anyway.

I’d like to talk about cultural memory. Great quantities of humans now live in places where our ancestors felt it unsafe to populate. You write in the book about the great incentives it took to get modern people to live on the island of Hong Kong, and about stone tablets left by earlier generations on the coast of Japan, warning of tsunamis and advising, “Don’t build past here!” Yet we chose instead to build not only a settlement but a nuclear facility there. One-third of America’s infrastructure is in our hurricane-prone Gulf Coast. Are we about to enter an age of remembering?
AG: The list of cities that are facing potentially catastrophic impacts is growing by the day. Hurricane Harvey may have been an important inflection point in the U.S.—at any rate, it seems to me that much more attention is being paid to this issue today.

One of the most enlightening parts of the book is the time you spend laying out how Eurocentric the dialogue around climate change is, and how the history of empire and of colonialism has also played a significant role in this story. Can you talk a little about that?
AG: It is a fact that the discourse on climate change is very Eurocentric. But this is, strangely enough, partly the fault of non-Westerners, because climate change is not a major subject of discussion in countries like India, China, Indonesia and so on—even though they all stand to lose a great deal. 

The impacts on India are widespread and intensifying. The most notable impacts are prolonged droughts, extreme heat waves, an increasing number of “rain bomb” events, and more and more agricultural land being invaded by seawater.

Most people cannot comprehend climate change or their contributions to it. We are also bad at imagining the sheer numbers of people who will be affected. You write that “the consequences are beyond imaginable: The lives and livelihoods of half a billion people in South and Southeast Asia are at risk.” What can help us conceive of this problem or how it will affect our fellow humans?
AG: The vastness of the scale of climate change is one of the factors that prevents us from grasping the enormity of the challenge, especially because we have become accustomed to thinking in delimited ways. Our approach to problems is to break them down into tractable units—but that often makes us lose sight of the interconnections of the big picture.

You cite many statistics in the book: Predicted sea-level rise may displace 50 million people in India; a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius will decrease food production there by 25 percent; China feeds 20 percent of the world’s population on 7 percent of the world’s arable land, and desertification there is already causing $65 billion per year in losses. Scholars such as Robert Paarlberg have written that, because the United States may not see some of these same impacts and because our fossil-fuel lobby is so strong, U.S. action is stymied. Do you agree? And can the world solve this without the United States?
AG: I think the whole framing of climate change as primarily a threat to the world’s poor is very misleading. The truth is that everybody stands to lose in proportion to their circumstances. For many subsistence-level farmers, the impacts will surely be disastrous in that they will lead to complete immiseration. But in gross terms, the rich stand to lose the most, partly because they simply have more to lose and partly because they are more dependent on advanced infrastructure. During Hurricane Harvey, for instance, some of the richest people in one of the world’s richest cities were very badly impacted. Similarly, Puerto Rico is technically a part of the world’s richest and most advanced country, yet most of its people remain without electricity many weeks after Hurricane Maria. Cuba, by contrast, has been relatively resilient. In 2017 the U.S. probably had a higher tally of climate-related losses than any other part of the world.

Is there anything that gives you hope that we’ll solve this crisis?
AG: In my view, the idea that all problems have a “solution” is itself a hindrance in regard to thinking about climate change. At this point “coping” or “adapting” might be better words to use because many climate change impacts are already locked in—no matter what we do now.

_____
Amitav Ghosh is a celebrated writer whose books include “The Circle of Reason,” “Dancing to Cambodia and at Large in Burma” and “Flood of Fire.”

The Trickle-Down Environment

Federal policies are harming Pennsylvania

Illustration by Clarissa Eck

Illustration by Clarissa Eck

By Jacqui Bonomo

President Trump’s napalming of environmental protection is withering the air, water, landscape and public health of our nation. As the president’s agenda begins to manifest in on-the-ground changes—at the state and federal levels, in our fragile ecosystems, in waterways and throughout our imperiled climate system—we move closer to crises that future leaders, laws and technology will be hard-pressed to reverse.

The most striking impact of the president’s effect in Pennsylvania is how it’s emboldened anti-environmental elected officials in the state Legislature. The past year saw an unprecedented series of attacks on previously hard-fought, and typically bipartisan, environmental protections that, at least until now, provided basic measures and tools to clean our air and water. The Trump effect has spawned copycat policymakers who embrace the same bombastic and divisive tactics and rhetoric as the president. If the electorate does not reject these destructive personalities or turn them out of office, the prospect becomes grim for providing a healthy environment and uncompromised climate systems to future generations. 

But despite the extreme anti-environmental provocations of the Trump team, we are seeing small victories for clean water and air. A large state coalition of clean water advocates recently beat back the Trump administration’s attempt to zero out the budget for watershed protection and restoration projects in local streams of the Susquehanna River, Pennsylvania’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The recently passed state budget closed Pennsylvania’s solar borders, and now clean energy credits needed to meet our renewable energy goals must come from solar projects and jobs produced here, and not from out of state, as previously allowed.  

We are witnessing a profound rejection of Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, and his demolition of the Clean Power Plan, a reasonable path forward to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Our communities are stepping up to take their climate and clean energy futures into their own hands. Backed by their constituents, mayors and elected officials around the commonwealth have declared their intention to reduce emissions and move forward with climate action in places like Bethlehem, Downingtown, Mount Pocono, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Swarthmore and State College, with the list growing every day.

There are opportunities for state and federal policymakers to shed the polarized fever that’s beset them and make progress for our environment. Congress could surprise us and produce a good Farm Bill reauthorization that helps Pennsylvania agriculture and water quality, or pass the RECLAIM Act to provide funding to accelerate restoration of land and water impacted by legacy pollution from coal mining. The state Legislature could get serious about reforming and reauthorizing the alternative energy portfolio standard and continue to build on 70,000 clean energy jobs around the state. 

Yet, the pull of the president’s fear-driven environmental policy is so strong, I would not count on it. My money is on the regular folks and emerging environmental leaders who know there is too much at stake, and who will not allow this president to get in our way.

_____
Jacqui Bonomo is the president and CEO of PennFuture, a statewide environmental advocacy organization in Pennsylvania.

The End of Gerrymandering

Two Pennsylvania court cases could end partisan political districts—possibly even in time for the 2018 elections.

Illustration by Michael Wohlberg

Illustration by Michael Wohlberg

By Kyle Bagenstose

The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania tackles a long list of pressing issues: drilling in the Marcellus shale, child welfare, collective bargaining and campaign finance among them.

But more than any other, it is gerrymandering—the political process of drawing uneven election maps to heavily favor one party—that sets off alarm bells for league vice president and Chester County native Carol Kuniholm.

“The system is broken, and democracy is dying in Pennsylvania if we don’t fix it,” Kuniholm said.

Gerrymandering is such an important topic for the league that in 2016 members helped launch Fair Districts PA, an organization fighting for competitive elections. Kuniholm serves as chair and says the organization is closely watching two ongoing court cases that, if the pieces fall into place, could require a redraw of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts ahead of next fall’s general elections.

“Normally, the courts don’t involve themselves in a legislative process. It will be interesting to see what happens,” she said.

Also following closely is Michael Li, senior redistrict counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

Li points out that even though Pennsylvania is a closely contested state, usually voting about 50-50 in statewide elections, Republicans hold a 13-to-5 edge in congressional districts. But he’s more troubled by the noncompetitiveness in recent elections.

“The problem is not only the 13-5, but that it’s locked in,” Li said.

Li explains that although gerrymandering has existed for more than 200 years, new technologies now allow politicians to use “surgical” precision in redrawing maps. A redraw by Pennsylvania Republicans in between the 2010 and 2012 elections provides evidence.

In the first election, 51 percent of Pennsylvania voters picked Republicans and 47 percent picked Democrats. Power flipped, with the Republicans gaining five seats for a total of 12.

Two years later Democrats surged back, winning 50 percent of the vote to the Republicans’ 48 percent. But Democrats actually lost a district, and haven’t won one since.

Having seen enough, the League of Women Voters filed suit against the state this year. What happened next was highly unusual: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled 4-3 to fast track the suit and require a lower court judge to render a decision by Dec. 31. Even if the court favors state Republican leaders contesting the suit, the state Supreme Court could overrule it.

“The question becomes, ‘How can you undo [gerrymandering]?’” Li said.

Because primaries would start in the spring, a likely route would be to put in place an independent “special master” to redraw the lines for the 2018 elections, Li said. The court could also favor a request from the league to make new rules for legislators for future redistricting efforts, such as not allowing the use of party registration data in the process.

“The long-term solution is an independent commission,” Kuniholm added.

Should both courts rule in favor of state Republicans, there’s a second, federal gerrymandering case brought by five Pennsylvania voters that began in December. But Li thinks it’s a long shot, as it argues “that you can’t have any partisanship at all” during redrawing, he says.

“This has not been tried before,” Li said. “It potentially opens the door in a way that the U.S. Supreme Court might not be comfortable with... where literally any map is challengeable.”

By June, both suits could be moot, depending on how the Supreme Court rules on a third suit, Gill v. Whitford. The landmark case out of Wisconsin could make highly partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional nationwide. Although the Supreme Court has heard gerrymandering cases in the past and declined to curb it, Li believes new data and mapping technologies allow a higher level of scrutiny that could turn the tide.

Should all fail, Kuniholm says there will be one consolation. Through court documents, she says the public will learn what kinds of conversations went on in 2011 when Pennsylvania Republicans redrew the maps.

“I want people to see these are the names of the people who sat in a room and deliberately denied millions of Pennsylvanians a fair, free vote,” she said. “No matter what the decision in these cases, that information will be made public.”

Turning the Page

To everything, there is a season

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The winter outlines of bare trees against the sky always look particularly beautiful when dusk briefly passes behind them—the elegant and intricate silhouettes are otherworldly. 

That they are the same creatures who only months ago were abundant with leaves fluttering in warm sun is fascinating. In this part of the world, they tell us the story of the seasons, and we hungrily turn the pages again and again without tiring of the narrative, like a child with a favorite picture book. In late summer’s gauzy haze, we begin to taste the crisp fall. When winter has gone on too long, we ache for spring. The transitory but relatively reliable passing of the seasons is, in and of itself, a kind of parental comfort. 

That may explain why our present time and place feels more and more discomfiting. Not just politically—as we bear witness to a country wrestling with itself to enact its ideals, or culturally, as we reckon with how to value the female half of the human race without devolving into yet more divisiveness—but as, in the background, a larger and more dangerous disruption lurks, too vast and frightening to comprehend: Our seasonal narrative, our climate, is changing. 

We are caught, in the present moment, between knowing in our bones that something is wrong, and convincing ourselves that all will be well in the end, that a deus ex machina solution will present itself at the appropriate time and save the day. 

In his brilliant book “The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable,” author Amitav Ghosh explores and connects the stories we’ve told ourselves about how and where we choose to live and what impacts those choices have on our living planet. He calmly and eloquently reminds us that it is naive at best and, at worst, a kind of collective delusion to continue to believe a fiction wherein humanity—our vast systems of habitat, commerce and politics—are unconnected to the planet we live on. 

That sounds dramatic. The truth sometimes is.

It’s time for winter, then. Time for reflection, to look at the shape of things as they are, with no ornaments to distract us, and to choose a path forward. The stories we tell ourselves are vital. They reflect our cultural mores and priorities. The page we turn now becomes the next generation’s story, and it feels fair and just that it should be one that is appropriate to read to our children.

The British writer Ted Hughes, probably best known in America as Sylvia Plath’s husband and the author of the children’s story “The Iron Giant,” also has a formidable body of dark, muscular poetry. He’s unsparing in his portrayal of the brutishness of nature. But he unspools to us a line of occasional relief, as in the opening of “The Guide,” when he writes, “When everything that can fall has fallen/Something rises.” How far will we fall, and what will rise, I wonder, in the coming years? What will our story be? 

As the editor of Grid for the past several years, this is the question I wrestle with every month, and this month’s issue will be my last as editor-in-chief. I’m looking very forward to continuing to contribute to the magazine while I put my energy into other creative projects, but the past three years have been a wonderful, long season. It’s been an intellectual, creative, collaborative and, at times, emotional challenge to give the magazine a cold, spare spine of truth but to leaf it out with beautiful stories of positivity, resilience and hope. Everything changes—but you can expect that to stay the same. Thank you for reading, and for striving for a happy ending.

Heather Shayne Blakeslee

Editor-in-Chief

P.S.  I can't say thank you enough to all of our talented and dedicated writers, illustrators and photographers, as well as the whole team at Grid. You are wonderful, and Philadelphia is a better place for your talents and hard work. I am no longer in the office, but I can be reached via email through my personal website. Please keep in touch!

A Mess of Mint

In an overgrown herb patch, a hitn of health, a family line and leaves of black history

Dec2017_Dispatch.jpg

By Constance Garcia-Barrio

"Your mint’s running amok,” my neighbor, an avid gardener, said one sunny afternoon. “Let it go much longer, you’ll need a machete to hack it down.”

Despite the warning, I aimed to let the mint keep growing, though I didn’t say so. Mint has wound its way through generations of many of us black Americans. “In 1792, a man, aged 72, was cured of the stone by taking the expelled juice of red onions and horse mint…” Samuel Stearns wrote in his 1801 Materia Medica. “The discovery was made by a Negro in Virginia, who obtained his freedom thereby.” My elders don’t claim such stellar results, yet mint has long played a role in our health.

From my great-grandmother, Rose Wilson Ware, or just Maw, came herbal remedies from slavery time.  Born into bondage around 1851 near Partlow, Virginia, Maw lived until 1964, 113 years. For her and many other enslaved blacks, herbal medicine meant survival. She used mint for stomach complaints and to ease morning sickness—maybe on the advice of Aunt Alsie Ellis, the local midwife—during her pregnancies with the first generation of children born free.  

When my mother put down roots in Philadelphia in the late 1920s, she hid some of her heritage, afraid that being both black and Southern would shackle her to low-wage jobs.  She hired a speech therapist, worked with him for two years, and erased her Southern accent. On the other hand, Mom didn’t conceal her use of herbal remedies.  When anyone had a chancy stomach, she would cut a mint leaf into tiny pieces and add it to a teaspoon of sugar for the family member or guest. Mom also used mint—transplanted from Maw’s farm in Virginia—to add a cooling bite to her iced tea.

In time, I learned that mint could not only flavor tea or slow-roasted lamb, but my very life. Before Mom moved into assisted living, I took a few shoots of mint—flourishing years after she had transplanted them from Maw’s land—and planted them in the near-corner of my tiny front yard. Now, when I feel the need of Maw’s strength, I pinch off a leaf and eat it, a spiky green prayer.

Mint holds yet another dimension, I found. Some years ago, aching to include in my life rituals lost or frayed during slavery time, I became initiated as a priestess in the Yoruba religion, a sister tradition to Vodoun. My godmother, who led the ceremony, once explained that taking a mint bath can open one’s life to good energy.

And so, I said nothing to my worried neighbor. I let my mint grow till I had enough to cover the bottom of my old clawfoot tub. I turned on the hot water one night, and, after an amen or two, I climbed in. The mint’s sharp scent left me feeling cleaner in body and spirit.

I admit that my neighbor is right—at this point, I would probably have to rent a backhoe to dig out all that hardy mint. Pink daisies would prettify my little yard, but, given a choice, I would rather have that mess of unruly mint that reaches back to Maw.

--------------------
Constance Garcia-Barrio lives in Philadelphia and often writes on aspects of African-American history.

To Your Health

Rest up. There is much work to do in the new year.

Dec2017_EdNotes.jpg

By Heather Shayne Blakeslee

During the holidays, most of us plan to take some time to reconnect with ourselves and our families. A break is in order after a year of the world feeling particularly topsy-turvy. It’s time to check in with our priorities, and maybe check out a holiday blockbuster or two. 

For many people, taking care of our own physical or mental health isn’t at the top of the to-do list, even though preventive medicine really is the best medicine. In one innovative program in Philadelphia, NaturePHL, doctors are actually prescribing outdoor time to kids to help them with a host of health issues and to foster the development of their young brains and bodies—adults could do with a regular dose as well. 

We should be thankful that we live in a country where, in most places, sending a child—or ourselves—outside for a media break, some exercise or a meditative stroll won’t send our health spiraling in the wrong direction: In Delhi, India, where there is little environmental regulation, just breathing the air is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. Industry might not like regulation, but our lungs do. 

And here’s where the holiday break comes in: Rest up, because there will be a lot of work to do in the coming year. The degradation of the environment remains a critical issue that is having real-world impacts in Philadelphia and beyond, and regulations are under attack. We’re heading in the right direction as a city, but at the state level, fossil-fuel interests continue to prevail over public health. At the federal level, we have Scott Pruitt, who spent his time previous to occupying the top position at the Environmental Protection Agency suing the EPA over regulations that help keep our air and water clean. It seems he came complete with a twirlable handlebar mustache and a script that included the you-had-to-see-it-coming reversal of the Clean Power Plan and withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. Spoiler alert: This one doesn’t end well for humanity.

But not all villains are directly out of Central Casting. Mostly, our tangle of politics, policy, advocacy and personal choices are more complicated than that. I was once asked to interview Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA under the Obama administration, for a Philly Tech Week public health forum, and to submit my questions in advance so there would be no surprises. But I was in for one of my own—I wasn’t allowed to ask her a question about environmental justice.

The message was clear: Even at an event in a liberal city where we were to speak about the connection between the environment and public health, we should steer clear of territory that might make a corporate sponsor uncomfortable. I was prepared to ask the question anyway, but I didn’t need to: McCarthy has always been a community-centered pro, and she brought it up herself, reminding the audience that more people die early in America every year from largely invisible air pollution (usually more than 200,000 people) than from the more visible scourge of gun violence (approximately 33,000 gun-related deaths in 2016)—and that communities of color consistently bear the brunt of pollution and its effects. 

The very idea of pursuing health and wellness starts with the presumption that it’s possible to be healthy, and that’s just not true for everyone. We still have work to do making sure that the basic elements our body needs, including clean air and water, are universally available. 

So relax, and take a break while you can. The work we do later this winter calling our legislators and making our voices heard may save us from another silent spring.

Heather Shayne Blakeslee
Editor-in-Chief
heather@gridphilly.com

10 Things to Do Before November Is Over

Make compost from fallen leaves. It’s not hard to gather and shred leaves from the neighborhood to make killer compost that will give your garden a boost this spring.

Plant your spring bulbs. It’s your last chance before winter weather sets in, so early this month, go buy the last of the bulbs that are on sale and get those beauties in the ground. 

Order your free-range turkey. Don’t get caught buying a bird that was raised on a factory farm! Get your order in now from any number of local farmers who raise free-range turkeys.

Wrap up your water heater. Spending $30 on wrapping up your water heater can save you as much as 16 percent on your utility bill. If your average monthly cost is $100, that’s $192 in yearly savings!

Break out the board games. Whether you’re a cut-throat scrabble player or can’t stop laughing during a Cards Against Humanity bout, there is no cozier way to spend the evening with friends.

Make mulled cider. There’s no special trick here… just simmer good old-fashioned apple cider and mulling spices such as cinnamon, clove, allspice and orange rind. It works with wine, too!

Get your gift list together. Whether you’re trying to keep your environmental footprint light, protect the impact on your wallet or you’re ready for a little splurge, getting your plan together will make you less dependent on shipments from online retailers. See our picks, Page XX.

Make room in your closet for holiday gifts. After the presents are unwrapped from the holidays, city dwellers in small spaces are left wondering: Where am I going to put this? Take a little time now to donate or rehome items you don’t need so there’s room for grandma’s sweater.

Do a deep clean. There may be one or two more days this month when we get to open the windows, but then we’ll be shut in for the winter. Take the time to do a deep clean on your living space so that you aren’t sealing the dirt and dust that has been collecting under the bed, on top of fans and cabinets, or inside your closets. It will improve your mood and your indoor air quality.

Be thankful. Gratitude is scientifically proven to positively impact your mental and physical health, better your relationships, increase empathy, decrease aggression and even help you sleep better. Take just 15 minutes to make a list about what you’re truly grateful for in your life. You’ll be glad to be well-rested and feeling balanced when it’s time for Thanksgiving dinner. 

Tinsel Town

The holiday gift-giving season is upon us- make a star of your local makers

It’s become something of a sport to call out how much earlier each year stores begin to put up tinsel and displays announcing the holiday gift-buying season. I started seeing Facebook posts as early as mid-October from unsettled friends who went to buy Halloween candy and instead were haunted by Christmas carols emanating from store-aisle speakers. 

Part of the problem, according to Peter Cappelli, a business expert at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, is that as income inequality continues to worsen, fewer and fewer people have money to buy the things they need, much less the extra electronics, new clothing and high-end personal-care items that are the hallmark of the giving season. 

“Corporations are awash in money right now,” Cappelli says. “The problem is they don’t have enough demand from consumers to increase their production and hire more people.” He explains that the poor spend every dollar they have, but the rich don’t; they invest, save and pass on some as inheritance. As fewer and fewer people hold on to more and more of the wealth, it depresses the economy as a whole.  

Perhaps, then, the early holiday displays are a sign of desperation. The retail industry’s woes are compounded by the fact that online retailers such as Amazon have disrupted the brick-and-mortar business model, including in the publishing industry. That’s why, for the past several years, I’ve made it a point to buy most of my family’s Christmas gifts from local, independent bookshops. 

I’m as guilty as anyone of falling prey to the ease of one-click shopping when I’m in a time crunch, but for those of us lucky enough to have extra money to buy holiday gifts, it’s increasingly important to slow down, plan early and resist both the glow of a computer screen and the convenience of a big-box store. 

The benefits of keeping our dollars in the local economy are many, and in Philadelphia, a vibrant city awash with makers and artisans, it’s also easy. It’s possible to find amazing, locally crafted clothing, durable goods and world-class food and spirits on every corner. If you’re a community-minded person in general, you already know how satisfying it is to shake hands with your farmer, to know your barista by name and to get a warm hello when you walk into your favorite shop—it’s a feeling you can’t put a price tag on, but you’re also contributing to their bottom line.

And, whether it’s because you’re living a minimalist life or you just believe that the best gift of all is time together—Philadelphia has you covered. From the promise of group bike rides with friends to treating your family to dinner at a favorite restaurant, the options are endless, and the memories are forever. 

Finally, if you’re part of a family that has forgone gift-giving altogether, this holiday season you could consider donating more than you usually do to charity: So many of our fellow Americans lost everything during the hurricane season, and they need for us to remember them, because the 24-hour news cycle won’t. Electricity, food and water are at the top of their wish lists right now, so if you have the means, dig deep.

No matter the time of year, giving feels good, and kindness matters—so does supporting our local economy. Now go make this season count.

Heather Shayne Blakeslee

Editor-in-Chief

heather@gridphilly.com

The Fix

America’s workplaces, and the policies that serve workers, are in need of renovation. Do we have the political will for an overhaul?

Interview by Heather Shayne Blakeslee

We’re awash in news accounts of workplace sexual harassment, the “fight for $15,” cities vying for the Amazon HQ2 bid, and Congress debating which public policies they claim will help “regular” Americans. Grid asked Peter Cappelli, management professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, his thoughts about what we can do to fix some of our broken systems.

You’ve written a lot about workplace culture. Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and the late Roger Ailes are out. Uber’s Travis Kalanick, out. Harvey Weinstein, out. It seems as though every day there’s another report of sexual harassment. Do you think there will be a sea change?
PC: I think so. There already was, I think, a pretty big change in the big corporations. I don’t think there is a lot of explicit sexual harassment going on now in the big corporations. They’re really sensitive to it in the HR side, the complaint side. They know it’s bad for PR, they know the government has been watching them—the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and the Department of Labor—and they don’t tolerate it.

You think about all of these revelations that you’ve just mentioned, every one of them is in organizations where individuals can be like personal dictators—the founder, right—at these small companies which suddenly get rich, like Silicon Valley, or even Amazon. I think it will be a big change in those companies. You’re not going to see any difference at GE or IBM or Procter & Gamble or any of those folks, but you’re going to start seeing it in these smaller companies where the boss, the founder, sets these quirky, dysfunctional cultures.

Philadelphia is among the cities bidding for the new Amazon headquarters, which the company says could bring in 50,000 jobs. Two years ago, The New York Times did an exposé on what was characterized as a brutal and cutthroat culture. Is that picture accurate, and, if so, what has been done to correct it?

PC: I don’t know much, independently, from Amazon—although I do know that they haven’t done an awful lot, other than [CEO] Jeff Bezos saying, “No, it’s not [like that].” I haven’t seen much of anybody say it’s not true. I guess, for Philadelphia, there’s kind of a “so what?” issue. For one thing, it’s not clear what a headquarters away from the real headquarters is. Duplicate headquarters would just be crazy expensive and complicated. So I suspect that they’ll have an administrative center, and I don’t think that has to operate the way things do at an actual headquarters, where the boss is there and everybody’s competing for the boss’ attention and it still feels kind of like a startup. They do have that reputation—but it is a reputation at the headquarters.

Some workers aren’t getting by even while juggling multiple jobs. Will Pennsylvania or Philadelphia move toward a $15 minimum wage?
PC: We know across the country, cities tend to be Democratic; states are much more likely to be Republican. So you see the cities moving much more aggressively in this direction than the states. The thing you worry about is: If you raise the minimum wage, are you going to eliminate a lot of jobs at that level? The [research] is that small movements in the minimum wage don’t seem to have much effect on jobs. But there are recent studies out of Seattle, where they jumped the minimum wage a lot very quickly, and that did seem to reduce jobs at the low end. But part of that is this territorial problem: If you’re raising the minimum wage in a country, employers can’t do very much to get around it; if you raise it in a city, all they have to do is step over the border to the county—go over City Line Avenue or its equivalent. So you might see some of that going on, which would hurt jobs. I think what we know is: Gradual doesn’t seem to have much effect on jobs; rapid and big has an effect, especially if one jurisdiction is trying to do it and the ones around it are not.

Do you have a sense of what incremental would be? Pennsylvania’s (and Philadelphia’s) minimum wage is $7.25. What if we wanted to bring it up to $15?
PC: If it doubled in a period of tight labor markets, where wages were going up anyway, and it doubled over 10 years or something, it might not matter that much. If you’re trying to do a doubling in five years, that’s a pretty big move. I’m pretty sure there will be jobs lost in a move that big.

Is there one issue, program or approach at the federal level that you think would make things better for the average American?
PC: I don’t see anything being done that’s going to help the average worker.

[Tax policy reforms at the federal level] look like they’re going to be quite regressive, so that more of the cuts disproportionately go to rich people. The problem with that is that the states and local governments end up picking up the slack, and so they’ve got to raise taxes, and it ends up being worse for people who don’t have as much money, because the tax burden shifts away from the richer folks to everybody else. So there’s nothing on the policy agenda that is going to be any better
for workers. 

Even the immigration thing—illegal immigration, which is hard for anybody to support—it’s been declining sharply anyway, even before President Trump came in, because Mexico’s been doing better. A lot of them have gone home, because opportunities there are better and the U.S. economy has been in lousy shape for jobs for the last eight years or so.

Is there anything Congress could consider that you think would be good for workers?
PC: Policies that make it easier on families would be a good thing, for sure. Some of that is college costs, college loans, all that kind of stuff. Regulation of colleges could be better, particularly those that are predatory.

Keeping the minimum wage from eroding helps, because if you don’t raise it with inflation it starts to go down. Enforcing employment laws that exist, which tends to go down when Republicans are in office, goes up when Democrats are in office. That would be helpful. 

And if they had actually done this infrastructure investment—that was the one thing everybody on both sides thought made sense—that would be really important, I think, for everybody in the country, but especially for poorer people... Richer people don’t really need the infrastructure so much, especially the billionaire class. They fly in their own planes, they don’t drive very much, they don’t send their kids to public schools, any of that stuff. They don’t really need government very much, but everybody else does. Public services and public buildings and infrastructure—that would make everybody’s life better.

What's in a Name?

Don’t be fooled by stores with a global supply chain that claim to be ‘farmers markets’

By Danie Greenwell

Walk into a supermarket and you will find yourself caught up in a whirl of “local,” “organic” and “farm fresh” merchandising. These words are intended to make us feel better about our purchases, but it is clear they have lost meaning.

Shifts in meaning, grammar and syntax are to be expected, but words are also intentionally misused by marketers to sell products. There was a point when the term “local food” had a clear(ish) definition: It was food grown on small, family owned farms and transported short distances by the farmers or by small distributors who kept the growers’ best interests in mind. 

Bypassing large corporations meant farmers saw a greater share of the proceeds, which allowed for the preservation of family farmland and a system that strengthened the local economy.

But once “local food” became popular, marketers from huge frozen-food companies with global supply chains wanted in, and the market was flooded with false advertising. Suddenly, those of us who spent years promoting “local” found ourselves on the defensive—we had to explain why our food is different, because the phrase that started the movement had been devalued.

Another phrase being devalued is “farmers market.” According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a farmers market is “two or more farmer-producers that sell their own agricultural products directly to the general public at a fixed location, which includes fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, dairy products and grains.” According to state law in Maine, “‘farmers market’ means a building, structure or place used by two or more farmers for the direct sale of farm and food products to consumers.” The statute includes a list of agricultural categories. Sadly, we have no such legal protection for farmers in Pennsylvania, Delaware or New Jersey.

In Philadelphia, a farmers market could be a weekly outdoor market that fits the current USDA definition, the 9th Street Italian Market, the Reading Terminal Market, an organic grocery store or even a truck parked on the side of the road filled with boxes of produce grown in South America.

You may ask why it is important that farmers markets remain producer-only markets. 

Not doing so means that customers have no idea where their food was grown, the farmers have not been paid a fair value for their products and the products are of lower quality. To travel thousands of miles, products are picked unripe and ripened artificially. They pass through multiple hands and risk contamination at each handling point. Nutrients and vitamins are lost during shipment and storage. 

These foods are more healthful than heavily processed ones, but companies should promote their produce without devaluing the term “farmers market.”

There will soon be a new chain grocery store in South Philadelphia. The store’s title inaccurately uses the term “farmers market.” There are no farmers at the store, and the people selling food were not involved in its production. And this store is not the only one appropriating the term for its own benefit. In my research, I found several regional markets and bazaars with the name “farmers market” in their title that had few or no farmers.

Informed consumers realize stores that use “farmers market” in their branding misrepresent their commitment to farmers. But there are plenty of shoppers who do not. Farm to City’s efforts to promote farmers markets as lucrative venues for growers have been devalued to create more profits for companies that do not give farmers ethical prices for their products. In turn, farmers currently making income to support their families and maintain their farmland may lose that ability if real farmers markets go under.

There are actions you can take to make changes. Start by contacting companies that inaccurately label themselves farmers markets and have them explain why they are engaging in false advertising. You can also contact local and state representatives and ask for a statute to protect the term. Educating yourself is also key: Learn phrases related to the local food movement and insist on their accurate use. Finally, shop at a real farmers market and meet the people who grow the food you feed to your family.

The more you shop at the farmers market, the easier it is to pick out who is honestly selling you locally grown food from small family farms, and who is simply trying to cash in on the local food movement.

Danie Greenwell works with Farm to City, a business whose mission is to “unite communities, families and farmers year-round through good, locally grown food.”

The Storm

Pondering Philadelphia’s resilience in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

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By Sam Boden

Every day, I walk the cement patchwork of the city’s streets and sidewalks, navigating the bumps and cracks of the well-worn roads that make up our neighborhoods. I have seen the ways water gathers in the streets after a heavy rain and, through working with the Philadelphia Water Department, witnessed firsthand how Philadelphia has been managing stormwater with green spaces. I’m proud to be part of the city’s work.

Watching the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, in which America’s fourth-largest city was left underwater, closely followed by devastation in Florida from Hurricane Irma, I was struck by just how precarious our urban situation is—how quickly a storm becomes a flood, and a flood becomes a catastrophe.

I have always viewed cities as bastions of power and success; fortresses that are not vulnerable to the elements. Of course, there is always a threat from extreme weather—cities are not immune to wind and water—but I have always believed in the oft-touted “resilience” of these cities. I always assumed that they were prepared to weather the worst storms.

It was not until recently that I came to terms with the fragility of our urban ecosystems: We are as vulnerable in our wood and concrete and glass structures as any other creature is in their den. The photos of Houston’s famed sprawl returned overnight into an urban delta, entire island communities flattened, and the Southeast U.S. overwhelmed by storm surge should remind all of us that there is no real distinction between the “natural” and “built” environments—all are subject to the same forces, standing on the same earth. And the earth is changing.

As a young person, just starting my career, I am inheriting a new world—one defined by more droughts, storms and heat than my ancestors, and those changes have multiplied previous threats and upended our models and predictions. While debates rage in governments around the world about the costs of adaptation and mitigation, I am left wondering: How do we move forward in the face of such an alarming future?

It’s tempting to play the blame game, to accuse everyone else of ignorance about the causes of climate change. But we have all, through our consumption habits, played a role—we’ve collectively allowed for the devastation of cities like Houston and states like Florida.

I cherish the stories of people who recognize the threats from climate change and realize that the onus is on them—and all of us—to fight back and prepare well. I have faith in the power of voices raised together to change course, and I find hope in the engagement of others in my generation.

Supporting the use of green infrastructure for managing stormwater, attending local planning meetings, encouraging decision makers to act responsibly and changing our own behavior are some of the ways that we can effect change. Watching the recent hurricanes unfold was a wake up call for me, and I desperately hope it was for others. Our days of sleepwalking through our current reality should be over. The ability to safely traverse our city’s streets depends on it.

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Sam Boden is an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Philadelphia Water Department, working on its green infrastructure initiative, Green City, Clean Waters.

The Other Sharing Economy

Creatives, wealthy homeowners and anchor institutions in liberal cities need to do more to share the wealth

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Interview by Heather Shayne Blakeslee

Richard Florida’s 2002 book, “The Rise of the Creative Class,” chronicled how cities could redevelop their cores by attracting knowledge workers—a rising tide that would lift all boats. But instead of gains trickling down to blue collar and service sector workers, rising housing costs only deepened inequality. “The New Urban Crisis” looks at a decade’s worth of global data to provide a roadmap for cities like Philadelphia that stand on the precipice of either deepening or demolishing structural inequality. 


What was the main premise behind “The Rise of the Creative Class”?
RF: Throughout most of my life, people were moving from the cities to the suburbs. I grew up in Newark, New Jersey, so the city was—even more so than Philadelphia—most commensurate with white flight, the industrialization decline and decay. Beginning in the 1990s, we could begin to see… that there was a group of people, who mainly work with their minds, professionals in management, in business, education and law, high-tech people who were coming back to cities—and of course the artists, musicians, designers—that was about a third of the workforce. And the rise of this group of people, from less than 10 percent of the workforce before 1950 to more than a third of the workforce, was creating a new way of living, a new way of working and a new kind of demand for cities. 

People ask me, “Well, what did you get wrong?” and I would say what I got wrong is that I really underpredicted the extent and vigor of the urban revival. Philadelphia is the best case of this in the world. From 2000 to now is when the urban revival picks up real vigor, and it really has been astounding—both for good and bad.

What should a city like Philadelphia be wary of as it hatches further plans for development?
RF: Look, Philadelphia isn’t in the straits of New York or LA or San Francisco, but… it has a rising level of inequality, it has a rising level of economic and social segregation, and it’s becoming less affordable. What I said to the leadership of your city is, “You gotta come to grips with this now, and you’re lucky because you’ve seen the warning signs of New York and San Francisco and London and LA and Washington, D.C., and Boston. But boy, oh, boy, you’ve gotta be very proactive.” 

Because you’re the place people are coming to now, right?: “New York’s a wonderful place, but I can’t have the life I want there.” Philadelphia’s close, you have this gift of location, gift of great airport, gift of history, gift of train connectivity. … You are a place people want to be. 

You’re going to have to build more housing, for sure, to renovate more housing, but that’s not enough. You’re going to have to double down and build affordable housing. And then, of course, you have good transit, but really investing in upgrading that transit. If we’re going to build a new middle class that can afford things, we’ve got to make these bad service jobs better—family supporting jobs. We did it with manufacturing work 100 years ago; we now can do it today with these jobs.

You write that it’s really landlords and wealthy homeowners, not corporations, that are accruing the most economic benefit in our cities, and you recast NIMBY homeowners as “the new urban Luddites.” 
RF: The “new urban crisis” is really the fundamental crisis of our time because the same force that drives our innovation and progress, of greater tolerance and greater civilization—all the good things—economic and social progress, this clustering of people and talent and knowledge and all sorts of diversity in cities. … That’s the same thing that carves the deep divides in our society and separates us.

The most advantaged of us—the most advantaged companies, the most advantaged people, the wealthiest people—can buy into these locations; others get shoved to the side. There’s only so much land to go around. So, what happens, then, is that these wealthy landowners, real estate people, but also homeowners, want to protect that asset. So what do they do? Instead of acting in the interest of the city or society, they say, “No, no no, I don’t want a new condominium tower in my neighborhood. I don’t want more development. I want to protect my pristine, historical, lovely neighborhood.” That’s why I call them the new urban Luddites: It not only makes housing less affordable, it holds back the very economic and social progress that makes cities great.

We can add density by doing infill development, we can add density on top, we don’t have to knock down historic buildings, we don’t have to go up 50 stories; we can add four stories on top, we can set it back. … I think it’s not about deregulating land use and getting rid of this stuff and building just big towers. It’s about building great neighborhoods with more density, and there’s a lot of room to do that.

Many people in Philadelphia live in deep poverty, and they are essentially trapped in their own neighborhoods. 
RF: Through all the neighborhoods surrounding the campus area in West Philadelphia, you see it. You see a knowledge-based district that’s been renovated, and then you see—like in many cities—poverty that looks like third-world conditions. The disturbing and the liberating part of this is, for most of my life we thought the federal government would swoop in and solve this problem, whether that was President Clinton or President Obama—or President Clinton, again. With the rise of Donald Trump and this conservative swing, I think the message has come through: No one at the federal government is going to solve this. 

We’re going to have to solve it the same way we rebuilt Philadelphia—we did it locally. The federal government didn’t rebuild Philadelphia. Neighborhood groups did it, community groups, university leaders. But it needs a real commitment. Dealing with this concentrated poverty means a full-bore strategy for better education, better skill development and, I think most importantly, better connection to economic opportunities in the service sector. 

It’s about giving people living-wage work.
RF: One of the things that really worries me is that urbanists have not thought enough about how the key to really making an inclusive city is to make better work for the half of us—think about that: the half of Philadelphians who toil in these low-wage, precarious service jobs… disproportionately women, disproportionately Hispanic, Latino and African-American. It’s just tragic.

I was reminded at a panel by Angel Rodriguez, formerly of Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, that the median incomes in the neighborhood they work in are $5,000 to $15,000 a year. 
RF: The creative class really has to grow up and say, “Look, we’re going to pay more. We are going to pay the people we get our food from more. We’re going to pay more for that food so that they make more. We’re going to pay more if we want to have personal service, or someone to come in to keep our homes… We’re going to make sure that people have a family-supporting living wage.” I think the burden there is on this creative class to say, “We don’t want to run the service class into the ground, and we can share, in a way, by paying higher prices.” I think it could be a movement which is like “Made in USA”: The people who work in [a] company are being paid decently, and that’s why I buy that product.

In Philadelphia, you’ve had these great anchor institutions that have driven your urban turnaround: universities, hospitals, real estate developers, and you can even consider high-tech companies like Amazon or Google to be anchor institutions. I think they have to belly-up to this, too. Our universities pay their professors great, but their service workers are often nonunionized and make minimum wage. Some universities provide affordable housing, or Stanford University provides mortgage subsidies to their professors. Their service workers, who live who knows where, commute up to an hour each way. 

When we invite companies to come to our cities and provide them with tax abatements, why not reinforce this and say, “It’s not only about paying your high-tech workers a great wage and bringing creative-class work; it’s about creating good jobs for service workers, and we’re going to make you part of that. You’ll be part of our inclusionary prosperity.”

If real estate developers are going to start to develop in our cities, some people are saying they’re going to have affordable housing, but what about making sure they select retail anchor tenants in their buildings [who] pay workers well? And that can be an offset for greater density. I think there are a lot of ways to think about involving anchor institutions in more inclusive prosperity.

Do you think Philadelphia has an opportunity that other cities don’t? 
RF: I think Philadelphia’s going to be a case study in how to do this. …  You mentioned urban schools that are still quite problematic, the legacy of poverty and disadvantage that is very deep, a legacy of racial and economic segregation that remains. Those are deep problems, but I do think Philadelphia is going to make it. If we look to 2030 or 2035, I think Philadelphia should look like a place that’s more inclusive and more democratic and more community based. I really do. 

Climate Change’s 900 Pound Gorilla

Energy efficiency remains a giant opportunity for building resilient cities

Illustration: James Heimer

Illustration: James Heimer

By Alex Dews

Over the past 15 years, the Philadelphia region has been deeply involved in a national movement to change everything about the building industry: how buildings are designed, built, operated, demolished, disposed of and rebuilt. “Green building” is now in the mainstream, and this greater emphasis on efficiency and healthier materials has resulted in tangible benefits ranging from cost savings to improved occupant health. 

But it is far more important to acknowledge that progress to create a more sustainable built environment has been incremental. 

In the next 15 years, progress needs to be exponential in order to meaningfully address local goals for affordability, health and climate resiliency. The recent, historic devastation caused by severe weather, including Hurricanes Harvey and Irma reminds us that buildings are our only refuge from the increasingly frequent destructive events that accompany a changing climate. They are also the primary source of carbon emissions that cause climate change. To adapt and survive, we need better buildings.

The Kenney administration has committed to work to reducing carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050, in keeping with the Paris Climate Accord and the commitments of many other global cities. The city’s sustainability and energy offices released some preliminary findings this summer on several potential pathways to reach this ambitious goal, and the results are eye-opening; a full Citywide Energy Vision will be released later in the year. 

For example, we could focus on putting solar panels on most of the rooftops in Philadelphia (effectively adding 40 megawatts, or 13 Lincoln Financial Field-sized solar projects, every year for the next 33 years). If that were possible, the result would be a meager 4 percent reduction in carbon emissions.

The same city analysis shows that maximizing energy efficiency would yield a 36 percent emissions reduction by 2050. This significant reduction potential in this category area is due in part to the fact that Philadelphia has issued more than 10,800 building permits since 2014, and most of these projects are using an outdated building code that is at least 30 percent less efficient than what all of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states use. That’s a huge missed opportunity with a simple solution, but it’s politically elusive: Pennsylvania’s Uniform Construction Code requires all municipalities to adopt the state’s building codes, and that reality is compounded by the cumbersome process by which the unelected Review and Advisory Committee (RAC) adopts new code standard. As a result, Philadelphia, unfortunately, adheres to 2009 ICC codes. 

But on the bright side, solutions abound: Using existing technologies while strengthening building codes and incentives that encourage above-code certifications such as LEED, passive house and the Living Building Challenge can help to significantly reduce emissions. Passive house buildings—which use 80 percent less energy for heating than code-compliant buildings—are popping up all over the state, primarily in the affordable housing sector. Meanwhile, City Hall and its municipal “quad-plex” neighbors have gone from energy hogs to Energy Star buildings by investing a modest portion of the city’s annual energy spend on simple conservation measures and improved operations.

We can (and should!) have a robust debate about optimal strategies to achieve the deep carbon reductions that will equitably distribute economic impacts and enable a livable future. But while we’re doing that, we already know that energy efficiency will be a huge part of the eventual solution, and that it is always a sound investment. That’s why it should be the top priority for climate adaptation at the local scale.

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Alex Dews is the executive director of the Delaware Valley Green Building Council.

We’re excellent collaborators, but what are we building?

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Walls and Windows

by Heather Shayne Blakeslee

We’ve long debated what makes us human. But as our understanding of other species becomes richer and more complex, brick by brick we’re dismantling the imaginary wall that separates us from the natural world. 

We’ve learned that we are not the only species to have verbal language (whales), emotions (cows) or self-awareness (magpies). Other species use medicine (sheep), build housing (beavers), solve math problems (dogs), have social rules and are offended by a lack of fairness (chimpanzees), the latter of which we’ve attributed to a moral compass in our species, but it turns out to be basic biology. Not all species share these traits, of course—but even one other distant relative who also mourns their dead (such as elephants) or performs an activity out of sheer joy (such as dolphins) should help unite us with our fellow Earth dwellers. 

We do hold the distinction of being best equipped to dominate whatever habitat we’ve claimed. According to the venerable biologist E.O. Wilson, Homo sapiens exist alongside a dozen or so other species—among the millions on the planet—that have been so successful. Our brethren include ants, termites and a handful of marine species. 

In his book “The Meaning of Human Existence,” Wilson gives us a window into what makes this subgroup special: Each of these super species nests, and also cooperates within a societal structure. If you think about the similarities between a city and an ant colony, you will start to visualize our kinship. We have collectively decided to make a go of it in certain places that are hospitable to our survival and then divided up our labor and resources—in the case of humans, not exactly evenly. 

There are massive differences among these species, of course. Our ability to reason is more advanced, as is our ability to communicate complex abstract concepts. Termites can build subterranean nests, arboreal nests and nest towers that are 30-feet high—but they’ll never have Paris. 

But as with any trait that gives you advantage, it can also be your downfall. Too good at cooperating and at building structures? You may think that there are no limits—that an unlimited number of you can live anywhere on the planet. 

But we’re building houses of cards: We continue to cover up our swamplands with concrete, build houses next to the ocean, and live in climates where extreme heat or extreme cold require extreme amounts of fuel to keep us alive. In doing so, we pump more carbon into the atmosphere, exacerbating the climate change that has taken aim at the houses we’ve built on sand.  

Our perceptions of safety and abundance are comforting but fanciful notions. Perhaps what makes us human is our ability to say, “It’s fine!” as the house falls down. But that’s getting harder to do as the hurricanes grow more destructive, as each drought brings more political destabilization and as each ensuing refugee crisis grows more volatile and heartrending. We can see more clearly that we’ve altered the planet’s chemistry—and that we are losing people and whole cultures as a result. 

We have tried forever, in both spirit and practice, to wall ourselves off from nature, and each other. How long we continue to do so will be the window through which future humans take the measure of our species.

The time is here to use our abilities in the service of better city planning that takes into account social equity and the limits of place, for better building codes that help us mitigate and adapt to climate change, and for energy-efficient design that keeps carbon emissions to a minimum—all initiatives underway in Philadelphia. We are up for the challenge. We must be.

The Buying Game

‘Shop Local’ isn’t just a slogan. Our survival depends on it.

Illustration by Jameela Wahlgren

Illustration by Jameela Wahlgren

Question: Why should I “Buy Fresh, Buy Local”?

The Right Question: What is a local economy, anyway?

Most of us tend to think of “the economy” as the process of exchanging our money for goods and services, and of receiving wages for our labor, which gets plowed back into buying more goods and services. 

We might imagine this as two circles running in opposite directions—money circles one way, goods and services the other way—and often we think of them as having equal value. But in our modern industrial human economy, only money, the medium of exchange, actually cycles. 

The goods that come into our economy are on a one-way, generally very rapid, trip from extraction from nature, processing into something we want (perhaps even something we need) to disposal in a landfill or incinerator. Our large economy is geared toward making that trip faster and faster, and toward consuming more and more. Whether that makes us healthier or happier is an idea we’ve explored in other columns.

Note “extraction from nature” above. The human economy is only a small part of the global natural economy, which provides us most of our critical needs—air, water and a livable climate outside of the human, money-based economy. The natural economy works very differently. All material resources are continuously recycled, and energy is on a one-way trip—it arrives in very concentrated form from the sun to our planet, where it drives both organic and atmospheric processes, and is eventually dissipated back into space, so diluted as to be incapable of further work. 

When we think of “local economy” we generally mean exchanges that begin and end with the material resources and money never leaving a geographical region. One hundred and fifty years ago, our local economy was the dominant economic unit. Most of Philadelphia’s food and other material resources came from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. However, the explosion ofpetroleum-powered transportation has, for the moment, integrated economies over vast regions. Nevertheless, taking steps to rebuild and strengthen our presently minuscule local economies is the best investment we can make in a secure future, when the energy that powers the global economy wanes.

How do we do that?

The most fundamental way is by supporting our local food economy. That’s why I buy 90 percent of my vegetables, fruit, dairy and meat products from producers in southeastern Pennsylvania, in addition to what grows in my garden, and why flour, pasta and apple juice are about the most highly processed foods I buy. I can find Pennsylvania flour for my bread, but for rice, spice and the occasional orange or date, I have to get transcontinental. 

All of the farms that produce this food use gasoline- or diesel-powered equipmentand spend a significant chunk of their budgets on equipment and technology that comes from all over the world. The electricity running their freezers and coolers comes from a grid that covers several states. Many of those purchases are made in stores that survive by selling highly processed goods from all over the world, such as figs from Turkey and pasta from Italy. (Likely made with wheat imported from the U.S.) Still, my practices reinforce loops, create jobs, reduce energy consumption and preserve necessary skills in our region. Local thrift stores are my source whenever possible for clothes and household items, because that also recycles goods and money within the area, slowing down the conveyor belt of goods on their way from a Chinese factory to a landfill or incinerator in Pennsylvania. (I would be ecstatic if the thrift store had to close because no one was discarding still usable items, but that’s a good ways off.)  And, of course, Philadelphia has wonderful libraries and used book stores.

I pay cash at these local merchants. The cornerstone of the global economy is the financial sector, and to the extent we minimize our transactions with them, the better.  (No, my savings are not in my mattress, they are in a credit union, whose participation in the global economy is radically circumscribed by its nonprofit status and rules of operation.) 

Supporting our local economy is about accepting the limits of the resources and energy available to us, challenging the prevailing idea that we are entitled to whatever we want if we can afford it. It means that I won’t have another strawberry or asparagus spear till next spring, and I am gorging on peaches because they will only be around another month or so… but then the apples start!  

This will be the last regular “The Right Question” for the time being. I thank Grid for the opportunity to have written this column, congratulate the magazine on its 100th issue and stand in anticipation of many more. I hope you have found these columns challenging and stimulating. I would be glad to discuss what I have written and to receive any feedback you might like to share via email. Thank you for reading.

Jerry Silberman is a retired union organizer who now devotes his time to negotiating a resilient future for all of us. He can be reached at ajs805phila@verizon.net.

Art Galleries:
 The Original Instagram

A West Philly high school student reflects on how we curate our lives

Illustration by James Heimer

Illustration by James Heimer

By Cameron Swann

The first time I realized that I could make my world beautiful was during a summer program from The School of the New York Times, where I spent two weeks looking at how the curation of art affects how we perceive the art itself. My teacher, Anthony Titus, taught me a lot during those two weeks, but one thing he said stood out: Everything is curated. 

That really resonated with me, because in our society today we are so connected to social media—we see things, whether they are Facebook feeds or the walls of a gallery, in the way others want us to perceive the images. We are all trying to make our lives seem beautiful and interesting, even when they are not. I’d take pictures at events that would never happen again, places I wasn’t sure I would be able to visit again, things that I wanted to remember and brag about to the people I’d meet. 

Instagram in particular, with its emphasis on pictures and not text, is curated, and people usually only take pictures of the aspects of life they think others will deem beautiful and opulent. When I was reflecting on that fact, I thought of ways to turn my daily life into something beautiful, worth showing. I kept thinking I had to memorialize a moment I’d only do once in my life. I thought the ordinary and routine in my life couldn’t be considered beautiful—until I experienced the Whitney Museum of American Art, also in New York City. 

At the Whitney, the architecture and exhibits create a light-hearted and bright atmosphere that makes both the art and surrounding neighborhood look picturesque. The exhibit where I found the most beauty in the ordinary was “Where We Are,” which took pieces from the Whitney’s collection to show American lives from 1900 to 1960. It was broken up into sections by stanzas from the W. H. Auden poem “September 1, 1939.”

The poem and artwork showed everyday life and how things change dramatically whether you view an experience closely or at a distance. I found myself looking at a historical vantage point at the exhibit’s pieces about daily life from the Great Depression and World War II—when life wasn’t at its finest and happiest. And yet, there were beautiful creations from people documenting everyday lives, lives that were neither beautiful nor opulent in the way we measure on Instagram. One painting that stands out was “Gettin’ Religion” by Archibald J. Motley Jr.: It’s a colorful image of people in Harlem going home after a night on the town, dancing and playing music as others look on under the beautiful blue light of the moon. 

It made me realize that in the turmoil and dismay of our lives today, we can still find the artistic in everyday moments, even in the dirty work of society. I plan to create beauty and happiness by taking photographs of the mundane—I hope others will create their own beauty as well.

Cameron Swann is a student at West Philadelphia’s Workshop School.

Blind Justice?

Reckoning with our past and future requires us to open our eyes

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by Heather Shayne Blakeslee

The images are terrifying: white civilian men armed with semi-automatic rifles, staking out ground around Justice Park in Charlottesville in August. It’s terrifying, but not surprising in its entitlement; it’s also not surprising that one woman died and many more were injured when the visual violence quickly evolved, as it does, into bodily carnage. 

The park was once named Jackson Park, after the equestrian statue of Confederate Gen.“Stonewall” Jackson that serves as the focal point of this public space, lined with benches and manicured flower beds underneath mature trees. The land was bequeathed in 1919 by Paul Goodloe McIntire, whose father served as mayor of Charlottesville when the slave trade was still supporting our national economy. 

According to the Charlottesville-based C-Ville Weekly, the statue was donated in 1924, “a time when Ku Klux Klan membership was at its peak,” and the park was one of four donated by McIntire—of note is that one other was designated for whites only, and another specifically for use by blacks. 

The history of Justice Park, colored now with both past atrocity and present tragedy, is a microcosm of our larger national history: Who owned and accessed what places, spaces and land; who owned the housing; and, most importantly, who owned whom. As scholar Carolyn Finney explores in her book “Black Faces, White Spaces,” the places we pass by every day, and those distant reserves we must travel to for scenic vistas and quiet contemplation, are often “public” in name only, cordoned off by the concrete measures of distance and capital, as well as harder to quantify, but no less real, cultural bias and institutional racism. 

It doesn’t seem a question that a towering figure of the Confederate army looking down upon park-goers is a not-so-subtle reminder of who is welcome, and who is not, given that no counter narrative or iconography balances out the power. It is also risible to think that armed black men would be allowed to peaceably assemble—if one can peaceably assemble while toting a semi-automatic weapon—in the same way.

Recognizing and rectifying our racial and cultural divide is in and of itself a massive undertaking, a reconstruction project that will go on for many more generations, and now we have a global crisis laid on top of and intertwined with the changing power structures within our borders: At this particular moment in time, both the cultural and physical temperature are rising. 

These nefarious manmade crises—catastrophic climate change and ongoing racial animosity—should be our top priorities to reckon with as a country. Lives are at stake. 

It is therefore undeniably dangerous that many of our countrymen refuse to recognize either as a problem, willfully ignoring thermometers, history and the sights and sounds around them on a daily basis—including the hateful rhetoric coming directly from the current occupier of the White House, who once said that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue in New York and still win the presidency. (Need he take up actual arms on the lawn of the White House or ask for the nuclear codes for Congress to cut short his dangerous and ignoble presidency?) 

We must confront head on the hard questions of who owned and owns the life-giving—and capital-generating—land and water, and also whether that land, water and air will support us. Any of us.

We, the people, all need clean water to drink, healthy food to eat and an economy not subsidized by fossil fuels. We all breathe the same invisible air, which most of us take for granted. But, just as with making visible our history of slavery and systematic oppression, it is critical to our future to recognize what is right in front of us. We do otherwise at the price of our collective peril.

Heather Shayne Blakeslee
     Editor-in-Chief
heather@gridphilly.com

Publisher's Letter: Thank You, A Hundred Times Over

Reflecting on the progress we have made

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by Alex Mulcahy

We spend so much time plotting and planning what’s next, but on the cusp of our 100th issue, I finally took the time to look back at Grid

Flipping through magazines, preserved in plastic sheaths like prized baseball cards from my youth, was a joy. There in our pages are so many people who became my friends. The day after the presidential election, when I burst into tears at the Reading Terminal Market, there was photographer JJ Tiziou, one of the first 10 subscribers to Grid, to give me a hug and words of comfort. 

I’ve shared a number of lunches and thoughtful conversations with subscriber number one, Jerry Silberman, who has written the “Right Question” column. This is his last scheduled story, but I know he won’t stray too far from the Grid family. In the office next to mine is Grid’s Editor-in-Chief Heather Blakeslee, also one of the first 10 subscribers. I’ll stop naming names right here because it would be impossible to list the close friends I’ve made—and the inspiring people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet—by working on this magazine.

But even without a front-row seat, I’d still feel aglow reading the wonderful stories that populate our pages. It’s truly an antidote to the onslaught of disturbing and negative news, which is so ubiquitous and menacing that it has seeped into our pages. Grid was designed to be uplifting, and to give hope, including to me, and I believe that while we confront the pressing issues of the day, we remain optimistic.

Looking back at all of the changes documented in our first 100 issues, I think our optimism is justified. There’s now a permanent Office of Sustainability in our city government. Inside this issue is a document that outlines the city’s plan to commit to zero waste by 2035. That’s pretty radical.

As mentioned in our “Made in Philly” section this month, there is more local food in our restaurants than ever, and the distribution channels for that food have never been stronger.

Revolution Recovery, perhaps the country’s best recycler for construction and demolition waste, has opened a second location in New Castle, Delaware, and Bennett Compost now processes more than one million pounds of organic waste annually.

The bike share system that we wrote about in our first issue in September of 2008 has arrived and is a stunning success. Bike lanes have proliferated throughout the city, and more progress is sure to follow.

Our Green Cities, Clean Waters plan is improving the quality and health of our
rivers and reducing flooding with logic that involves good green design, rather than just making pipes bigger.

Those are some of the bigger stories, but there are plenty of others worthy of attention. The Feed the Barrel program, which began as an oil recycling program in the city’s Indonesian community, has now been adopted by Weavers Way Co-op. The Workshop School, the innovative, project-based school in West Philly, was launched after the unprecedented success of the Hybrid-X car and after-school program (our back page essay this month is written by one of their students). Made Studios, a clothing-based makerspace, has turned into a school, the grass-fed meat at Wyebrook Farm is now available at La DiVisa in the Reading Terminal Market… The list goes on.

Of course, much work remains, but the idea behind Grid is to show readers that good things are happening right now in our city: that people—people just like you—have innovative ideas that are changing the city and the world for the better. The hope is that their example inspires you to take action, to commit to your dream project, or to join or support a group or a cause you believe in. It’s an invitation to join the party.

It’s also an invitation to examine how we live on a day-to-day basis. Whether it’s a rundown on where to get the best used clothes, or instruction on cooking that strange vegetable in your CSA, or encouragement to explore the city on your bike, our intention is always to make consumption more mindful, while simultaneously deepening connections to our neighbors.

The core beliefs of the magazine have been, and are, that everyone deserves clean air, clean water, healthy food, health care, housing and education. One hundred issues later, that remains true.

A heartfelt “thank you” to all the talented writers, editors, photographers, illustrators and designers who have worked so hard on this magazine. It’s amazing how much talent is in this city. Thank you to the advertisers and the subscribers who have made this magazine possible. We’re grateful for the first 100 issues, and now we will turn our gaze forward, for the next 100.

Alex Mulcahy, Publisher

alex@gridphilly.com