Blogs > October 2012

Growing “Up”


Contributed by Rachel Stuhler


As Mark Twain once wrote, “Buy land, they’re not making it anymore.” As the world population turns the dial to seven billion inhabitants, it’s true that open space is one hot commodity. Farming and raising livestock already claims roughly fifty percent of the world’s available land mass and scientists are concerned about what this means for our increasingly crowded globe. But using the model of skyscrapers – if you can’t build out, build UP - enterprising growers have created vertical hydroponic systems that not only conserve space, but also don’t use up any existing arable land.

Vertical farming may sound like a new idea, but “skyscraper” homesteads and farms were first bandied about in a Life Magazine issue from 1909 and the phrase itself was coined in 1915 by Gilbert Ellis Bailey. In those days, imagining farms stacked one atop another was more of a Utopian fantasy, not much different than Disneyland’s Carousel of Progress with a typical family living under the sea or on the moon. A century later, while the wildest imaginations of men may not have gotten everything right, they’ve still done an astonishing job of predicting the future.

To understand these new systems, we first need to grasp how hydroponics works. Plants grown under these conditions do need light and water, just as any other, but there’s no soil involved, the plants instead taking root in “mineral nutrient solutions” like gravel or mineral wool. So while they may not be making any more land, growing food with hydroponics means that we don’t need to. But there’s still the problem of space, how to maximize the amount that can be grown in a finite area. That’s where vertical hydroponics comes in.

These skyscrapers of farming can use up to 75% less space for the same yield as a traditional farm, with other added benefits. While open-air crops are always at the mercy of the weather, be it too rainy or too dry (we’ve all read about the disastrous Dust Bowl), plants grown hydroponically exist in a more climate-controlled environment. And as they’re grouped together, it’s easier for the growers to keep an eye on each section than if they were spread out over endless acres. 

As with any technology, there are drawbacks, such as how much extra energy it takes to grow hydroponic plants (artificial light, different fertilizers) and the limited number of crops that can be grown together. But with the world space constraints, scientists are making advancements every year in vertical farming, so that maybe one day, feeding the global population will be as easy as transporting food from the hundredth floor. 



Posted: 10/28/2012 5:20:22 PM by Heather Wallace | with 0 comments

Creating a Big Life in Small Spaces


Contributed by Shelley Miller, President, NewGround PR & Marketing


A decade ago, new homes were growing in size, people wanting to stretch out in more square footage. Big kitchens and big bathrooms were the main selling points in homes and condos. Fast forward to 2012 and a quiet home revolution is occurring – a micro revolution. All across the globe, people are saying goodbye to rambling houses and hello to micro living structures ranging from 100 to 300 square feet. Your first thought might be about what these people are giving up; but in most cases, they’ll tell you instead what they’ve gained, for themselves and for the environment.

The most obvious benefit to living in a smaller space is financial. These mini-homes start as low as ten thousand dollars and rarely cost more than seventy, meaning that many people don’t even have a monthly mortgage payment. Given their tiny size, very little acreage is required to create a true homestead in suburban communities, complete with a yard and porch. And in larger cities like New York and Hong Kong, a micro apartment provides the essential living amenities at a reasonable monthly rent. Urban small space dwellers like to say that if they need a space to entertain, they have the entire city right outside their front doors.

But there’s more to this trend than just money. Where once Americans were focused on consumption, there’s now a huge move toward conservation and reducing our carbon footprint. What has come out of that is a new focus on what we need – and what really makes us happy. As Edmund Burke said, “good order is the foundation of all good things,” but how can we achieve good order when we’re always accumulating more “stuff?” As houses grew bigger, people felt the need to pack them with more things – knick-knacks, furniture, enormous televisions. We all have a friend or family member whose garage is so packed with old boxes they have trouble fitting in a single car. Does anyone even remember what’s in those boxes?

The micro-living movement brings with it a de-cluttering of life. In such small quarters, there’s no room for three sets of dishes or six boxes of photos you’ve meant to organize for the last five years. In 200 square feet, every home item must be chosen thoughtfully. Rather than feeling deprived, micro-home owners and renters feel liberated, and less burdened by keeping endless piles organized. Instead of spending hours “working on the house,” they now have more time to interact with family and explore the outside world.  And by learning to do more with less, their carbon footprint is measurably reduced, with fewer things going into recycling plants or landfills and much less use of utilities like gas and water. Micro-living has become a new way to truly conserve without denying ourselves what we need, all while creating a greener future!




Posted: 10/22/2012 2:31:38 PM by Heather Wallace | with 0 comments

International Cities Light the Way To a Greener Future



Contributed by Carol Ruiz

Here in the United States, we’re increasingly focused on how to “green” our lifestyles. We’re buying more efficient cars and appliances, installing solar panels, and making an effort to buy local foods and goods. But for all of our attempts, the American carbon footprint is alarmingly high; the annual CO2 emissions of the United States is greater than all 27 member states of the European Union combined. While we struggle to adapt, cities all over the world are lighting the way to a greener future.

The gold standard of green cities is Vauban, Germany, a planned community in the city of Freiburg. Designed for five thousand residents and 600 neighborhood jobs, Vauban’s buildings are ultra-low energy, many heated by burning wood chips and use of photovoltaic cells. The Solar Settlement section of Vauban is actually the world’s first positive energy balance neighborhood, every home producing more energy than it uses. These homes benefit not only the environment, but also the homeowners, as they sell the excess energy back into the grid.

I myself have experienced the greener life of a bigger German city, Frankfurt. With friends and family members residing there, I’ve had a front-row seat to the different mentality. It’s quite literally “greener” in Frankfurt, with 50% of the space within city limits protected green areas. Transportation is very different than in the US, with an extensive train, streetcar, and underground system. It’s a city crowded with bicycles, ridden by everyone from children to senior citizens. A dear friend of mine (and transplant from Los Angeles), Erika Andersen, once donned a long black evening dress and rode her bike all the way to the symphony. She loves the switch from long LA commutes to relaxing time on public transportation or her bicycle, and even finds it a faster way to travel!

In Frankfurt, new structures are designed to be “passive,” or use up to 90% less energy than the average, further reducing the city’s CO2 emissions. The city’s commitment is so great that they currently hold the title of most passive structures in Europe. Conservation isn’t an afterthought there, it’s instilled in very young schoolchildren. The comprehensive recycling program breaks trash down into four separate categories - paper, packaging, organic, and everything else. What we would view as a hassle is simply a way of life in Frankfurt.

Across the globe, many cities are taking huge strides toward combating climate change through shifts in everyday life. Stockholm, Sweden, the very first city to win the European Green Capital award, is working to end their use of fossil fuels by 2050. Curitiba, Brazil has used manmade green space as a natural way to combat yearly flooding and has incentivized recycling so effectively that 70% of the country’s waste is now re-used or recycled. And Melbourne, Australia, known primarily for its water conservation projects, is on target to become a zero net carbon emissions city in the year 2020.

Urban green living is a concept growing in popularity and if the international leaders in conservation are any indication, it’s a very green future indeed!

Posted: 10/16/2012 11:08:08 AM by Mary Kestner | with 0 comments

Easy Ways to Green Your Urban Lifestyle without Breaking the Bank


Contributed by Julie Fornaro, Public Relations Strategist, NewGround PR and Marketing


Going green is often synonymous with expense, as eco-friendly options often require an upfront investment or premium cost. We all know there’s an added expense to installing solar panels on our roofs, that hybrid cars are more costly, and that organic produce often comes with a higher price tag. We all want to choose the environmentally friendly option but is it possible to green your urban lifestyle without breaking the bank? Believe it or not, there are some simple, inexpensive choices you can make to protect the planet:

Support Local Growers

Buying local reduces the fossil fuels required to transport produce long distances and puts that money right back into your local economy. Most major metro cities in the U.S. host numerous Farmer’s Market events where the produce is local and often organic.

Get Rid of Plastic Water Bottles

By using a water filtration system like a Brita, your family will have access to clean water at a much lower price than water bottles. Reduce your city’s contribution to the excessive plastic bottle waste crowding landfills. And save money at the same time!

Recycle Your Outdated Electronics

We frequently switch out phones, computers, and cameras for the latest model. But sending your older versions to landfills isn’t the best answer. Many components are toxic and can seep into the soil, tainting our food and water supply. Instead, recycle them free of charge through neighborhood electronics recycling events and centers.

Reconsider Dry Cleaning

So many of us “urban executives” know the expense of dry cleaning – both to the wallet and to the environment. Consider other methods. Dry cleaning uses harsh, harmful chemicals and is no more effective than hand washing and steaming garments yourself!


These options are simple, but they will make a difference!




Posted: 10/8/2012 1:09:39 PM by Heather Wallace | with 0 comments

L.A.’s Return to Urbanism



Contributed by Jamie Latta, Social Media Director, NewGround PR & Marketing


Buyers and renters alike are heading back to the city. Lifestyles are changing and people want access to a community rich in public transit with walkable shops, culture and entertainment. According to an analysis of new census data by Brookings Institution demographer William Frey, more than half of the country’s 51 largest metropolitan areas saw greater growth within city limits than in their suburbs between July 2010 and July 2011.  No market is more affected by this suburban exodus than NewGround’s hometown of Los Angeles.

Like many American cities, Downtown Los Angeles experienced decline in the late 20th century. It’s now seeing a reversal of urban flight with Angelenos looking for a life more local. This is a drastic change from the mid-2000s when the real estate market was booming and LA’s population was expanding out to the suburbs.

Known for years as a city of freeways, a system of cement veins with no heart, L.A. is now turning inward and experiencing a commercial, creative and cultural rebirth with the revitalization of its downtown.  Once thought of as unlivable, Downtown L.A. is quickly becoming a vibrant urban center for the L.A. basin. People are moving downtown to live, work and play in one location.

This is excellent news for the environment. No city is guiltier of commuter pollution than Los Angeles. Plagued with the worst air quality in the country, L.A. has long been equated with urban sprawl, long commutes and the smog caused by it. For decades Downtown L.A. was a place where people commuted in each morning and cleared out by sunset.

This return to the city could help transform LA from one of the most polluted cities in America into an example of growing urban sustainability. With a recent reversal of suburban spread-out, Angelenos have increasing access to local shops, schools and jobs. This ultimately leads to fewer fuel burning vehicles on our overcrowded freeways.

In addition to being good for the environment, urbanization is good for Angelenos. It wasn't overnight, but Los Angeles has real public transit, a true downtown with a legitimate food culture and art scene. Downtown L.A. is becoming a vibrant community center in a city everyone said wasn’t interested in community. All of this supports one of our favorite theories – that sustainable communities are happier communities.


Here are some of our favorite recent additions to Downtown LA:


Grand Park

L.A.'s Grand Park, providing downtown with its first sizable amount of open space.


L.A. Live

A new entertainment complex in downtown Los Angeles adjacent to the Staples Center.


Downtown L.A. Art Walk

The Downtown LA Art Walk is a monthly showcase and celebration of the best galleries, artists, photography, restaurants, bars and shops, and businesses.




Posted: 10/4/2012 4:14:05 PM by Heather Wallace | with 0 comments

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Cute name. Serious commitment.

Welcome to the Green Chix blog. Each month we are exploring topics that we hope you will find relevant, interesting and supportive of a sustainable way of life. Join Green Chix and become a fellow ambassador for Mother Nature and help us to influence the world and spread the word on sustainable living.

Confident, smart and inspired, Green Chix are teachers, activists, business leaders, mothers and philosphers, infused with the power of nature to bring about positive change to a world in turmoil.








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