The Waste Hierarchy

Posted: September 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

Marks and Spencer Shwop


Here is a ranking of possible environmental actions  in increasing order of environmental benefit

1. To burn material for energy is better than sending it to a landfill.

2. To recycle it is better than burning it.

3. To reuse material is better than recycling it.

4. To reduce the amount needed is better than reusing it.

5. To eliminate the need for material is better than reducing it.


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Posted: August 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

Applying the Idea of a Lean Startup with Sustainable City Building

Minimal Viable Products (MVP) should be at center of new business models according to Lean Startup author Eric Reis. What is an MVO you ask? It’s the most efficient, minimum product or service that can be developed to test a hypothesis about how users will interact with the innovation according to Eric Reis. He argues that new businesses don’t need to focus on fundraising, prototype production, and writing drawn out business plans. Instead, they should alter their products incrementally in response to consumer feedback. In the case of the lean city, he argues thatthe use of sensors and real-time data will enable city staffer to monitor key metrics and modify systems to improve performance. Other MVPs include reducing the amount of parking spaces and creating infrastructure that supports bike lanes.

Consider the following methodology which was cultivated by Boyd Cohen, Ph.D., LEED AP:

  1. Develop a hypothesis: By systematically and strategically removing parking spaces throughout the city and replacing them with green spaces and/or community spaces, we will increase the amount of residents interacting with each other on the same city block.
  2. Determine a set of metrics to test the hypothesis: Measure at different times of the day, on weekdays and weekends, the number of residents on the street before and after the test project. They could also measure the amount of time residents stay in the area before and after.
  3. Develop an MVP: In this case, I think the city (Vancouver, BC) did a good job with a very low-cost, low-impact test project (instead of trying to install 1,000 benches throughout the city all at once in the hopes that it would work).
  4. Measure the results: Using low-cost sensors and perhaps observers or even using a mobile app, apply the metrics in step two.
  5. Iterate: Leveraging the analysis in step four, experiment with similar models. For example, what would happen in the same location if they converted the space to a few stationary bikes or a mini art exhibit?
  6. Measure the results and create another MVP.

This framework is a way of seeing what works in what doesn’t in when transforming cities in to sustainable environments and it is done so at a micro level. Mr. Cohen concluded that this is a great way to utilize tax revenues for community planning that ensures mass benefit while cutting down on bureaucratic red tape.

     Many children in group homes are aware by both the caseworkers in the homes and by their foster parents that they are troublesome, which continues to perpetuate their thoughts and feelings of inferiority. Foster children must show that they are trustworthy before they can truly be loved by their new parents, but in the streets, kids are taught not to trust and remain emotionally detached as a way of protecting themselves. The end result can yield different outcomes where some kids are simply considered reserved and others have chronic social disorders.

     When children outgrow or leave the child welfare system, they suffer from a variety of emotional hardships that put them at a disadvantage. Since their home lives are often inconsistent, they’re forced to transfer schools and teachers more frequently than their peers(Rockoff and O’Donell, 2005). These factors affect their psyches and make learning more challenging than it is for most kids. Moreover, many homes are over-crowded and don’t provide conditions that are conducive to studying. However, when Jonathan Rockoff conducted several investigative journalistic initiatives with respect to public schools and youth group homes, he found that:

Many principals and teachers told him that youths living in group homes were good kids, and the educators were reluctant to specify issues except to say that group homes tried to enroll the kids without complete paperwork from their former schools. That said, some educators told us that the youths present serious discipline problems and drain the Baltimore County school system’s time and resources” (Rockoff, 2005).

 There are many other adverse psychological effects associated with abuse in youth homes. According to Susanne Babbel, Ph.D., in her op-ed The Foster Care System and Its Victims, one of the most overarching side effects is impaired brain development, which can impact a child’s cognitive growth, their language skills, and their learning ability (Babbel, 2011). Emotionally, these kids are more prone to have low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal tendencies, post traumatic stress disorder, trust issues, and attachment disorder. Kids who have been abused are more likely to resort to self-destructive behaviors as coping mechanisms which include smoking, drug use, overeating, and premature sexual promiscuity. Babbel also concludes that abused youth have a tendency toward antisocial and behavior which may result in juvenile delinquency (Ibid).

Homeless youth, regardless of abuse or not, tend to lack motivation since they were conditioned to give up trying. Fearful of poverty and loss, homeless youths are constantly overworking themselves to avoid future threats of homelessness. They have trouble forming healthy relationships, feel alone, and have extreme difficulty communicating with others. It’s clear that the depiction of group homes on the Wire is an accurate depiction of how they operate in contemporary American cities. It comes as no surprise that these facilities were the last place Randy wanted to lay his head at night because he experienced their woes at an earlier point in life. He knows what goes on, and because of his new reputation, his reasons to be fearful were legitimate. Their impact on his psyche is apparent from the onset of the fourth season and is reflected in his motivations to make money and avoid shelters at all costs. When his plans backfire and his goals are trampled in the final scene, one can’t help but be disheartened by how disadvantaged these youth actually are in group homes and how many obstacles they face in achieving a decent quality of life. Image

Many local departments of social services around the state of Maryland face an array of challenges, since quality group homes rarely have openings, which we saw in Randy’s case at the end of Season Four. At many poorly run homes, children are forced to deal with unsatisfactory care and the mismanagement of resources, which pertains to medical treatment, food, and clothing. Furthermore, homes are frequently understaffed which has caused many instances of assault by employees and residents that go unnoticed. Moreover, state regulators appoint unqualified operators who tend to ignore standard protocols. As a result many children are left neglected and outside of caretakers’ radar. It’s worth noting that the State of Maryland does not enforce training requirements for caregivers or conduct background screenings, which allows for individuals with criminal convictions to work at group homes. According to Jonathan D. Rockoff and John B. O’Donnel, who are staffers at the Baltimore Sun, there have been instances where boys were having sex with prostitutes and other women brought in by the staffers, while staff members themselves have been accused of furnishing drugs and alcohol to the residents (Rockoff and O’Donnel, 2005). The mere fact that the Department of Human Resources, the Department of Mental Hygiene, the Department of Juvenile Services, and the Governor’s Office for Children, Youth, and Families are all responsible for managing Maryland group homes substantially weakens the oversight capabilities and stalls the placement process of youth into foster care (Baltimore Sun Staff, 2001). Thus, not all youths are placed in group homes because they were without proper guardians; many are residents are there for reasons of abuse, neglect or delinquency (Rockoff, 2005). In addition there is no central clearinghouse of information about the quality of the homes, so social workers must rely on word of mouth when they are determining the placement of a child (Rockoff, 2005).


Migrations of different demographics to Baltimore City along ethnic, religious, and cultural lines have carried a great influence over the city’s neighborhood structuring and created a trend of constant interplay between the different groups that has fundamentally shaped the strucure of neighborhoods and the culture of the city. After WWII Hillbillies from Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia joined the Greeks, Irish, Italians, and Polish (pre 1920) as well as African Americans (Great Migration) to work in Baltimore’s factories. In the same way Catholic basilicas stood amongst Synagogues and Protestant churches. The fact that Baltimore city was the second largest portfor immigration to the United States is reflected in its contemporary demographic makeup of both the city and the county.

Roland Park was one of the first suburbs in the United States developed between 1890 and 1920 and marked the beginning of a gradual exodus out of Baltimore to suburbs. The initial movement was rooted in but not limited to racism as highlighted in Antero Pietila’s work Not in My Neighborhood. Later in the 1950s and 60s, Baltimore County saw small rural local transformed by the construction of McMansions, shopping centers, and light rail lines. Blockbusting was a common practice where many white property owners sold their homes since the influx of blacks, Jews, and other minorities was bringing down the costs of their property values in their former racially segregated communities. Zoning was also used to displace deteriorating communities in Baltimore to make room for new infrastructure, while gentrification projects cleared out old warehouse districts and residential areas to make for new retail projects such as the revitalization of the inner harbor. Consequently, minorities also wanted to escape the early phases of deindustrialization in Baltimore. This led to resegregation efforts by their white counterparts in Towson. In 2000, Lochearn was 77 percent Black and Randallstown 65.5. In the 1990s, real estate agents with ulterior motives began the practice of home flipping, which entailed purchasing abandoned homes at low costs from banks and re-selling them to African Americans and other minorities for much higher prices. Many of these measures worked to divide and re-segregate communities while drastically changing the landscape of Baltimore.

The flight to suburbs has had many ramifications for the city itself. Commuters who work in the city, but live elsewhere extract resources from the city without paying property taxes. This means that less money can be spent on educational, social, and development programs, to create better opportunities for much of the city’s troubled populace.


John Coons, author of Savage Inequalities, contented that all children are poor because they are dependent on adults, yet inequalities between inner city children and their suburban counterparts are the results of the socioeconomic differences of the adults who are influential in their lives. Teachers and parents both yield a huge influence on a child’s decision making process, but the neighborhoods they grow up in also greatly affect how youths carry themselves and how they view their futures.

The picture of American suburbs entails closed-door communities with institutionalized neighborhood watch systems where crime is seldom, and things are quiet. Middle class parents are usually both present in their children’s lives, live in the same house, have at least graduated high school, and more often than not obtain college degrees. Many times, their parents before them  also enjoyed the benefits of an American Education. There is a culture that places emphasis on school work, discipline, and conduct that involves parents and teachers into the lives of their students. These adults are active in PTAs, after school activities, are aware of school board politics, and help their children with their homework. These adult strive to be  role models, and instill values in their kids that they have the power to charge of their own lives through hard work and good judgement.

On the other side of the spectrum are lower class adult figures in inner cities are less active in their children’s lives, where neighborhoods are rough, crime is high, and students spend the majority of their time outside of school on the streets with their friends. When parents are absent, these kids don’t receive proper discipline. When they’re subject to abuse, they develop inferiority complex, have trouble communicating, and lack confidence and are more likely to use drugs to cope with their psychological woes. In inner cities kids will and do replicate the behavior of their peers. Since their parents lack education, they live in poverty, and when poverty is present, the prospect of drug running can become a reality. In Season Four of the wire, we see that even sometimes parents’ pasts cause them to push their kids into the drug trade, such as in the case of Namond.  When many of these children feel that dropping out to chase money on the streets is more viable than continuing their education, they distract and influence students around them and exacerbated the challenges of their educational systems.  In the Wire, we see this group mentality in many of the corner boys who are enthralled with the idea of hustling; it’s all they know, or in this instance, it’s all they care to know.

As Baltimore is one of the few inner city locals in the state of Maryland, the above graph shows how reading scores are distributed between students in Baltimore City and the other counties in the state. City students scored in the lower percentiles while country students scored in the higher percentiles. Perhaps this is because the adult involvement in a child’s education is more prevalent outside the city.

Image  —  Posted: April 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

This video may seem overly optimistic, but is indicative of the challenges facing youth in inner cities. It offers a creative solution that actively integrates the community to give hope to these troubled youth  in Washington, DC that often feel like they’ve been forgotten by the rest of the city. By providing mentors,  internships, and scholarships,  to these disadvantaged students, the program was effective in changing their attitudes in a positive way that catalyzed them to pursue higher educational goals.


Video  —  Posted: April 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

DMV Stereotypes

Posted: March 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

As a native of Northern Virginia, I found this scene from the third season rather provocative. Here, McNulty’s generalizations about societal trends in his neighboring state come back to haunt him. In my experience, this happens quite frequently in the DMV region. Essentially, he assumed that the treatment of racial minorities by whites in the commonwealth was so far from progressive that he felt the need to look out for Kima’s interest as if she was doomed to endure the societal forces working around her. Although the scene was meant to be a bit of comic relief, it sheds light on regional perceptions in the greater region outside of Baltimore.

It’s common for residents of Maryland, DC, and Virginia who don’t travel much to have opinions about the neighboring regions, yet many aren’t informed about the neighboring societal conventions and culture. For example, before attending American University, my experience in Baltimore was limited to M&T Bank Stadium, Camden Yards, and the Aquarium. The rest of the city might as well have been an industrial wasteland devoid of any societal cohesiveness.  Maryland, like Virginia, was just a confused state that couldn’t decide if it wanted to be Northern or Southern. After I spent time at my freshman roommate’s brownstone downtown, my perception of Baltimore changed as I witnessed its distinct culture that wasn’t just a slightly altered version of the mid-atlantic culture I’d seen in DC.  In the same way, McNulty held a view of Northern Virginia that was far removed from contemporary values of racial tolerance which was changed by his realization that the Dumfries police officer was in an interracial relationship.  Moreover, I always hear Washington urban dwellers complaining the residents to south of the Potomac as a bunch of bad driving country bumpkin commuters. Although, these generalizations are based on historical president and do carry some truth to them, the region is extremely rich in diversity and constantly changing, so perhaps it’s best to learn from McNulty to not allude to them in professional scenarios.