Archive for January, 2009

Happy White House!

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

Well, the results are in. Everyone who voted in the Great White House Garden Makeover Contest thinks Michelle, Barack, Malia, and Sasha should have an organic vegetable garden. It’s not too late to sign The White House Organic Farm Project’s online petition calling on the 44th President to oversee the planting of an organic farm on the grounds of the nation’s First Home.

They Do It Big

Monday, January 19th, 2009

China, which gave us the Great Wall and is currently constructing the Great Green Wall, recently announced its latest super-sized project, the world’s largest solar power plant, a vast array of photovoltaic panels. This is good news for the solar industry, but the 1-gigawatt facility will barely put a dent in the country’s carbon emissions—in 2006 alone, 90 GWs of coal-fired power reportedly came on line in China.

More Green Cities

Monday, January 19th, 2009

While I’ve been off for the past three weeks celebrating the holidays and doing site visits for a public garden project I’m working on, news of the following green city plans has been reported, courtesy of Inhabitat

For a neighborhood of Gothenburg, Sweden, currently covered with parking lots and football fields, comes this plan for a “garden block” nestled beneath a series of green roofs shaped like undulating hills. These green roofs insulate the buildings below while absorbing rainfall that can be purified for household use. The project also includes space for community cultivation of fruits and vegetables.

Meanwhile, outside of Milan is a planned development of high-rises with stacked planted terraces surrounding a large municipal park. The complex will be completely self-contained, with schools, sporting facilities, and a shopping center, saving energy by reducing the distance residents will need to travel in the course of their daily lives. Photovoltaic panels will help shade sunny windows while generating electricity, and solar water heaters will also slash energy use.

Happy Birthday to Kew

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Several of the world’s greatest public gardens are celebrating birthdays this year. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London turns 250. Missouri Botanical Garden, the oldest botanic garden in continuous operation in the U.S., is celebrating its 150th birthday; to help celebrate the occasion, the American Public Gardens Association is holding its annual meeting in St. Louis this summer. Meanwhile, the Singapore Botanic Gardens is also celebrating its (ready for the Word of the Day?) sesquicentennial.

You can find my somewhat quirky take on the history of botanic gardens here

Subway Science

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Speaking of informal science learning (see my previous post), one of my favorite examples is my home subway station, the 81st Street stop on the “B” and “C” lines on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, which brings you to the front steps of the American Museum of Natural History. Dancing across the walls of the upper (uptown) platform are scores of delightful mosaic-tile depictions of animals, from a diving whale to a dainty hummingbird. You can find more examples here. Embedded in the walls of the lower (downtown) platform are various and sundry bones and fossils.

My only complaint: Where the heck are the plants? There could have been a dynamite giant pitcher plant or Venus flytrap or multi-armed saguaro cactus or George O’Keefe-like hibiscus flower flaunting its stamens, pistols, and other sexual parts…

Creating Science Whizzes

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Good news for public gardens, zoos, and other places where visitors engage in “informal learning” about science. (For those new to the jargon, informal in this context basically means outside the classroom.) According to a new report sponsored by the National Science Foundation, “there is abundant evidence that these experiences contribute to people’s knowledge and interest in science.” What’s more, “they may also support academic gains for young people from groups historically underrepresented in science,” like minorities and women.

The report has some useful recommendations for people who create exhibits and other informal science programs: The exhibits should be interactive and designed with specific learning goals in mind. They should encourage visitors to relate what they have learned to their prior experiences and interests, and when possible the exhibits should be rooted in scientific problems, ideas, and activities that are meaningful to their communities.

Professionals who evaluate informal science programs for a living will be pleased to hear that there are some useful ways to measure “outcomes” (more jargon, meaning  ways to assess how well people have learned the science lessons the exhibits are intended to teach). But, sorry, to learn what these are, you have to shell out the $42.26 for the report.

You’d think that studies paid for by our tax dollars would be available for free on the internet. But I guess that kind of learning is a bit too informal for the NSF.