The Orange Energy Bag

My energy bag ready to go out in this weeks recycling bin

My energy bag ready to go out in this weeks recycling bin

When I started working at RDG Planning and Design I was excited to see their commitment to recycling, composting, and an overall conservation mind frame. The kitchen has several bins lined up for compost, recyclable plastics, non-recyclable plastics, and landfill (or trash as most people call it). We try to sort everything into either compost or recycling bins before we resort to the trash bin. It was fascinating and encouraging to hear an update at this months staff meeting of the enormous amount of waste that has been diverted from the landfill by just our one company. Other companies I have been at have had trash or paper recycling, some added plastics and tin, while Minneapolis went a step further with compost. But none of them tracked their waste to see what impact their efforts were making.

While Minneapolis was a city committed to the environment, I was surprised to see a new type of recycling at the office placed into a bin with an orange bag. The orange plastic bag, or EnergyBag, can be purchased pretty much anywhere in Omaha that you can buy regular trash bags. The point is to fill the bag with all the plastics, styrofoam, and other non-recyclable plastics to then be converted into energy instead of taking up space in the landfill. I have always felt so guilty coming home from the grocery store with dozens of little plastic bags filled with my fresh produce, not to mention the plastic grocery bags I had to resort to when I forgot my reusable bags.

On the Hefty EnergyBag website, they state the program launched in Omaha with just 6,000 households in September 2016, but is now citywide and in Bellevue, Louisville, Ralston, Papillion, and LaVista (all nearby suburbs). As of 2018 they program has collected more than 82,174 bags in the area and diverted 47 tons of plastic, or according to the website, 225 barrels of diesel fuel, from landfills. When you consider just how light plastic is, 47 tons is quite impressive. The great part about this program is the bags are picked up with your regular recycling. No extra truck trips and all users have to do is leave it at the curb with the rest of their garbage and recycling.

The first of these programs started by Dow Chemical Company (parent organization to Hefty) was in Citrus Heights, California back in 2014. The company converted the waste materials into a high-value synthetic crude oil. The goal of the Omaha program was to convert it to a cement product. There was some debate about whether converting the plastic to cement was really recycling and if it was more harmful due to the toxins and pollution that are released with older cement factories. As the author of the article chronicling the debate states, its hard to argue with a program that keeps all this extra plastic out of landfills. Cement factories are going to operate regardless so why not use the energy bag program to fuel it and instead work on regulations and corrective orders to upgrade the cement plants to EPA standards?

Regardless, its nice to see Omaha looking for ways to protect the environment and reduce the amount of waste that ends up in our landfills. It always seems to be the mega cities that get attention for a job well done, but smaller cities throughout the country are doing their part to offset their environmental impact too.

The Process of Obtaining Oil

I worked in Lubbock, Texas for just over a year when I first started out in planning and recently have been working on a plan for Kermit, Texas, taking me back to the oil fields. Lubbock did not have many operating pump jacks, but nonetheless one of my tasks while there was to map the locations of existing and capped oil wells. Kermit on the other hand is surrounded by oil fields that have a major impact on their community. After watching dozens of different trucks pass by and various types of infrastructure out in the fields I decided to learn the process and components required for extracting oil to be better informed about the impacts it has on communities.

First a little history lesson of oil in Texas. It began in earnest in 1901 when a gusher was found near Beaumont, Texas. Oil exploded from a drilling site at Spindletop Hill on January 10th reaching a height of more than 150 feet. It was so impressive they named it the Lucas Geyser which produced nearly 100,000 barrels of oil a day and was more powerful than any seen in the world up to that time. The discovery is credited to the perseverance of Patillo Higgins who believed the salt domes, like what Spindletop sat on, contained oil. He formed the Gladys City Oil, Gas and Manufacturing Company in 1892 to investigate and as with all new and untested theories was met with skepticism from industry experts. Drilling began at Spindletop in October 1900 after his new partner Anthony Lucas convinced Pennsylvania oilmen John Galey and James Guffey to finance the operations. It only took 1,020 feet of drilling into the sandy ground before mud began bubbling up, followed by natural gas and then oil.

This first major geyser was one of many booms and busts in the oil industry. Any oilman who has been around for awhile knows that oil is not a steady field. In 1930 another gusher was found in east Texas which crashed oil prices. In 1970 it peaked again, only to fall off until the 1990’s when fracking was discovered. Oil hit an all time high in 2008 when the price per barrel was $145.31.

In order to process all this oil, infrastructure needs to be put into place. It takes roughly 3-5 months to complete a well which involves many different trucks hauling all sorts of materials from site to site all day long. One statistic stated one fracked well requires 1,200 truck deliveries. There are trucks to carry the oil from the wells if it isn’t piped away, sand trucks (sand cans) delivering the sand for fracking, trucks carrying fracking fluid, long and short semi’s carrying materials to construct the drilling rigs and other necessary infrastructure, portable cranes, cement trucks, water storage tankers (Wheelie’s) and fresh water trucks, pumping trucks, waste trucks, and a multitude of large pickup trucks checking on each well. For the technical truck names and pictures you can visit the FrackTracker Alliance.

Once the well has been set up, its just a matter of pumping out the material and shipping it off to create the gas that powers our cars and supplies our daily energy needs. But someone has to drive around to all these pump jacks to make sure they are working properly. So while booms and busts may occur, there is a significant number of employees that remain in these oil towns to ensure the safety and maintenance of the infrastructure. But until the time when wells no longer need to be build, thousands of heavy trucks are moving back and forth across the highways to deliver materials and dig the wells. States department of transportation like TXDOT cannot keep up with the wear and tear created by the oil booms. The roads are pocked with crater sized potholes that could do some damage to the average vehicle. Its no wonder all the oil field guys drive large dually trucks around.

Whether or not you agree with fracking and drilling, the process required to get a well up and running and the number of trucks required to do so is fascinating. If you have read previous posts you know that I’m all for reducing dependence on gas and increasing alternative modes of transportation. Just the thousands of trucks moving hundreds of miles a day on routes from one well location to the next to deliver materials and equipment is astonishing. I imagine mapping the routes of a few trucks on one day of work would create a crazy web of travel.

The Cost of Driving to Work

The Cost of Driving to Work

This past week we saw temperatures hitting 50 degrees, an incredible gift for January in Nebraska. This also meant the snow was completely melted, making biking an option I would consider. I did take advantage last Saturday with a bike ride up to Benson for some lunch at 1912 and a visit to Infusion Brewing Co. When the weather is nice and I can get to places via biking or walking I tend to get out and explore more.

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Google's Teaching Sustainability

Google's Teaching Sustainability

While reading the latest issue of Planning Magazine I came across an etcetera piece on Google’s new sustainability resources. I find it refreshing that major corporations are taking an interest in issues that have global affects, especially in a time when our national leaders are attempting to discount scientific research and roll back regulations that aim to prevent further decline. I do wish that they would spend their resources to promote this information half as much as they do on their other products. I would never have stumbled upon the website without hearing about it through my professional organization and this is one that the average citizen should know about.

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Return of the Buffalo?

As is the theme with anything related to reading or writing lately, I’m a little behind on my Planning Magazine subscriptions. Its the beginning of December and I’m just getting to the heart of the October issue. Nonetheless, when I came to the article titled “After the Dust Settles: Revisiting the Buffalo Commons 30 Year Later” it brought back memories of practice exams to prepare me for the AICP exam. I recalled reading a question asking what the Buffalo Commons was with a multiple choice response. With hundreds of other facts and theories to learn, I quickly moved on to memorizing the next statistic.

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Rocky Mountain Adventure

Rocky Mountain Adventure

Its been almost three months since I camped in Rocky Mountain National Park, but I’m finally getting around to writing about the trip. I’ve been camping before, but never in a national forest like Rocky Mountain. It was amazing to see a moose, elk, deer, and other animals going about their business unaffected set against a backdrop of massive mountains and dense forest. I was really glad not to have come across any bears, given our tent situation, but that didn’t stop me from being nervous the entire time hiking.

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What I Learned From Minneapolis

What I Learned From Minneapolis

I have lived in several cities in the past five years including Lubbock, Texas, Rochester and Columbia Heights, Minnesota, and most recently Minneapolis. Each city has imparted some lasting impressions and I taught me invaluable lessons about how cities function. But of all the cities, Minneapolis has taught me the most. Before I moved to the Twin Cities metro, I had never taken public transit as a commuter, biked to work regardless of the weather, composted, or installed a rain barrel.

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The Bird Is The Word

The Bird Is The Word

Everybody’s heard the Bird if you live in one of the major metro areas that are fortunate, or unfortunate depending on who you ask, to have these electric scooters. The Bird company started in California in 2017, but since its March test run in San Francisco has grown exponentially to include several dozen cities throughout the U.S. But the Bird is just one of several scooter companies capitalizing on the new trend. There are scooter companies operating in 65 cities throughout the country.

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Carry On Homes in the Commons

Carry On Homes in the Commons

It was almost a year ago that I wrote about an interesting piece of artwork installed at the Commons Park in downtown Minneapolis. This year I watched during my lunches as a new educational piece of art was assembled in the same location. The winner of the 2018 Creative City Challenge was Carry On Homes, a way to tell the stories of immigrants to Minnesota. The five artists responsible for the display are Peng Wu, Shunjie Yong, Aki Shibata, Preston Drum, and Zoe Cinel. The idea for the project came from the Carry On Homes documentary photography project.

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An Exposition for the Ages

An Exposition for the Ages

In today's world we race to build enough structures to accommodate the Olympic Games every four years, but back in the 1800's, cities raced to build buildings for the World's Fair. The first World's Fair on record took place in 1851 at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London. Subsequent cities to host the fair included Paris, Vienna, Melbourne, and Barcelona prior to one of the most renowned fairs which took place in Chicago. These fairs were and still are designed to showcase the greatest achievements of society and push the limits of construction and design. Each fair influenced some aspect of society, leaving their mark for generations to come.

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Greening Our Cities

Greening Our Cities

There were numerous ways to learn about how planners can have a positive effect on water at NPC18. One session in particular highlighted how Prince George County used a public private partnership to retrofit their community with green infrastructure. Presenters covered the history of the program from inception through completion of Phase I and adjustments made prior to launching Phase II.

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100 Years of History

100 Years of History

I have always wanted to live in a house that was over 100 years old. In many cities, that’s hard to come by because they have either demolished all the old homes, lost them to natural disasters, or the cities themselves are just not that old. When I bought my first home it was a bungalow built in 1930, but now, about 10 years later, there are a plethora of homes over 100 years old available. All the bungalows that were built during the 1920's and 1930's are now coming of age and about to celebrate their 100th birthday.

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300 Years of NOLA

300 Years of NOLA

I do not travel nearly as much as I would like, so when the opportunity arose to visit New Orleans for the National Planning Conference I jumped on it. I was only in the city for about four days, but I covered quite a bit of ground, while still attending sessions during the day. The two things that helped me accomplish both was waking up at 6 am every day and running through the neighborhoods.

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The Bars of Northeast Minneapolis

The Bars of Northeast Minneapolis

I'm fascinated by the way cities used to look, with the corner grocery store, hardware store, restaurant, and of course bar, tucked into neighborhoods, spaced  about a mile apart. The resident of the 1920's city could walk to get everything they needed or take a trolley if they needed something just a little bit further. Peppered throughout my neighborhood in Northeast, Minneapolis are dozens of small two story buildings, but most have been converted into apartments. There are several though that have maintained their original use, the buildings with first floor bars.

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The Experimental City

The Experimental City

A few weeks ago I took advantage of living in a city that has a population to support the routine showing of documentary films. I went to see The Experimental City presented by the Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul that featured a Q&A with director Chad Freidrichs and Todd Lefko, member of the Minnesota Experimental City Authority afterwards. The documentary revived the story of the Minnesota Experimental City project from the 1970's, a project intended to solve issues of population growth with futuristic ideas.

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Maribou Water Gardens

Maribou Water Gardens

Over 10 years later, New Orleans is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina and the devastating effects of the Levee failures. That disaster proved to the world that building walls and pumping out water is not a long term or permanent solution. Water must be managed on site, with features such as permeable pavement, rain gardens, cisterns, and underground storage tanks. It takes projects installed throughout the city to protect it when a large storm hits. One of the projects New Orleans is working on to help low lying neighborhoods is the Maribou Water Garden.

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Saint Paul Winter Carnival: Another Distraction to the Fact that its Winter

Saint Paul Winter Carnival: Another Distraction to the Fact that its Winter

As I have mentioned in past posts, Minnesota is a state that does not let winter affect their ability to have fun outside. A recent example of this is the Saint Paul Winter Festival, which wrapped up its 132nd season yesterday. I attended my first (and only) Winter Carnival two years ago, right after moving to the Twin Cities. I tried to attend twice this year, but the traffic jams created by the Dave Matthews Band Concert and a Wild Hockey game deterred me (next year I will map out a better transit route to avoid the parking situation altogether).

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Life in the Super Bowl 52 City

Life in the Super Bowl 52 City

Hearing about Super Bowl 52 began months ago for me because I both live and work in the host city. As a city planner the phrase, "it has to be done by the Super Bowl" was heard more times that anyone could count. I luckily had less to do with the planning than some of my colleagues that deal with permits and licensing, but it was easy to see the city gearing up faster and faster as the event neared.

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Breweries Are Taking Over

Breweries Are Taking Over

Whenever the topic of breweries is brought up, I always hear "when are we going to finally over saturate the market with breweries?" While it may seem like there are a lot, the market share of local craft beer sold pales in comparison to national conglomerates. Only 12 percent of the market is craft beer with two companies holding 50% of the total beer market. There are two factors that have spurred the rise in local breweries over the last decade though: consumer taste and government regulation.

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