Ammons: Welcome to the Preservation Technology Podcast. I’m Kevin Ammons and today we join NCPTT’s Andy Ferrell, as he speaks with Tom Jones, an urban conservator for the West Ward Urban Ecology Project in eastern Pennsylvania. They will discuss the West Ward Ecology Project and something called the Green Design Laboratory.
Ferrell: Good morning and welcome to the podcast, Tom.
Jones: Morning Andy, how are you?
Ferrell: I’m doing great. Thanks for asking. So let’s get to the meat of this: what do you mean by urban ecology?
Jones: Well up here in Easton our definition of Urban Ecology encompasses the integration of human and natural systems that support healthful, sustainable, and productive life in a densely populated city environment, which is the situation in the West Ward in the city of Easton in Pennsylvania.
Ferrell: Ok, tell us a little more about the West Ward Urban Ecology Project.
Jones: Well the West Ward Urban Ecology Project has been funded for five years by the Wachovia Regional Foundation(Wells Fargo Regional Foundation ), and it’s a grant that’s to the Community Action Committee in the Lehigh Valley in partnership with the citizens in the West Ward and also the city of Easton which is a neighborhood of over eleven thousand people and encompasses an area that’s being determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Place that encompasses well over 2,300 buildings and most of them are over a hundred years of age or over at least 80 years of age.
Jones: The Urban Ecology Project is set up for significant citizen participation through the canton process. Some of the basic practices of Urban Ecology is to study the full interconnected urban ecologic system including its composition, character in relationships of natural order and human settlement, and to develop replicable and measurable standards for measuring and evaluating our practices. We are also going to seek to educate the community about Urban Ecology and the findings that we are developing.
Jones: We’re instigating a management process that is beginning to arrest the urban decay and develops improvements to insure and expand beneficial and sustainable urban ecologic systems. We’re working hard on producing sound economic conditions and growth that support healthful and social and economic capacity, stability and development that follow, sustainable development standards.
Jones: We’re going to integrate an interpretive and artistic program throughout the architectural and urban fabric for describing the urban ecology system and demonstrating its effectiveness, so that our citizens can participate and enjoy, as well as those who come here and visit us.
Ferrell: Oh wow, that is very ambitious. Tom, tell us, how did this project begin?
Jones: Well, the West Ward is the most challenged neighborhood in the city of Easton, which is a city that was started back in the 1752. It’s an area that was originally, primarily a residential section, but because of the industrial decline, that’s typical for the northeast portion of the United States; there has been a lot of disinvestment, especially in the last 20 years and then unfortunately what were originally single residential buildings were converted into multiple residential units apartments.
Jones: There has been a significant cycle of decline; the Urban Ecology direction was undertaken for the West Ward to take a more holistic approach to manage the physical space of the community, because we are set with very significant natural resources being located at the juncture of the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers and also because of the Bushkill Stream that forms a normal northern boundary of the community, which is one of Pennsylvania’s finest limestone base, native brook trout streams.
Ferrell: Great, and I understand there are students involved in this effort. Who are these students and what is the role they play in this?
Jones: One of the things that we feel that is distinct about our effort is the partnership with Lafayette College, which was originally founded by the citizens of Easton. It has one of the oldest mechanical and civil engineering departments in the United States and the College, historically has been intimately tied with the growth and development with the community.
Jones: Under a memorandum of understanding between the college and the Community Action Committee in the Lehigh Valley, they are defined a partnership for the five years where the students are working on a whole set of defined projects for community based service learning and this is beginning to encompass all the education departments at the college through the technology clinics. The mechanical engineering department has a green design laboratory and the Landis Center does a lot of community outreach that even gets involved with developing reading programs for mentoring for the disadvantaged youth in the West Ward.
Ferrell: Great, you just mentioned the Green Design Lab. What is the goal of the Green Design Lab?
Jones: The Green Design Lab, which is very prominent with Lafayette College, has made a long-term commitment to set up a true design laboratory that is headed by Dr. Erol Ulucakli, who is a mechanical engineer at Lafayette College, and we’re beginning to undertake long-term studies, not only for integrating green building concerns and historic rehabilitation for the buildings stock in the West Ward, but we’re also looking at the development of an application of new technology for energy efficiency and also new research in materials that could make residential buildings more efficient in terms of energy efficiency concerns.
Jones: The research and application of the research the we are undertaking through the Green Design Lab is dedicated to developing and applying practical methods that are affordable for low and moderate income populations and currently, this summer, working with Dr. Ulucakli and one of the mechanical engineering students, we’re doing a set of base-line study buildings which are setting up the practices and protocols on how to approach three buildings that are frame and also masonry.
Jones: Those will be the basis for our approaches for the Green Building Historic Rehabilitation programs for the West Ward, not only for the Weatherization Program but also for the Comprehensive Rehabilitation Program that we are seeking to get funded under neighborhood stabilization program funding and will be administered through the Urban Land Trust, which has just been established by the Community Action Committee in the Lehigh Valley. So the research at the college, through the Green Design Lab, will be directly applied as a benefit and experience to the populations in the West Ward and also to serve as a model for other potential cooperating communities in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
Ferrell: And I just love this project the more I hear about it, it’s fantastic. So, Tom, what is the major key to the success of this program?
Jones: In my opinion, it’s developing a true democratic process that respects citizen participation. One of the key things we constantly do here in the West Ward: we’ve developed a sub-committee structure that is composed of some key committees that work consistently and in reference to our work plan which is projected over a five-year basis.
Jones: We have a community economic opportunity committee; we have a Human Resources and Public Safety Committee; we have a natural resources committee; and we also have a Neighborhood Physical Quality Committee composed of residents inside and throughout the West Ward as well as other stakeholders in the Easton area that can just meet together, cause discussion, and also seek common resolution to a lot of the critical issues we are facing and also to effect change both programmatically and physically throughout the West Ward in a planned manner.
Jones: We also have the approach which we based on what is called the cantons we have throughout the 11,000 population base of the West Ward, we have eight Canton subdivisions and within each of those Cantons which does reference the ancient tradition of Cantons in Switzerland, which is one of the basic precedents for democracy in the western world, we go through an integrated process of seeking input from the residents and through our workshop process we define the agenda and the work plan and application and also to disseminate ideas.
Ferrell: What would have been some of the pitfalls of this process?
Jones: Well one of the pitfalls is something that we’re going to be addressing here shortly in the West Ward, is working with the people in the West Ward to understand more fully what used to be called in our high school years: civics. Often times when we’re going through this process you run through, as in any community, the difficulties of getting everyones’ voices heard and listened to besides the ones that tend to be dominant and we’ve been trying to use the nominal group technique in our workshop process to address this but we’re going to be working with potential professionals for example so that people learn how to listen to each other and also for those people who tend to be the more quiet personalities but have a lot of good ideas to find ways that their voices can be heard.
Jones: Because at the end of it, the process that we are using for the West Ward project it’s strength come from full cooperation from the people that live within the area, and they have to come from people who can speak loudly in the community development process as well as those who have more silent voices. I can start typically saying that we always need more money, but we tend to be very tough there and we also tend to focus on getting as much volunteer activity contributed as possible. We’re an economically challenged community because the neighborhood that we’re within, we have a very large portion of the population that did not achieve a high school diploma or they’re severely economically challenged but we are finding the ways and means to have these people’s voices heard and also to concentrate on creating jobs for these people so that they have economic stability, both in the present and in the future.
Ferrell: How do you imagine getting this model out in the field further applied in other places?
Jones: Under the Wachovia Regional Foundation grant we made the obligation up front to Wachovia that we would engage in dissemination. We’ve already started on that within the state of Pennsylvania. We were committed to reaching out to other communities throughout Pennsylvania to form a network of urban ecologic communities we’re already engaged in that process we already have the letters of interest from the upper main street communities in Schuylkill County of Pennsylvania, which are quite stunning but they’re very challenged, historic anthracite communities.
Jones: Next week we’re meeting in Germantown in the city of Philadelphia to discuss the initiation of our ecology network community there. We have interest from Uptown section of the city of Harrisburg, and we have a letter of expression of interest from Ridgeway all the way out in Northwest Pennsylvania in Elk County in the beautiful Allegheny Highlands and we’ve made contacts in the Pittsburg area specifically toward Braddock as well as some initial communities out there.
Jones: Our state’s Bureau of Historic Preservation for the Pennsylvania Historic Museum Commission has shown a significant initial interest here and working through Jean Cutler we’re defining how to go about exploring the development of this Urban Ecology Network within Pennsylvania. Also within the framework of that commitment of dissemination we are working also in concert through Lafayette College, which has international connection concerns, we are initiating contacts elsewhere to cooperate with a set of initial urban equality communities internationally. And our contacts have gone into India, we’re also discussing towards Madagascar and we’re evaluating going into Wales, Russia, and possibly some other points around the globe, but that’s very initial at this point in time.
Ferrell: Well, that really has a far-reaching application. And so Tom, let’s end quickly with: what are the next steps? How can we get this to the next level?
Jones: Well, what we’re doing here in the West Ward: we are going through our work plan and we are trying to approach this with a sense of humility because we are trying not only to share the things that we feel are successful but we also want to share those things that don’t work. We’re hoping for example that the integration of green building and historic rehabilitation for our low and moderate income populations in the West Ward.
Jones: We want to show and share with other people those things that work or don’t work that are practical and affordable, to basically take care where most people live in the United States, which are these older buildings that are energy inefficient and we’re hoping to be innovative there and to share that. We’re hoping that we can disseminate this idea and this approach because it’s based upon addressing some primary thematic areas that relate to Children and Families, Affordable Housing and Counseling, Neighborhood Building and the Environment, and Economic Development.
Jones: We here in Easton are trying to do the best that we can to address climate change and also the critical issues in terms of the expansion of carbon. We are in the northeast of the United States, which in the last Brooking Institution report is one of the places in the world that is most responsible for causing climate change because of our consumption of energy, historically. We’re hoping that we can grow with other communities and also go into areas that are similar to us, like our neighborhood, in terms of economic challenges and to grow together towards this and we’re looking towards state and federal agencies to take a serious look at what we’re doing here and to become active partners, hopefully with our approach and efforts.
Ferrell: Tom, thanks for talking to us today. We’re very eager to see how this develops and we wish you luck.
Jones: Thank you very much Andy; thanks for talking.
Ammons: That was Andy Ferrell with Tom Jones. If you’d like to learn more about this project, visit our podcast shownotes at the National Center for Preservation Technology Training website. That’s ncptt.nps.gov. Until next time, goodbye everybody.