earth day

Ballard rain gardens: a green solution gone wrong

When Seattle was planning its first extreme-green makeover of a city block, residents competed for the honor. And in 1999, the winning street in the Broadview neighborhood got a gorgeous facelift complete with new sidewalks and verdant roadside rain gardens with shrubs and grasses.

But when the city recently tried going green in the Ballard neighborhood, homeowners there felt like they got stuck with the booby prize.

The rain gardens installed by the city last summer and fall haven’t worked as planned. The gardens, which look sort of like shallow, sparsely-planted ditches running between the road and sidewalk, fill with water – and stay filled up. Some of the rain gardens drain over the course of hours or days, but some become mini ponds until the city comes to pump out the water.

Many of the residents are not pleased. They worry that the swamped gardens are a drowning hazard for young children, a breeding ground for mosquitoes, and will lower their property values. There’s even a neighborhood blog calling for their removal.

 “We feel badly,” said Nancy Ahern, deputy director for utility-systems managementfor Seattle Public Utilities, the department that installed the rain gardens. “It’s been hard on this community.”

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Despite big environmental challenges, Earth Day signifies hope for humanity

A climate catastrophe roars ahead unchecked. The oceans are turning so acidic they threaten to wipe out sea creatures at the base of the food chain. Bulldozers routinely mangle wetlands. The list goes on. And on. And on.

When Earth Day rolls around, the adage recurs that reporters coming onto the environment beat ought to get a standard-issue Prozac prescription. Because we have to chronicle all this. These examples can only be viewed as colossal failures of our species' effort to live on this planet God gave us without ruining it for future generations.

And yet, in watching the excellent PBS documentary "Earth Days" reviewing the environmental movement on the eve of this 40th anniversary of Earth Day, I had to say that I'm encouraged by the progress homo sapiens has made in my lifetime.

In this country, at least, the air and water are demonstrably cleaner than when millions took took to the streets in 1970 to demand that the government crack down on pollution. We understand that we can't pave over the entire countryside.

And there is an understanding -- increasingly more pervasive -- that we must balance what we need here today with what future generations require if this civlization is to endure.

Even businesses -- at least the forward-thinking ones -- are getting it: If your world is so out of whack that civilization as we know it is destroyed... well, you aren't going to have many customers.

Exploring 'green travel' on Earth Day, from a Kenyan's perspective

This is the first of a three-part series on how social and economic interactions between people in the developing world and those in the developed world creates serious implications for fragile ecosystems.  We invite you to join Kenyan journalist John Mbaria on Earth Day as he takes you on a truly "green"  tour that might help you appreciate these issues. He has experienced first hand the struggles of many in Africa who face the consequences of an increasingly warming earth, the destruction of many life-sustaining ecosystems and the failure of political systems and institutions to plan for the consequences of these forces. Mbaria is a trained land use planner and a journalist who previously worked as the environment correspondent with The EastAfrican, a regional weekly read in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. He recently moved to Seattle from Kenya and is a contributing writer to InvestigateWest.

Part one of a series

Long before the world put mass tourism under the spotlight, people had become accustomed to images of truckloads of excited tourists surrounding a pack of sleepy lions or a lone cheetah resting under a tree somewhere in Africa.

Port of Seattle offers Earth Day education

Who says fieldtrips to celebrate Earth Day are just for elementary school kids?

One week after the release of their 2009-2010 Annual Environmental Report, the Port of Seattle gave adults a chance to reliving their days of educational outings, hosting a tour of two port-controlled West Seattle Parks Wednesday. The Port of Seattle’s Earth Day Park’s Tour, which emphasized the Port’s environmental stewardship initiatives, drew two busloads of Seattleites to Port headquarters at Pier 69 on Alaskan Way.

The two and half hour event kicked with a presentation by senior environmental manager George Bloomberg. Bloomberg briefed attendees on some of the Port’s recent contamination clean-up projects and wildlife restoration efforts with a short slideshow. After the Port’s introduction it was off to Terminal 5’s Jack Block Park, located at 2130 Harbor Avenue Southwest. The 5.8 acre public shoreline access park boasts some stunning sights of the Seattle waterfront as well as trails for biking and walking.

From a 45 foot-high viewing platform, port environmental managers discussed the environmentally conscious infrastructure redevelopment at the terminal: in adding 400 feet linear feet of container cargo pier, the port was able to enclose the majority of pollution at the site, preventing the spread contamination to Puget Sound waters. Though Terminal 5 is still classified as a superfund site—a location the federal government flags for clean-up because of its severe soil and ground water contamination—Bloomberg said the Port has managed to isolate 70 percent of pollutants in the area. Terminal 107, a public access park at 4700 West Marginal Way Southwest, was next up on the tour.