Thermal Experiences of the Bike Hub

Assignment 4 – Part 2 (Schematic Design for Bike/Bus Hub)

In order to begin designing a bus-bike transfer/meeting area outside Alderman Library, we looked initially at the programmatic needs for the space to help determine a way in which we might look at designing differently, attempting to keep in mind the thermal and other conditions of the built environment and how to respond to such conditions.  As mentioned in an earlier post, we felt as though it would be important to include a series of showers and lockers for those who commute by bike to campus – as well as below grade bike storage – to accommodate the on-street bike racks and bus stop.  Because of the location, we recognized immediately that if any structure was to be sited in such a central, historic location, it would either need to be small or placed underground.  In what we hope is an approach that somewhat mirrors Phillipe Rahm, we looked primarily at the thermal conditions for the hub as a result – a hub with an interior moderated by ground temperatures and featuring both hot and cold showers to address the needs of the visitors.

To investigate this and its coordination with the above-ground components, the bus stop and bike racks, I first looked at the imagined thermal experiences of a variety of people who might use the hub, followed by an exploration of its arrangement and form.

Thermal Experiences of Visitors to Hub

Initial Diagrams for Hub and Site

Waste Feeds a City

Systems in Kolkata Wetlands

Preparation for Research Project

As addressed in an earlier post, I intended to investigate some aspect of vertical farming for my research project for the course, and have since narrowed this topic down to aquaculture.  A former employer of mine plans to begin an indoor fish farm in Minneapolis, for which he is experimenting and in need of further research.  To this end, I have decided to analyze three existing case studies of fish farms, from which I will adapt a system for a currently vacant industrial building in Minneapolis.  Two of the case studies are indoor fish farms, located in Baltimore and Milwaukee.  To first understand the essential needs of aquaculture before mechanical systems become involved, however, I have located a series of wetlands in India that clearly demonstrate the synergistic relationships embodied in aquaculture and are worth an in-depth overview here.

Located to the east of Kolkata and comprising over 12,000 hectares, the East Kolkata Wetlands consist of over 250 sewage fed fisheries, small-scale agricultural areas, solid waste farms, and some urban development placed interstitially among the wetlands.[1] Credited as being the largest wastewater-fed aquaculture system in the world and considered to be wetlands of international importance by the Ramsar Bureau, the EKW are fed by some 600 million liters of sewage and upwards of 2500 metric tons of solid waste daily.[2] Through various processes that will be addressed below, fishermen, farmers, and garbage collectors and sorters, in addition numerous species of flora and fauna, are able to treat sewage, filter water, and return to the city 150 tons of vegetables per day and fully one-third of its yearly fish consumption (13,000 tons).[3] The area, further, is even developing aspects of an eco-tourism economy as a result of the diverse flora and fauna found at the wetlands.

As with many cities, before Kolkata utilized the synergistic system evident at the EKW to address wastewater, it discharged sewage into a nearby river, which in this case was unable to effectively drain the sewage or annual rainfalls.  As a result, the health of the city was linked to the ineffective system, and the city turned to other options, which at one point included releasing sewage at low tide to a different river at a greater distance than before that eventually led to the Bay of Bengal.  This, however, caused heavy siltation of the river due to the use of locks and dams to distribute the sewage, and the river was declared “undrainable and dead.”[4]

According to Nitai Kundu, one of the reservoirs or retention areas for sewage in this system was the Salt Lake, which later became a part of what is now known as the East Kolkata Wetlands.  In the 1860s, while the city was shifting to the use of the second river to discharge sewage, the Salt Lake became an informal experimentation area for sewage-fed fisheries.[5] By the early twentieth century, formal aquaculture efforts began and a new sewage canal was constructed that led directly into the lake, reducing the salinity of the water.  Carp culture reportedly began in 1929 with the introduction of regular sewage inputs, and this led, over time, to increased freshwater fishing in the lake.  As fishing became more profitable, more residents began to utilize the sewage-fed system, which eventually resulted in the abundance of fisheries present today and what is regarded as the key to resolving wastewater treatment needs.[6]

As indicated in the diagram at the top of the post, these fisheries form an essential part of the overall EKW system.  Sewage is currently distributed into the fisheries, which, instead of sending wastewater downstream as was enacted earlier, utilize the sewage in an anaerobic system that contributes to fish maturation.  As sewage is sent into fish ponds and is detained for a matter of days, biodegradation of the organic matter in the sewage occurs, which is then capable of being taken up by local plants, bacteria, and plankton in the lagoons – which, in turn, feed the fish that are then sold at markets nearby.  The wetlands therefore act as waste stabilization ponds, and as the sewage becomes treated through pisciculture and local plants, filtered water is sent to other bodies of water and farms downstream instead of the heavy, untreated sewage that clogged rivers in the past.[7]

Kolkata Wetland System, Part 1 - The City (via Google Earth)

Kolkata Wetland System, Part 2 - Garbage Agriculture (via Google Earth)

Kolkata Wetland System, Part 3 - Sewage-Fed Fish Farms (via Google Earth)

Kolkata Wetland System, Part 4 - Conventional Farms with Filtered Water (via Google Earth)

Further, according to Peter Newman, sewage is also fed to agricultural plots in the wetlands area, which in addition to the fisheries take advantage of the nutrients available in the wastewater and return vegetables to the city.[8] This is largely enacted by farmers who live in the area, who also sort through solid waste to reuse organic waste on the gardens.  Trash that can be recycled or resold serves as an additional profit-generating aspect of the EKW, which also helps address accumulation of garbage from the city.[9]

According to Tony Juniper, the EKW thus contributes to the livelihoods of approximately 50,000 Kolkatans.  Approximately 8,000 are employed in the fisheries, with others making crafts, raising livestock, and maintaining the canals that direct sewage into the agricultural plots and fisheries.[10] Kundu indicates, further, that the local fishermen have developed the utilization of sewage in fisheries to such an accurate extent that the yield-cost ratio is far greater than that demonstrated in any other fish farm in India.  As such, organic pollution in the wetland system is reduced by over 80 percent, and plankton and algae overpopulation and overgrowth is stemmed by the fish.[11]

Aerial of Kolkata Wetlands (via Flickr user paddy)

As a result, the East Kolkata Wetlands demonstrate numerous advantages to be gained through sewage-fed aquaculture, especially when it serves as a part of a larger system that also addresses garbage and water filtration for nearby farms. Although it is unlikely that all of these systems can be incorporated in indoor fish farming in Minneapolis, certain lessons to be gained are that it may be advantageous to find a source of sewage to be used in the aquaculture system, as well as organic trash. Because both plants and fish can utilize this waste, both produce and fish can be sold partly as a result of “waste” inputs. A fishery that incorporates these lessons thereby helps to close a loop between the energy inputs to and outputs from a population, and is certainly worth addressing for the design in Minneapolis.



[1] Nitai Kundu et al., “East Kolkata Wetlands: A Resource Recovery System Through Productive Activities,” in Proceedings of Taal2007: The 12th World Lake Conference, edited by M. Sengupta and R. Dalwani (2008): 868.

[2] Tarasankar Bandyopadhaya et al., Preliminary Study on Biodiversity of Sewage EFD Fisheries of East Kolkata Wetland Ecosystem (Kolkata: Institute of Wetland Management and Ecological Design, 2004), 5; and Kundu, 876-77.

[3] Kundu, 868-77.

[4] Kundu, 874-5.

[5] Ibid., 875.

[6] Ibid., 868, 875.

[7] Ibid., 876.

[8] Peter Newman, “The Distributed City,” Blog Post, Island Press, February 9, 2009 ( (accessed September 18, 2010).

[9] Tony Juniper, “Kolkata: Wonders of the Waste Land,” Guardian Weekly (UK), August 6, 2004 ( (accessed September 19, 2010).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Kundu, 877.

The Demand for Growth

Initial Response to the Bay Game

Aside from what I imagine was the intention of the Bay Game – that we begin to have an idea of how complicated the network of systems is that weighs upon the health of the Chesapeake Bay – what was the most striking about the experience was the way in which the Life Balance Score (LBS) seemed to reflect my aggressiveness as a land developer.  The Life Balance Score, as I understand it, is a numeric assessment of how closely one meets their economic, social, and environmental goals (with being as close to zero as the numeric goal).  However, even though I had placed less emphasis on the economic aspects as compared to social and environmental aspects, I have been unable to determine a correlation between the LBS fluctuations and any other decision I made during the course of the game other than the rate at which I purchased and sold land.

My assessment, of course, requires further investigation, but the initial suggestion this relationship makes is simply that it is characteristic of the way in which the economic system presently operates.  As Meadows indicated in Thinking in Systems, a demand for a certain percentage of growth will lead to exponential gains, which at some point will end due to any number of factors that are dependent upon the system under investigation.  What she instead stresses as an alternative to such growth is a rate of harvest or income that can be sustained over the long-term, one which may not return the profits generated by exponential growth but one that will provide continual returns and is less likely to suffer a collapse.

In the Bay Game, I had experimented with finding that sustained growth rate as a land developer, in which my income and assets were generally in equilibrium with my expenditures.  However, if my initial assessments are correct, my Life Balance Score – which I was able to reduce to 15 at one point and which stayed between 24 and 39 for a period of time – gradually raised to over 16,000 by the end of the game, coinciding with the point at which I reduced the number of parcels I purchased and developed.  The point at which my LBS began to increase (get worse, or away from zero) was also the point at which I began to have money on hand and fewer assets; in fact, my best score came when I had the least amount of money on hand and the most invested, and as I invested less and increased the money I had on hand to roughly $200,000, the worse my score became.  The score, it seems, was dependent on increased investment and potential wealth, as opposed to finding a balance that would simply sustain a family in both the short and long-term.

This, I think, is indicative of the demands we as a global nation place upon ourselves – that growth is good and necessary.  In some cases, this is true, as for those who presently live in poverty and cannot provide basic needs for themselves.  However, for parts of the developed world, is this necessary?  Many seem to think it is, and perhaps the equation for the Life Balance Score here is indicative of this – that our assessment of how our lives are is not only dependent upon the finances we have available, but on the understanding that our wealth is growing, as opposed to being at a level that can be sustained throughout a lifetime.  This, I think, should be included in the equation for determining the LBS if it is not presently, simply because it may very well be the paradigm that growth is good and necessary that places such stress on the Bay.  Shifting from this mindset to sustaining lower but decent profits should be rewarded in the game, perhaps, as opposed to rewarding to a greater extent the continual increase of potential wealth.

Solar Geometry for Bus/Bike Meeting Place (McCormick Road at Peabody Hall)

Assignment 4 – Part 1

Charles, Nicole, and I have decided to locate our bus/bike meeting space adjacent to the axis between the entrance to Peabody Hall, the Calder sculpture, and the entrance to Hotel C.  With a slight embankment and good tree cover, the site will be well shaded during the summer months, but should allow for storing and releasing heat during the colder months – possibly through the use of a material with good thermal retention capabilities and/or a means to access steady ground temperatures through the embankment.

An additional consideration is that of creating a bike hub, a place for students and employees to store their bikes and potentially shower before going to class or work, as was suggested in our workshop.  It seems that this site is both excellent and extremely contentious in this regard: it is very central to campus and would therefore be a convenient location to place such a structure; however, it is very central to campus, and its historic center, and may therefore prove much more difficult to include at such a high profile location.  Perhaps an underground structure is needed, one which parallels the Special Collections Library, thereby providing ample space for storage and showers – and a steady climatic environment – while limiting visual impact on the quasi-historic site.

Solar Diagram of McCormick Site

Ways of Seeing Earthquakes (Or, Is Emergence More “Intelligent” Than Technology?)

Arnold Genthe, 1906 San Francisco Earthquake (via Online Archive of California)

Second Response to Sundial Poll, Emergence; First Response to Forman

In a previous post, I referenced a RadioLab episode that indicated that the intelligence of emergence shows itself in various contests, such as one in which a group of people estimate how many pieces of candy are in a given jar.  Because many have found that the average estimate is commonly more accurate than the guess of any individual, I experimented with the estimates and results from our sundial poll to a very questionable end.  One number turned out to be very accurate, but all of the others were not.

Having as a result a relative distrust of either the episode’s reporting or my calculations, I was surprised to be confronted in our Structures class with another case of the intelligence of emergence, one which not only speaks to the intelligence in numbers but also – potentially – the ability of emergence to hint at things which we cannot yet see.

What was raised in Structures that was so indicative of emergence is this: before we had the technological means to detect the epicenter and extent of an earthquake, we, collectively, were able to identify in roughly quantitative terms its range of disturbance through newspaper reports.  As Prof. Kirk Martini indicated, a qualitative means of assessing the strength of an earthquake has been developed and used in the United States, known as the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale.  This scale, ranging from 1 to 12, provides various descriptions of how an earthquake has effected a given location (i.e., 1 = “Not felt”; 3 = “Felt indoors . . . Hanging objects swing”; 8 = “Steering of motor cars affected”; 9 = “General panic . . . Serious damage to reservoirs”; etc.).  However vague these descriptions may be, when this scale, commonly in use today, was applied to newspaper reports around the country nearly 100 years before the scale was developed and well before modern technology was available to measure and track earthquake intensity, an accurate portrayal of an earthquake was nevertheless available.

Bolt, 1811 New Madrid Earthquake Diagram

As evident in the image above, Bruce Bolt was able to detect from various newspaper reports a collective, quantitative assessment of the center and range of influence of the New Madrid earthquake of 1811.  Although the dependency of any individual report is relative and questionable, the collective information gathered demonstrates a clear trend, suggesting that these reports were able to detect the earthquake accurately. (Newspaper reports from the western United States are not included simply because of the relative lack of established cities and newspapers in that region at that time – less than a decade following the Louisiana Purchase.)

What such a discovery indicates, I think, is a general challenge to technology.  Throughout history, we have developed numerous means by which we are able to see differently: the telescope provided the means to see Jupiter’s moons, and the microscope the world too small for our eyes to discern.  Or, following Richard T. T. Forman and others in Landscape Ecology Principles, airplanes and the widespread availability of aerial photographs coincided with the development of the term “landscape ecology.”  This seems to suggest that by developing technology, whether it is the telescope, microscope, or airplane, we are able to understand the world through a new perspective.  Technology precedes perspective in these cases.

While that last statement is untrue and unnecessary in many cases – as many things besides technology can cause changes of perspective or paradigm shifts – it does suggest that technology still plays an essential role in helping to establish certain new perspectives.  However, the research conducted on the New Madrid earthquake would suggest that in the cases in which technology aids in our understanding of the world, there may have already been a means by which that understanding of the world could be gained – without the technology that now “provides” that perspective.  Understanding emergence and where it might show itself, then, may be a means by which we can gain certain new perspectives without the now undeveloped technologies that may eventually enable those perspectives in the future.  The answers to some questions, in other words, may already be available if we only know where to look.

How, then, do we gain potential new perspectives or understandings of the world through emergence?  Quite possibly, and ironically enough following the previous paragraph, through technology.

USGS and Twitter Mapping of Earthquake (via

If intelligence through emergence demonstrates itself through the amassing of information from many sources, technology now provides a means by which we can collect and analyze great quantities of data in minimal timeframes.  Although I have no claims here to how amassing data from multiple sources might resolve issues at the forefront of science (i.e., the theory of everything), I can return to the issue of earthquakes.  As evident in the image above, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) continues to use the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale to help locate the center and region of influence of an earthquake.  The Community Internet Intensity Map (CIIM) allows people throughout the country to report on the intensity of an earthquake at their locale, which is conglomerated with other reports into a map that effectively shows the center and range of influence (top, left).  Although each report may be slightly incorrect according to the Mercalli scale, the collective information reveals a general, dependable trend.

To this end, the USGS is now investigating the use of Twitter as a potential replacement for the CIIM system.  The remaining maps from the image above demonstrate, based on research conducted by Paul Earle and others, that Twitter can be an effective means of displaying realtime information about an earthquake and its relative intensity.  Technology, it appears here, makes possible the amassing and analysis of collective, emergent knowledge.  With such developments in the gathering and sharing of information, what else might we be able to understand holistically from what we already independently know in fragments?

For more information on Twitter-informed earthquake analysis, click here.

Interventions in Chesapeake Bay (Or, Feedback Loops and Personification)

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, The Ghost of Taira Tomomori (via

Response to September 28 Workshop Exercise

In efforts to apply Meadows’ recommendations for systems thinking to the Chesapeake Bay, a nexus on which multiple systems bear, we determined two central means of intervention: that of placing information feedback loops to discourage harmful stormwater runoff and working to change paradigms regarding the consumption of Bay seafood.  The latter, as Meadows indicates, would be far more difficult to achieve (although it might occur instantly), but is far reaching in its effects; the former, with which I will begin here, would similarly be difficult to achieve but concerns the built environment, as opposed to the culturally-ingrained eating preferences.

In order to limit harmful stormwater runoff, we proposed a set of laws that would require that all existing and new construction be responsible for all rainwater that falls within property lines – as well as the street width that faces the property.  In doing so, property owners would be required to develop retention areas for stormwater surges, thereby allowing for all rainwater to be able to infiltrate on site and allow for any pollutants to be controlled via local plants and soil.  Groundwater would therefore become gradually replenished once rainfall is maintained on site and not distributed to bodies of water through stormwater pipes, and many pollutants would be prevented from reaching the Chesapeake.  As a result, a number of Meadows’ intervention points come to bear: establishing buffers (by allowing for the storage and gradual infiltration of rainfall rather than immediate dispersal), modifying stock and flow structures to provide those buffers (by replacing pipes with stormwater retention areas), using rules and regulations, and providing an information feedback loop to property owners (by requiring that property owners directly address pollutants in the area as opposed to sending them downstream).

In regard to changing the paradigm of food consumption – that is, to discourage the overconsumption of sensitive Bay marine and other life – a very different approach can be implemented.  Although rules and regulations could similarly be put in place to simply prevent the oversale of certain kinds of animals, what might be more effective in the long term would be encouraging a cultural shift away from the consumption of certain kinds of seafood until a harvest rate-birthrate equilibrium is reached, as is needed for the blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) shown below.

Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab (C. sapidus) (via

To help frame this issue, I thought it would be helpful to present a way in which a similar end had already been achieved – that is, how the refusal to eat a certain kind of crab in Japan had been in place for centuries.  According to several writers including Carl Sagan and Micheal Bok, Japanese refused to eat a crab known as Heikea japonica because, to many, the back of the crab resembles a samurai warrior.  Japanese folklore indicates that, following an important battle between the Heike Empire and the Genji in 1185, the samurai of the Heike Empire committed suicide by throwing themselves over the sides of their boats to avoid surrendering.  As evident in the drawings at the beginning of the post and below, legend purported that the souls of those samurai are now embodied within the crab, known popularly as the Heike Crab or Samurai Crab.

Heike Crabs of Dan-no-ura Bay (via

Heike Crab (via Joel W. Martin, The Samurai Crab)

Sagan and others have raised the contested argument that this may be an instance of artificial selection, in which a species evolved through human intervention – that the crab had a greater chance of surviving the more it resembled a samurai, as it would be returned to the sea after unintended capture.  Other crabs that did not resemble fallen soldiers were more likely to be eaten.  Although Bok indicates that the refusal to eat the crab may be more a result of the minimal amount of  meat offered by the crab, the potential for the former reason to be true demonstrates what I believe to be an important lesson in discouraging or encouraging certain actions.

That is, if H. japonica were eaten less often than other crabs by the Japanese due to their collective resemblance to samurai, it is their personification that proves effective in discouraging their consumption.  Personification of animals and other lifeforms is not uncommon, of course; the Smokey the Bear campaign to prevent forest fires was highly successful, in part (if not wholly) due to the personification of a bear as teacher.  

Keeping these various campaigns in mind, we imagine for Chesapeake Bay a similar advertising/education campaign, in which the blue crab or other Bay animal could become the centerpoint, a new educator for children in the area  – one that comes from the entity potentially most affected by human action.  This, if created in a way that does not altogether discourage seafood consumption and instead stresses overconsumption, may also help establish sustainable harvest rates for watermen. The combination of this campaign with efforts like those mentioned earlier to reduce pollution from entering the Bay can therefore work together to not only protect the endangered animal life, but the human livelihoods that are dependent on the Chesapeake, as well.

Emergence and the Sundial Poll (Or, Congratulations to Us All?)

Turn Into Jelly, Storefront Display, Selfridges, London (via

An early RadioLab episode indicates that one of the ways in which emergence reveals itself is through contests similar to the sundial poll, in which a large group of people are asked to estimate a given quantity.  According to the program, a group of people that are asked to predict the weight of an animal or the amount of jellybeans in a jar are more accurate collectively – via the mean estimate – than any individual by him or herself.

Having now determined the date and time at which the sundial reached the “never” location, September 28 at 4:17 p.m., I decided to test whether some element of emergence would present itself through the variety of guesses posted by some 70 students.

In order to do so, I gathered only those entries that offered a specific date and time (57) and initially averaged individually the months, dates, hours, and minutes posited by students.  Months were averaged based on their position in the calendar year (i.e., January = 1, February = 2, etc.), and the dates, minutes, and hours were counted simply as their given numbers (i.e., 4 p.m. = 4).  The average guess based on these calculations: October 13 at 4:20 p.m.

The date, of course, was incorrect (and would have been more incorrect had I tallied the entries for January and February as 13 and 14, as opposed to 1 and 2, because most estimates understood January as coming after December and not well before it as the numbers used would suggest).  However, the mean time of day was estimated within three minutes of the actual time.

Sundial Poll Time (via

I had been trying to understand for the past two hours the substantial difference between the accuracy of the time estimation and the high inaccuracy of the date estimation.  Emergence, it seemed, had and had not presented itself, which perhaps discredited the accuracy of the time estimation.  There was a part of me that felt as though the recreation of the jellybean jar contest was only possible in estimating the time and not the date here, simply because the full range of times were available to choose from (i.e., 12 am to 12 pm), and likely only post-September times may have been deemed possible for the date because of the location of the sundial at the beginning of the contest.

However, what I instead found on further investigation was that only by the calculations above for time could emergence be said to appear.  When I realized that in fact two a.m. times were included in the guesses, I recalculated the hours based on military time (i.e., 4 p.m. = 16), and this proved to decrease the estimation’s accuracy by about half an hour.  Hoping then my main fault was in my broader means of calculation, I reduced everything to minutes to find an average based on this assumption: beginning with New Year’s Day at 12:00 a.m. as the zero minute mark, I calculated how many minutes passed until the guesses (i.e., November 26 at 3:45 p.m. = 513,585 minutes, etc.) and averaged those amounts.  Sure to have finally found the solution and to have discovered the intelligence inherent in emergence, I was instead disappointed to find that the accuracy further decreased.  The average was now October 14 at 5:19 a.m., and when only time was taken into account, the average guess was for 3:20 p.m.

This, of course, raises a number of questions: Is the sample size too small?  Were there too many biases imbedded in the contest that restricted an accurate mean date and time (i.e., known presence of the sundial, submissions of comments without any thought to meet class requirements)?  Or is the emergent property of which the RadioLab program spoke incorrect?  Can emergence really show itself here, if at all?

Although I am unconvinced of anything, I will finish the post with a final thought: that perhaps the decreased accuracy of the time estimation occurred with more accurate means of estimating time because we all think more generally, qualitatively, than always in military time or in the amount of minutes that have passed since New Year’s Day.  Did we make the estimates of the time based on hour and then minute, as my initial calculations unintentionally recreated?  Perhaps.  Or, perhaps the key to finding the most accurate prediction lies in something else entirely: we all just need to be Charles.

Preassesment Questions for Bay Game

Name: Jack Cochran | UVA Email: | Course Instructor: William Sherman

I have not played the UVA Bay Game before.

1. List the variables and concepts that you think are part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed system (You can list as many as you would like. Use additional space if needed).

Life: humans, fish, insects, bacteria/microscopic lifeforms, non-human mammals, birds, water-based vegetation, land-based vegetation, amphibious vegetation

Non-living material/energy flows: rainfall, evaporation, water currents, gravity, soil erosion, waste

Human-enhanced flows/events: nitrogen accumulation, air pollution, water pollution

Human societal factors: production, capital, consumption, waste, resource extraction, reinvestment

2. Describe the relationship and interaction between these variables. Be specific. For example, if you state that A influences B, indicate the direction and nature of the influence (i.e., A transforms B in this way, A increases/decreases B, etc.).

I would argue after Meadows that it is helpful to understand the above variables/entities as portions of subsystems, which interact in various ways with other subsystems but also act of their own accord and separate from the meta-system.

The two primary subsystems at work (of those variables listed) are humanmade and non-human natural.

The former, comprised of the industrial/food production model, is open ended in terms of its resource extraction, generation of a good from that resource, the consumption of the good, and its disposal.  In the process, capital gained from product consumption fuels further resource extraction and product creation, which further increases consumption.  The process can have outputs in addition to the disposal of the good or product; this is manifested in air and water pollution, and in particular to the Chesapeake Bay (as is my understanding), oversupply of nitrogen.

The non-human natural subsystem can be seen as two separated sub-subsystems, the first being the relationship between flora and fauna in the area and the latter being the non-living material/energy flows such as rainfall, evaporation, and soil erosion.  The first sub-subsystem is a balancing system, in which the flora and fauna keep themselves at manageable levels of population for the persistence of many of the species.  Plants feed certain animals, which feed other animals, but overconsumption of any aspect of the system decreases the number of the consumers until a manageable level is achieved.  There arise, of course, situations in which this balancing feedback loop does not occur.  If an aspect of the system is overconsumed to the point of its inability to recover, for example, that which consumes it either dies out as well or finds another food source, which then affects still other species.  However, the balancing feedback loop tends to characterize the vast majority of the relationships within this sub-subsystem.

The system of material/energy flows also acts of its own accord, and can be said to be circular in most of its aspects.  For example, water in the Chesapeake Bay evaporates (or runs to the ocean where it evaporates eventually), becomes rainfall, and whether directly or through gravity on land returns to the Chesapeake.  The death of an animal or plant begins decomposition and returns nutrients to be used in living plants and animals, which then die and decompose.

These subsystems are essential constituents of the Chesapeake Bay metasystem.  However, what is perhaps more important to understanding the system and its condition today is the way in which these subsystems interact.  As resource extraction and product production increase and more pollution and nitrogen are generated, the health and ability for plants to produce food for animals/insects and for animals to be alive for other animals to consume becomes decreased.  This decrease in health of the ecosystem and its constituent parts arises both from a general decrease in ability to grow food/consume food and the overabundance of one species.  Pollution caused by human goods/food production both decreases the ability of species to reproduce and feeds the substantial growth of algae through overabundance of nitrogen in the water, which then decreases the ability of other flora and fauna to reproduce.

3. On a separate piece of paper, diagram (either free-hand or with a software program) the variables you described above demonstrating the relationships and interactions that influence the watershed.

Systems Diagram: Ability to Work

In the process of diagramming systems, whether a hydroponic system or the ability to concentrate and do work, I have found myself continually in need of a better means to represent relationships and system components.  Although Meadows’ stock and flow diagrams are relatively easy to understand for simple systems, I am beginning to feel as though even a step beyond straightforward feedback loops demands reinterpretation and re-representation.  There are many intricate and complex relationships even in relatively simple systems, evident perhaps in my apparent need to add pluses and minuses to the diagram above and my inability to fully pursue the interrelationships of farming systems in the previous post, which arose partly due to a desire to avoid an illegible network of lines and arrows that would have demanded finger-tracing to follow.  Instead, I am beginning to wonder whether arrows and inputs and outputs are enough, and am interested in applying what I recently read of Tufte’s work.  Mapping systems, surely, comes under the realm of the information graphic, and his recommendations are worth further exploration.

A Trip to the Systems Farm

Urban Farm, Urban Epicenter (Jung Min Nam) (via

Response to Donella H. Meadows, Thinking in Systems (Ch. 1 and 2), Development of Idea for Research Project

It is my intention, as best as that can be determined at an early date, to address aspects of the vertical farm in the research component of the course.  Because farming in buildings – and, inherently, the creation of new farmland – seems to be increasingly important to food security, availability of water and other resources, and environmental stability, the utilization of such an agricultural system may become more likely.  However, while the vertical farm as a system would mirror in essence that of traditional farming, the restrictions and requirements placed on farming in buildings wholly shifts the way in which plants are grown.  And in an era in which resources are becoming increasingly limited, resource-intensive agricultural technologies commonly used in indoor farms and greenhouses question the viability of the vertical farm and demand reinvestigation.

With this future task in mind, I have included below diagrams that investigate the systems of traditional and indoor farming to begin to better understand the advantages, disadvantages, and interrelations of each method.  Based upon the principles of systems described by Meadows, the diagrams investigate the various components of each system, how the systems perpetuate or balance themselves, and where potential problems and successes might be found to avoid/use in vertical farming.

Each diagram begins with grown food as its “stock,” with problematic relationships shown in red.  These diagrams also attempt to avoid the “clouds” in Meadows’ diagrams and thereby have the potential of demonstrating a zero-waste system – but only if the system enables it.

Diagram of Conventional Farming System

Diagram of Hydroponic Farming System

Although these diagrams are by no means complete, they begin to express the fundamental differences between traditional and indoor farming.  Many of the essential components remain the same, as a plant needs nutrients, sunlight, and water to grow.  However, these become highly dependent – even more so than outdoor farming has become – on petroleum or other energy generation means in indoor farming.  Sunlight is replaced by electrical lighting, and nutrients and water are provided consistently through pumps in hydroponics.  Petroleum becomes the initial source here, while in traditional farming it has become one of many components.  Means to improve the indoor growing system need to be developed, and a potential means of intervention – namely, to reduce dependence on input energy – would be to reintroduce natural components into the indoor system, such as through natural ventilation, arrangement of floorplates to maximize sunlight, and recycling and filtration of water.