Archive for October 2016 | Monthly archive page

posted by | on , , , , | Comments Off on Happy Halloween: Historical Sight-Seeing in the DC Area

By Gabrielle Vicari

Many people believe that cemeteries are unsettling places, likely because they are grounds where the deceased have been buried. However, there was a time when cemeteries were intended for active visiting and exploration. Although cemeteries don’t usually play host to a lot of visitors today, they do offer a unique way to get out this fall (and beyond!) and explore the sites we’ve got right here in Washington, DC.

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The Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC

Cemeteries are typically visited for funerals, ghost tours, or a thrilling night out as a teenager.  In the nineteenth century, however, rural or “garden” cemeteries were popular public spaces. Landscaped and showcasing sculpture and architecture, these meticulously planned properties emerged during the Victorian era and explored and inspired the contemporary cultural obsession with death.

The rural cemetery movement was initially a campaign to end burial in the overflowing, dangerous, and disease-ridden graveyards of crowded Victorian-era city centers. Often located on the edge of developed cities, rural cemeteries were specifically designed to be visited and enjoyed. Verdant landscaping and winding paths evoked a pastoral feel removed from the grime and chaos of downtown, and elaborate sculptures and mausoleums served the dual purpose of grave marker and artistic meditation on mortality.

Washington, DC’s rural cemeteries have largely remained in their original state while the city developed around them. This is also true for Laurel Hill Cemetery (Philadelphia, 1836) and Mount Auburn Cemetery (Boston, 1831). Georgetown’s Oak Hill Cemetery (1849) was the first DC-area tract to be planned as a rural cemetery. Glenwood Cemetery (1854) and neighboring Prospect Hill (1858) adopted this style as well, and many more area properties followed suit. Rock Creek Cemetery, originally established in the early 1790s, expanded in the rural cemetery style.

A historical headstone at the Congressional Cemetery.

A historical headstone at the Congressional Cemetery

Modern “memorial parks” have a very different appearance from historical rural cemeteries. Instead of grand monuments with art spanning from the religious to the secular, today’s headstones are often small or level with the ground—hidden from view and reflecting a societal change of minimizing our contact with death. Historically, grave markers were adorned with symbols indicating the deceased’s religious beliefs, personal characteristics, or occupation. During the years when the garden cemetery movement was at its height, grand mausoleums and ornate sculptures focused on more philosophical ideas, offering meditations on the fleeting nature of life through the built environment.

Death has become a far less visible part of daily life for the average person in Western culture. Instead of funerals occurring in the family home, the ritual and procedure of death has increasingly become the purview of hospitals and funeral homes. As a result of this sanitization of death, American culture has gained a distaste for dwelling on our own mortality.

The world-famous Arlington Cemetery, just outside of Washington D.C.

The world-famous Arlington Cemetery, just outside of Washington, DC

It may seem out of place, and even disrespectful, to visit a cemetery for the purpose of exploration and recreation. You should not, of course, go with irreverence. Whether you’re exploring just to get outside or for educational purposes, being mindful of where you are is important. However, you should also keep in mind the ideals that fueled the property’s design—the park-like setting is meant to relax, draw people outside, and inspire meditation on life and death. Garden cemeteries were intended as a place for people to visit. Even if you’re not looking for a heavy meditation on death, you can get out to explore a new part of DC and learn something in the process!

Gabrielle is a transplant from Philadelphia, which she maintains is the best city in the world. She received her MA in Historic Preservation from the University of Delaware and lives in Columbia Heights with her yarn stash, history books, and expansive collection of coffee mugs. When she’s not excitedly lecturing friends about architecture and history, you can find her watching costume dramas or racking up stamps in her National Parks Passport.

posted by | on , , , , | Comments Off on A call to action for sustainability enthusiasts at work

sustainability-advocate-blog

By Brittany Ryan

From launching petitions to marching in protests, I’ve come a long way since my environmental activist days. Though still an advocate, I’ve found a different way to channel passion into action. Through my experiences in both the academic and professional sustainability field, becoming a green leader in the workplace has proven to be a very effective strategy.

The first step in triggering a catalytic force behind any social movement is to be the change. The power of Gandhi’s principles resonates with all of us out there trying to cultivate our lifestyle with the hope of inducing a societal paradigm shift. If a more sustainable world is what we wish to see, we must start by polishing our personal habits.

But the next step to inflicting change is motivating others. Even if you’re still working out the kinks in the process of “greenifying” your life, take a leadership role and transform the status quo. Nothing is more frustrating than a person or motivated group that cries out a problem, relentlessly blaming another party, and yet fails to play an active role in the solution. I’m asking all of you eco-folks out there to take what you know and lead – specifically, at work.gandhi

Start with materials management

Somewhere along the path of development, we failed to acknowledge and incorporate life cycle assessments and holistic supply chain management into our operative norms. This led to poor materials management practices, increasing waste, economic inefficiencies, and environmental degradation. Although our nation’s recycling and recovery practices improved over time, as of 2013 we still send over 50% of our generated materials to a landfill. After accounting for recycling and recovery processes, the top three wasted materials are food, plastic, and paper, respectively. This week, take a look at your office trash and recycling receptacles and you’ll notice those three items comprise a majority of what we toss.jdmmm

Your workplace provides great opportunity to inspire change, and I speak from experience. Since joining my company about a year ago, I’ve made it my mission to lead an internal sustainability initiative. Working diligently with my team, we identify opportunities for improvement, promote educational awareness, and implement real solutions. Our materials management efforts bumped our landfill diversion rate to an impressive 86%. The impact is rippling; the staff is eager to
become more educated on the subject, actively share these practices at home, and offer new ideas for building our internal sustainability operations. Our community relationships evolved as we share similar goals with the municipality and help to promote a local veteran-employed organization.

A leader in the workplace does not need to rely solely on passion and the “do-good” feeling to convince an organization to make changes. Waste, by the very nature of its name, is inefficient. Nationwide, major companies – think Google – are capitalizing on revamping their materials management because it not only builds their public relations, but it makes business sense. Better management of materials allows for cost savings through a reduction in use or repurposing and serves as a potential revenue stream.

Waste is more than just what we send to a landfill. Materials management encompasses the materials coming into the company, the way products are used, and the manner in which they are sorted for discarding. Digging into this process sheds light on a breadth of adjustments that reduce materials use and save the company money, ranging from office supplies to kitchenware to cleaning products and beyond. 

Next steps

Start by taking part of a sustainability committee, and if one doesn’t exist, investigate how to build one. Use a team to brainstorm positive initiatives that benefit both the company and its staff – make that business case! Understand the current operative practices and measure the company’s performance over time. Share ideas and results with the staff at large, and solicit their input as a continuous feedback loop. And definitely always champion successes through newsletters, social media, and other communication channels to give credit where it’s due and motivate others to do the same.

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The benefits to leading change in the workplace are multifaceted. Not only does it accomplish altruistic goals of making the word a better place, but also enables you to distinguish yourself amongst a pool of very competitive thought-leaders further advancing professional development. Becoming an agent of change is empowering and as awareness builds and an increasing number of communities (whether a neighborhood, office, or city) manage resources more efficiently, the sooner sustainability transforms from a choice to the everyday norm.

To find out more information about commercial recycling, click here.

Born and raised on the Jersey coast, Brittany became a resident of the DC Metro Area in 2013. She earned her Master of Public Policy from the University of Maryland in 2015 and has since been working for an energy management and sustainability consulting firm in Falls Church, VA. Brittany also has a real knack for pickling cucumbers and making guacamole.