Notes from the Urban Front

by Emily Lubahn ’11

After a recent talk in San Francisco, I noticed that the speaker, a national expert on tactical urbanism, had a copy of Conway’s con’text magazine in his hands. I tried not to rudely interrupt his conversation, but I couldn’t contain my excitement! It turns out that the person with whom he was speaking had given him the magazine. So on the spot I met Aitan Mizrahi, a member of Conway’s class of 2015.

I am currently working with Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF). We are partnering with San Francisco’s planning department to make the first urban forest plan. Last year a friend and I produced a call-to-action video about the Tenderloin neighborhood of the city. I’ve been living in this neighborhood for three years, watching the tech companies move in, wondering how I could tap their financial resources to improve street conditions. This June, I will work with FUF to launch #techplantssf, its second program. We’re partnering with the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, a stakeholder located at the juxtaposition of the Tenderloin and Civic Center (with an under-publicized street-level green roof).

On the urban-ag front my team and I have just launched a food systems nonprofit focused on hyperlocal growing for schools and businesses. Our “Urban Farmacy” currently develops curricula for schools in line with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) standards and applied learning techniques, while building ecological awareness. We plan to grow our services over the next six months to cater to businesses that want food systems on corporate campuses, in restaurants, and offices. We will design, build, and operate the food systems. Our goals include generating revenue while tapping into tech money and providing students who go through our program with jobs as managers and operators of food systems at the businesses.

Our first pilot project is a partnership with the Sustainable Urban Design Academy, where we are in four classes in the tenth and eleventh grades teach ing students how to build hydroponic systems. These systems will soon replace the former ROTC gun range on campus—the Guns 2 Gardens project. We swooped in after an aquaponics partner backed out. Our first day in the classroom started with kids saying they don’t do math, and ended with the very same students completing complex equations to determine water flow in the hydroponic system they are now building. Applied learning at its best!

Students in the Guns 2 Gardens program plant greens in the hydroponic garden they designed and built. The students enjoyed the harvest of the first crop in class, and will experiment with creating value-added products using the second crop. Photo: Emily Lubahn

This profile originally appeared in the 2015 issue of con’text magazine.