The geography of green

Ian Oeser

Photo By Larry Dalton

Looking for a decent vegetarian restaurant? A place to fill your bike tire? A business that sells green building materials? It might be tough to find this information in the yellow pages. Luckily, architect Ian Oeser, his partner Amanda Bloesser and their friends are hard at work mapping all things green in central Sacramento. The Sacto Urban Roots Greenmapping Project borrows from similar green-map projects in cities like New York City and Portland and aspires to produce an easy-to-use visual guide to the products, services and places that can improve your quality of life while helping to protect the planet. For more information, e-mail or come to the “What makes Sacramento green?” workshop and walking tour at 2012 K Street on Sunday, June 22, at 1 p.m. The Greenmapping Project folks also will be at this year’s Earth Day festivities at California State University, Sacramento.

What is a green map?

A green map is a tool for envisioning your environment. It is also a means for people in, in this case, the central Sacramento area, to share how they are living and working in ways that are considerate to the planet. It’s a communication tool. Green maps were originated to help local residents find resources and to allow them to make their own choices for living a sustainable life.

How is it used?

You could be a tourist who’s coming into Sacramento and only spending a few days and wants to see the highlights that aren’t in the travel brochures. For residents, it can show things that might be two blocks away, but that you just don’t realize are there. If you are looking for environmentally friendly products to refinish your house, for example, a green map can help you. For my partner and I, farmers’ markets and community gardens have been the way that the green-mapping process has most impacted our lives. We’ve changed our eating habits, just by knowing where we can get the fresh produce all around town, within biking distance of where we live.

Where did this get its start?

In New York City a little over 10 years ago. The idea was basically to produce a visual reference so that local residents could see what was close to them. In New York, you don’t drive if you don’t have to.

That’s where the icons came from?

Right. There is a set of icons that are globally standardized. They provide a good base and visual continuity around the world. In Sacramento, something really important will be the trees [points to the “special tree” icon]. Another thing we’re really interested in is where the bike lanes and safe bike-lockup areas are [points to bicycle and bike-path icons] or places to refill your tires. We’ll include information showing where all the alternative-vehicle fueling stations are. There is also a whole category for blighted sites, toxic cleanup and traffic hazards.

“Shady boulevard” is already one of the [universal] icons. And shady boulevards really make Midtown lively and a place worth walking through, although I can see we’re going to have to develop a specific set of icons for Midtown.

These maps are pretty good visioning tools. The Community Garden Coalition mapped out where community gardens are and what foot traffic was. That found that our community gardens are miles apart. If you look at a map of Seattle, you see all these gardens within 10 minutes walking distance. Mandella Garden will be on [the Sacramento map], regardless of its fate. We will try to keep the memory of it, sort of “mapping memories.”

Is this costly to do?

Nope. It’s a nearly no-budget project. In fact, a green map can be very low-tech. Some of the best green maps are made by children with stickers and crayons. Youth maps are incredibly exciting. The next big step for us is getting into schools and neighborhoods and seeing how kids can use this to change their views.

So, how do you compile this map? You’re basically just walking around, looking at stuff?

Right. And we look for ways that we can improve the quality of our lives. Once we find that, there’s the desire to share it with others. Seventy-five percent of what we’ve found is just recommendations and word of mouth. It definitely gets your observation going. Our main purpose is to create a fresh perspective that illuminates the places in Sacramento where nature and the designed environment interconnect. It’s about how people and culture mix with the natural environment. There’s a relationship there. And simply by looking, you will learn.

When can we get one of these maps?

By the end of the summer for sure. For Earth Day, we’ll have a preliminary central Sacramento map, just for display. Hopefully, that will provide some impetus to fill in the gaps. We are wandering through Sacramento just observing. So, there are still lots of holes there, and we don’t want to leave anybody out who is really making efforts in the community.

How can people contribute?

The simplest way to contribute is simply to look down your block and observe what resources, services and spaces are available to you to make your life more sustainable or more courteous to the environment. If you find joy in that, then you will want to share that.