ecoPOPPING cools our cities

Marianna Verlage is an Environmental Engineer from the United States; she moved to Sydney in May 2015 to pursue her passion for sustainability and gain international experience. She is working with Michael on several environmental projects. This is her guest post.

I arrived to Sydney in May 2015, and although I was going into my second winter for the year, there was one thing I already knew about my soon-to-be home: it can get VERY hot. Being a native Texan, hot summer days are nothing new to me, and since I began working with Michael Mobbs, counteracting Sydney’s heat and implementing projects to cool the city has been one of my main goals.

My first couple of months with Michael were focused on his Cooling a City Block project with Street Coolers, a government funded organisation that Michael started to raise awareness and combat the Urban Heat Island Effect in cities across Australia. I began to work closely with Newtown residents and formed a close relationship with the administrators, teachers and students at The Athena School, and we were able to incorporate several aspects of the project into the children’s curriculum. The general interest from government officials and people in Newtown as well as the Athena School’s enthused participation was incredibly gratifying and refreshing.

Unfortunately, back in the States when I had seen fellow Texans respond to topics such as climate change and Urban Heat Island (if they had even heard of the term), the conversation turned into a political debate about Democrats vs Republicans and how “those liberals” were making it all up. But the people I’ve been working with in Newtown just get it, and they know the negative effects that we as humans have had on the environment to be true. A highlight for me was seeing the Street Coolers’ project come alive as The Athena high school students each presented at their own “station” and talked about the parts of the Street Coolers’ project they had worked on and what they had learned with topics ranging from recycling to composting to energy monitoring. Everything came back to the same goal: cool our streets by decreasing pollution, composting, reducing our energy usage, and of course by increasing vegetated areas.

This last point, increasing vegetated areas as an effective easy way to cool cities, is something I’ve spent a lot of time and resources on lately, and it was apparent to me that getting more green spaces in cities needs to be hands on (like the Street Coolers’ project). It’s not enough to just read about the benefits of compost and understand that it can help your trees and gardens grow, which would theoretically cool your surroundings. Sustainable changes need to be tangible and real: let’s actually turn our food waste into rich nutrients, plant trees and gardens, and feel first-hand how much cooler an otherwise hot, bitumen area feels. I suspect, if this is the approach my beloved Texans took, conversations about urban heat would be very different.

So, all this brings me to some exciting news: Michael and I are selling an amazingly unique, self-sustaining garden called an ecoPOP that’s designed to cool public areas and provide an interactive, educational green space that builds community:

  • ecoPOPs are irrigated by a custom pump designed by our colleagues at the University of Sydney; and there is a solar panel attached to the structure that powers the pump.
  • The large, vertical tanks on either side are designed to catch rainwater and can even take the rainwater runoff from a building nearby (another way of capitalising on a resource that would otherwise be wasted!).
  • The structure of the ecoPOP is a series of interconnected tanks that prevents anyone from tipping it over, making it vandal proof.
  • A space at the end of one of the tanks can be left for a worm farm, and a wick system in one of the beds brings up those nutrients to help the plants grow; your food waste becomes a resource and food for your plants all in this one, contained space!
  • ecoPOPs are interactive, educational tools for everyone, especially children. They provide and stimulating and fun way to learn about solar energy, water harvesting, local farming, and creating a habitat for native plants, birds and insects.
  • We have also partnered with Habitat the Game, a mobile or web-based game where kids undertake actions to keep an endangered polar bear alive. Players adopt a polar bear and keep it alive and healthy by completing events in the game and by undertaking real world actions. If Habitat the Game players scan an ecoPOP QR code, they are able to earn food to feed their bear.

There are currently a few ecoPOPs scattered around Sydney, and I was involved in our latest installation in Blacktown. During the past month, Michael and I have been finalising the design to make it as easy to use and setup as possible: when I was redesigning the irrigation system, my main criteria was that someone like me (not handy at all) would be able to put it together. You’ll be glad to hear that my first go at snapping and plugging together the new irrigation system only took me about thirty minutes!

 ecoPOP in Fremantle, WA

ecoPOP in Fremantle, WA

Things are looking great, and our ecoPOPs are ready to be scattered across Australia to start cooling streets and teaching people about sustainability in a hands-on, interactive, and community-building way. Visit www.ecopops.com.au to learn more about our product. You can also contact me (Marianna Verlage) at mariannaverlage@gmail.com or on my mobile +61 406 270 138 if you have any questions or would like to order your own ecoPOP.