Food Systems, Team Update #2

Project update by Adriana Baird, Moon, Han Lin (Nancy), Alec Hogan, Zoey Zhou Yang

After a guest lecture from Professor Xie of the NRDC on sustainable urban development, our group took a moment to organize and restructure the plan for our Food Systems project. We discussed and defined the overall objectives of the group project: to conduct the initial research on the relationship between food preferences and urban development that could be used to delve further into to the food systems subject in the future. From there, we decided to focus on three topics within food systems: Quality, Waste, and Culture.

Some examples of questions we hope to address in these topics are:


  • Where does food come from?
  • Is food quality a factor in the decision to buy food from a certain vendor?
  • How does food quality vary by the type of food vendor?
  • How has food quality changed in Beijing over the years?

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Energy, Team Update #2

Project update from Christina Zhou, Elsa and Noelle Herring

The past few days, we’ve been working to understand the heating situation near Tsinghua University across a variety of building types, ranging from old hutong style buildings to campus coffee shops. Types of technologies we’ve seen range from coal stoves to district heating.

One key interview that stood out was one with an old woman who had lived in the historical preservation buildings near campus. To get her to talk more freely, we focused not only on the logistics of her coal use, but also the feelings involved. She was frustrated with the inconvenience and cost of the coal, on top of the health impacts from breathing in so much smoke the winter. She didn’t like that the building’s historical preservation status meant that it was impossible to redevelop the electricity, which couldn’t handle additional voltage for electric heaters. Moving forward, we will be doing research online (Taobao!) to see prices for coal and get a better sense of building efficiency improvements, and capture additional insights.




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Sailing the Streets

There is something truly wondrous about riding a bicycle through the streets of Beijing: the sense of motion, the air and freedom, the breeze rushing past as you balance and keep afloat. Even the sounds of angry car horns decrescendo into simple aural reminders: a way to keep track of one’s surroundings without craning your neck every which way. “Negotiated flow,” the bike nostalgic called it.

I join the throng of two-wheelers, feeling a sense of camaraderie as we cycle the boulevards like a school of fish—scooters or bikes, single riders or pairs—happily sailing through the land canals of what was once the northern bicycle Venice.

Day 9: Fieldwork

Energy Team Update #1

This update is by Christina Zhou, Elsa Wang, Noelle Herring

Residential Heating in 承泽园: A Study of Comparisons

On the fourth floor of the Tsinghua Art and Design building, perched atop lockers next to long windows that span the entire length of one wall of the building’s inside courtyard, I write.  Outside, there is an array of matching windows on each of the other three courtyard walls.  These windows are not identically, as many are cracked open to varying degrees.

While summer draws to a close and Beijing enters its most comfortable season, the pollution remains light, assisted in part by a quiet breeze, yet in just a few months, a dry chill will descend upon the city, casting some areas in severe cold, and a few in severe heat.  As one Tsinghua student described, sometimes the dorms located on higher floors of the dormitory building are heated to such an extent that students want to open the windows in the middle of winter, showing a lack of efficiency in existing HVAC design.

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Electric Vehicles Team Update #1

This post is by Geena Chen, William Woo, Sophia Wu, Fay Yang

What did you do?
Yesterday we rode our bikes to three different sites around Tsinghua University to document our observations of electric vehicles in Beijing. First we stopped at a courtyard of elderly people’s apartments. Because citizens over the age of 60 are forbidden from driving gas-powered vehicles by law, many elderly citizens choose to drive electric vehicles. In the parking spaces around the buildings, we took pictures of six low-end electric vehicles, which were all refitted three-wheel bikes. We were not able to find any vehicle owners to interview at these sites, but William shared his expertise about the vehicles as we walked around so that we could all get a better idea of what the EV landscape is like in Beijing.

Our second site was an EV rental and charging station called Ecar. The parking lot was full, showing us that nobody had rented a vehicle at the time we were there. We took photos of the charging equipment and tried to speak with the employee on duty. Though we didn’t find out much, we plan to return when we have prepared interview questions.

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Food Systems Team Update #1

This post is by Adriana Baird, Moon, Han Lin (Nancy), Alec Hogan, Zoey Zhou Yang

We are the food systems group, investigating the changing nature of food systems and preferences in modern Beijing during this period of rapid urbanization. We are excited to engage in this project through observing people in their environments, interviewing individuals in different places and spaces in Beijing, using other various fieldwork techniques like counting and tracking, and of course, eating the food of Beijing.

What did you do?

We began this workshop as strangers to one another, but have since pushed past the language barrier and are both friends and collaborators. After breaking the initial awkwardness through icebreakers, we got to know each other by sharing experiences. We have shared everything from meals to intimate bike trips and trips to cafes.  The two Americans sat on the back of our Chinese collaborators bikes, which drew quite a few looks and laughs across the Tsinghua campus. In sharing these experiences as a group, we are definitely forming a more cohesive unit that will be beneficial in adding enjoyment and productivity to the experience moving forward. We are leaning the idiosyncrasies of our very different cultures, and are going to try and learn a new phrase from each other every day. Hopefully by the end of the seminar Adriana and Alec will be able to say more than “hello,” “goodbye,” and “thank you” in Chinese, and Nancy, Zoe, and Moon will pick up some American slang.

In terms of formal activities, we have done some preliminary fieldwork and practiced a few fieldwork and observing techniques from the Bridge Café in Wudaokou, presented our observations to the rest of the students in the seminar, and have since begun to delve deeper into forming the foundation for our project. Today we explored the topic of food systems in general through a “mind map” in order to come to a more narrow research question that we can use to address the four pillars of sustainability. It took us a while to come to a research question that we all though was relevant and interesting because of the broad spectrum of the topic and an inability to understand one another perfectly. We spent a lot of time discussing and sharing our views over lunch at the canteen and the Paradiso Café during out break. After a few hours of discussion, we ultimately decided on a research question and proceeded to create our action plan for next week–where we are going to go, who we are going to talk to, and when we are going to do it. We all seem to be on the same page and are excited to go into the field and start researching!

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Land Use Team Update

This post is by Tucker Bryant, Zirai Huang, Mercedes Peterson, Yuxiao Pu

The bulk of the progress made so far in team Land Use (a better name is to be decided) has been in solidifying our research purpose, approach, and plan. As far as our purpose is concerned, we decided that, with the resources available to us, we wanted to focus our study on understanding who in Beijing has access to what kinds of services and amenities—a question whose answer lies in the way Beijing’s land is used. We felt that this would be an important question to investigate because answering it will help us understand how different living environments around the city can influence the degree to which a citizen’s day-to-day needs are met, and how a lack of access to certain services can lead to costs (especially environmentally and economically) that have important implications on the sustainability of Beijing’s urban communities.

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