Green Living Magazine writes: “There’s something about Franke”

“Franke James is using her creativity to tackle climate change—armed with a paintbrush and a vivid imagination—and having dazzling results.”
Photo of Franke James by Kourosh Keshiri for Green Living Magazine

Franke James, artist, author and co-founder of The James Gang, is profiled in the Fall 2009 issue of Green Living Magazine. The issue urges Canadians “to take a stand” and challenges them to become greener citizens.

“Canadians want to do more for the environment than the proverbial ‘changing of lightbulbs,’ ” says Lindsay Borthwick, editor of Green Living magazine. “The goal of this issue was to show them how. From voting to volunteering, leading by example to making climate change art, we’ve showcased the numerous ways to help individuals, families and communities work toward significant environmental change.” Green Living Magazine cover, Autumn 2009

Green Living journalist Astrid Van Den Broek interviewed Franke for the profile and wrote, “James’ voice comes through so strongly in her eclectic, captivating online visual essays that sometimes I feel like I’ve been reading her diary entries, instead of public documents. But that’s exactly why they stand out. While so much environmental messaging is filled with admirable but often abstract concepts or clichéd language that fails to connect with its audience, James manages to avoid both. Instead, she offers her atypical journey toward a greener life in these can’t-click-away illustration-meets-photography-meets-storytelling essays.”

The Social Leper illustration by Franke James

Franke comments, “I was delighted when Green Living said they wanted to do an article on my environmental visual essays. However I was totally amazed at Astrid’s thoroughness in interviewing me — even interviewing people I know from across the country. And going back to where I attended grade school! I joked that it reminded me of the Sesame Street segment “This is YOUR Life!” I’m not usually the one being interviewed (if you know my work, I often interview friends, family, pundits, and strangers for my essays). But I’m very grateful they decided to write the article, and honored to be part of their “Take a Stand” issue — because taking action on climate change is the #1 challenge we face. Failure to reduce CO2 emissions today imperils the future well-being of our children and future generations. Society as a whole has not gotten that message, yet.”

Alex Mayer, Director of the Michigan Tech Center for Water and Society, who helped Franke calculate the stormwater runoff for Paradise Unpaved, was interviewed for the article. Dr. Mayer comments, “I’d never seen anything like these essays applied to environmental advocacy and it affected me intellectually and emotionally.”

Astrid goes on to write, “Mayer’s experience is echoed by Stan Kozak, curriculum specialist for Learning for a Sustainable Future, who recently witnessed James’ tour de force at a workshop on climate change education. “We’d spent two days looking at the science and it was not looking good. Then, bango, Franke James comes along and says ‘do the hardest thing first’ and then shows that she has done it and is still living to prove it—and she is artistically thriving and maybe even seeing some financial benefits as well,” says Kozak. “I think Franke should be the ‘closer’ at more conferences just to keep people’s spirits up—and let them know there is hope if people take personal responsibility.

“There’s something about Franke” is a lively and entertaining read about Franke’s role as an artist, environmental author and activist. It shares her passion, creativity and counter-intuitive advice to ‘do the hardest thing first’ with a growing audience.

But the story is still being written as Franke continues to share her message of environmental art and activism. Ryan Dean, a coordinator at Bates College (and a recent graduate) commented on her Bates College keynote to this year’s incoming students:

“What can I say? Attending your talk really put things into perspective for me. I can honestly say that your visit to Bates really made all of the lofty possibilities a tangible reality. I am so impressed because you not only recognize that you must take up this social responsibility yourself, but you are actually compelling enough to get others to do the same. Students here came away from your talk both with a greener conscience AND ways in which they could create activist art themselves. It’s brilliant.

I find your combination of activism and art completely inspiring and it has sparked an energy in me that has only grown in the days since! My head is buzzing with the number of new ideas that I am determined to see come to fruition. Thanks for everything.”

Franke James’ Footprint Saves City Money

AUGUST 7, 2008
reduced image scan of National Post article by Vanessa FarquharsonFranke James left her green footprint in The National Post today.

Vanessa Farquharson, the Post’s Sense & Sustainability columnist wrote about Franke’s real life story of ripping up her interlocking driveway, battling City Hall, and winning the right to be the first pilot project for a green driveway in North York (as told in Franke’s visual essay, Paradise Unpaved).

“Franke James likes doing the hard things first, which is why, when it came to reducing her carbon footprint, she skipped right past the programmable thermostat and coffee thermos business and headed straight for the real green challenge — selling her SUV and replacing the driveway with a garden.

Well, technically speaking, the driveway still exists. But it’s been completely covered in grass and surrounded with trees, bushes and other lush foliage…” from Kicking a keen sense of green to the curb Aug.7/08, The National Post, Page AL12

Permeable Driveways Save the City Money

Farquharson quotes Franke in her article, “If more people did this, it would save the city money… When you look 25 years down the road at how many people will be living here, how many more hard surfaces will be built — there’ll be a lot more stormwater runoff and we’ll have to build more water filtration plants. But if we start using permeable materials for our driveways, that’ll at least be a start.”

In Paradise Unpaved, Franke compared the stormwater runoff from her former interlock driveway versus her new green driveway and garden. She found that about 75% of the total annual runoff was diverted from the sewers and now recharges the groundwater and nourishes plants and trees. But she is just one homeowner. Would more permeable surfaces save the city significant money?

Chicago’s Green Alleys Project

Chicago thinks so. Their Green Alleys project aims to replace 1,900 miles of alleyways (more than any other city in the world), with permeable alleys. The program is designed to help manage stormwater, reduce the urban heat island effect and incorporate recycled materials (such as tires) into the permeable pavers. It’s an urgent initiative for the city. Their alleys are lacking proper sewer connections which cause serious flooding issues for homes nearby. The city realized that permeable alleyways would be a more cost-effective solution than expensive sewer hookups. Read more about Chicago’s Green Alleys.

Ontario’s costs forecast at $400 to $500 million

A recent article Lake cleanup viable if city handles runoff highlights the importance of Toronto finding a solution to polluted stormwater runoff.

“The Don and Inner Harbour have some 50 points where combined storm water and sanitary sewers can overflow during heavy rains, discharging polluted runoff directly into the waterway. Underground storage tanks would catch runoff and later send it to upgraded sewage treatment plants — a project that carries a price tag of roughly $400 million to $500 million.”

It makes you wonder how much lower the price tag (and cleaner the lakes) would be if more driveways, alleys, sidewalks and eventually even roads, were converted to permeable materials.

But putting aside number-crunching and environmental benefits, some people just want to unpave their Paradise because it’s beautiful!

“[Franke’s] story made me want to buy a house just to turn the driveway into a garden.” Connor McCall

See the newspaper in pdf.

Featured illustrations and photograph from Franke’s visual essay, Paradise Unpaved.