My name is Jamie Ramirez. I have lived in Glassell Park since 2008, but have lived in nearby neighborhoods since 2004.
I often describe my major in school as a degree in Urban Sustainability, but there’s a lot more to it. My major was a self-designed major which I entitled “Social Change and Sustainable Development”, and it looked at the intersection of poverty and sustainability. It was heavily rooted in sociology and political science, focusing a lot on social and environmental justice, because lower-income communities, especially communities of color, are where the effects of environmental degradation (from poor air quality to industrial pollution) are most concentrated. Developing countries have it even worse, as we ship many of our carcinogenic waste products to these countries.
My studies also focused on how the entire world’s population is in a transition toward urban dwelling—already over half the world’s population live in cities, and the transition not only continues but the process is accelerating. Pretty soon, most people on earth will live in cities. This means that the vast majority of the world’s problems will be solved in cities, because even now cities consume and produce the vast majority of the world’s resources and waste. How cities are designed—the way that people live, work, and play, and the way they travel between these things, will determine the future livability of our planet for all of us.
One area of particular interest to me is historic preservation. There’s a saying in the sustainability community—the greenest building is one that’s already built! About 40% of what’s in landfills is building and construction waste, some of which can be reduced by finding ways to work with existing buildings. The wood used to make buildings at the turn of the last century was all cut from trees that were hundreds of years old, and termites usually don’t eat it. It’s many times stronger than any wood from sustainable forestry today (which is grown quickly and cut down much younger and, thus, softer) so older buildings and their components are inherently higher quality (and have more character) than what usually replaces them. There are so many reasons to favor preservation & adaptive reuse of older buildings, and this is particularly relevant to our neighborhood, where we have a huge stock of older homes, many of them part of the historic Arroyo Seco arts & crafts movement. I love antiques and old buildings, but there’s so much more than just the aesthetics to consider when deciding what to keep and what to replace.
I’ve always been an artist and liked to make things, but since finishing school in 2011, I’ve focused on learning more about plants, trees, and soil health (which I already learned a lot about in school), aka gardening and urban forestry, and on learning the traditional craft of woodworking, plastering, and finishing as it relates to older homes and antique furniture-making. There are a set of proficiencies typically associated with homesteading, and I’ve become very interested in becoming proficient in as many of these as possible, but I’m especially drawn to the things that relate to aesthetic and sustainability considerations.
I’m trying to become pregnant and hope to be a mom soon. I struggle with some health problems, including autoimmune disease, joint pain, and extreme lethargy, so while I have many passions, I indulge none of them without some difficulty, but I try not to focus on these difficulties. I only mention it because as someone with chronic health problems, I am very empathetic to people’s health problems, many of which are caused or made worse by the urban environment. I also suffer from asthma, and in our home with no air conditioning, we rely on open windows to cool the interior of our home. Since moving here in 2008, I’ve watched the air quality decline as the number of leaf blowers has skyrocketed (despite their use being illegal). Since I’m interested in green gardening practices, I am hopeful I can spread some awareness about what plants actually need to be happy and healthy (leaf blowers are not on the menu) so that Glassell Park homeowners can make choices to improve air quality for all of us, but especially for those with asthma who suffer the worst.
My dad came to this country illegally when he was a kid (later gained citizenship) and I’m the only one in my family to finish college. I rode public transit and worked minimum wage jobs for many of the years it took me to finish school, and I finally finished when I was 30 years old. When I was 14, my 8 year old sister had an autoimmune disease that almost killed her. She spent 3 years in the hospital, was in a coma for 3 weeks, had to have a bone marrow transplant and brain surgery. My mom went bankrupt dealing with her illness then, and later again (this year) when her husband first became paralyzed (including his lungs) from the neck down and got a terminal cancer diagnosis, then died. I am acutely aware of the trauma of health problems both financially and emotionally, so I am a big fan of Bernie Sanders’ single-payer healthcare plan, because I know how it might have changed the lives of me and my immediate family. My mom is stuck in a job that compromises her health, and will likely never get out of the rut of poverty. My own medical (and dental) expenses have been quite a burden for me over the years, as well. And I know that many families struggle with similar issues. This is especially difficult for the uninsured, under-insured, and those with high premiums living paycheck to paycheck, and I have so much empathy for people in these situations. I myself never had health insurance until I married into it.
But even without my personal family history, I have made it my life’s goal to treat others in the world with dignity and compassion, and to listen to their stories and try to understand the difficulties they may face in the course of their lives. It was living in downtown L.A., next to skid row, and learning that everyone I spoke to was a person with a complicated history and a lot of bad luck, not unlike that of my family’s, that I first became interested in the housing crisis, homelessness, and the cycle of poverty. This was what prompted me to pursue the education I did. The intersection with sustainability was because, well, it’s no secret, I’ve always been a tree-hugger at heart and I care deeply about the fate of our planet. Even more so as I prepare to become a mom.