Author Archives: Jason Diaz

About Jason Diaz

Jason has a BFA from Binghamton University, is currently enrolled in the Urban Planning graduate program at Hunter College. As a Westchester County native - thereby no stranger to the issues behind automobile dependency commonly found in suburban areas - Jason is interested in making our cities more walkable and less dependent on the automobile. Jason is also interested in the issues that face "the right to the city," urban and rural equity, and community development.

New programs challenge urban food deserts

The Farmery urban market concept. (Courtesy: Farmery)

The Farmery urban market concept. (Courtesy: Farmery)

In cities across America, highly dense and (usually) low-income neighborhoods are frequently disadvantaged by the lack of access to affordable and healthy foods – otherwise known as “food deserts.” Chain supermarkets, whose business models typically rely on 30,000 to 100,000 sq ft. stores, find it difficult to invest in urban real estate, especially within low-income neighborhoods that may not be able to guarantee high returns on more expensive food products. Two new projects focus on bringing a range of food choices to these previously neglected areas.

The FARMERY! plans to integrate greenhouses with an attached market, in a compact package that can be sited on a city block. The business would produce and sell locally made food and provide a new and exciting shopping experience. (Prototypes shown here.) The premise: consumers purchase quality foods at affordable prices, learn the true value of the foods they are purchasing through interaction with the growing process, and meet local producers. Designs also include a café that will offer a salad bar, hot bar, coffee and juice bar, which will make sure to utilize locally grown ingredients. “The Farmery” began as a Master’s thesis in industrial design, by Ben Greene, the project founder. Greene also served in Iraq as a combat engineer. The team developing the project is based in North Carolina.

StudentsForServiceIn New York City, an innovative nonprofit educational project called Students for Service (shown at left) has sprung up with similar aims; the project brings fresh greens and the experience of growing them to students, with a program currently using indoor growing systems in classrooms in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Students for Service describes itself as a “community service and service learning initiative,” with the goal of ultimately increasing demand and access for fresh food in underserved areas. Meeting at monthly intervals, teams of older students help teach younger students about agriculture, how to eat a balanced diet, and what to make with the salad greens they’ve grown.

You can see the students in action in one of a series of videos, here:

Where existing supermarkets — or small groceries — may fail to stimulate shoppers to make the right choices, the Farmery concept and the Students for Service classrooms are designed to bring greater connection and value to fresh food. People can view the life-cycles of their produce and hand-pick their own. And an urban farm-to-table model cuts out transportation cost and some associated wastage.

By introducing this model of local farm-in-market into the American urban context, both disadvantaged communities can have improved access to affordable and healthy foods, and local (small) farmers can become more competitive in a market that has been known to handicap them. Maybe soon the first generation of Students for Service farm volunteers will be looking into gaining their own Farmery! franchise in neighborhoods around New York.

The Farmery concept is described beautifully in the video above; for one more perspective on the future of urban farming, see Nathanael Johnson’s excellent piece in Grist about the larger constraints of farming in cities for a primary food supply, as opposed to a complementary fresh food source: “Urban farms won’t feed us, but they just might teach us.”

How would Christie move the nation?

Chris Christie in the week following Hurricane Sandy, 2012 (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Chris Christie at a press conference after Hurricane Sandy, November 2012 (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty)

Governor Chris Christie has reappeared on the national stage, and is once again regarded as a viable contender for the Republican nomination for president in 2016. Back in New Jersey, investigators continue to dig into the political episode now known by some as  “Bridgegate” — in which his aides punished the mayor of Fort Lee by the calculated closure of lanes to the George Washington Bridge (which happens to be the busiest bridge in the U.S.).

The lane closures, for four days last September, created an enormous traffic jam extending back from the bridge on the New Jersey side, and paralyzed streets in the neighboring town of Fort Lee. By his aides’ own words, the action was retribution for the town’s Democratic mayor failing to endorse Governor Christie’s re-election to a second term.

The inside workings of the Christie administration continue to be parsed by the authorities, the mayor of Hoboken has now also reported being coerced by the governor’s office, and any new bombshells may yet dampen Christie’s presidential hopes.

But as the media scrounged details about the September traffic scandal—first-hand accounts of people who experienced the traffic, photos of children stuck for hours on a school bus, text message and email conversations within the governor’s office—mostly overlooked was a much bigger story regarding politics intervening with transportation. That would be Chris Christie’s shutdown of the Access to the Region’s Core project, known as ARC. As news stories have begun to reveal how the Port Authority has been used as a political tool, what started as a local scandal may end up serving as a case study of how American infrastructure can be distorted by the rules of partisan politics.

ARC was a commuter rail project planned to run under the Hudson River connecting New Jersey and Midtown Manhattan, with the goal of increasing passenger service capacity and reducing commuter times in the region. The project not only would have increased capacity and reduced commuter times, but also, according to a Regional Plan Association study, would have had enormous benefits for New Jersey; raising property values by $18 billion, as well as allowing $50 billion in new wages to come back to the state from New York City. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the ARC Tunnel would have provided the region with economic, environmental, and mobility benefits.

Ren­der­ing of the pro­jected Penn Sta­tion exten­sion of the ARC project; image taken from blog​.nj​.com

Ren­der­ing of the pro­jected Penn Sta­tion exten­sion of the ARC project; image taken from blog​.nj​.com

However, in a surprising move back in 2010, Christie abruptly put the brakes on ARC, claiming it was “unaffordable,” repeatedly citing cost overruns and proposing that the project would entail New Jersey to pay for 70% of the costs. On the contrary, many—including New Jersey’s previous governor, Jon Corzine, and the GAO—understood the project to be completely affordable and within reach. Estimated to cost $8.7 billion (and no greater than $10 billion), the project had plenty of funding from the federal government ($4.45 billion) and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey ($3 billion), leaving New Jersey to make up the difference of $1.25 billion – approximately 14.4% of the total cost.

The plan was completed and ready; the money was there; preliminary construction started in 2009. So why scrap a public transportation plan that was in full motion?

As the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund continued to dry up (and was expected to have completely expended its resources within a year after the ARC shutdown), Christie found an opportunity. Instead of increasing New Jersey’s most cherished low gas tax (third lowest in the country after Alaska and Wyoming, at 10.5 cents a gallon) to help make up for the Fund’s lack of finances, Christie chose the less transparent option of vetoing the ARC Tunnel and taking the $3 billion that previous governors had originally set aside for ARC to instead be used for New Jersey roads and highways. The ARC funds were transferred into the Transportation Trust Fund to avoid triggering a gasoline tax that would have been required to balance the road maintenance accounts.

In these partisan times, funding for roads and highways are typically linked with Republican policies, while Democrats tend to associate more with public transportation. A basic analysis is that Christie knew killing the ARC project and shifting funds into roads and highways would help sustain his support from both the Republican community across the nation and the oil lobbyists within his state.

An unusual twist to the story is that New Jersey is solidly Democrat in national elections, and President Obama carried the state by a 58% to 40% landslide in 2012. As shown in the New York Times coverage, in awareness of that reality, the Christie administration made sure to spread some of the wealth from the Transportation Trust Fund with Democratic mayors around the state.

Stepping back to look at the larger picture, perhaps Governor Christie’s high profile in Republican politics keeps him on a very short leash in terms of the policies and values he’s permitted to hold.

On the national level, any long term planning for New Jersey or the region, even a project as seemingly win-win as ARC, runs secondary to the strategic risk of even a small rise in gasoline tax, whatever New Jersey voters might agree to — because Candidate Christie would have handed his Republican primary opponents a powerful weapon, sure to be used during the debate season.

Christie’s high profile in national Republican politics keeps him on a short leash

One doesn’t have to support Christie to have a flicker of sympathy for his dilemma, which is just a glimpse of the strange turns of modern American politics. The implications run far beyond the ARC episode, in that Christie can’t recognize climate change, among a host of realities that confront New Jersey and the nation. Christie’s beloved Jersey shore is among the most vulnerable regions, still recovering from Sandy. But looking back at what happened to Jon Huntsman, the last Republican national candidate to acknowledge climate change, whatever his personal beliefs, Christie would need to be brave, or fool hardy, or extremely patriotic, to break ranks and acknowledge it too.

That’s why the lane closing story is the least of it. The current burst of coverage is really relevant only in the way it portrays grimy (and extremely ill-judged, by any view) political in-fighting in New Jersey. The real story is this: to keep the Jersey shore intact, in the long run (but beginning as soon as possible) we likely need new energy and transportation infrastructure development on a vast scale. Built at speed. And global agreements that meet the same aims. That would be something for a pugnacious governor to get behind. The first person who can successfully restart the Republican conversation on energy and climate will hold a place in history far beyond that of stories of local parochial political skulduggery.

Pete Seeger: Sailing the Hudson in the name of activism

Pete Seeger (May 3, 1919 – January 27, 2014) helped change a river, and as a result, an entire region, for the better. An anecdote that sums up his optimism and determination comes from a New York Times remembrance: “John Cronin, the former head of the environmental group Riverkeeper, remembers spying a solitary older man about two years ago on the Beacon waterfront scooping litter into a plastic bag. When the man stood up he recognized the signature ramrod bearing of Mr. Seeger, his slender six-foot longtime friend.”

Jason Diaz wrote about Pete Seeger’s advocacy of the Hudson, and more, last February:

Legendary folk artist Pete Seeger continues to expand his legacy by working to save our planet. As the founder of Clearwater, a grassroots model for cleaning up the Hudson River and molding a new generation of environmentally-conscious leaders, Seeger has earned recognition as one of the more important pioneers and innovators in environmental activism.

Along with his hit songs “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and (from his Clearwater album) “Sailing Up, Sailing Down,” Seeger is also well-known for his involvement as a political activist. He holds an extensive resumé, ranging from his dedication to civil and labor rights for all to speaking out against the Spanish Civil War, the Vietnam War, and the Arms Race, to his extraordinary accomplishments as an environmentalist.

Seeger’s most noteworthy and celebrated undertaking as an advocate for the environment is his creation of Clearwater, which launched in 1969. Clearwater is a sloop (or single-masted sailing vessel) that sails the ends of the Hudson River–from Albany to New York City, and stops just about everywhere in between.

On these scenic sailing excursions, Seeger promotes environmental awareness and political activism with a heavy emphasis on the issues that face the Hudson River. Through song and educational programs, he teaches his fellow seafarers about the importance of a green planet with clean waterways .

For forty years, Seeger and his Clearwater shipmates have educated generations with a number of programs, including the Green Cities Initiative, Watershed Management, the Indian Point Campaign, the Hudson River Polychlorinated Biphenyls Remediation, Environmental Justice, Climate Justice, and his most recent endeavor in creating a new generation of more environmentally-conscious youth leaders: the Next Generation Legacy Project.

To get involved, sign up for classes, internships, and volunteer work, go here.

You can also view a map of the many dock locations where the sloop Clearwater regularly sails from and for directions information.

For more information on Clearwater, its partnership programs, and calendar of events, visit here.

Also, don’t forget the Clearwater Festival June 15-16, 2013 at Croton Point Park in Westchester, NY.

Photo: Annie Leibovitz

Talking affordable housing with CUP

Mark Torrey of CUP uses clear graphic tools to explain affordable housing.

Mark Torrey of CUP used clear graphic tools to explain how policies affect affordable housing. (Photos: Jason Diaz)

Talking Transition is an innovative civic engagement project that began with public meetings (11/9 through 11/23) in advance of the new mayoral administration. The initiative is organized and funded by the Open Society Foundation, working with other groups active in city programs. As described on the project website

“Talking Transition is an open conversation about the future of New York City. Over two weeks, New Yorkers came together online, in the streets, and in a pop-up tent on Canal Street to help shape the transition to a new mayor. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers engaged. The mayor-elect embraced the process. Sign up and stay tuned to see the results.”

The challenge of finding affordable housing is a core question for New York going forward. CUP, previously profiled in City Atlas, led a session on the subject.

CUP (The Center for Urban Pedagogy) took the stage at the Talking Transition tent on Friday, November 15th, to educate audiences on affordable housing in New York City. CUP is a nonprofit organization that uses design and art to increase civic engagement, collaborating with designers, educators, advocates, students, and communities to construct educational tools that bring clarity to complex policy and planning issues. One valuable product from CUP’s research is the Affordable Housing Toolkit. At the Talking Transition tent, CUP’s Mark Torrey was able to easily convey the basis behind NYC affordable housing to a crowd that previously seemed to have limited knowledge on the subject.

CUP Affordable Housing 4Torrey’s interactive workshop toolkit consisted of a felt chart that allowed spectators to visually understand income demographics, rents, and affordable housing eligibility (shown in the figure above). During the workshop, Torrey introduced and explained in brief detail affordable housing programs that have helped shape NYC, such as NYCHA public housing, Section 8, LIHTC (Low-Income Housing Tax Credit), and Mitchell-Lama which all target low-income households, as well as rent stabilization and control, the Inclusionary Housing Program, and the 421-A program which all target lower-middle- to middle-income households.

Housing matters: many New Yorkers spend more than half of their income on it.

The workshop also educated participants on the linkages between Median Family Income (MFI) and average housing/rental costs, surprising many with the fact that a staggering number of NYC residents spend over a 1/3 of their income on housing, with many spending over 1/2 of their income.

CUP Affordable Housing 5

The Talking Transitions tent located on Canal St.

People may have entered the workshop with only personal experience as a guide, and left an hour and a half later with a clear understanding of housing and the policies that influence it. CUP’s toolkit proved a success in quickly educating people.

To explore more workshops and toolkits on other systems, policies, and plans, visit CUP’s homepage!

The toolkit.

The toolkit.

 

Jamaica Bay becomes a focus for ideas about global coastal resilience

Jamaica Bay Conservancy covers 10,000 coastal acres shared by NYC and the National Park Service. (Photo: frogma.blogspot.com)

Jamaica Bay: 10,000 coastal acres shared by NYC and the National Park Service. (Photo: frogma.blogspot.com)

In late October the National Park Service, New York City Department of Environmental Protection, New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, the City University of New York and the Natural Areas Conservancy came together to host Urban Resilience in an Era of Climate Change: Global Input for Local Solutions, a two-day symposium at the waterfront location of Kingsborough College in Brooklyn.

Experts from around the globe gathered to discuss the impacts of Hurricane Sandy on the bay’s ecosystem and watershed, which is home to 880,000 New Yorkers. The goal is to develop strategies that might work both for the New York region and for coastal populations everywhere that face rising seas and larger storms.

Creating the first center for the study of resilience in the world.

A major part of the conversation focused on the future Jamaica Bay Science and Resilience Institute, a CUNY initiative that was announced earlier this summer by Mayor Bloomberg, and that features funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. Rockefeller has an ongoing commitment to the study and practice of urban resilience, and their August announcement sums up the foundation’s goals in Jamaica Bay:

“The Jamaica Bay Science and Resilience Institute is our first investment in a bricks and mortar facility for resilience — that’s because, quite frankly, it will be the first center of its kind anywhere in the world. And it is an idea whose time has come.

At the Rockefeller Foundation we help bring together scientists and researchers thinking about resilience, with practitioners and policymakers who can translate those findings to concrete action. We believe this Institute will play an important role in ensuring those efforts are coordinated, comprehensive and streamlined, not only for the benefit of those living in Jamaica Bay, but can be a model for other likeminded institutions that can impact billions of people living in fragile urban ecosystems around the world.”  1

Dr. William Solecki, director of the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities and advisor to City Atlas, has been named interim director for the Jamaica Bay institute.

The two day schedule of presentations offered the opportunity for local researchers to discuss regional developments and enter into dialogue with counterparts confronting similar coastal resilience issues across the nation and the world.

Following is a brief recap of some of the discussions at the symposium:

Local research and restoration efforts in Jamaica Bay

seining  Dubos Point copy

Young volunteers busy restoring the salt marshes at Jamaica Bay [photo: American Littoral Society]

Dan Mundy Jr. of Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers and Don Riepe of the American Littoral Society presented successful examples of restoring the marshes at Rulers Bar and Black Wall Island in the bay, and spoke of the importance of community involvement in hands-on projects, and the effectiveness and long-term benefits of youth participation.

Chris Pickerell, Director of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County Marine Program and Greg J. Rivera, Aquaculture Specialist, both described how failures in wetland restoration are not entirely failures.  Instead, shortcomings should be seen as indicators of what not to do in the future, serving as a learning process; that failures in planting eel grass and restoring oyster populations should not deter ecologists in the Jamaica Bay, but instead drive them forward towards new techniques or realizations concerning the ecosystem.

Research conducted by Christopher Gobler, Professor of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, found that algae levels in the Bay hindered the growth of other marine life. Algae growth depended on movement, or stagnation, of water: in areas where water had been frequently flushed, algae growth was constrained. Gobler suggests that future ecosystem restoration projects should focus on planting within areas of high flushing rates, as well as working towards new ways to increase circulation in more stagnant areas in the Bay.

Philip Orton, Research Scientist at the Stevens Institute of Technology, shared a presentation on filling, or “shallowing,” the bottom of waterways to provide flood protection. His research shows that certain shallowing strategies can help create “bottle-neck” effects, channeling storm surges along enclosed waterways and inlets to less vulnerable areas. During model simulations, shallowing paired with sufficient wetland coverage reduced flooding substantially. Implementation could be effective, but has the trade-off of losing depth for shipping lanes, and the cost of engineering the bottom with sand.

Pinar Balci, Director of the DEP Bureau of Environmental Planning and Analysis, introduced DEP’s comprehensive and efficient City-wide Climate Analysis Framework, which is broken up into Climate Analysis, Risk Analysis (i.e. building-level vulnerability and asset-level vulnerability assessments, facilities at-risk of storm surge inundation), and Adaptation Analysis (ex. Levels of adaptation regarding at-risk facilities to storm surge inundation from greatest to least urgency: elevate equipment, flood proof equipment, seal building, construct barrier, sandbag temporarily, install back-up power).

For DEP, $350 million in green infrastructure could save $3+ billion in damage over 50 years.

By using this analysis framework, the DEP determined that by investing in resilient green infrastructure and New York Harbor and wetlands restoration projects, roughly $350 million in initial investments would save the city an estimated $1.1 billion of vital infrastructure and $2.5 billion in emergency response costs over the next 50 years.

International inputs

Henk Ovink, a native of the Netherlands, now chair of HUD’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, made an interesting reference to the odds of New York City encountering another 100-years flood by comparing the frequency of such to a game of cards. Ovink noted that the odds of a 100-years flood is actually greater than being dealt a straight in poker – a hand that is not exactly rare.

Echoing the words of Pinar Balci, Ovink stressed the importance of economic resilience and that the best interest of NYC is to invest today so that the city may be prepared and resilient to storm damages and their enormous costs tomorrow.

Professor of Civic and Environmental Engineering at Duke, Marco Marani, having much experience in flood research in Venice, Italy, urged the need to create options in advance of future events — that “if we are unable to bring back the marshes, what then will we do? And what exactly are we trying to achieve?” …simply, what is NYC’s “Plan B”?

Realizing the possibility of failed marsh reproduction and rising sea levels, Eric Klinenberg, Director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at NYU, built upon Marani’s idea by addressing the need to develop resiliency designs that allow the water in, rather than fighting a losing battle of keeping the water out.

Glenn Stewart, an Urban Ecology Professor hailing from New Zealand, insisted that “we need to make decisions that people can digest. The bloke down the road has no idea what resiliency is, but all he wants to know is that his house will still be there the next day.”  

Ways forward

Bruce A. Stein, Director of Climate Change Adaptation at the National Wildlife Federation, set the tone of the 2-day event by honoring the hockey demi-god, Wayne Gretzky, in his famous quote, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it’s been,” and how this idea of early adaptation and preparedness needs to be applied to the climate change resilience agenda.

Lara J. Hansen, Chief Scientist and Executive Director at EcoAdapt, expanded on this theme by making the assertion that extreme climate disaster scenarios (i.e. a “Noah’s Ark flood,” nuclear winter, catastrophic heat waves, etc.) will come to pass eventually at some time or another. By realizing this unavoidable truth, she suggests that waterfront planning should focus on preparation and adaptation to such radical scenarios, rather than resorting to reactionary planning – or planning which tends to confront these problems after the fact.Urban resilience cover photo

Brett F. Franco, Assistant Professor of the Aquatic Research and Environmental Assessment Center at Brooklyn College, spoke of the need for increased cohesion and more efficient collaboration between departments and agencies (NPS – DEP) as to avoid any overlap, and therefore wasted time and resources.

Biohabitat’s Water Resources Engineer, Ted Brown called towards efficient adaptation in two directions: “Not only do our ecosystems have to adapt, but our designers must adapt as well.” NYC planners, environmentalists and ecologists must be able to appreciate the realities regarding the Jamaica Bay ecosystem, as undesirable as they may be at times.

Many of the themes and ideas for a way forward were echoed over the two days, strengthening the sense that there is a general consent about priorities among experts – both from the private and public sectors.

The Jamaica Bay Science and Resilience Institute

The segment of the symposium on the Jamaica Bay Science and Resilience Institute opened the talk to suggestions and strategies for the institute. Ideas include recognizing research that covers local, regional, national, and international levels; association with external institutions (NGOs, not-for-profits, etc.), constant contact and communication with these institutions as to avoid overlapping parallels in research, reestablishment of trust with local communities, the importance of vernacular design and knowledge, the need to build a shared conceptual framework and one that is more flexible and able to evolve, and the need for multiple sources of revenue, with at least one permanent source.

Designing a new water’s edge for the Upper East Side and Harlem

CIVITAS "Reimagining the Waterfront" competition, First Prize: Joseph Wood, designer (via CIVITAS)

“Reimagining the Waterfront” competition, First Prize: Joseph Wood, designer. Click to expand (via CIVITAS)

The East River Esplanade, a 2-mile-long city-owned public park that runs from 63rd to 125th Street, was already being criticized by residents as being a bleak and poorly maintained public space when Hurricane Sandy hit, exposing the vulnerability of the entire waterfront. Swollen harbor waters swamped the upper section of the park and washed into East Harlem; now, attention turns to a complete reimagining of the shoreline along this neglected stretch of Manhattan.

Preliminary plans for renovating the Esplanade were actually in the works before the storm; the Department of City Planning drew up a proposal for redevelopment of the East River Esplanade as a part of Vision 2020, which aims to improve access, enhance pedestrian connectivity, and create waterfront amenities for public enjoyment and recreation, while bolstering the city’s resilience in the face of extreme weather events.

panel discussion

CIVITAS panelists, from left to right: Gregg Pasquerelli, Charles Birnbaum, Michael Marrella, Cecilia Alemani, and Al Appleton; (Photo: Jason Diaz)

To add momentum to the public drive for a new park, CIVITAS, a community-led organization focused on neighborhood quality of life in the Upper East Side and East Harlem, recently held an extensive panel discussion on the future of the East River Esplanade; the talk was presented at the National Academy on Fifth Avenue.

CIVITAS has long been an advocate for a better waterfront park, hosting several community visioning events and, during 2012, a notable design competition, for which the winning entries were exhibited at the Museum of the City of New York. (Detail from the first place concept, by Joseph Wood, is shown at top of this page.)

The group on stage at the October panel included architects, planners, designers, artists, and environmentalists, who shared sometimes competing ideas for ways a new public space can serve the city and the natural environment.

pier 15 (2)

Contemporary bar-stool seating looking out over the East River at Pier 15 (SHoP Architects)

The CIVITAS panel discussion began with a presentation by SHoP Architects founding partner, Gregg Pasquerelli. SHoP has waterfront projects in two locations—Mitchell Park and its Camera Obscura sculptural installation (in Greenport, NY), and the East River Esplanade South and East River Waterfront/Pier 15 (South Street Seaport in Manhattan)— which were shown as examples of how a waterfront site can provide social and recreational space and be adventurous at the same time.

pier 15 (1)

Pier 15 double-decker green space. (SHoP Architects)

SHoP’s work shows clever space utilization in the double-decker green-roof piers at Pier 15, as well as attractive lighting strategies and seating arrangements—red ceiling lighting which help to create a more romantic space at night, and waterfront bar-stools that appeal to patrons who may wish to read, eat and drink, or simply converse with friends over a stunning view of Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan.

In Greenport, NY, a new town park encouraged community interaction and participation, added residential appeal, and fostered a real-estate boom. SHoP’s work relies on mixed-use design strategies to help attract a wider audience, fitting the recreational needs of a more diverse population. The examples also showed smart funding strategies, specifically in the East River Esplanade South project, where air rights located under the FDR Drive are being sold in order to help pay for project development.

Panelists praised experimentation, and cultural awareness

Charles Birnbaum, Founder and President of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, followed SHoP’s presentation by asking: how do we measure success in a post-Sandy situation? There is always an emphasis on environmentalism and aesthetics, but Birnbaum argued that culture should have an equally important place in the conversation; that people should be looking at development with the goal of turning a project into a “new ‘World Heritage site”; and that attention to culture in development is the difference between a successful project and just an average project.

planter boxes

Homogenous design becomes dull; shown on the East River

Birnbaum warns us of the homogeneity of landscapes and development, but also praises the level of experimentation that seems to be occurring in the last decade where developers, designers, and architects are increasingly moving away from homogeneous designs and concepts. He asks designers, architects and planners to incorporate culture and history into their projects, as to teach people “how to see and value landscape and landscape architecture in a way that they are hardwired to look at architecture in the built environment.”

Birnbaum ended his comments with the “Four – C’s”—Collections, or the living and non-living in a given area; Community, or the context in which these collections work and play with each other; Containers, the buildings in these spaces; and Context, the physical and historical setting—the elements he believes are important for successful landscape developments.

vision 2020Community involvement and participation became the next area of focus as the Director of Waterfront and Open Space of New York City’s Department of City Planning, Michael Marrella, took the floor.

“Do we have the waterfront that we want going forward?”  In order to get the right answer to this question, according to Marrella, community participation is completely necessary. And as a result, the Department of City Planning’s Vision 2020: New York City Comprehensive Waterfront Plan was created from a year-long public planning process that entailed going out to each community in proximity to a NYC waterfront and inviting them to participate in organized workshops, where the communities were not only asked what they want out of the waterfront, but also what it would take to get there.

Why does it take so long to build a park in NYC? Multiple agencies, but also public review.

Marrella emphasized that public outreach works to challenge the planning process to serve the community best, rather than assembling the public for the purpose of creating lengthy, impossible wish lists. Marrella also brought up the thicket of environmental and waterfront regulations and the “horror stories” that come with them, where 6-month projects on paper turn into 8-year projects in reality due to permit wait times and other delays, and how there needs to be a more predictable, reliable, and efficient process that avoids these unwanted setbacks while making sure not to lower our environmental standards.

Vision 2020 plan

An example of the Vision 2020’s plan for the NYC waterfront; (NYC Department of City Planning)

As in all well-rounded panel discussions, Al Appleton, former Commissioner of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and Director of New York City Water and Sewer system, presented contrasting viewpoints on how to manage the East River Esplanade. Instead of focusing on building and development, landscape architecture and housing (part of the City’s master plan for the waterfronts also includes waterfront housing), Appleton urges that we reclaim the waterfront; but that we reclaim it not to serve real-estate purposes or improved apartment views, but rather to reintroduce nature to the waterfront.

A call for reintroducing nature to the waterfront along the Upper East Side.

Appleton believes that, if resiliency is a priority, planners will recognize that reestablishing nature at the water’s edge is the most effective method available. Appleton submits three mandates on how to deal with the East River Esplanade (and the rest of the city’s waterfront, for that matter): 1) there should be absolutely no new high-rise development on the waterfront, 2) natural areas on the waterfront should be reproduced and restored, such as Jamaica Bay and the Rockaways, and 3) the FDR Drive should be transformed and retrofitted in order to make way for a more natural coastline—he even suggests getting rid of it all together, which is a remarkable suggestion as most plans take the Robert Moses-era roadway as a given.

Appleton also critiques Marrella’s reference to the “horror stories” of the regulatory process, where 6-month projects turn into 8-year projects. Appleton argues that the political process is necessary; added wait times usually include more community participation and involvement, and that communities should be wary and skeptical of fast, steam-rolled development projects, as they tend to ignore civic consensus.

As the last presenter, Cecilia Alemani, Curator at High Line Art, spoke of the importance of art in public spaces. She updated the audience on the multiple types of media that are currently circulating in the High Line Park, as well as how the High Line is creating new concepts for parks and reinventing the art space. Along with commissioned work, the High Line has introduced a number of performance works, as well as interactive and engaging video projections — all of which, Alemani suggests, should be taken into consideration in the new East River Esplanade. And with the incorporation of art into the park, the esplanade can better address the cultural needs that Birnbaum mentioned earlier in what truly makes a successful waterfront space.

To wrap up the entire panel discussion into one coherent message, it might sound something like this: In order for the East River Esplanade that runs from 63rd to 125th Street to become a truly successful public space that serves the needs of the community, it must have a daring yet smart design that integrates art and culture, and meets the concerns of the community and the environment. Given the new realities of climate change, this space must play a role in coastal protection, but also should simultaneously attract and appeal to all people in a social and recreational context.

The vitality of the discussion and the depth of the ideas on the table show how New York continues to enjoy a renaissance in the confident and inventive design of public space.

If these weights and measures are taken during the redevelopment of the East River Esplanade, it seems that the Upper East Side and East Harlem will have a new, visionary way to get to the water’s edge in their neighborhoods, with a public amenity that will stretch for miles up the East Side, perhaps even restoring a glimpse of the natural landscape, and habitat, that graced the island once upon a time.

The future of Penn Station and Madison Square Garden

For the moment, times are good at Madison Square Garden, as Knicks and Rangers fans alike have been rallying their teams through mostly successful post-seasons; it’s a rare combination for the Garden to have both teams in the playoffs. But when these post-seasons conclude, fans will be reminded of a looming NYC scheme that may demolish the present structure in exchange for an arena on a new site, and a re-produced version of Penn Station — completing a circle as Madison Square Garden has always been shadowed by its construction in 1963 as a replacement for the once grand, and now legendary, original Penn Station. MSG is unloved architecturally but has strong sentimental value for many in the metro area, and so the possibility of change stirs emotions.

What’s pushing decisions forward is that Madison Square Garden’s 50-year special arena permit has expired, which will give the New York City Planning Commission the opportunity to reevaluate and decide upon the most suitable future for the MSG/Penn Station site. 50 years ago, the permit in part prompted the destruction of the old Penn Station, an event that galvanized the city’s architectural and cultural communities towards preservation of other classic New York buildings, including Grand Central Terminal.

The expiration of the 50 year permit may help lead to the development of two new, distinctive additions to New York; a modern arena, and a train station that recalls the grandeur of the original. Design is not the only driving force for city planners; even more pressing is the inadequacy of the current Penn Station, submerged below the Garden, which handles travelers far beyond its capacity. Originally designed to handle 200,000 commuters a day, Penn Station now serves over 640,000, and the numbers are still growing.

While Madison Square Garden is prized for its history, it comes up short in keeping up with the newest arenas around the US, which makes the case for change. And as far as how the Garden adds to the streetscape, the Municipal Arts Society (MAS) of New York puts it well, stating, “what should be one of the most exciting and dynamic buildings in New York City, is one of the least.”

MAS, clearly having a strong opinion on the matter, has teamed up with the Regional Plan Association (RPA), where they are working together to build an Alliance for a New Penn Station. The Alliance’s primary plan of action is to recommend to the City Planning Commission that they grant MSG only a 10 year extension to the permit, in place of a renewal in perpetuity–or a permanent extension–which would ultimately destroy the chances of ever redeveloping and improving the currently inadequate Penn Station. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer publicly backed this recommendation as of late March.

MAS has also invited four prestigious architectural firms — Diller Scofidio + Renfro, SHoP Architects, SOM and H3 Hardy Collaboration — in a competition that focuses on the design of both the new Penn Station and the new Madison Square Garden, with work shown to the public on May 29. All four firms have the creative capacity to meet the challenge; it’s particularly interesting to have Diller Scofidio + Renfro in the mix, as two of the most successful public spaces in recent New York history — the High Line and the renovated Lincoln Center complex, are by their hand. PBS recently produced a profile of the firm (excerpt below), that is worth watching and considering as an example of how intelligent, creative problem solving can enhance and humanize enormous public spaces like Lincoln Center.

 

Watch Reimagining Lincoln Center & The High Line Preview on PBS. See more from Treasures of New York.

Below: The old Penn Station, demolished in 1963 to make way for Madison Square Garden. Photo by Peter Moore.

Photograph by Peter Moore

Klaus Jacob on the future of a post-Sandy New York City

Last week, the New York Times hosted a thoughtful and wide-ranging event, the “Energy for Tomorrow Conference,” which showcased an array of panel discussions led by city planners, scientists, notable public and private experts, farmers, activists, and the mayor of NYC himself – all of whom discussed the current state of NYC as a center for progressive infrastructure and energy, transportation, nutrition, resiliency and green policy, while arguing their professional opinions of how to make NYC more sustainable.

Of the discussions, one of the more impressive – and rather extreme – conversations came from Klaus H. Jacob on waterfront storm resiliency.

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Klaus H. Jacob; image courtesy of Columbia University

Klaus Jacob is a geophysicist at the Earth Institute, Columbia University. During his one-on-one with NYT op-ed columnist, Joe Nocera, Jacob spoke on the measures of storm preparation that, in his eyes, NYC must adopt. Understanding that the climate around the greater New York area has drastically changed in the last decade or so, Jacob suggests three fundamental plans for effective storm resiliency:

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A surge barrier design proposal along the Verrazano Narrows, NYC; image courtesy of AP Photo/Arcadis

Storm protection – possibly the plan with the least impact amongst the three, yet just as important,  to protect our coastlines by building and implementing surge barriers. Though some may argue that surge barriers simply pass on the amount of storm energy and surge to the adjacent coastlines that are unprotected by the barriers (which in the case of NYC, the unprotected areas would most likely be the Rockaways and Jamaica Bay area, both of which are, by average, low-income and financially at risk neighborhoods – which opens up a whole other philosophically socioeconomic ‘can of worms’), they would still help to protect the very vulnerable downtown areas of NYC, therefore saving money and resources on otherwise very high storm-repair costs.

Accommodate the water – “invite the water the way it wants to go, given the current landscape.” Klaus Jacob believes we should both figure out ways to channel storm water through the city while causing the least amount of damage, as well as retrofitting the buildings within flood-zones. To effectively retrofit these buildings, Jacob suggests that all basements and first- and second-level floors of buildings in these zones should be sealed off and used for parking only. By doing this, the city will have less damage to worry about during a storm on the scale of Hurricane Sandy; storm damage repair costs have the ability to be cut in half; and the only emergency response most of these buildings will have to partake in is evacuating the cars from these lots. Though at the cost of losing former rental space and real-estate value, it can be extremely beneficial to curb storm damage by sealing off and retrofitting the lower floors of storm-vulnerable buildings in NYC.

Another way to retrofit the urban landscape in order to accommodate for storm waters, especially within the downtown, high-rise areas of NYC, as suggested by Jacob, is to expand the NYC ‘High Line’ infrastructure. Jacob believes that connecting buildings with high lines, or walkways and transportation networks safe from rising waters, will significantly help in emergency response as well as continual functionality within the flooded areas. Connecting buildings with a walkable transportation system adds another level of resiliency.

Managed retreat to higher ground – Jacob’s most stressed – and radical – solution is to convert buildings located in high-risk, flood-zone areas into green spaces, while redeveloping our city with regards to topography; in other words, building on higher ground. Jacob believes the city should be working on re-zoning flood-zone areas as green, open, and/or undeveloped space, while zoning areas of higher elevation within NYC as high-dense residential and commercial areas. Though this plan would ultimately change the face of NYC and would surely find an enormous amount of friction and opposition along the way, Jacob suggests that flood-zone retreat would be the most economically wise decision in future NYC planning. He makes reference to a study by the National Institute of Building Science that developed a way to look at and compare the cost-effectiveness of flood-zone retreat to average coastal damage costs paid by FEMA mitigation funds. They established that “for every $1 spent in protecting your assets and your economy [in this case, by investing in flood-zone retreat], you get $4 back in not incurred losses.”

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Destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy in Staten Island; image courtesy of Karsten Moran, NYTimes

Jacob also suggests a policy for flood-zone retreat, targeted towards homeowners in coastal flood-zone areas, by imitating a popular land conservation policy model originally used for obtaining farmland in a reasonable, fair, incentivized way. He suggests that NYC creates a policy that allows the city to confront homeowners in high-risk areas, such as the Rockaways and parts of Staten Island, offering to buy their property. However, the homeowner is still allowed to either continue residency in the recently sold home until they are dead, or are given a generous amount of time to plan out their future residence. Though such a policy may be more time consuming and drawn out than desired, it can still serve as a very effective and publicly accepted strategy in acquiring flood-zone lands. Once in the possession of the city, the lands can then be ‘green-ified,’ made into public parks, developed into green buffers to further protect any adjacent neighborhoods, or even just left as undeveloped, open space.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has already installed a program that offers to purchase high-risk properties at ‘pre-Sandy market values,’ and offering double market values if a whole block agrees to sell. However, many of these homeowners have opted to turn down the offer, not catching the appeal that Cuomo had hoped for. Perhaps the governor should consider adopting Klaus Jacob’s more homeowner-friendly idea.

Jacob’s prescriptions for the more dire future forecasts may seem alarming and far-fetched now; at the same time, a reassuring note in the conversation was how many intellectual resources are now refocusing to plan a successful future for NYC.

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NYC flood-zone map; courtesy of Google Images/New York Times

 

Watch live streaming video from nytenergyfortomorrow at livestream.com

NYC income inequality mapped out by subway lines

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Income inequality along the 2 line; taken from The New Yorker.

If you were to ride a New York City subway that elevated and dropped based on the average household incomes of each stop, you would most likely become very sick–both physically, due to the steep and vast drops that are sure to make you nauseous, and emotionally, after understanding the outrageous shifts in income as you moved from borough to borough. But no need to lose your lunch by taking a ride on this hypothetical roller-coaster, because The New Yorker did all the work for us earlier this month, creating an interactive infographic that maps out the median household incomes at each subway stop.

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Woodblock print by Jason Diaz depicting income inequalities on a NYC subway platform

New York City has had a problem of income inequality for many years, and it is only getting worse. According to a report by the Fiscal Policy Institute, the top 1 percent of earners in New York State make about 35 percent of the state’s total income (up from 17 percent back in 1990), while the bottom 50 percent of earners make only 9.1 percent of the state’s total income (down from 13.9 percent in 1990), noting that these income ranges stretch even further within New York City.

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Photo: Getty Images

Some areas of focus along the interactive infographic include:

  • Highest median household income of any census tract the subway has a station in: $205,192 – for Chambers Street, Park Place, and World Trade Center.
  • Lowest median household income: $12,288 – Sutter Avenue stop, on the L in Brooklyn.
  • Largest range in median household income on a single subway line: $191,442–for the 2 line, which includes Chambers Street/Park Place on the high end, and East 180th Street in the Bronx, on the low end.
  • Smallest range in median household income on a single subway line: $84,837–for the G line, the only non-shuttle subway line that doesn’t pass through Manhattan.

A second use for heat from a hot kitchen

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Image of a Dext heat recovery panel behind a restaurant stove.

As cities seek to approach carbon neutrality (for instance, Copenhagen aims to be carbon neutral by 2025), making maximum use of every unit of energy is a primary goal. Often this means capturing a second use of ‘throwaway heat,’ as Con Ed has for decades in making steam for New York City buildings as a byproduct of generating plants. Cogeneration systems are becoming the norm on multiple scales, with NYU’s cogeneration system being another prominent New York example.

For a parallel effort in maximizing energy efficiency scaled to down to the size of a small business, a company has developed a way to capture and reuse excess heat from the operations of a single restaurant kitchen.

Commercial kitchens are well known for being major energy consumers. Between ovens, stoves, walk-in refrigerators, and dish-washers, large amounts of energy are constantly being exhausted in restaurants. Unfortunately, most of this energy is wasted. When refrigerated and frozen foods are heated up at a fast rate — typically over a stove top or in an oven — only a percentage of the total heat is actually being used on the foods being cooked. The underutilized, excess heat is then vented to the open air.

The slogan of Dext Heat Recovery is a quote from Albert Einstein, “energy cannot be created nor destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.” With this as their guide, the designers at Dext saw an opportunity in taking the wasted heat seen in restaurants and channeling it somewhere else that needed it: in this case, the water supply.

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By recovering the waste heat generated by the cooking process via the ‘heat recovery plates’ (shown above) and converting the heat to the water circuit, a kitchen can then use the recovered heat to meet the hot water demand of the restaurant. These ‘heat recovery plates’  are installed in strategic areas of the kitchen, such as directly behind a chargrill or within a canopy overhanging a stove, where they are able to absorb the greatest amount of excess heat. After it is captured, the Dextheat is then transferred to a buffer hot water cylinder, which is connected to the existing hot water cylinder. By pumping hot water from the buffer cylinder into the existing hot water cylinder, instead of from the mains water (which is typically always cold in temperature), less energy is needed to heat up the hot water cylinder, therefore providing recycled, more energy-efficient and cost-effective hot water for the restaurant!

 

Images and media courtesy of Dext Heat Recovery.

The Vermont Sail Freight project: out with the new, and in with the old

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Erik Andrus and the rest of the Vermont Sail Freight advocates are working hard to reinvent the way we ship our non-perishable goods: by sail boat. But perhaps “reinvent” is not the most appropriate word, but rather “revisit,” as sail freight barges were once a common way (actually, the most common, depending on the era) to ship goods, commodities and materials.

But why even bother? Isn’t this type of freight transportation slower, outdated and less popular?

Maybe so, but one Vermont farmer has been hard at work on changing this mentality. As an environmental advocate and one who recognizes the state of our energy-wasting, fossil-fuel consuming nation, Andrus believes in the importance of weening our society off of highway- and rail-freight dependency. By reintroducing the sail barge, Andrus is hoping to prove to the world that environmentally-friendly water vessels can be just as efficient, if not more, in the way we transport today’s cargo.

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He asks, “why do non-perishable food products need to move down the interstate at 75 miles an hour?” Which addresses a good point: what’s the rush? At the cost of the environment and our health, do we, as a society, truly need to move our shelf-stable food products in a manner of such urgency? Though shipping freight by sail may currently be a slower, outdated and less popular form of transportation, Andrus says that more importantly, when compared to other conventional means of shipment, sail freight is, above all else, practical.

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Projected trade route of the Ceres

Still under construction, the premier sailing barge, “Ceres”–appropriately named after the the Roman goddess of grain and agriculture–is projected to make its debut voyage in September of this year. Using the Champlain Canal and Hudson River as its water highway and wind as its fuel, Ceres will travel from Ferrisburgh, Vermont to New York City, where it is expected to stop at docks and harbors along the way, including Mechanicsville landing, Troy, Albany, Hudson, Kingston, and Poughkeepsie.

The low carbon-footprint barge will carry as many as 12 tons of local, shelf-stable foods from the Champlain Valley. Included on board will be apples and cider syrup, wheat berries and stone ground flour, organic root vegetables and black beans, and short-grain japonica rice, along with pickles, salsas, and jellies. The Vermont Sail Freight Project is working on return cargo negotiations, which would allow the Ceres to bring food products from local businesses of the Lower Hudson region back up north to Vermont and the Champlain Valley – satisfying the elements that make up a traditional trade loop.

In the event where the Champlain Canal or the Hudson River do not provide enough winds for travel, the Ceres will also be equipped with a yuloh for sculling (or for the less nautically inclined, oars for rowing). At the very least, and as a last resort, the ship will be rigged with a motor propeller.

In addition, the barge has been retrofitted to accommodate for today’s “smart phone era,” as it will have an internet component that will allow for customers and fans to track down the barge’s location and progress through automatic updates via email, twitter, and text messages.

Though clearly a more environmentally-friendly means of shipping freight in the northeast, some critics may argue that a sailboat is not nearly as efficient. Where the barge may take a number of days to make a complete loop (Ferrisburgh, VT to NYC, and back), other, more typical forms of freight shipment, such as tractor-trailers and air-cargo, can complete the trip in under a day. How can high-demand businesses and consumers rely on a solitary cargo ship of limited freight capacity that can only make round trips once every other week?

When it comes to the future of how we ship our freight, it is this very way of thinking that Andrus is hoping to reverse. For non-perishable and shelf-safe goods, Andrus suggests, time sensitivity and arrival deadlines should be of little concern. Try to imagine a scenario where the Ceres becomes a whole fleet of “Ceres’s”–say 200 of them. Though it may take over a week for one sail vessel to make a loop from Vermont to NYC–therefore only hitting its destinations once every other week–if planned and calculated correctly, the other 199 barges will hit these destinations at all other times when the one is unable to. If planned and operated accurately and intelligently, a fleet of sail freight vessels could be just as efficient as our 18-wheelers and cargo planes.

And in this, maybe we can understand that the Vermont Sail Freight Project might not have been intended to simply “ooh and ahh” environmentally-conscious consumers and business owners down the Hudson as a hip fad where we can purchase local Vermont goods once in a while; rather, perhaps the intention was to start a freight revolution.

 

All images courtesy of the Vermont Sail Freight Project

Sharing tiny cars in NYC. Go-go? Or a no-go?

Recently, I ventured down to Austin, Texas for the famed SXSW Festival, which began as an attempt to keep the state capital “weird.” In the midst of jamming out to new, up-and-coming rock bands and enjoying the many free refreshments and foods given out by various vendors during the events, I stumbled upon maybe the weirdest thing in ‘big truck’ Texas: a tiny Car2Go.

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A couple of Car2go’s found driving down Austin’s famous South Congress Ave; image courtesy of Daimler

Austin’s Car2Go is an automobile ride-sharing program that prides itself on its fleet of reduced emissions, “environmentally friendly” Smart Fortwo cars. In their own words, Car2Go is “perfect for the city: it’s small, agile, and fits in every parking space,” but most importantly, it’s “fun to drive!” Plus, they are reasonably low in cost to use — to get a membership card is a one-time fee of $35, and then every minute used is 38 cents, including solid hour and day rates, dependent upon your trip. Once you are done with the car, a patron just simply drops it off in one of the city’s ever increasing service area. And don’t worry about breaking your wallet on gas prices, because gas is 100% free! As if that wasn’t enough, Car2Go actually rewards you 20 free driving minutes every time you take a few minutes out of your day to fill up the tank (as long as it’s down to a quarter tank full). Plus, public parking becomes free: Car2Go simply picks up the tab, as it contracts a deal with each participating city, allowing each vehicle of the fleet to be exempt from paying public parking meters. And for the true environmentally friendly driver, there is even an electric car option (though they are less popular due to poor charging station infrastructure within the city thus far…but they are working on changing that!).

But the most impressive part of Car2Go, as I witnessed in Austin, is that it’s actually really popular. Especially when considering the need for everything in Texas to be BIG, the tiny Car2Go has somehow overcome the Texan norm. Throughout the week, I frequently saw these little 2-seaters whip around town as I’d walk down South Congress and up the Red River District. At times, I noticed concert-goers (somewhat unsafely) cram four people in whatever space was left in the car, headed to their next venue. At other times, I’d spot a solitary band member transporting all of his bandmates’ equipment to their next gig. Car2Go looked like a sound solution to public transportation (especially in this particular city where there is no metro/subway system).

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Car2go and a local cowboy in Austin, Tx; image courtesy of Daimler.

But can the Car2Go system gain the same amount of popularity here in New York City as it has in Austin? In a city with arguably the most aggressive and unique driving in the nation, it’s hard to fathom a “shoebox with wheels” keeping up with the pace of New York cab drivers, merciless truck drivers, and impatient suburban SUV owners.

Austin is well suited for this system; it is as if Car2Go is a puzzle piece that fits certain urban landscapes…and one place that fits happens to be Austin (in addition to 16 other cities worldwide that have a similar transportation environment). Unlike NYC, driving in Austin is much more relaxed: speed limits average 15mph (that is, within the confines of the city; the suburbs are a different story), drivers are seldom in a feverish rush and are more respectful of smaller, less traditional forms of transportation, as rickshaw and pedicycle services are also used quite frequently.

But even if NYC did embrace the Car2Go Fortwo: would it necessarily benefit the environment in the city? Are the Fortwos actually as green as they might appear?

Compared to a full size car or a pickup, Fortwos are marginally better in fuel economy. But if you look at the bigger picture, the answer changes completely. Because the worst effect would be this: Smart Fortwos have the tendency to convert public transit users — who typically cannot afford or wish to own a vehicle of their own — into energy-wasting shared automobile users. They even tend to draw from the population of city cyclists. So if a driver in a Car2Go was pulled from mass transit or from a bike seat, that is a major step backwards for the environment. [An alternate opinion is linked at the end of the post.]

David Owen, a writer at The New Yorker, addresses this issue in his book, Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability. He describes cruising the streets of New York City with a friend who had just purchased the Smart Fortwo when it was still a novelty. As bystanders admire and comment on the cute, apparently “environmentally-friendly” car throughout the day, they encounter a Brooklyn resident who becomes very intrigued by the Fortwo. After asking a few questions and hearing that the basic model costs only $12,000, the man expresses interest in buying one, since “it would enable him, finally, to stop using the subway.”

At this, Owen points out the crucial fact: “the world does not need an inexpensive car that tempts city dwellers to abandon public transit.” Owen’s point, emphasized by transportation planners everywhere (and our own interviews with Projjal Dutta of the MTA), is that public transit, subways, light rail and buses, are vastly more efficient and environmentally friendly than even mini-automobiles like the Fortwo (in fact, the Fortwo only gets a little over 30 mpg, which is unimpressive for a car of its size and engine). And the Fortwo in particular only has the capacity to transport two passengers. In New York City, the sheer density and immense public transportation demands — where the 6 line, at peak, delivers 1000 passengers every 90 seconds to midtown — means that mass transit is the only meaningful system available, and so resources are better spent improving it. (Touch screen maps, for instance?)

Bearing in mind the criticisms about applying Car2Go to NYC, it’s sadly true most American cities are closer to Austin in design; spread out, and without robust mass transit. To this conundrum, car sharing is a fascinating innovation. NPR just produced a report on the trend away from car ownership, which they reported from Seattle (where Car2Go is already a success). The take-away quote from the transportation planner on NPR: “People of my generation believed that our private automobile said a lot about who we are, that [it] defined our power and our status. The younger generations don’t seem to be buying into that anymore, and they are seeing automobiles as simply a tool.” And we’ve covered the same trend in City Atlas — exploring which is more important to young people, your car or your smartphone.

Visitors to Austin constantly see T-shirts and posters with messages about how the city’s residents do not want you to move into their ‘prized, exclusive’ city — typically pointing you to Dallas as the “better” option — perhaps New Yorkers should express our concerns about Fortwo car-sharing with a suggestion as to a better place for car sharing to take hold:

Welcome to New York.

Please don’t bring your Car2Go here.

(But we hear New Jersey is nice.)

____

An update to this post: Stephen Miller, a grad student in city planning at Pratt and reporter at Streetsblog, informs us that there is research showing car sharing can actually be beneficial overall, by reducing total car use. The researchers find, somewhat counterintuitively:

“Carsharing can substantially reduce the number of vehicles owned by member households, despite the fact that 60 percent of all households joining carsharing are carless.”

It’s impossible not to note that the research is endowed by Honda. But it is possible that this hasn’t affected the accuracy of the research.

Community comes together to restore the Jamaica Bay Salt Marsh

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Jamaica Bay Restoration Corps youth volunteers busy at work during the previous years’ marsh restoration.

This May, hundreds of local volunteers will band together in an effort to save, restore, and protect the Jamaica Bay Salt Marsh. As the first community-led marsh restoration project in the National Parks Service, the Jamaica Bay Guardian Program and Restoration Corps–both run by the American Littoral Society–plan to organize and educate local youth volunteers and participants the necessary procedures  and action towards marsh restoration.

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An example of the severe salt marsh erosion found at Rulers Bar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since 1924, it is estimated that nearly 1,400 acres of tidal salt marsh have been lost from the Jamaica Bay. Today, it is estimated that the marsh will continue to deteriorate at a shocking rate of 40 acres each year. As a result, marsh-dependent fish and wildlife populations continue to decline, while water quality decreases and flood risks on the mainland grow ever greater. Home to over 80 species of fin fish, as well as a popular resting and feeding place for over 330 species of migrating and native birds, these wetlands serve as an important habitat rich with nutrients. The loss of such a habitat would truly be detrimental to the ecosystems that are supported by it–humans included.

That is why the American Littoral Society has made saving and preserving the wetland a priority in the Jamaica Bay Marsh Restoration Initiative. Focusing on the badly degraded marsh islands, Rulers Bar and Black Wall, volunteers will partake in harvesting 250 lbs of spartina–a common coastal salt marsh cordgrass–that will be propagated into plugs and planted on over 30 acres of salt marsh. In addition to seed harvesting, participants will help to remove debris lining the marsh shoreline, as well as to remove and control any invasive species.

By restoring the salt marsh, the ALS is hopeful that the local wildlife will flourish once again within this habitat, and at the same time, reestablish a very necessary buffer system in defending the coastline from the increasing risk of hazardous tidal storm surges. If we have learned anything from Superstorm Sandy, our communities need to become more proactive in defending our coastlines and work toward ways to counteract climate change. The Jamaica Bay Marsh Restoration Initiative is, without a doubt, a great way to start.

For more information on the marsh restoration, visit the Jamaica Bay Marsh Restoration Initiative website. And if you are interested in participating in the marsh restoration this coming May, don’t forget to sign up as a volunteer!

Photos: Elizabeth Manclark

The lowdown on the Queens High Line

rockaway-beach-bound-2Queens is getting closer and closer to getting their own high line park. Similar to the High Line in Chelsea, the QueensWay, converted from an old, unused, abandoned railway, is intended to serve Queens residents as a vibrant, elevated public green space.

Originally a commuter passenger train of the Long Island Rail Road, the Rockaway Beach Branch rail has been nonoperational and unused since 1962. For the last fifty years, the abandoned rail has been overgrown by weeds and trees, serving as a popular spot for tagging and dumping trash. Park activists naturally jumped on the opportunity to repurpose the space.

The QueensWay redevelopment, which will stretch roughly 3.5 miles–from Rego Park to Ozone Park in Queens–is projected to cost somewhere between $75-100 million. To get the wheels turning, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration granted the project $500,000, while the City of New York chipped in roughly $140,000. Though hardly putting a dent in the $100 million dollar project, the grants, plus additional donations–which have thus far totaled to about $1 million–will be used to research and assess the feasibility of such a project.

The QueensWay assessment, which is being organized by the Trust for Public Land, will include studies that determine the structural integrity of the tracks, whether or not the project is environmentally safe, soil testing, construction cost estimates, and identifying sound funding sources. If everything checks out, Queens will be one step closer to developing their own “rail-to-trails” park.

However, there are a number of obstacles that stand in the way of this project. Funding, thus far, has been a major handicap to the fruition of the QueensWay project. As Eleanor Randolph of The New York Times puts it, “the QueensWay has no celebrity patrons, no Diane von Furstenberg, no Barry Diller, no big-name donors to give enough seed money to turn the park into a fashion statement,” a luxury that the original High Line was fortunate enough to enjoy. With only $1 million towards the project, the QueensWay advocates have plenty of work set out ahead of them in satisfying their $100 million budget.

The project also faces a practical or ethical issue: does Queens even need this park? Should the borough be spending large amounts of money on a park, when maybe those funds can be used for far more pressing matters like addressing the millions of dollars of Sandy damage?

Woodhaven resident Neil Giannelli, who has been running the blog NoWay QueensWay for the last couple of months, argues that the funding should instead be used to clean up Queens infrastructure. “Our existing streets, our existing parks, and our existing sewer system are all poorly maintained due to budgetary restraints,” he writes. “Street trees need pruning. Sidewalks need repair. Graffiti needs to be removed. Let’s maintain what we have before we start building new stuff.” Furthermore, Giannelli believes the QueensWay will be invasive, deplete property values within direct proximity of the park, and bring down the overall quality of life in the neighborhood.

The project also faces opposition from a number of groups, like the Rockaway Transit Coalition, who believe that reactivating train service would better serve the community. However, reactivation of the rail is estimated to cost a substantial amount of money–much more than developing and maintaining a park–and seems less feasible at the moment.

But perhaps it is most important to ask: Will the park be used? The success of the High Line is in part attributed to Chelsea’s high density. The neighborhoods in between Rego Park and Ozone Park are significantly lower in density, and are practically suburban in nature, where many residents already have their own green space in the form of backyards. It would be a shame (and a waste of resources) if such an expensive and well-planned park project were to only be used by the squirrels and birds who inhabit it.

 

Nonetheless, QueensWay advocates remain optimistic, believing that the 3.5 mile stretch will have an overall positive effect on the communities that it runs through. If the QueensWay is developed, bikers will have easier, less dangerous commutes; joggers and walkers will have more pleasant outings with far less exhaust fumes; bird watchers will have a suitable place to, well, watch birds; and vibrant culture will be shared throughout (there is talk of implementing a “Cultural Greenway” into the park, which would spotlight more than 100 ethnic groups that live in Queens in the form of vendors, landscape architecture, and art).

Let’s not forget about the important issues at hand, such as infrastructure and storm relief efforts, but also, as Eleanor Randoph insists, “just imagine the food!”

Photos: Inhabitat

 

Unveiling the genius phone

Updated: And the winner is: NYFi!

Can something as simple as the payphone revolutionize communication and transform the functionality of New York City?

For the last few months, the City of New York has paid heavy attention to this idea, and has invited students, urban planners, designers, technologists and creators of all types to build physical and virtual prototypes of future payphones in the Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge. The designs were up for popular vote on Facebook up until today, May 15th:

Reinvent payphone

With the current payphone vendor agreements ending in 2014, the city probed think tanks and creators to develop new ideas on making the city healthier, greener, more accessible, safer,  and better informed. The group with the best, most efficient, and feasible design entry will receive the “Popular Choice Award,” and therefore a greater chance of being realized as a new part of the New York City infrastructure.

NYC currently manages a network of 11,412 public payphones throughout the five boroughs. With the growing popularity and accessibility of smart phones, payphone use has decreased significantly. Still, every day thousands of New Yorkers place their coins in these somewhat obsolete payphones, especially in times of emergency.

The real challenge now for the participating design teams is how they can take the technology of smart phones and pair them with the infrastructure and accessibility of the payphone; in a way, the goal is transforming New York City into one enormous “genius phone.”

As of March 5th, a select panel of judges singled out six designs based on attentiveness to Connectivity, Creativity, Visual Design, Functionality, and Community Impact. From then until March 15th, the City of New York sought public opinion on the finalists via their Facebook page. New Yorkers could then vote on which finalist design they liked most. This “survey” will determine the winner of the Popular Choice Award, to be revealed today. Below are the six finalists with their respective details, information, and/or videos:

NYC I/O: The Responsive City

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Beacon

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“Beacon is New York City¹s next generation open communications platform, connecting the city and its services with our communities, businesses, residents, and visitors. Beacon makes New York City more accessible, safer, healthier, greener, and better informed in our best of times and our most challenging.

Beacon was designed to connect New York City with New Yorkers, businesses and visitors. Beacon takes everything chaotic, colorful & loud about New York City and connects it back to us in an intelligent, purposeful & familiar way.”

Watch full video here

Windchimes

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“Windchimes are environmental sensor stations that talk through payphones.  They can plug directly into existing technologies and communication infrastructure, making them low cost and immediately deployable. We imagined New York City’s existing 11,000 payphones as a distributed sensor network providing real-time and hyper-local records of the city’s rain levels, pollution and other environmental conditions.

windchimesWindchimes’ design takes into consideration the growing availability of cheap, simple sensors and interest in big data. Each payphone’s sensor kit will be customizable so that it can serve the specific needs of the city and the communities within each neighborhood.”

 

Watch Windchimes video here

NYC Loop

NYCloop1“NYC Loop combines a beautiful, contemporary payphone with a uniquely tailored public space that can be chosen to suit New York’s diverse communities. It provides sound harmonizing technology as well as a smart screen for making calls and enhancing personal mobile communication. Piezoelectric pressure plates convert kinetic energy into electric energy to supply the Loop with power.

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The Loop also features a responsive projector that creates an “information puddle” on the sidewalk with which any passerby can interact—an amazing opportunity for local artists or as a means of generating revenue from advertising space. The iconic design of NYC Loop and the relationship of its public space to the city’s neighborhoods will become an integral part of New York City’s urban identity.”

NYCloop3Goals of NYC Loop:

  • Create an environment in which the latest technology is easily accessible to the general public
  • Facilitate vibrant public space throughout the five boroughs
  • Utilize untapped kinetic energy to develop a sustainable power source

NYFi

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“The NYFi is an interactive portal to public information, goods, and services, a hub for free wireless internet access, and an open infrastructure for future applications.

The NYFi features two interfaces and a simple touch activates the height sensitive interactive zone on either face. Two models of the NYFi are proposed: a ten foot model for commercial and manufacturing districts and a smaller model for residential and historic districts where payphones have not traditionally been permitted.  When not in use, the default display in commercial areas is interactive advertising and, in residential neighborhoods, way-finding and local interest posts.  Its narrow profile minimizes sidewalk obstruction and improves safety and storefront visibility.

NYFi1As an all-around communications hub, the NYFi has every expanding uses due to an open software platform that takes advantage of apps already created for smartphones and tablets. The combination of NYFi’s modular hardware and flexible software can replace the hodgepodge of single-function street appliances that currently litter the sidewalk such as bus ticket machines, Muni Meters, MetroCard machines, assistance kiosks, bicycle share stations and of course, payphones. In this way, these nodes can be modified and upgraded over time to adapt to the changing needs of the city and take advantage of new technologies that will emerge.”

 

Smart Sidewalks

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“Smart Sidewalks is driven by two competing aims: to pack as much function into a single device as possible and to reduce the phonebooth’s footprint.  “Everything”–communication, sustainability, and wayfinding is squeezed into “nothing” – a 6” wide interactive strip that folds up from the sidewalk.

The design works within the existing 5’ sidewalk grid and has two main components. The first lies flush with the ground, and introduces a combined sensor and display with storm runoff storage below. The second stands vertical and functions as a touch-screen, Wi-Fi hub, energy source, charging station, and a range of other functions. In short, a location tethered smart-phone. The bent form is shaped by accessibility, viewing angle, and optimal solar exposure.  A curb-cut bleeds storm water into storage cells dissipating it into existing soil. Sidewalk space is freed, putting to work the invisible space below.”

Watch Smart Sidewalks video here

Smartsidewalks2“The user interface is concentrated on the front panel and includes touch screen, camera, and sound inputs. The screen vertically scrolls accommodating a range of user heights. On the side are a credit card swipe, speaker, and charger.  Built on the Android platform, existing apps are white listed by NYC and new ones are developed by third party vendors.  NYC’s urban specific apps could be accessed by an increasingly diverse range of publics: think of it as a 21st century library without walls.

While Smart Sidewalks can function as a stand-alone device, it also networks, charges, and augments existing mobile devices. The 6” wide ground strip both conveys and gathers information. Like a vehicular road counter, Smart Sidewalks passively tallies every wheelchair, child, and jogger 24/7. This massive nodal network senses wind speed, rain fall, temperature, and foot traffic with unprecedented granularity. In emergencies,Smart Sidewalks guides citizens away from danger to higher ground. Thinfrastructure is self-sustaining and can go off-grid when infrastructure fails. As a publicly accessible database, information gathered from street-sides of NY will stand to fundamentally reshape the city. With a single curb cut and a thin strip of technology NYC prepares for a changing climate, gives maximum functionality to the technological savvy, and lowers the digital divide.”

… For more information on each new payphone design, visit NYC Digital, and check back here to see the winner of the contest.

 

Sustainable date night: Chelsea and the West Village

Whether you are a couple who share the dream of a positive, sustainable future or just a group of friends wishing to have an eco-conscious night on the town, sustainable date night is City Atlas’s ongoing itinerary to help New Yorkers plan a forward-thinking evening in NYC. This segment is for people who care about where their food is made and how its processed; for those who are concerned with the carbon footprint left by the daily operations of a business; and those who value the recycling and reuse of materials.

A sustainable evening in Chelsea and the Village

FIrst stop: Bell Book & Candle

Chef John Mooney of Bell Book & Candle - New York, NY

Rooftop garden at Bell Book & Candle; image by Shannon Sturgis, 2011

In its premiere edition, SDN begins your evening at Bell Book & Candle for an elegant and eco-friendly night of fine-dining. Located in the West Village (141 West 10th Street), this romantic, low-lit, contemporary dining space offers lovers and friends a meal to remember; and, due to its aeroponic rooftop garden, a restaurant that will keep a green foodie coming back.

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60 percent of the restaurant’s produce is grown on its own rooftop garden, so BB&C prides itself on revolving operations around “local, organic, sustainable and overall responsible procurement.” The above video, produced by Reuters, highlights the efficiency and the multiple benefits that the rooftop garden offers. By growing its own produce on premises, BB&C not only saves money, but also eliminates extra automobile emissions that would otherwise have been used to transport non-local fruits and vegetables.  All in all, though slightly pricey, a dinner at BB&C is sure to not only impress your significant other, but also make the both of you strut to your next evening destination…

New York High Line

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Serenity on the High Line; image by Laurel Ma

…which is the New York City High Line Park. Here at the High Line, you and your company can walk off the calories ingested at BB&C atop one of New York’s finest examples of urban renewal. Instead of being knocked down and destroyed, the retired elevated freight line of the early 20th century was preserved and converted into a public park. As a result, the Chelsea area has been significantly “spruced-up,” attracting more human traffic, which inadvertently benefits the local businesses and shops; and the obvious, it is an absolute beautiful park that offers some of the most unique views of the city along with great opportunities for leisure and relaxation.

By entering the park’s southern entrance at the corner of Gansevoort and Washington Street, you will travel no more than ten blocks from BB&C to arrive at your  urbanization destination.  As you travel along the revitalized railway-park, take advantage of the breathtaking sights and sounds that the High Line has to offer (and who knows, maybe the opportunity will arise for a kiss!)  Either way, the High Line will serve as a  ‘sustainable’ buffer to your next and last destination.

Greenhouse  Greenhouse-NYC

Located on the corner of Varick and Vandam Street in SoHo, Greenhouse is an optimum place for you and your date or friends to let loose and party. As one of New York City’s premiere nightlife destinations and first eco-friendly nightclub, eco-friendly people might just  fall in love with this progressive venue. Not only is the space built from recycled or recyclable materials, and all decor made from eco-friendly materials, but Greenhouse also received the L.E.E.D. certification from the United States Green Buildings Council for “environmentally conscious construction and design.”

At Greenhouse, you can dance to your favorite hit songs, enjoy the incredibly beautiful ambiance of the space, even run into one of your favorite celebrities (Kanye West, Rihana, Bruce Willis, Benecio Del Toro, Colin Ferrel, to name only a few), and all the while feel a sense of comfort, knowing that you helped in supporting a business that values environmentally conscious development.

Take your next date (or your friends) out to these eco-friendly hot-spots in NYC. And stay tuned for our next installment of “Sustainable Date-Night” where you will have yet another chance to impress your friends and loved ones at even more sustainable spots!

Pressures to stop hydrofracking in New York on the rise

…is divestment a more feasible reality?

As New York draws closer to the development of a hydrofracking state, groups from all over have banded together to stand up against the dawning reality.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has been known to support drilling the Marcellus Shale depository, believes the project will not only create thousands of jobs for New York residents, but will also help the United States reduce its dependency on foreign oil.  To combat such a theoretically beneficial economic move, the opposition will have to be strong.

And it is.

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Just a few weeks ago, 135 groups came together to organize, fund, and release an ad campaign to pressure Gov. Cuomo to stop fracking in New York.

Recognizing Cuomo’s presidential ambitions, the ad was strategically released in an Iowa newspaper–Iowa will be the home of the first presidential caucus for the next election.

The ad demands that not one well be drilled in the state of New York, urging that this is his “chance to be a national leader on climate.” For Cuomo, ignoring the demands may cost him a presidential election in 2016.

In early February, Artists Against Fracking member Yoko Ono released an ad attacking Cuomo’s refusal to ban hydrofracking in New York. Aired on New York televisions for a whole weekend, and available on Youtube, the ad criticizes highlights the severe contamination to the water supply in hydrofracking areas, and criticizes the governor’s refusal to meet with Ono. You may recognize a number of clips in the ad (below) taken from the critically acclaimed documentary, Gasland.

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A recent stroke of luck has granted anti-fracking activists an additional chunk of time to better organize and grow in strength and numbers. The Department of Environmental Conservatory (DEC) and the Department of Health (DOH) have both delayed green-lighting the development of New York fracking facilities, as more time is needed for both departments to complete their reviews and assessments of the projected drilling project.

In a letter to DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens, DOH Commissioner Dr. Nirav R. Shaw stated:

“…public health is the paramount question in making the [high-volume hydraulic fracturing] HVHF decision. And as Health Commissioner, protecting the public health is my primary job….. From the inception of this process, the Governor’s instruction has been to let the science determine the outcome. As a physician and scientist, I could not agree more. Whatever the ultimate decision on HVHF going ahead, New Yorkers can be assured that it will be pursuant to a rigorous review that takes the time to examine the relevant health issues.”

With additional time, activists have taken the opportunity to raise awareness and heighten advocacy in the Empire State. On February 6, founder and leader of global grassroots movement 350.org Bill McKibben led a presentation and panel discussion at the Cooper Union in Manhattan discussing the importance of banning hydrofracking, and the fight to divest our resources in fossil fuel procurement and consumption.

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McKibben showcased the accomplishments and global exposure of 350.org, which has managed to influence three universities and colleges (Hampshire, Unity, and Sterling) to divest their holdings in fossil fuel company stock, as well as two major municipalities, Seattle and San Francisco, to begin planning on how to fully and successfully divest their cities.

Despite these major accomplishments, McKibben admitted the overpowering strength of the oil companies, stating ” …Washington is just about power… on the one hand, Exxon has piled huge amounts of money so the scale tips in their direction. We have to pile enough bodies and passion and energy on the other side of the scale.”  Without matching the political voice and strength of their oil tycoon counterparts, anti-frackers may be faced with a losing battle for the fight to stop hydrofracking.

But McKibben and the rest of the anti-frackers allegedly have no plans of losing.

“Forward On Climate”, an anti-fracking rally organized by 350.org and the Sierra Club, among many other organizations and funders, marched down the National Mall to the White House in Washington D.C. on February 17 to place pressure on President Barack Obama to ban construction of the Keystone Pipeline. The pipeline, if passed, would cut through the entire Midwest, transporting hydrofracked fossil-fuels from the Athabasca oil sands in Alberta, Canada, risking the water quality and environmental integrity of the projected pipeline area.

The impacts of the rally may have had an effect on Governor Cuomo’s decision to continue plans for developing a hydrofracturing system in New York. President Obama’s decision on the KeystoneXL will likely further influence his choices.

In the most recent State of the Union address, the President took a strong stance on energy, stating the need for Americans “to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and [to] act before it’s too late.” He urged Congress to propose a policy allowing a percentage of oil and gas revenue to fund an Energy Security Trust.  The funds from such a trust would then be reserved for new research and technology in cleaner, renewable energy production.

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Obama did express the importance of more affordable, less foreign-dependent oil and natural gas (which may be a subtle hint that he supports a Keystone Pipeline and a New York drilling project), yet he simultaneously stressed the need to “shift our cars and trucks off oil for good.”

Nonetheless, the coming weeks will  be a pivotal time for the future of New York and the rest of the nation.  Eyes are on our elected officials and politicians to see what direction they will take us in the future of American energy production.  Voices will certainly be raised in these same weeks with great volume and intensity, and the same politicians and officials will have to hear them. In such monumental times, make sure your voice does not go unheard.

 

How to recycle your cell phone or mobile device in New York City

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Image: Chris Jordan

Over 1.6 billion cell phones were made last year. With an average cell phone life-span of only 18 months, we’ll see similar, if not higher, numbers made in years to come. But after 18 months of use, where do those 1.6 billion phones end up?

In most cases, the bottom of a dresser drawer, and eventually, in a landfill. Since cell phones typically contain hazardous materials, such as lead and mercury, it is important that we find and promote a safe, efficient way to recycle and dispose of them. Sadly however, currently only 10 percent of cell phones in the U.S. are recycled.

In a city of 8 million people and nearly 7 million cell phones (estimate based on a study by PEW Internet that determined 87% of Americans owned at least one cell phone in 2012), New York City is unavoidably a contributor to cell phone pollution. However, the city and the state have been making excellent strides in attempting to prevent further cell phone waste.

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Image: NYT

Passed in 2011, the New York State Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act states that all cell phone service providers and manufacturers in New York are required by law to accept cell phones for recycle or reuse from any person at no cost.

In other words, any person looking to throw away their old phone can walk into the store of their wireless provider, hand over their phone to the appropriate personnel, and at no cost, the store is then required to properly recycle your cell phone.

Sprint, which has teamed up with Recyclecorps and Valutech, has become the leading wireless provider in cell phone recycling and reuse. As a way to encourage recycling, Sprint now gives store credit to their clients who turn in their old phones for recycling in their Sprint Buyback program.

GrowNYC.org also offers cell phone collection, as well as the recycling of rechargeable batteries, at several greenmarkets around the city.

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In addition, many cell phone providers have made mobile device recycling more attractive by taking net proceeds from recycled phones and channeling the funds into charities and fundraisers.  For example, Verizon’s Hopeline donates refurbished phones and donations to victims of domestic violence, while Sprint’s Project Connect takes the proceeds from the sales of refurbished phones and materials to fund and promote free internet safety resources for kids. These programs tend to serve as effective strategies for recycling promotion in that they make people feel good about recycling (as if the act of recycling itself wasn’t good enough!).

Effective refurbishment of phones may even help save African wildlife habitats, from which some materials used in making phones and other electronics have been mined.

On a deeper level, it’s important to remember the embodied energy that goes into making all products. As the engineer and inventor Saul Griffith puts it in his epic PopTech talk, in reality we should all probably get one extremely well-made watch, one phone and one pen, and keep them for life. Another useful breakthrough would be to discover a way to make phones biodegradable.

Until then, New York State is on track to pass another bill in 2015 that will make it illegal for the disposal of certain electronics, including TVs, computers, and portable/mobile devices, therefore making it mandatory for New York residents to take advantage of the Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act, and to properly recycle their old goods through electronic dealers, distributors, and manufacturers.

For more information on the effects of cell phone waste and ways to recycle cell phones in your area, visit the New York Department of Environmental Conservation; and visit GrowNYC.org to locate cell phone recycling facilities in your area of NYC.