Author Archives: Jennifer Davis

Discovering a floating park at the High Line

The High Line’s newest design project called the Spur.

Chelsea residents, make way for the High Line’s newest addition: a floating park at the Spur. Last week, the High Line unleashed the latest of its design plans at the School of Visual Arts Theatre. Next on the horizon is the proposed High Line at the Rail Yards, which will feature an elevated “immersive bowl-shaped structure” at the third section of the High Line, known at the Spur, at West 30th Street and 10th Avenue. Essentially a bowl-shaped floating garden that will feature interior rooms with walled vegetation and areas to sit, Untapped Cities has aptly described the new design as a “nest in the sky” offering a “sublime and magical experience of nature in the heart of New York City.”

The Spur will be located at West 30th street and Tenth Avenue.

The new structure will have multiple components, providing a space for nature in the city chiefly among them. Rows of public seating will line the interior of the vegetated structure, with plants and trees framing the walls of the “bowl.” Much needed work space and public restrooms will also be located within the structure.

The bowl-shaped addition will be located at the Spur, the widest part of the High Line. Once the new structure at the Spur is complete, the High Line will connect the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea and Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen, according to the High Line Blog. It is anticipated that the “floating garden” will be completed by 2016, representing the last addition to the High Line.

In addition to being another architectural feat of the High Line design team, the space encourages the public to directly engage with nature in the city. The High Line project doesn’t stand alone in urging the public to interact with nature in the urban environment, albeit in small ways. Marielle Anzelone, an urban conservation biologist and founder of NYC Wildflower Week, has proposed introducing mini nature biomes on the street by adding wildflowers and plants on street blocks, alongside trees. Doing so, she has argued for the Huffington Post, will provide “connective habitats for birds, bees and butterflies while engaging neighbors with slivers of wildness and each other.”

Anzelone’s ideas represent a recent trend towards bringing native trees and plants directly into the street grid. At the same time, New York City’s various urban gardens and conservation groups have coexisted alongside the built environment for years, opening spaces to break up the built environment with green. The High Line’s new structure at the Spur represents another way to imagine nature in the city, and importantly, this time, on a massive scale.



Images courtesy of the High Line B

Mapping a new economy in New York City

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What is a solidarity economy? For SolidarityNYC, the solidarity economy is where environmental, economic and social justice business practices intersect. Now, SolidarityNYC is trying to draw these peripheral economies to the center through a participatory mapping tool that allows businesses and companies with ethical business practices, both in terms of the environment and labor practices, to plot themselves on the map.

SolidarityNYC is building a map to ethical businesses and cooperatives in New York City.

What’s interesting about their mapping tool is that it allows people to make consumer choices based on the ethics of a business or company, from where to pick up produce to where to deposit money in the bank. Their map has plotted social justice-oriented businesses ranging from credit unions, sliding-scale health providers, food cooperatives and transportation alternatives throughout New York City. The idea is that plugging into alternative economies is not so hard to do — businesses can add their name to the map with one click, and consumers can easily shape their consumer choices around the businesses on the map.

SolidarityNYC is just one of many organizations that are oriented towards bringing companies and organizations that participate in these alternative economies to the forefront. Fast Company is also encouraging consumers to plug into companies and organizations that operate based on ideas of mutualism and socially-just minded business practices. And on the more local level, organizations such as Flatbush Mutual Aid, a free bike repair clinic, and Alpha One Labs, which provides a space for people to “work on projects together,” are both predicated on this idea of shared-skills, rather than profit-driven, exchanges.

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SolidarityNYC’s model of several practices that the solidarity economy incorporates into their business strategy.

And beyond that, one could argue that this type of peripheral economy advocacy is paying off. Trade School, which is based off of this participatory-based model of knowledge exchange, allowing people to “barter for knowledge,” now exists in almost fifty cities across the United States and world. Exchange Cafe, also a project of Brooklyn artist Caroline Woolard, opened at the MoMA in May, inviting patrons to engage with peripheral, resource-based economies. The Exchange Cafe project encouraged patrons to pay for products like coffee, tea, milk at the cafe through a resource-based, rather than profit-based, currency — all at one of the world’s richest educational institutions.

Check out this featured video on SolidarityNYC’s site on Third Root Community Health Center Worker Cooperative, just one of the organizations tied to alternative economies in an effort to grow a stronger, socially and economically resilient city.

Photo Credit: Solidarity NYC 

Think first, eat second: a community meal with COLORS and the People’s Kitchen


Think first, eat second. That was the guiding principle of the sliding-scale community meal held October 4th, hosted by COLORS and The People’s Kitchen at the restaurant in lower Manhattan. A large crowd gathered at COLORS, which is New York City’s only cooperative restaurant, for a night of talks on food and labor justice, storytelling, live performances and a sliding-scale community dinner. The meal focused on encouraging people to critically engage with topics of food accessibility, restaurant labor conditions and food policy — before biting in.

The dinner was organized as a way to literally bring discussions of food justice and labor justice to the table. Participants were encouraged to answer a question on a poster board before dipping into the communal platters of food. Questions ranged from “What makes a restaurant decolonized?” to “What does food justice mean to you?” To spur discussion, participants were also asked to tell their own “food story” by completing a fill-in-the-blank style questionnaire about how they came to understand the relationship between food, culture and others.COLORS04

COLORS opened in 2006, owned and staffed by former restaurant workers and 9/11 survivors that had worked at Windows on the World, the restaurant on the top floor of the World Trade Center. As founder members of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United), initially designed to provide job placement services to displaced workers from Windows on the World, ROC-United has seriously extended its scope. ROC-United has since spearheaded the effort to successfully increase the statewide minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers, provide job training and job placement services for restaurant workers, and helped 40 restaurant workers to launch their own cooperatively-owned restaurants. ROC-United also provides policy reports on restaurant labor conditions across the country, including insufficient benefits, gender discrimination, sexual harassment and health insurance breaches so common in the industry.

COLORS01Now, ROC-United has extended its membership to more than 10,000 restaurant workers in at least 26 states, all working towards orienting the restaurant industry industry towards a more mutually beneficial relationship, both for and by the people.

For the event, COLORS partnered with The People’s Kitchen, a sliding-scale community restaurant based in Oakland that partners with social justice organizations every month for local, organic community dinners. The People’s Kitchen is working towards reshaping or “decolonizing” the restaurant industry from top to bottom, placing workplace labor justice, race and gender discrimination and local food at the forefront of their community-led project.

COLORS03The team behind COLORS provides an example of urban resilience from a different kind of traumatic event. It’s fitting to see them set a guide for community as people around the city begin to seek out more ways to connect.

For more information about future community meals, visit



River-filtered floating pool aims for 2016


New York City waterways have long had a bad reputation; in some places even dunking a foot in the water seems a big enough risk to make for a game of Truth or Dare. Now, + Pool, the dauntless and brilliant crowd-sourced project that plans to install a movable, floating pool on the Hudson and East Rivers, has moved another step towards getting the public closer, and even into, purified New York City waters. After a successful funding program this summer, the team has resources for scale testing, and continues to acquire political support and expert design help. As reported in the Observer, the target is a summer 2016 opening.

In mid-July, + Pool reached (and exceeded) its $250,000 goal on Kickstarter to commence the first built phase of the project: Float Lab. The project’s “mini, temporary and floating science-lab version of the + Pool,” Float Lab is a small-scale model of the water-filtration system that will eventually be used in the full size + Pool. The larger filtration system for the pool is designed to filter over half a million gallons of water each day. Float Lab will also test out water quality across 19 different parameters to ensure that swimming water is clean free of contaminants from entering the pool water.

Designed by architect Dong-Ping Wong and designers Jeffrey Franklin and Archie Lee Coates IV, + Pool will be a 9,000 square foot pool shaped in the form of a cross, or plus sign. Each arm of the cross will be segregated for use as a children’s pool, a lap pool, a lounge pool or a sports pool.


The total cost of the project? $15 million dollars. But, the designers and architect of + Pool are using an innovative approach to fund the pool by giving the public a direct stake in the pool’s future. The 70,000 tiles that will cover the floor, walls and deck of the pool can be purchased at $25 a tile and will be completely funded by backers of the project. Some have asked whether cities can benefit from crowdfunded urbanism; the + Pool team seems to be in the process of answering the question definitively.

Launching the pool will represent a massive step forward in enjoying the New York City environment, including our once (and again) beautiful rivers, allowing the public to safely swim in Hudson and East River waters – a feat that hasn’t been deemed safe for the past 100 years. Check out a video here of the architects and designers behind the project to learn more, become involved or support the project.

Name pool tiles for supporters, being etched.

Name pool tiles for supporters, being etched.


Pools tiles being painted.

Pools tiles being painted.


Stacked and awaiting the next phase, testing in a scaled down pool.

Stacked and awaiting the next phase, testing in a scaled down pool. 

Photo Credit: + Pool, Tile by Tile; Family and PlayLab

A petition begins to preserve a research facility at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden


When the Brooklyn Botanic Garden announced late last month that it would be closing the doors to the garden’s research facility in Crown Heights for an undetermined amount of time, many foresaw the end to research at the garden’s unique library of over 300,000 dried plant specimens. The public reaction to the notice that research would be temporarily suspended at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Science Center, and that four researchers were laid off in late August, was strong.

Among other critics, Chris Kreussling, the Flatbush Gardener blogger, initiated a petition on that blames the current Board of Directors at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for straying from the garden’s mission to conduct research in plant sciences. The petition calls for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to do three things: restore the garden’s field work, herbarium and library access, including the laid-off researchers, staff and programs that run it; (re)prioritize science, as called for in the garden’s mission statement; and create a more transparent community with Brooklyn and its neighborhoods regarding changes in the garden’s research decisions. Over 1,500 supporters have signed the petition.

Kreussling has framed the recent structural changes as a breach of ethics, or what he has called “not a singular event…by which BBG has eroded its science staff, programs and activities.” And beyond that, Kreussling and others are also concerned with the larger issue at hand: will the research hiatus at the garden prompt the deterioration of plant science research all over the world, much of which has in fact relied on resources at the garden’s plant library?

According to plant scientists and supporters of the petition, the degree to which researchers have relied on the BBG’s plant library should be fully understood. The garden’s herbarium has dried specimens of local flora as far back as the 1700s, which has been critical for “conservation efforts, plant identification, and understanding of the natural history – and future – of the region,” according to the petition.

NYC Wildflower Week, dedicated to “creating a cultural framework to engage and connect people with their local environments,” has weighed in on the issue too, endorsing the campaign launched by Kreussling.

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For now, the Daily News has reported that a garden spokeswoman has said that during the suspension of research activity, there will be “limited” access to the garden’s herbarium. Brooklyn Botanic Garden officials are still in the process of finding a warehouse suitable to store the plants, many of which are sensitive to heat and humidity changes. According to Garden President Scot Medbury, the changes come in light of the stretched resources of the garden, including “increased insurance and employee-benefit expenses.” The Brooklyn Botanic Garden has also recently expanded its Native Flora Garden and built a new visitors center.

The cutbacks at the botanical garden struck a nerve among local ecologists, as there is already concern that there is a drift away from protecting plants native to New York City. Urban conservation biologist and Executive Director of NYC Wildflower Week Mariellé Anzelone wrote an article in June for the New York Times wherein she argued that incorporating a “farm-filled landscape” with imported fruit trees and plants rather than native plants could do more harm than good. Anzelone notes that a landscape without native plants undermines bee’s critical role in the ecological process, in that imported plants do not provide as much of a fixed supply of nectar as wild plants do. The status of wild, local plants occupies a precarious position in New York City, oddly challenged by the success of a new and growing cohort of urban gardeners that make use of green spaces in the city for plants that are not necessarily native. Ideally, both cultivated landscapes and wild landscapes can flourish in the five boroughs, but the changes at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden have brought to light the importance of the substantial science resources, often taken for granted till they are lost, that track our local ecosystems.

Atop Brooklyn Grange, City Growers plow into action


37-18 Northern Boulevard in Long Island City looks like any other old industrial warehouse turned modern. But on top of the six-floor building sits Brooklyn Grange, a massive rooftop farm home to a few not so ordinary rooftop finds: rows of kale, swiss chard, hot peppers, a large compost pile, chickens and honey bees.

As the largest soil rooftop farm in the world (the second largest rooftop farm is its sister farm at the Brooklyn Navy Yard), and certainly the largest rooftop farm in New York City, there was no shortage of interest among school and youth groups to visit the farm shortly after its opening in May 2010. The reaction to the now three-year-old farm was perhaps unexpected; the number of schools and youth organizations that requested field trips and gardening workshops at the farm quickly overwhelmed the farm’s small staff. To meet the demand, Brooklyn Grange partnered with City Growers, a non-profit that strives to “connect urban communities with agriculture, food and environment through farm education.”


Now in its second year, City Growers offers educational workshops for pre-K through twelfth graders. Operating on both farms at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and in Long Island City, City Growers’ staff is relatively small. Director Cara Chard, who has extensive experience teaching urban agriculture to youth, works alongside two other City Grower employees to conduct all of the farm education activities on the farm. Together, they have created a curriculum that teaches students about predicting crop growth, food systems, seeds and herbs (content accessible here). The curriculum encourages interactive, hands-on activities. By the farm’s beehive, students learn about the role of honey bees in the pollination process. And in the dirt, they learn about the challenges of maintaining a 43,000 square foot rooftop garden and the farm’s 40 different varieties of tomatoes.

Director of City Growers, Cara Chard, with one of the farm’s several chickens


This summer, a group of about fifteen high school students interned at the farm and had the opportunity to teach younger students about composting and planting. According the Chard, the workshops were “an excellent exercise in improving the public speaking skills and self-confidence for the interns.” The workshops follow the logic that by introducing urban youth to rooftop farming, a culture of sustainability, appreciation for local food and a deeper understanding of our food system will follow.

City Growers does not stand alone in its mission to educate youth about urban agriculture. Many other New York City public schools and organizations have participated in a like-minded mission to empower and teach youth about our food system, through shovel and soil, in community gardens and atop rooftop farms.

For now, Chard says that the biggest challenge of running City Growers continues to be accommodating all of the school requests to visit the farm. But behind all of these requests is perhaps a more revealing sign: The rise in interest in the farm is very much a testament to how urban agriculture has recently transformed into a hot topic now implemented in many elementary, middle and high school curriculums throughout New York City. And for City Growers, that may mean extending its reach beyond the two farms that they currently operate on. Says Chard, “We see rooftops as completely underutilized spaces with unbounded potential to contribute to the common good. We hope to establish rooftop farms on schools, hospitals, and public housing developments for educational purposes.” Beginning with the pioneering farms in Brooklyn and Queens, if rooftop farming spreads as steadily as demand seems to suggest, the city’s skyline could begin to have a farmline.


(Photos: Jennifer Davis)

Buses but no bikes: Quinn’s scaled-back transit agenda


Adding transportation options to help reduce travel time has become part of the agenda of mayoral hopeful City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Recently, Quinn announced a two-pronged effort to provide more direct train and bus service from the Bronx to surrounding boroughs as part of her ten-year plan to reduce commuting time to less than one hour throughout New York City.

According to Quinn, New York’s transportation choices are in dire need of a serious revamping: “Our subway system was completed in the 1950s, when more than half of New Yorkers lived in Manhattan and less than 200,000 lived in Queens. Times have changed.”

To address congested transit lines, slow service, and the limited between-borough mobility for many commuters, especially those living in the Bronx, the first part of Quinn’s proposal involves launching a bus rapid transit line that will eclipse miles of circuitous roadways by providing direct service from the Bronx through Brooklyn and Queens. It would also supplement the existing Select Bus Services’ inefficiency.

Instead, Bus Rapid Transit would provide space for protected bus lanes, a design that has greatly increased transit efficiency in other cities, among them Bogotá, Columbia, which uses the Transmilenio bus service. Quinn hopes that protected lanes for buses would afford them the near efficiency of subway cars. [See a brief City Atlas interview about street space, with the former Mayor of Bogotá, Enrique Peñalosa.]

Quinn’s proposal is indeed ambitious; she intends to provide ten additional Select Bus Service routes in only four years. Beyond that, her proposal represents a viable alternative to the costly Triboro RX plan, also known simply as the X line. Proposed by the Regional Plan Association back in the 1996, the X line would be constructed along pre-existing railroad lines between the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn. Though the X line was hailed for its potential to provide service to more than 76,000 commuters, the project wields a hefty price tag–$1 billion. Quinn’s Select Bus Service is estimated to cost $25 million dollars and will take less time to implement.

Triboro Bus Service, Quinn Campaign

As the second part of her transportation discussion, Quinn has called on the MTA to expand Metro North service in the East Bronx. Currently, only the 6 train line and the express bus provide service to the East Bronx. The expansion, Quinn says, will allow commuters the opportunity to “sit and have breakfast instead of grabbing a coffee to go… 20 minutes doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up to an extra three and half days each year.”

Her proposal envisions adding Metro North stops at Co-Op City, Morris Park, Parkchester, and Hunts Point. As part of the expanded service, Quinn imagines community reinvestment as a natural outcome, arguing that expanded service will attract business and create more jobs in the neighborhood.

Her plan may indeed help reduce travel time and bring transportation to underserviced areas, but what of other transportation options like bike shares? In her recent speeches, Quinn has made little mention of more eco-friendly alternatives, like adding more bike lanes or implementing congestion pricing throughout the city. While Quinn has supported congestion pricing in the past, her current proposal seems to be a more moderate version of the Bloomberg administration’s push towards making bike shares a major part of New York City’s transportation fabric.

In terms of carbon output, advocating for mass transit is a big step up from using personal vehicles in the city, but leaving zero-carbon surface vehicles like bikes out of the picture is definitely a step down environmentally. Within or without this proposed plan, how can New Yorkers keep pushing and moving in the right direction with transportation? Of the many tasks facing the next mayor, keeping the focus on newer and better transit initiatives, reaching all the boroughs, should be at the top of the list.

Photos:, This is How New York Works Capital

How an NYC app is helping Philly reclaim its lots

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Philadelphia is home to over 30,000 vacant lots. And yet, little information is circulated on how vacant lot zoning and land use laws operate, often trapping the lots in a vicious cycle of permanent blight. Individuals that do want to make use of the land, such as urban gardeners, often are hard-pressed to navigate the bureaucratic process of even finding out the owner of the lot.

With this in mind, 596 Acres, the New York City based land advocacy organization, announced in January that it would partner with the Garden Justice Legal Initiative for the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia to launch a digital map that charts blighted lots in Philadelphia. The freshly released app, Grounded in Philly, is now available for use by land access advocates and urban gardeners. The app allows individuals to identify vacant lots in the city, find information related to the lot, and ultimately, smooth the path to gaining access to it.

Grounded in Philly is modeled off of 596 Acres’ original digital platform that maps vacant lots throughout Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn. Like its NYC counterpart, Grounded in Philly presents new possibilities for mitigating urban blight. The vacant lot map allows users to search for a vacant lot by entering a street address, zip code or neighborhood. The map provides information on the size of the lot, its council district, zoning district, a description of why the lot is vacant and land characteristics. Users can use this information to research zoning and land use laws for the specific lots.

One of 30,000 vacant lots in Philadelphia

Making this information available for the average citizen goes beyond easing the path towards land tenure; vacant lots require a lot of tax dollars to maintain upkeep and keep with safety regulations each year. By converting the lots to productive use, the city could in fact save quite a bit of tax dollars. In Philadelphia alone, $20 million each year is channeled towards maintaining vacant lots.

596 Acres is not the only organization that has been promoting vacant lot occupancy as an agent to mitigate the high crime rates and upkeep expenses associated with vacant lots. The Campaign to Take Back Vacant Land is just one of many Philadelphia based coalitions of community, faith and labor groups that has given a serious push towards occupying vacant lots. Their vision? To create a land bank that “converts vacant, abandoned, and tax delinquent properties into productive use, allowing communities to reclaim, reinvest in and rebuild their neighborhoods.” Starting with Grounded in Philly to locate the lots may be a good first step.

Photo Credit:,

Five more days for proposals: My Voice, Our City competition


The online application deadline for the My Voice, Our City: What Will You Do? competition has been extended until July 31st. The competition is still calling for entries from black and Latino young men, ages 16-24, local organizations and community leaders to propose project ideas that tackle young black and Latino men’s persisting barriers to employment opportunities and higher education.

With funding from Mayor Bloomberg’s Young Men’s Initiative and Ashoka Changemakers, the My Voice, Our City project strives to empower black and Latino young men by giving them a direct stake in changing the future for themselves, friends and families. The project was launched in response to recent data on poverty, high school dropout, unemployment, and crime statistics that reveal that young black and Latino men are disproportionately represented in all measures.

The proposed projects range from introducing computer programming to low-income communities to providing financial literacy and money management workshops across the five boroughs. While the projects definitely vary in content, all address the structural impediments that often bar marginalized populations from accessing opportunities to booming fields such as entrepreneurship or computer programming.

For example, Maurya Couvares has proposed a project called “ScriptEd: Teaching Kids from Low Income Communities to Code.” Addressing the fact that technology education is still not accessible to students particularly in low-income school districts, his ScriptEd project intends to “empower students from low income communities by bringing computer programming courses directly to their schools, and by helping them secure summer internship opportunities with software developers.”

As an incentive to apply, applicants will compete to win up to $36,000 in prizes. Winners will be announced on September 25th. Visit MyVoiceOurCity to enter and view entries.

Where did that banana in your smoothie come from?


Curious about the wholesale price of those bananas that you picked up at your neighborhood bodega? Now, with data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market, a clear and effective interactive food map is available for users. You can enter the name of any fruit or veggie, find out the wholesale price, and locate the country of origin on the globe. The information shifts by season, as our food sources move based on harvests. The map provides a comprehensive glimpse into New York City’s food supply and distribution base.

The map shows that a large proportion of produce entering Hunts Point, on its way to a green grocer or bodega near you, is not exactly locally sourced. Enter iceberg lettuce into the map’s search bar, and see that it is sourced from California and New Mexico, for $0.26/lb. Bananas are sourced from Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Guatemala for anywhere between $0.36/lb to $0.53/lb, and kiwis come from Chile.

As the world’s largest food distribution center, the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market operates on 690 acres in the South Bronx, a mismatch of open air tents, industrial buildings and refrigerated truck trailers. The market now processes 22% of the region’s wholesale produce sales, or 60% of fruit and vegetable sales in New York City. While this may seem like an impressive statistic, in 1989 Hunts Point captured over 75% of the wholesale produce sales in the region. The reason for the drop in sales since then? Chain stores. Large scale retailers such as Whole Foods, with their own distribution systems, have increasingly located their distribution centers outside of New York City, where rent is lower and space is more available. Hunts Point Market now draws its primary consumer base from small businesses and bodegas that are dependent on the market’s cheap produce.

Does it matter that so much of our healthy food is crossing such huge distances to reach us? That depends on the crop and the method of shipping. Bananas, for example, are a relatively efficient food. Kiwis from New Zealand could have smaller footprints if kites can help propel the cargo ships that carry them — and growers are beginning to consider the question.

Local agriculture does not necessarily come with a smaller footprint, because the farming methods and delivery systems (pick-up trucks driving small loads down from upstate New York, for example) may be much more carbon-intensive than long distance rail or cargo ships, which are remarkably green methods of transport.

From Ecuador, to here, to your local deli, to your blender: travels of a banana. (Photo: NYCEDC)

From Ecuador, to Hunts Point market in the Bronx (above), to your local deli: travels of a banana. (Photo: NYCEDC)

The food map has been hailed as data collection done right; instead of cataloging produce as domestic when an item is shipped from the entry city to another U.S. city, data from Hunts Point accurately labels the item as international. The map shows the global reach of New York City’s food distribution system, and also shows that New York City remains far from regional food self-sufficiency.

The city has proposed a $332.5 million redevelopment project for the market, and there is little mention of incorporating local food distributors into the market’s network. The project plans to maximize land use on the property by expanding and upgrading the market, as well as updating on-site food safety. Read the Hunts Point Vision NYCEDC plan here, and more about Hunts Point in the New York World. Hunts Point is also included in the city’s discussion of critical networks, in the Special Initiative on Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR) report.

Citi Bike: a solution to G train outages?

Will Citi Bikes along the route get a green G decal?

Will Citi Bikes along the route get a green G decal?

Does the Citi Bike system have a fundamental role in providing resiliency to the city’s overstretched transportation network?

The beloved or scorned G line (which provides much-needed service between Brooklyn and Queens) was heavily damaged during Hurricane Sandy, particularly affecting the tunnel beneath Newtown Creek. Now the MTA is in conversation with the Bloomberg administration about funding an expansion of Citi Bike stations to areas without G train service in Long Island City and Greenpoint; in which case, the trains won’t be running, but more bikes will.

Long Island City and Greenpoint were both meant to have Citi Bike stations prior to Sandy, but the docks for those areas were damaged while housed in a flooded area of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Now that the G train is beginning it’s own post-Sandy flooding repairs, newly-installed Citi Bike stations could take some of the transportation demand, it is hoped.

July 6th marked the beginning of the planned weekend service suspension between the Court Square and Greenpoint Avenue stations. The G line tunnel will be closed for twelve consecutive weekends through mid-December for repairs. In the summer of 2014, officials say that the three northernmost stops on the G line – Greenpoint Ave, 21st Street and Court Square – will be closed for five consecutive weeks.

Some are skeptical Citi Bike stations can really accommodate the many commuters now without G train service. One commenter on the Daily News lamented: “How about just running some more buses? You already have the buses, and you already have the drivers? Why is that not an option?” Though shuttle buses now run along the G line route, many commuters report long lines and waits, especially during rush hour.

Citi Bike is also an imperfect substitute for mass transit: not helpful if you can’t ride a bike, are elderly, disabled, traveling with a young child, or carrying bulky packages, and marginal if the weather is bad.

And the roadways along the G line may be tricky; one commenter pointed out on Transportation Nation, the Pulaski Bridge bike and pedestrian lane is already heavily trafficked, with little room to accommodate riders and walkers as it is. For increased ridership, a solution might mean turning one of the six traffic lanes on the bridge into a bike-only path. This step may require a good deal of pushing by community organizers, and the Brooklyn and Queens committees of Transportation Alternatives are working on it.

But what’s encouraging is seeing how flexible the city becomes as more options for commuting appear. Since Hurricane Irene in 2012, when the subway system was shut down as a precautionary measure for the first time, it’s become apparent that resiliency is a key feature going forward. Ten thousand zero-carbon surface vehicles are not a bad start.

Photo Credit: Blogspot

Bike tickets on the rise in Manhattan and Brooklyn


Since Citi Bike launched its bike share system on May 27, there has been no shortage of criticism for the program–from eliminating curbside parking to predominately serving higher income areas. Now, to add to the litany of complaints is the substantial rise in bike tickets issued in Manhattan and Brooklyn. According to the Gothamist, bike citations are now up 81 percent in Brooklyn and 7 percent in Manhattan since last year. The statistics compare the period from May 27–the launch of Citi Bike–to June 27.

There seems to be a strong correlation between the number of citations issued and the location of Citi Bike stations. According to the Daily News, whereas police doled out 282 bike tickets last year in the four Brooklyn precincts with Citi Bike stations and their three surrounding precincts, this year police issued 510 tickets in the same seven precincts. Hence, the 81 percent rise in citations in Brooklyn.

Roadway offenders have been issued tickets for violating basic rules of biking etiquette: running a red light, riding in unmarked lanes, riding on the sidewalk or riding against the flow of traffic. While New Yorkers have been issued tickets before the launch of Citi Bike mostly for egregious violations, now some are asking why there has been such a crackdown on bike violations since May 27th.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly attributed the significant rise in bike tickets in Brooklyn and Manhattan to increased ridership: “I think it’s fair to say that complaints have gone up, but we believe it’s a result of the increased volume.”

While congested bike lanes may fuel more reckless biking behaviors, others say that the police have abused the bike share program as a way to satisfy mandatory ticket quotas. The Gothamist reported that a tipster saw a police officer round up almost twenty cyclists and administer tickets all at once as the entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge.

To add to the blow, the tickets come at no small price. In fact, the prices can be pretty hefty, from anywhere between $50 for riding on the sidewalk and up to $275 for running a red light. While many bikers–especially those fined–may see the tickets as an unwarranted fine, police officers may point towards the “rules of the road” sign labeled on every Citi Bike as a reason to not pardon traffic violators.

Photo: Gothamist 


Urban foraging: a lost art?


Urban foraging may conjure images of wading through poison ivy in Prospect Park and picking out leafy greens and berries infused with city fumes. But, with apps like Wild Edibles with Wildman Steve Brill, a condensed guide for iPhone users on how and where to find the city’s 150 tastiest edibles, it now may be easier to navigate pesky bugs and unidentifiable plants.

“Wildman” Steve Brill has long been considered the leading expert on foraging in New York City parks. For over thirty years, Brill has led foraging and ecology expeditions throughout the Northeast. The self-described “go-to guy” on foraging has written three books on wild eating, including The Wild Vegan Cookbook, and has advised some of the city’s top chefs and the New York City Parks Department.

Though Brill is allowed to lead a limited number of foraging tours in the city’s parks, he has come under attack in recent years by conservationists and the Parks Department. Foraging in New York City parks is no new practice, but undoubtedly has attracted a stronger following in recent years as the push to eat locally has gained a wider following. In July 2011, the New York Times printed an article relating the ongoing tension between eager foragers and New York City park officials. On one end was a growing cohort of urban foragers that, perhaps motivated by a less than booming economy, took to the parks for food. On the other end was the increasingly disgruntled Parks Department that worried about imbalance in the park’s ecosystem. Maria Hernandez, director of horticulture for the Central Park Conservancy, lamented: “If people decide that they want to make their salads out of our plants, then we’re not going to have any chipmunks.”

Urban conservation biologist and executive director of NYC Wildflower Week Mariellé Anzelone states that incorporating imported edibles into the city’s limited green space presents a special problem for bees. In a recent article in the New York Times, Anzelone argued that a “farm-filled landscape would undermine [bee’s] critical ecological process.” Because wildflowers and native plants provide a more fixed supply of pollen and nectar than imported fruit trees, Anzelone argues that a human-feeding landscape with imported plants remains insensitive to wild bees’ job in the process.

Anzelone is a protector of true native habitats, a surprising amount of which continue to exist intact in the five boroughs alongside all the impacts from eight million people and their surrounding ecological interests of dogs, urban gardens, Starbucks, apartment buildings and highways.

With organizations such as FruiTrees New York pushing to plant urban orchards across the Five Boroughs, Anzelone’s perspective might seem to overlook the positive change that planting urban orchards could bring the city, both in terms of food justice and access to local food. Some argue that wild plants may in fact yield a higher nutritional content. How should policy be set? Maybe an expert panel, including long time advocates like Mariellé Anzelone and Steve Brill, as well as the Parks Department, and perhaps a historically minded ecologist like Eric Sanderson, could help the city map a way for true nature and human landscapes to flourish side-by-side. New York City has one of the ten best urban forests, a tremendous benefit to all kinds of life in the city.

Even since park officials have begun to clamp down on foraging by issuing summons to those who violate the official no-foraging policy in the city’s parks, in no way does there seem to be a hard-line policy towards foraging. Urban foragers largely remain unnoticed in the parks and “Wildman” Steve Brill can still lead private tours. He even reports that some park officials wave at him as he passes in the park. Maybe the berry-seeker should take that as a green light, then, to head out with a bucket–and maybe even an iPhone–to uncover the city’s tastiest, and edible, treats.

Photo credit:

From farm to pizza, NYC kids raise the bar for food justice

Columbia Secondary School’s Community Garden

Professor Hill’s sixth-grade classroom at the Columbia Secondary School is full of mason jars, cooking implements, herbs under indoor plant lighting, dried flowers, and at one point, a small pen for baby chicks in the corner of her classroom. For her, these tools are anything but classroom trinkets. The pots and pans clustered in the corner of the classroom are used in her sixth-grade elective class, which educates students on food security, food systems, and urban agriculture. Students follow a food justice curriculum and later apply what they learn in the school’s community garden.

This week, Professor Hill has hosted four days of Garden to Table workshops for 96 sixth-grade students as a culmination of the food justice curriculum. The workshops feature tutorials on how to make pizza from every stage of the process, from dough-making to harvesting pizza toppings in the garden to making fresh mozzarella cheese.


Students harvested basil, oregano, chives and chocolate mint from the school’s garden to add to their homemade pizzas and salads. For some students who have been active in the school’s community garden for the past few years, just being able to harvest herbs is a feat. These students have witnessed how the the garden has confronted many challenges that urban gardens often face: high lead content in the soil, invasive insects, and costly safety regulations that forced their move from the roof of Columbia Secondary School to a vacant lot on 119th and Amsterdam Avenue.

Despite these challenges, the middle-schoolers demonstrate a remarkable level of determination and foresight on how urban gardens can shape New York City’s future. Garrison Koch, a sixth grader at CSS, said that getting even more rooftop gardens off the ground could be the next step toward a more food-friendly New York City, while also recognizing the caveats of doing so:

Rooftop gardens would work well for us because it would maximize space. And that’s what New York is about, you know, making the most out of what we have… But it’s hard because a lot of buildings are either home or work, and people don’t really want people that they don’t know working on a farm on their roof…To try to get [gardening] everywhere would be hard because not everyone would be really into it.

Columbia Secondary School is just one of many New York City public schools putting a new spin on the traditional classroom experience–many are incorporating food justice topics into their curriculum and bringing class outdoors.

On June 12, Hunter College’s Silberman School of Social Work hosted an event in celebration of youth involvement in the food justice movement. A number of the city’s youth empowerment programs attended, including the Youth Leadership Program, the Children’s Aid Society, and Motivating Action through Community Health Outreach (MACHO).

P.S. 211, a bilingual magnet school in the Bronx, has created their own community cookbook, featuring simple, healthy recipes and desserts with a reduced sugar content. Students from P.S. 211 said that publishing a bilingual cookbook in English and Spanish is important because it helps to reach more populations living with fewer healthy food options.

Students from the Youth Leadership Program have launched their very own PhotoVoice Project. The project encourages students to interact with local store vendors and community members in Harlem to examine different food options in the area. Students catalogued interviews with workers from food trucks, street vendors, bodegas, and mini-marts and took photos of their neighborhood food options. The common theme? There are precious few healthy food options in the neighborhood.

The photos from the PhotoVoice Project show a visual connection between the spatial dispersal of healthy food options and race and class-based inequalities. It is not new news, but always worth highlighting the fact that stores providing fresh ingredients are more heavily concentrated in higher-income neighborhoods.


All of these kids recognize the food justice challenge in New York City, and they are making a lot of noise to change it by engaging and examining their surrounding food options. As one student told me, “We want our kids to enjoy the fruits of our labors.”


Photos: Jennifer Davis 


Composting, the Bloomberg way


Composting bins for all residences and businesses in New York City may not be far off. According to the New York Times, the city will test out a program by using a composting plant to process up to 100,000 tons of food scraps a year, or about 10 percent of the city’s annual food waste.

The project involves installing small collection bins in homes and businesses to recycle food waste such as fruit rinds and vegetable scraps. The contents of the collection bins will then be placed in larger bins for street side pickup by sanitation workers.

Over 100 restaurants, 150,000 households, 600 schools and 100 high-rise buildings have signed up to participate in the program. This means that over 5 percent of households in the city will soon be recycling food scraps.

With restaurants turning out over 70 percent of waste produced by businesses, getting restaurants to sign onto the plan would account for a large part of city waste. The composting project has elicited mixed feedback among restaurants. Fear of odor, rodent problems, unsightly waste bins and the additional expense to process the waste for others are some of the primary criticisms of the program. Others, however, see citywide composting as a step forward in the recycling project from the mandatory metal and plastics policy plan established in 1989.

Although the composting project will not be mandatory at first, sanitation officials say that the program may encompass the entire city, including restaurants, by 2015 or 2016. By this plan, non-compliant businesses and residences could be subject to a citation by the Department of Sanitation, similar to the system set up in the current metal and plastics recycling policy.

In an interview with the New York Times, Eric A. Goldstein, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the plan “revolutionary,” and that “if successful, pretty soon there’ll be very little trash for homeowners to put in their old garbage cans.”

With Mayor Bloomberg leaving office at the end of the year, the overall trajectory of the composting program still remains up in the air. The upcoming July 17 Mayoral Candidate Forum on the Future of Food in New York City will perhaps impart some answers. The forum will provide the public the opportunity to engage mayoral candidates on their positions on the future of food and whether they plan to actively pursue Bloomberg’s composting plan.

Kim Stanley Robinson: utopia and how to get there

Science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson speaking at MoMA PS1

Science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson speaking at MoMA PS1 (Photo: MoMA PS1)

As part of the MoMA PS1’s series of talks called “Speculations: The Future is _,”
science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson presented a keynote lecture entitled “What is the Future for?”  Robinson was asked to fill in the blank in response to the statement: “The future is __.” [Video embeds below.]

Robinson argued that there are three ways of thinking about climate change and its implications for the world’s future: a world headed towards environmental catastrophe, a world headed towards utopia, or a world that straddles elements of both catastrophe and utopia. By this logic, this straddle world, or the “middle way,” is not a sustainable solution to approach climate change. Rather, Robinson argued that we must abandon the middle way and understand that utopia is possible. But how?

Robinson voiced a pragmatic approach in answer to the prompt, arguing that the future is for “cognitive mapping.” For Robinson, this project of cognitive mapping involves learning from past environmental mistakes and better planning for the future. The linchpin of planning for this cognitively-mapped future, Robinson argued, is to think of our options for the future in terms of innovation versus waste, or science versus capitalism:      

I have often framed this problem as science versus capitalism…For me, science is the effort to try to reduce suffering, the effort to try to make life more comfortable for human beings, to understand the world better and to manipulate it for various human goods…I think of science as a utopian good that can make things better.

Green and renewable technologies such as solar power and alternative energy sources that do not rely on carbon-burning make attaining a utopia, which Robinson defined as a world in which “all humans and a biosphere that support it are well,” possible. Avoiding environmental catastrophe therefore rests on better planning and cleaner technologies. Unsustainable capitalist practices that encourage consumerism and waste, then, hamper progress in creating greener technologies.

Cities also provide the possibility of creating a more environmentally balanced “utopia” in that
they encourage less need for burning carbon. Robinson referred to this set of behaviors as “paleolithic activities.” In dense city centers, paleolithic activities such as walking, urban gardening or using public transit work hand-in-hand with green technologies.

In a brief interview with City Atlas, Kim Stanley Robinson addressed cities’ role in participating in a better planned, more sustainable future:

City Atlas: In what ways can cities participate, or even encourage, these paleolithic activities you mentioned?

I think cities are important because they are so densely populated…and I think that a lot of city life is fairly paleolithic in a strange way because it gets away from the automobile. Cities encourage face-to-face interactions with other individuals, so I like it for that. And I think that rooftops need to be used for urban gardens and that cities need to be greened, less for the auto and more for people and public transit.

On the other end of the spectrum of green technology and paleolithic activities, Robinson argued, rest the “bad economies” of capitalist models that have created a “multi-generational Ponzi scheme.” Throughout the lecture, Robinson employed this “multi-generational Ponzi scheme” as a metaphor for the way that we have treated future generations by living in an environmentally irresponsible way. For example, much as we have stripped the Earth of resources for fuel, the predatory dumping tactics of big businesses, concerned more with immediate profit rather than long-term, sustainable solutions, often prioritize the here and now over the implications for the future.

In classical economics, if you sell something for less than it costs to make it, they call it dumping. And if you do that to drive your competitors out of business, after which point you raise the prices so you have a monopoly, it’s called predatory dumping…But what we have with this systemic predatory dumping, you have to ask is, well, who are we putting out of business, if that is the metaphor that we are using?…It would be the future generations. We are predating on the future generations, as if the competition were with them.

These two competing poles – science versus capitalism – lay bare a few of our approaches towards dealing with the future in environmental terms. Will we return to paleolithic activities, as Robinson encourages, or will we fast forward to beyond our current Holocene Epoch?

We thank MoMA PS1 and Triple Canopy for organizing these talks. 

[Update 3/19/17: Because the original video of Robinson’s talk has been taken offline, here instead is a talk from May 4, 2016, to the Bartlett School of Architecture, on designing cities for rising seas]