Author Archives: Matt Sanders

How a generation can build a new economy

Brainstorming at reRoute 2013, held in NYC. Photo: Kathy Zhang

What does the “New Economy” mean for New Yorkers, especially for young people?

With a unique blend of optimism and pragmatism, around 250 college age New Yorkers gathered at last month’s reRoute conference, focused on “Building youth and student power for the New Economy.” The 3-day conference, held at NYU’s Kimmel Center from July 19-21, was hosted by the New Economics Institute, which has been focusing its efforts in building a youth & student movement for a New Economy.

The reRoute conference was about how youth can move to define the New Economy. During the first day of the conference, the term was introduced by a panel of speakers in solidarity-related efforts, defined as “unity (as a group or class) that produces or is based on community of interests, objectives, and standards.”

They emphasized the community over the consumer. They showed how capitalism has taken away the ability to keep all the “fish” that we catch. Other students I talked to believed that our system of capitalism only addressed one part of the human condition, greed, while ignoring other economic forces, like compassion. Many of the people I met had refused or left job opportunities in the current market, not wanting to contribute to a “broken” system.

The next day was about delving into current examples of the New Economy. During a morning panel, a woman from the Black Women’s Blueprint spoke about her way of life while explaining how our current rate of growth is environmentally and economically unsustainable on an individual and national level. She lives in a close-knit community where clothes and goods are traded and made internally. This way, she said, her community isn’t captive to the values that large companies create to sell their products. As we live more in “silos,” we are more vulnerable to the influence of companies, she explained. She also mentioned that she works half the usual U.S. workweek to show that we can easily get used to getting by with less.

Photos: New Economic Institute’s Flickr 

Another example of the New Economy explored in the conference was time banking, specifically TimeBanks NYC. Time banks are systems in which time is currency, measured by hours. Instead of trading money for tasks, people in this system can trade an hour of their time for an hour of someone else’s. For some, this is a way of living. For others, it is a way to volunteer. The panelists admitted that hours may never be a functioning all-purpose currency, but TimeBanks NYC is a solution for some people.

Later on in the day was a presentation on how to start a co-op, defined as a company that is jointly owned and democratically controlled. Consumer co-ops, like REI, worker co-ops like Quilted, and supplier co-ops like OceanSpray were among the many types co-ops presented. Legal included descriptions of DPO (Direct Public Offering), and the CFNE (Cooperative Fund of New England). The practical advice, and the examples from the real world, were well-received by attendees.

With a high number of college students in attendance, fossil fuel divestment was an ongoing theme of the conference. Many students were part of their school’s divestment campaigns, and panels on school divestment were also offered. (For more on divestment read this).

Eva Wu Collier works with the Responsible Endowments Coalition as part of her school’s divestment campaign, and is also working with the Aorta Collective. From Santa Fe, NM, she was introduced to solidarity when her economics professor at Bryn Mawr gave a solidarity workshop. When City Atlas asked about the conference, she replied, “I like how there’s a new economic practical analysis about how we’re going to rebuild a sustainable and anti-oppressive future.” Eva had just attended a workshop about storytelling techniques for the New Economy. “There’s a lack of art in the social justice and nonprofit world,” she stated.

The last day of the conference involved lots of attendant participation. We all broke off into groups based on region, and later, interest. The regional groups discussed local initiatives they were part of and set future follow-up meetings. Interest groups ranged from media and technology to education and environment. Choosing an interest group reflected the entire feel of the conference, with so many panels to choose from and people to meet in a limited span of time.

reRoute was about the re-awakening of economics as a vehicle for change. It showed how ideological the field of economics really is. Furthermore, it pinpointed how the decisions we make are based on more than greed or profit. The New Economy is a range of things, with an emphasis on human-centered economics. How might New York look and operate under this model of thought and action?

For more on the conference and the New Economics Institute, visit their site.

Cover photo: Kathy Zhang

The future of the Brooklyn Navy Yard

When Sandy hit the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the damage was not equally absorbed across this historic industrial site. Some tenants, like Steiner Studios, thankfully had no damage. Other businesses suffered up to $1 million in losses. According to the New York Times, most tenants don’t have immediate (or any) plans of relocation away from New York’s largest and oldest industrial facility, but there is still recovery underway. The yard lives on: there are new businesses planning on moving in, or those that have set down roots very recently. How will the historic site look in a year? In ten? We’re taking a look into one new, “green” piece of the industrial fabric.

New Lab is a workspace for green entrepreneurs, manufacturers, and designers in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Founded by president David Belt of Macro Sea, a real-estate development firm, and Scott Cohen, an artist and entrepreneur, New Lab promises to be a city leader in blending innovative companies under one roof.

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New Lab’s Beta Space

The Brooklyn Navy Yard has a history of manufacturing dating to the eighteenth century. Originally a shipyard for the Navy, but decommissioned in 1966, it is now a place for commercial manufacturing, and holds upwards of two hundred companies and five thousand employees. The Navy Yard is situated next to DUMBO, a hub for tech activity in Brooklyn.

The current tenants of New Lab work in Beta Space, while the future New Lab building is under construction with a possible 2015 completion. Plans for the completed building will include ten times the current volume of companies that the Beta Space houses, a central community space for lectures and presentations, facilities for rapid prototyping and material fabrication. Currently in the Beta Space is a light artist, product consultant, architecture firm, biotech engineer, and various other digital manufacturers and industrial designers. Innovation threads these disparate entrepreneurs together.

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The New Lab team preserved the frame of a previously decommissioned building.

Alex Escamilla, senior project director at Macro Sea, states that David Belt and Scott Cohen differ from other NYC developers because of their vision. New Lab is a twenty-one million dollar project, funded through private equity, as well as government grants for creating jobs and preserving a historic site. In other words, it is far from a quick-return investment. New Lab’s two founders are committed to environmental responsibility and progress.

New Lab distinguishes itself from other similar manufacturing spaces with its focus on green technology and its mission to bring entrepreneurs with disparate interests together in a creative, rather than competitive, environment. How will this vision and style of business reflect, influence, or otherwise fit into a post-Sandy, “resilient” New York?

We’ll be tracking developments at the Navy Yard as part of our ongoing coverage of the city defined by improved standards of resiliency and economic diversity.

 

Win a grant to improve our city’s public spaces

Photo from http://www.citizensnyc.org/programs/grants/composting_grants.html

Photo from http://www.citizensnyc.org/programs/grants/composting_grants.html

After Hurricane Sandy, the public concern has been focused on rebuilding damaged houses. While many resources are being put toward housing, The Citizens Committee for New York City has a different focus. They are offering micro-grants for volunteers to transform public spaces.

The Citizens Committee for New York City is a non-profit organization centered around improving the quality of life for New Yorkers. They are the leading organization in NYC that offers funding to grassroots volunteer groups. Local groups they’ve supported often aren’t large enough to have a 501(c)(3) status for tax exemption, but have done work to better under-served neighborhoods through gardening, fine arts, education, fitness, and more.

This summer, The Citizens Committee for New York is offering micro-grants of up to $2,000 to groups of volunteers who want to improve public spaces. “Getting affected individuals back into their homes is the most important task. Too little attention has been paid to community spaces,” says CEO Peter Kostmayer, “Gardens absorb water. Sidewalks don’t.”

How will you better public space in our city? For those interested in applying for a grant, the due date is August 1.

Photo from http://www.citizensnyc.org/programs/grants/love_your_block.html

Photo from http://www.citizensnyc.org/programs/grants/love_your_block.html

Meet July’s New York Tech Meetup stars

Presenters from Dispatch (Photo by Kathy Zhang)

This month’s New York Tech Meetup (NYTM) featured eclectic startups in the fields of news, events, healthy eating, locksmithing, project management, and coding.

NYTM is held monthly at the NYU Skirball Center for Performing Arts. Founded in 2004, it has played a key role in the development of Silicon Alley and establishing New York as a major technology hub. The meetup is the largest stage for tech startups in the City to present new products and platforms to the public.

The first presenter was KeyMe, a company that is radically simplifying the key-replacement process. The KeyMe kiosk (shaped like an ATM), is able to copy and save a record of your key on the cloud. Using only a fingerprint, the kiosk is able to instantly make a replica of your original key. This kiosks are already in stores in the City, and may soon appear throughout the US. Though concerns about hackers and “Uncle Sam” surfaced during the presentation, the KeyMe team assured the audience that key records are only linked to fingerprints, not personal data.

Many presenting groups were platforms of discovery for NYC and beyond. AHAlife is a website devoted to connecting people to products, brands, museums, and people from around the world. HealthyOut is an app that lets people create a healthy food plan by simply providing your dietary preferences and restrictions (with an implemented delivery system). An independent team from the New York Times redesigned the TimesMachine, a database of their past newspapers.

Startup founders taking audience questions (Photo by Kathy Zhang)

Other presenters included:

Moven

DrawQuest

Dispatch

StallWall

Web Explorer

Bayesian Methods for Hackers

Knodes

Paper

The next NYTM will be Wednesday, August 7th. Register at meetup.com/ny-tech/

Biogas: the city’s new compost power

As the city considers alternative energy sources, biogas is a largely untapped possibility.

Compost bins in NYC. Source from www.facebook.com/GrandArmyPlazaGreenmarket

Compost bins in NYC. Source from www.facebook.com/GrandArmyPlazaGreenmarket

Biogas originates from decomposing manure, sewage, plant and food remnants. Ordinary compost, soon to be collected from kitchens and restaurants across the city, is a potential feedstock for biogas, if the necessary infrastructure is in place — and our forward-thinking mayor has included a biogas facility in his plans for New York City’s composting initiative.

Biogas is commonly known as ‘swamp gas’ or ‘landfill gas’ (LFG). It has been widely adopted as an alternative energy source to power vehicles, generate electricity, and provide heating in Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland.

Typically, the problem with allowing organic waste to decompose without controlling it is that it produces large quantities of methane, which is a greenhouse gas more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Big methane producers are landfills and livestock, as well as leaks from natural gas pipelines. (Cows are such a prominent source of methane, as they digest their feed, that research is underway to create new breeds that produce less gas.)

Biogas plants are a way to collect and use organically produced methane for heat or power, in the same way natural gas is typically utilized. The real benefit of biogas is that it is a carbon neutral energy source — as with any natural gas source, CO2 is emitted as biogas is burned, but in this case the it’s only as much as the organic material contained in the first place. The next round of plant material, or Chipotle left-overs, that forms the basis of the biogas supply had taken in new CO2 as it was grown, keeping the overall system in balance.

Biogas_plant_sketch_ENG

One leader in biogas use in NYC is the Freshkills landfill, which will become Freshkills Park. This vast underground landfill on Staten Island produces large quantities of methane. The Department of Sanitation harvests and sells the methane to the utility National Grid. Freshkills produces enough methane to power 22,000 homes a year and is a source of $12 million in annual revenue. Still, there is a far greater source of untapped biogas in the city.

Of all the garbage discarded by New Yorkers, nearly 30 percent is easily compostable on a local level. An extra twelve percent of waste could be composted on an industrial scale. Mayor Bloomberg is seeking to make composting widespread in NYC. A pilot program running in Staten Island was met with enough participation that it will expand to five percent of households in NYC next year. It seems that in a few years, separating compost will be mandatory for New Yorkers. This would reduce landfill volume greatly, as organic material represents thirty percent of city garbage. Not only would recycling this waste benefit the environment, it would save the city a chunk of the $336 million it annually spends on residential garbage disposal.

Image source from http://www.nyc.gov/html/nycwasteless/html/resources/wcs_organics.shtml

Image source from http://www.nyc.gov/html/nycwasteless/html/resources/wcs_organics.shtml

To harness the potential energy in compost, Bloomberg plans to hire a composting plant to convert up to 100,000 tons of compost a year into biogas and usable soil. If Bloomberg’s initiative is maintained by his successor, composting will become a rule for all city residents. City Atlas is looking into how much compost it would take to power a neighborhood in NYC, completely from carbon-neutral biogas.

Read more about the mayor’s composting plan, and reaction, in the New York Times.