New York A user's guide to a sustainable NYC Fri, 29 Aug 2014 22:37:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 CliMates trains student climate negotiators in NYC Fri, 29 Aug 2014 21:49:27 +0000 CliMates participants meet French climate diplomat Adrien Pinelli at the French Mission to the UN (Ph: CliMates)

CliMates participants meet diplomat Adrien Pinelli at the French Mission to the United Nations (Ph: CliMates)

Born out of exasperation at the slow pace of international progress on climate change, the French-based group CliMates provides participation and training to young people who want to help push forward for solutions.

This Friday, August 29th concluded the Second CliMates International Summit, hosted at Columbia University. Organized by volunteers and peer leaders, this gathering of students and young professionals from over 15 nations focused on building skills and training attendees to discuss the impacts of climate change in various sectors. Their mission is to inspire and empower youth all around the world to find answers together.

Co-founder Margot Le Guen shared how the network has evolved since 2011 from a “group of peers at Science Po, in France, where we were reaching out to our friends to join to what is now a group of over 150 actively involved.”

Last year, CliMates held a Latin American-focused gathering in Bogota, Columbia. This year’s events took the form of a ‘summer school’ in New York City, where participants attended seminars and engaged in discussions on everything from entrepreneurship for social innovation, to crafting performance art, to the impacts of heat on health. A special discussion lead by Ahmad Alhendawi, the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, emphasized the need to think about what motivates potential partners to engage. The team also met with French climate diplomat Adrien Pinelli, who spoke about the role of youth engagement in the upcoming COP 21 conference held in Paris in 2015.

I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel about climate and health with Kim Knowlton, Senior Scientist, Health & Environment Program and Co-Deputy Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council.  Dr. Knowlton and I presented on how rising temperatures will impact poorest populations most dramatically and explored economic and social solutions for prevention.

The overall tone of the summit was one of excitement and collaboration. Attendees shared ideas for research collaboration, expanding partnerships and planning for next year, when the summit will be held in France, gearing up for the world’s critical test: the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. The announced aims of the 2015 UN conference are nothing less than a binding, worldwide agreement to limit greenhouse gases.

In the next month, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon will host a prelude to the 2015 conference, at the United Nations in New York City on September 23rd. This preliminary meeting of world leaders is the focus of the People’s Climate March, scheduled for September 21st, which is drawing an increasing amount of media and institutional attention.

For more information on CliMates and their social media presence, follow them on Twitter and see their YouTube channel. Below, watch Austin Morton of the New Climate Economy project in his video for the CliMates summit.

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Keeping Citi Bike(r )s alive Wed, 20 Aug 2014 04:17:26 +0000 (Photo:


Walk up to an intersection in Manhattan, or parts of Brooklyn, and it may look different than it did five years ago. You may notice that there are more bicycles, specifically more blue rented bicycles. Since the Citi Bike Share Program kicked off about a year ago, it has expanded dramatically. The program added 4,000 bikes after just 4 months and averages 40,000 trips daily in good weather and almost 10,000 trips daily in cold months.

Many experts had argued that increased bike use would also lead to an increase in cycling accidents. However, the Citi Bike Share Program kicked off about a year ago and a study by Hunter College found just the opposite, namely that Citi Bike riders are much less likely to be involved in accidents than other riders. Dr. Peter Tuckel, a professor in the Sociology Department at Hunter College who participated in the research on the Citi Bike program, says, “Everybody had predicted with the Citi Bike rides that there would be a spike in the number of accidents…I think it was the same people that predicted that the Broncos were going to win the Super Bowl. It didn’t materialize.” Strangely, Citi Bike users are also much less inclined to wear helmets. While this might at first seem counter-intuitive, some possible explanations include the type of people who ride Citi Bikes, their skill level, the shorter distances that they ride, and better maintenance of Citi Bikes.

According to a November New York Times article there was not one death or major injury involving a Citi Bike during the first five months and five million trips of the program, while other general cyclists in New York City faced an annual death rate of 11 in both 2012 and 2013, as well as a much greater risk of serious injury. Both nationally and internationally, other cities with bike-share programs have experienced similar positive results.

One idea for why Citi Bikes are working so well is “safety in numbers.” With the large increase in cyclists, drivers are more aware of cyclists and prepared to encounter a Citi Bike at every corner. This notion of Citi Bike safety, in turn, increases bike-share ridership and leads to a self-reinforcing phenomenon of increased safety and increased ridership for Citi Bike. Tuckel says, “Drivers are becoming more aware of cyclists, and cyclists are becoming more aware of drivers. It’s going to result in safer habits for drivers and cyclists.” In addition to this being great news for Citi Bikers, it also led to an overall decrease in the injury/death rate for all New York City cyclists in 2013 compared to previous years.

This is a graph the DOT created showing that changes in cyclist safety over the past decade is due to the increase in bicycle use in New York City. The decrease in the Cycling Risk Indicator from 369 in 2000 to 100 in 2011 represents a 73% decrease in the average risk of a serious injury experienced by commuter cyclists in New York City.

This is a graph the DOT created showing that changes in cyclist safety over the past decade is due to the increase in bicycle use in New York City. The decrease in the Cycling Risk Indicator from 369 in 2000 to 100 in 2011 represents a 73% decrease in the average risk of a serious injury experienced by commuter cyclists in New York City.

The study done at Hunter College also recognized that Citi Bike riders are remarkably law abiding. In part this may reflect the fact that the Citi Bike program disproportionately attracts women cyclists. The proportion of women riding bicycles was 21.1 percent of riders in the general population (in 2009) but is 31.1 percent among Citi Bikers. Since women tend to be more law abiding, this could be a factor in the increased safety. Interestingly, however, even male Citi Bikers tend to be more law-abiding: they stop at red lights at significantly higher rates than general male cyclists. As a result, the overall number of riders going through red lights has dropped 10 percentage points from 2009.

While the excellent safety record has been a major success for the Citi Bike program, its economics are less encouraging.

Citi Bikes have been used largely by locals who buy relatively cheap yearly passes, rather than tourists, who buy daily and weekly passes which are more expensive per use. Citi Bike was expected to attract high use by tourists, but because this has not materialized, Citi Bike has not seen the return on investment it anticipated and is slowly approaching bankruptcy.

To attract more use by visitors, Citi Bike recently decided to print their first map specifically for tourists. In a partnership with NYC & Co., the city’s official tourism organization, they will hand out 10,000 maps at popular tourist destinations. The aim of this initiative is to encourage use by visitors and thereby boost Citi Bike’s precarious financial situation.

Even if this tourism campaign is successful, Citi Bike will need millions of dollars from investors and its local members. It is expected that yearly rental fees will increase considerably. Currently, it costs a mere $95 for an annual membership with unlimited 45-minute rides. Day passes cost $10 and weeklong passes are $25 for unlimited 30-minute rides. “Annual memberships seem to be undervalued even at nearly $100 per year,” Susan Shaheen, co-director of UC Berkeley Transportation Sustainability Research Center, reported in an article in AMNewYork. Many riders have said that they would still use Citi Bikes even if yearly fees approached $150, which would provide considerable added revenue.

De Blasio and many other government stakeholders want Citi Bike to succeed. However, in March, when reports first came out that Citi Bike needed more money, De Blasio ruled out a direct public subsidy. This is consistent with the position of former Mayor Bloomberg, who promised that Citi Bike wouldn’t cost taxpayers any money when it first started. Public advocate Leticia James thinks that De Blasio should reconsider this stand because, “It’s great for our environment and it’s great for our community. I would hope that the mayor does all he can to not only save this program but to expand it.” However, at the moment it seems unlikely that the city will subsidize the cost of Citi Bike, and the program needs another hero.

That hero may turn out to be REQX, an investment company formed earlier this year by principals at Equinox Fitness, a chain of fitness centers, and its real estate parent company, Related. There is talk of negotiations between REQX and the city to purchase 51% of the stake in Alta, the Portland-based company that currently operates New York’s bike share system. REQX would undertake the expansion of the Citi Bike program, improve management, and fix faulty software. The success of purchase negotiations will hinge on how much flexibility De Blasio is willing to give to REQX to set the pricing structure. The hope is that the city will insist on a cap on rental fees no matter who takes over the program. Although negotiations are reported to be in their final stages, De Blasio still is declining to comment and would only release a written statement saying, “We’re committed to making New York City’s bike share program more reliable and more accessible to neighborhoods across the city…Citi Bike has become part of our public transportation system, and there is a lot riding on its success.” If REQX does negotiate a deal, the Citi Bike territory will likely expand to upper Manhattan, as well as into Queens and Brooklyn, increasing the number of bikes from 6,200 to 12,000.

Much depends on these negotiations and whether they achieve an appropriate division of power between REQX and city authorities. Delay of expansion, inflation of prices, frustration with the current technology, and the safety of cyclists in New York City are all “riding” on the outcome.

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Dust and people, past and future Tue, 19 Aug 2014 02:52:49 +0000 The cast of Dust Can't Kill Me (Photo: Dorothy Carney)

The cast of the musical Dust Can’t Kill Me, part of the Fringe NYC (Photo: Dorothy Carney)

For a thoughtful, creative person coming of age in a time of daunting ecological challenge, how does one make sense of the present moment?

One answer to that question can be found at Theatre 80 St. Marks next Saturday, for the final performance of a new musical, with a book written by Abigail Carney, the summer editor of City Atlas, and music and lyrics by Elliah Heifitz. Both the creators are entering their senior year at Yale, where the production originated on campus earlier this year.

The musical, Dust Can’t Kill Me, which takes its name from a Woody Guthrie tune, has received enthusiastic reviews as part of the New York Fringe Festival. The show looks back to the Dust Bowl era of the 1930’s, when farms and towns across the middle of the US vanished to drought, and tells a fable-like story that resonates with headlines in the present day.

One value of art is to make faceless events personal. Much of the subject of climate change can seem abstract. The numbers are huge, the effects are multiple and have a broad range of possibilities, and the majority of it happens in the future, commencing on an uncertain timetable. Populations involved in climate forecasts move from thousands, to millions, and hardest to grasp, to billions.

But the truth is that things happen to people one by one. The best reporting shows this, but art shows it too. In Dust Can’t Kill Me, a pregnant woman, lost on the prairie and low on food and water, dreams of one day giving her unborn daughter gifts of dozens of dolls, so many dolls that the girl forgets their names each night and in the morning has to name them all over again. A character with hope and imagination becomes a person, and serves as a reminder that the people around us, and people in the future (dealing with whatever hand we deal them) will have hopes too.

A Dust Bowl theme sounds bleak, but here the effect is the opposite. The cast is talented and exuberant, and the music is punchy, hook-filled and richly arranged. For a show about scarcity and misguided dreams, the writing and deft performance of this musical make the opposite case; they expose what we do have in abundance even in challenging times: ability and confidence, when we need it.

Dust Can’t Kill Me plays Saturday, 8/23/14, at 1 PM at Theatre 80 St. Marks in the East Village.

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Spontaneous Interventions’ exhibit of little changes that matter Sat, 16 Aug 2014 02:33:59 +0000 A building above the entrance to Building 403 celebrates sustainability. [Photo: Devon Kennedy]

A banner above the entrance to Building 403 celebrates sustainability. [Photo: Devon Kennedy]

On the evening of July 24th, I took the ferry to Governor’s Island for an event hosted by Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions For The Common Good. After the ferry crossed New York Harbor, the other guests and I landed on the hilly, meadow-covered island and walked along a path guided by chalk arrows. The arrows led to Colonel’s Row, a walk on the island that is lined with London plane trees and has old brick buildings on each side. Spontaneous Interventions has a residency in Building 403, a brick house at one end of the row. They set up on May 31st, and will be there through September. The event was held to celebrate a new feature of their exhibit.

Spontaneous Interventions catalogues and promotes initiatives for city improvement. These initiatives are intended to enhance life for common citizens in public spaces. Many are created by designers; Spontaneous Interventions lists almost 150 such projects.

Inside of Building 403, there are several rooms on the first floor, which is full of signs mounted on metal frames. Most of the signs describe one of the many actions that Spontaneous Interventions has documented. I learned about “Guerrilla Gardens,” which started back in 1973. Its members add plants to small places in city streets, such as sidewalk cracks and traffic medians. There’s “The Uni,” created in New York in 2011, which is a circular bookshelf placed in public places to act as an “outdoor library”. The group that performs “Intersection Repair”, created in Portland in 2007, improves street intersections with additions such as murals, benches, and plants, turning the intersections into pleasant gathering places.

There were many others, making it seem as if the ideas people have had to improve cities are almost endless. Each sign included certain quick facts about the project, including what urban issue it addresses, how much money and time are needed for the action, and how many people are working on it. Some signs instead list one of Spontaneous Intervention’s values in large type, such as “Participation” and “Equality”, with an elaboration beneath.

The new feature celebrated by the event was called the Urban Reviewer. It was a physical counterpart of a more complex online tool created by 596 Acres, which is one of Spontaneous Interventions’ documented projects (and has its own sign on the first floor). The physical Urban Reviewer consisted of a table with a map of the city on a Plexiglas sheet set in the top. There were two other sheets above this one that could be pulled in or out with handles on the sides of the table, allowing them to overlap with the map or not. One filled in sites where urban renewal projects have happened (in yellow), and the other filled in the city’s vacant land (in green). This interactive feature was in the exhibit until August 17th.

Mary Bereschka, who was an intern for 596 Acres and created the physical Urban Reviewer, said “Spontaneous Interventions connects all of these organizations that are doing work in parallel to each other. We all sort of want the same end goal and are doing different things to get there. And it’s awesome to hear how much other cities and other countries are making things happen from a ground up level.”

The Urban Reviewer is on the second floor of the building. The second floor also currently hosts exhibits for the Center for Urban Pedagogy, DSGN AGNC, BroLab, and Justin Allen, which are other designers or groups that Spontaneous Interventions documents. Outside the building, on its right side, there is a café stand that sells beverages and baguettes. Around the café is a colorful collection of chairs and tables. On the lawn in front of the building, there is an “Imagination Playground”, with containers of large, soft, light blue blocks of various shapes that children can play and build with.

The Spontaneous Interventions exhibit will be up until September 28th. It is open on all days except Wednesday. Admission is free. To get there, you can take the Governor’s Island Ferry from the Battery Maritime Building at 10 South Street in Lower Manhattan. Or, on Saturdays, Sundays, and Labor Day, you can also take the ferry from Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park, which is at the west end of Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. The fare is $2 on weekdays in most cases – more details about ferry times and fares can be found here. Once on Governor’s Island, go to Colonel’s Row, and Building 403 will not be hard to find. In it, you’ll learn about many creative and inspiring actions.

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Our Climate Projected: an artistic conversation on climate change Wed, 13 Aug 2014 02:20:19 +0000 Milton Glaser, creator of the “I ♥ NY” logo, uses this new design to communicate the reality of global warming.

Creative responses prior to the September march include a new campaign by Milton Glaser (creator of the “I ♥ NY” logo) and also Jessie Reilly’s “Our Climate Projected” initiative, described below.

As major organizations prepare to stage a historic climate rally on September 21, people with a creative background may be seeking ways to help get the word out. Jessie Reilly’s participatory project Our Climate Projected is one way you can join in. Chelsea Watson recently spoke to Jessie Reilly about the potential of new forms of communication and participation on the issue of climate change:

Normally not a fan of flying, Jessie Reilly ignores in-flight safety videos. She finds it difficult to listen to flight attendants dryly tell you what will happen if your plane happens to fall from the sky and crash. It’s not pleasant to think about, and not very entertaining. However, on a recent flight Reilly was surprised to see a safety video presented in the style of a Broadway musical. She found that, despite the cheesy ridiculousness, she was not only engaged, but also more calm and at ease.

Reilly similarly uses theater and art as a platform for education. After participating in protests and other traditional forms of activism in college, she wanted to find another way to get a message across. “I recognized shouting at people on the street rarely works,” and wanted to find a way that actually engages people.”

That’s when Reilly joined the Bread and Puppet Theater company, where she traveled the world learning to use art and visuals to articulate complicated ideas. The puppet shows were a way to engage people on potentially tough issues, such as the Iraq War. Today, she’s applying her innovative approach to the difficult subject of climate change.

On September 21st, thousands of people will take to the streets of New York City for the People’s Climate March, centered around this fall’s United Nations Climate Summit. Local and national organizations are calling for a day of mass mobilization to show support for serious action on climate change.

The march is expected to be the biggest environmental protest in history, involving many environmental, social, and racial justice groups. In addition to the march, some individuals have created other innovative ways to get involved and speak up about climate change. New Yorkers Jessie Reilly and Nathan Storey have created “Our Climate Projected,” a project in which people from all over the world are invited to submit a short artistic response or reflection on climate change. The submissions will be compiled into what they describe as a “collaborative tapestry of mediums and voices” to be projected in public spaces of NYC leading up to the day of action on September 21st. I had the opportunity to speak with Jessie and hear why she thinks her project will be a powerful, engaging complement to the march.

“Our Climate Projected” is a compilation of artistic reflections on climate change and will serve as an act of public education. It is designed to allow people on both sides of the dialogue – the talkers and the listeners – to engage in the climate change conversation in a new, innovative way. Jessie believes expressing climate change reality through art and audiovisuals will allow people to absorb information in a way they otherwise could not:

Climate change is difficult for people to talk about because it’s terrifying. I think art creates a certain amount of distance that allows people to engage with something artistically and reflect in a manner that allows you to appreciate it. If it’s something artistic, it may hit you on an emotional level that is harder to ignore.

She may be on to something. Despite the fact that 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is occurring and is human caused, only one in ten (12%) of Americans are aware of the exact extent of the scientific consensus. This tremendous gap between climate science and Americans’ beliefs reveals a flaw in communication. Even those who are aware of the science of climate change often neglect to do anything about it. This inaction was referred to as “stealth denial” in a report by the RSA, and is often explained by an individual’s emotional reaction to climate change, such as feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or resentment. In many ways, climate change is an emotional issue. Ro Randall, British psychotherapist and co-founder of Carbon Conversation goes on to suggest that people must then be reached on this deeper level in order for real change to occur.

Randall says, “Behaviour is a surface phenomenon. Beneath it lie more complex motivations and meanings and the turmoil of emotion…more imaginative and personal responses are required in working with people to achieve change in their individual and family lives .”

Art is one way to encourage the imaginative and personal responses Randall says are necessary. Perhaps in finding new forms of communication through projects like “Our Climate Projected,” Jessie and others will be able better express the severe reality of climate change today .

Jessie hopes that a project where one can simply email, share on dropbox, or mail her a DVD/CD of their submission will allow engagement on an international level. While it is not economically or environmentally sound for many people around the globe to travel to NYC for the People’s Climate March, she hopes “Our Climate Projected” will serve as an opportunity for many more to have a voice, even if they won’t be marching. Jessie has reached out to communities where she has worked previously as a puppeteer, including schools in India and Guatemala, and looks forward to seeing what they create.

Jessie says, “My hope is to get as many voices as possible in order to encourage participation in the September 21st march, or even just to get people to think more about climate change.”

If you would like to send a submission to Jessie and Nathan they request it arrive by August 25th in order to ensure inclusion. Submissions can be any medium: theater, music, dance, visual art, spoken word, etc. Ultimately, all submissions will be presented in a projected video format, so short videos, audio recordings, pdfs, jpgs, slides, or other easily convertible formats work best.

Submissions of 10 second-10 minutes can be emailed to

Or mailed to:
Our Climate Projected
70 Lefferts PlaceBrooklyn, NY 11238.

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City Atlas Roundup — Events August 11th-August 17th Mon, 11 Aug 2014 15:48:32 +0000 Check out these great sustainable events rounded up for you by City Atlas!  Click on date for full event listings for that day.   For more events through out the com­ing weeks check out the City Atlas events cal­en­dar! If you would like to sub­mit an event click here.



William Eimicke /

6:00PM — 8:00PM

A talk by Pro­fes­sor William B. Eim­icke will dis­cuss how the imple­men­ta­tion of big data, sus­tain­able prac­tices, and public-private part­ner­ships is hav­ing a trans­for­ma­tive effect on cities around the world.




TUESDAY AUGUST 12gty_hurricane_sandy_16_satellite_jt_121028_wblog
8:30PM — 5:30PM

The Indi­vid­ual and Com­mu­nity Pre­pared­ness Work­shop from Occupy Sandy will present best prac­tices and inno­v­a­tive tech­niques for prepar­ing the whole com­mu­nity for emer­gency weather situations.



Image Source: Brooklyn Botanic Garden

5:30PM — 6:30PM

On this spe­cial kids-only stroll through the Gar­den, dis­cover some of the enchant­ing plants found in your favorite mag­i­cal fic­tion books and learn fun facts about the real magic behind gar­den plants!



7:00PM — 10:00PM

Straighten your bowtie and dust off your danc­ing shoes! Join Trans­porta­tion Alter­na­tives for the first-ever Bicy­clists’ Ball – New York City’s biggest event for peo­ple who love bicy­cling.



ElectronicRecycling2SATURDAY AUGUST 16
10:00AM — 4:00PM

Recy­cle your e-waste in an envi­ron­men­tally respon­si­ble way by bring­ing it to one of Lower East Side Ecology’s sum­mer drop-off events! 




11:00AM — 3:00PM

Michael Arenella and His Dream­land Orches­tra invite you to the beloved Jazz Age Lawn Party on Gov­er­nors Island.




An Aeolian Rider. [Photo:]

1:00PM — 6:00PM

Want to be a part of a fun, inflated sculp­ture trans­form­ing the land­scape of the city? AEOLIAN RIDE will cel­e­brate its 10th birth­day in New York with a rid­ing event to Governor’s Island and the site of 596 Acres’ Urban Reviewer res­i­dency with Spon­ta­neous Inter­ven­tions on Governor’s Island.




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Michael Premo: the idea of home Sat, 09 Aug 2014 15:18:29 +0000 Michael Premo is com­mit­ted to artistic and activist work in NYC. He is the co-director of the participatory documentary project, Sandy Storyline, a community-generated collection of stories about the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the five boroughs of New York City. Michael is also the founder of the documentary storytelling project Housing is a Human Right that connects diverse communities around the shared experience of obtaining or maintaining a home. He was a central figure in Occupy Wall Street and one of the creators of Occupy Sandy. 

Michael spoke to City Atlas about the power of sharing stories, the future of New York as a waterfront city and place for artists, and the importance of home.

Could you tell us about your career? You’re a photographer, a theater-maker, an activist. 

I don’t see any difference between the creative work and some of the activist work. I have a background in theater and it was through theater that I became kind of obsessed with stories, and came to understand stories. That was parallel to my political involvement, just being involved with issues in my community as an engaged individual who saw that there was a better potential. Then through the work of making theater, as well as the activism, I got involved in photo, became a photojournalist, and have become increasingly interested in large, collaborative participatory creation.

How did your involvement with Occupy Wall Street influence your work following Sandy? 

We had these existing networks and a community we could instantly activate to figure out how to best meet the needs of our community that was in crisis following the storm. When Hurricane Sandy hit, we started Occupy Sandy. What we were doing was operationalizing philosophical values and ideas that were explored and put into practice a year earlier with Occupy Wall Street. We were able to activate this network of folks who were already engaged in the community practice and very quickly create a structure that was open, collaborative, and participatory, at a scale where we could mobilize hundreds and thousands of people very quickly and very effectively.

Parallel to that effort, we started Sandy Storyline. We started that because we knew that just as people need their immediate relief efforts met, in the long-term, the social infrastructure is as important as the physical infrastructure. Sandy Storyline is an opportunity for people to be able to express how they’re affected by the storm, in a way that’s participatory and collaborative and inclusive of many of the different people who were affected and all the different ways that they were affected. 

As one of the two directors of the Sandy Storyline, how did you first create that project? 

Very early on we had these regular weekly open meetings where we invited people to participate in the co-design of the project. That meant everything from the mechanics to the type of content we were soliciting. We recognized that there were stories out there in the community that weren’t necessarily represented in the platform yet.

So for you personally, what is the most impressive Sandy Story?

Oh wow. That’s really, really hard to answer. I can say it as a category. In this age of Internet and instant gratification culture that we live in, we invited people to share however they wanted to share, but in how we talked about the project we privileged photo, videos, and audio stories, the sort of multimedia we thought people would more widely embrace. But some of the stories that really impressed us are the written stories. The written stories have really blown us away. There’s multiple written stories that people have sent in where people start off by saying something to the effect of, “You know, it took me a while to think about how to begin this, but I needed to sit down and write this, and this is my story.” There’s that kind of deep sigh that people express when writing a story. The written stories are just really interesting and beautiful and deeply reflective. I think this is an example of what we’ve come to understand of the catharsis of sharing your story. It’s an opportunity to bring emotional clarity or intellectual clarity to emotionally traumatic situations.

You have reported so many stories from Sandy victims. In what aspects do you think New York City wasn’t doing enough to be sustainable before Sandy? Sustainable for people to live and in terms of environmental sustainability?

That’s a big question. In a lot of ways I think. So it’s interesting, the flood maps of New York somewhat parallel the landfill where land in New York has been created over the last two hundred years. I think in the plan for disaster response, the city and the government and the big NGOs, like the Red Cross, didn’t take into account how to respond to a vertical city, a city where there are a lot people who live in these tall buildings, especially didn’t take into account the elderly and disabled people who were stuck up in these buildings. The city was woefully unprepared in that aspect. I think New York has this extreme challenge that we don’t think of ourselves as a waterfront city as much as other waterfront places do. And the storm completely showed how vulnerable we are to the elements.

Sandy Storyline won the inaugural transmedia award from the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival. How do you think transmedia will reshape the storytelling landscape?

Sandy Storyline is demonstrating that it’s possible to create rich, investigative material through a process that is participatory and open. We resist the work as crowd-sourcing. There is curation. There is an editorial lens through the work that we do. We’re helping to organize all of the information that’s contributed. When I was a kid, the thing was all about spending a lot of money, like $200, on these fly sneakers. Now in 2014, it’s similar for cellphones and this technology. So even in low-income communities where previously you might not have had access to devices that could take really rich, engaging media, now these tools are increasingly available across the social spectrum. So more and more people have the ability to tell their stories in higher quality media content. That provides this really rich opportunity to diversify the ideas that play in the media landscape by finding smart participatory ways to solicit that content, as well as to sift through it to give it the editorial context that’s necessary for people to understand and digest all this information. 

Sandy Storyline is an ongoing project. In the post-Sandy era, how do you plan to bring the project back to the mass media and how do you get people to care about it now? 

That’s a big challenge, how do people care about things after a storm? We’re developing partnerships with other media outlets that will syndicate the content out to those channels. We’re developing a partnership with people in New Orleans that will go live hopefully in the fall, which is this comparative timeline that places Katrina stories in context with Sandy stories so that we can have that context to understand what’s changed, what hasn’t changed, how similar mistakes were made once again, how maybe they weren’t made in certain areas. That will be important, not only for the moment and the long-term recovery of this particular area, but hopefully, for the long-term urban policy and planning perspective, to understand how these events are stacking up against each other as time goes on. We’re looking to impact the current conversation, but we also have our eyes set farther in the future to impact urban planning and policy around how we respond to disasters in an era of climate change and increasing economic inequality.

You are now working on the Housing is A Human Rights Project, have you looked into the issue of gentrification in NYC?

Housing Is A Human Right is a project that aims to connect diverse communities around housing, land, and the dignity of a place to call home. While gentrification is certainly one piece of that, we’re trying to have a much more dynamic and nuanced look at what we perceive as a universal human aspiration to have some type of home. Even people that are nomadic or don’t want what you or I might think of as a typical home still have, even in their rejection of the idea of home, some concept of the idea of home. So that project is exploring this idea of gentrification through how people are trying to hold onto a home, especially among affected communities, especially among communities that have been economically and racially marginalized from mainstream economic systems. How are they holding on? How are they trying to maintain their home?

Speaking from your personal experience as an artist in NYC, do you think the city is a sustainable one for artists? 

No, not at all. The irony is that one of the many things that makes New York, in my biased opinion, one of the greatest cities on earth was its creative community. The creative community was able to survive in New York in many ways because there was an abundance of space and resources and art, because of that artists had time to create. There was greater access to space to create in and meet other artists. Now, that’s being replaced. Now we have kids coming out of art school with a hundred thousand dollars in debt, for a profession that’s not going to make a lot of money, except for a very small segment of artists making products. So, I don’t think New York is sustainable. I don’t think New York is doing what’s necessary to be able to sustain a creative ecosystem because in large part the city has not done enough to appreciate indigenous creative activity that happens in these communities, that’s always happened in these communities. It’s always a focus on some outsider from somewhere else, or some sort of art school paradigm, whereas cultural expression is a unique human activity that is as old as language itself perhaps. I think the city needs to reevaluate its policies towards recognizing that naturally occurring culture.

Do you think New York City could be replaced by other cities in the coming years? 

As a center of culture? I think there are other cities in the world already, I mean, Berlin is one in the last decade that has a art scene that rivals New York certainly, some people say it’s far stronger. I think as long as artists struggle to eat and live in New York, there’s gonna be other cities where it’s more affordable where people are gonna be forced to move.

So what’s the future for New York?  

I think there will always be an art scene in New York for the foreseeable future, but I think the vibrancy of that art scene is in jeopardy because New York is increasingly becoming, has already become, unsustainable.

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Studying urban resilience at Jamaica Bay Wed, 06 Aug 2014 11:58:06 +0000 Jamaica Bay from the air, showing the extensive wetlands. (Wikimedia)

Jamaica Bay from the air, showing extensive wetlands once common to the region, here preserved as a National Park. (Wikimedia)

The meeting place of the new Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay used to be an airport. That the former Floyd Bennett Field now hosts information about the surrounding parkland and wildlife perhaps hints at the kind of flexible ‘resilience’ for which the institute aims. Resilience is not necessarily about preserving a landscape as it is today, in a fixed form, forever. It’s about understanding an area, and then managing it so that the valuable and integral qualities can continue despite environmental and human pressures.

Jamaica Bay is divided between Long Island and Queens. It is naturally a wetland but longtime development in the area, including the construction of Floyd Bennett Field and later JFK, the international airport that followed, caused destructive dredging, filling, and pollution of the Bay. It doesn’t adequately support many kinds of aquatic and bird populations anymore, but given that nearly 1 million New Yorkers live in the Jamaica Bay watershed, the stability of its ecosystem is important not only to wildlife, but to people. Hurricane Sandy had intense and lasting impacts on both the Bay and its surrounding communities, such as the Rockaways. 

The Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay (SRI@JB), a CUNY initiative formed last year under Mayor Bloomberg, aims to study and enhance urban resilience. The work of the Institute will benefit not only Jamaica Bay, but the billions of people living in fragile urban ecosystems all over the world. 

This June, the Institute met to develop a report on resilience practice which will be published later this year. Dr. William Solecki, director of the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities, City Atlas advisor, and director of the SRI@JB, led the scientists, academics, and urban planners who had gathered from many institutions, including Rutgers, Cornell, the Stevens Institute for Technology, the Parks Department, FEMA, and the Wildlife Conservation Society. Lead authors of each chapter of the upcoming report presented. Then, workshop attendees divided into breakout groups to discuss how to best move forward with each chapter.  

The first chapter of the report will discuss resilience practice in urban watersheds. This chapter provides the context for how Jamaica Bay studies can inform policy for the upper bay, the lower bay, and many other urban watersheds. It uses the definition of resilience as “the capacity of a system to experience shocks while retaining essentially the same function, structure, feedbacks, and therefore identity.” This was the central question of the day: resilience of what to what.

The bay, with JFK to the east and the Rockaways to the south. (Google)

The bay, with JFK on one side and the Rockaways on the other. (Google)

What is the Institute hoping to protect or manage?  Should ecological or social resilience be the focus? Do we want to increase oyster populations or flood protection for residents? Of course is impossible to separate these kinds of variables, because changes like an increase in oysters can mean better flood protection for residents, while more residents can mean decreased oyster populations. 

Slow changes, like urbanization, have influenced the Bay more than dramatic disturbances like Hurricane Sandy. 
In addition to deciding what parts of Jamaica Bay we value, we also have to decide what the disturbances are. Slow changes, like urbanization, have influenced the Bay more than dramatic disturbances like Hurricane Sandy. You can recognize the impact of a slow disturbance when the function of some part of the system is disrupted (For example, if the marshes collapse, that will disrupt the Bay’s function as a habitat for striped bass, among many other organisms. But the key disturbance isn’t the marsh collapse, it’s the imbalanced nitrogen, hydrogen sulfide, or problems with sediment which then cause the marsh collapse.) 

Another major challenge of the report is deciding how to make it most useful for the community, especially as one major goal of the Institute is to engage with and protect the people who live in the Jamaica Bay watershed. One attendee, who has worked with those living in the Rockaways since Hurricane Sandy, pointed out that most of the public doesn’t even know what resilience means. She said that there is a great amount of fear and mistrust in the area, especially among those who are not well informed about what’s going on. But the data is not getting to the most vulnerable populations, and when these people do try to participate, their contributions are shut out because they are thinking in a shorter time frame than the scientists. She said that, “At the end of the day, people want to know, ‘Should I move? Should I stay?’ ‘Should I raise my house up by 12 feet…or not?’” Nitrogen or hydrogen sulfide levels may be important parts of the answers to these questions, but they may not be crucial parts of the education the Institute should provide to the community. 

The leadership of the Institute is dedicated to outreach. Participants have been working with their database of 400 community organizations to use existing community structures to communicate with and learn from the people in and surrounding the Bay. Researchers for the Institute have interviewed community residents and leaders, and conducted presentations to open a dialogue with the public.

As one workshop participant said, it’s important that the community doesn’t think, “Oh, they’re just going to study it to death instead of doing anything.” This public contact underlines the importance of the work going on at SRI@JB; observing, learning, and finding solutions to one of the most pressing problems of our age—finding better ways to protect people and nature in coastal communities. 

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City Atlas Roundup — Events August 4th-August 10th Mon, 04 Aug 2014 13:21:34 +0000 Check out these great sustainable events rounded up for you by City Atlas!  Click on date for full event listings for that day.   For more events through out the com­ing weeks check out the City Atlas events cal­en­dar! If you would like to sub­mit an event click here.


Photo from Joe Vennare

7:00PM — 9:30PM

Join Just Food and Farm School NYC’s Exec­u­tive Board for a Spe­cial Ben­e­fit Per­for­mance of “This Will All Be Yours”




6:30PM — 7:30PM

Join LaunchLM for Big Ideas for Smart Cities, a series of six events focused on inno­va­tions to cre­ate a more tech­no­log­i­cally advanced pub­lic realm within Lower Man­hat­tan. 





1:00PM — 3:00PM

This year’s NYC Climate Justice Youth Summit will focus on the connection between fossil fuel extraction and climate justice.





6:00PM — 9:00PM

Join the Battery Conservancy for the first-ever Bat­tery Happy Hour and Trivia Night on Thurs­day, August 7th from 6 to 8 PM!





9:00PM — 10:00PM

Every sec­ond Sat­ur­day of the month, Time’s Up hosts a moon­light bicy­cle ride at Prospect Park






10:00AM — 6:00PM

Call­ing all eco-warriors, tree­hug­gers, cli­mate activists, and every­one else who loves our planet: New York City goes green in Times Square!




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A local guide to FringeNYC Wed, 30 Jul 2014 02:09:49 +0000 The Dust Can't Kill Me Team

The Dust Can’t Kill Me team

Tickets are now on sale for the 18th annual New York International Fringe Festival. It is the largest multi-arts festival in North America and will take place August 8–24 in more than 20 venues across the city. With shows from over 200 companies appearing at FringeNYC, the entire program guide is intimidating. Here, we suggest a few shows that are relevant to what we care about at City Atlas: New York and its future.

The Flood, written and directed by Daniel McCabe, focuses on four friends gathered in an East Village apartment as Hurricane Sandy rages outside. The play is set on the night of Con Ed explosion, but there’s a dangerous storm inside the apartment too. The weather sets off an emotional tempest for the friends. In this work, “modern female strength collides with classic male stoicism in a city that insists upon both.” Tickets here.

The HVAC Plays (Or, Adventures in Living Without Basic Necessities, Like Heat and Air Conditioning), written by Laura Pittenger, features “6 exasperated city-dwellers. 3 crappy apartments. 1 absentee landlord.” This work explores what happens when there is no central air, and might be good to see if you want to think about what New York will be like when it’s even hotter. According to this show, when hot and cold collide it leads to outrageous acts. Attend to “discover the temperature of the human condition”! Tickets here

Skyline, a musical by Maureen FitzGerald, is set in 1962 when urban renewal threatens Manhattan. Historic, stunning Pennsylvania Station is going to be demolished. In this new work, the “the architect Paul Silver struggles to save both the doomed landmark, and his own soul.” This show’s subject remains relevant as New Yorkers continually fight to preserve and define the culture and landmarks of their city. Tickets here.

In Dust Can’t Kill Me, an original folk musical written by Elliah Heifetz and Abigail Carney, a prophet visits a ragtag group of migrants with a promise to deliver them into paradise. Propelled by drought and desperation, two sisters, two brothers, a folk singer, and a gun-toting outlaw set off into the desert in search of this promised land. Set during the Dust Bowl, the show also serves as a fable of environmental destruction, and could offer a lesson or two on how to limit it today. Tickets here.

In Teddy’s Doll House, written by Kathleen Kaan, it’s 1985 and Alphabet City is changing. The beauty salon owned by Teddy’s family is struggling to make it. This look at past changes to New York, which Teddy confronts with his own look back, might provide a blueprint for crafting the future we want for our city. Tickets here.

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