Walter Meyer

 

After Hur­ri­cane Sandy, Wal­ter Mey­er and his co-founders won the White House ‘Cham­pi­ons of Change’ Pres­i­den­tial Award for cre­at­ing ‘Pow­er Rock­aways Resilience,’ a non-prof­it ded­i­cat­ed to fundrais­ing and deliv­ery of free geot­her­mal and solar gen­er­a­tors to vol­un­teer cen­ters through­out the coastal Rock­away penin­su­la in Queens, NY

Mey­er describes the ori­gins of Pow­er Rock­aways Resilience on his White House blog­post about the award:

Two days after the storm, with the help of R. David Gibbs and Liam McGann, we deliv­ered the first of sev­er­al hand-built, shop­ping-cart-sized solar gen­er­a­tors to the hard­est-hit blocks of the Rock­aways. With­in min­utes the­se gen­er­a­tors were charg­ing cell phones, lap­tops and small pow­er tools to get Rock­away Beach res­i­dents con­nect­ed and rebuild­ing while gas gen­er­a­tors sat idle due to the region-wide fuel short­age.

The Pow­er Rock­aways Resilience team sub­se­quent­ly won a com­pet­i­tive grant from NYCEDC, for devel­op­ing a broad­er pro­gram to increase the resilien­cy of small busi­ness­es dur­ing extreme weath­er events. 

Mey­er and his part­ner and wife Jen­nifer Bol­stad, through their firm Local Office Land­scape Archi­tec­ture, now con­sult for the Nation­al Parks Ser­vice, the City of New York, and the Army Corps of Engi­neers on coastal resilien­cy plan­ning in the New York Bight.

They learned through their expe­ri­ence in the Rock­aways that many ele­ments come togeth­er to make a neigh­bor­hood return to nor­mal­cy dur­ing recov­ery from a storm – even a tan­gen­tial fac­tor, like restor­ing day care, can be cru­cial, so par­ents can get back to their jobs. Mey­er gen­er­ous­ly gave a tour of the Rock­aways to Francesca Luber­ti (writer) and Kun­tian Yu (pho­tog­ra­pher), show­ing where the solar was put to use, and describ­ing what is need­ed for a coastal city’s true resilience going for­ward.


 

 

Wal­ter Mey­er: So, here we are at the Rock­aways Beach Surf Club, it’s a social cen­ter for the surf scene in NYC. Before the storm, it was a place where music was played, inde­pen­dent film was made…

It looked like a bar when we passed by.

WM: Yeah, some­times it’s a bar, some­times it’s a cul­tur­al event space, oth­er times it’s just a place to hang out and store your surf­boards, take a bath or a show­er after cold surf in the win­ter. But right after the storm, they rearranged their func­tion from a cul­tur­al facil­i­ty to a human­i­tar­i­an aid facil­i­ty and all the surfers self-orga­nized in the area and there were lots of vol­un­teers com­ing, from the main­land, from Brook­lyn, and from Williams­burg, and from Man­hat­tan. And we had a lot of hands, about a thou­sand peo­ple, but they all had to leave at 4 p.m. because the sun would set and there was no secu­ri­ty past that hour. But what we did was, we brought solar pan­els on the roof and we were able to provide light­ing and keep the crit­i­cal sys­tems run­ning, like com­mu­ni­ca­tions, light and secu­ri­ty. 

So, you start­ed it here? Pow­er Rock­aways Resilience?

WM: Yeah, the first instal­la­tion. And so we were able to keep them run­ning, so that the vol­un­teers that would nor­mal­ly leave at 4 p.m. stuck around through the night, so you could have triple shifts. So, we accel­er­at­ed the recov­ery by three. 

Immediately after Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012, Rockaways Beach Surf Club became a hub for volunteers. (Ph: Kuntian Yu)

Imme­di­ate­ly after Hur­ri­cane Sandy struck in 2012, Rock­aways Beach Surf Club became a hub for vol­un­teers. (Ph: Kun­tian Yu)

What’s going on here is a mash up of art and surf cul­ture. So, you have art, and celebri­ties would show up, like MGMT’s lead singer, Andrew Van­Wyn­gar­den, he is a surfer here, he always comes around, and there’s also an inter­na­tion­al artist, Ola­fur Elias­son, that’s his skate­board on the ceil­ing, it’s made of met­al. And there’s also some local art, you know? There’s stuff by Bran­don d’Leo, he’s the guy who made this place. At night, there’s a pro­jec­tor. There could be bands, or oth­er things going on. So, it’s a kind of cool, mul­ti-use space that has dif­fer­ent func­tions over day and night.

After Sandy, who came up with the solar pan­el idea?

WM: Well, it was kind of organ­ic. David Gibbs and I work pro­fes­sion­al­ly, so we have con­tacts, big com­pa­nies or ven­dors for solar. We called them to ask for favors, we said ‘we worked with you on some big projects, here’s more of a social human­i­tar­i­an aid func­tion, can you send us solar at cost?’ Some­times a cul­tur­al place like this can have more mean­ing and the inten­tion is not to just be prof­itable, but to real­ly be a home for the surf cul­ture of NYC

[Wal­ter stopped to show us a solar array.]

The line comes down and there’s a box that con­verts 12 volts of solar to 110 that goes to the grid, so… 

Does this place only work on solar?

WM: Well, we did the emer­gen­cy instal­la­tion to keep the vol­un­teer oper­a­tion going, and then we did a per­ma­nent install, and we took the small­er emer­gen­cy unit to the com­mu­ni­ty gar­den – we’ll pass by the com­mu­ni­ty gar­den on the way out so you can see it – and then we upgrad­ed [the surf club] and now it’s per­ma­nent.

That was one of the ear­ly instal­la­tions for Pow­er Rock­aways Resilience. We end­ed up con­nect­ing about twen­ty dif­fer­ent places. By us help­ing them at that point it increased their capac­i­ty to self-heal, right? Right after an event like that storm.

Where we just were was the first emer­gen­cy instal­la­tion of solar, which is a solar gen­er­a­tor, which is small-scale, like 3 or 4 pan­els – less than 2,000 watts. It can dri­ve basic things like lap­tops, lights, wi-fi, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, but it can­not dri­ve heavy load, like heat­ing and cool­ing. That’s a dif­fer­ent oper­a­tion. When we scaled them up at the surf club to a per­ma­nent instal­la­tion, some­thing that will last 20–30 years, with that upgrade it can run every­thing now.

When they upgrad­ed we took the old solar gen­er­a­tor, the small one for emer­gen­cy oper­a­tions only, and we brought it to the 91st Street com­mu­ni­ty gar­den. And that’s where I am tak­ing you now; we’ll have a look there. A solar gen­er­a­tor for a build­ing is only enough to han­dle emer­gen­cy com­mu­ni­ca­tion, but for a gar­den it can han­dle any­thing. It charges the bat­tery up, you only use it every once in a while. In the gar­den, if they want to have a con­cert, they can plug in, have ampli­fiers, and play music. 91st street, it’s kind of the core, the spine of the surf cul­ture in NYC. There’s oth­er surf neigh­bor­hoods but this was the orig­i­nal, and it has a lot of crit­i­cal mass of surfers, every house that you see it’s just about owned by a surfer, or rent­ed by surfers, because at the end of the street it’s the Jedi, the best surf.

Solar panels that provided power in the wake of Sandy stay connected in a Rockaway community garden.

Solar pan­els that pro­vid­ed emer­gen­cy pow­er in the wake of Sandy stay con­nect­ed in a Rock­away com­mu­ni­ty gar­den.

The dif­fer­ence between a solar gen­er­a­tor [at the gar­den] and a nor­mal roof sys­tem is that this is mod­u­lar, mean­ing that it can be moved. This has moved around a few places, but now its per­ma­nent home is here in the 91st street com­mu­ni­ty gar­den. What’s inter­est­ing about this place – this place has a cul­tur­al func­tion, it builds com­mu­ni­ty, and every­one gets a gar­den plot. There’s indi­vid­u­al expres­sion in the box, but col­lec­tive­ly we are all here, work­ing togeth­er. My plot is in the back.

Every­one has one?

WM: Yeah, or a fam­i­ly or what­ev­er, they share. This used to be bun­ga­lows, like the­se, see the old bun­ga­lows here? So, this used to be bun­ga­lows that were knocked down, but now each row is set up for a bun­ga­low. See this is the out­line of the bun­ga­low that used to be here? But now it has a dif­fer­ent life [as an open gar­den]. The wood here came from the board­walk. Before Sandy they ren­o­vat­ed the board­walk and this wood would have been thrown away, this beau­ti­ful teak from the 1920’s, from the South Amer­i­can rain­forest.

Teak lasts 100 years or more and they were throw­ing it away at only half of its life, so we saved it from the dump­ster and we made the­se beau­ti­ful, non-tox­ic boxes…there’s no poi­son in it, it’s just nat­u­ral wood, per­fect for grow­ing food. But what was inter­est­ing is that this open space of the size of a lot became a place where oth­er vol­un­teers would come and help dis­trib­ute food.

It’s a very special place, because I surf, and when I am not surfing, I am gardening”


 

Every few blocks you need a space like this, whether it’s a surf club or com­mu­ni­ty gar­den, where you can have room, where you can stack a pile of food or things to keep warm. This became anoth­er impor­tant cen­ter. And there is the­se types of cen­ters all around the Rock­aways Penin­su­la, which is 11 miles long. We are iden­ti­fy­ing loca­tions where if we invest in one solar gen­er­a­tor, it helps a lot of peo­ple. You get the most bang for the buck. 

Right after the storm, they had a big fire, a camp­fire, in the mid­dle here on the side­walk in the street. Every night as the sun was set­ting, they would light the fire and grab veg­eta­bles from the com­mu­ni­ty gar­den, because there were a few days when we didn’t have food, like three or four days here at the penin­su­la. Thank­ful­ly the storm hit dur­ing the peak har­vest, in Octo­ber. We were able to go and har­vest all the veg­eta­bles, and put them in a big stew and cook them for the whole block. And some peo­ple, even if their house flood­ed, they had some dry goods, like ramen noodles. They added it in, every­body added what they had togeth­er.

And there was secu­ri­ty, because [else­where] there were loot­ers com­ing, to break in and steal stuff. By cre­at­ing a big fire in the mid­dle of the street, they made loot­ers see light in a place that was all dark, and when they see light, they keep mov­ing to the next block. So, it was both for food and for secu­ri­ty, and just for build­ing com­mu­ni­ty. Every­one was here, every­body gath­ered around the fire, to talk about what they did that day to fix up their house. 

Any­ways, I want­ed to show the space because it’s a very spe­cial place, because I surf, and when I am not surf­ing, I am gar­den­ing, build­ing com­mu­ni­ty, mak­ing friends. And if I am not gar­den­ing, then my sail­boat is on the oth­er side and we go sail­ing. So, it’s always stay­ing with the ocean and with our friends. 

It’s a spe­cial place in NYC, we are in NYC, but we feel like we are def­i­nite­ly out on the beach some­where.

It looks more like Hawaii or some­thing.

WM: Yeah, with the porch­es and surf­boards. There’s many more places like this that look the same: a cou­ple solar pan­els, and homes. And what’s cool about this is that in the future, if there is anoth­er dis­tur­bance, whether it’s black­out in the city, or a hur­ri­cane, or any­thing, this solar gen­er­a­tor can be quick­ly set up to pow­er all the homes. And we don’t have to deliv­er again. It’s here, ready to be switched, and there is no more vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty for a week or two weeks – it’s now imme­di­ate. This can’t run all four hous­es you see here, but it can keep the lights on. And when you have lights and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, you can tell your par­ents ‘hey, I sur­vived, I am okay’ so…

With your new project, Safe Space Solu­tions, you are try­ing to do the same thing?

WM: This time for busi­ness­es. Before was dis­as­ter respon­se in the most crit­i­cal places to help. Now it’s a per­ma­nent instal­la­tion, it’s not about dis­as­ter respon­se. So, what we are doing now is iden­ti­fy­ing 30 busi­ness­es in Rock­away with­in walk­ing dis­tance of each oth­er, and with­in ten min­utes walk­ing dis­tance from every­one in the penin­su­la, but they are impor­tant busi­ness­es, like nurs­ery schools, restau­rants, hard­ware shops. The rea­son that’s impor­tant is that right after the storm we noticed that the peo­ple want­ed to get back to work, they want­ed to have nor­mal things, and there were many months when they could not get back to work and it start­ed to affect them eco­nom­i­cal­ly…

But if they had nurs­ery schools, they could drop the kids off for day­care and they could go to work. The kids day­cares were all affect­ed, so they had to watch the kids and they could not go to work. Lit­tle things like that get you you back to nor­mal sit­u­a­tions real­ly quick­ly. So now the grant focus­es on busi­ness­es, and it’s dif­fer­ent. Before was emer­gen­cy respon­se, and now this is antic­i­pa­to­ry, it’s imag­in­ing a future where the­se are crit­i­cal func­tions [built in].

Most of our work is just about urban resilien­cy, and resilien­cy as a top­ic some­times man­i­fests into solar pan­els, oth­er times it’s a gar­den, right? But the dif­fer­ence between a sys­tem like a gar­den that’s designed for resilien­cy and one that’s designed just for sus­tain­abil­i­ty is sim­ply the abil­i­ty to func­tion in a dis­tur­bance in a way that pro­tects.

For exam­ple, there were hous­es that had solar pan­els dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Sandy and the pan­els didn’t work after the pow­er went out. That’s because they depend on the grid to func­tion, for them to keep work­ing and push­ing through the grid. And they did not have a spe­cial device that allows them to pow­er the house direct­ly even though the grid goes down. So, that is an exam­ple – it is not resilience just to have solar pan­els. That alone is not the sys­tem, it’s the over­all process and how it func­tions.

The­se gar­dens are the same way. We design them with native blue­ber­ries and things that feed you in the short-term, but if there’s ever a dis­tur­bance, they are designed to pro­tect the build­ing, and pro­tect the eco­nom­ics of the fam­i­ly, because the insur­ance pre­mi­um cost went down because we are offer­ing more pro­tec­tion to the build­ing. So, there’s less risk for flood­ing.

Were you inter­est­ed in cli­mate change resilience even before Hur­ri­cane Sandy?

WM: Yeah, it was a topic…Jennifer [Jen­nifer Bol­stad is Walter’s wife and part­ner] and I own a firm togeth­er called Local Office Land­scape Archi­tec­ture, LOLA. We design for urban resilien­cy, and we have been doing this work pro­fes­sion­al­ly with our firm since 2006. But before that we worked at oth­er firms, and what we researched at Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty was how cap­i­tal­ism can be more effec­tive with more of a social impact, because by itself sus­tain­abil­i­ty is very lim­it­ed in its abil­i­ty for soci­ety to flour­ish after a dis­tur­bance. An exam­ple is a LEED plat­inum build­ing, which is a pro­duct of sus­tain­abil­i­ty. [LEED] failed dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Sandy. For exam­ple, the Free­dom Tow­er at the WTC… Jen­nifer you can tell them the sto­ry about the WTC.

Jen­nifer Bol­stad: About the mechan­i­cals get­ting flood­ed dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Sandy?

WM: Yeah.

JB: They put all the mechan­i­cals on the ground floor, so they flood­ed dur­ing Sandy, and it was too expen­sive to take them out and replace them in place, so they just aban­doned them in place. They just lost all that square footage, and they rebuilt on a dif­fer­ent floor of the build­ing.

WM: That is a pro­duct of sus­tain­abil­i­ty, when you think ‘okay, we should be good with this’ and that’s the lim­i­ta­tion of sus­tain­abil­i­ty. With ‘sus­tain­abil­i­ty,’ the philo­soph­i­cal under­pin­ning is about bal­ance, where­as ‘resilien­cy,’ the philo­soph­i­cal under­pin­ning is about dis­tur­bance. So, one is less about change, and the oth­er one is more about change. So, when you design for change, what you embed in that is adap­ta­tion, the abil­i­ty to adapt.

JB: You don’t know what dis­tur­bance it is, and it’s short-sight­ed to think the next dis­tur­bance is going to be exact­ly the same as the last one.

WM: Sandy caused the top­ic of urban resilien­cy to go main­stream. But the con­cen­tra­tion of resilien­cy in oth­er pro­fes­sions, for exam­ple in psy­chol­o­gy, in soci­ol­o­gy, as well as in ecol­o­gy. Ecol­o­gy is one of the core areas where resilien­cy is talked about, it has been writ­ten about in ecol­o­gy for a long time. There’s an author respon­si­ble for tak­ing resilien­cy to the main­stream, Andrew Zol­li, who wrote a book called “Resilience: How Things Bounce Back” and the intro­duc­to­ry chap­ter for that is real­ly easy to read, it’s not too com­pli­cat­ed.

It’s good to know the the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work of what is hap­pen­ing right now in this coun­try.

Hur­ri­cane Sandy wasn’t intro­duc­ing resilien­cy to us, it was already hap­pen­ing. But it intro­duced a great respon­se to cli­mate change to the main­stream. Most­ly because of Sandy, you could no longer ignore cli­mate change. Or at least, it became more dif­fi­cult to ignore it, and it came to the front door of all politi­cians at once, and every­one focused on it. 

What we have been try­ing to get folks to do is not for­get what hap­pened, and to per­ma­nent­ly have sys­tems in place that antic­i­pate future change, because after dis­tur­bances, after six months peo­ple start to for­get the details, right? And then after six years they total­ly for­get what hap­pened, ‘oh yeah, there was a hur­ri­cane back then, I remem­ber that’ but like…

Yeah.

WM: So, you have all the resources now, fed­er­al resources that are hard to trick­le down, they are now get­ting here, and what we found inter­est­ing about this pro­gram, the Home Free: Safe Space Solu­tions, is when we won the award at the White House, we were asked to come up and advise the cab­i­net mem­bers of the White House, the dif­fer­ent depart­ments at the fed­er­al lev­el, like Health and Human Ser­vices, FEMA, and a cou­ple of oth­ers, like Hous­ing and Urban Devel­op­ment (HUD). But the most inter­est­ing part about get­ting that award was not the acco­lade, but it was advis­ing the­se groups about this top­ic of com­mu­ni­ty capac­i­ty-build­ing. Deliv­er­ing infor­ma­tion to them from what we saw on the field.

We are learning that we are a little piece of a larger system, so we can’t conquer ourselves.”


 

The typ­i­cal respon­se is a top-down respon­se, where the gov­ern­ment trick­les down, but we were able to tell them about find­ing a mech­a­nism for deliv­er­ing a bot­tom-up dis­tri­b­u­tion of resources.

Espe­cial­ly, ways to lever­age the struc­tural dif­fer­ence between gov­ern­ment, which is ver­ti­cal, and top-down, and the com­mu­ni­ty, which is hor­i­zon­tal.

And the surf club is one of those places that is in the mid­dle between ver­ti­cal and hor­i­zon­tal, and it’s a great exam­ple. In The New York­er there was an arti­cle about the surf club and a few oth­er places and most­ly about the social phe­nom­e­non that hap­pened there. So, that’s Andrew Zol­li in a nut­shell about this big shift. Because what’s hap­pen­ing here is restruc­tur­ing this country’s rela­tion­ship with nature, right? 

Nature used to be con­sid­ered some­thing you can con­quer. The infor­ma­tion we had at the time, dur­ing the Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion, was that we can con­quer nature, because in our view we could see just the region. We said we have dom­i­nat­ed the region, we have har­nessed nature with oil and coal. 

But we did not under­stand the glob­al con­se­quences, because we were not able to read infor­ma­tion at the glob­al lev­el. We could only read at a region­al lev­el. So, to us in the region­al frame, as humans, we con­quered nature, you know: end of sto­ry.

Then you fast-for­ward to the 21st cen­tu­ry when you have real-time glob­al mon­i­tor­ing, there are satel­lites, and we are start­ing to see we have some seri­ous prob­lems. We have not con­quered nature and it’s actu­al­ly not able to be con­quered, because we are part of it. 

We are learn­ing that we are a lit­tle piece of a larg­er sys­tem, so we can’t con­quer our­selves, right? It doesn’t make sense. So, soci­eties all around the world are real­iz­ing this and this is a trib­al way of see­ing nature. So, it was for a long time seen as some­thing that is not so sophis­ti­cat­ed, right? But we’re also going back to that now, learn­ing that may­be they had it right, the­se tribes. But what I am say­ing is not to go back to trib­al liv­ing, but to go back to the trib­al rela­tion­ship with nature, which hap­pens to be about one­ness with nature. 

Do you know Klaus Jacob, the pro­fes­sor at Columbia? He is real­ly into the­se ideas as well, about the bot­tom-up approach. And I think he has also men­tioned the Rock­aways after Sandy as an exam­ple in his lec­tures.

JB: Yes, we gave a talk with him, soon after the storm.

WM: Both of us have been on pan­els with Klaus, and it’s an impor­tant top­ic, because he sets the big glob­al view, and with us, we are able to drill down and talk about cities. 

Klaus is well known inter­na­tion­al­ly and right­ly so, because he was pre­dict­ing Sandy decades before Sandy hap­pened. Which, when you are a cli­mate sci­en­tist, you have the big data, it’s not an opin­ion, you know? So, you just have to wait until the truth comes in. Some­times it takes a decade, some­times longer, you nev­er know. 

I used to teach at Columbia, at GSAPP, [Grad­u­ate School of Archi­tec­ture and Preser­va­tion], as an adjunct pro­fes­sor in urban design. But then we had bet­ter offers at oth­er uni­ver­si­ties, so we went to Pratt and they hired both of us togeth­er and we were able to be coor­di­na­tors at the pro­gram, so we had a lit­tle more con­trol over the cur­ricu­lum.

There are three strings in our work: we have the phil­an­thropic work, which is why you are here today, we have our pro­fes­sion­al work, which draws on what is need­ed to sup­port the phil­an­thropic work, and then we have our aca­d­e­mic work, which is where we do our research. 

In the future, are you hop­ing to expand Safe Space Solu­tions to all five NYC bor­oughs?

WM: We have a vision. This grant is lim­it­ed just to Rock­aways because the grant is not enough to han­dle all the five bor­oughs. But the largest vision is to make all the five bor­oughs’ Zone 1 evac­u­a­tion zones [Zone 1 is the low­est lying area, the most vul­ner­a­ble part of NYC to storms] is to make the Zone 1 inde­pen­dent of the grid dur­ing the dis­tur­bance, using renew­able ener­gy. David Gibbs is the one in the field, he’s an engi­neer and a tech­ni­cian, where­as we are oper­at­ing as plan­ners or design­ers of the sys­tem, and the admin­is­tra­tors. We are man­ag­ing the sys­tem. David is the one who is able to put it togeth­er, bring all the labor togeth­er and man­age the imple­men­ta­tion. And he is also a sys­tem design­er from an engi­neer­ing per­spec­tive. Where­as we are look­ing at it from a plan­ning per­spec­tive, right? We work more hor­i­zon­tal­ly, while he’s look­ing ver­ti­cal­ly. Engi­neer­ing is more like a sci­ence, it’s more empir­i­cal.

For Safe Space Solu­tions you are say­ing that you are no longer using solar pow­er only, right? You are try­ing to find the best com­bi­na­tion.

WM: That’s right, each site will have dif­fer­ent needs, it will have dif­fer­ent solu­tions for those needs. For exam­ple, some sites will use tan­k­less hot water heaters, oth­er sites that don’t have access to ground­wa­ter, we can use geot­her­mal heat­ing and cool­ing.

JB: But it also depends on the type of busi­ness, what they need. So, it’s tai­lored to what works best for their site. 

For exam­ple, we have a laun­dro­mat in our pro­gram, and they need a lot of hot water. So, that solu­tion is going to focus on how to get them cheap­er and more reli­able and more resilient hot water sup­ply.

We have a pedi­a­tri­cian in our pro­gram, and they said that after Sandy the biggest prob­lem was that they did not have refrig­er­a­tion, so they couldn’t vac­ci­nate kids and they lost all the vac­ci­nes that they had on hand because they couldn’t keep them cool. It was Octo­ber, so they had just got all the flu shots in, which was a huge loss to them as a busi­ness and also to the com­mu­ni­ty, because now all those peo­ple did not have an easy way to get their kids vac­ci­nat­ed. For them refrig­er­a­tion, and mak­ing sure that refrig­er­a­tion stays on no mat­ter what, is their biggest con­cern.

So, in that way the tech­nol­o­gy and the site access to resources, like is it a good site for wind, is it a good site for solar, is it a good site for geot­her­mal, they kin­da go hand in hand. A lot of the­se busi­ness­es may have access to tech­nol­o­gy, but they do not have access to the design and plan­ning side of it that real­ly ana­lyzes their needs and tai­lors the solu­tions to them. And what we are hop­ing to show is that even in the absence of this grant we want to demon­strate to oth­er busi­ness­es that with smart plan­ning, you can real­ly tar­get your invest­ment in alter­na­tive ener­gy tech­nolo­gies and real­ly get the most bang for your buck out of what­ev­er solu­tions or set of solu­tions you choose. We are try­ing to demon­strate the pow­er of bring­ing in a plan­ning pro­fes­sion­al or ana­lyst from the begin­ning to help them use that invest­ment as wise­ly as pos­si­ble.

WM: The oth­er impor­tant piece of this grant is the way it’s being used. We want as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble to come from Rock­aways and we will be installing solar pan­els or the oth­er sys­tems. So, we have been try­ing to inter­view elec­tri­cians or peo­ple who only work part-time or who lost their jobs but have skills and want to learn more about solar. They may know about elec­tric­i­ty, but they may not know the next step to solar, so we’d like to help them learn that. 

That gives you two things: one is knowl­edge trans­fer and then it brings new jobs to an area that can def­i­nite­ly use more oppor­tu­ni­ties. Then I want to share that with you, because in a small place like Rock­aways you can jump on a bike and get to work on solar pan­els, and you are that per­son that goes home and tells three peo­ple what he did that day and it’s kind of like each one teach one for a pos­si­ble future where you don’t have to depend on car­bon or fos­sil fuels. 

After Sandy all the gas sta­tions were down, and it was hard to get fuel so the city became tem­porar­i­ly fos­sil fuel-free, you know? For bet­ter or for worse. That cre­at­ed an open­ing, an oppor­tu­ni­ty for renew­able ener­gy, because it does not depend on any resource oth­er than the sun. 

It was an excit­ing time for us to see, with very lit­tle effort, that we had a major impact. It was great. And a lot of peo­ple start­ed to see it, even the Rock­away solar pan­els were not that big of a deal before, and now every­one knows what they are and what they do and they are all try­ing to find ways to buy them or to share them with the neigh­bor­hood. And I have seen this com­ing even from con­ser­v­a­tive peo­ple that nor­mal­ly do not believe in cli­mate change, but they were real­iz­ing, whether you believe in cli­mate change or not, you are still vul­ner­a­ble and you need that assis­tance. And that’s the beau­ty of resilien­cy, it does not have the polit­i­cal bag­gage of sus­tain­abil­i­ty. Until envi­ron­men­tal­ism becomes bi-par­ti­san, or actu­al­ly non-par­ti­san.

We are at an excit­ing time when peo­ple like the pope are bring­ing togeth­er reli­gion and sci­ence for the cli­mate. And so, it’s real­ly inter­est­ing to be where we are at and then apply this to the resilience move­ment, which is apo­lit­i­cal, and there is noth­ing roman­tic about it, it’s not like hip­pies, it’s just a way of sur­viv­ing this cri­sis our soci­ety is cur­rent­ly in.