Monthly Archives: November 2014

Ithaca: Ten Square Miles of Sustainability by Maggie Morris-Knower

A popular bumper sticker in Ithaca reads, “10 square miles surrounded by reality.” A small city on the edge of Cayuga Lake in the Finger Lakes region in Upstate New York, Ithaca is geographically isolated from the surrounding county by steep hills on three sides and the longest stretch of fresh water of the thirteen Finger Lakes on the fourth. A student population of roughly 27,000 combined from Cornell University and Ithaca College counterbalances the city’s population of around 30,000 full-time residents. Many of the students and residents in Ithaca that I interviewed had no trouble coming up with local examples of sustainability. Informed citizens appear to be the reason behind the national accolades for Ithaca as a green city. Even with civic organizations working with businesses and local elected officials to improve sustainable practices, some Ithacans think their city can do better.

Charlotte is a 22 year-old college student at Cornell University and a native Ithacan. “When you grow up in Ithaca, you’re basically raised an environmentalist,” she said. Charlotte explained sustainability as “creating a system with permeating effects without wearing on resources,” but didn’t think it was an important issue for the majority of students at Cornell. “It’s not a conversation you hear all the time,” she said. However, she did say that in terms of sustainable transportation, the university was doing a “good job” of limiting on-campus parking as a way to encourage students to find an alternative way to their classes. All first year students receive a free, unlimited bus pass, which was a good resource for students living off-campus. The bus passes were almost cut from the budget last year but after a negative reaction from many students, the decision was reconsidered.

Charlotte studied food security in a global context as part of her degree in international labor relations and in comparison with other places, she said she sees Ithaca as “a wealthy community, with so many farms and local products, it’s amazing.” If anything should threaten the food security of the country or even NYS, Charlotte felt that in Ithaca “there’s a system of self-reliance and diversity.”

Ellen is a middle-aged woman who has been living in Ithaca since 1998. She has worked as a real estate agent for almost ten years, and previously had a part-time job in the city’s urban renewal department. Ellen thinks sustainability is an important issue, and says that the next generation’s major task should be focused on designing objects “so that when the primary function becomes obsolete, it can be repurposed into something useful that is not landfill.” She bought a new Prius two years ago because she drives a lot for her business, and picks up local produce from a weekly CSA share at a farm on the other side of town. As a real estate agent, Ellen sees household energy consumption as an important sustainability-related issue. She says that her home is partially heated by a wood-burning stove, and that she applied for a “home energy improvement loan” from INHS a few years ago through NYSERDA, which enabled her to buy new windows for her house to improve insulation.

Jim grew up outside of Utica, New York and moved to Ithaca when he got a job as a librarian at Cornell University fifteen years ago. As part of his work, Jim teaches seminars on research methods and recently, Cornell sent him to schools in Ghana, South Africa, and India to give seminars to other librarians. On his most recent trip, Jim worked with plant breeders and researchers in Ghana who “were responsible for the food security of their entire country.” In his words, sustainability means “any practice whose longevity is ensured.” We talked about the economics of sustainability. Jim said that a consumer-based society is unsustainable by nature. He likes a website called Freecycle, where people can upload photos and descriptions of objects that they want to give away and other people in the area will contact them if interested. There is no money involved in the transaction, and no waste created from the unwanted object. Jim said that transportation was another important sustainability-related issue in Ithaca, and that many people were deterred from biking more because of the steep hills in Ithaca. Jim mentioned that a new business opened recently downtown that sold electric bikes and installed engines on people’s regular bikes. He thought this would be a good way to encourage people to bike more instead of driving. Jim also brought up a number of issues that had to do with sustainability at a global level, specifically about renewable energy sources like solar and nuclear power. “How are we going to recycle solar panels?” he asked.

Lisa is a retired nurse who moved from Denmark in the mid-seventies and has lived in Ithaca for twenty years. She defined sustainability as respect for the earth and for nature, and gave examples of how to do so, such as not using harmful chemicals and also buying locally and supporting farmers. Lisa says the biggest sustainability-related problem in Ithaca is the lack of bike lanes, which makes it unsafe for bikers to share the road with cars. She also said that biking is so unregulated that it is easy not to follow the road rules, which is also a problem. However, Lisa did say that the buses had bike racks on the front, which was a good thing. Lisa explained food security as knowing what you are eating, including the ingredients in your food, what pesticides were used to grow the food, and how the animals were treated. Now that she is retired, Lisa said that she wanted to start giving cooking classes to people with low-income families to help educate people about affordable and healthy options for eating at home instead of at a fast food restaurant.

On a walk around downtown Ithaca, different examples of sustainable practices like recycling and renewable energy are apparent from just looking at storefronts. Many local businesses are dedicated to selling second-hand goods, such as furniture, clothing, and architectural salvage (see photo 1).

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There are also a number of local restaurants, including Moosewood Restaurant, whose eponymous cookbook has influenced vegetarian chefs since it was first published in 1977. The local economy benefits greatly from the numerous family farms in the area: the Ithaca Farmer’s Market has 160 vendors selling food, produce, and handmade goods every week throughout the year. Every weekend, the parking lot is packed with people who come from all over the county to support their farmers, but relying on cars as the principal means of transportation could cancel out well-intentioned efforts to shop locally.

Although there are a few streets with bike lanes, and the city has not announced plans to build more. An initiative called Recycle Ithaca’s Bikes (RIBs) collects and recycles old bike parts and teaches people how to fix their own bikes (see photo 2). It is open three times a week.

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A new bike share program may be implemented in 2015, but without appropriate planning and infrastructure, the increase in bikers could lead to more problems. Walking is still good enough for many residents, nearly 15.4% of whom walk to work instead of driving. The mayor of Ithaca recently gave up his parking spot by City Hall in favor of joining Ithaca Car Share.

While the rest of the country is still debating whether climate change is real, Ithacans are making sustainability a part of their lives and their city. Ithaca’s holistic approach to sustainability proves that its favorite bumper sticker is more than just a souvenir.





East Harlem Report by Harry Friedman

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I left my apartment this morning with the intention of interviewing some people in the community to get a clearer picture of the major issues and changes that have taken place in East Harlem. I am particularly interested in learning how people feel about their access to nutritious food and whether or not the community is making progress in areas of sustainability. I’m also keen to hear what people think of sustainability as a modern phenomenon or simple way of living. Walking the streets, I followed my gut to seek out the people who appeared to embody the culture and way of life in East Harlem. These interviews are the accounts and reflections of people who have watched and personally experienced this community evolve over the past 20-50 years.

William “pepsi man” has been living in East Harlem for over 30 years. 8 AM on a Monday morning, William is sitting on a bench in front of the Thomas Jefferson Projects, smoking a cigarette. He was unsure how to answer my question of sustainability. In an attempt to guide his thinking, I made a rookie journalist mistake by giving too much guidance and linking sustainability to climate change. His response, however, was genuine and real. “Ten years ago, it was colder at this time of year. It should be colder now. And we should be getting more rain.”

Some of the changes William has seen occur in the community are that there are “more stores, less empty buildings, less burnt out buildings, less filth.” He remembers people chilling outside the projects, drinking 40s and tossing the bottles in the street. “ You couldn’t walk around here and not step on broken glass. You could get away with a lot more back then. You could practically smoke weed right in a cop’s face.” Now there is a visibly strong police presence around the project buildings and throughout East Harlem. Last month, 3 men were shot and killed in Jefferson Park. Police have been patrolling the park every night, making sure no one is there after the park closes. The policemen that patrol the area are mostly minorities.

The biggest problem in the community, according to William, is gun violence. “The younger generation needs to stop all this killing. We used to fight with these (holding up his fists).” When two people would get in a fight, he said, they’d go separate ways afterwards and that would be it. “These days everyone got something to prove.” Apparently someone in his building was shot and killed after beating another guy in a fight the night before. But that’s only half the problem. Williams see police gun control as a major issue as well. “The police always got a line, ‘shoot first, ask questions later’– that ain’t right.” Bringing up the topic of Miami’s police using rubber bullets, he asks “Why can’t they do that here?”

In a report from April 2013 by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the rate of firearm assault hospitalization among 15-24 year olds in East Harlem was 80.7 per 100,000, more than double the citywide average. Based on its population, East Harlem has the second highest death rate in New York City (Firearm). An article from DNAinfo explains how “Police and community leaders attribute much of the violent crime to youth gangs, which are mainly clustered in the neighborhood’s public housing projects.” (DNAinfo)

On the topic of access to nutritious and affordable food, William said “it’s alright.” He acknowledged that people can get nutritious food if they want, but there are so many more stores selling junk for much cheaper. The bodegas clearly outnumber the grocery stores. I asked him if he thought that more people would eat healthier if there were healthier options in the bodegas or they’d still go for the junk food. “If more options were there for people, they might eat healthier, he said.” In his opinion, people don’t really make serious changes in their lifestyle until it becomes a necessity. Despite the fact that William was diagnosed with diabetes 9 years ago, he says he doesn’t have any episodes, and so continues to eat greasy food and sugary treats.

According to a report from the East and Central Harlem District Public Health Office, about 31% of adults in East Harlem are obese, in contrast to the citywide rate of 22%. About 13% of adults in East Harlem have diabetes, compared with 9% of adults citywide. One of the key findings in the report is that Bodegas are more abundant than supermarkets in East Harlem, comprising 2 in 3 food stores as compared with 1 in 3 food stores in the Upper East Side (Healthy Food).

Deborah has been a resident of East Harlem for 17 years. I find her sitting on a bench in Jefferson Park, watching me walk towards her. To her, sustainability is the recent push toward healthier living. “It’s good that people are smoking less, eating less meat, more fruits and vegetables.” A 2006 health profile on East Harlem, conducted by the NYC Department of Health, shows that East Harlem ranks below average for most health indicators, as compared with 41 other NYC neighborhoods. And nearly one-third of adults in East Harlem consider themselves to be in fair or poor health (Health Profile).

Like William, Deborah talks about the heavy police presence in the area. “They’re always there on the corner with their flood lights.” We both look toward the corner at 1st ave and 112th street. There are two cops standing next to a floodlight. It’s 9 AM, and the flood light is on full power. She doesn’t like it. “It’s like we’re always being watched.” Coincidentally, she also sees fighting on the rise. “The other day, I saw two guys fighting in the street. I stopped to ask someone what happened. They were fighting about a metrocard. That’s New York though. Some people fight about metrocards. Some fight about parking.”

Deborah loves Harlem for it’s history, and a major problem she sees happening in the community is the threat to its culture. The threat, she says, comes from the luxury apartments being built around the community. “You know there’s an old fire tower in Marcus Garvey Park. They want to tear it down. These white people come in here and just…” She trails off. I tell her I understand, that there’s a difference between people coming here and assimilating and- “obliterating the culture!” she declares. A Business Insider article from 2013 indicates that the number of self-identified whites and Asians in East Harlem has doubled over the past 20 years. “Under a controversial NYCHA plan, the cash-strapped agency now proposes to lease public space in the project to private developers to build luxury housing — 20% of which must be designated for low-income families” (Business Insider).

The notion of food security is a critical one for Deborah . “I wouldn’t be here without the pantries. You wanna talk about sustainability. The pantries sustain me.” For Deborah, having access to any food is a blessing. “Harry, I’m po’.” In East Harlem, the percent of residents living below the poverty level is nearly twice as high as the rest of Manhattan and NYC overall (Health Profile).

Mrs. Velez grew up in East Harlem, and has been working at La Marqueta for 43 years. I arrived at La Marqueta for the first time and found a small market under the train tracks at Park avenue and 116th street. There were only 3 shops open in the market. Like Deborah, Mrs. Velez connects sustainability to public health. “Well they got the farmers’ markets in this area– it’s a very good idea. They show people how to use the greens. Showing people how to be healthier. That’s a very good thing to do.”

Mrs. Velez seems to think the community hasn’t changed much over the years. Yet she expresses strong opinions about the state of La Marqueta. “This market used to stretch down to 111th street. There was a fish market, a meat market, groceries, fruits, and vegetables. We don’t have this anymore.” We both look around, confirming the fact that this once-great market is not what it used to be. The reason for La Marqueta’s downfall, according to Mrs. Velez, is that there are too many supermarkets in the area. “The supermarkets took the business here, and instead of promoting the market, they say they’re going to rebuild it, but not in the same way that it used to be.” Mrs. Velez claims that they’re going to “incubate” La Marqueta. “They’re going to re-create the market, but it’ll be with food from outside businesses. La Marqueta is gone.” According to nydailynews, city council is spending 3 million dollars to upgrade La Marqueta and “reopen with a makeover” (La Marqueta).

Despite Mrs. Velez’s bleak predictions for her business and La Marqueta, she doesn’t see food security as a problem in the area. “People on welfare get vouchers to get all those greens at the market.” She then named all those big supermarkets as the places where people can get fresh produce. “You can get fresh fruits and vegetables in Costco, Pathmark, Fine Fare.” It’s obvious that Mrs. Velez feels a deep connection to the market where she’ s worked for 43 years, but she seems to have accepted that La Marqueta as she knows it is gone. There’s more healthy food in the supermarkets, and she agrees that “The fruits are fresh and good at the Farmers’ Market.” There are four farmers’ markets in East Harlem, and food stamps are accepted at all of them (Farmers’).

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After the interview with Mrs. Velez, I reconsidered my expectations for what areas of sustainability the interviewees might address. In retrospect, I wish that I had given them a bit more guidance on the question of sustainability. I would have liked to hear their opinions on the topics of recycling, renewable energy, climate change, and overall resource conservation. I suppose that being a first time interviewer in a new environment, I took a more passive role, wanting to maintain fairness in my journalistic endeavor and avoid influencing the interviewee too much. But in doing so, I think that I missed an important interviewing tip, “Be Clear on what you Want.” Well, you live and you learn.

On the other hand, I did gain a good deal of insight into the more prevalent issues in East Harlem, at least in the minds of its residents. It does seem to be a common phenomenon that more poverty stricken humans are less focused on recycling and climate change and more caught up in just trying to survive. In my final interview for this project, I spoke with a older gentleman sitting on an upside bucket in front of an apartment building next to an auto repair shop. He prefers to be identified as the Super of the building.

The Super on east 112th street has been living there since 1968. The most dramatic change he’s seen in the community is the decline of drugs. “In the 70s, there was trafficking all throughout this area.” Despite his assurance that “drugs have been minimized by 90%” he still considers it to be one of the biggest problems in the area. “It’s gotten better over the years, but still compared with the rest of New York, drugs are a problem here, says Super.” A google search of “Drugs East Harlem” confirms the Super’s account, showing numerous links to stories of police cracking down and arresting drug dealers in East Harlem.

Unanimous among my interviewees is the feeling that people do have access to healthy food in East Harlem. “If people don’t have food, they can go to the churches. They can get food stamps.” The Super’s opinion on the matter of La Marqueta is that it has declined as a result of “people from Korea planting food markets every 10 blocks from way down all the way up to 125th. That killed La Marqueta. The market was still functioning when you had supermarkets around.”

Sustainability, according to the Super, “has to do with the food that people eat and the ability to get that food.” He maintains that it isn’t much of an issue in East Harlem. “I don’t see any major catastrophe in health. For the Super, the matter of food security comes down to whether or not a person wants to be helped. “The help is available in this area and throughout New York.” According to the page for Manhattan Food Sources, there are 12 establishments working to feed impoverished peoples in need of food. To name a few: New Beginning Ministry Soup Kitchen, Beacon Youth and Family Food Pantry, and Yorkville Common Meals all accept walk-ins (Food Sources).

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Roaming the streets of East Harlem, one might be surprised to actually find a plethora of sustainable practices being conducted. Every Thursday from 8 AM to 4 PM, there is a farmer’s market right in the heart of East Harlem at 104th and 3rd ave. The market offers local produce, juices, and baked goods and accepts food stamps. Behind one of the buildings next to the market is a generously sized community garden. Similarly, there are two vegetable gardens outside the Thomas Jefferson projects. Also, along the 115th street side of the TJ projects are 6 newly planted young trees. On 3rd ave and 110th, there is a grocery store with Farmer’s Market written in big letters across the canopy out front. The store seems to be jointly owned by Mexicans and Koreans. This grocery store offers a wide variety of produce for very affordable prices and even cage free eggs. At Park Ave and 116th, one block north of La Marqueta, you will find the Urban Garden Center. There they sell all kinds of different plants, trees, and gardening equipment. There are also signs and posters up for sustainability-related events, including a Youth Marqueta, where kids can get involved with and educated about local, organic food.

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Aside from the sustainability problems in East Harlem that exist in just about every neighborhood throughout NYC, there doesn’t seem to be too much un-sustainability happening. Of course, the cars far outnumber the bikers. But you will find hundreds of people walking around the main blocks at just about any time of day. There are a handful of empty lots and store fronts scattered throughout the area. One would be hard-pressed to find any solar panels or wind turbines. There is however, an excessive amount of scaffolding structures throughout the community. They look shabby, they impede the growth of young trees, and apparently they also hamper security. Below is a link to a nydailynews article, entitled “Tear them down! Tenants at Thomas Jefferson Houses say scaffolding hampers security.”

The good people outnumber the bad apples here in East Harlem. I can say that with conviction. There is an abundance of charitable organizations, supported and run by community members for community members. This is a strong community with a vibrant and diverse culture. Surely East Harlem has its problems, but the statistics can’t show you the kinds of things you’d learn from walking the streets and talking to locals.

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Neighborhood Sustainability in Boerum Hill by Paris M.

In Boerum Hill there is an abundance of character within a small neighborhood setting where one finds classic Brownstones, pre-war apartments and the occasional small and fancy apartment building. Within the past few years, the Boerum Hill neighborhood has grown to be one of the more popular and “livable” neighborhoods in Brooklyn. I have been fortunate that I have been able to enjoy the luxuries and pleasures that come with living in the Boerum Hill community without paying high rent, as I have lived here almost ten years. Boerum Hill is quickly being known as an upscale, trendy neighborhood attracting primarily single younger/middle aged white adults, many of whom have families, due to the several good schools in the area. Though a large part of the population in Boerum Hill is white, there is also a fairly large Hispanic community that preceded the Anglos, which adds to the large variety of restaurants located throughout Smith Street and Court Street and the strong community feel.

As the neighborhood has grown, so have the attractions. The surrounding neighborhoods of Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, and Brooklyn Heights all add lots of charm and convenience to Boerum Hill, with several farmers markets, community gardens, and many other local businesses adding to the community appeal. These attractions, however, lead to a higher price point of living, thus leading to a large population of the people who live in the neighborhood being well-off economically. As seen in a chart on AreaVibes about the Household Incomes in Boerum Hill, over 30 percent of the population makes between 40k and 100k a year, and almost 20 percent make over 100k a year.

The neighborhood improvements also help keep crime low in the neighborhood, making it a comfortable area to live in and safer than 95 percent of the neighborhoods in New York, as stated in AreaVibes:



From interviews with three of the locals, I was fortunate to be able to receive different opinions about the local community regarding their concerns and levels of environmental awareness. The three neighbors I spoke with all had high praise for Boerum Hill and the surrounding area, though each had different opinions about certain aspects of the neighborhood’s environmental issues.

The first person I spoke with, Tad, a middle-aged white, casual and well-dressed married male, who considers himself part of the moderately upper middle class demographic, works as a writer/artist and has lived in the neighborhood for 11 years. Tad, having lived in the neighborhood for a good amount of time, has been able to witness lots of changes within Boerum Hill and the surrounding area. Tad believes sustainability in the surrounding area is an important issue because the neighborhood has lots of families and with that comes a need for good schools, consistent food sources, especially organic and natural ones, such as farmers markets.

Over time Tad has noticed a continued addition of several chain stores to the neighborhood (Starbucks, Barney’s, Chipotle), and unfortunately this has led to several of the local stores closing down. There have been some convenient additions, like Trader Joe’s, and some of the additions allow for people that aren’t as well off to be able to afford living in the neighborhood a bit more comfortably. Tad also felt like the amount of cars was a major problem in the neighborhood. With more cars from the population in the neighborhood rising, this leads to less parking for everyone else, especially since most of the people moving in are primarily making high enough salaries to buy a car.

The next person I interviewed was Dave, a 29-year-old unmarried white male, with brown hair and a semi-scruffy style, who has lived in Boerum Hill his whole life and works in the real estate industry. Dave, as a life-long resident of the neighborhood, added a great insight as to the importance of environmental sustainability and how it is an important topic, but noted that it can be a “double-edged sword” at times. Yes, it is important to maintain natural resources, but at the same time with expansion of the population, it means the requirement of creating more places for people to live, which can hurt the environment, however it might help the economy. Dave believed that the changes within the community that he noticed were majorly contributing to the steady growth of population over the years, especially with people who were not from Brooklyn. Most of this he attributed to the gentrification Boerum Hill has experienced over the last ten years or so. He also believed the community didn’t have any major problems since we live in a well-maintained neighborhood with minimal crime and lots of resources that help keep the neighborhood residents happy, such as farmers markets, various shops (some of which are still locally owned), and a well-established community. People who move here tend to stay, allowing neighbors to get to know each other and feel a sense of accountability and consideration to each other.

The third and final person I interviewed was Roger, a heavy-set middle-aged man with a muscular build and clean-cut appearance. Roger is a deli owner who has owned the deli and lived in the neighborhood for 25 years. To Roger, sustainability meant that the neighborhood was maintaining its appropriate resources for the locals, which was important because it would make a major difference regarding the happiness of the people living within our neighborhood, thus making it a very important issue. Roger, as a small business owner, has the vantage point to notice changes within the community, such as the continuous addition of more professional people to the community. Like Dave, he realizes that further gentrification has occurred in the neighborhood led by many people who aren’t originally from Brooklyn or New York City, but many of these people contribute to the economic stability of the neighborhood and in this way make it far more clean and safe. Rodger also was felt similarly to Dave, in that he didn’t believe we had many community issues because of how well maintained the community is. However, he did think that food security was very good in the community due to the consistent protectiveness concerning the quality of food sold within the neighborhood.

Throughout Boerum Hill there are several good sustainable environmental practices occurring, as well as some that are relatively disconcerting.  Boerum Hill has been good about maintaining recycling and composting practices, as well as supporting several local food contributors. Unfortunately, the continuous presence of many cars contributes to air pollution and the over-utilization of land for housing keeps that land from being used for far better things such as the creation of a park with a natural habitat. In addition, a lack of consideration for energy usage and its contribution to our declining environment prevents this from being a 100% thriving, sustainable community.

Out of all the people I interviewed, I found Tad to be the most environmentally conscious; his thoughts about the overcrowding of cars and his desire to see more local businesses, farmers markets, and schools thrive, are all important goals to help maintain an environmentally stable and thriving community. Though both Dave and Roger had some great ideas, it seemed both of them are just a little less concerned with environmental sustainability. However, they did make very valid points about how even though more people are moving into the neighborhood, this can help with economic stability. Boerum Hill is still a growing community and with well-organized growth it can maybe become a more green and environmentally friendly community in time.