The Sims Municipal Recycling Facility will open soon on the Brooklyn waterfront, providing countless environmental benefits. The large in-city recycling center will be able to process 20,000 tons of recyclables a month; for comparison, at its peak Freshkills received 29,000 tons of trash every day. While it might seem like a drop in the bucket, having a recycling center on the Brooklyn waterfront where loads can come in by barge will save the Department of Sanitation 260,000 miles of truck route every year. That’s equivalent to a sanitation truck driving over ten times around the earth. Reduced truck miles will help with traffic congestion, improve air quality, and decrease fossil fuel emissions.
Beyond the environmental benefits of constructing a new recycling center, the design of the building reflects a focus on sustainability derived from a practice what you preach attitude. The building is constructed using over 90% recycled steel. The roof boasts the current largest solar array in the city, generating 500kW of energy (enough to power about 150 homes). The design firm, Selldorf Architects, even included a spot of green space in their design by incorporating trees and bioswales to capture storm water runoff.
The buildings purpose and design coalesce to make it an incredible opportunity for environmental education. The facility “include[s] an education center that wasn’t just a repurposed closet with an instructional video to torture captive schoolchildren.” With classroom space and cat walks through the plant, students will have the opportunity to experience the process of recycling first hand. Hopefully, some of these students will become champions of recycling and help us build a more sustainable New York City.
How do you design a space to maximize its social and ecological resiliency? A green space where the community gathers and plants help clean the air and absorb storm water. You might think that such a space could only be achieved in a large park like Freshkills, but the newly released 2013 Street Design Manual demonstrates how the street in front of your doorstep can be transformed into a place that fosters social interactions and supports wildlife.
The street design manual unveiled by Transportation Commissioner Sadik-Kahn at the 2013 MAS Summit highlights designs for “place making plazas” that transform endless swaths of concrete into gathering places. While the most visible of these transformations was the closing of Time Square, these plazas can be developed on a run-of-the-mill sidewalk by adding seating and landscaping to a barren wide stretch of concrete. These types of designs are successful at fostering community precisely because they are requested and maintained by the communities where they are installed. Adding places where neighbors can stop, smell the flowers, and get to know one another could be another way to boost social resiliency.
Not only do the new street designs foster more social connections amidst the hustle and bustle of the city, but they also strive to improve physical resiliency with suggestions for landscape design. The manual has recommendations for tree pits, bio swells, and rain gardens that will help reduce the issue of combined sewage overflow that overwhelms the city’s infrastructure. The guidelines on plantings also include information on storm and drought tolerance so that plantings can be made with future climate change in mind. While these plantings work to adapt to the effects of climate change, the plan also proposes steps to reduce carbon emissions with new LED street lamps.
We’re looking forward to seeing how this new street design manual transforms the urban landscape of NYC into one that has more capacity to withstand and adapt to climate change.
Energy storage is the Holy Grail for renewable energy producers. In an ideal world, they would be able to capture that burst of wind at two in the morning and use it to power your coffee maker when you wake up at seven. A solar project in Arizona called Solana is using an innovative solution for energy storage: molten salt.
Imagine pure salt so hot it looks, and moves, like liquid water. This molten salt is the substance inside large insulated tanks that allows the Solana project to store heat for up to six hours. Most of the solar thermal energy is channeled directly to the steam generator that produces electricity, but some of the heat is diverted into heating up these molten salt tanks whose energy can be harnessed long after the sun has set from the sky.
These molten salt tanks make Solana the largest solar thermal project with energy storage in the world. Using heat to store energy is fairly new; some other solar power plants use expensive batteries to store electricity. While storing energy as heat is not mechanically efficient, the economic benefits of producing energy at peak demand may make the molten salt storage worthwhile.
Solar energy typically does a fairly good job of matching peak demands for electricity during the daylight hours, but can fall short in the early morning when people are getting ready for work or in the evenings after the sun goes down. Energy storage capabilities would allow renewable energies like solar to be harnessed around the clock, making them a more formidable competitor to fossil fuels.
(Photo: Solena Project by Abengoa Solar. Article via: New York Times, “Arizona Utility Tries Storing Solar Energy for Use in the Dark”)
The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized its cleanup plan for Gowanus Canal. The Brooklyn Canal, bound by Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Red Hook, was declared a Superfund site in 2010 and communities have long been pushing for its cleanup.
Judith A. Enck, the EPA Regional Administrator, said:
“The cleanup plan announced today by the EPA will reverse the legacy of water pollution in the Gowanus. The plan is a comprehensive, scientifically-sound roadmap to turn this urban waterway into a community asset once more.”
One-hundred and fifty years of industrial activity has left the waterway filled with PCBs, PAHs, coal tar waste, heavy metals and volatile organics, and poisoned both the water and fish. The cleanup will take 8 to 10 years and, even then, swimming and fishing would be ill-advised. However, the effort initiates a process of ecological revitalization and sets a precedent that holds companies accountable for their actions.
If this federal decision pulls through, its long term benefits, in terms of residential health and re-investment in the NY Harbor area, are immense.
On September 29th, Freshkills Park opened its gates to the public for the fourth annual Sneak Peak event and attracted 3,500 people, a steady increase from previous years.
They came on bikes, on ferries, and in cars; with family, with friends. A girl from Brooklyn says, “This is a strange place. It does not feel like we are in the city at all.” Indeed, the tall yellow grass, the rolling hills, and the hawks in the sky seemed like neither the city nor the previous landfill site.
In the central area, a miniature horse pulled kids around for five minute rides. The goats that helped eat the site’s invasive phragmites, bleated at passerby. Families lounged on wooden-crates, as Staten Island artists transformed the stone bridge with spray paint. In the distance, a giant rock wall supported climbers of all ages; kayakers took boats into the river.
For a quieter experience, people trekked to the Overlook, a high point where they could see the Manhattan skyline. Or, on a steeper path, they climbed to the top of North Mound and flew Freshkills Park kites.
Art, nature, food and clear skies: we couldn’t have asked for a better day! Now, to start planning for next year’s Sneak Peak… In any case, stay posted on Freshkills Park happenings, and if you missed Sneak Peak this year, there’s always next year. Park tours are also available from April to November:
The Freshkills team is always on the lookout for engaging initiatives that combine education, sustainability, and art – not to mention recycling. Recology, a waste management company based in San Francisco, supports a young artists program that combines all these topics in one exemplary project. The artist-in-residency program diverts found objects from the city’s landfills into donated studio spaces for the artists – and eventually galleries. The chosen artists are allowed to “scavenger” at Recology’s San Francisco transfer station for supplies and tasked with making art out of 100% recycled materials. Here is a short video about the program featuring one of the recent artists, Ethan Estess:
Freshkills has been the subject of numerous artistic endeavors, including most recently the Land Art Generator Institute (LAGI) competition and publication. The LAGI exhibit is currently on display at the Parks Dept. HQ in Central Park.
Bush Terminal Piers Park is slated to open this October, the new waterfront park is located between 43rd to 51st Streets in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Sandwiched between modernized industrial parcels along the waterfront, the park was designed by AECOM. The new park will provide the residents of nearby neighborhoods the first new open space in the area in decades.
Bush Terminal was a historic integrated manufacturing and shipping complex throughout much of the twentieth century. By the 1970s the site where the park is located was abandoned and contaminants found in the soil discouraged redevelopment. In 2007 the NYC Economic Development Corporation launched Sunset Park Vision Plan, a plan to reinvigorate sections of the industrial waterfront as well as provide increased public access and open space.
Following the (completed) brownfield remediation effort, the park will feature numerous sustainable elements including designated spaces for environmental education, urban reforestation, wetland restoration, and the installation of various types of stormwater management infrastructure. Additionally, Bush Terminal Pier Park will have three turf playing fields, a sloping lawn, picnic areas, walkways, and concession stands (Source via Curbed).
Freshkills Park is another example of land transformation and reuse of a brownfield. Like Bush Terminal Piers Park, Freshkills Park is committed to implementing sustainable practices and engaging the public with exciting recreational opportunities as well as providing educational information about the site and its history. Currently two areas of Freshkills Park are open, Schuml Park and Owl Hollow playing fields. Both areas incorporate many sustainable elements, check them out!
The Arsenal Gallery at Central Park will host Freshkills Park on Wednesday July 10th at 6:00 p.m. as Angelyn Chandler, Capital Program Manager at Freshkills Park, discusses the park’s history and future plans. The event is free and part of the Land Art Generator Institute exhibition, please RSVP with firstname.lastname@example.org . Join us and learn more about the development if this world-class park!
The complex relationship between cities and agriculture was a hot topic this spring at the “Feeding Cities” conference at the University of Pennsylvania. Growing populations are demanding more food, as well as increasing the geographic footprint of cities. Once fertile land on the outskirts of cities is being developed, and agriculture has become dominated by large scale corporate farming, which further complicates food distribution issues. However, Heather Grady of the Rockefeller Foundation stated in her key note speech at the conference that by getting rid of waste in processing, delivery and sales, as well as conserving land for agriculture within and surrounding urban areas can help address global food security issues.
Although food security issues are present at a global scale, solutions are being explored at a more local level. The Urban Design Lab (UDL) of Columbia University’s Earth Institute undertook a study of the feasibility of urban agriculture in New York City. The UDL published their results in The Potential for Urban Agriculture in New York City report in 2011. The study identified almost 5,000 acres of vacant land likely to be suitable for farming in the five boroughs of New York City, as well as more than 1,000 acres of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) green space, underutilized open spaces, and Greenstreets.
On Staten Island in particular, a large portion of the vacant land was found not to be suitable for farming, due to the difficulty of establishing a farm on such sites, as well as the problems innate in converting valuable ecological resources such as wetland or forest to food production, including much of Freshkills Park. Although there are currently no plans to incorporate agriculture into the park plans, the study found over 4,000 acres on Staten Island that have the potential for urban agriculture.
The report outlined the numerous benefits to developing agricultural spaces within or near urban areas, including the potential to reduce food transportation costs and environmental effects, as well as provide opportunities for economic development and diminish the disparities in access to healthy foods. However, in order to become a viable option to food production for the masses, urban agriculture must overcome challenges of scalability, energy efficiency and labor costs.