Sunshine, ice cream, bluegrass, bike valets and all things sustainable—you couldn’t have asked for a better combination at the New New York Block Party last Saturday. About 1,500 Brooklynites (and perhaps a handful of Manhattanites) ambled by 3rd Street between Bond and Hoyt to bask in the sun and take in the latest trappings of green living, according to a rough count by host organization GreenHomeNYC.
GreenHomeNYC and its local partners ran about two dozen informational booths and conducted open house tours and DIY workshops on how to plant a green roof, conduct an energy audit, capture and reuse rainwater and build a kid-size solar car (among other things).
Many of the block party’s booths showcased the services of local green entrepreneurs. One of these people was Mark Ehrhadt of Movers Not Shakers, a moving company that fuels its trucks with biodiesel and uses plastic bins called “Gotham boxes” in place of cardboard. Ehrhardt told me that the company was founded eight years ago and went green in 2006. Brooklyn is their primary market, he said, but they operate around the tri-state area, and venture up and down the coast and as far west as Chicago. They charge a flat rate and their prices are comparable to those of regular moving companies (but guilt-free).
At the booth across the street, Donna Hope from Vokashi explained to me the Japanese method of fermenting food waste that her company promotes—placing kitchen scraps in an airtight bucket and letting nonpathogenic microorganisms decompose the food waste. Hope said that this is better than the traditional method of letting food rot outside because “there’s no smell, no pathogens, no fruit flies and you’re not creating greenhouse gases.” And if you don’t have a garden, Vokashi will pick up your bucket and take it to a community garden, urban farm or park.
Attiya Anthony and her co-workers at Tri-State Biodiesel collect waste cooking oil from restaurants (who are more than happy to get rid of their extra grease), clean it and convert it to biodiesel, which they then sell to trucking companies like Movers Not Shakers. They assured me it’s easier than ever for companies and individuals alike to convert regular diesel engines to run only on biofuel.
Scratchbread, located in Bed-Stuy, was one of several food vendors catering to the festival’s hungry, but they stood out for their impeccable presentation and wacky food combinations (the sweet and sour combo in their chai sticky bun was a bit too experimental for me). Scratchbread employee Robert Quintyne told me their food isn’t all organic, “It’s just made with a lot of love, and we try to source local as much as possible.”
The Mobile Libris table was sure to catch the eye of eco-conscious bookworms with its display of classic conservation titles like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring alongside how-to manuals like The Lazy Environmentalist and The Lazy Environmentalist on a Budget by Josh Dorfman (The perfect book for students).
At a table cluttered with multicolored markers and (hopefully recycled) drawing paper, four-year-old Eliza Lamster concentrated on coloring a lobster the perfect shades of pink and red while her mother, Anna Kuchment, shared with me their impressions of the festival.
Kuchment told me they came out because they live on the street, and their favorite things so far were the ice cream truck and the Biobus, where a scientist showed them leaves and seeds under a microscope (Magic School Bus flashbacks, anyone?).
“I’m especially interested in the Gowanus Canal—you can’t live in this neighborhood without being concerned (about it),” she added.
GreenHomeNYC volunteer Zach Schwanbeck also said that the highlight of the festival, for him, was the connections that were made and the attention the event drew to the neighborhood and the Gowanus Canal, which was recently designated a SuperFund cleanup site. The Gowanus Canal Conservancy had a booth at the festival and conducted canoe tours of the canal throughout the day.
The best part of the festival (in my humble opinion) was docked at the Gowanus Canal waterfront, two blocks from the street fest: Jerko, a motorless houseboat decked out with a built-in wetland, rainwater harvest system, solar heating, solar photo voltaics, and a composting toilet, and painted to resemble a marine habitat. (Seriously, this boat was a mini, eco-friendly Black Pearl, that’s how awesome we’re talking.)
John Ziggler (who very slightly resembled Captain Jack) and the boat’s other owners gave tours every half hour, and every tour from 3:30-6pm was booked full. A few local musicians helped tide the crowd over while they were waiting to see the boat. Dick Richard and Wilder Lee of the Bed-Stuy-based band Crooks and Perverts strummed some bluegrass on their banjos at one end of the boat, while DJ Adam Silver busted out dance music at the other.
GreenHomeNYC Program Director Erik Nevala-Lee said that his organization held the festival in part because they recognize it’s important to situate their green building at 3rd and Bond within the context of the local community; to examine how any green building is connected with its local infrastructure, water, transportation and environment.
“Cities generally, and New York City specifically, are some of the most sustainable places per capita you can find, and a lot of that is out of necessity,” Nevala-Lee remarked, adding that New Yorkers “may not be making the best or the most environmentally responsible decisions, but they are at least aware” of the financial and environmental costs of their choices.
GreenHome also planned the festival so that it coincided with the American Solar Energy Society’s national solar tour, “when there are open house sustainability tours across the country,” Nevala-Lee stated.
The block party brought together non-profits like GreenHomeNYC and Sustainable Flatbush, who advocate for sustainable practices and educate the public about their benefits, with green businesses that put these principles to work. Nevala-Lee commented that, “It’s exciting to see the outgrowth and expansion (of the movement), and the involvement of actual practitioners.”
“I do think today is proof that people do pay attention and care about their impact on their life, health, community, environment and planet,” he concluded.
In a September 13th press release, GreenHomeNYC Board Member Gita Nandan explained that the festival would be held in Brooklyn because, “Brooklyn is the ideal place to launch the event because there is so much can-do, creative energy in the borough. We worked hard to capture exciting things happening here as well as give attendees that extra inspiration to make simple changes to go ‘green’.”
So if Brooklyn’s arts scene and cheap(er) rent hadn’t convinced you that it’s the best borough, maybe its eco-friendliness will.