The last decade has seen a spectacular increase in environmental awareness. Optimism abounds with an administration in power sympathetic to grass roots green activism, the kind of local consciousness that’s springing up all over New York. From urban farming to green tech, this city is on the verge of becoming an eco leader among American cities, and here are 21 reasons why…
Best Green Operation That Sort of Uses the Whole "Terrorist Cell" Model
Best Ghetto Populist Firebrand Eco-Reformer
Best Thing Ever (Just About)
Best Green Office Building That May Someday Develop Sentience
Best Way to Get Little Kids Not to Step on Worms
Best Freakishly Green Bakery
Best Green Restaurant You Could Take Your Rich Aunt to
Best Green Restaurant You Could Take Your Haute Cuisine Food Snob to
The Best Way to Get Here From Waterworld
Best Green Salvage Construction Store
Best Way to Maybe Make the Subways Green
Best Place to Get Your Groceries in Greenpoint
Best Contest That May or May Not Lead to Inter-Neighborhood Sabotage
Best Direct Action Environmental Organization That's Old Enough to Buy Booze
Best Independent Eco General Store
Best Environmental Objective Lesson for Children of the Rich and Famous
Best Use of God's Old House ('Cause He's Long Gone...)
Best Urban Farm Where a Farm is Needed
Best (or at Least Most Noble) Attempt to Restore Public Transportation to a Neighborhood
Best (only) Farm Museum in New York
Best Green Wiki
BEST GREEN OPERATION THAT SORT OF USES THE WHOLE "TERRORIST CELL" MODEL
In an effort to convert the bulbs of New York to long-lasting, energy-efficient CFL (compact fluorescent tube) bulbs, RelightNY organizes and tracks the progress of loosely affiliated "teams" who adopt buildings with the goal of converting them to CFLs. And yes, there's a whiff of missionary zeal in this, but it's pretty badly needed, don't you think?
BEST GHETTO POPULIST FIREBRAND ECO-REFORMER
Majora Carter, Sustainable South Bronx
One of the oldest reactionary strategies to undermine the call for environmental change is to declare it the sole province of the rich. And while green products can be expensive, this is kind of just another way of saying "the poors can live in garbage and eat garbage," to which we're sure Majora Carter would say "oh really?" Responsible for creating the South Bronx greenway in 1999 (no easy task under the Giuliani regime), Carter now consults with local communities on environmental remediation and developing viable green-collar micro-economies, maintaining the firm belief that "you shouldn't have to move out of your neighborhood to live in a better one." To which we say, "cool."
BEST THING EVER (Just About)
Red Hook Community Farm
Much ink has been spilled about this iconic symbol of the urban farm movement in Brooklyn (and yes, in Brooklyn, nine years is plenty of time to gain icon status). Founded in 2000 by Michael Huritz and Ian Marvy, the Red Hook Community Farm (and its concomitant organization, Added Value) has employed countless neighborhood kids, bringing both economic and nutritional benefits to the area, along with a Red Hook Greenmarket! We hereby propose that nearby behemoth Ikea start selling stuff from the Red Hook Community Farm — everybody wins, right?
BEST GREEN OFFICE BUILDING THAT MAY SOMEDAY DEVELOP SENTIENCE
Norman Foster's Hearst Tower
It may not be perfect, but Foster's gold-certified LEED office building is a good place to start (even though we should've started 15 years ago) — or perhaps we just really want to talk about all the cool features: rain catchment on the roof that serves to water plants and replenish air conditioning; off-angle siting (so it's not square to the adjacent buildings, providing more natural light); light sensors that monitor (and reduce) interior lighting based on natural light; activity sensors that control both lighting and computers; the use of outside air for cooling and ventilation up to 80 percent of the year. So yeah, one day the building will come alive and hunt down all its non-green inhabitants, Hal style. Obviously.
BEST WAY TO GET LITTLE KIDS NOT TO STEP ON WORMS
Feed a Worm, Not a Landfill
Matthew Sheehan, a former elementary school teacher (and father of a first grader) has overseen the implementation of 15 worm composting bins at P.S. 146, The Brooklyn New School, part of a larger project he has in mind for converting cafeteria waste into compost. Called "Feed a Worm, Not a Landfill," Sheehan's idea would see 100 percent of school food waste turned into compost by vermiculture compost systems (VCSs), which would then be sold and/or used on the school's garden. And then little kids would start naming individual worms, which would be cool.
BEST FREAKISHLY GREEN BAKERY
Build a Green Bakery (Birdbath)
Not only are the floors made from reclaimed wood, the cups made from corn, the walls made from wheat, the pastries themselves made from local, organic ingredients (well, flour from "east of the Mississippi"), but if you arrive by bicycle or skateboard, you get a 25 percent discount. How fucking rad is that? Also, wind powered. A project of the City Bakery, Birdbath now has two locations to serve your green baking needs: 223 First Ave, 145 Seventh Ave South.
BEST GREEN RESTAURANT YOU COULD TAKE YOUR RICH AUNT TO
Uptown vegetarian stalwart Candle Café (1037 Third Ave) does all the responsible things: composting wasted food, comprehensive recycling, alternative electric power, recycled paper for menus, non-toxic everything. Of course, they're also vegetarian, local (as much as possible) and organic, three vital approaches to food that are as important for our own health as they are for the health of the planet. Seriously, the American food-industrial complex is just about the worst thing for the Earth we can think of; and please don't bring out the old saw of feeding a starving planet with vast monocrops: we have more food here than we know what to do with.
BEST GREEN RESTAURANT YOU COULD TAKE YOUR HAUTE CUISINE FOOD SNOB TO
If Candle Café is your Chanel-wearing stepmother, Dirt Candy (430 E. 9th St) would be your Westwood-wearing kooky aunt. They make no outward claims to any kind of ideological position (though they are very eco-minded, as a matter of course), but focus rather on how interesting, even experimental, a kitchen can get with vegetables (aka, dirt candy). Standouts include: jalapeño hush puppies with maple butter, grits topped with pickled shiitake, and zucchini ginger cake. The level of inventiveness (and risk taking) here is sure to impress even the snootiest haute cuisine enthusiast.
THE BEST WAY TO GET FROM HERE TO WATERWORLD
The Waterpod Project
It's always been our fantasy to leave civilization behind and go sailing on a self-sustaining farm boat where we can live in harmony with the environment and make art. That's why as soon as this issue hits stands, we're dropping everything and joining Mary Mattingly and her rag-tag posse of artists, designers, farmers and engineers aboard the Waterpod Project. After three years of planning, designing, building and tweaking, the retro-fitted barge, functional farm, exhibition space and sustainable artists' community is currently on its summer-long maiden voyage around the five boroughs. We're planning to stow away on the Waterpod sometime between August 4 and 17, when it's moored at Brooklyn Bridge Park.
BEST GREEN SALVAGE CONSTRUCTION STORE
Build It Green!
Look into any construction dumpster in New York at any given moment and you'll get an eyeful of building materials that three-quarters of the world's populace would gladly use (and that's during a recession; the level of material waste during the boom of the last decade was truly obscene). Sadly, we all can't go rummaging through containers for wainscoting, but that's where the good folks at Build It Green! come in. Besides doing yeoman's work scavenging the five boroughs (and beyond) for anything useful to reuse in construction (which is good for you), all the proceeds from the heavily discounted material goes to support Solar 1's environmental education programs (which is good for everyone).
BEST WAY TO MAYBE MAKE THE SUBWAYS GREEN
If you've flown through San Francisco Airport recently, you may have noticed stands near your gate selling carbon offsets for travelers wary of their flight's environmental footprint. Well, the MTA is contemplating a somewhat similar plan to help finance the greening of New York's public transportation systems. According to a proposed plan, every time you refill your Metrocard, buy a ticket, pay a toll or what-have-you, the vending machine will ask whether you'd like to donate money that will be used exclusively to help fund the MTA's environmental projects. No word yet on whether said donations will be tax-deductible.
BEST PLACE TO GET YOUR GROCERIES IN GREENPOINT
Eagle Street Rooftop Farm
Sure, everybody wants to have a rooftop farm (right?), but who can really afford to create and keep one in this economy? Appropriately, former stock trader Ben Flanner is the man (and the money) behind New York's biggest fully functional rooftop farm, a 6,000 square foot number on Eagle Street in Greenpoint. Of course it's by no means a solo effort — as they say, "it takes a borough to raise some crops" — and Flanner's been getting help from local businesses buying his produce, nearby cafés and barbershops donating grounds and hair clippings for compost, manure from Kensington Stables for fertilizer and a dedicated team of volunteer farmers.
BEST CONTEST THAT MAY OR MAY NOT LEAD TO INTER-NEIGHBORHOOD SABATOGE
The Greenest Block in Brooklyn Contest
Brought to you by Greenbridge, a "community environmental horticultural program" of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, this contest is pretty much what it sounds like: a no-holds-barred battle for ultimate green block status (in both commercial and residential categories). The current title-holder is 8th Street between Eight Avenue and Prospect Park West, in Park Slope (shocker, there), and there's still time to enter and knock the snooty Slopers off their green pedestal. Categories also include Best Street Tree Beds, Greenest Storefront, Best Window Box and Best Community Garden Streetscape. (Also shocking, Williamsburg hasn't placed in any of the categories, ever.)
BEST DIRECT ACTION ENVIRONMENTAL ORGANIZATION THAT'S OLD ENOUGH TO BUY BOOZE
Time's Up! NYC
These guys have been fighting the good fight for over 20 years, from way back when "environmentalist" conjured the image of bearded, knit cap-wearing dudes fighting off a whaler with their bare hands (and there's nothing wrong with that image). To survive two decades of thankless, under-funded righteous campaigning is no small thing, but Time's Up! has done more than merely survive. One huge thing they've been advocating for two decades has been a more bike-friendly New York City, and maybe, just maybe, after all the Critical Masses and Central Park Moonlight Rides and the heartbreaking Ghost Bike project, the city has begun to respond with actual bike lanes. Hats off to you, Time's Up!, for being such a big part of making that happen.
BEST INDEPENDENT ECO GENERAL STORE
This charming little store at 139 Avenue A is pretty much a one-stop shopping spot for environmentally friendly products — it sort of has the charm of an old-school general store, with all sorts of random, interesting stuff to look at (there's even a tiny café with delicious snacks, including a great cup of organic Catskill Mountain coffee). From eco flip-flops to hybrid solar-powered chargers to cleaning products to eco-chocolate, you don't have to check the labels on anything (though you always should, as it helps to know stuff). Go there, spend your money, and go back again.
BEST ENVIRONMENTAL OBJECTIVE LESSON FOR CHILDREN OF THE RICH AND FAMOUS
P.S. 6 Roof Garden
When we were in elementary school, we had a dinky little roof garden with a few planters and a lot of steel mesh to prevent pre-pre-teen suicide. P.S. 6, the U.E.S. Old School, alma mater for numerous celebs like J.D. "I'll Sue You" Salinger, recently broke ground on the roof garden of the future: not only will there be outdoor gardening, but also a greenhouse, solar energy panels and a pond(!). All those things help to control climate change, and some of them provide food. For most of us, though, it'll be just one more roof to covet when you fly over NYC in a plane, look out from an elevated subway track, or stand on a friend's roof (while coveting that roof as well).
BEST USE OF GOD'S OLD HOUSE ('Cause He's Long Gone...)
While the P.S. 6 kiddies learn about ecology, Gotham Greens, who last brought you greenhouses on a boat, are kicking it up a notch: they just won New York's Green Business Competition with their plans for a garden in Jamaica, Queens, on the roof of a church. "Won't that just use a lot of power?" No! It'll have solar panels! "Well, it couldn't produce that much food." Wrong! They plan to produce 30 tons of produce. "That's a lot of food; won't that require a lot of our water?" No! It's using captured-rainwater irrigation. "Great, more gas-guzzling trucks driving food around." It'll be delivered by vans running on biodiesel! "Wow, it's really hard to be cynical about this project." Yes, it is. (Until you hear evil corporation Whole Foods plans to be a major buyer.)
BEST URBAN FARM WHERE A FARM IS NEEDED
But you don't need your own churchtop to start a garden — just a little empty space. The Brooklyn Rescue Mission, already doing great work as a food pantry in underserved Bed-Stuy, has converted a vacant lot behind its headquarters into the Bed-Stuy Farm. Now, they're participating in Farmer's Markets, distributing local produce, even facilitating the neighborhood's Community Supported Agriculture group. Now that's a project it's hard to get cynical about.
BEST (or at Least Most Noble) ATTEMPT TO RESTORE PUBLIC
TRANSPORTATION TO A NEIGHBORHOOD
Heather McCown, Sunset-Ridge Waterfront Alliance
Some neighborhoods use cars a lot more than others; Brooklyn's Bay Ridge is one such community, where more than a third of residents commute to work by automobile (Park Slope's rate is about half of that). Enter Heather McCown, once a lady with a petition and a clipboard, now a co-founder and executive officer of the Sunset-Ridge Waterfront Alliance, an organization that, while promoting recycling and hosting Green Fairs, is pushing to restore long-shuttered ferry service to the neighborhood's pier; then, the Wall Street tycoons, living in their Shore Road mansions, can water taxi to their Battery Park office-palaces rather than take the Lexus.
BEST (only) FARM MUSEUM IN NEW YORK
Queens County Farm Museum
Not only does it host one of the city's only county fairs (yee...haw?), but the Queens County Farm Museum (73-50 Little Neck Pkwy) also promotes all sorts of localisms, from drinking upstate wine and eating upstate produce to hosting presentations on sustainable farming and renewable energy. They've also been known to party down with "pagan-inspired rituals," like in The Wicker Man (Christopher Lee version, because it has more singing).
BEST GREEN WIKI
Started by a former Pratt student, the gentrifiest of the gentrifiers (no offense Cecilia), this website works as a wiki, but for things more important than the life and times of Michael Jackson (no offense entire staff): like, how can I plant a tree on my block? Or, how can I start composting? The site allows members of Brooklyn and a few other cities to trade advice and specific knowledge on local, environmentally friendly programs; it doesn't just identify sustainable environment problems, but the sustainable environment solutions as well. •