Vertical Gardens – Living Walls

As a NY living wall installer I just devoured Garden Up, Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces by Susan Morrison and Rebecca Sweet.

Humans have become very good at building up with cement and metal. We cover large parts of the planet with buildings of all sizes. We all see the value of building upwards in this way and we rejoice with each building built.

Humans are also very good at planting in the flat ground. We can make beautiful gardens and abundant farms. And of course we all see the value in that too.

But for some reason this obsession with building up has yet to apply to gardens. It is just not done. It is not part of our global culture. Most people would feel an empty back yard is a waste and that it should be planted. But nobody walks by a building and says, “Look at that wall, how come they haven’t planted it yet?”

ugly wall in need of a living wall installer

This cultural view point is global and a reflection of our inability to see nature as our partner. We think it is perfectly fine to build massive cities devoid of nature, as if humans and nature can be separated without deadly consequences.

As we evolve we need to bring nature with us. We can’t leave nature behind. People leave their home town and go to the city. Over time they may see their childhood friends back in the little town as less sophisticated than city dwellers.

In our arrogance we view nature the same way. In our arrogance we think we can live without nature. But increasingly as our planet becomes hostile to our destructive habits nature is telling us otherwise.

One of the solutions to reintegrating humans and nature is growing up, double pun intended. Better said I mean planting up. A human made wall should be seen as a dead space in need of plants.

Living walls should become as necessary as insulation and windows on a building. We can’t afford to waste such valuable real estate. Our survival depends on increasing our exposure to nature and walls are the key.

Garden-design-with-vertical-wall

Eco Brooklyn has invested a lot of time researching the best vertical wall and living wall installations for the New York environment. We have become active living wall installers for the NY area. New York of all cities, currently devoid of living walls and yet famous for building up with concrete, needs good living wall installers.

The Garden Up book is a step in the right direction. A handbook for DYI homeowners, the book discusses the many styles and techniques of turning your garden vertical. It may simply be a narrow part of the garden where the only space is upwards.

They suggest design styles for layering plants so that you can maximize your ground space. They list good plants and trees that are tall and slender.

They also cover the different kinds of living walls – non-soil systems, soil systems, pocketed structures, modular planting, irrigated, non-irrigated etc.

Don’t expect an in depth explanation of how to install large living walls. The book is more an idea book and an intro to what exists as options. It is full of wonderful pictures and easy small DIY projects. And don’t expect a list of native plants. They list lots of plants and it is up to you to make sure which plants are native to your area.

It isn’t a farm gardening book either. It touches on edible gardens but the techniques outlined in the book won’t solve world hunger.

The main benefit of the book is that is proposes the idea that gardening upwards is a viable and beautiful thing. The book adds to the discussion and cultural viewpoint that growing up is as normal as growing flat.

In todays society where building upwards is commonplace we need to catch up and grow upwards as well. Our balance with nature and the planet depends on it.

vertical garden installation

plants-on-wall

Eco Brooklyn is a NY living wall installer. We install sedum walls, grass walls and mixed plant walls. Vertical gardens and living walls is an increasing part of our business as we expand into ecological gardening, green roofs and living walls. We focus on low maintenance soil living walls that consume little potable water or gray water and harvested rain water.

We combine the living wall with other parts of the house so that the household gray water is reused to feed the wall. We set up rain water collection systems to route the water into the wall instead of into the sewer. The idea is to create beauty out of waste and ugliness. We take a barren wall, combine it with waste water that normally floods our sewers and rivers and turn the ingredients into a vibrant beautiful space.

The synergies are many – we divert water from sewers, increase the insulation value of the wall, increase the beauty, increase the flora and fauna of the neighborhood and ultimately help re-balance the human/nature relationship.

We do this with all out New York green contractor work but being a living wall installer is especially poignant since the addition of life is so startling in contrast to the barren wall we cover. Simply put, we love it!

Department of Buildings Offsite Folder Request

Everyone in the NYC building industry has their personal horror story of dealing with the Department of Buildings.

My favorite: I was looking for some information and I was sent to seven different offices, eventually ending up at the first office I visited. It was like a sick joke.

One time I was looking for a property folder. Records Department said Certificate of Occupancy Department had it. Certificate of Occupancy Department said Records Department had it. I must have gone back and forth between the two departments ten times begging for some sanity. They eventually told me my engineer must have lied about dropping it off. Finally somebody found the folder abandoned in a corner. WTF??

My most recent frustrating encounter with them was when I wanted to retrieve a building folder from the off-site storage area. You need to make the request via Email. Simple enough, except nobody knew the email…

I called one number I got of the web site that also doesn’t list the email), no answer, but it did offer a list of seven other numbers I could call. None of the other numbers answered. But they did offer the number of all the other numbers. So I found myself calling in circles.

A couple times I got somebody on the line they transferred me to voice-mail. I left a message (I called back three times and left three actually). A week has gone by with no call back.

After hours of calling around, I had amassed twelve numbers that theoretically should help me….

Finally I find yet another number and somebody responds who has the email.

So here it is, if you need to request a folder from the Brooklyn Department of Buildings you need to email BROOKLYN-OFFSITE@BUILDINGS.NYC.GOV

Passive House Conference

Passive House Architecture and Building Conference in New York Will Present Critical Blueprints for Mitigating Climate Change by Increasing Building Efficiency

Passive House, an international building standard, is the only proven architectural and building method that can enable the dramatic carbon reductions called for by the international scientific community.

New York City (PRWEB) May 19, 2014

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment released in April and the third U.S. National Climate Assessment released this month, both state clearly the need to radically reduce our carbon emissions by 2050 or face disastrous runaway climate change. Scientists also report that we have just reached one irreversible tipping point, the melting of the West Antarctic ice shelf.

In the last month, political leaders from President Obama to New York Governor Cuomo have called for increased building efficiency as a way to address climate change. On May 5th, New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio called for the construction of 200,000 units of affordable housing, and specified that they be environmentally sustainable.

The NY14 Passive House Conference and Expo on June 17th will benefit stakeholders working in climate change mitigation, community and power supply resiliency, environmental sustainability, energy efficiency and affordable housing. The presentations will detail current design and building strategies that have succeeded in dramatically reducing energy consumption of apartment buildings, schools, shops and office buildings, for both new construction and in retrofitting existing buildings.

Buildings are responsible for approximately forty percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. In New York City, buildings account for approximately seventy-five percent of carbon emissions, according to former Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC Greater Greener Buildings Plan report. A Passive House building uses ninety percent less heating and cooling energy than a typical building, while offering comfort and resiliency. Ken Levenson, President of New York Passive House, expects NY14 Passive House to be “the most in-depth conference program to address building efficiency and climate change mitigation ever held in the U.S.”

The keynote speaker will be Dr. Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, the coordinating lead author for the IPCC report that led to the group receiving the 2007 Nobel Prize. She will provide a critical look at the recent IPCC Fifth Assessment, the 2050 carbon reduction goals and the pivotal role of building efficiency.

“When thinking about climate change mitigation many are focused on renewable energy production,” says Richard Leigh, Director of Research at Urban Green Council. “But to make a decarbonized power grid achievable, it’s critical that we also lock dramatic energy reductions into the fabric of what we build and renovate. The more energy savings we lock in, the easier and more economical the decarbonization task becomes. And Passive House offers a proven and practical way to achieve the savings we need.”

In a panel entitled “The Energy Puzzle,” Mr. Leigh will be joined by Tomás O’Leary, Passive House Academy founder, Jeffrey Perlman, founder of Bright Power, and others from the renewable energy and power distribution sectors. They will discuss the essential interplay between building efficiency and a decarbonized grid, the emergence of Nearly Zero Energy Buildings (NZEBs) and Passive House certifications that encourage energy positive buildings.

A series of presentations will feature specific Passive House building projects by leading practitioners from around the world, including:

  •     A multi-family apartment building by Chris Benedict, Chris Benedict Architect (New York)
  •     Primary school and university buildings by Jonathan Hines, Architype (London)
  •     Dormitory housing by Brian Kavanagh, Kavanagh Tuite Architects (Dublin)
  •     Brussels Greenbizz city district by Sabine Laribaux, Architectes Associés (Brussels)

 

One session will demonstrate retrofit strategies across New York City from Borough Park and Brownstone Brooklyn, to a condominium conversion in Tribeca. The majority of buildings that will be standing in the coming decades already exist today. Therefore, retrofitting building stock to the highest levels of efficiency during the normal course of component replacement and renovation is essential in the implementation of an effective citywide energy strategy.

Projects to be presented from the New York area that meet Passive House retrofit, or “EnerPHit,” standards, include:

 

  •     Tribeca Condo EnerPHit by Stas Zakrzewski, Zakrzewski + Hyde Architects (Manhattan)
  •     Borough Park Ambulance Dispatch Center EnerPHit by Gregory Duncan, Gregory Duncan Architect (Brooklyn)
  •     Brownstone Brooklyn EnerPHit by Cramer Silkworth, Baukraft Engineering (Brooklyn)
  •     Red Hook Sound Studio EnerPHit by Ryan Enschede, Ryan Enschede Studio (Brooklyn)
  •     Bedford-Stuyvesant Wood Frame EnerPHit by David White, Right Environments (Brooklyn)

 

New York’s iconic skyscrapers can also achieve Passive House performance. Lois Arena of Steven Winter Associates (New York) will present on the unique challenges of low-energy, high-rise construction.

A session on the finance and economics of Passive House construction will begin with a detailed examination of a dental clinic by Adam Cohen of Passiv Science (Virginia). The panel discussion will be moderated by Jeremy Smerd, Managing Editor of Crain’s New York Business and include Rob Conboy of Better (US), Larry Sprague of Sustainable Energy Funding Program (US), Melissa Ruttner of BuildForward Capital (New York), and Andrew Padian of The Community Preservation Corporation (New York).

The day will conclude with a survey of the latest international Passive House developments, presented by leading consultant Günter Lang (Vienna). A panel discussion will follow, moderated by William Menking, Editor-In-Chief of The Architect’s Newspaper, covering the potential impact of Passive House in New York and featuring former Mayor Bloomberg’s Deputy Director for Green Building and Energy Efficiency Laurie Kerr, and Urban Green Council Executive Director Russell Unger.

Over 30 of the leading Passive House component and service providers will also be exhibiting, including Platinum Sponsor, IT Windows and Doors; and Gold Sponsors, Zehnder America ventilation systems, European Architectural Supply windows and doors, and Passive House training provider Association for Energy Affordability.

AIA HSW continuing education credits will be available to qualified attending professionals.

Event Information:

 

  •     Name: NY14 Passive House Conference and Expo
  •     Date: June 17, 2014
  •     Time: Registration begins 8am, Expo open until 6:30pm
  •     Location: Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 West 18th Street, New York, NY

 

For more information and to register for the event see the NY14PH Conference registration page.

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About New York Passive House:

New York Passive House (NYPH) is a New York State tax exempt trade organization which promotes the Passive House building energy standard in New York State and the New York City metropolitan area. NYPH provides public outreach, education, support of industry professionals and advocacy to support the success and vitality of the Passive House community. See nypassivehouse.org.

About the Passive House standard:

Passive House is an international building standard developed by the Passive House Institute in Darmstadt Germany, which represents a roughly ninety percent reduction in heating and cooling energy usage and up to a seventy-five percent reduction in primary energy usage from existing building stock – meant to aggressively meet the climate crisis carbon reduction imperative while making a comfortable, healthy and affordable built environment. Passive House is the most cost effective pathway toward the growing demand for net-zero or nearly-net-zero construction. Passive House is also a methodology that requires designers to consider orientation, massing, insulation, heat recovery, passive use of solar energy, solar shading, elimination of thermal bridges, and internal heat sources. The term Passive House may also be used to refer to a building that has been tested and certified to meet the Passive House standard. Passive House buildings are extremely energy efficient, healthy, and comfortable for occupants; predictable to manage, and resilient by design. See passivehouse.com.

Exterior Shades – The Anti-Heat Wave of the Future

Temperature has assuredly become a hot topic in offices throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan during the recent heat wave. Eco Brooklyn’s office is no exception to the heat. However, we have a unique approach to the problem.

Passive housing has been a cornerstone of environmental design since the ancient Greeks and Romans (check out this article on the history of passive housing: http://www.planetseed.com/relatedarticle/energy-efficient-building-passive-heating-and-cooling). While technology and techniques have become more advanced, many of the principles used by the ancients have stood the test of time. Most notably, this includes the use of exterior shades to protect from heat in the summer while allowing sunlight in during the winter.

Exterior shades differ from internal shades in a few major ways. Perhaps the biggest difference is that when using internal shades, the sunlight is allowed to enter the room through the window. The heat will be trapped inside of the shades. As it dissipates on the interior, the home is heated much faster.

The second major difference between interior and exterior shades is the dynamic ways one can utilize external shades and shutters. For example, the use of an overhang is an effective way of using angles to shade the windows during the summer when the sun is high. When the sun is lower in the winter, the sun can enter the room under the overhang.

Furthermore, this concept of exterior shading offers an opportunity for synergy – a mark of sustainability in the green building community. Currently, Eco Brooklyn’s offices employ the use of internal honeycomb shades, which are highly effective at absorbing heat. However, we have plans of making an even more effective and synergistic approach. Namely, we would like to install an exterior overhang to accomplish the above-stated goals; with one catch: We will install solar panels on the overhang to absorb the heat and reroute it to power the house. This is a great example of an integrated solar power system.

As global temperatures and sea levels continue to rise across the world (especially in NYC: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/10/new-york-city-flooding-by-2050_n_3417348.html), New Yorkers will be expected to assume a heavy burden of increasing energy bills. One way to combat these growing expenses is by building green. Passive housing is a great way to not only take advantage of the Earth’s natural energy, but prevent it from escaping your house as well.

Another approach to natural cooling is to use a green facade, or living wall. This concept involves the use of growing vines and other vegetation in a vertical direction to cover a wall or other surface of a building that is in direct sunlight. Green walls can vary in design and allow room for creativity. For further information on green walls check out this link: http://www.greenscreen.com/direct/GS_AdvancedGreenFacadeDesign.pdf

A thermal camera reveals the cooling factor of a green wall over solid surfaces.

A thermal camera reveals the cooling factor of a green wall over solid surfaces.

Christopher Jeffrey

Klearwall Windows and Doors

Eco Brooklyn was visited today by Klearwall Industries. Klearwall is a certified Passive House windows company. Originally based in Ireland, Klearwall is looking to make its mark in the US market. They offer triple-paned windows and doors for domestic and commercial needs, ranging from single-window installation to entire buildings. Their windows are billed as eco-clad, future-proof, and affordable. All of this is with good reason. 

Klearwall boasts an R-Value as high as 9.8hr.ft².˚F/BTU, which results in a 60% to 74% solar heat gain (depending on single or double glaze). Their PVC frame option is guaranteed to last 35 years and is sold at a bargain of approximately $33 per square foot.

Klearwall’s products are designed, fitted, and tempered in Ireland and shipped to the United States. Their plant is one of the largest carbon neutral factories in Europe and is powered solely by renewable energy. They offer a range of products – from windows in all-wood, aluminum, PVC, or a combination. The PVC and aluminum used is recycled from salvage jobs and treated at the plant.

As a pioneer in passive housing, Eco Brooklyn is always interested in companies such as Klearwall for their business strategy and philosophy. We wish them all the best as they try to help make New York a greener place.

Check out their website at http://www.klearwall.com/

A model of Klearwall triple paned window.

A model of Klearwall triple paned window.

NYC Updated Flood Zone Maps

FEMA reveiled updated flood zone maps two weeks ago, which doubles the previous estimated number of at risk New Yorkers to 400,000 residents and 70,000 buildings. These numbers are still proposed, and will take up to two years of reviews to become official, after which building regulations will be affected.

 

flood zone map

 Proposed updated flood zone map, courtesy of http://maps.nyc.gov/hurricane/

At the city level, Mayor Bloomberg addressed the escalating risk of rising sea levels and powerful storm surge by proposing a $20 billion storm protection plan following the announcement of the newly proposed maps. The recommendations include building seawalls and a protective “Seaport City” south of the Brooklyn Bridge. The full report can be found here.

In the meantime, residents are already affected financially by increased insurance premium rates, and faced with the costly dilemma of raising their houses above the base flood elevation. As a green builder, Eco Brooklyn is involved in several projects focused on the effects of  rising flood waters and nearby contamination. Residences in flood prone areas are constructed with the expectation of flooding to the first floor. We therefore choose to build through processes that reduce water damage, such as waterproof installation and minimizing the use of sheetrock. We encourage the cellar to be used largely for storage only and elevate all mechanical items such as the boiler to above the ground level. Total protection is not ensured, but the reduction of damage risk is the best that can be done for smaller residences where moving out is not an option, and elevating an entire house is too costly a measure.

In light of these proposed flood zone maps, Eco Brooklyn highly recommends that residents assess their new risk level and what preventative measures can be undertaken to ensure the future safety of their families.

-Liza Chiu

Apartment Complex in Flood-Prone Toxic Site

An Eco Brooklyn blog reader recently brought up the June 1st deadline for comments on the Brownfield Cleanup Program application submitted by Lightstone Group for their proposed 12-story, 700-unit development at 363-365 Bond Street, right on the edge of the Gowanus Canal. This reader shared with us that they are very much against building such a project in that area. We agree. It makes no sense.

Photo courtesy of Pardonmeforasking

 As most of you know, the Gowanus Canal was once used as an industrial waterway, served as a dumping ground for industrial waste, and continues to collect raw sewage especially when the local sewer system is overwhelmed by storm runoff. It is so toxic that the EPA declared it a Superfund site in March 2010, one of two in the New York City metropolitan area.

Did we mention that it is extremely flood-prone? Here is a picture of the water on Carroll St & Bond St after Hurricane Sandy, which brought on many contamination concerns for the neighborhoods’ residents.

Photo courtesy of the Observer

In short, Eco Brooklyn does not believe that building a massive apartment complex in a flood zone next to a toxic site is the best idea. It is one of the worst we can think of actually. It seems to be driven by many things, profit being a huge factor, but common sense and community interest are not in the equation.

As a green builder with experience in flood management construction Eco Brooklyn is involved in several projects where rising flood waters and nearby contamination are considerations. These are for smaller residences where moving is currently not an option.

But we would never encourage a new building be built in such an area. The only exception is if it were designed as a type of house boat so it could rise with the surge. A 700 unit house boat isn’t really going to work. Maybe we can just park an ocean cruiser on the Gowanus and be done with it.

–Liza Chiu

Snake Propagation Brooklyn Style

We are building a native habitat at the Eco Brooklyn show house, inspired by the Mannahatta Project – what NY was like in the 1600’s before white settlers. The ecosystems on the property are full of native plants, animals and layouts. This week we went upstate and collected two Garter snakes. We hope the trauma of removing them from their home is smaller than the benefits of increasing Brooklyn’s natural ecosystems. Below is a video showing our very rigid release protocol.

Leave Your Surroundings Cleaner Than When You Arrived

When I first started mentoring interns one of the first things I told them was that they always had to leave their work area cleaner than when they came to it. Over time this metaphor became the most powerful thing I think I can teach them.

Leave your surroundings cleaner than when you arrived…..

If that isn’t the most beautiful mantra to live by I don’t know what is. And unless it isn’t painfully obvious, by “cleaner” I don’t mean organized or disinfected. I mean leave nothing behind but footprints in the sand.

And because of the laws of entropy this does not mean simply not making a mess. By merely living you make a mess. Even the most austere yogi consumes, kills other creatures, and creates waste. So if you really want to leave the world cleaner than when you arrived you have to actively clean up.

And you can’t just clean up after yourself. Because the world is global and most of your mess is actually being made by a manufacturer across the planet, it isn’t enough to simply keep your own life clean. You have to proactively clean up after others if you want to even make a dent in the mess your life creates around the world.

As a New York green builder I am blessed by an occupation where I spend my days cleaning up after other people. So this mantra is easy for me. We are constantly salvaging other peoples’ garbage and creating beautiful eco homes out of it. I can think of nothing more satisfying than knowing each day I have made the world a better place. I am very grateful.

Here is a great clip on this topic that shows how you can create friendship, a sense of connection, a sense of purpose and a sense of fulfillment by simply picking up garbage. It is a powerful and simple message, and one that I plan on doing with my interns. We are going to the Gowanus Canal, which happens to be a block from the Eco Brooklyn Green Show House, with a bunch of garbage bags and a six pack of good beer to leave it cleaner than when we arrived.

How Can We Clean Up the Gowanus?

Before New York City as we know it today existed, the Gowanus was a tidal wetlands and stream ecosystem. In the 1860s, the area was dredged to become the Gowanus Canal, a major route for oil refineries, tanneries, chemical plants, manufactured-gas plants and other heavy industries who settled along the canal’s banks. These factories dumped wastes and leached pollutants like PCB’s and heavy metals into the water, putrefying it into a lifeless sludge.

NY green builders

By the 1960s much of these industries had left the area. Now the Gowanus’ is surrounded by residential neighborhoods like Carroll Gardens, Red Hook, and Park Slope. Despite industry’s absence, the water has remained so toxic that the US Environmental Protection Agency has declared it a Superfund site.

Though there have been efforts to clean the canal, we have not progressed far enough. In 1911, The Gowanus Flushing Tunnel was installed. This tunnel, in an attempt to get rid of the canal’s powerful stench, flushed its dirty water into the Buttermilk Channel. Alas this effort made little to no difference. In 1999, the water flow was reversed so that clean water from the Buttermilk Channel would be pumped into the Gowanus. The idea was to add oxygenated water to the canal to eliminate the anaerobic bacterias which cause the bad odor.

ny green roof

Today the odor has waned; though you can still get an unpleasant stench after a rainfall. Still the water remains contaminated. It is reported that the air around the canal is “acceptable” in terms of contamination standards. People have the right to use the canal for canoeing and such, but the EPA strongly warns against swimming in it or eating fish from the canal. Of course, “acceptable” is not good enough for those of us living near the canal.

The canal continues to be polluted today by toxins that are still leaching from the former industrial sites, street surface runoff, and combined sewage outflows (CSOs). CSOs are the city’s solution to flooding. When a rain is so heavy that a water treatment center cannot support the inflow of water, it will release a combination of raw sewage and rainwater into the ocean. (Watch a video)

brooklyn landscaping

Landscape architects and designers have proposed numerous ideas for how we can creatively rehabilitate the Gowanus Canal. “CSO-to-Go,” developed by Local Office Landscape Architecture, is one such design. The architects recognized that New York City’s waterfront property is too expensive to purchase for a city-funded project and worked their design around that reality. Their solution was a portable barge that would house a series of phytoremediation tanks. Each tank would hold plants that absorb specific contaminants like heavy metals, petrochemicals, and excess nutrients out of the water. The barge could be parked directly at the outflow point of the CSO; that way the dirty water is caught and treated before entering the ocean.

soil remediation

The barge could be moved to various other outflow points around the city. Residents and tourists could visit the site to learn more about the problem and the process of cleaning it up. They would even be able to monitor the pollution levels at each tank to see how well the  phytoremediating plants are working.

eco-landscaping

“CSO-to-Go” and related projects have yet to be implemented as they lack the funding needed. We hope the city of New York and the EPA continue to make strides in cleaning up the Gowanus Canal, but until then there are a few things that those of us  living in the Gowanus’ watershed (the area of land that eventually drains its water into the Gowanus– see image below) can do.

ny pond designer

By reducing our water consumption across the board, we can mitigate how much water we are putting into the sewer system. We can do this by installing low-flow faucets and shower heads, using native plants that require less intensive watering, and by making a conscious effort to reduce the amount of water we use on a daily basis. Also by creating more green spaces in our city, we can provide storm water with a place to infiltrate instead of washing over pavement and into the sewer system (see “Bioswale Basics“). This could be done by installing more garden space in your backyard or a green roof.

As an NY green contractor and landscape designer, Eco Brooklyn can help you find ways to reduce your water consumption in your home and increase your permeable surfaces/green spaces in your yard. Please contact us to learn more about how you can help protect the Gowanus!

 

By: Malone Matson

Das Haus New York

green builder brooklynLast week, the interns from Eco Brooklyn went to the Net Zero Symposium sponsored by Das Haus in White Plains, New York to hear lectures and view a model of Das Haus, a passivhaus model made from two shipping containers that functions completely off the grid.  The conference was held at the White Plains Public Library and about 100 people were present.

 

Das Haus (German for “The House”) is a traveling pavilion featuring German innovation in photovoltaics and energy efficiency. Das Haus is calling on ten cities across North America.  Das Haus tour hopes to accomplish two goals: introduce North America to Germany’s innovations in solar energy and green construction, and create an ongoing dialogue across the country about policies, construction materials and techniques, etc., regarding sustainable design.

 

During the Das Haus conference in New York, the lecturers were a mix of Germans and Americans.  The Americans who spoke are based in New York and addressed what is going on in the state.

Das Haus tour New York

 

Guy Sliker, from the New York Power Authority personified the attitudes of the typical American: America knows best, we’re number one, look at all that we have accomplished, go America!  Mr Sliker spent the majority of his speech listing numbers that prove these (mis)conceptions.  Mr Sliker was overconfident in New York Power Authority’s progress and too comfortable is the direction the ship is sailing.

 

Net Zero symposium New York

Kim Curran, PV Instructor from the Bronx Community College, gave a distilled explanation of how PV works and the challenges the industry is facing.  She gave a more realistic picture of the solar industry and the problems it is facing, such as bringing down cost, increasing efficiency, and the state of government incentives.  Kim’s and most of the other presenters’ presentations can be viewed here.

 

It is an amazing thing that some of Germany’s technology is coming over the pond to North America.  Germany has been using PV panels, energy efficient designs, and green roofs for decades and are lightyears ahead of North America in their development, understanding, and implementation of sustainable ideas.  This is a giant step for progress in North America.

 

Is New York the Next Venice?

Sea level rise on the East Coast  is accelerating at a rate much faster compared to the rest of the world. After analyzing tide levels data from North America, scientists have unexpectedly found that there is a 1,000 km-long sea-level rise (SLR) hotspot on the highly populated Eastern coast of North America.

 

The hot spot stretches from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, to the Boston area and continues to climb by about 2 to 3.8 millimeters a years- roughly 3-4 times higher than the global average.

Contrary to popular belief the global sea level is not rising at a consistent rate. The variations are the result of dynamic processes, which arise from circulation and variations in temperature and salinity, disruptions in Earth’s changing gravity, rotation and shape.

Sea levels are expected to rise as global warming continues to intensify, melting polar ice caps. As global temperatures continue to rise, the ocean absorbs the majority of the heat, resulting in the expansion of oceanic water.

Over 141,000 New York citizens are currently living within three feet of high tide- the same amount of sea level that will rise by 2100. It has also been reported that land 3.3 feet below sea level will one day be permanently underwater, this could occur within 100 years.

It is the potential of storms that should really have New Yorkers worried. The NY metro area hosts the nations highest density population that is vulnerable to the sea level rise.

It doesn’t help that the NY harbor is a funnel shade that would only help to magnify a storm surge.

Our homes and infrastructure are often built to withstand a “hundred-year storm”- a storm with such magnitude that there is a one percent chance it would occur in any given year. But what will happen to our built environment when 100-year storms begin to occur every 10 year and a 10-year storm is a regular event? We as green contractors need to start looking into the quality and longevity of our buildings today in order to better prepare clients and ourselves for the future.

In addition to strengthening our structures we may need to reassess where we are building.

As the likelihood of flooding and storm surges increases, we are beginning to be forced to reevaluate where we live. Much of New York City is just 16 feet above the mean sea level; some parts of Manhattan are only five feet above sea level! Some scientists are suggesting a drastic approach to future development of New York City: move the majority of people to high-lying areas and leaving the low-lying area as parks and buffer zones.

But there is hope! New York is among the best prepared cities in the country.

Last year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he was donated 50 million to The Sierra Club, the nations largest environmental ground for their “Beyond Coal” campaign. Their campaign aims to halt the opening of coal plants which are responsible for about 20% of global carbon emissions.

“Planning for climate change today is less expensive than rebuilding an entire network after a catastrophe,” said Mayor Bloomberg in a release in 2009.

It seems that the definition of “sustainable” is a continuously changing; building for the future not only means creating a build environment with longevity but building an environment that can withstand the power of nature.

Here is a link which shoes how your area will be affected my rising sea levels.

 

 

 

Green Roof Professional certification

The Green Roof Professional (GRP) certification system was developed by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, a not-for-profit industry association working to promote and develop the market for the green roofs throughout North America.

In addition to providing a professional accreditation program, the organization facilitates the exchange of information, supports research, and promotes the establishment of effective public policies. The organization presents Awards of Excellence to celebrate innovative professionals and organizes the annual CitiesAlive conference to develop supportive policies.

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities has been committed to developing a professional accreditation program to legitimize green roof designers and provide education to fill knowledge gaps and improve the quality of work.

In 2004, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities developed its first training course, Green Roof Design 101. It has since added Green Roof Design and Installation 201, Green Roof Waterproofing and Drainage 301, and Green Roof Plants and Growing Media 401. The classes are available in Toronto, New York, Atlanta, and Denver on select dates. They are each full-day courses recommended as a part of the GRP training program. The following half-day courses are also available, and count as continuing education credits:

·  Advanced Green Roof Maintenance

·  Introduction to Rooftop Urban Agriculture

·  Green Walls 101: Systems Overview and Design (2nd Ed.)

·  Integrated Water Management for Buildings and Sites

·  Ecological Green Roof Design

·  Green Infrastructure: Policies, Performance and Projects

·  Green Roof Policy Development

Each course is accompanied by a course manual, which includes all the material on the accreditation exam.

Unfortunately, the accreditation process is rather expensive. Tuition for each full-day course is $399 USD and is accompanied by a course manual. Each course manual can be purchased for $199 USD separately for those who choose not to take the classes in person. The accreditation exam itself consists of 100 multiple-choice questions and lasts 2 hours. It costs $495 USD to enroll and cannot be taken online, but is only offered in Denver, Toronto, New York, and Chicago, incurring further transportation costs. In order to maintain GRP Certification, you must be a Green Roofs for Healthy Cities member ($160 USD annually), and renew your certification every 2 years. This involves completing a minimum of 16 continuing education credits, 8 of which must for GRHC related activities, and paying a renewal fee of $95 USD. Interestingly, each continuing education course is listed at 3.5 units, effectively forcing members to increase the number of classes they must take to maintain their accreditation. Some of the half-day courses can be taken online for $125 USD as part of the Living Architecture Academy.

While the accreditation process may be designed to increase the reliability of green roof designers, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities is also cashing in on the deal. The North American green roof industry grew by 115% in 2011, drawing many more interested professionals and increasing public awareness. Much like LEED in their field, GRHC monopolizes the accreditation process and effectively takes advantage of all the growth.

The existence of the certification is a double-edged sword: while it assures potential consumers that the professional hired has a sound informational backing, it also forces those who want to become green roofers to submit to the monopoly as it becomes the standard.

As a guerrilla green builder, EcoBrooklyn works with clients who seek the most cutting edge techniques. We reduce the net energy of each project by maximizing the use of natural and salvaged materials. The green roof methods taught in the GRP program adhere to the contemporary methodology involving plastics and other foreign materials. While we agree with the basic ideals driving GRHC’s mission (in that the application of green roofs is an essential component to reducing building impact and bettering the urban environment), we do not believe that adhering to the methods prescribed in the accreditation program are necessarily the only right way to build a green roof. In addition, as the organization grows, there is the danger that monetary and political pressures skew the curriculum towards supporting certain brands and materials which may not necessarily be the most ecologically friendly. The GRP curriculum is updated to include new knowledge, and we hope that GRHC’s updates will move towards greater net sustainability.

As it stands, the program is a good way for interested people to learn about green roofs as long as they allow themselves to expand on the ideas taught by GRHC. While we applaud Green Roofs for Healthy Cities’ organizational and promotional achievements, we hope that it does not become a prerequisite to legitimize oneself in the field but instead serves as a possible stepping-stone for professionals.

I Am A Weed

How does the nature we find in and around our city reflect who we are?

There are two approaches, generally speaking, one can take when dealing with habitat conservation in urban areas. The first and most common is an attempt to return to the historical habitats that were found in the city long before it had been built. In this approach, native plants are protected and natural systems, like streams and fields, that have been disrupted by city infrastructure are attempted to be restored. This is undoubtedly a noble effort.

Another approach, however, is to accept that cities are new and unique environments, therefor nothing can be native to a city. Of course life is resilient and these new environments have been successfully colonized by a mix of historically native and non-native plants that have been able to survive despite the harsh, polluted conditions that cities provide. These plants are characterized by their abilities to be both flood and drought resistant. These traits make them well-suited to life in the shallow cracks of a sidewalk or building, which get flooded during a rain and, with no soil to retain the water, quickly become dry until the next shower. The collective term for this kind of flora is “spontaneous plants.”

ny green garden

Spontaneous plants offer a plethora of services for the urban environment. They, like all other plants, filter the air to provide us with oxygen while reducing the carbon imbalance of cities. Spontaneous plants supply green cover which in turn reduces the heat island effect and increases storm water retention. They create habitat for insects who become food for birds. Some even have the ability to remediate contaminated soils by absorbing heavy metals. And they provide greenery in otherwise gray and barren urbanscapes.

The Biophilia Hypothesis, introduced by Edward O. Wilson, asserts that humans hold an inherent bond with living systems. “Biophilia” literally means love for life. Our love of plants and animals, it is suggested, evolved from our dependence upon them for survival. Simply being around plants brings us pleasure so we protect them, and in doing so, we are also protecting food sources, shelter, and habitat for animals we might eat. This love can have a substantial impact on humans when they are exposed to nature. Studies have shown that people who live close to green spaces tend to be happier than those who don’t. Hospitals that look out onto greenery or that have images of nature in their rooms have faster rates of healing. Unsurprisingly, properties that have trees or are located near parks are worth more money. So it would seem that spontaneous plants are beneficial for urban areas because they fill in the cracks, literally and figuratively, with greenery. Yet many people do not see them this way.

Spontaneous plants can go by another name: “weeds.” Their presence is often seen as a sign of decay, poverty, or neglect. They are actively sought out for removal, even when their absence means an empty patch of gray.

During an informal interview with David Seiter, a visiting professor at Pratt Institute’s program for Sustainable Planning and Development and the principal of Future Green Studio, Seiter described the value of spontaneous plants in this way (I’m paraphrasing): Remember when you were a child. You would search for dandelions and make a wish while blowing away their fluffy white seeds? Or look at some of the fanciest restaurants in Brooklyn; you can see dandelion leaf salads on their menus. But when a dandelion sprouts up in a backyard, people are quick to pull them out or douse them in herbicides. How can something with so much value– a food source, a plaything, a bright yellow flower– be looked upon with so much disdain?

ny green contractor

Seiter explained that society seems to find worth in things that are difficult. A garden of roses takes time to grow, requires careful attention, and must be watched with an anxious eye as its fragility makes it ever so prone to destruction. When we grow a rose successfully, we are proud. Meanwhile, the real hero here is the dandelion who has adapted to the harshest conditions, who can grow in seemingly impossible places with no help. Dandelions and other spontaneous plants don’t just survive, they thrive. It’s incredible really. But they are dismissed, despised even, for their independence and tenacity.

As Seiter recounted these thoughts, I felt a twinge of emotion stir inside me. I kept thinking, he is describing me. 

I would not be the first to make this connection. Look at Betty Smith’s novel, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. The author likens the struggle of an immigrant family in Brooklyn to the Tree of Heaven, a common non-native and invasive weed in New York City. The plant struggles to find its place. It is neglected and trampled upon. But once it takes root, it puts up an inspiring fight, and despite the odds, eventually flourishes into a beautiful and imposing tree.

NY green construction

ny green landscaper

For those of us who are living and thriving in New York City, we can all look back on our struggle to take root. In the most obvious sense, think about apartment searching and how difficult it is to find your space in the city. Then there is the search for resources: money, food, air. We had to adapt to the harsh conditions of the city: pollution, noise, suffocating crowds, the heat, the cold. I’ve watched as friends have come and gone from the city, unable to “hack it,” and I’ve known many others simply too scared to try. We are the non-natives who have invaded and thrived.

And isn’t that what New York City has always been about? When I hear a native New Yorker claim ownership of the city, I admit I scoff at them. Were their parents or grandparents not immigrants? Aren’t immigrants the ones who built this city? Indeed the urban environment, especially that of New York’s, is a unique one that is constantly changing and growing and adapting. Nothing is static in the city and that is the way it should be; that’s progress. A dandelion is to a sidewalk crack as a hipster is to Williamsburg. It’s theirs now.

NY green design build firm

 So how do we better incorporate spontaneous plants and all their benefits into our city? Peter Del Tredici, senior research scientist at Arnold Arboretum and author of Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast, said, “I consider ‘weed’ to be a politically incorrect term. There is no biological definition of the term weed. It’s really a value judgment.” Certainly a change in perception is needed. As I was walking through Carroll Gardens this afternoon, I overheard a four year-old boy admonish his father for casually trampling a weed that had sprouted in the sidewalk, “Daddy, you’re stepping on the plant! Look out!” This child was seeing the plant as equal with all other plants, which he knows not to stomp on. He had not yet been taught by society that some plants have lesser value.

Why do we spend so much time and energy trying to green our cities with supposedly native or cosmopolitan plants who can’t hack it when there are so many plants that will willingly take their place? Why do we overly invest ourselves in removing spontaneous plants when they provide us with so much? Why do we devalue any object of nature?

More importantly, if these attitudes can be overcome, how do we prudently incorporate spontaneous plants into our cities? I do not believe by any means that these plants should have free reign. Surely a place like a graveyard or a government building overrun with weeds would send the wrong message. Still it is something we should consider.

landscape urbanism

Red Hook is my favorite Brooklyn neighborhood and is an excellent example of how spontaneous plants can bring life to an industrial wasteland. Take the above photo, for example. Without those plants, the dilapidated building would have a more foreboding and, quite frankly, ugly appearance. Their presence stirs a biophilic response in us. The success of life juxtaposes the death of a building. It reflects the burgeoning aesthetic of the 21 century which is characterized by an attraction to things that are vintage or down-to-earth (i.e. the wealthy hipster who dresses like a hobo.) I urge you to take a walk to Fairway or the Valentino Pier in Red Hook. Look out for walls of Queen Anne’s Lace lining chain-linked fences, then try to tell me that that is not beautiful.

NY urban gardener

urban plants

NY sustainable design

urban renewal

By Malone Matson

Photo Credits:

  • http://urbanplants.wordpress.com/2009/06/07/a-tree-grows-in-brooklyn-in-the-unlikeliest-places/
  • http://www.peterdeltredici.com/index.php?/contact/gallery/
  • http://www.flickriver.com/photos/cavanimages/4460203563/

Riverside Park: Flushing Away the Porter Potties, Adding Composting Toilets

In 1875, Fredrick Law Olmsted designed Riverside Park, in 1935 Robert Moses built a highway right thought, but somehow the park has prevailed and it now going to be home to one of the greenest structures in the city – a composting toilet.

Riverside Park is home to the cities only clay tennis courts, this of course results in waits up to two and three hours. Waiting on a grassy knoll with perfect views of the Hudson doesn’t sound to shabby, but as nature calls, there is an inevitable need for a bathroom. That is why the Riverside Clay Tennis Association has decided to build a facility that will accommodate the needs of the parks visitors while being ecological, something public toilets rarely are.

The Riverside Tennis Association has commissioned Rick Cook of Cook & Fox to design a facility equipped with composting toilets and solar panels. Cook & Fox are also responsible for the LEED certified Bank of America tower across from Bryant Park.

Cook & Fox are taking this incredible concept one step further by designing this center to the Living Building Challenge standard, which is one of the toughest green standards out there. We recently wrote a blog about Bucky Fuller and the Living Building Challenge -a standard that we at Eco Brooklyn aspire to.

Living Building Challenge is difficult to achieve for multiple reasons, but the most challenging aspect of the standard is the water limitations. Buildings have a hard time qualifying for the LBC because bathrooms use such a large amount of water. The standard is so tough that in most places it is illegal, as most building codes demand a connection to water and sewer – the LBC standards call for net zero water (capturing rain water and discharging it onsite).

The design proposed a small building; the majority of it located underground, equipped with composting toilets, the compost generated by the toilets will be used to fertilize the greenery. Which is the one of the main reasons that we, at Eco Brooklyn ae so excited about this project. As green builders, we have installed numerous composting toilets. The design also incorporates photovoltaic panels which will be scattered in tree-like formations to power the building. Solar panels are another element that makes this project to actractive to NY Green Contractors like ourselves. We currently have plans to install solar panels on the rook and siding our the Ecpo Brooklyn Showhouse.

Composting toilettes typically use about three ounces of water compared to the 1.6 to 0.8 gallons per flush that typical high efficiency toilets use.

The design incorporates other green aspects besides composting toilets and solar panels. The architects plan to use recycled building materials, a green roof planted with native species and blast furnace slag in the concrete to circumvent the carbon heavy manufacturing process of cement.  For the past two weeks, we have been researching and planting native plants in the Show house. Last week we were weeding and plantings native species on a green roof in Brooklyn. We are excited to see that Cook + Fox have taken native species into account to create this NY design.

The Green design came out of necessity. The high water table and proximity to the Hudson makes it impossible to install a septic tank and leach field, in addition to those obstacles there is no connection to the city sewage system (sewage lines stop on the other side of the Henry Hudson Highway). Essentially their only option was to go green. Once again green building pushes past limitations that we humans have created for ourselves.

The bathrooms replace two portable toilets, a small brick shack and a repurposed shipping container that is used for storage; it will be built on the southeast corner of the courts.

The facility’s estimated cost is around $5.5 million and is scheduled to open this summer.

The Living Building Challenge- Winner of the 2012 Buckminster-Fuller Challenge

Green building and eco-sensitive design is currently at the forefront of our modern ethos.   What this means for the green builders, contractors and architects of NY, and the world, is a period of dramatic change and challenge is ahead if not already begun. A change in the way we think about new buildings and construction, in how we consider “used” materials and how we use and interact with space.

As Scholar David Orr stated-

“We are coming to an era the likes of which we’ve never seen before, we’re in the white waters of human history. We don’t know what lies ahead. Bucky Fuller’s ideas on design are at the core of any set of solutions that will take us to calmer waters.”

 

One of the most prominent voices in sustainability and responsible design since the 1960’s is R. Buckminster Fuller.  Fuller pioneered in fields from architecture, and mathematics, to engineering and automobile design and only patented 12 designs allowing the vast majority of his work to be open-sourced and free to the public.

His life’s mission and philosophy was simple, “to make the world work for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or disadvantage of anyone.”

Even today, years after Fuller’s death his name is still the vanguard of the sustainable design community. The largest testament to his legacy is the R. Buckminster Fuller Institute and their annual international competition the Buckminster Fuller Design Challenge.

According to the institution’s website $100,000 is given “…to support the development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity’s most pressing problems. Named “Socially-Responsible Design’s Highest Award” by Metropolis Magazine, it attracts bold, visionary, tangible initiatives focused on a well-defined need of critical importance. Winning solutions are regionally specific yet globally applicable and present a truly comprehensive, anticipatory, integrated approach to solving the world’s complex problems.”

In 2012 at an awards ceremony held here in NYC at Cooper Union The International Living Future Institute was awarded first prize for their “Living Building Challenge” initiative.  According to the institute’s website the Living building Challenge is:

-a PHILOSOPHY, ADVOCACY PLATFORM AND CERTIFICATION PROGRAM. Because it defines priorities on both a technical level and as a set of core values, it is engaging the broader building industry in the deep conversations required to truly understand how to solve problems rather than shift them.

-an EVOCATIVE GUIDE. By identifying an ideal and positioning that ideal as the indicator of success, the Challenge inspires project teams to reach decisions based on restorative principles instead of searching for ‘least common denominator’ solutions. This approach brings project teams closer to the objectives we are collectively working to achieve.

-a BEACON. With a goal to increase awareness, it is tackling critical environmental, social and economic problems, such as: the rise of persistent toxic chemicals; climate change; habitat loss; the collapse of domestic manufacturing; global trade imbalances; urban sprawl; and the lack of community distinctiveness.

-a ‘UNIFIED TOOL’. Addressing development at all scales, it can be equally applied to landscape and infrastructure projects; partial renovations and complete building renewals; new building construction; and neighborhood, campus and community design.

-a PERFORMANCE-BASED STANDARD. Decidedly not a checklist of best practices, the Challenge leads teams to embrace regional solutions and respond to a number of variables, including climate factors and cultural characteristics.

-a VISIONARY PATH TO A RESTORATIVE FUTURE

The challenge seeks to encourage designers to bridge the gap between the built environment and the surrounding ecosystems thus reinventing the typical developers’ business model and transforming the role of the building occupant from passive to more of an involved partnership with the earth and her resources.

For all manner of development the Living Building Principles are applicable, whether, “… a single building, a park, a college campus or even a complete neighborhood community, Living Building Challenge provides a framework for design, construction and the symbiotic relationship between people and all aspects of the built environment.”

You can download a complete document that outlines the specific requirements and benchmarks that must be met to receive certification HERE.

With its radical and rigorous requirements, this is more than “green washing”.  This is an excerpt from a statement released by The Fuller Institute after the award ceremony;

“The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is setting the standard for how to build in the 21st century by establishing the highest bar yet for environmental performance and ecological responsibility within the built environment … by “building a new model” and establishing new benchmarks for non-­‐toxic, net-­‐zero structures… The Living Building Challenge goes far beyond current best practices, reframing the relationship between the built and natural environments. LBC seeks to lead the charge toward a holistic standard that could yield an entirely new level of integration between building systems, transportation, technology, natural resources, and community. If widely adopted, this approach would significantly enhance the level of broad-­‐based social collaboration throughout the design and building process and beyond, dramatically reducing the destructiveness of current construction, boost the livability, health, and resilience of communities … the International Future Living Institute is charting a new and critically needed course in an industry that arguably remains one of the most consumptive … The LBC’s model of regenerative design in the built environment could provide a critical leverage point in the roadmap to a sustainable future and is an exemplary trim tab in its potential to catalyze innovation in such a high impact, high consumption industry…”

This is a valuable new asset and tool for the green building and green contracting community in NYC nd abroad in the fight for a greener and livable tomorrow.

 

https://ilbi.org/lbc  -living building challenge website

http://challenge.bfi.org/Winners/Challenge_Winners

http://bfi.org/  -Buckminster-fuller institute website

Recap of Panel Discussion on Green Design as (Un)usual

On June 7th, Van Alen Books hosted a panel discussion on architect David Bergman’s book Sustainable Design: A Critical Guide. Susan Szenasy, Editor-in-chief of Metropolitan Magazine, moderated the panel, which was made up of architect and professor David Bergman, Terreform ONE co-founder and Planetary ONE partner Mitchell Joachim, and NYC Department of Design and Construction Director of Creative Services Victoria Milne.

NYC sustainable design

The intent of Bergman’s book was to give perspective on what sustainable design is and where it is headed versus where we want it to go. He reminds us that before the Industrial Revolution people designed with what nature provided but after we started looking at nature as an obstacle, something to overcome. As Szenasy pointed out, people wanted to subdue nature and we always referred to nature as “her.”

Green design, in many ways, is an attempt to return to the pre-Industrial Revolution way of thinking in order to sustain our natural resources long into the future.  Bergman argues that it has evolved into several stages from “Design as Usual” to “Design as Unusual” to “Green Design as Unusual” to “Green Design as Usual”. In a nutshell, designers first started doing unusual things in response to the environmental movement– this got labeled as green design– which eventually became more commonplace in the design world, or “usual.”

Now Bergman asks if we should be heading toward a new stage called “Design as Usual” where the green element of design becomes transparent. “Transparent green” is the idea that green thinking should be integral to all design and not a separate category. It sounds good but Bergman poses this question: if green is implied in design, will consumers stay aware of sustainability issues? This is where the panel started.

It seemed to be unanimously agreed that sustainability must be achieved through redesigning systems, not just products. Milne stated that government has the ability to create sustainable, closed systems and that there is an opportunity there to change market demands and standards, unlike within the private sector, which seldom stays in a closed system and has different motivations.

Joachim asserted that there is a need to reform education so that systems-thinking is better incorporated. He was opposed to the idea of specified majors that restrict students to only thinking about the world in one sense. Bergman agreed and said that that is why he loves architecture so much, “It is one of the last generalist fields.”

There needs to be a shift in society’s mindset toward consumption. Product designers shouldn’t be working with perceived or planned obsolescence in mind. Architects shouldn’t be wasting tons of materials and energy on decorative features. The public should divorce itself from such things as the idea of shopping as recreation. How do we do this?

Szenasy wonders why these issues haven’t gotten better PR. Why, for example, isn’t New York City prouder of its green efforts? City planners across the country look to New York as a leader in green design. Milne applauded the city’s efforts toward “active design,” which is where city infrastructure is built to engage the public and force them to exercise. But how many people are even aware that the city is doing that? How many people would be upset that the city is doing that? Look at the High Line. Cities around the country are starting projects to mimic New York’s great park yet the panel wondered, how many New Yorkers are aware of the sustainable implications of the park, how it’s revitalized a neighborhood, how the use of native plants has reduced water and energy use while also increasing native biodiversity, and so forth?

Someone suggested one reason is because when people think of “green”, they think of the apocalypse. People don’t want to think of the possibility of humanity ending, especially if it is because of their own irresponsible behaviors. Joachim said many people see green standards as a loss of liberty. Living sustainably often means giving something up and no one wants to be forced to do that.

In the end, it seems like the solution lies somewhere between education and redesign. Society needs to better understand how and why to live green and the systems we live in need to be reorganized.

 

By: Malone Matson

Urban Decay of the Past, A Model for Future Design? A Look into Kowloon’s Walled City

The now extinct Kowloon Walled City, also known as the City of Darkness may be a perverse prototype for green, sustainable living. Eco Brooklyn is constantly searching for green building alternatives applicable to New York City living, so when we came across Kowloon we almost fell off our seats.

It was Gotham City on cheap crack right out of a Blade Runner movie.

The Walled City was a densely populated, largely ungoverned settlement in Kowloon, Hong Kong that was once regarded as one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

It began as a Chinese Military fort and became its own enclave after the New Territories were released to Britain in 1898. Following the Japanese occupation during World War II the population increased dramatically and eventually contained 50,000 residents within 6.5 acres.

That averages 7,692 people per acre. The five boroughs of New York City, the most populous city in the USA, averages 41 people per acre. Manhattan, famous for being crowded, averages a mere 104 people per acre.

Another way of looking at it is how many square feet each

person gets on average:

* New York City five boroughs – 1062 sq.ft./person

* Manhattan – 419 sq.ft./person

* Kowloon – 5 ½ sq.ft./person!!

The city was largely under its own contained “government” as neither the Chinese nor the British wanted to assume responsibility for the development.

Controlled by the infamous Triad gang, Kowloon had high rates of prostitution, gambling and drug use.

In terms of air and light in the narrow “streets”, residents were barely able to view the sky through the thick web of criss-crossing clotheslines and make shift electrical wires. Windows were a luxury.

As the city quickly grew, housing and factory blocks were added organically on top of each other using a mix of salvaged materials – cages, sheet metal and tarp – mixed in with cheap cinderblock construction.  By the end, the Walled City had became a tall and near-solid cube of construction materials – over 300 interconnected 10 story buildings without any contribution from an architect, city planner or department of buildings!

Completely “off the grid”, the residents illegally taped into municipal electricity for juice and drilled 70 plus make shift wells within the city walls for water.

Another “sustainable” aspect of the Walled City is the transformability of the interior space. For example, bakery by day would change into a living room come night. Sixty percent of living spaces where smaller than 230 square feet (about 20’x20’), and as the numbers above show, an average of five people would share that space.

Kowloon is an example of anarchist building that, despite what it lacked in basic necessity, easy access to running water and waste disposal management, was a community that existed; it supported of about 50,000 for over forty years, from the 1950’s until 1992.

That is sustainable in it’s own weird way.

And it would have lasted longer if it hadn’t been forcibly demolished in 1992 and replaced with a park.

The Kowloon Walled City was obviously a dismal place full of prostitution, murder, corruption and drug use. You could argue the citizens of the Walled City only submitted themselves to these conditions out of desperation. Although this city emerged organically, it could be more a cancerous tumor than a blissfully natural city, sucking in every resource in its vicinity and essentially capturing its inhabitants.

But New York Green contractors can learn from it.

Despite the terrible conditions of human life, certain aspects are worth looking at from a green building perspective. This is cluster housing at the most extreme, reducing the amount of space a person needs to the bare bone minimum. The small, multi-use spaces is a key element of good green design.

As a whole, as the opposite of a sprawling suburbia, the city drastically reduced it’s physical footprint on the planet, giving an example of extreme cluster housing.

The fact that so much of the building materials were salvaged reduced the materials consumed to build. Poor people’s use of salvaged materials are acts of necessity but nonetheless are crucial components of green building.

Of course, the Walled City, as an un-planned, un-designed structure, could have gone very wrong but for the most part it stayed standing, a testament that logical simple building, using basic low cost materials does work.

I don’t have the numbers but I know the embodied energy to build this city was drastically less than a comparable city today.

Is it possible that if there was designed applied to these same ideas of small, transformable spaces that a livable, functioning community could exist? Perhaps with the addition of good design and planning The Walled City would be used as interesting model for future urban development. It has provided some very interesting examples of what is possible. Maybe not safe or even desirable, but we can now definitely say that such a city is possible and extract from that experiment elements that worked (or didn’t).

 

 

Design Revolution Book and a New York Living Machine

I read the book Design Revolution, 100 Products That Empower People by Emily Pilloton to see if any of the designs could apply to a New York green contractor.

The book is organized into eight sections:

Education

Enterprise

Water

Energy

Mobility

Food

Well-being

Play

There were plenty of great ideas that could be applied to a New York city home – cool solar panels/wind harvesters in the form of leaves, composting toilets that normal people would use, all sorts of bike ideas, and a food composter that looks like an espresso machine.

The most interesting thing for me was the Eco-Machine, designed by Todd Ecological, a company founded by John Todd. An Eco Machine, also known as a living machine, uses plants and microbes to filter waste water. This has direct applications for New York ecological landscaping and green construction.

A Brooklyn brownstone, instead of passing its sewer to, say, the Gowanus Canal it would pass it to a series of water gardens in the yard. These gardens would be beautifully designed to fit into the an environment used by children, adults, pets and Williamsburg hipsters.

The key is in the design of combining function and aesthetic, something a good eco-landscaper could do. The end result of the Brooklyn Brownstone living machine is a lush yard full of healthy plants and a NY sewer system that is not overloaded.

This is not unrealistic. It is very practical and possible. It is also illegal. Great ideas move faster than massive bureaucracies like the Department of Buildings and Department of Environmental Protection….

A living machine system in Florida

As an ecological landscaper who uses gray water and rain water runoff to feed the garden the idea of a living machine takes it a step further. Very exciting stuff and something I plan on implementing at an undisclosed brownstone near you.

Wal-Mart Lies to NY Green Contractor

Eco Brooklyn does not want Wal-Mart in New York because we feel Walmart’s business model is not conducive to the small neighborhood shopping experience that makes New York and Brooklyn so special.

We posted our opinion in this blog post on our site.

Recently somebody called Keith Blackwell tried to leave a comment to that post and it immediately raised our suspicions that Wal-Mart was waging a dirty media campaign by paying people to impersonate pro Walmart opinion. I think Keith Blackwell is a PR person in New Jersey.

Keith’s comment went like this:

I will tell you Wal mart will give New Yorkers LOWER PRICES!! New York by far is the most expensive city to exist in, and in consist of mainly poor folks. You sidity New Yorkers have a bad way of acting as if poor people and crime doesn’t exist there! THE vast amount of New Yorkers give more than half of there net pay to RENT! I am from Philadelphia and the quality of life I have here I could not no way near afford in New York. You already have Targets so what’s the difference but lower prices. Zone Walmarts properly and give New Yorkers a break. You allowed Bloomberg to run for a third term, so allow a WalMart.

There are many suspicious things about this post. Lets look at who Keith is trying to be.

Words like “poor folks”, “sidiy New Yorkers”, and “I could not no way near afford in New York”, make Keith sound poor uneducated. He is trying to connect with the people in NY who struggle to make ends meet and who would prefer cheap prices over gentrified shopping neighborhoods like Carroll Gardens and Park Slope.

Keith portrays those against Wal-Mart as “sidity” snobs who are not in touch with the majority of New Yorkers – poor people who deal with hardships like “crime” and “paying half of there [sic] net pay to RENT!”.

Fair enough. Keith is a poor person who feels a Wal-Mart in NY would increase poor people’s quality of life. Why somebody in Philadelphia feels so strongly about this is beyond me but maybe they just love Wal-Mart.

But my alarm bells go off when I see how well informed this person is. Forget the bad grammar and spelling mistakes for a moment. This person lives in Philadelphia. How come they know the politics of NY so intricately?

Here is what Keith knows.

Many New Yorkers pay half their income in rent.

We have Targets

Walmart needs to be in the right zone in order to build

Bloomberg was allowed to run a third time

I don’t know but this poster doesn’t know the difference between “their” and “there”. Keith talks like a caricature out of a movie:  “I could not no way near afford .. New York” and “New York by far is the most expensive city to exist in, and in consist of mainly poor folks.”

Who talks like that? I live in NY and am exposed to many styles of talking and I’ve never heard this one. To me it sounds like a hodgepodge of different styles pulled together by somebody trying to create a persona.

Yet Keith, a supposedly lower class Philadelphian,  is better informed about NY politics than many New Yorkers. Call me ignorant but I don’t even know who the mayor of Philadelphia is, let alone whether they have Targets or Wal-Marts.

And is Wal-Mart cheaper than Target? Keith things so, “You already have Targets so what’s the difference but lower prices.” Is this the oppinion of an avid price shopper or the plug of a Wal-Mart advertising writer?

I decided to look up the location of Mr. Blackwell’s IP address. It is located in New Jersey. I didn’t go as far as researching what companies are in that area. A  Walmart? More probably a media and PR firm.

And the name Keith Blackwell? I’m reaching here but it sounds like a subconscious reference to a generic first name coupled with a symbolic last name.

Here is his info if you care to investigate further:

Author : Keith Blackwell (IP: 208.54.87.151 , m975736d0.tmodns.net)
E-mail : quizkwb@hotmail.com
Whois : http://whois.arin.net/rest/ip/208.54.87.151

I sent Keith an email to try and pull more info out of him. I said:

Hello Keith,

Thanks for the note on my site. I posted that blog post a long time ago and things have changed since then. You still live in  Philadelphia? I bet the prices are better there!

And the email quizkwb@hotmail.com? Looks like a random email to me that was recently picked since all others are taken. If Keith has a hotmail account he would have gotten it a long time ago when something more appropriate would be available like kblackwell@hotmail.com for example.

I didn’t get a response from him. I included my phone number in my email. But who do you think texted me on my phone two days later for the first time in my life?

Yup, Wal-Mart.

From a Florida phone number, 561 526 3812, I got this text:

Congratulations! As a thank you, call 855-768-1763 to recieve your $100 Wal-Mart rebate! 2 end reply STOP

So I guess my email did get through after all. But not to Keith Blackwell.

Bottom line, Wal-Mart is using dirty tactics to try to get into NY. If this includes lying then so be it. Another reason I don’t want them in NY. In case there is any confusion, I am a real human being and I don’t want Wal-Mart in NY.

As a citizen I don’t want Wal-Mart. And as a green builder and New York green contractor I don’t want Wal-Mart because big box stores do not add to community or good architecture. Atlantic Mall is ample reason not to have big box stores.

Get Your “Passport to Green NY” and Celebrate Earth Day Early!

As NY Green Contractors, we work hard to turn NYC green and we love any opportunity to share our labors with the public because it spreads awareness of green building.  The Earth Day New York organization has created a great way for New Yorkers to celebrate Earth Day as well as learn more about green businesses and opportunities in the city.  The event is called “Passport to Green NY” and runs from March 20 to April 21.

 It is essentially a scavenger hunt style event that encourages participants to visit as many of the participating green businesses as possible to compete for prizes and raise awareness about what’s available in NYC for those looking to live greener.  The “passport” also includes valuable coupons and discounts that can be used at the participating green locations, everything from Build it Green NYC to the Bronx Zoo to Bare Burger.  For example, head to the New York Botanical Garden for 20% of any all-garden pass when you use your new passport from Earth Day New York.

This event gives people incentive to choose green products and services by offering discounts, prizes and simply by spreading awareness about them.  As a NY Green Contractor and green business, we love events like this because it gives us a chance to highlight our work, as well as showing us the work of others who share the common goal of turning NYC green.

To download your own copy of the Passport, check out the website.  Happy (green) shopping and eating!

(In Historic Districts) All Signs Lead to the Landmark Preservation Commission

We are renovating a Yoga studio in Brooklyn Heights, one of New York’s many historic and wonderfully preserved landmark neighborhoods. This beauty is preserved thanks to the diligent work of the Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC).

Eco Brooklyn, Inc., a green contractor, renovating a new yoga studio in Brooklyn Heights, NY.

You could almost say the LPC is a green building organization since it encourages us to reuse the housing stock we have and doesn’t easily let us replace it. As a green building contractor we appreciate this.

Anyone who has tried to do construction in a land marked area knows that the LPC is a mixed blessing.  It is great that we have such an organization looking out for us, but boy can they be a pain in the butt.

Any work affecting land marked property requires approval from the (LPC) and woe to the person who ignores this. The general rule of thumb is, if the work affects the exterior of the building and you can see it from the street then Landmarks needs to be involved.

Work in the back of the building is generally, but not always, less of a Landmarks issue.

The trick to reducing the pain of dealing with Landmarks is to be diligent and play their game even when at times it can be time consuming and tedious. If you do this then you won’t have major problems.

Guidelines and Materials Checklists for Performing Work on Landmarked Buildings provides a comprehensive list of modifications that will obligate you to obtain authorization from LPC.  Our experience is the application and hearing process takes 20-30 days, although it can take months if Landmarks has objections or if the application was prepared with anything less than anal fervor. There is a program designed to expedite the process for certain projects within ten days.  So, if your renovation is plumbing, electrical work, construction on non-load bearing partitions or even HVAC work, you should start the application process here.

Photo taken by Ed Costello

Montague Street, Brooklyn Heights, NY

For the Brooklyn Heights yoga studio job we needed to put up store signage, and being a good green contractor we called Landmarks to apply for approval.  Here’s what we need to support our application:

  1. Color photo(s) of the entire building with proposed location of signage indicated.
  2. Close-up photo of proposed location of signage.
  3. Photomontage showing proposed sign location in relation to building and neighboring buildings and other storefronts in the building if the building has multiple storefronts.
  4. Detail drawings showing dimensions of the sign and how it will be attached to the building.
  5. Drawing of the sign with dimensions and sign lettering indicated.
  6. Material and color sample(s).

As you see the list underscores the importance of being detailed. Play nice, follow their rules and you will be fine. We expect to have approval in a week or two.

Benefit Corporations law signed and active in New York State!

Finally, a way to pursue the “triple bottom line” (people, planet and profits) with legal backing! It is called the Benefit Corporation (as opposed to a normal C or S Corporation for example). Signed into NY legislation by Governor Cuomo the new law allows businesses to be recognized and filed a for more than their financial goals.

Benefit Corporations have a legal responsibility to all stakeholders, not just the shareholders like a traditional C or S Corps.  This means they are obligated to take into account the effects of their decisions on the community, the environment, employees, etc.  Benefit Corporations can also voluntarily undergo certification by the nonprofit organization B Lab that makes them “Certified B Corporations” and ensures they have a social purpose and benefits for stakeholders.  More on that here .

With the new law, New York is joining states that have already passed similar legislation, including Maryland, Vermont, New Jersey, Virginia, Hawaii, California.

The key distinctions of Benefit Corporations from traditional corporations are these three things:

1)    Purpose: They must have a corporate purpose to create a material positive impact on society and the environment;

2)     Accountability: They must expand the directors’ and employees’ fiduciary duty to require consideration of the interests of workers, community and the environment and all stakeholder

3)     Transparency: They must publicly report annually on overall social and environmental performance against a comprehensive, credible, independent, and transparent third party standard

Other than these three additions, the Benefit Corporations is set up and taxed as a traditional corporation would be.  However, for social entrepreneurs like EcoBrooklyn, this changes everything. It protects the mission and purpose of the business and holds up the triple bottom line as a priority.  In other words, it legally never puts profits for shareholders above the stakeholders – something that social businesses have been trying to do for decades.

B Lab is a nonprofit that helped create the Benefit Corporation and now works to establish the option of a Benefit Corporation in all states through legislation.  Much of the above information came from their website.  More information on the requirements and specific details of a Benefit Corporation here.

Gardening, Done Vertically

The folks from GardenUp just stopped by the EcoBrooklyn Green Show House to tell us more about their great new products for gardening.  They’ve created a simple vertical system based on hydroponic technology that is great for small spaces, easy-to-use and highly efficient – perfect for city living.


An example of one of GardenUp’s towers in Philadelphia

Basically, the vertical garden towers GardenUp has created can grow herbs, vegetables, flowers, whatever you like, in a small self-contained space.  The towers can be used indoors or out and could be a wonderful addition to a green roof or backyard.  They even have different sizes for home or commercial use.  We think it’s a great step forward in the realm of sustainable, locally grown food!

Check them out here

Gennaro Brooks-Church, founder of EcoBrooklyn meeting with Scott Seger, CEO and Boris Alergant, VP of Strategic Business Development and Planning for GardenUp

As a New York green contractor they contacted us to see if we could incorporate their product into the eco gardens we build and design. The GardenUp planter could be a great addition to any edible garden design.

Get More Green From Your Building – Another Recommended Educational Event

As a NY Green Contractor we think this event from the Pratt Center for Community Development (http://prattcenter.net/) is great, it really helps increase public awareness around green building issues in NYC and educates people about ways they can get themselves or tenants involved in sustainability.  They even plan to work on issues like changing attitudes and mobilizing people to commit to environmental activities.  Hope you can add it to your calendar!

DETAILS: 
Tuesday, March 13, 2012 (10:00am – 12:00pm)
Pratt Manhattan, Room 213
144 West 14th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues)
New York, NY
The cost is $20.00 per person and can be paid in cash or check on the day of the session.

PRESENTERS and TOPICS:

Bomee Jung, Enterprise Community Partners
Overview of Enterprise Tenant Engagement strategies

Samantha SchoenbergerEnterprise Community Partners
Colleen FlynnLISC New York City
Post-weatherization tenant outreach and education by Community Weatherization Partners

Lisbeth ShepherdGreenCity Force
Cristiana FragolaNew York City Housing Authority
Tenant Education: NYC Housing Authority

Dorothy Cormier KernSelfhelp Community Services
Post-energy retrofit resident training: Senior Housing

Ariel Krasnow and Johanna WalczykThe Supportive Housing Network of New York
Tenant Conservation Education Pilot Program: Supportive Housing

MODERATOR:

Mirele GoldsmithGreen Strides Consulting 

 

True Green Building

Unable to sleep at 4am in New York I came accross this video of an abandoned town renovated by a small group of utopians. It is one of the most inspirational green building stories I have seen in a long time. So often green building is housed withing the capitalistic context where it is just another product to be consumed by and profited from financially.

But here we see a story of true green building. For me green building is almost not about the building but rather about the framework of the people involved. If the people have simply shifted to consuming green building just like you might shift from one brand to another then you really haven’t accomplished much.

But as you see in this video the people have shifted their whole context. Green building is no longer a consumer product. Green building is a lifestyle that required a complete change in consumptive habits, a complete change in how people interact with each other and a complete change in how they interact with their surroundings.

I think this change is good. Do we all need to move to an abandoned village on a mountainside to be truly green? Obviously that might help but no. Your baggage always catches up to you no mater where you go.

It is the mentality of these people that is most important, not their place. Very simply put, they have found that a simple, wholesome lifestyle is better than any consumer product. That is the key to true green building. Waki Sabi, man.

I see the irony of consuming this on my computer in the middle of the night in the city that never sleeps. That is the nature of today’s constantly ON planet. It is not sustainable. Time to go to sleep, or at least try to. Some cycles happen by themselves, others you have to help along.

The cycle of finding a greener way of life on this planet will not happen without us helping it. Like the people in this video who worked very hard to achieve what they have.

Recycling the abandoned Rockaway Beach Branch

Check out this petition on change.org.  We think their proposal to turn an abandoned tract of land into green space will benefit many New Yorkers.

The Rockaway Beach Branch Committee is petitioning the New York City Council to turn an abandoned 3.5 mile stretch of the old Rockaway Beach Branch railroad into a green space.

Rail service ended 60 years ago, and the city and MTA have indicated that they have no intention of reactivating the rail line due to financial and logistical concerns.  The land has sat there as a dumping ground, a waste of a large unused tract of land in an area populated by hundreds of thousands.

The proposed green space connects nearby communities, recreational areas, and public transportation lines.   The project echoes the recently completed High Line park in Manhattan, which recycled old railroad into an urban park.  In addition to cultural benefits, urban parks have economic perks: turning the unused space into a green gathering place has stimulated real estate development along the 1-mile strip.

The High Line’s southern end in 2005, before renovation.

Completed central portion of the High Line in 2010

In addition to greening New York through construction, Eco Brooklyn also does ecological gardening. We use native plants and local resources like stones, tree trunks and rain water to recreate natural native landscapes. We are a big fan of the Manhattan High Line as a successful example of using an abandoned space to increase community and nature with native plants.

Sign the petition, and help recycle wasted space into a green zone today!

What the land looks like now.  Read and sign the petition here.

Image courtesy of LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch Virtual Tour.

Breaking news: NY City Council enacts proposals from Urban Green Task Force

As New York green contractors we follow the latest developments in NY building codes very closely.  Yesterday, the New York City Council enacted three proposals from the Urban Green Task Force.  The new codes, effective July 1, 2012, mandate more stringent regulation of waste, recycling, and pollutant filtration, representing a step forward for green building.

 

Introduction 0576-2011: Treat Corrosive Concrete Wastewater

Wastewater from concrete trucks or containers  must either be treated on site or returned to the manufacturing plant for treatment.  Rinsing and wastewater containers must be located at least 30 feet from sewers.  Corrosive wastewater from construction sites may no longer be discharged into rivers or public streets.

Introduction 0578-2011: Use Recycled Asphalt

At least 10% recycled asphalt must be used in heavy duty construction applications, and at least 30% in constructing new streets and buildings.  Allowing asphalt diverted from the construction waste stream to be reintegrated into new asphalt reduces construction waste and consumption of new materials.

Introduction 0592-2011: Filter Soot from Incoming Air

Heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems will be required to filter out soot and other pollutants at a rating of MERV 11 or greater, increasing the quality of indoor air by restricting the concentration of outside pollutants.

The Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) measures performance of air purifiers treating air for entire houses or buildings.  Scores range from 1-16, and up to 20 in special applications.  Filters are rated based on the efficiency with which they remove particles of varying sizes from the air.  Purifiers rated at MERV 11 are capable of trapping auto emissions and smog, among other urban pollutants.

 

We’re excited to see New York moving forward with more green considerations in city-wide construction.  We pride ourselves on being the most innovative green contractor in the city, but we’re looking forward to a day when green construction practices are no longer innovative, but commonplace.

 

Click through for more detailed summaries of the new codes on the Urban Green website.  Search by proposal number or topic to find them.

Film Biz Recycling Rocks

Here is a shout out to Film Biz Recycling. They do great work and help reduce the waste of the film industry, which quite possibly is one of the most wasteful industries out there because film builds real world environments and immediately after the shoot need to get rid of them.

Film Biz Recycling is very similar to Eco Brooklyn in that we both get out materials from the dumpster. We focus on construction materials and use it exclusively for our own jobs. Film Biz gets all sorts of materials and acts as home finder for the stuff. Most of their stuff is for sale but a lot of it is also for rent for movie shoots.

I actually rented an entire Western themed living room from them once in an attempt to get laid by a famous country singer. That’s a lie. BUT I could have thanks to Film Biz!

Composting Leaves – What are your options?


It seems like just in the past week the trees of New York have decided to shed most of their leaves. Around EcoBrooklyn, leaves are floating down onto our green roof and some of our projects in the yard. The smell of fallen leaves overpowers the smell of city, and it’s a welcome scent indeed.

However, I was very disappointed to learn that the City of New York has cancelled their leaf collection this year due to budget cuts. I don’t understand how New York can have so many dog walkers, nannies, and therapists, but somehow cannot afford to compost their leaves. I understand that New York has fewer trees per capita than some other cities, but this does not seem like an excuse, considering the vast amount of trees that are in fact in this city.

However, if you are upset by this lack of city service, there are options. NYC Project LeafDrop has many locations throughout the city where residents can bring their leaves for composting. LeafDrop asks that residents store leaves in plastic bags or brown paper bags. The vast majority of these locations are in Brooklyn. If you would like any information, please go to this website: http://nycleaves.org/