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

Diggers 2012: Making the Waste Land Grow

An activist group has formed in Surrey, England called The Diggers 2012.  Their similarities to Eco Brooklyn are apparent with their slogan, “To make the Waste Land Grow.” 

 

As a NYC green builder, Eco Brooklyn strives to make the concrete filled city more ecologically diverse and thus balanced.  The concrete jungle can be thought of as an ecological wasteland, and the “jungle“ is pure irony.  Through our green roof, living wall, soil remediation, and planting services we work to make this wasteland grow into something natural and functional.

 

Thus we were very interested when we heard about The Diggers 2012. To understand their mission and the true history behind this group one must know that the English Civil War of the mid-17th Century incited various rebellions and the formation of nonconformist dissenting groups.

 

One of these groups was the original Diggers, or more formally, The True Levelers.   They believed God gave the land to all people, not just the wealthy who took control of the land. As is stated in “The True Levelers Common Advance” when the earth becomes,

 

“A Common Treasury again, as it must, for all the Prophesies of Scriptures and Reason are Circled here in this Community, and mankind must have the Law of Righteousness once more writ in his heart, and all must be made of one heart, and one mind.”

 

There have been groups to follow in The Diggers’ footsteps.  One organization to work in this realm was called The Land is Ours, started by English writer George Monbiot in the 1990s.  They were able to start 2 Eco Villages, one on land owned by Guinness, the other on land owned by Property Developers near St. George Hill.  They were each evicted in under a year.

 

With the energy of youth this new group, Diggers 2012, has renewed the cause.  Before embarking on their mission to occupy unused land they started a blog at diggers2012.wordpress.com where they state:

 

“We have one call:  every person in this country and the world should have the right to live on the disused land, to grow food and to build a shelter. This right should apply whether you have money or not. We say that no country can be considered free, until this right is available to all.”

 

On their committee poster they state that 0.65% of the UK population owns 68.3% of the land, only 7.5% of UK land is currently settled on, and land is deliberately kept unused to maintain an artificial land shortage to inflate home prices.  To fight this system they propose to, “go and cultivate the disused land of this island; to build dwellings and live together in common by the sweat of our brows.”

 

The land that the Diggers 2012 have settled on used to be part of the Brunel University Runnymede Campus.  This campus has been disused since it was sold to private property developers in 2007.  The developers have explained to the diggers that they will be building 600 homes in the area starting in August.

 

The Diggers 2012 promise to willingly vacate the land as soon as its owner see fit to put it to good use, but until they see the land being developed they believe that it’s their right as English citizens to responsibly use the land.  They have been continually pestered and displaced by the police and court orders, but they continue to attempt to live by their beliefs on a picturesque green hill in the Surrey Countryside.

 

At Eco Brooklyn we are concerned with the land, not land as property owned by somebody but the actual soil.  Over the soil is where we build and renovate homes where people live, we build gardens for animals and people, and we create water features.

 

It seems to us that The Diggers, although appearing hopelessly idealistic from a developer‘s point of view, are simply asking for an opportunity to work with the soil.  This is such an ancient practice and yet so many people don’t have access to space to do this. Diggers 2012, we wish you strength in your structures, health in your produce, and luck in your movement.

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