Monday, August 15, 2011

My Review of the Documentary: Suburban America: Problems and Promise

I had the opportunity to attend the documentary, Suburban America:  Problems and Promise at an event sponsored by Sustainable Long Island at Huntington, New York’s wonderful Cinema Arts Centre.  The film will be shown on public television stations around the country starting this fall.  If you want to see it in your area, you can contact your local public television station to show the film.  The filmmaker is also available to come to different communities to have conversations around the documentary.
The film is interesting in that it examines the changing face of suburbia.  Suburban landscapes are changing politically and socially in very many ways.  Some themes that the documentary focuses on include political change, aging infrastructure, ethnic and social change, and redevelopment.  Some particular areas are highlighted in great detail:  Chicago, Long Island, Reston, Cleveland, Minneapolis, and Orange County.  Each place adds a distinct element to the story of suburban change and how the ideas of the 1950’s and 1960’s created imagined landscapes that were ultimately unsustainable as envisioned.  Yet, these older landscapes continue to exist with varying degrees of success.  For example, in Minneapolis, an example was given of a highly racialized suburban landscape that was ultimately destroyed over political pressure.  In Reston, we see an older planned community that now serves as a model for transit oriented development and suburban density.  In Chicago, we see suburbs dealing with direct immigration of people very different from long-term residents.  And in Long Island, we see suburbs confronted with the historic results of housing discrimination, fragmented local governments, and aging infrastructure.

Even with all of these problems, suburbs continue to exist and thrive.  Yet, the film leaves one wondering about the future of them.  How can they deal with big picture issues within a complex globalized world?  How will our society manage suburban decline and redevelopment?  How can suburbs manage change?

One small criticism of the film is that it largely leaves out discussion of the growth of suburbs in the sunbelt in the last 20 years.  During the most recent boom period in Florida, for example, there were nearly 1000 people a day moving into the state.  Similar growth was seen throughout the south .  Such rapid growth caused a tremendous expansion of suburban lands throughout the south and west.  I wish this issue were more thoroughly explored.  Nevertheless, the film is useful  for anyone interested in suburban landscapes, especially older suburbs.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Death of One of the Leaders of the Modern American Sustainability Movement--Ray Anderson

I learned recently of the passing of Ray Anderson, one of the great leaders in business sustainability.  He was truly an inspiration to me and made me believe that capitalism and sustainability can coexist.  He challenged his industrial peers to change their thinking from purely profit-based motives to planet-based motives.  As the CEO of one of the leading carpet manufacturers in the world, he transformed his company into one of the most sustainable on the planet, while making profits.  There is a NYTimes obituary of him here and a video that pretty much explains his philosophy below.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Greenest Roof You'll Ever See: Eagle Street Rooftop Farm

This sign sends you to the roof at
Eagle Street in Brooklyn (photo by
Bob Brinkmann, August 7, 2011)

It is a stunning site.  You walk across the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn on Manhattan Avenue to Eagle Street and head east to one of the last warehouses before you reach the East River.  You then climb three stories up to the roof and there it is—the first community sponsored agricultural (CSA) farm ever built on a roof in the United States.  And what a roof!  It is 6000 square feet of high-density agriculture with amazing views of Manhattan.  The farm is both inspirational and educational.  It serves as a terrific model for what we can do with roofs in high-density areas.  It also provides an example of community building around agriculture and food in cities.

Rows of crops with on Eagle Street Rooftop Farms
(photo by Bob Brinkmann, August 7, 2011).
The farm I am talking about is Eagle Street Rooftop Farms.  It started in 2009 and now provides memberships for portions of the farm produce while also providing opportunities for restaurants to purchase vegetables grown on the roof.  There is also a farmers market on Sundays.  Oh, and there area also beehives and rabbits. And classes, volunteer opportunities, and apprenticeships.  In short, it is a perfect place to grow plants, build a green network, and change the world for the better.

Peppers growing at Eagle Street Rooftop Farm (photo by
Bob Brinkmann, August 7, 2011)
The green roof is a marvel of engineering and can be read about in more detail here.  Annie Novak has been with the farm since it’s start and probably has the most experience in the United States as a farmer on a roof.  Since its inception, she and the rest of the Eagle Street team planted a variety of plants.  Since then, through trial and error, she has selected a variety of plants that do well in the unique, rooftop setting.  When I was there, I saw very healthy tomatoes, peppers, and squash.  There were also several unique varieties of these and other plants that were thriving.  Volunteers were carting about fresh beautiful compost and tending the many rows of vegetables.
A class being taught at the Eagle Street Farm
(photo by Bob Brinkmann, August 7, 2011).

The farm is worth a visit if you are in Brooklyn.  They are open for visitors on Sunday.  If you stop by, time your visit to stay for a class.  They offer them every Sunday afternoon at 2:00pm.  For more information, see their website here.   

In the last decade, there has been an exponential increase in community sponsored agricultural (SCA) farms in the United States.  They operate by subscription.  Each week during the growing season, the farms provide a share of the farm produce to members who have paid into the farm.  In addition, members are urged to support the farm by volunteering and supporting the organization financially or with items they may need for their operation.  

I love CSA's because they help to build community and educate people not only about the benefits of growing local, organic food, but also about a number of green and sustainable practices that individuals could bring into their lives.  It is really wonderful to see a CSA thriving in one of the most densely populated places on the planet.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Nuclear Testing -- Think About It

I thought this was an interesting display of nuclear testing around the world.  It is worth thinking about the potential outcome and the resultant pollution from nuclear testing.  What are we each doing about this problem?  Hat tip:

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hofstra Student Invents Solar USB Charger and Potato Shooting Stereo Tank

Innovation.  Mike Mikula, a Hofstra University History major, has it.  He invented two new products:  a solar USB charger and a solar tank stereo that shoots potatoes.

Yes, it shoots potatoes and it looks like a tank. 

Some green products communicate their greenness by using the color green or by having leaf or earth symbols.  In Mike's world, the USB charger is in the form of a cigarette case and the stereo rolls to its outdoor location as a tank on wheels. 

I say fantastic!  We need to bring more and more solar and alternative energy products to consumers.  The more interesting they are, the more likely they will compete against other products.  Watch the video to see Mike's products at work.  He has started a new business and his website can be seen here.