I haven’t written much in the past few days because I’ve been slammed with work. Readers can expect a flurry of activity now that I’m emerging from my pile of projects.
Last night I attended a panel discussion at the Pratt Institute called “Tipping Points: Art, Politics, and Civic Engagement”. I really expected a packed house for this discussion, but I think the democratic debate had many people otherwise engaged. The program was moderated by Susan Szenasy, editor-in-chief of Metropolis Magazine. Some of the speakers really had excellent things to say. Check out the panel:
• Letitia James = City Councilwoman; Brooklyn, District 35
• Wendy Feuer – Asst. Commissioner for Urban Art and Planning; DOT
• Laurie Kerr – Mayor’s Office for Long Term Planning and Sustainability
• Blaise Backer – Director, Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project
• Sean Meenan – Habana Outpost
• Deborah Marton – The Design Trust for Public Space
• Eva Hanhardt – professor/coordinator EMS planning
Letitia James was the first one to bring up the carbon belt and the health problems associated with living by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. I felt that one: I live by the BQE, only further north in Brooklyn. She spoke about the city’s aging infrastructure and the need to update it. She also brought up the fact that we can’t really go with congestion pricing
I was interested in Blaise Backer’s commentary. As the director of the Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District, he has to encourage business owners to think about sustainability in their practices while he supports them in their quest for profits and success. Sometimes it is not easy to do this. For example, there was an initiative to plant new trees all along Myrtle Avenue. You would think that everyone would immediately support something like that, but to a business owner the tree represents a potential liability to passers-by. It also obscures the awning of a ground level store, making it harder to bring in foot traffic.
I was exceptionally impressed with Deborah Marton and the work of The Design Trust for Public Space. If I understood correctly, Marton’s work involved taking the design innovations and breakthroughs from the private investment and development, where money often abounds, translating this information into a format that the Department of Design and Construction can use for public agencies with building projects, and then serving as something of a link between the DDC and the public agency to ensure that the job gets done efficiently. I’ll have to read more about this, but what a great mission: to act as a non-profit that brings private innovations to public agencies.
Finally, Sean Meenan of Habana Outpost was great. That restaurant is awesome, and he brought a real down-to-earth, lets stop talking about all of this, do it, and have fun the whole time attitude to everything. Habana Outpost is solar powered, and only uses corn plastics for their cups and silverware. They have worked with architecture and design students from Pratt so they reclaim all of their water. Sean was exactly the kind of guy you would want to bring in to talk to a bunch of teenagers or kids about these issues, because he was the kind of guy they’d respect. He even drives a car the that will run on the used fry oil from his restaurant. I’ll be looking into getting him to a do a program at the Brooklyn Public Library some time.
Finally Chris Jordan showed us his “Portraits of American Mass Consumption” which demonstrate just how much junk we go through every day. Cell phones discarded, stack and stacks of computer paper, disposable beverage cups… Great stuff.