Sustainability Grows in Brooklyn

March 23, 2012

Above: An Urban Gardening Workshop at the First-Ever "Greening from the Ground Up" Conference Last Week

Sustainability Grows in Brooklyn

Throughout our borough inventive Brooklynites are transforming underused brownfields and residential lots, schoolyards and rooftops, into vibrant, green community spaces. We’re becoming a borough of beekeepers as well as builders, looking for every opportunity to incorporate “green” into how we live, work, and play. 

This spirit of grassroots activism through sustainability resonated loudly last Friday at our first-ever “Greening from the Ground Up” conference at Pratt Institute, which we hosted with our Brooklyn Greens partners and LISC New York City, with the support of National Grid and State Farm.

More than 150 participants from government, community development, and nonprofit organizations gathered at the sold-out event to discuss the many ways urban sustainability is realized—not just in open space—but through our buildings, agriculture, youth, workforce, arts, public safety, and public health. 

Read the coverage from Fort Greene Patch and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Two notable advocates punctuated the day-long conference with stories of their own determined efforts to take on daunting, citywide challenges: Eddie Bautista of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance recounted his 16-year fight against waste transfer stations that have disproportionately brought pollution and heavy truck traffic into economically disadvantaged communities such as Sunset Park and Williamsburg/Greenpoint.

Communities of Color and Solid Waste Management Map, courtesy of NYC-EJA

EPA Region 2 Administrator (and Brooklyn native) Judith Enck gave an overview of the federal agency’s increased presence in Brooklyn and across the City due to the recently designated Superfund sites at the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek, as well as the discovery of harmful PCBs in lighting fixtures of old schools.

To take on these challenges, she said, “We need more community engagement. Not just on Facebook, but sustained citizen engagement…Your communities need you. In the world of public policy, organization matters; your involvement drives public policy and the EPA wants to identify common interests and help you achieve your goals.”
The City of New York has a 10-year plan in place to remove PCB-contaminated lighting fixtures in 722 public schools—216 of which are in Brooklyn. For parents who are concerned about whether the toxic substances are in their children’s schools, our Brooklyn Neighborhood Reports feature the data for each community district (look under “Environment”).

Enck encourages parents to speak up and be advocates for their children. “Go to your school’s principal, find out if your school is on the list—healthy neighborhoods need healthy schools.”

In discussing the EPA’s Gowanus Canal work, she showed a YouTube clip from 2010 her office jokingly refers to as “Poo-nami,” which documents a storm surge  bringing in sewage overflow in the form of a “brown tide.”

“In Brooklyn, storm water and sewage are channeled through the same system, and when there’s heavy rain there are sewage overflows. Pretty bad, huh?” She added: “What we just saw is part of the story of how the Gowanus Canal got polluted, but this is one of the environmental challenges we can work to prevent.”

She noted that Superfund cleanups like those beginning to take shape at the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek not only revitalize areas for future public use, but create new jobs right now. She also invited residents to consider applying for a Citizen Scientist grant from the EPA, to assist in collecting data on air and water pollution in New York City.

“We still have a very long way to go in ensuring that pollution threats in low-income communities and communities of color are addressed,” she said in her closing. “My view of environmental justice issues includes not only addressing health and pollution threats but also working for economic justice. Good paying jobs, affordable housing, schools that effectively educate our children, criminal justice.
It is all part of the mosaic that we have to build healthy, sustainable communities.”

In addition, conference participants had their choice of eight different workshops presented by members of our Brooklyn Greens initiative, as well as urban agriculturalists from East New York Farms!, GrowNYC, and BK Farmyards; green jobs trainers from Green City Force, PlaNYC, and LIU; youth organizers from UPROSE and FamilyCook Productions; arts programmers from Creative Arts Workshop for Kids, Arts East New York, and City as Living Laboratory; public health advocates from Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice and the American Institute of Architects; and green building experts from Zumix, Central Queens YM&YWHA, and the Jewish Community Center of Staten Island. Stay tuned for videos and wrap-up reports from each workshop on our website and social networks.

We want to give a special thank you to all who attended the conference and are investing their time and talent in shaping Brooklyn’s green future, particularly our partners at Pratt Center for Community Development, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration, Cypress Hills LDC, and El Puente!

The question is put to us: How can achieve sustainability that is also equitable?
As Brooklyn gets bigger, we need to make sure that it also gets better. New York City’s population is projected to reach 9 million people by 2030, with Brooklyn bearing much of that gain. Are we ready?

What's Happening Across Brooklyn

Here are a few highlights of news and events we’ve shared with our followers this week. Don’t miss a thing! Like us at and follow us at

Flatbush Designs a Fight Against Poverty
This week, the Brooklyn Bureau visits Flatbush to take a closer look at the new Promise Neighborhood as CAMBA and our research partners at the Center for the Study of Brooklyn begin asking residents how best to address the causes and consequences of poverty in their neighborhood. Read the story here.

Brooklyn Students Propose Ways to Improve
Relations at Shared Campuses

Schoolbook features the voices of students interviewed by the newly formed Brooklyn Youth Advisory Council, which explored the issue of “co-located” schools for their first report. The Council  grew out of our Education & Youth Achievement Fund grantee partner Coro New York Leadership Center’s Exploring Leadership program for Brooklyn teens. Read and listen to the story here.

"Mrs Goundo's Daughter"
Head to the YWCA of Brooklyn next Tuesday, March 27 for a film screening and talk-back on international women's rights. Sensitive and moving, "Mrs. Goundo's Daughter" reveals how women are profoundly affected by the legal struggles surrounding immigration, as issues of asylum, international law, and human rights collide with female genital cutting (FGC) and its devastating health consequences.