Monthly Archives: July 2013

The New York City Mayoral Primary Is September 10. Where Do the Candidates Stand on Sustainability?

Mayor Bloomberg touting the expansion of recycling in 2004.  What will his successor do?  What should New Yorkers ask his successor to do?

Mayor Bloomberg touting the expansion of recycling in 2004. What will his successor do? What should New Yorkers ask his successor to do?

This week’s news has put the New York City mayoral race on the forefront of national media again, and both parties have several viable candidates (and some notable independents are in the race as well).  Primary day is September 10, just a few weeks from now.

The New York Times recently provided a forum for New Yorkers to ask candidates some questions (some answers, including Joseph Lhota’s apparent unawareness of what social science research is, are worth perusing). Below, please find more questions about sustainability issues facing New Yorkers, questions which (if answered candidly) would allow voters to understand what choices exist prior to September 10.

While certain candidates have platforms on safe housing issues, we see few details about the current land use and zoning procedures in place in New York City. Recently, these policies (as depicted in Kelly Anderson’s documentary My Brooklyn) have been linked to the destruction of community fabric in Brooklyn as high-rise condominiums and big box commercial developments replace working-class businesses and housing. What steps (if any) will the candidates take to ensure existing communities are not destroyed and that affordable housing is readily available for working-class New Yorkers?

While candidates mention expanding recycling services, we have not heard discussions about continuing Mayor Bloomberg’s pilot program for composting food.  Large-scale composting infrastructure might allow diversion of this share of the waste stream (between 20 and 30 percent of total) as well as allow composting of  biodegradable packaging, which may allow manufacturers and distributors to provide effective design for composting in their packing material choices.  Beyond the existing pilot program, what specific steps do the candidates propose to expand composting? What timetable can New Yorkers expect for these composting services?

Continuing on the question of reducing local solid waste streams, thousands of plastic bags are distributed at local stores every day. These plastic bags are difficult to recycle because they jam processing equipment and they are light enough to fly out of trash cans and garbage trucks. From there, they produce visible blight in trees and threats to wildlife in our waterways. Several other communities have policies in place to limit or even eliminate plastic bags. Washington D.C., for example, has a small fee for each distributed bag. San Francisco has outright banned plastic bags in favor of paper or reusable canvas bags. Both policies have demonstrated effects at reducing plastic bags in their respective waste streams. Do the candidates support policy measures to limit plastic bag distribution, such as taxes or outright bans?

Last year, the current administration proposed developing waste-to-energy programs in the city despite a long track record of public opposition to incineration. What positions do the candidates have on WTE plants? Have they discussed the costs of maintaining and operating the plants, or the potential emissions?

Finally, it is encouraging that the CitiBike program has gotten off to such a strong start this year, and that New York City has a wide network of bicycle lanes. These developments are crucial elements of the PlaNYC platform on transportation. (Link opens a PDF.) That said, rare are the lanes that are not regularly abused by trucks and automobiles double-parking. What steps do the candidates propose to enforce and protect the existing bike lanes?

These are some of the important questions facing New York City. I hope the many politicians seeking to become the next mayor choose to address them in the days ahead so that the citizenry may make the best informed decision about the future of the city.

Upcycling Aluminum Presentation at SHOT 2013 in Maine

Charles and Ray Eames design an aluminum chair.  Part of my talk for SHOT scheduled for this October.

Ray and Charles Eames design an aluminum chair. Part of my talk for SHOT scheduled for this October.

The Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) has released the preliminary schedule for the October 2013 meeting in Portland, Maine. (Link opens PDF.)  I am scheduled to be part of the “Salvage: Reuse and Repurposing in the History of Technology ” panel Friday morning, discussing the history of upcycling in general and the example of aluminum reuse in particular.  Thanks to Hanna Rose Shell for organizing the panel, and for getting Finn Arne Jørgensen, David Luckso, and myself on board as presenters with her.

About thirteen years ago, a group of SHOT members established a special interest group within the society called Envirotech in order to discuss the relationships between technology and the environment over time.  This panel is but one of many that are relevant to Envirotech discussions, including ones on risk perception, public health, food sciences, resource geopolitics, and more.  Envirotech regularly meets and organizes panels for SHOT and the American Society for Environmental History (ASEH) meetings, and they invariably produce engaging, interdisciplinary discussions.  I look forward to this fall’s talks, lamenting only those that I invariably cannot attend due to schedule conflicts.

For more information on SHOT, visit the society’s website.  For news on the Envirotech group and its members, see the blog on its websiteThe 2013 SHOT meeting will be held October 10-13 in Portland, Maine.

Registration Continues for Fall 2013 Pratt Sustainability Courses

How do humans live in concert with the environment?  Discuss this question in these two Fall 2013 courses.

How do humans live in concert with the environment? Discuss this question in these two Fall 2013 courses.

The sticky hot summer seems like it will never end, but the fall semester is just around the corner at Pratt, and a few spaces are available in the two sustainability seminars we’re offering.  When these courses were originally added to the schedule, they were, respectively, a special topics course and a provisional course.  Now that the Institute has approved them as permanent additions to the undergraduate catalog, we have raised the enrollment caps in each.  Each of these courses may count as a Social Science or Philosophy elective, SUST 201 is required for the new Sustainability Studies minor, SUST 405 is an elective for the minor, and there are no prerequisites for either course.

SUST 405-01 Production, Consumption, and Waste has three seats available as of this morning. The seminar examines the ways production and consumption patterns from the start of the Industrial Revolution to the present day have shaped the waste stream, the ways we have defined and handled waste, the consequences of that waste, and ways in which we might reduce the impact of our waste.  Here’s a quick summary:

SUST 405-01 Production, Consumption, and Waste
No product or building is adequately designed without considering the consequences of its deterioration and disposal. Evaluating the ways in which consumers. states, and manufacturers define and classify waste allows us to consider those consequences. In this course, students analyze ways in which waste is created, defined, and managed in industrial society, and they create recommendations for improving problems with the waste stream.

Fall 2013: Tuesdays, 2pm-4:50pm.  3 credit hours.

The range of topics will in many ways resemble the scope of the Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage, as I kept in mind that reference work’s utility in the classroom when I was editing it.  (Students will not have to buy that book, let alone lug it around!)

I am also leading a team of Pratt Institute faculty teaching the third offering of SUST 201-01 The Sustainable Core.  This course is designed as our introduction to sustainability and is an excellent way to get familiar with the many ways sustainability is practiced at Pratt.  We’ve raised the enrollment cap on SUST 201-01 to 25 so that students interested in the minor may enroll in this required course.

SUST 201-01 The Sustainable Core
This course provides an overview of sustainability by exploring definitions, controversies, trends, and case-studies in various systems and locales (urban/rural, local/national/global). Investigation of critical elements of sustainability, including environmental history and urban ecology, sustainable development and landscape transformations, recycling/waste management, ecosystem restoration, and environmental justice.

Fall 2013: Mondays, 2pm-4:50pm.  3 credit hours.

Both of these courses may count as a Social Science or Philosophy elective, SUST 201 is required for the Sustainability Studies minor, SUST 405 is an elective for the minor, and there are no prerequisites for either of them. If you are a Pratt student and have any questions about these courses, please feel free to contact me at czimring@pratt.edu.