Monthly Archives: September 2013

Canoeing the Gowanus Canal

My class took a field trip on the Gowanus Canal today.  Read more about it at the Pratt CritViz blog; here are a few photos.

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Some Quick Takes from the 2013 Mayor’s Management Report

nycmayormanagementreport2013New York City released its 2013 Mayor’s Management Report this week (link opens PDF), with over 240 pages of data on a wide variety of city services and systems, ranging from police to housing to small business administration to several measures of sustainability.  Browsing through the report, I came away with a few quick takeaways:

1) The city’s recycling rate has fallen steadily the past five years.  From 2009 to 2013, the rate has declined from 16.2% to 15.7% to 15.4% to 15.1%, holding steady at that figure in 2012 and 2013.  In Fiscal Year 2001, the recycling rate was 20.1%, indicating a concerted decline despite significant efforts to achieve a 25% recycling rate.  I would be curious to learn if the amount of material scavenged by canners from curbside collections might be affecting the reported rate; if so, that would mask a sizable amount of material that is being diverted from landfills, but is not collected by the city.  The recycling rate may be affected in the future by the advent of composting pickup and the opening of the new MRF in Sunset Park.  For now, however, we must consider why the city’s reported recycling rate has fallen over the past decade.

2) If the recycling rate is falling, happily so too is the number of air quality complaints.  The City received 7,628 air complaints in FY2013, down from 11,692 complaints in FY2009, with the figure dropping every year in between.  Another promising atmospheric trend is the claim that the City reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 16.7% between 2007 and 2012, covering more than half of the PlaNYC goal of reducing such emissions by 30% of 2007 levels by 2030 in just five years.

3) Other environmental factors, unsurprisingly, were affected by disasters in various ways.  Fecal coliform concentrations in area waters were significantly up in 2011 and 2012, years when hurricanes hit the city.  Despite weather-related problems, because the city treats its wastewater, the city’s compliance with federal wastewater standards was essentially unchanged from earlier years.

4) The number of new cases of children younger than 6 years of age  with blood lead levels greater than or equal to 10 micrograms per deciliter decreased by 19 percent from Fiscal 2012 to Fiscal 2013.  Whether that is due to better oversight by the city of older structures or the astonishingly vigorous performance of the local housing market (which, in a troubling but unsurprising part of the report noted that 43% of local renters pay at least 35% of their income on housing) leading to renovations, lead abatement, and new construction is not immediately apparent from the report.

This is but a small preview of the report, and I encourage those curious about the economy, crime, infrastructure, education, and other important measures of the quality of life in the city to read through the full report.  This data is available six weeks before New York City citizens pick a replacement for Mayor Michael Bloomberg from a field including Democrat Bill de Blasio, Republican Joe Llota, and Independent Adolfo Carrión, Jr.  The report provides metrics on the condition of the city that will be valuable for assessing the next mayor’s priorities and accomplishments in 2014, and to focus the priorities to make the city more sustainable going forward.

October Conferences

Ray and Charles Eames designing a chair from aluminum in 1957.

Ray and Charles Eames designing a chair from aluminum in 1957.  Part of my presentation at SHOT this year.

In the first half of October, I will participate in two conferences.  The first is the Partnership for Academic Leadership on Sustainability (PALS) meeting at OTIS in Los Angeles October 2.  PALS brings together educators at art and design schools committed to more sustainable practices in our work and classrooms, and I look forward to joining with my colleagues to discuss the progress we have made this year and our goals for the year ahead.

On Friday, October 11, I will participate in a panel on salvage and waste history at the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) meeting in Portland, Maine, presenting a paper on the upcycling of aluminum by various designers in the postwar era.  SHOT will see the Envirotech Interest Group convene, and I look forward to learning about the myriad of innovative work being done by my colleagues studying the intersection of technology and the environment when we get together in Portland.

Where New York City’s Mayoral Candidates Stand On Key Sustainability Issues

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?

Primary day in New York City is Tuesday September 10.  If you are a registered voter in the city, find out where your polling location is and vote on Tuesday.  Over the past few months, I have compiled questions relating to sustainability worth asking the various Republican and Democratic candidates seeking to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

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), and curious voters can see where different candidates stand on income inequality, affordable housing, bike lanes, and subway service.

The Times forum did not delve into several environmental issues, such as waste management, recycling, composting, or (other than the two transportation questions) carbon emissions, but other media have attempted to assess the candidates on these issues.  This week, Inhabitat ran a story titled “Which NYC Mayoral Candidate Would Make the Greenest New York City Mayor?”  The article gave about one paragraph each summarizing each of four candidates’ (Bill Thompson, Joe Llota, Christine Quinn, and Bill de Blasio) professed positions on environmental issues including recycling rates, energy efficiency in buildings, green jobs training, and watershed preservation.   This overview did not seek to profile all candidates, but provides some additional information to voters concerned about these issues.

Again, New Yorkers looking to find out where to vote may use the NYC Board of Elections Poll Site Locator ahead of Tuesday’s primary.