The Future of the City, Based on the Present
October 19th, 2007

While being close to the ocean was a big advantage for a long time, global warming will change that, said Bill Mckibben. “And the communities that will do well in a stressed environment,” he continued, “will be the ones that are tight knit” and can work together.

That comment laid out the theme continued throughout last night’s panel on the future of New York, which was organized by House & Garden.

McKibben, a staff writer at the New Yorker and author of a dozen books, doesn’t see much community in many areas of Manhattan, with its vast redwood forest of concrete and glass. He calls many of these skyscrapers “vertical suburbs” where residents have little interaction with each other.

Mike Wallace, a professor and co-author of the definitive history of New York, Gotham, chose to focus on communities in Brooklyn. In a whirlwind speech full of military analogies, he described flowing immigration patterns and talked about the variety of ethnic populations and their migrations around the borough seeking to claim a part of land as their own. His story ended in Ditmas Park, where no one group has dominance and many different populations live together. Rather than living in conflict (“Why isn’t the third World War going on?” he asked), they actually have created their own integrated community with its own unique rituals.

But a less vibrant portrait of New York unfolded as the founder of Sustainable South Bronx, Majora Carter, described a situation of segregation and poverty. Poor areas, she says, which are point sources for much of the city’s pollution from trash facilities and power plants, are “regional sacrifice zones” so that rich enclaves can live “a little greener.” We can’t continue to isolate people, she says, “The migrants [expected in the next dozen years] are going to be looking for communities, and we have to provide that to them.”

“We can’t speak about environmental justice without talking about economic justice,” agreed Michael Sorkin, a professor at City College.

Daniel Libeskind, the architect of the Freedom Tower, talked about government’s role in advancing new green technologies. “My first building in Berlin,” he recalled, “I built a green roof. This was because it was required by legislation.”

But it’s very hard to get a developer to build a green roof here, he said. “You have to beg them.”

Expanding on that theme, Shaun Donovan, commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said encouraging development that promotes community and sustainability is “part of our responsibility as your officials.” As an example of what government can do, he pointed to Via Verde, a mixed income, mixed use green development in the South Bronx which was the brainchild of a competition set up by the city.

But Carter took issue with the role that the city has been playing in this arena. She spoke about how after the Bronx burned in the Seventies, housing was rebuilt, but other aspects of community life were not. She was talking about jobs. To make up for that loss, the environmental justice advocate promoted an “Eco-Industrial Park” that she is involved in. She juxtaposed this project with Via Verde as an example of the city’s hand in development in the area:

The park would take advantage of all the waste in the area and make value out of it, creating jobs with garbage. (She points out that 40 percent of the city’s waste is processed in the borough, leaving an opening for recycling projects.) But the plot of land it was planned for is slated for development by the city for a jail. Not exactly a model of community.

By on October 19, 2007, 7:56 am
In category: Community Development,Environment,Land Use | 2 Comments »

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2 Responses to “The Future of the City, Based on the Present”

  1. Gotham Gazette - The Wonkster » Blog Archive » Real Estate Meets Facebook with Geography Based Social Networking Says:
    November 20th, 2007 at 10:05 am

    […] them will know nothing about their neighbors as they move into the giant high rises that have been criticized as “vertical suburbs.” It was here that Matthew Goldstein realized there was a role […]

  2. Link Building Services Says:
    November 12th, 2010 at 2:41 am

    Love all the opinions expressed here! How is everyone? Love how everyone expresses whatr they feel :)

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