The 92nd Street Y in New York hosted a fantastic panel discussion last night (7/19) entitled The New Green: The Changing Face of Environmentalism in New York. The participants (full list below) had many great insights into how a city known for innovation, but not necessarily environmentalism, is now marrying the two in a number of extremely dynamic ways.
Atypical alliances were definitely a theme of the night. Blue labor leaders, red state Republican industrialists, civil and human rights activists are all adding brushstrokes to the typically green environmental picture – prompting moderator Ben Jervy to quip that the new green may very well be brown.
All the participants were brilliant and insightful. The one who struck me the most, however, represented a community not typically associated with the environmental movement: Harlem. Negotiating what is typically considered a white liberal terrain, Kizzy Charles-Guzman and her environmental justice organization, We Act, seek to balance environmental issues, development projects, and local economic vitality in the Harlem community. She spoke directly to the Inhabitat philosophy when she said that for too long the environment has been considered the great outdoors, and that it needs to be framed as “indoors: the places we live, work and pray.” Amen. This consideration is especially important in communities of color which have long been the dumping ground of bad products, bad buildings, and bad policies.
Communities like Harlem are also right at the crux of environmental do-gooding and economic/health repercussions. Kizzy sited the recent desire of many environmentalists to eliminate cars from Central Park. This sounds like something we can all get behind until you realize that doing so creates enormous traffic congestion in Harlem. So, while We Act still supports the a car free Central Park, they are lobbying to find solutions to ameliorate any negative traffic problems the intitiative might cause.
She also illuminated the rather shocking equation of planting trees in her neighborhood. Trees = gentrification = higher property values = no more more neighborhood. For more information on all of the amazing work Kizzy’s organization is doing to help improve the environmental wellbeing of her storied community please visit www.weact.org.
Kizzy’s statements were only one small component of a much larger discussion. Other participants included Inhabitat favorite, Josh Dorfman, CEO of Vivavi and host of the Lazy Environmentalist. Josh spoke about all of the amazing furniture and product design going on in Brooklyn that grace the pixels of inhabitat with such regularity. Kelly Cox, New Media Strategist for the Natural Resource Defense Council offered hilarious anecdotes on the generation gap in longtime organizations like the NRDC — such as taking her boss on a tour of MySpace. Chris Neidle, the Outreach Coordinator for Solar One talked about how the narrative of New York as a leader of innovation and media helps clean up the hitherto ailing image of environmentalism. Moderator, Ben Jervy author of The Big Green Apple: Your Guide to Eco-Friendly Living in New York City, did a fine job of keeping the conversation rolling. Inspiring talk you all!