Preserving the environment, historical integrity and involving the community

What is the best way to accomplish these things in a large city? Why do I feel like sustainability is the last thing on people’s minds in New York City. As one of the largest, most cosmopolitan cities in the world, we should be setting the standard not lagging behind with backwards policies and low standards for environmental regulation. Most Northern and Western European countries get it – if we don’t start functioning sustainably, pretty soon we won’t have a choice. If we don’t implement new technologies to save energy and decrease the use of fossil fuels, New York City will soon be the least desirable place to live because of high costs, pollution and deterioration. July’s issue of Monocle magazine listed the top 25 places to live in the world based on their quality of life index. The only American city that made the list was Portland – NYC was nowhere on the list. Munich, Copenhagen and Zurich took the top three spots.

Bloomberg is a corporate mayor (even though he makes regular appearances on John Stewart); under his watch we’ve seen the most gentrification of any other era in New York. It’s safe here now, but what about the spark that keeps the city alive? The grit and edge?? Everything in the city is so expensive! How did we get so far from our roots? Although I have to admit some of the development that has been moving forward is brilliant: The High Line, Governors Island, making the city more pedestrian friendly, and artist collaborations like the one with Antony Gormley sculptures everywhere.

How can we embrace the change that’s happening, while giving respect to the history of our place? The environmental movement has for so long been the environmentalists against the corporations – this hasn’t worked. You cannot hold back the change, however you can work with the winds of change. My idea is not to make the city a museum, but to look to the future while considering the past, and understanding the traditions and uniqueness of the town; Planning for our future while preserving our history.

One example of a problem is that I’ve observed a lot of signage lately that is glaringly out of context with the historical buildings it occupies.

Besides assaulting our senses and selling unhealthy food, what are these companies doing to add value to the community? Admittedly, Union Square isn’t much of a community (it never has been, since it’s always been a hub for commercial activity) and Canal Street is an eyesore and place to avoid more than anything. The problem is that the needs of the brand bulldoze any shred of historical significance that the building may have, and there is no perceived connection with the place the business inhabits. I understand branding. I know that people go to chain stores because they know what to expect; there is a formulaic exactness to every recipe and wall hanging.

The fact is, the city is what it is today because of it’s past. Using relics and detail that depicts the spirit of a neighborhood and it’s rich history, designers can work with chain stores to build connection to the community. In the neighborhoods where community boards don’t already keep them out, chain stores need grassroots efforts to understand how to gain a happy local customer base, and give back to the people they are profiting from. Actually, they can probably gain an entirely new customer that way.

I’m not saying they shouldn’t do business here. Everyone has the right to do business. This is America and capitalism is the driving force in our society after all. Instead, I’m searching for a solution that mediates between the needs of the community in the interest of cultural preservation and business. I want the McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts to have more of an awareness of the place they are setting up shop, and to implement policies and practices that connect to individuals in the community and build more constructive interaction.

I’ve chosen Rivington Street as my focus because of the rich history of the area and it’s distinct possibility of being harmed by development (much has already occurred).

The following is a rough outline of my methodology for research:
1.historical concerns: “how it used to be”

2.Formal observation: capture the personality in detail form, inspiration-board style, through photography and drawing. Typographic details, storefront signage, architecture, accidental patterns in building facades and interiors, and of course people will be captured in visual form.
3.People: Compelling interviews with long-term residents and local business owners to learn the story of the place. Involve myself in community centers like the Rivington House and ABC No Rio.
4. Community board research – to learn about possibilities of business development.
5. Research sustainability reports from companies – learn how progressive companies are connecting with communities and implementing sustainable policies.

There are many ways for a business to build connection with the community:
Partnering with a local organization or school, takeaway items can highlight the community history, hang art by a local artist in the store, employee education, employee volunteerism, sustainability actions to reduce footprint, integration of outdoor presence with surroundings, donation to local causes, grants for initiatives to make improvements to the area.

Published by Elizabeth Pizzuti

Design, art, and cats mostly

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