OPINION: When it comes to environmentalism, Brooklyn leads the field
On Sunday, more than 300,000 people converged on Manhattan for the People’s Climate March, aimed at promoting renewable energy, ending this country’s reliance on fossil fuels, promoting sustainable forms of transportation and more.
The marchers point out that many of the practices that they criticize produce carbon emissions, which in turn contributes to climate change. Time magazine quoted one Brooklyn marcher as saying, “I keep imagining where I live in Brooklyn, just under water. It’s horrifying.”
However, a good case can be made that Brooklyn is way ahead of the country in sustainable building practices and conservation. Indeed, if municipalities around the nation all did what Brooklyn did, we’d be in much better shape.
During the past few years, many prominent buildings in Brooklyn have been built or retrofitted for LEED certification. LEED, meaning Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a program started by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED-certified buildings save money and resources and have a positive impact on health, while also promoting clean energy.
In 2010, for example, Pratt Institute opened a new six-story building known as Myrtle Hall that was the first higher education project in Brooklyn to achieve LEED certification. Its features include exterior sun shades; a “green roof” (roof covered with plants) that absorbs rainwater and reflects head; and solar photovoltaic panels that generate electricity.
The roof of the new Coney Island subway terminal, completed in 2005, is also glazed with photovoltaic panels that produce solar energy. More recently, the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Fisher Building earned LEED gold certification by instituting measures that reduced water use by more than 40 percent, reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 22 percent and more.
When the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Visitor Center opened in 2012, it also contained several features, such as geothermal heating and a plant-covered “living roof,” that earned it LEED gold certification. And these are only a few examples. Indeed, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said earlier this year that he’d like to work with the Green Building Council to retrofit Borough Hall, built in 1847, as an energy-efficient building.
Let’s turn to another form of environmentalism — alternative transportation. Several Brooklyn neighborhoods, mainly in the northern half of the borough, have taken the lead in promoting bicycling and walking.
The Brooklyn Greenway Initiative has long planned a 14-mile landscaped route from Long Island City, Queens, along the Brooklyn waterfront down to Sunset Park. Parts of the Greenway are already in place, including sections along Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, on Flushing Avenue near the Brooklyn Navy Yard, through Brooklyn Bridge Park and along Columbia Street. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s bike lane program has proven more controversial, both in and out of Brooklyn, but the arguments mainly focus on where the city has put these bike lanes, not on the concept itself.
Finally, Brooklyn’s elected officials — state, local and federal — have supported environmental measures for years. For example, seven state Assemblymembers from Brooklyn received ratings of 90 percent or greater from the advocacy group EPL/Environmental Advocates, ranging from Steve Cymbrowitz of Midwood to Joan Millman of Brooklyn Heights. The business community is also on board — the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce has sponsored programs highlighting wind power, solar power and geothermal heat.
In some parts of the country, environmentalist is seen as a radical fringe movement. But in Brooklyn, it’s as American as apple pie.
—Raanan Geberer, a freelance writer, recently retired as Managing Editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He had been Managing Editor of the Brooklyn Daily Bulletin until 1996, when the Brooklyn Daily Eagle was revived and merged with the Bulletin.
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