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Block party goes green in New York

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Neighborhood block in Brooklyn, New York, threw an eco block party
  • Demonstrated ways to go green and how small businesses could be eco-friendly
  • Local environmentalists believe green ideals are becoming more mainstream

(CNN) -- Who would have thought that so many different approaches to greening our everyday lives could fit around a single street block in Brooklyn?

On October 2, 2010, GreenHomeNYC's first "New New York Block Party" showed residents not only how much is being done through green initiatives and businesses within their community, but what they can do as individuals to make a difference in their own homes and daily practices.

"We decided to take our mission out into the streets, to go out into the neighborhood and bring green information to people directly," said GreenHomeNYC's Gita Nandan.

"But it's not just the vendors, it's the activities. It's a DIY hands-on experience. So you don't just come get a flyer and walk away. You learn how to prune a street tree, how to do composting... People are coming and learning and figuring out how they can take some of these things home and do them themselves."

Having been in this movement for such a long time, it's very refreshing and heartening that so much is developing
--Karen Overton, founder Recycle-A-Bicycle
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Throughout the day the block of Third Street between Hoyt and Bond streets and its immediate vicinity bubbled with activity. Organizers estimated that around 1,500 people attended from surrounding neighborhoods.

In the middle of the block, David Seiter, the founder of Future Green Studio, a Brooklyn-based design firm specialized in green roof landscaping, demonstrated greenroofing techniques in a dedicated nursery.

Further down, Sam Bishop of Trees New York gave a tree-pruning demonstration, while Kate Zidar of Stormwater Infrastructure Matters Coalition explained the bigger drainage picture around Third Street and how it relates to the sewers below.

BoroughBees blogger Tim O'Neal shared his passion for urban beekeeping with a display of live bees, pointing out that two-thirds of the world's fruits and vegetables rely on pollination by honeybees. Since March 2010, beekeeping is now legal in all five boroughs of New York City.

Playful solar-powered attractions included Aeron Solar's shadow-sensitive photovoltaic panel, which acted as an on/off switch for a water fountain, and Solar One's children's workshop for building solar racecars.

One of the highlights of the event was the grand opening of Jerko, an experimental motorless houseboat, which uses a wood stove, a naturally filtered gray water system, solar thermal energy, and a living wall. Its built-in wetland dock proposes to clean the canal naturally with phragmites.

One of the most committed to his cause was Gennaro Brooks-Church, director of the green contractor firm Eco Brooklyn. He opened up his own work-in-progress, his brownstone home on Second Street. He gave guided tours of the house's "zero waste" features, including salvaged wood flooring, clay walls, gray-water recycling, solar thermal piping and photovoltaic energy, a green roof and bee hives.

"I prefer to look back for the wisdom in history rather than look forward to the science of technology," he said, citing his favorite example of Native American clay.

Other artisans like John Randall, founder of Bien Hecho woodworking studio, showed that salvaged material could be used to great effect. He displayed four finely crafted tables made from salvaged trees and scrap wood. Nearby, Catherine Charlot displayed her waterproof dresses, bags and accessories made from hundreds of found umbrellas and other salvaged materials.

Recycle-A-Bicycle, which began as a community youth project to recycle old bikes into new ones, offered kids beads and bike parts with which to craft jewelry, while offering the grown-ups free valet bike parking.

Just around the block, the Lower East Side Ecology Center collected electronic waste, as people dropped off old computer monitors and televisions next to piles of discarded CPUs and laptops. Christine Datz-Romero, the center's executive director, later confirmed that 179 people donated e-waste totaling five tons of recyclable material that day.

Some were not immediately drawn by the block party's eco-credentials.

"We came for some coffee, we stayed for the eco-friendliness," confessed Brooklyn local Philip Lamplugh, who initially mistook the event for a food festival.

However he felt somewhat limited in terms of architecturally sustainable initiatives, adding: "There's not much we can do as renters, besides composting at home and growing my own herbs."

As for Third & Bond, the new residential building certified by Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED), Lamplugh agreed that the building was more green in construction than in sustainability, besides being too expensive.

Meanwhile the block party was attended by numerous architects, designers, gardeners, students, curious neighbors and families alike, many of whom were full of questions and inspired by all the green potential on parade.

"When I was doing Earth Day 15 years ago, there wasn't a diversity of green projects to talk about," recalled Recycle-A-Bicycle's founder Karen Overton.

"Having been in this movement for such a long time, it's very refreshing and heartening that so much is developing. This would have been half the size 15 years ago. I'm glad to be part of it."

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