Building Hope Above the New York City Streets

This year’s Climate and Society class is out in the field (or lab or office) completing a summer internship or thesis. They’ll be documenting their experiences one blog post at a time. Read on to see what they’re up to.

David Colbus, C+S ’17

Fear has followed my entrance into the climate field. This fear haunts my family, myself, and most of all, my friends. It appears when we joke about the world ending or admit that we are afraid to have children. This fear is a threatening and burdensome pressure, shaping our lives in ways both subtle and disastrous.

From Hurricane Sandy to flooding in Miami, climate change already poses existential threats to our homes. It fuels the spread of mosquito-borne diseases and exacerbates violent conflicts, threatening our health and our lives. Climate change is a danger as personal as it is global, and it has hurt so many of us. I came to Climate and Society because by friends are beginning to lose hope, and I needed to find a way to keep that hope alive.

I think I have found my way.

There is no room for the fearing the frightening specter of climate change in the Emerging Technology office. Certificates, letters, post-it notes covering the walls, and tech demos all laying out an unapologetically confident vision of New York’s sustainable future. Every building is green roofed and solar paneled, every park and recreational center has built-in climate resilience. Electric vehicles and tools have replaced their gas-guzzling ancestors. There is no deliberating or debating. The future has been imagined and now we simply have to build it.

Source: David Colbus

I built a piece of it last month.

Without sunglasses, the reflective white roof is blinding. A thin green strip, the first stage of the green roof project, lies across the roof, about 100 feet away. Bronx factory roofs burn in bright whites or dark greys in every direction, with the Manhattan skyline shimmering in the summer heat far to the south. It is hot, dusty, and the combined smells of a recycling plant and a hot dog factory curdle in the air. Over three days in the middle of June, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation transformed an additional 7000 square feet of this space into a green roof, an oasis of vegetation on top of the concrete jungle of the South Bronx.

As a sustainability intern in the Emerging Technology office, I joined a team of interns, building staff, and Department of Parks employees in high-paced and physically-intensive work. We turned funding justifications and planning documents into reality, bringing supplies up to the roof, unrolling layers of fabric, and moving wheelbarrows of specially engineered soil and heavy rolls of resilient succulent plants off of crane-delivered pallets.

Three days later, what was once inhospitable had become a field, cool to the touch and gentle on the eyes. Each square foot of this green roof will reduce the urban heat island effect, retain storm water, sequester carbon, filter air pollution, and provide habitat for local fauna.

Source: David Culbus

A month into my internship at the Emerging Technology Office for New York City Parks and Recreation, I found myself in the rooftop garden of the Arsenal, the department’s headquarters inside Central Park. Well-manicured flower boxes create pathways across the roof and sweeten the air. Benches, tables, and sculptures are scattered underneath vine covered trellises and between planters filled with ornamental grasses and bushes.

All along the Arsenal’s parapets, tall flowers and shrubs create a colorful curtain that merges into the dark greens of the park itself. And beyond, the tall buildings of Manhattan appear to grow organically amongst the greenery. On this beautiful building that merges with nature, it is easy for me to be swept up in the future city that the Department of Parks has imagined and actively builds. The fear of climate change fades away when I can see a future that I would be happy to live in. I have hope.

And as I move on past my internship, I will hold onto this source of hope, this counter to the fear, and share it with my family, my friends, and my peers. Fear brought me to the climate science fold, but it is no longer the reason I continue.

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