New column on the Bed-Stuy Sustainability and Community

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You may have noticed that the catchword of the last five years has been “sustainability.” Everyone is talking about it, from the United Nations to city governments to grassroots organizations.

But the concept of sustainability is vague and slippery, and it’s not always easy to see how it matters in our daily lives. There are tons of government programs, organizations, and blogs out there talking about sustainability. They generally describe it as a holistic model of economic growth taking place at the community level, blending social improvement with financial independence and environmental protection or renewal.

So what does sustainability mean here in Bed-Stuy, a community that has a high population density that is rapidly changing, boasts plenty of community gardens yet lacks affordable produce in many areas, and has seen the effects of the nation’s economic crisis, particularly as a wave of foreclosures came to visit our neighborhood in 2008?

I took it to the streets of Bed-Stuy to hear what residents have to say about sustainability: what does it mean, how is it happening in our neighborhood, and where is it missing or needed?

“This place has too much trash!” said a trash worker as he loaded up his truck outside the Lafayette Gardens housing complex on Dekalb Avenue. He shook his head in condemnation at the mounds of trash, saying that the amount of waste had only grown over the years that he’d been working in the area. Such wastefulness, he told me, was definitely “not sustainable.”

A local named Jack, 43, said that Bed-Stuy is a great neighborhood for riding a bike. Bike riding creates sustainability when it is used in place of cars or buses, which emit harmful carbon dioxide gases.

In Green Acres community garden at the corner of Greene and Franklin, Seth Orman was picking handfuls of parsley when I stopped by to chat. “The garden provides a green space, and a compost site,” he explained.

Orman added that Bed-Stuy is a “food desert,” meaning that it lacks sources for fresh vegetables, and said that the garden is a solution to that problem by allowing people to grow their own fresh vegetables.

Greene Acres garden is hosting a Block Party from 10am-7pm on Saturday, May 14 on Franklin between Clifton and Greene with food and events. People interested in becoming involved in the garden can attend a meeting on the second Monday of the month at 7pm.

A business owner named Juice, 34, was walking his dogs when I asked him for his thoughts on sustainability in the neighborhood.  “I can’t complain too much about the environment here,” he said. “But there is a lack of community. Most people aren’t social. They walk by in the streets without talking. Only when there’s a tragedy people come together.”

Juice wasn’t the only local who told me that social relations in Bed-Stuy could be improved. “What needs fixin’ is that there’s a lot of killin’,” said one teenage girl, Carimar. “You get used to it after a while, but it’s dangerous.” Her friend, Stephanie, agreed: “My mom doesn’t let me go out after dark because of all the violence,” she explained.

Sustainability is an important issue because it’s ultimately about community, and it requires thinking about problems as well as looking at solutions. I’d love to hear your thoughts about sustainability in Bed-Stuy. Leave your responses in the comments below, or stop by the Block Party on Saturday and look for me there.

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