Author: Danilo Rojas
Common Event #1: Energy and Green Living
| April 17, 2010 | 9:15 am | Community Voices #1: Energy and Green Living | Comments closed

The “Green Living and Community Planning Community Voices” event featured two speakers, Jaime Stein from Sustainable South Bronx, and Adam Friedman from the Pratt Center for Community Development. The event focused on different aspects of environmentalism and sustainability and how these different components are interwoven.

Stein’s lecture involved environmental justice, using the South Bronx as the main example. Environmental justice is the equal sharing of environmental burdens, such as pollution or waste management. The concept came about as a result of poor, underserved communities, such as the South Bronx, having to take on the burdens of the negative effects of industrial processes. Stein specifically mentioned NYOFC, which is the New York Organic Fertilizer company. The factory was built in the South Bronx to convert sludge into fertilizer. Since the factory was located in the South Bronx, it created repercussions for the community. Putting facilities such as these creates environmental justice problems. The factory created air pollution and other environmental problems that led to health problems such as obesity, asthma. The South Bronx was a neighborhood that was especially susceptible to environmental justice problems because so much industry was concentrated in the area.

Stein discussed some of the ways that environmental justice could be addressed. One of these ways was changing land use patterns to share environmental burdens. One example was setting up waste management facilities in many different neighborhoods regardless of their social or economic standing, such as on the Upper East Side. She also emphasized the importance of understanding the repercussions planning policies can have. For example, the shutting down of Fresh Kills landfill caused NYC to ship its waste to other areas. Transport of this waste by trucks would create problems, especially for the neighborhoods that these trucks were stationed in and had to pass through. Transport by barge would alleviate some of these problems, and solutions like these are important to recognize when planning policies. Another main point Stein made was the creation of jobs for individuals with low incomes in overburdened communities. The Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training program was one example of how jobs could be created. By teaching individuals certain skills that would promote sustainability, individuals would be more likely to see the economic benefits of a sustainable environment and be more willing to make personal sacrifices such as using less paper cups, because they are more aware of how sustainability can help them economically.

Adam Friedman’s presentation further elaborated on this idea of economic development and environmentalism. Economic growth and environmentalism need to go hand in hand to obtain the highest output with the least input. Sustainability requires a behavior change and a change in values along with economic practicality. People will be more willing to change their beliefs and values about the environment if they are fully aware of the economic benefits of sustainability. According to Friedman, the creation of jobs that promote sustainability is very important. He mentioned the PlanNYC 2030 plan and how it failed to provide for the growth in income disparity and creation of jobs for the local economy. The plan made no linkage between economic development and sustainability, and without this linkage it is difficult for people to accept sustainability policies such as using less paper or plastic. The manufacturing sector can be sustainable by following economic principles. Friedman used the term “Green Manufacturing” to describe this idea. Green manufacturing is manufacturing that has a small impact on the environment and uses minimal resources to still produce a high output of products. Friedman believed that small businesses were especially capable of doing this.

Friedman also focused on the importance of individual impact. He used Chris Jordan’s photograph of the amount of plastic cups used on airlines every six hours to illustrate this. Individual efforts to make a community green and sustainable can have large impacts on the environment. Friedman discussed the use of energy audits, retrofits, block-by-block analysis of the energy use of houses rather than analyzing house at a time, and fixing churches to make them more environmentally friendly.

Friedman and Stein both stressed the importance of the practicality of green living. Planning and initiative, the demand side of the equation, needs to focus on the importance of individual impact, which can be accomplished by training people in jobs that promote sustainability. This leads to sustainable production and green manufacturing, which makes up the supply side. People then realize the economic benefits of a green community, and work towards achieving sustainability. This leads to sustainable community development.

Friedman and Stein presented a practical model to achieve green living, and one that I believe could have positive impacts. By focusing on the economics of sustainability and environmentalism, it would be easier to show people that they can benefit from forming sustainable communities, and they would be more willing to change their behavior and values to work towards that goal.

East New York
| March 23, 2010 | 4:49 pm | Project Abstract, Workshops | Comments closed

Group Members: Danilo Rojas, Richard Lee, Vincent Xue, Joanne Cheung, Patricia Pares, Angela Hum

The Hole

East New York is one of the most underserved neighborhoods in Brooklyn, with half of its 90,000 residents living below the poverty line and receiving public assistance. The neighborhood borders Queens, specifically Ozone Park and Howard Beach, to the east, and it is this boundary on which our plan focuses on. On the outskirts of East New York lies a distinct site with no specified name despite its glaring differences from the surrounding areas. Some residents have come to refer to it as “The Hole”, since the area is 30 feet below grade, a key feature of the area. The site sits at the junction of Conduit Avenue and Linden Boulevard, separating East New York, Brooklyn from Howard Beach and Ozone Park in Queens. The separation is more than physical. A racial and economic divide exists between the two areas as well. The Hole has been neglected for years by the city, with construction projects being started and then being abandoned, leaving vacant lots and abandoned houses scattered throughout the area with an enormous mound of debris overlooking the area. The area has been so neglected that it was once notorious for being a mob dumping ground, and multiple bodies have been found within “The Hole”. With no sidewalks, streetlights, or stoplights, the area looks unlike any other site in Brooklyn, or even NYC, and the problems and neglect become even more apparent when contrasted with the suburban Howard Beach neighborhood lying just a few blocks away.

Planning issues in “The Hole” involve changing the area’s infrastructure to better integrate it with the surrounding communities. Planning needs to take East New York into consideration and determine how to make “The Hole” an integral part of the neighborhood rather than cutting it off. One of the questions that our plan will attempt to answer is how can physical structures and improvements to infrastructure help  “The Hole” to become a site of integration between Howard Beach and East New York rather than being the ugly boundary between the two, almost symbolic of the ugly racial and class divide between the neighborhoods.

Knowledge Production and Use in Community Based Organizations: Examining the Influence of Information Technologies
| March 16, 2010 | 12:50 pm | 3/16/2010 | Comments closed

In “Knowledge Production and Use in Community Based Organizations: Examining the Influence of Information Technologies”, Laxmi Ramasubramanian analyzes the uses and impacts of information technologies by community board organizations. This includes looking at the connections between the use of technology, community organizations, and the power of a community. Information technologies include display and presentation technologies, text based communications technologies, and spatial technologies. These tools can be used in a variety of ways, such as using spatial technologies to create maps of a certain area or using text based communication technology to organize and mobilize a group of people. Ramasubramanian lays out three points that the study focused on, which include how information technologies are used in decision-making processes, the role played by these technologies in participatory decision-making, and the capacity of the technology to support organizational leadership (Ramasubramanian 2004).

Information technologies are a powerful tool because they can serve to give all people a voice and allows them to do their own research and come up with their own solutions to problems that matter to them. These technologies are capable of producing a wealth of information that organizations such as CBOs can use to make decisions and influence or challenge those with power. As Ramasubramanian points out, this is important for CBOs because they reflect the interests of city residents who may not have much of a voice in government. Despite the apparent benefits of information technologies, there is some debate over the impact these technologies can have. Those who argue against the reliance on information technology make the point that social problems cannot be solved by technology and point to the possible dangers that reliance on technology can bring.

Information technologies have a profound impact on society, which is why it is helpful to study the nature of this impact. For example, Rheingold makes the point that electronic communications provides people with social network capital, which is the ability to meet others with similar interests, knowledge capital, which allows you to ask networks of people for help and information, and communion, which gives people a sort of emotional support(Ramasubramanian 2004). Since information technologies have the capability to connect different kinds of people, the linkages between society and the implementation of technology need to be understood to evaluate the impacts technology can have.

In studying the use of technologies by CBOs, Ramasubramanian looks at the processes of technology adoption and use, participatory decision-making, and leadership. This involves looking at how CBOs use data and information to make decisions and the role that technologies play in identifying problems, choosing a course of action, how technology facilitates or hinders CBOs in creating community participation, and how technology can empower CBOs to put them in a position of leadership. The cities studied were Boston and Chicago, and the CBOs studied were the Chicago Housing Corporation (CHC) and the Westside Community Development Corporation (WCDC) in Chicago and the South End Community Organization (SECO) and Boston Tenants Council (BTC) in Boston. WCDC and BTC did not make heavy use of information technologies, whereas CHC and SECO did.

The study found that information technologies created certain benefits for CBOs, allowing them to identify and reframe problems, develop programs and policies based on research or better understanding of the situation, and make analysis of problems easier. In particular, it was found that information technologies helped improve efficiency in the CBO by making the gathering of data faster and easier and improving the presentation of the results obtained from research. Technologies also allowed people to communicate better in groups by allowing people to use technology like maps to simplify complex concepts and by allowing CBOs to reach out to a greater number of people. Information technologies also allowed CBOs to negotiate more effectively with community leaders and planners because they can better present their ideas and have the ability to use information about past policies to support or disapprove with a certain policy.

Information technologies do produce some negatives for CBOs, which can make it difficult to implement the technology. It can be expensive to incorporate the technology into the CBO because it requires training staff to understand how to use information technologies to find solutions to problems or choose an appropriate course of action.

Information technologies had a positive effect on participatory planning because they allow people to have access to a great deal of information which allows them to understand how their decisions can affect their community. Information technologies also allowed CBOs to address a particular problem, learn how to deal with the problem by studying data and information, and collaborate with other organizations to attempt to solve the problem.

Information technologies can be very useful for CBOs because it allows the CBO to combine quantitative with qualitative information. CBOs can gather data and evidence by using technology such as GIS, and can then use this data to identify problems or propose solutions to problems. It allows the CBO to frame a problem through the lens of the community because it gives the CBO the ability to have more contact with community residents and also allows community residents to participate more in decision-making.

Danilo Rojas
| February 13, 2010 | 3:02 pm | Introductions | Comments closed

My name is Danilo Rojas. I grew up in Brooklyn, where I attended Brooklyn Technical High School, and I am now a second year student in the Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College. I am majoring in biochemistry and history and intend to go to medical school after my undergraduate studies. My interest in history stems from a desire to learn more about racial relations and discover what events made the world what it is today, and I enjoy biology and chemistry because of their applications to create change. The primary thing I hope to take away from my undergraduate studies is to learn how to effectively present science  to make it accessible to everyone and show the big picture when it comes to scientific research, a skill that would help me communicate with anyone about anything. My ultimate career goal is to be a rehabilitation physician with a focus in sports medicine. Currently, I am working in a research lab at Hunter College in the Chemistry Department where we do work on the chemistry of natural substances, which involves developing effective methods to isolate such substances and discovering their role in biological systems. In the last two years, I’ve also worked as a summer camp counselor for the YMCA and as a volunteer at Mt. Sinai hospital. Outside of school, I enjoy basketball, weightlifting, sports in general, playing video games for hours, reading about gender and racial relations, and arguing about stuff on messageboards.