Author: Ioana
Just Food and GreenMarket – Community Voices 4: Urban Agriculture/Hunger
| May 18, 2010 | 6:46 pm | Community Voices #4: Transportation/Infrastructure | Comments closed

The common event, Community Voices #4, featured two grassroots community organizations, Just Food, and GreenMarket.

Abby Youngblood, the speaker for Just Food, initiated the lecture with a PowerPoint that highlighted the increase in obesity of people living in the United States.  The general trend shows that obesity has been on the rise, particularly in southern states. Furthermore, there is a positive correlation between increasing amounts of fruits and vegetables consumed and one’s waistline. This statement aided in setting the stage for the rest of her presentation, and helped showcase the necessity of fresh fruits and vegetables in one’s diet.

Operating since 1995, Just Food has helped provide city residents with fresh produce from local farms.  Just Food works with many programs, including The City Farm, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), Fresh Food for All, Community Food Education and Food Justice. These programs range from teaching knowledge of food growth, to increasing access to local produce. Just Food promotes Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiatives, and strives to eliminate food deserts in the city. Considering the decline of family farms, Just Food has helped local farmers by linking food producers to markets in New York City: “Just Food works to increase access to fresh, healthy food in NYC and to support the local farms and urban gardens that grow it.” The Just Food website states that families receive a weekly delivery of fresh food from a local farm, for a fee of $475 per season. It also mentions that CSAs are the least expensive way for consumers to purchase organic food. If one is involved in a CSA, they are required to pay fees up front. In return, they are provided with a box of organic fresh fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis.  One essentially gets the crops that are “in season” from the farmer. This activity directly supports local farmers, and also helps in the elimination of waste. Farmers know how much food they need to grow, and extra food is not left to spoil. There are currently over 80 CSA programs in New York City, with new farmers added to the list every year.

Food justice was an important topic addressed by Ms. Youngblood.  Food justice goals include mobilizing citizens to actively participate in food policy issues (food justice advocates), raising the profile of food and climate change issues, and even legalizing beekeeping in New York City. The role of bees as pollinators was brought to my attention.  These friendly insects protect biodiversity and pollination; they may help create crops that are more desirable and help in the production of flowers that are commonly seen in farmer’s markets.

It was interesting to hear of our diet’s contribution to global warming. Global industrial agriculture contributes to 13.5% (32% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions) of global warming. Transportation, methane emissions, fertilizer production, and food packaging all add up. For this reason, it makes more sense to invest in CSAs. Food is from local farmers, and therefore does not have to be transported large distances.

The second presentation made was by Liz Carlo. Founded in 1976, The GreenMarket Program, part of of GrowNYC, has a two-fold mission: to promote the use of organic foods from local farms, and to provide New Yorkers with nutritious locally grown food. GreenMarket started in a parking lot on 59th st and 2nd Avenue in Manhattan, and consisted of produce being sold by twelve farmers.  Today there are over 200 family farms participating in the program. GreenMarket features 49 markets, 19 of which are open year-round.

Everything that is sold by GreenMarket is grown, raised, and caught by the people living on family farms in New York. GreenMarket staff includes 25 year round personnel and 20 to 25 seasonal market managers.  The diverse crops grown by farmers are a main attraction at vending sites. The institution of all of these markets greatly helps combat food deserts, which are defined as neighborhoods with little or no access to the fresh fruits and vegetables needed in a healthy diet. Furthermore, these “deserts” have plenty of fast food locations, which helps increase chances of obesity and weight-related diseases.

The desire to combat food deserts is made clear by the fact that GreenMarket stands accept alternate forms of payments, such as EBT, WIC, and Health bucks. This ensures that people receiving financial aid from the government have the opportunity to access organic fruits and vegetables.

I found it interesting that the two speakers did not discuss the cost of the fresh produce more in depth. In particular, although I find the CSAs to be beneficial to local farmers, it is important to note that consumers must pay for their fresh fruits and vegetables ahead of time.  If someone is of low socioeconomic standing, it is hard to imagine that they will participate in programs if it means paying close to five hundred dollars, yet not being unsure of what produce they will ultimately receive.

The discussion of the health factors associated with eating fruits and vegetables was superfluous at times. I do not doubt that anyone is unaware of the health benefits of fresh produce. I believe that any decision to not participate in these programs is primarily economically based, and not based on ignorance of simple nutrition.  I can understand that there are food deserts in certain parts of New York City.  The lack of fresh produce in those areas is most likely correlated with the issue of resources. There are more fast food shops in areas of low socioeconomic standing. Because fast food/ junk food tends to be cheaper than organic fruits and vegetables, it makes sense that they will be purchased instead. Apart from this, I found both speakers to be very informative and passionate about their respective programs.

Project Idea – Recreating the Domino Sugar Factory of Williamsburg
| March 21, 2010 | 9:37 pm | Project Abstract, Workshops | Comments closed

MHC 250: Mini Planning Project                                                                                                                                                                    Group Members: Ioana Paunescu and Jacquelyn Lekhraj

Recreating the Domino Sugar Factory of Williamsburg

The Domino Sugar refinery helped lead New York sugar-production worldwide. Operating from 1880 to 2004, the “Domino plant employed 4,500 workers, processed 3 million pounds of sugar daily, and was the largest refinery in the world.” Currently the building is out of use. The Domino Sugar Factory remains a center of debate because of plans to preserve the refinery and its surrounding area as a landmark, while others want to create large buildings offering affordable housing. There was a recent plan to reinvent the area of the Domino factory. This plan involved creating a residential complex with four acres of public land and 2,200 apartments. The local Community Board rejected this $1.2 billion plan. City Council member Steve Levin spoke against this project, which would add 6,000 residents to this Williamsburg area, a 25% increase.  The MTA also added that the new development would overcrowd the already densely populated L train line.  It is clear that the Domino Sugar Factory is a reminder of New York City’s industrial and manufacturing past. For that reason, we propose the creation of an arts and cultural center, which would include museums, theaters, open public space, and the Sugar Refinery Building as a landmark/museum.  After further research, we will determine which additions are best suited for this area, particularly keeping in mind the opinions of Williamsburg residents and potential economic growth for this area.

The Historic Domino Sugar Factory

February 23rd Readings
| February 23, 2010 | 2:07 pm | 2/23/2010 | Comments closed

Putnam, Arnstein, and Davidoff all discuss the essentials of neighborhood and community planning. Although there is a strong belief that there should be an increase in citizen participation when it concerns planning, the current trend has been a decline in social capital. Social capital, as defined by Putnam, refers to features of social organizations such as networks,norms, and social trust that facilitate  coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit.

Robert Putnam states that virtually all measures of social engagement seem to grow weaker every year. Causes include social and geographic mobility, the decreasing importance of families as women join the workforce, and the technological transformation of leisure. These forces have risen to the level of social crisis and must be fixed to strengthen the connections between people.

There is a great importance of a strong and active society to the consolidation of democracy. The United States has been long considered as a model to emulate, playing a central role in systematic studies of the links between democracy and civil society. However American civil society has declined over the past several decades.

Examples include decline in turnout in national elections, decrease in people going to PTA meetings, and decrease in government trust. Although religious groups are the most common association membership among Americans, numbers have decreased here too.  Countertrends are also apparent: more Americans are joining tertiary groups like the Sierra Club and AARP, which do not have considerable signs of membership, aside from the checks or dues that are paid every once in a while.

Why this is happening includes an increase in mobility (which disrupts root systems), fewer marriages and children, and technology, specifically television. Americans spend more time watching television than many other things.

It is imperative to consider how to reverse these trends and restore civic engagement and civic trust.

Sherry Arnstein uses the metaphor of a ladder to describe various levels of citizen participation. She defines citizen participation as citizen power, and a redistribution of power in order to allow “have-not” citizens  to be included in political and economic processes. A French poster included in Arnstein’s essay illustrates what happens when there is participation of citizens but no redistribution of power: the status quo is maintained and only the people currently in power are benefitted. The two lowest forms of participation include manipulation and therapy.  These forms of participation are more suitably termed “nonparticipation,” since the masses are controlled by powerholders and simply provide a distortion in the number of participants. Informing and consultation are not that much better. In informing, information usually is unidirectional; from the powerholders to the masses. In consultation, it is not certain that the views of the masses will be taken into consideration by the powerful.  In the end, only people in the “delegated power” and “citizen control” rungs of the citizen participation latter have any real control over planning.

Arnstein’s “Ladder theory” is well illustrated by Caro’s “One Mile” story. In the section of the Bronx known as East Tremont, hundreds of people were relocated due to a plan by Robert Moses to construct the Cross-Bronx Expressway. Moses believed that East Tremont was made up on tenements. The inhabitants of this location, many of which were of Eastern European and Jewish descent, and actually lived in tenements, disagreed. Although they tried to fight Moses in the construction of this area, they were ultimately overpowered. The fact that one man, one planner, had enough power to relocate people in fifty-four apartment buildings is just astounding.

Paul Davidoff (who once taught city planning students at Hunter!), makes an obvious argument: that different groups in society have different interests. This statement is on par with the one discussed in class last week, concerning the right of technocrats to make executive decisions in the planning of neighborhoods. It is clear that any decisions made by those technocrats will not impact them as much as the people that live in those specified areas. Davidoff argues that there should be planners that act as advocates for the poor and powerless, articulating their interests. Competing plans will ultimately be more effective, and well thought-out, than plans created by single planning agencies.  Planners may have a professional obligation to defend positions they oppose.  They may be well educated in certain functions of city government but not in others. Davidoff states that it may be hard to gain citizen participation in planning, especially since people usually react to agency programs rather than crate them. He suggests federal sponsorship of plural planning as a remedy to this potential problem.