On Thursday, October 7th, the Mayor’s Office held its first “community conversation” to talk about what’s working and what’s not in PlaNYC.  To recap, PlaNYC is the city’s sustainability document for the year 2030, an anticipated era of more people and contentious climate.  It came out in 2007, along with the legal imperative to update it every four years.  Now New Yorkers are gathering around the collective table to direct the first round of updates for spring 2011.

Community Advocate Addresses His Peers; PlaNYC

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was encouraged by a personal email from someone at the Mayor’s Office.  Now after having attended, I recommend it to anyone who wants to be a part of building the next phase of NYC life.  At the Brooklyn event, I’d estimate there were about 130 people in attendance.  The evening was adeptly facilitated by the PlaNYC team; they said we’d be done by 8:00 pm and we were.  It was well-paced with good energy.  No rambling.  No whining.  Quite the opposite:  I met neighbors who want an open dialogue for a better city, despite upcoming tough developments.

The evening started with a summary of PlaNYC achievements to date.  For example, did you know that New York is home to the first municipal Office of Environmental Remediation in the country?  Me neither.  Later, the audience funneled into a large room with several round tables.  Each table was labeled with its particular PlaNYC topic of concern:  Water, Transportation, Energy, etc.  People selected their tables, introduced ourselves, and got talking.  The city’s team stopped by frequently to make sure our goals were, in their words, “ambitious, practical, and measurable.”  Then, each table selected a speaker to tell the room about the best idea from their discussion.  One by one in round-robin style, we heard from each table.  It was fast and focused.

In summary, if you have the opportunity to attend one of these community conversations, DO IT.  Yes, I too wonder how these conversations will eventually fold into city policy.  It was an empowering evening, but where will we go from here?  I’m not sure of the answer.  What I know is that as the room dispersed, and we all took our steps onto the Brooklyn streets, I could hear my community saying, “If you don’t participate, you can’t complain.”

Postcards Given Out Prompt Everyone to Text PlaNYC Ideas to the City

In the trailer from Vanishing of the Bees, one of the experts says that the Chinese character for “crisis” includes the characters for both “danger” and “opportunity.”  What a precise metaphor for our economic climate today.

In the global groundswell to change the way food is produced and distributed, entrepreneurs are opening to the opportunity.  I hear spirited stories from New York often and will bring you local updates soon.  In the meantime, enjoy these kindred businesses from distant lands.

SoupCycle in Action on the Streets of Portland, OR

This comes from Groundswell West, a.k.a. my sister Lindsay and her friend Elizabeth Moore in Portland, Oregon:  SoupCycle.  Started by two “soup lovers and avid bicycle advocates,” the company delivers freshly-prepared soup by bike to your home or office in the Portland area.  The standard order starts at $18 for a quart of soup, a salad, and rustic bread with the delivery fee included.  A meal this size is estimated to feed 1-2 people.  In New York, our density makes bicycle delivery standard (albeit ruthless to pedestrians), but imagine the carbon benefit of this model in our wide and vastly-paved cities.  They could create a franchise for every few neighborhoods.  Customers could also bike over to the franchise to pick up their soups, rather than get in a car nightly for fast food via a drive thru.  [Note:  The drive thru example falls under my category of “Confessions of a Midwestern Childhood.”]

Beautiful utility: Unpackaged in London

The mention of this next business is dedicated to the first environmentalist I ever knew: Joan Landewe.  I went to high school with her kids and was in their kitchen one day when she returned fired up from the grocery store.  The store had not let her use her own bags to carry out her groceries.  They claimed that all bags leaving the store needed to be printed with the store name.  In those days, reusing a bag was simply not done.

Many years later, there’s a store in London called Unpackaged.  It is BYOE – Bring Your Own Everything, except the food you purchase.  They have that part.  They sell it in bulk and customers bring their own containers to take it home.  If you think you have a particularly heavy container, they will weigh it first and then deduct the weight from the final price.  Otherwise, they will offer their discount for any container that customers bring–including for the person who brings plastic bottles for lentils.  And yes, they let you bring your own bags, too.

Have you experienced a new food business in your corner of the world?  If so, I’d love to hear about it.  Opportunity — here we come!

I know somebody who knows somebody.

And this Somebody Dos was telling President Obama about the flaws in the American food system.

I wasn’t there, but I think he mentioned:

  • The government pays subsidies to farmers to grow primarily corn and soybeans.  For real cheap.
  • The cheap corn becomes feed for cattle (not their natural diet, by the way) and the basis for high-fructose corn syrup that gives fake flavor to things we’ve taken to calling food.
  • This processed food has no nourishment in it, so we eat more and more of it to fill up.  Here I imagine that Somebody Dos leaned in and said, “Really?  An epidemic of obesity?  We’re going to allow for that?”
  • To make ends meet with the cheap crop sales to agribusiness, farmers use pesticides to get the highest yield possible.  The pesticides may work for awhile, but with time, the insects and diseases fight back and introduce resistant populations.
  • The pesticides make our people and our land sick.

You know what Obama said?  May I paraphrase since – you know – I wasn’t there?

The President said, “On a personal note, I completely agree with you.  But you have to show me the movement.”

So, now we’re all here.  You talk to your friends and I’ll talk to mine.