A Year In New York

A Daily Bite of the Big Apple

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Day 137: DUMBO’s New Lease on Life

November 13th · No Comments

Last night I made my first visit to DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) in Brooklyn to see a documentary about building construction for the 21st Century. To get there, I walked from the York Street subway through a landscape that was unapologetically early 20th Century: narrow streets, industrial blocks now converted to lofts, and overhead the bridge, grumbling and rattling like a beast.

The documentary was hosted by GreenHomeNYC, a group that promotes sustainable building practices, and held at the Galapagos Art Space, a new venue that is itself LEED-certified. Galapagos’ interior is composed of organic swoops of concrete. Little moats of water divided the seating booths, and the bar was almost entirely illuminated by candles. The lights went down at 7:30 and “The Greening of Southie” started rolling.

“Southie” follows the construction of the first luxury “green” building in South Boston, a depressed, working-class Irish-Catholic neighborhood. The viewer learns, not just how such a building is built and what a LEED rating actually means, but what sort of ripple effect such a project can have.

The camera follows the steelworkers, pipefitters and other construction workers –  hardhat guys who know way more about Carhartts than carbon credits – as they work to the exacting demands of sustainable building.

The film's director, Ian Cheney

The film

They recycle every scrap, use low-VOC glues, insulate with recycled cotton and install giant rainwater-capture tanks and a roof of growing plants. They gripe. They also express a begrudging curiosity and in the end, a few of them come to examine their own environmental footprint.

Afterward, I walked back toward the subway and appreciated New York’s age-old approach to sustainable building. The city is so crowded that it is constantly recycling, turning factories into living spaces, schools into museums, loading bays into storefronts, reinventing even as it leaves the foundation and the skin intact.

Tags: Deep Thoughts · Encounters with Nature · Why I Love This Town

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