The Gaia Institute News

Paul Mankiewicz featured in the Christian Science Monitor: Botonist's Aim: revive New York Ecosystems

Thursday, September 11, 2008
Botonist's Aim: revive New York Ecosystems

The Gaia Institute featured in today's New York Times: In City Waters, Beds (and a Job) for Oysters

Sunday, February 24, 2008
In City Waters, Beds (and a Job) for Oysters
The Gaia Institute featured on Streetsblog: Pint-Sized Parks Make Safer Streets and Cleaner Rivers
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Pint-Sized Parks Make Safer Streets and Cleaner Rivers
Councilman Gennaro & Environmental Advocates Hail Passage of Comprehensive Stormwater Management Plan
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Councilman Gennaro & Environmental Advocates Hail Passage of Comprehensive Stormwater Management Plan
Green Roofs, Permeable Streets and Other Innovative Methods to Be Used
BROAD CHANNEL, NY (Feb. 7, 2008) -- Councilman James F. Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) was joined by environmental advocates in Jamaica Bay today to hail the passage of his comprehensive Stormwater Management Plan, which won unanimous approval in the New York City Council last week.
   Intro 630-A, when signed into law, will require the City to draft a sustainable stormwater management plan by Oct. 1, 2008.  The resultant plan would reduce flooding on neighborhood streets as well as protect the waters surrounding New York City from sewage overflows through the use of various simple but innovative methods recommended by experts in environmental design and construction.  Besides improving public health and safety, the plan would also enhance the use and enjoyment of the City's water bodies for recreational and tourist activities.
    "For too long, the city's local streets and water bodies have been flooded with billions of gallons of overflowing rainwater and sewage after heavy storms," said Councilman Gennaro, chair of the Environmental Protection committee and sponsor of Intro 630-A. "This bill commits the city to implementing the most progressive, natural and cost-effective methods in the country to control storm water and combined sewer overflows at their source. These strategies will have a profound effect on our city's streets and waterways for which our residents and successive generations of New Yorkers will be grateful."
   Currently, storm water runoff floods local streets, highways and homes and often causes the sewage system to overflow into the City's water bodies, causing approximately 27 billion gallons of untreated sewage and storm water to be discharged into the City's waters in a typical year. It has been reported that such "combined sewer overflows" (CSOs) dump hazardous pathogens into the City's water bodies, posing a danger to the public health, harming ecology and making local water bodies unsuitable for recreational activities.
   The stormwater management plan as outlined in Councilman Gennaro's
bill relies heavily upon "source control measures," which try to capture, store and divert stormwater before it reaches streets and sewers in the first place.  Some of the progressive techniques include water barrels on "blue roofs" and underground cisterns to capture and store rainwater; green roofs, green streets and green walls, all of which use soil and vegetation to absorb rainwater; permeable pavement, gray-water reuse and "high level storm sewers" that separate stormwater from sanitary waste.  This plan complements the City's comprehensive PlaNYC plan by going into specifics of how we can reduce flooding and make our local waters cleaner.
   Barbara Brown, Chair of the Eastern Queens Alliance, said:  "Not only will Intro 630-A lead to improved water quality and the ecological health of our waterbodies, thereby increasing recreational possibilities available in our waterbodies, but the implementation of measures called for in the Stormwater Management Plan should help to provide some of the greatly needed flood relief in many of our flood-prone areas, particularly in Southeast, Queens."
   Don Riepe, the Jamaica Bay Guardian from the American Littoral Society, said: "Storm water runoff and CSO's are a major source of pollution and poor water quality in Jamaica Bay and other water bodies in New York City. This bill will provide the impetus to move forward in a timely manner and reduce the negative impacts from these outlets. Many thanks to Councilman Gennaro for his consistent and aggressive help in improving our precious natural resources."
   Lawrence Levine, Natural Resources Defense Council attorney, said: "The adoption of this local law means cleaner rivers and bays in all five boroughs – and, literally, a greener New York City.  Green infrastructure is the perfect blend of simple common sense and innovative technology. Green roofs, smarter design of tree plantings, porous surfaces for parking lots and roads, and other creative uses of urban landscaping – all of these things help rainfall evaporate or soak into the ground, rather than polluting the nearest water body and causing our city's overburdened sewer system to overflow with raw sewage.  It's a win-win."
   Marcia Bystryn, Executive Director of League of Conservation Voters, said: "This legislation is a vital building block in the city's efforts to improve water quality and make our extensive waterfront the recreational resource that it should be.  Thanks to Councilman Gennaro's efforts, this bill commits the City to studying the sort of innovative and cost-effective solutions that are our best hope of addressing the ongoing pollution of our waterways."
   Dr. Paul Mankiewicz, Executive Director of the Gaia Institute, said: "Stormwater is the single greatest resource, until now largely ignored, in the New York City environment.  This bill by Councilman Gennaro, and the strong support of Speaker Quinn and the mayor, is a major step to making storms that hit the City into contributions to environmental quality."
   Intro 630-A complements another law written by Councilman Gennaro, Local Law 71, which created the Jamaica Bay Watershed Protection Plan. Among other things, that plan is intended to promote low-impact development and best management practices for new and existing development (residential and non-residential) in the communities around the Bay.  It calls for a green roof/ blue roof pilot study, a rain barrel give-away pilot study, a parking lot pilot study, a housing development pilot study and various other evaluations and analyses ultimately intended to lead to improvements in stormwater management.
   Also present at the press conference was Mortimer Lawrence, chief of staff for State Senator Malcolm A. Smith, who has a long record of taking measures to protect the waters in and around Jamaica Bay.
New York City to Clean Up Waterways by Greening Roadways and Roofs
City Council Adopts New Measure for Sustainable Stormwater Management Plan
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
New York City to Clean Up Waterways by Greening Roadways and Roofs
City Council Adopts New Measure for Sustainable Stormwater Management Plan
NEW YORK (January 30th, 2008) – The New York City Council passed legislation today to tackle the sewage overflow problem in the City's overburdened sewer system. The legislation advances the implementation of green design elements, which mimic nature's own filtering systems, into the City's existing streets, parks, and other public spaces and into existing and new development projects.
By adopting 'green infrastructure' solutions, such as green roofs, permeable pavement, wetland restoration, and smarter design of street tree plantings, stormwater can be captured where it falls and used to green the city, instead of overwhelming sewers and flushing raw sewage directly into City waterways. The legislation, City Council Intro No. 630, ensures that New York City will follow through with the initiatives outlined in Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030, by requiring the development of a city-wide Sustainable Stormwater Management Plan focusing on such measures. The mayor is expected to sign it into law.
"The adoption of this local law means cleaner rivers and bays in all five boroughs – and, literally, a greener New York City," said Larry Levine, Natural Resources Defense Council attorney. "Green infrastructure is the perfect blend of simple common sense and innovative technology. Green roofs, smarter design of tree plantings, porous surfaces for parking lots and roads, and other creative uses of urban landscaping – all of these things help rainfall evaporate or soak into the ground, rather than polluting the nearest water body and causing our city's overburdened sewer system to overflow with raw sewage. It's a win-win."
Currently, more than 27 billion gallons of raw sewage and polluted stormwater discharge out of 460 combined sewer overflows ("CSOs") into New York Harbor each year. Although water quality in the harbor has improved significantly over the last few decades, most of the waterfront and its beaches are still unsafe for recreation after it rains. New York City's outmoded sewer system combines sewage from buildings with dirty stormwater from streets. As little as one-tenth of an inch of rain can overload the system, causing raw sewage to overflow into the harbor.
The city's most recent plans for addressing this problem, submitted to the state Department of Environmental Conservation last year, would reduce these sewer overflows by only about 40% – leaving about 17 billion gallons still pouring into waterbodies around the city each year.
Storm Water Infrastructure Matters (S.W.I.M.) – a coalition of more than 50 organizations, including community and environmental groups, environmental justice organizations, architects, water engineers, and community development corporations – partnered with Councilmember James Gennaro, Chair of the City Council's Environmental Protection Committee, to advance the landmark legislation. In addition to providing a roadmap for solutions to the CSO problem, the law requires the City to notify the public when sewer overflows occur, so recreational boaters, kayakers, swimmers, and fishermen can take appropriate precautions.
"Currently, there is no mechanism for alerting people who work or recreate on New York City's waterways to the time and place of sewer overflows," said Kate Zidar, Environmental Planner for Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice. "While we work toward the long term goal of preventing CSOs altogether, this new law will ensure that the city keeps the public informed of sewage overflows to protect public health – and to make sure people know the importance of solving this problem."
CSOs and stormwater runoff not only make waters unsightly and unsafe for recreation after a rainfall due to the release of raw sewage, they also significantly harm aquatic ecosystems, by lowering dissolved oxygen levels, contaminating the food web, and persisting in sediments for the long term. Stormwater that enters the sewers carries litter, petrochemicals from roadways, pesticides fertilizers from landscaped areas, and even pet waste.
"This local law is good for the City's environment and makes sound economic sense," said Basil Seggos, Riverkeeper's Chief Investigator. "By regarding stormwater as a resource for irrigating the landscape, we not only improve water quality, but also capture all the added economic benefits of green infrastructure, including cooler streets, reduced energy costs (by reducing building cooling needs), cleaner air, sequestration and reduction of global warming pollution, flood mitigation, and more livable communities."
"Too frequently, opportunities for creating jobs for the poor are missed when planning for our future, said Rob Crauderueff, Sustainable Alternatives Director for Sustainable South Bronx. "This legislation creates a vehicle for improving job training and job creation for green jobs – while supporting the development of local markets in the process. We can make our waterways and economy accessible for all New Yorkers by building and maintaining green infrastructure and green-collar jobs throughout New York City."
"Many New Yorkers have already shown a commitment to this type of greening, which is endorsed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a cost-effective tool for reducing urban water pollution, and already being implemented in dozens of cities around the globe, including Chicago, Pittsburgh, Portland, and Seattle in the U.S.," said Teresa Crimmens, Ecology Director of the Bronx River Alliance. "The passage of this local law shows the City of New York's commitment to make the water cleaner by making the city greener."
"This new law builds on Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC, which is already on the right track with plans to plant a million new trees, improve parks in every neighborhood, and provide tax incentives for green roofs," said Dr. Paul Mankiewicz, Executive Director of the Gaia Institute. "With widespread implementation of green infrastructure throughout the city, we could ultimately capture over a billion gallons of stormwater from a single storm, and plant enough vegetation to reverse the urban heat island and significantly decrease the air conditioning expenses and associated air pollution in New York City."
The S.W.I.M. coalition also supports other initiatives pending before the City Council and City Planning Commission to promote the use of green infrastructure in New York City, including zoning and other legislative requirements that would ensure that all of the million trees to be planted under PlaNYC are installed in common-sense ways that optimize their stormwater capture potential.
SWIM (Storm Water Infrastructure Matters) is a coalition of more than 50 organizations dedicated to ensuring swimmable waters around New York City through natural, sustainable storm water management practices in our neighborhoods. This approach is environmentally and fiscally responsible because it utilizes storm water, currently viewed as a waste, as a resource. For more information on CSOs and green infrastructure solutions in New York City, go to
The full text of Intro. 630 is available at
City Council Testimony on Rising Waters: What Can the DEP Do About Flooding?
Monday, September 24, 2007
Today, Paul Mankiewicz gave testimony at a NYC City Council Committee on Environmental Protection hearing on Rising Waters: What Can the DEP Do About Flooding?
Read the written testimony here.
Jersey City Art Exhibit Examines Environmental Issues and Helps Launch New Product
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Bag the Habitunveils its first reusable shopping bag in a  month-long art exhibition exploring the environmental repercussions of common consumer behaviors.  The show will run from June 14th to July 14th at Lex Leonard Gallery in Downtown Jersey City (opening reception June 14th, 8PM). Along with Bag the Habit’s signature tote, a  limited edition line of bags created by recognized artists and designers will be for sale.  The proceeds of the latter will be donated to New York City’s Gaia Institute.
Paper and plastic disposable bags are a hot topic among environmentalists, and more recently legislators, due to the damaging ecological effects of both their manufacture and disposal and the excessive rate at which they are consumed. 500 billion to 1 trillion are used worldwide each year, with the US responsible for an estimated 100 billion (
The show, titled REDUCE, highlights the impact of single-use bags as well as other disposables similar in method of production and volume, such as cups, napkins and plastic utensils.  Through symbolic works, informational displays and short film, the exhibit brings attention to the items we habitually overuse, and often overlook, on a daily basis.
By combining the functions of “store” and “gallery”, the creative team (Curator Nyugen Smith, Holly Tienken of Design Grace and Bag the Habit’s Liz Long) hopes to promote more thoughtful consumerism. “Helping people understand the true value of a product is not what  conventional stores are known for”, says Smith. “We are creating a new kind of retail model”.
Long adds, “As people accept the fundamental importance of reduction, their buying habits will change. They’ll avoid wasteful products and by-products and the demand for responsible, low-impact choices will grow. The disposable culture won’t survive.”
06/11/07: NYSWCD and Earth Institute present Better Site Development Workshop at Columbia University
Monday, June 11, 2007
Paul Mankiewicz will present.
Columbia University
Burden Room,
206 Low Memorial Library
Monday, June 11th, 2007
8:00am – 12:30pm
This workshop will provide landscape architects, designers, and city planners the tools to develop sites with a sustainable design.  Presenters will give attendees examples and resources focused on redeveloping NYC buildings and landscape to improve environmental quality, reduce the burdens on current city infrastructure, enhance site aesthetics, and protect surrounding natural resources.
For more information, and to register, see here.
05/21/07 The Green Renter Series Free Lecture: The Promise of Green Roofs in NYC
Monday, May 21, 2007
Close your eyes and imagine fragrant smells, pristine wetlands, songbirds all around. It may be hard or impossible to imagine, but when the Europeans arrived in what is now New York City, that is what they found. The times have changed, and so has the landscape. Black and grey rooftops now occupy thousands of acres in our small town on the Hudson. Green roofs can help mitigate many environmental woes, such as combined sewer overflows, urban heat island effect, air pollution, and declining biodiversity. Green roofs also add natural beauty to our impervious cityscape, are a wonderful educational instrument, and can even create space for urban agriculture. But some have called green roofs "green bling." Are green roofs a cost-effective strategy? How do green roofs work? Mayor Bloomberg's PLANYC 2030 sustainability agenda includes "a property tax abatement to offset 35% of the installation cost of a green roof." What is the future of green roofs in New York City?
Non-renters welcome.  For more information, and to RSVP, please visit Solar1.
* Refreshments for the Green Renter are generously provided courtesy of the Birdbath Bakery, NYC's only sustainably designed destination for amazing cookies and confections. To find out more about The City Bakery's newest green venture, visit