Current and Recent Projects

PF 1 – Urban Farm at PS1 Contemporary Arts Center

Working with Dan Wood and Amale Andraos and others at Work Architecture Company, winners of this year’s MOMA PS1 Young Architects award, The Gaia Institute participated in the creation of Public Farm 1 (PF 1). This productive Urban Farm is located at the PS1 Contemporary Arts Center in Long Island City, NY, growing on 65 cubic yards of GaiaSoil. This first-ever aerial Urban Farm is built of florets of cylindrical cardboard concrete forms. Innovative design used here shows how completely new forms can emerge from commonplace construction materials. Ultra-lightweight GaiaSoil worked in this art form to provide both optimal conditions as a growing medium for more than 50 plant species and a greatly diminished mass for the construction itself to support. Read more about the Urban Farm and GaiaSoil.

El Jardín del Paraíso, Lower East Side, NY, NY

Humus-rich soils and native plant communities were restored in order to capture storm water and re-establish natural cycles in a community garden in Manhattan. Compost from New York City’s waste stream was used to establish soil buffers and create wetlands to re-establish habitat while mitigating historic lead contamination. In collaboration with the community gardeners who built El Jardín del Paraíso on top of the urban rubble and fill of an old tenement site, and in partnership with the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, and with the help of NYC Department of Environmental Protection, the Institute carried out the design, development and construction of what is believed to be the first biogeochemical cap and stormwater capture parkland in the New York City region.
Over twenty years ago, the Gaia Institute developed the capacity to create ultra-lightweight soil out of the waste stream in order to establish ecological and agricultural systems on rooftops. Much further developed in recent years, a patent was awarded in 2005 for this plant growth medium. A grant from the Bronx Initiative in Energy and the Environment and the Bronx Overall Development Corporation in the Bronx Borough President’s Office made it possible to build an instrumented, stormwater capture and educational green roof facility in partnership with St. Simon Stock School.
The Gaia Institute, with the Green Apple Corps from the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation as well as St. Simon Stock faculty and students, constructed a native plant community and urban vegetable garden on top of the grammar school. After the roof membrane was installed and fully tested for water holding capacity, our ultra-lightweight GaiaSoil was installed and planted with a native meadow in June 2005. The finished green roof was outfitted with a weather station, including rain gauge, heat sensors, temperature, and humidity meters to aid in the educational program of the St. Simon Stock school and to document the behavior of the first green roof in the Bronx.
This urban stormwater capture system addresses urban code requirements by constructing soil buffers and street-side plantings that are directly connected with the standard storm drains on city streets. Because of this direct connection, road and sidewalk drainage infrastructure moves stormwater directly into contact with natural biological and geochemical filters and acts to hold stormwater for plantings, and out of the combined sewer system. This project, funded by Congressman José E. Serrano's Wildlife Conservation Society-National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s Lower Bronx River Partnership has produced full scale plans to retrofit a twelve hundred foot length of roadway in the Hunts Point district of the Bronx River Watershed.
Nugo Neu Corporation operates a six and a half acre recycling facility in Hunts Point on the Bronx River. This industrial landscape is presently under construction and modification to improve efficiencies of truck to barge transfer as part of New York City’s solid waste management plan. In addition, the facility also handles thousands of tons of metal each week. Hugo Neu is working with the Gaia Institute to capture and treat all stormwater that is generated from the site before it enters the Bronx River Estuary.
        By creating a string of wetlands along the upland edge of the facility, and surrounding the entire landscape with a stormwater treatment wall to be populated with mosses and ferns, natural biogeochemical filters will be established to improve water and air quality while greatly increasing biodiversity in and around the facility and along a thousand feet of New York City roadway. This green wall is designed to remove pollutants from stormwater while increasing the aesthetics and biodiversity of an old industrial landscape while adding value to the commercial and residential properties within a few block radius of the Hugo Neu facility
The Bronx River, Pugsley and Westchester Creeks, Hutchinson River and Pelham Bay Park contain the last remaining salt marsh in the southern and eastern Bronx. The keystone species that create this critically important habitat include salt marsh cordgrass, mussels, and fiddler crabs. Together, these organisms increase the productivity and water filtration capacity of intertidal habitat, and create homes and feeding grounds for more than a hundred species in and around salt marsh systems.
By comparing a number of marshes that have been restored or planted very recently, as well marshes next to large combined sewer outfalls, and documenting the presence and density of plants, mussels, and fiddler crabs, it is possible to determine how well the marshes are developing, and how much impact these local marshes can have on sequestering local pollutant inputs.
The tidal strait of what is now called the East River was long bordered on the north and west by extensive eel grass and shellfish reefs and beds. The oysters were harvested by colonists and, in the eastern Bronx, remained productive well into the 19th Century. Nearby eelgrass supported thousands of brant and other water fowl fed on the eelgrass, which provide habitat in an extensive fishery in western Long Island Sound. Eel grass was ravaged by disease in the 1930s, and seems to have all but disappeared by the 1950s. High nitrogen and increased turbidity together acted to eliminate near-shore habitat for eel grass thereafter. Increasing sewage discharge removed oxygen and habitat from much of the waterways surrounding New York City and the Bronx, making life increasingly impossible for any remaining oyster beds from the early 20th Century on.
Recent improvements in water quality and clarity have, however, in many places, changed the prognosis for oyster reefs and eel grass ecosystems. In partnership with the Hudson-Raritan BayKeeper, and with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, the Gaia Institute is surveying nutrient inputs, sediment quality, and flow regimes favorable to oyster reefs and eel grass beds, with an aim to begin piloting the restoration of these keystone species in coming growing seasons.
While New York City’s bid for the 2012 Olympics was not successful, mitigation and restoration of the Meadow and Willow Lake system could, and perhaps should, still be used to improve local and regional environmental quality and biological diversity. The nutrient sources from the ancient saltmarshes beneath the lakes will shunt superabundant nutrients into the lakes far into the future, giving rise to the fishkills that have plagued the twin lakes for years. At the same time, stormwater runoff and non-point pollutant input from the Grand Central Parkway and Van Wyck Expressway provide a constant input of non-point pollutants including nitrates and hydrocarbons.
The Gaia Institute program for capturing stormwater in native plantings in deep soils while holding and treating water in wetlands constructed to create a buffer around the lakes' edge would provide high quality and increased quantities of water inputs to both increase throughput and flushing while increasing the diversity and scale of wetlands and other natural filters.
Expert testimony on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement
Past Projects and Presentations
  1. Development of design specifications for flood control and stormwater capture adjacent to the new administration building of the Poly Prep Country Day School, Brooklyn, NY
  2. Ecological engineering and stormwater capture design development for the Henry Hudson Parkway, New York, NY
  3. Forest restoration in Cunningham Park, Queens, NY
  4. Ecological engineering and design development for Oakland Ravine, Queens, NY
  5. Feasibility study for biogeochemical acid mine drainage mitigation, South Stafford, Vermont
  6. Ecological infrastructure exhibit, New York, NY
  7. Creating native wetland gardens for stormwater capture at the edge of the Hutchinson River, Co-Op City, NY
  8. Upland soil buffer and wetlands creation for stormwater treatment, East New York, Brooklyn, NY
  9. Cleaning the waters of Jamaica Bay
  10. Restoration water quality monitoring of the Bronx River, Bronx, NY
  11. Great Swamp ecological engineering, Dutchess County, NY
  12. Field evaluations, laboratory analysis and expert testimony, Pine Tree Lake, Monroe, NY
  13. Production of annual reports on water quality monitoring for Bronx River Restoration, Bronx, NY
  14. Expert testimony: Orange County Landfill, Goshen, NY
  15. Crossing Borders: Art and Ecology, Poland
  16. Expert testimony for the City of New York, Canarsie Beach/Paerdegat Basin, Brooklyn, NY
  17. Cost-Effective Stormwater Treatment Utilizing Restored Wetlands
  18. Development of the first infiltration-based flood and pollution control stormwater capture system, Oakland Ravine, New York City
Selected Presentations