Neighborhood Sustainability: One Block at a Time | January 27

Fourth Arts Block

What does sustainability mean at the block level?

Next Monday, January 27th, at Bowery Arts + Science (formerly Bowery Poetry Club), join Fourth Arts Block and the Cooper Union Institute for Sustainable Design for the first of two public conversations on sustainability initiatives at the neighborhood scale. In 2012, these two groups got together to create SUSTAIN — which stands for Steering Urban Sustainability Through Action, Innovation, and Networks — a program that seeks to develop creative solutions to the challenges of urban sustainability on one city block — East 4th Street between 2nd Avenue and Bowery in lower Manhattan. Over the past year, SUSTAIN has harnessed the talents of artists, architects, residents, small businesses, and activists to test energy, water, and waste reduction strategies that draw from the lived experience of residents and commercial tenants. After extensively collecting data about the block, the project has commissioned installations and art projects to engage the community, inform the public, and encourage wise resource use and reduction with an overall goal of changing individual behavior and turning this storied block into a model for community-led sustainability efforts throughout New York City.

Many sustainability programs — especially those conceived by state or city government — are designed around incentives to households and small businesses that offer tangible cost benefits to those individuals that opt-in but lack the on-the-ground credibility to encourage widespread participation. Community-based organizations — whether their emphasis is in cultural, housing, health, or other sectors — are uniquely suited to bridge this gap and bring about meaningful behavior change, block by block, by leveraging local networks, raising awareness, and encouraging collective responsibility. Next Monday’s event will focus on the role of these local leaders and intermediaries. It will bring representatives of three community organizations into dialogue — Anusha Venkataraman from El Puente Green Light District, Kerri Culhane from Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, and Betsy Imershein from FABnyc — to share strategies and insights from their work. The conversation will be moderated by our very own Cassim Shepard, editor of Urban Omnibus.

UO has featured projects from all three of these innovative organizations, each of which has dealt with some aspect of sustainability: nurturing existing cultural assets, planning for green infrastructure, and promoting health and wellness in a historically disinvested and environmentally toxic area. Next week’s event offers an opportunity to hear directly from these organizations about how their specific relationships to their constituencies can be marshaled towards local, collective efforts for a more sustainable urban future, for residents, business-owners, neighborhoods, and cities alike. The following month, SUSTAIN will bring together innovators from a wide range of sectors to discuss how the work of scientists, artists, educators, and activists can be integrated.

Neighborhood Sustainability: One Block at a Time
A Series of Public Forums
Monday, January 27th & Monday, February 24th

Bowery Art + Science
308 Bowery (between Houston & Bleecker)
Free, please RSVP by email to

Monday, January 27th – The Role of Community-Based Leaders & Intermediaries: A dialogue between three community organizations. With Anusha Venkataraman from El Puente Green Light District, Kerri Culhane from Two Bridges, and Betsy Imershein from FABnyc. Moderated by Cassim Shepard, editor of Urban Omnibus.

Monday, February 24th – Cross Sector Approaches: Science, Art, Education, and Activism. With Wendy Brawer from Green Map System, Toby Cumberbatch from Cooper Union, and Shawn Shafner from The POOP Project. Moderated by David Bergman, architect and adjunct at The New School.

Invite your friends and neighbors, and be sure to RSVP by emailing

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.