New York Projects Aim to Make the City More Sustainable

New York City’s eight million residents and skyscrapers, built on one of the world’s largest natural harbors, have made the country’s largest city one of the most polluted. Air pollution is a leading environmental threat to the health of the city’s residents. But a New York nonprofit, ioby, has helped 101 urban projects raise a total of $174,618 to make New York a greener, more sustainable and healthier place to live.

From building community gardens on vacant city lots to monitoring sewage water, these projects have triggered an urban movement towards maximizing the city’s environmental potential.

Don’t Flush Me

New York City’s outdated sewage system does not have the capacity to transport unusually high amounts of water to one of the city’s 14 Wastewater Treatment Plants. During times of severe rainfall, sewage pipes are often overloaded, and more than 27 billion gallons of raw sewage and polluted water flow into the city’s waterways each year.

But Leif Percifield’s project, Don’t Flush Me, aims to install solar-powered sensors around New York’s major sewage overflow points to monitor the water levels. When sewage water reaches overflow levels, residents who register their phone numbers of Twitter accounts with the project will receive a message telling them not to flush their toilets during that time and to reduce their water usage.

“The idea is to create a text message alert system where someone can get the information on their phone or to a device that will suggest to them that now is not the time to use a lot of water,” he said, standing beside a canal in Park Slope. “They should save a flush, take a shorter shower, or avoid washing a giant sink of dishes.”

Leif Percifield stands in front of a canal in Park Slope, where he has installed his first combined sewage overflow sensor. Photo by Nicole Glass.

Community Gardens Replace Vacant Lots

Brooklyn is home to about 596 acres of vacant public land, and a recently launched ioby-funded nonprofit is trying to make use of them. 596 Acres, led by Paula Segal, distributes maps of vacant land and helps residents acquire the city’s permission to use these empty lots as a community-controlled green space.

“When we put up a sign, it means that the agency that owns the land doesn’t have a plan for it,” she said. “And if the community got together, they would let them use it.”

And that’s exactly what happened at Compost for Brooklyn, where more than a dozen Kensington neighborhood residents spent the weekend gardening and planting seeds in the once-abandoned lot.

“I would have never thought that composting could bring a community together, but it really has,” said Emily Osgood, one of the project’s founders.

The 462 Halsey Community Garden will open on Earth Day. Photo by Nicole Glass.
Paula Segal of 596 Acres stands in front of a former vacant lot that is now used for gardening. Photo by Nicole Glass.

Velo City Takes Teens On an Urban Ride

New York’s neighborhood residents rarely have a say in designing their own surroundings – but Velo City is planning to change that. Through a program that takes high school students from the South Bronx on city bike tours, the non-profit is hoping to inspire a new generation of urban planners, while also encouraging a healthier lifestyle.

“Everyone knows what a lawyer is, what a doctor is, but what is an urban planner?” said Samelys Lopez, one of Velo City’s founders. “We’re getting youth to see that these professions are important, because they shape the physical environment that they live in.”

Last summer’s program resulted in students leading a community-wide bike tour of their own, and co-founder Naomi Doerner hopes this year will produce a group of equally engaged students who are interested in urban planning.

“It’s essentially a curriculum, not necessarily a tour,” she said.

Velo City Co-Founders Naomi Doerner and Samelys Lopez Raise Awareness at their container at DeKalb Market. Photo by Nicole Glass.

Of the New York City projects that are attempting to make the city a more pleasant environment to live in, 78 percent were successfully funded through ioby – projects that may bring a larger community together for this year’s Earth Day.

Changing Planet

Meet the Author
Nicole Glass is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance journalist and a contributing writer at National Geographic News Watch. She also writes for USA TODAY, The Huffington Post, Russia Today (RT TV) and Demand Media. Previously, she was Assistant Editor and later Weekend Editor of, David Frum's political news outlet (now a part of The Daily Beast). She grew up abroad, has moved more than 15 times and has visited more than 40 countries. Visit her website, to see her published works and follow her on Twitter @NicoleSGlass.