Downtown Brooklyn: A Test Bed for Data-Based Sustainability Strategies

By New Lab / April 16, 2019

This content was originally written by Nilda Mesa of Columbia University and published in The Circular City Research Journal Vol 1., edited by André Corrêa d’Almeida. It has been edited for brevity.

Over the last 10 years, the onset of climate-related extreme events have increased interest and initiatives around the subject of resilience in urban settings.

Within cities, resiliency and sustainability fit together. They share goals that look forward to the future, as well as equity both among generations and across socioeconomic classes and geographical areas. Urban areas require that sustainability be kept on track, that it be resilient, and that recovery or surmounting and thriving from shocks and stresses be achieved in order to meet environmental, economic, and social goals.

Resiliency in New York City’s policymaking often has a local focus, down to the neighborhood level, that is rooted in the city prioritizing community bonds and looking at the ground-level impacts of climate change, including urban heat island effects, emergency response, and environmental justice. When it comes to the resiliency vision, a new neighborhood goal explicitly set forth the importance of enhancing community bonds. For economic development, supporting small businesses is another key aim. It is in that vein that we look at the potential value of data on waste and litter at the local level, in this case within a thriving commercial district.

Downtown Brooklyn’s vibrant economic community and start-up businesses may be generating ancillary data that could feed into the need for data on resiliency and sustainability at city agencies and economic development advocacy organizations such as business improvement districts (BIDs). The presence of street litter and trash in commercial areas depresses economic activity, washes out into the sewer system which contaminates waterways and marine habitat, and encourages the spread of rats and disease. New York city agencies overseeing waste management, water quality, and public health may also have street-level data that may benefit local start-ups’ commercial objectives and capabilities.

Past efforts to collect such data have been labor-intensive and relied on modeling. Improved street-level data provided by The Circular City program’s participating startups CARMERA, Numina, and Citiesense has the potential to affect agency efforts to control street litter, which could lead to less floatable debris and trash flowing into local waterways, better rat control, and an improved streetscape benefitting area businesses and residents. The new methodologies may also be scalable outside of Downtown Brooklyn.

Specifically, the main research question then becomes: How can start-ups, academia, and urban tech professionals organize, analyze, distribute, and implement data systems which create value in terms of improving resiliency and sustainability in Downtown Brooklyn?

Continue reading about the role of circular data for sustainability and resilience in The Circular City Research Journal.

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