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NYC + NJ Collaborative – looking to build a better Future

One of my favorite quotes is “If not us, who? If not now, when?”, by John F. Kennedy and I think it sums up why we are here.  “Who are we?” you ask.  We are mothers, fathers, daughters, brothers who are looking to build a better and healthier future.  We are individuals that see that we need to work and speak for others that don’t think they have the voice for change.  We are individuals that believe we can make a difference, that believe we do not have to stand alone, that believe trying to do something is much better than doing nothing at all.  We are a collaborative of individuals striving to push the envelope in our industry to build a better future.

Our story started, as I am sure many others around the country, by individuals that have a drive to look outside the lines, creative beings that see that things could be possible. We, East Coast city dwellers, want to have the green spaces, fresh air and a healthy environment to live in.  We like our habitat and it energizes us.  We are New Yorkers and we love our city, our State and our surrounding urban environments.  Others might want to shy away from Urban Living as it has negative connotations to some but to us this is home and we want to make it better.

Three individuals came together about two years ago, Jennifer Preston, Casey Cullen and Emilie Hagen to talk about how to push the LBC in NYC and New Jersy.  Around the same time, Rollie Jones and myself (Maya Camou) met to also talk about how we can push the Challenge in the Tri-State area.  To see how we can all build this, we reached out to the ILFI to find others in our community where we also found Lauren Yarmuth.  Our group started with 6 individuals that were dedicated to this vision. Jennifer Preston is an Associate at BKSK Architects LLP, she is an Architect with a Masters in Architecture and a LEED AP; Casey Cullen is a LEED AP, BC&D, and Sustainability Coordinator at the Willow School that is in the process of LBC Certification, she has a degree in Environmental Science and is in route to achieving a Masters in Sustainability in Urban Environments; Rollie Jones is a Certified Industrial Hygienist and Senior Project Manager with Environmental Connection, Inc., He is a Biologist with technical expertise in sustainability. Emilie Hagen is an Associate at Atelier Ten, she is an Architect and is the leader of the Environmental Design Practice there. Lauren Yarmuth, Principal at YR&G, she is consultant, teacher and a LEED Fellow; and  myself Maya Camou am Principal at M3D Consulting LLC, I am an Interior Designer with a Masters in Design Management and a LEED AP, BD&C.

All of us in our way were drawn to the Living Building Challenge because we see that it is the next level of what we, as an industry, need to develop in our built environments and infrastructure. We see the freedom of design, advocacy and social justice that the Challenge encourages. Over the years all of us have seen the changes happening in our natural environment, the over development of our surroundings without thought and understanding of repercussion of what we are doing.  All of us saw this in our own way and are here looking for ways to use our expertise to help make these healthier environments possible.

In October 2012 super storm Sandy hit the Tri-State area. It caused so much damage to our communities that a lot of families and businesses are still trying to recover.  The storm itself caused a lot of the devastation but the aftermath of the lack of proper infrastructure caused more chaos.  This aftermath brought on gas lines that had people waiting for hours, to having people stranded in buildings for days for lack of power that is caused by systems that are miles away.  These are a few events that were faced by our communities from this storm and others before it.  We foresee that more of these storms are coming and a new way of thinking, designing, building and developing needs to happen.  This collaborative believes that the Challenge is the next move to help bring on this culture change.  We look to helping in developing Living Buildings and Communities that could sustain themselves, that would not be affected by other failures that occur miles away.  We started growing our group by first establishing our social media network through Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest; then invited others to join us with this task we have taken on.  Our group has been growing to include others from all industries and expertise that can bring added voices to this collaborative.

We developed our groups’ vision and are growing to work more as a think-tank then event-planning. We foster thoughtful, provocative discussion and facilitate productive innovation for a more sustainable NYC + NJ. We will support and connect progressive solutions in the established sustainability community and seek out untapped, grass-roots organizations as research partners to further the goals and implementation of the Living Building Challenge. Our mission here at the Living Building Challenge Collaborative of NYC + NJ can be boiled down to one simple cause; to facilitate Living Buildings and communities within the five (5) boroughs and our surrounding urban environments. We are makers, creators, and innovators seeking to further activate a future living city. We face many challenges in this densely populated and built city.  Many of our colleagues in the building industry tell us they don’t think it can be done.  We have heard quite a few declarations; Net Zero energy is not feasible in the city; code requirements make meeting the Challenge requirements impossible; the real estate industry is not interested; the list goes on. This group believes it can be done and it energizes us when we hear it cannot be done.  We are ready to break down that barrier.  We will accomplish this by simply providing the facts.  Starting now, we will be researching and releasing on steady basis information explaining the potential obstacles and possibilities to implementing the Living Building Challenge in New York City; Regulations, technology, logistics and case studies will be discussed.  What we believe we will find is that the obstacles are minimal and negotiable via technology and creativity. We will be reviewing the Mayor’s Sandy initiative through the lens of the infrastructure scale of LBC and mapping the five boroughs to identify possible opportunity.  We will also be looking closely at the Challenge and seeing how to work with the ILFI to further enhance the Challenge to support urban environments here on the East Coast and help them be feasible.  These are the first few initiatives we hope to achieve as a Collaborative.  We know the past cannot be changed but the future is still in our power.  I hope you all will join us to take our future back.


This article was written by: mayacamou

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