Stuyvesant Cove and Solar 1: New York’s Models of Sustainability

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Stuyvesant Cove’s physical model of sustainability, Solar 1.

By: Mackenzie Cash

Nestled between the ConEd Power Plant, a gas station, and FDR Highway sits New York’s latest effort at creating a sustainable and beautiful environment – Stuyvesant Cove Park.  The park has been maintained and managed by Solar One, an arts and education center focused on green energy, since 2004.  Solar One has thrived as an example of sustainability and they plan to expand by creating Solar 2, a follow-up to their current green center, Solar 1, right off 23rd Street in Stuyvesant Cove Park. 

Philip Rosenbaum’s Journalistic Inquiry class at NYU sat down with Daisy Hoyt, the manager of Solar One, about the park’s sustainability efforts and plans for the future.

NYU:  How did you become involved with the Solar One initiative?

Daisy Hoyt:  I have always been interested in horticulture.  I grew up in a rural area.  My first job was at a greenhouse.  I did a variety of greenhouse tasks, like watering, transplanting, things like that.

NYU:  How did you hear about this job opening and what are your daily tasks?

Hoyt:  Craigslist!  My daily tasks?  I order supplies.  I arrange community events.  I deal with various community folks.  I go to community board meetings, things like that.  I oversee a seasonal gardener and a maintenance person.  I write reports and grants and various managerial things.

NYU: Are there connections to the other New York City Parks?

Hoyt:  Stuy Cove is operated by Solar One and has no affiliation with the Parks Department. We’re connected to East River Park via the bike path, but we don’t really overlap in management.

NYU: How would you describe Solar 1?

Hoyt: Solar 1 is an educational facility.  It was built as a model for a sustainable house, so the roof is covered in solar panels.  It’s very well insulated.  It has a variety of other things that make it sustainable.

NYU: Where does the funding come from to build projects like Solar 1?

Hoyt: A variety of private sources.  The park is also partially funded by the city.

NYU: Are there plans to build Solar 2 in the works?

Hoyt: Yes, architectural plans are done and we are in the last stages of fundraising.

NYU: What is Solar One’s Mission?

Hoyt: Solar One does a variety of things.  They have an education department that runs K-12 programming in schools throughout the city.  They also have a workforce training program in Long Island City that trains folks for green jobs.  We have arts programs.  Ultimately, we also want to build in this base a new building called Solar Two that will be a model of sustainability with solar panels and geothermal walls with an exhibition space and classroom space. 

NYU: Did Solar One take the initiative to oversee the management of the park?

Hoyt: No, Solar One was created after the park was built.  The park was built about ten years ago after a lengthy community battle.  There were plans to fill in the river even more and develop high rises. But folks in the community decided they didn’t want that and fought against it for years. Finally, they won and the city built a park.  Solar One was created to manage the park.

NYU:  What was this space prior to being a park?

Hoyt:  It was a brown field.  It was an abandoned space.  There was a bunch of junk, trash, cars.  Before that, there was a concrete factory.  And before that, it was a gas refinery. 

NYU: What are the challenges of building a park in the city?

Hoyt: We have a lot of challenges.  The biggest challenge that comes with being in an urban place is foot traffic.  People don’t really understand that walking through the beds or letting their dog walk through the beds is damaging.  Other than that, this is a very exposed location.  It’s very hot and bright during the summer.  Lastly, the highway is right there and there’s air pollution.

NYU: What are you doing to manage those negative effects?

Hoyt: It’s an ongoing experiment to find species that can handle things like foot traffic, soil compaction, air quality, etc.  That’s really my main goal – to find species that will thrive.

NYU: How does the park exemplify Earth Day?

Hoyt:  It’s a good example of how parks can be maintained sustainably and provide wildlife habitat and be beautiful.

NYU: Is there anything you’d like to see more of?

Hoyt: It’d be nice to have some public art in the park.  I’m looking into that with a colleague of mine.

NYU: Are you looking to bring in a more educational aspect to the park?

Hoyt: In additions to the educational signs, I run several walks throughout the year to talk about the plants.  One of these days, I may partner with the education program to come up with an ecology class.

NYU: Do you think the park-goers appreciate the effort you’re making here?

Hoyt: I think some people do.  Some people just value it as a green space and they don’t necessarily know much about plants or ecology.  And that’s fine. Some people are very curious and they ask questions.  They are really intrigued by the idea of all native species.

NYU: Why is important to have native plants in the park?

Hoyt: There are a couple of reasons. One, native plants provide habitat for native animals.  Two, native plants are endemic to the region and are theoretically easier to grow.  Three, it’s a sort of educational example of how native species can be beautiful and what naturally occurs around them to get people interested in the natural world in their immediate surroundings.

NYU: It the park focused on endangered species or what can grow in the area?

Hoyt: I really like variety.  We have about 100 different species, but I do have to focus on what will grow. 

NYU: What are some of the more significant or interesting species in the park?

Hoyt: Milkweed is a very interesting plant.  It is the host plant for monarch butterflies.  Their larvae eat only milkweed.  We have three different species of Asclepias, which is the genus of milkweed.  We also have a variety of waterfront plants.  We have Bayberry, Monarda, and Carolina Rose.

NYU: How did Hurricane Sandy affect the park?

Hoyt: We got a lot of flooding here and it also deposited an incredible amount of debris in the park.  We filled up at least 3 dumpsters of stuff from the park.  It also soaked the park in salt water and that’s not very good for plants. At this point, I’m waiting to see what comes back and what doesn’t.  So far, so good.  We’ve been seeing a lot of things come back that I was skeptical about. 

NYU: What plants are you most worried about?

Hoyt: I have a couple of species of Monarda that are not salt tolerant. We did lose some trees.  We lost all of our Eastern Red Cedars.  They’re evergreen trees and they just got pushed around by the storm surge.  So, they’re all gone.  I am also worried about some of our other woodland species that don’t have a natural tolerance to salt.

NYU: What does this park mean for New York?

Hoyt: It’s a great example of how you can manage a space sustainably.  We’re right between a gas station, a highway, and a power plant.  It’s a good contrast.

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