Apr. 17, 2023 By Carlotta Mohamed
To celebrate the start of Earth Week, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. joined Queens Botanical Garden Executive Director Evie Hantzopoulos on Monday, April 17, for a tour of the facility’s innovative green roof and its farm and composting site, among its other ongoing sustainability efforts.
“We’ve been doing a lot of work on environmental sustainability for many years now,” Hantzopoulos said. “I think we were ahead of the curve and we want to keep staying ahead of the curve.”
Richards’ visit to Queens Botanical Garden, located at 43-50 Main St., is the first stop on his Queens Sustainability Tour during Earth Week as he highlights critical resiliency work being done across the borough.
“What we’re trying to do here is set the blueprint for where we need to go,” Richards said. “This is about providing a future where our children can live. We’re really thinking about ways we can bring the borough together, address many of the underlying issues, because you cannot address climate change without addressing inequities.”
Richards’ Sustainability Tour also coincides with the release of the first yearly report compiled by Operation Urban Sustainability, a working group of borough and city leaders across the spectrum of resiliency that Richards formed in April 2022. Richards announced the initiative on Peck Avenue in Flushing, where multiple residents were killed and dozens of homes were inundated by historic flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida eight months earlier.
Operation Urban Sustainability members were tasked with conducting a comprehensive assessment of the sustainability issues facing the borough and crafting tangible solutions centering on resiliency, as well as environmental justice and equity.
“I would love to wait for the federal, state and the city to really get their act together, but we don’t as a borough have the time to wait,” Richards said. “This report is just a report. A report is only as good as checking off the things on it. We want to make sure we have a progress report every year.”
The 25-page blueprint will inform and guide the borough president’s office’s sustainability and resiliency efforts in topics such as urban agriculture, composting, energy-efficient development, environmental justice, education, nature preservation, flood prevention and transportation.
Highlights of the report include the creation of a new, resiliency-focused land use rubric that will guide the Queens borough president’s office, as well as developers seeking Richards’ approval of projects going through the ULURP process. The rubric will help encourage future land use proposals that come before the borough president be crafted with sustainability at the forefront, including the use of geothermal energy, green roofs, electric vehicle charging stations, composting and more.
“From Astoria to Arverne and everywhere in between, Queens families are tired of bearing the brunt of climate change and the deadly, devastating impacts it brings. The fierce urgency of now commands us to take action — to both save lives today and leave a stronger, healthier borough for our children tomorrow,” Richards said. “Operation Urban Sustainability’s inaugural report is a tremendous roadmap toward a more livable Queens and I look forward to working with all our dedicated OUS members to make these proposed initiatives a reality.”
Katherine Damiani-Brezler, special advisor on strategic initiatives for the borough president’s office, said what the group is highlighting are some of the projects that they want to focus on in the long-term, such as a renewable Rikers Island proposal.
Under the proposal, the island would transform from a place of incarceration into the heart of New York City’s renewable energy efforts by becoming a hub for composting, solar power production, wastewater resource recovery and climate research.
On a short-term basis, the group would like to invest in community gardens that close the loop in food access, Damiani-Brezler said.
Hantzopoulous said Operation Urban Sustainability is a “comprehensive, proactive approach” to addressing the climate crisis in Queens and ensuring that the borough leads the way for the entire city.
“Whether it’s through infrastructure like green roofs or reduction of greenhouse gases through composting, it is critical we invest in a sustainable future,” Hantzopoulous said. “We can talk about the climate crisis or we can do something about it.”
Operation Urban Sustainability meets monthly and accepts new members on a rolling basis. For more information about the organization, click here.
Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane.