Green NYC

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There has been a big shift in society since the last Classic World of Darkness books were published. We have therefore updated the setting to reflect those changes in views since our Chronicle is not set in the 1990s, but in modern day.

One of the key areas that needed updating is the green movement, environmentalists, and eco-enthusiasts. Monkeywrenching and eco-terrorism is out and sustainability and environmental justice and the green economy is in.

This article deals with that societal paradigm shift and how it relates to the World of Darkness of our setting.


Green Origins

New York City has had its historical ups and downs when it comes to environmental quality and environmental justice. In times of hardship and stress, for example, the city has had challenges to maintain a healthy environment as slums expanded and during the Great Depression parks and squares (including Central Park) were overrun with Hoovervilles. In boom times during the early industrial era, city planners struggled with balancing rapid population growth and the need for clean water and adequate sewage infrastructure.

Despite all these challenges, historically New Yorkers (especially philanthropists and activists) have felt a moral duty to provide the public with natural spaces. Important families have always made it a habit of setting aside land or making endowments to the city for the establishment of new parksor squares. One very important early example of this type of environmental civic activism in New York City was the establishment of Central Park. Even with the Commissioners' Plan of 1811 promising progress and efficiency to all, early environmentalists, community activists, and philanthropists insisted on amending the plan to reserve a large green space for all to enjoy. That green space became the Park.

Perhaps the most historically famous and significant change to affect the environmental cause that came out of New York (and in fact a direct result of supernatural interests at work), is the ascendency of Theodore Roosevelt. This son of a very influential New York family became one of the greatest presidents the United States has ever seen. He was a principal of the progressive movement and an exceedingly effective leader with unmatched energy to put it mildly. Among the man's sheer multitude of accomplishments his efforts in conservationism and the health of citizens cannot be overstated. Roosevelt is singularly responsible for the founding of the National Park System, the establishment of National Forests and State Parks throughout the United States, and the founding of the FDA which set a precedent in the United States that eventually led to the formation of agencies concerned with the health of the public. With a few pen strokes Americans were assured that their food supply would be inspected for safety and that vast tracks of the country's natural spaces would forever be preserved for all to enjoy.


Urban Renewal

New York had become a poster child for urban and moral decay. Films from the 1970s especially depicted a city on the verge of total moral collapse and formed the inspiration for White Wolf's surreal characterization of New York City in canon. The Warriors, Taxi Driver, Dog Day Afternoon, Klute, Serpico, and The French Connection all were great snapshots of a very brief time in the city's history which has long since passed.

This comeback began slowly in the mid-1980s as the financial services sector boomed. With New York as the nation's financial capital, when that business thrived so too did the demand for additional office space for more firms and since those firms needed people to work within them, the demand for housing within the city increased.

Two clear forces emerged while that slow comeback got underway:

  1. Revival of Times Square
  2. Sustainable South Bronx

Revival of Times Square

For all his controversies and the contoversies surrounding the clean up of Times Square, former mayor Rudy Giuliani was effective in his efforts. Times Square had been a haven for derilects, prostitutes, peep shows, pornographers, drug addicts, the homeless, runaways, drug dealers, and other nefarious predators of the streets. Giuliani partnered with Disney and other mega corporations to drive out the strip bars, peep shows, etc and make the area more friendly to large retailers and tourism. Legitimate mom and pops were squeezed out of the area along with the filth. The homeless were driven off to other less affluent areas or simply forced underground (literally underground - the former mayor was not known for his propensity for establishing homeless shelters). However, despite all the casualties the clean up left behind it did do one thing well - it certainly revived the area. 

Huge corporations (especially in media) parked their asses in the surrounding skyscrapers, rents went sky-high, real estate investors were clamoring over each other to get in on new construction projects, luxury high rise apartments went up everywhere. The area became the poster child for urban chic, corporate and civic partnerships, ideal city life, and corporate sponsorship all in one. The revival was complete around 1996 and the city emerged with a renewed morale as it began shaking off the moniker "The Rotten Apple" (a pun that started in local periodicals critical of the earlier urban decay) with heightened enthusiasm.

This is where the process of gentrification and all its controversies really begin.

Sustainable South Bronx

While Times Square was a model for corporate sponsored urban renewal and gentrification, the revival of the South Bronx was a miracle comeback whose origins were completely grassroots.

The South Bronx up until recently was considered a hopeless example of urban blight. The area resembled a demilitarized zone with crumbling buildings, vacant lots heaped with trash and waste of all kinds, a bunch of illegal dump sites on public lands used by chemical companies and other corporate interests. There was a lack of fresh grocers, parks, the water quality was piss poor, people lived in squalid conditions either squatting in vacant buildings or in buildings run by slum lords that would be considered uninhabitable by uncorrupted building inspectors. Because it was a poor and barely working class neighborhood inhabited by minorities (primarily African American and Latinos), their influence in the city was negligible. This created an environment of not only wide income disparity but also extreme environmental injustice. Environmental injustice refers to the condition by which environmental burdens are distributed unevenly based on economic prosperity, social standing and influence, and political influence. Every time a highway is routed through a poor part of town rather than through a wealthy neighborhood you see environmental injustice in action. Whenever a dump site is placed in a low-income neighborhood while an affluent one gets a park - that's environmental injustice. The South Bronx was suffering from the worst forms of environmental injustice for decades and no one in the Tri-State area ever thought that could change. No one even could remember the time when the whole area wasn't just a shithole.

However, all that didn't dampen the spirits of one South Bronx woman and she rose to an impossible challenge. Majora Carter turned a negative into a positive when she lost her bid for City Council in 2001 and founded the Sustainable South Bronx. The SSBx went on to lead the citizens of the South Bronx to reclaim their neighborhood. Illegal dumping operations were stopped and in their place new parks and squares were established including Hunts Point Riverside Park which is now part of the new South Bronx Greenway. A plethora of community gardens and farmers markets were established through the Green Carts NYC program and SSBx to promote healthy food in low-income and at-risk neighborhoods. Green-collar training initiatives were aggressively promoted to protect the youths of the neighborhood from falling into the corporate-sponsored penal system plaguing minority communities. Young men from the neighborhood were given access to training which prepared them for solar panel installation, sustainable renovations, green roof construction, etc. and provided the area with sorely needed jobs which in turn kept the youths out of the streets and out of the hands of the greedy and racist white establishment.

Majora finished her time with the SSBx project and started her own consulting firm, but the organization is still in the neighborhood and remains active. The end result of their efforts in the South Bronx was a completely revived community which was increasingly self-sufficient and a national leader and model in sustainability. The big plus is that the people did it themselves without big corporate dollars coming in and screwing things up. Unlike Times Square, the revival of the South Bronx didn't draw the same sharp criticism. People weren't being forced out and replaced as was the case with the increasingly gentrified areas of Manhattan, the people were taking back their neighborhood on their own terms. Everyone stood up and took notice.


Rivalry with California and the World

The success in the South Bronx kicked off a "keeping up with the Joneses" cycle city wide, but now it was in a positive way. Wonder bread communities filled with yuppies and their ilk wanted all the healthy amenities the South Bronx had. New Yorkers by their very nature are also extremely competitive and tend to form great attachment to their respective "neighborhoods". So it was no surprise that the city became inspired by the underdogs of the South Bronx (everyone loves an underdog). Suddenly green was in and each neighborhood had to out-green the other.

Then those fucking hippies in California with their granola eating organic loving bodies unveiled their plan for an aggressively green state. California was set on becoming the leader of the green economy just as it had been the leader in the technology industries. They wanted to emerge from the world recession with their state in the lead in the new economy.

Well New York City said, "Fuck that! And fuck those fucking hippies". In a classic East coast vs. West coast move, New York City unveiled its own green agenda. This agenda included being the world's most sustainable and green city on the planet. New York is already on its way as is because of its densely populated area, each New Yorker has a considerably smaller carbon-footprint than the average American.

Now there's a green race going on as the city busies itself with retrofitting projects, more efficient recycling programs, sustainable building projects, job training, environmental protection, green space reclamation, etc. True to form, the city's influence as enveloped the world as other global destinations compete with it for the greenest city.

This competition is perhaps the most evident when looking at new building construction. Much like height was the obsession in earlier years, builders are obsessed with Eco-friendly and sustainability measures. To be the greenest building in the world is now more important than being the tallest. It's the new aesthetic.

Even corporations obsess over green these days trying to outdo each other for who is the most environmentally friendly and using that as a marketing tool. They demand that their office space be increasingly Eco-friendly and so there seems to be no end in sight to the movement as corporations compete for that coveted Platinum LEED rating.

Corporate Polluters

So what about historically notorious polluters? Where does all this attitude shift leave them?

In the past, World of Darkness canon has insisted in an almost comic book way that their world was more corrupt and more dark and more apathetic than real life. Well real life has plenty of all that in spades. What distinguishes this setting from canon is that due to the attitude shift, corporate polluters can't be so blatant anymore. Even playing the corporate shell game doesn't work as well in the age of Wiki Leaks, the internet, social networking, and online activism. The public (especially the average New Yorker who is more well-read and educated than the average American) is just too saavy and can easily look up who owns what percent of what.  So corporate polluters have to get smart and hide their activities much more carefully and actually participate as good corporate citizens by contributing to the green agenda. read that right. They become green companies and promote green internal practices. However, those practices are just fluff and known in green activist circles as greenwash. That's where a company unveils what seems like significant Eco-friendly practices in PR statements which in reality are grossly overstated and practically meaningless while the rest of the corporate practices which are hidden from view outweigh any good that their supposed eco-friendly measures might do.

So it's a drastically changed environment. Companies can no longer just flip the bird to society and blatantly cry out, "Fuck you. I'll do what I want and there's not a damned thing you can do about it. I own the courts. I own the banks. I own the world!". There's simply too much public awareness now.

SSBx riverpark beforeafter.jpg

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