Brownsville is a neighborhood located in the eastern portion of Brooklyn, accessed by the 3 and L trains and several buses. It is home to just under 87,000 people. Approximately 21,000 of those residents live in public housing.
A creative and entrepreneurial community, Brownsville is home to many vibrant civic, social service, and community organizations. Brownsville has also experienced challenges due to historic patterns of income inequality, segregation, and disinvestment, and residents suffer from cycles of violence and trauma and many struggle to find work.
Between 2015 and 2016, Brownsville's street cleanliness score on the Department of Sanitation Scorecard went up from 84% to 89% acceptably clean streets, as a result of collaboration among community organizations and members and the Department of Sanitation. Some areas, however, still experience litter and bulk waste dumping that contributes to clogged storm drains and unsightly conditions, among other symptoms.
Across our city, NYCHA residential developments are generating an estimated 300 tons of recyclable metal, glass, plastic, paper, cardboard, and food waste, that can be diverted from landfills every day. Improving recycling rates in public housing is a major lever in the quest to reach the City’s goal of sending Zero Waste to Landfills by 2030.
While the environment ranks relatively low as a priority among public housing residents, many believe that waste is a growing problem and a significant quality of life concern. For residents of NYCHA’s Brownsville Houses, for example, the experience with waste spills over into the physical landscape as daily encounters with ever-evolving piles of trash on the short walk to Belmont Avenue. As one resident put it: “Trash begets trash”.
The problem is further compounded by broken links in residents’ experiences and engagement with the waste systems that surround them. Recycling systems can be confusing and inconvenient, leading to lack of engagement even though most residents intuitively know “how” to recycle. On the other hand, positive engagement can potentially impact larger motivations and attitudes around the reduction of garbage in common areas, as the question of recycling for residents is connected to the larger question of what you do with household trash.
Given the current momentum and investments to increase recycling in Brownsville, the time is right for human-centered transformations of waste systems in large social housing environments. Proposed ideas can draw inspiration from the implementation of centralized recycling stations at all 327 NYCHA developments (completed at the end of 2016); the rollout of the City’s curbside organics collection program in the Brownsville neighborhoods surrounding public housing in April 2017; and the growing number of resident-led stewardship initiatives and green social entrepreneurs within NYCHA.
We’re looking for tools and approaches that will help Brownsville move to zero waste in public space and common areas of public housing developments.
This challenge was envisioned by NYCx Co-Labs, a collaboration among NYC government agencies, academic institutions, and Brownsville community leaders to ensure that smart city technologies are responsive to community needs.
Tests will be sponsored and deployed by the NYC Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer, NYC Department of Sanitation, NYC Housing Authority, and the NYC Economic Development Corporation. Selection will be advised by the Brownsville Community Technology Advisory Board, which includes representatives from the Brownsville Community Justice Center, Friends of Brownsville Parks, Brownsville Partnership, Made in Brownsville, and Brooklyn Community Board 16, Pitkin Avenue BID, Office of NYS Assembly Member Latrice Walker, What About The Children, Bloc Bully IT Solutions, 3 Black Cats Cafe, The Dream Big Innovation Center, The Knowledge House, and Brooklyn Public Library.
Learn more about NYCx Co-Labs.