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What's Popping at Brooklyn Ecopolis?

Boerum Hill Cafe and Sustainability Center wins Chamber of Commerce Award and opens Pop-Up Cafe.

Brooklyn Ecopolis has that "Brooklyn-ness" that so many businesses are striving for these days. Just ask the Chamber of Commerce.

Brooklyn Ecopolis was one of 13 honorees at the Building Brooklyn Awards ceremony presented by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce on July 14. The annual event recognizes recently completed renovation and construction projects that “enrich Brooklyn’s neighborhoods and economy.”

Architects and various developers who made up the panel of judges based which nominees would receive awards on a range of criteria including: Design Excellence, Innovation, Urban Design/Context, Sustainability, Economic Impact, Community Building and “Brooklyn-ness,” a category with no formal definition.

“We know it when we see it,” said Lori Raphael, the Director of Real Estate and Development at the Chamber.

Unlike other recipients, Brooklyn Ecopolis, which opened in April 2010, is a small-scale family endeavor and received the Mixed Use award for its residential, commercial and completely eco-friendly building.

“We like to award a mix of projects that might be really large scale and other projects that relate to the enhancement of the neighborhood in subtle ways and Brooklyn Ecopolis felt that way to the judges,” said Raphael.

Brooklyn Ecopolis is an architecturally stunning, 5-story building on Smith Street. Its design shows how sustainable and innovative technologies, from soy-based insulation to energy-efficient systems like solar thermal tubing, can be integrated into local projects.

Ecopolis is a non-profit, community-based resource center that revolves around the mission of promoting access to information, resources and events on sustainable products, materials and programs.

“Ecopolis means building urban sustainability,” said Patricia Simino Boyce, co-owner of Brooklyn Ecopolis.

Another major element is the Ecopolis Café, located on the ground level of the building, which serves as an anchor for the site and plays an active role in supporting the mission of Brooklyn Ecopolis. The Café serves high-quality sustainable food from local vendors like City Bakery, coffee and espresso from PT’s Coffee Roastery and organic tea from Rishi Tea.

“Everything in the Café is locally produced, and even reclaimed, recycled and reused,” said Boyce.

The Café also uses high efficiency systems and biodegradable and recycled paper supplies, and focuses on recycling and composting. The bar of the Café is even made from salvaged materials.

“We really kind of walk the talk,” said Boyce. “Our mission is to be a model of a building that has good community use and that sources everything locally,” said Boyce. 

Another unique initiative at Ecopolis is the newly opened “pop-up café." The first in the borough, the cafe is part of a pilot program launched by the Department of Transportation that began last summer in Manhattan.

The pop-up café officially opened last week and is literally built into Warren Street, on the side of Brooklyn Ecopolis. It replaces one metered parking space with four bright red bistro tables, chairs and planters.

Boyce's brother, Harry R. Simino, of the locally based Simino Architects, designed and built the pop-up café and used reclaimed wood as the flooring.

“We heard about the program and thought it was the perfect opportunity for Brooklyn Ecopolis to extend the mission onto the street by creating access to public seating,” said Boyce.

In order to turn the urban sustainable oasis into a reality, Boyce worked with her husband and Simino, who designed and renovated the building, for more than five years.

“This is a family-project and we’re all committed to it – it’s just the way we are,” said Boyce.

The family element helped Brooklyn Ecopolis win the Chamber award, too.

“Brooklyn Ecopolis has a major family and community component, which made the project attractive in the way it related to the neighborhood,” said Raphael.

Boyce and her husband conveniently live in the building, too.

“We thought [that] was terrific in terms of commitment to the neighborhood – they built something that was good and fine enough for them to live in,” said Raphael.

Boyce is currently working on securing funding that will support the Ecopolis Resource Center and its programming. That aspect of Ecopolis is not fully open for public use yet, but the café and pop-up café can be visited at any time.

Giacomo July 25, 2011 at 01:25 AM
Wait...a public street is privatized space? And it was stolen from whom?
Michael Brown July 25, 2011 at 01:35 PM
No, you're missing the point. The space is free parking for private cars; in essence, every time I park my car on the street (every day, for me at least), I get ~160 square feet of space that is subsidized by everyone else (even those who do not own a car, which in Brooklyn, is the majority of residents) for my private use. My use of that space does not convey benefits upon anyone but myself. Conversely, a cafe is semi-public, in that anyone who wants to sit there can, if they're willing to buy food or coffee or whatever, and a bike lane is almost completely public space in that it conveys benefits to all road users and the majority of the public.
Michael Brown July 25, 2011 at 01:37 PM
See above. It is privatized when it is only for car owners to park on. I never used the word steal, but to use your word, yes, every time I park my car on a public street I am in essence "stealing" (in space, tax dollars, convenience, etc...) from those who choose to not own a car.
Giacomo July 25, 2011 at 01:44 PM
Your missing (or misrepresenting) the point. When I park on a street such as Smith, there is a benefit to both he city and the local merchants, There is usually a fee involved in the form of parking meters and / or ticket revebue to the city when meters expire. The local business and their employes benefit from this parking in that it enables cutomers to visit and spend money at said business. It's a STEET, not a park. A street is for the flow of traffic and commerce, how are cars "stealing" this space from the public. Cafe seating is usally "restricted" to those who can afford to pay for food/beverages at the establishment. They don't encourage the "public" to just sit here and not spend money. And finally a bike lane does not convey benefits to all road users and the general public. A bike lane benefits only those bikers that use it. A car is stealing space by using a lane , but a bike lane magically benefits the entire public? Come on Michael....
Michael Brown July 25, 2011 at 02:16 PM
Last point first: Yes, a bike lane benefits (nearly) all street users; not only does it benefit bikers, as you point out, but it slows down traffic speeds, reducing traffic accidents and deaths, creates more alert drivers, benefiting pedestrians, and helps merchants by introducing new users to the street and diversifying their client base. The revenue generated by parking meters is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things; in fact, the city's meter rate policy in the busiest areas is to set rates as high as possible not as a means of making money, but as a means of turning over the spaces, keeping them as active and constantly flowing as possible. The seating is clearly for all users, whether or not you buy anything from an adjacent business, and signage indicates as such. I guess on the rest, we're just of different minds. You feel that streets are for the flow of traffic and commerce; I feel that like everything in the public realm, they should be enhanced to maximize benefits of all users, not just the minority (again, I will point out that car owners in Brooklyn are a minority) of those who own a car and/or operate a business.

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