NY Sunworks & Cyprus Hills LDC

The Greenhouse Initiative in Cypress Hills supports CHLDC’s larger “Verde” Initiative to make East NY community a greener, healthier, more sustainable place to live for all of its residents. Cypress Hills is a high poverty community that struggles with obesity, Type 2 diabetes and high unemployment. 63% of the community members speak a language other than English at home.

Design Challenge

As part of a long-term sustainable development plan, find ways to offer access to nutritious, affordable food, and pathways to sustainable, living wage jobs while safely utilizing some of the worst brownfields in New York City.

Design a greenhouse/hydroponic pop-up farm sited on an empty lot in East NYC, Brooklyn, owned by the city of NY and leased to Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation. Although intended to provide land for permanent affordable housing, the site is lying fallow; the tenant, CHLDC, wishes to repurpose the site. This off-grid mobile unit needs to be a kit of parts that can be (dis)assembled to be taken to different lots in the community and reassembled as housing development comes on line on the various empty lots.

Project objectives
Increase access to food production, building on some of the land lots already used as community gardens under the Green Thumb program. Provide innovative educational opportunities to teach youth about sustainability through the lens of urban agriculture; offer access to hands-on K-8th grade STEM curricula connecting science, nutrition, and climate change. Increase access to high quality, fresh hydroponics food produce (a 800-900 sqft lot could produce up to 8,000 pounds of produce every 12 weeks). Provide on-site job training on urban agriculture, hydroponic, and greenhouse construction. Provide a use value to what are currently empty and undeveloped land lots in East New York.

Design Solution/ Description of deliverables
● Assessment of best sites for greenhouse placement, based on zoning analyses, solar studies and lot size with the goal of attaining maximum greenhouse size, access, and visibility
● Design schematic that can be used by the nonprofits to negotiate land-lease rights and fundraise for project build out
● Graphic identity that can be used to promote and ‘brand’ the Greenhouse Verde Project in the community i.e. signage, fonts, and logo. Signage will include the title logo and some supporting signage for street frontage.

Audience/community outreach and involvement
The audience for this project will be community members interested in participating in this urban farm experiment as well as schools in the community that can utilize this site for STEM programming and curriculum sync up. This site could be used as a local ongoing “field trip” for schools to gain access to an innovative program as well as provide space for student groups and clubs interested in after-school programming and training during the summer months.

Lessons learned/obstacles/successes
Even though we are building a project that is temporal in nature, there are still many considerations about the permissibility of the sites themselves for any use. The site chosen is integrated into a community with a healthy commercial and residential mix and is adjacent to a large public school, which can provide a vital educational linkage.

Another challenge was to make hydroponics feel accessible and engaging to the Cypress Hills community, a term which can feel futuristic and complex even for native English speakers with advanced degrees. The architects proposal strategically uses transparency and street frontage in response to that challenge; the graphics used color and a visual play on the idea of systems, water, and hills.

Impact at city level, and beyond.
This could be a model for underused urban sites in various cities throughout the Nation and perhaps globally as well.

Future resources and next steps
The project needs a final budget that incorporates soft and hard costs including construction design, capital cost of building the structure, as well as operation and maintenance costs, so that Cypress Hills and NY Sunworks can approach various funders, as well as engage Housing Preservation & Development (HPD).

Greenhouse was featured in Oculus magazine, October 1, 2020 “A Giant, Hardly Sleeping: Pro Bono Sector” by Bill Millard, Interior Motives issue. Oculus Pro Bono PDF here

2011, arts/community programs, green infrastructure, health issues, Projects, urban farming + food education