By Max Murphy
As a student of history and art history I am always drawn to cross-cultural comparisons that highlight the subtle differences between two seemingly similar methods or events. On a recent Saturday afternoon, a MoRUS tour member from the United Kingdom offered interesting specifics on major sustainability initiatives in London; unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, their United States counterparts were unable to rival even the most basic civil programs that the U.K. municipalities are able to provide to its citizens.
First and foremost, the composting programs that are in place at gardens such as La Plaza Cultural and Green Oasis were simply eye opening. While I previously knew that composting was an easy, simple and affordable way to make nutrient-rich soil, I had no idea that such programs were occurring in New York City – indeed, the density of the flora in some of these gardens was so overwhelming, to the extent that not even the city’s own parks could compare, that the concrete jungle disappeared as if in a mirage – surely it must be the work of this natural, non-GMO infected soil.
At one point during the tour, Bill, MoRUS’s resident tour guide, described how even the most basic community garden functions – such as composting – could be seen as a political act by those opposed to the gardens. It was at this point that a young woman from London chimed in and shared with the group that in her council composting is not only encouraged by the government, who perhaps see it as a way to both reduce waste as well as provide soil to parks, but it is also sponsored by the government. That is, the government will pick up your weekly compost and turn it in to soil.
According to the New York City Independent business office, each resident produces over 2 pounds of garbage per day. Certainly, at least a small percentage of this weight can be composted – the standard orange and apple peels or even eggshells are perfect ingredients for excellent soil. At a time when the city parks are struggling to make ends meet, it seems odd that composting (which could essentially produce free, natural soil for the city) is not more accepted in New York.
Regrettably, the Londoner also touched on a facet that is all too common in New York City: the bureaucratic chain that prevents any citizen from easily speaking out. She mentioned how for one particular area, the chain is so clogged up that people are intentionally submitting bogus applications for protests in hopes that the city will become so overwhelmed that their policies will have to change. While the United States’ Constitution protects the right to assemble, city ordinates make it hard to easily protest. It was simultaneously both comforting and irritating to know that this is a worldwide phenomenon.
The Saturday tour was much more than a look at a hidden side of New York City, the dynamic of this tour not only connected MoRUS’s initiatives to the Lower East Side, but it also provided an outlet to explore cross-cultural discrepancies and similarities that effect sustainable initiatives from progressing.