Postcard Spotlight: Environmental Sustainability Made Tangible

Wildlife Conservation Society

This week, we’re spotlighting two boundary breaking projects that make environmental issues personal, visceral, and tangible for New York City residents and empower them to take positive action. The highlighted projects are:

The projects were conceived by two leaders with very different backgrounds, Eric Sanderson of the Wildlife Conservation Society is an ecologist and Mary Miss is an artist specializing in large scale public works, but what they share is the use of democratizing platforms to harness the collective vision of all citizens to help create a sustainable city.  For more on how these projects are developing, listen to our most recent podcast with Eric Sanderson and Mary Miss.

Mary Miss Studio

For Mary Miss, the challenge was to redefine the role of artists in creating a more environmentally sustainable New York City, a task typically left to government agencies.  The strategy: to bring together artists and scientists to create a series of physical interventions at key points along the 225 block corridor of Broadway that engage citizens on the street.

Mary Miss says of the project:

“How do you get people at ground-level to clue in to the systems that support their lives?  How can you begin the process of engagement?  I think artists have the ability to look at a situation and imagine it differently than others might.”

Watch the audio postcard:

Wildlife Conservation Society

For Eric Sanderson at the WCS, the challenge was to engage the public’s imagination in one of the greatest challenges of our generation: designing the sustainable city.  The strategy: create an interactive website, Mannahatta 2409, that allows every citizen to create their own vision of a sustainable New York City at a block by block level and share it with others.

Eric Sanderson reflects that: 

“We know we’re already massively unsustainably using the natural resources of the planet.  Who has an idea about it’s actually going to work out? Nobody has that. Instead what we do is argue about politics and who pays more taxes. Of course we’re not touching those issues because I think if we can produce visions that are beautiful enough then that will change those issues.”

Watch the audio postcard:

What we find fascinating about both of these projects is how they are harnessing the creative resources of all New Yorkers and highlighting the role of the individuals in shaping the ecosystem of the city.  Both are also truly boundary breaking in the way they bring artists, scientists, city agencies, and citizens together under a common purpose.  Wildlife Conservation Society is pushing the boundaries of the role of conservation ecologists in the city planning process and expanding the role of technology, design, and crowd-sourcing in communicating complex environmental concepts.  Mary Miss is challenging assumptions about the role of artists in city development by capitalizing on the unique ability of artists to translate big ideas into emotional experiences at street level.

For more on how these projects are developing, listen to our most recent podcast with Eric Sanderson and Mary Miss.  We look forward to seeing how these two projects develop.  Stay tuned!

Karina Mangu-Ward is the former Director of Strategic Initiatives at EmcArts.