A Bronx Kale: Affordable Housing Meets Hydroponic Farming in Morrisania

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Photos: NYCHA/Flickr.

Well, it appears that non-sweaty, increasingly delusional nanny-state-r Michael Bloomberg’s controversial plot to outlaw sugary beverages 16 oz. or greater was killed the day before it was to take effect in New York City. That day, the day that thousands of iced coffee-guzzling Dunkin’ Donuts patrons were thrown into an utter state of confusion, was supposed to be today.

From the get go, I’ve been against the banning super-ish sized sodas and other drinks and not because I have a crippling Dr. Pepper addiction. My thoughts on Bloomberg’s loophole-ridden restrictions closely echo MNN family blogger Jenn’s in that they are “well-intentioned but over-reaching.” I also wholeheartedly agree with Justice Milton Tingling, the amazingly named New York Supreme Court judge who declared the ban as illegal yesterday, when he announced that the regulations are “fraught with arbitrary and capricious consequences.”

Attempting to outlaw bucket-sized Cherry Cokes at movie theaters in the Big Apple only serves as a Band-Aid to cover up a much larger issue: During Bloomberg’s never ending reign as mayor, New York City has become an increasingly inhospitable place for those on the lower rungs of the income scale to live and work. To paint a rather simplistic picture: When you can hardly afford to buy a monthly MetroCard to get to and from work and nutritious food is scarce in your own neighborhood, of course you’re going to turn to food that’s cheap, filling, and ginormous in quantity.

That said, failed bans on sugar-filled beverages aside, a lot has been done to help fight obesity and bring fresh, nutritious food to underserved neighborhoods of New York impacted by Bloomberg’s quest to transform the city into a beautiful, low-carbon utopia with a truly scary cost of living.

Case in point is Arbor House, a 124-unit apartment complex that opened to low-income residents late last month in the Morrisania section of the southwest Bronx. The 120,000-square-foot development aims to help reverse New York’s greatest deficit, affordable housing, while snugly wearing its distinctly Bloombergian healthy living agenda on its sleeve. That being said, Morrisania is home to a disproportionately high number of low-income New Yorkers struggling with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and asthma — it's the fatty, wheezing heart of the Big Apple.

The eight-story building, topped with a 10,000-square-foot rooftop hydroponic farm and featuring a living green wall in the lobby, was built as part of Bloomberg’s New Housing Marketplace Plan, an initiative to create 165,000 affordable housing units across the five boroughs by 2014.

The rooftop farm is undoubtedly the health-conscious centerpiece of the privately-owned LEED Platinum development. Operated by Boston-based Sky Vegetables, the New York Observer notes that produce grown at the farm will generate revenue for Arbor House residents and the surrounding community through both CSA and commercial sales.

Says Robert Fireman, president of Sky Vegetables in a release issued by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA):

Sky Vegetables is proud to partner with Blue Sea Development and city and state agencies to build one of the most forward and innovative projects in the nation. Our commercial hydroponic greenhouse on the roof of this most green and environmental sound, affordable housing development will provide this community with fresh, local, chemical free, nutritious herbs, fruits and vegetables twelve months a year, and create a national model for sustainable food production.

The emphasis on healthy living at Arbor House most certainly doesn’t end with Sky Vegetables' much buzzed-about rooftop farm. Incorporating health-promoting Active Design Guidelines established by the city, the ABS Architects-designed building’s windowed, easy-to-access interior stairwells also feature art and piped-in “stair music” to encourage residents to skip the elevator and burn a few calories by hoofing it up and down the stairs. In addition to promoting zesty workout sessions in the stairwells, Arbor House features designated indoor and outdoor exercise areas that “encourage active recreation options for people of all ages." The entirely smoke-free building was constructed with pretty much zero- and low-VOC everything along with advanced air ventilation and filtration systems.

The building’s emphasis on indoor air quality, particularly with regard to its 100 percent smoke-free policy, has earned it “Healthy High-Rise” status from the American Cancer Society. What's more, through a partnership with the building developers and Mount Sinai Hospital, researchers will conduct a formal evaulation to more closely examine the relationship between sustainable/health-centric design and architecture and asthma and obesity.

RuthAnne Visnauskas, deputy commission of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, tells the Observer: "This building is incredibly advanced, it’s at the forefront of green and affordable housing. It uses recycled materials and has been built with a big focus on air quality, which is really important for areas with high asthma. She goes on to explain: “We’ve been able to work innovative, green elements into our projects without bursting the bank, In this case the urban farm is an income-generating business, it’s a productive use. Green building doesn’t necessarily mean building more expensive, it means building smart.”

With a heavily subsidized price tag of nearly $38 million, Arbor House was built through a private-public partnership between NYCHA, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and Blue Sea Development. Since 2004, the beleaguered, cash-strapped NYCHA has been selling off parcels of vacant land to private developers in order to create additional affordable housing. To date, about 2,000 units have been generated through the program while another 2,000 are under construction or in the pre-development stages. The building's address at 770 E. 166 St. is on a parcel that was once part of NYCHA's Forest Houses, one of 20 down-and-out developments owned by the agency in Morrisania alone.

All 124 units at Arbor House — 16 studios, 33 one-bedrooms, and 75 two-bedrooms, and a superintendent unit — are dedicated to households earning less than 60 percent of the area median income of $49, 800 for a family of four. A quarter of the units are reserved for current NYCHA tenants or those on the NYCHA waitlist.

Applicable tenants are selected via a lottery system and as far as I know the consumption of soda is permitted.

Via [The Observer], [Center for Active Design]