The concept of green burials is not a new one — in fact, it once was the norm, with burials using wooden boxes occurring at home, or on family-owned property. At the turn of the 19th century, when deaths moved from homes to hospitals and funeral parlors, the post-death rituals we practice today became widely adopted.
But, as Novel Property Venture’s co-founder Bennat Berger discussed previously, Americans are expressing a growing interest in dying sustainably. Digging up reliable data in this realm can be challenging, as reliable figures on green funeral and burial practices are rarely kept and hard to come by. Still, even if not directly quantifiable, our cultural attitudes toward death seem to be changing. As the subject of death becomes less taboo and public interest in the environment continues to grow, greener burials may represent the final frontier of environmental sustainability.
More than a niche issue, the fate we choose for our bodies after life and the environmental impact of those choices is generating an increasing amount of public interest. Within limited urban real estate, cemeteries frequently lie in well-trafficked neighborhoods; their management — or the lack thereof — is highly visible.
As plots continue fill up with cemetery space at a premium, cities confront questions surrounding public health, religion, and community relations. When it comes to dying, no hot topic is left untouched, from safety to sustainability, issues of green space and inclusion to public policy, urban planning and economics.
Some experts have expressed the view that those who understand the earth’s ecosystem and human beings’ place within it will choose to die sustainably. Like astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who wants his body to be “buried not cremated, so that the energy contained gets returned to the earth, so the flora and fauna can dine upon it, just as I have dined,” more people are engineering innovative solutions to merge sustainability and death.
Selected sustainable death ideas which have attracted attention of late:
- Designers Anna Citelli and Raoul Bretzel propose the concept of being buried in biodegradable pods, which become fertilizer for trees planted on top. The egg-shaped pod they created, Capsula Mundi, is designed to decompose underground.
- Natural Causes is an Infinity Burial Suit exhibition co-curated by Coeio, a “green burial” company that created their suit as an alternative to traditional funerary practices. The burial suit spawned from an unlikely inspiration: mushrooms. The fungi are envisioned as a way to naturally decompose dead bodies.
- Some people are opting for “green cremation,” which is executed by way of alkaline hydrolysis. The process dissolves the body into a liquid, but in the end the body can still be returned as ashes. Alkaline hydrolysis uses less energy than traditional cremation, which also pollutes the atmosphere by releasing harmful gases.
- For her master’s thesis at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Katrina Spade founded the Urban Death Project, an ambitious plan to build a system for composting human bodies after death and turning them back into soil. Her proposal includes building Urban Death centers, three-story structures that contain a “core,” where bodies decompose inside.
If you’re looking for ways to escape the urban tundra of New York City this winter, plan on staying in to enjoy a good TV series. The hit Planet Earth TV series returned for another season in the UK in 2016 to provide a portrait of life on Earth. The BBC original series was the most expensive documentary ever broadcast and took five years to make. Planet Earth II affords the chance to experience the world through the eyes of animals, a spellbinding program that will take you to different environments to see what it’s like to live and play in different habitats of planet Earth.
The series takes you to the remote Caribbean Islands, the world’s greatest mountain ranges, the jungles of Costa Rica, scorching deserts, and even cities to see how animals survive and thrive. Each episode takes you to one habitat so you’ll want to tune in for the entire season to discover different environments. You’ll get to see the lives of all sorts of creatures as they make their way through the days and can also see the beauty and wonders of the world along the way. Some episodes are more lighthearted in nature, even comical. Others are more dramatic and violent, showcasing the unique survival skills different species of animals must develop in order to live and thrive in the animal kingdom.
The dramatic scenes, high-quality footage and compelling narrative make this mini-series one of the most riveting documentaries of the year. The original score was created by legendary composer Hans Zimmer and the series was produced by BBC Studios Natural History Unit. David Ranklin Attenborough is the wildlife broadcaster for the show. You’ll find plenty of clips and an extended trailer for the show on the BBC Earth YouTube channel.
The British documentary series was first broadcast in November 2006 and the final episode date was December 11, 2016. It will air in the United States starting January 28, 2017, on BBC America so be sure to mark your calendar to catch the show this winter. If you can’t wait that long and are eager to see it, you can watch a few clips of the series online — don’t miss the pink flamingoes trying to walk across thin ice, the snake attack on iguana hatchlings, and the swimming sloth searching for its mate.
You can also learn more about your favorite animals or get updates about BBC Earth’s upcoming shows on the BBC Earth website.
There are six episodes and a compilation episode, “A World of Wonder”, that provides highlights of all six adventures that take you to islands, mountains, jungles, deserts, grasslands, and cities. A World of Wonder is scheduled to air in the UK on January 1, 2017. The series has been released in the UK on a two-disc DVD and Blu-ray box sets. Diehard fans can also pick up the accompanying book written by Steven Moss. The book was published by BBC Books and released on October 6, 2016.
Planet Earth II aired on BBC One on Sunday nights. If you can catch some clips of the show or tune in to recorded versions of the show this winter, it’s the perfect reason to cozy up in front of the television and escape to another world for a few hours.
New York City, a city seriously lacking in space, may not appear to have much wiggle room when it comes to new building projects. From an architect’s eye, however, creativity and forward thinking come together to build amazing spaces that have purpose in the Big Apple. Sustainability remains high on the list of must-haves for upcoming architectural developments using solar technologies, low-energy building methods, and renewable materials whenever possible. The following architectural trends are paving the way for the future of New York City.
The “Skinny Scraper” is on the rise
SHoP Architects, based in New York, is working on a project in Midtown at 111 West 57th Street that will not only be one of the tallest buildings in the city, but one of the skinniest skyscrapers in the world. Set to be complete in 2018, this building will span only 58 feet wide and over 1,400 feet tall. Anything taller than 1,968 is classified as “megatall” and is not permitted in the U.S. Extremely skinny buildings like this one can help New York City’s housing shortage. Due to the decreased amount of space that a narrow building requires, New York can expect to see more of these in the future since the city has available lots of this compact size.
Creative use of unused space
Since New York is known for being one of the most densely populated cities in the United States, getting creative with unused areas is key for architectural success.
An underground terminal, located directly below Delancey Street near the Manhattan bridge, was originally opened in 1908 for trolley passengers until 40 years later when trolley service came to a halt. This space has been unused ever since. Co-Founders James Ramsey and Dan Barasch saw this location as the perfect location for the world’s first underground park, Lowline.
Their vision seeks to provide locals and tourists with a tranquil space to take a break from surrounding dense, urban areas. This underground park will come complete with real greenery, places to sit and relax, and artwork. The use of strategically placed light reflectors, solar collectors, and fiber optic cables will provide natural sunlight to this underground environment. When natural sunlight is unavailable, artificial light will come in as the park’s back up lighting plan.
Transforming the 21st Century work environment
Open work environments are increasingly becoming the way to go for creative, collaborative companies. More buildings will be designed specifically with this contemporary need in mind focusing more heavily on how the building will impact its inhabitants rather than the actual building.
Dock72, a winner of the 2016 NYC Award for Excellence in Design, is a 675,000 square foot office building that will bring 4,000 tech and creative start-up jobs to the Brooklyn’s Navy Yard. The building’s design focuses heavily on flexible work environments that will increase employee interaction and allow them to share ideas. Aside from an ideal work environment, Dock72 will be an energy efficient building that aims to be LEED certified.
A wooden alternative
Around the world, skyscrapers are making headlines due to their unique composition. White Arkitekter, a Swedish Architectural firm, won an international design competition challenging contestants to design a mixed-use cultural center and hotel for the Swedish city of Skelleftea. Their submission won due their ability to pay tribute to the area’s timber industry as well as for the design benefits associated with using wood as a building material. The building will be 19 stories and will be the tallest wooden building in Scandinavia. This architectural concept appears in other cities around the world including Melbourne, Australia, Bergen, Norway, and London, England.
While the United States has been slow to this architectural style trend, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Softwood Lumber Board created a competition to change that. Two winners will split the $3 million prize money: Portland, Oregon and Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. Manhattan’s 10-story, residential condominium building, comprised entirely of wood will bring this innovative approach to the heart of New York City.
Cross-laminated timber (CLT) has been the material of choice due to its lightweight and sustainable properties. Wood is significantly lighter than concrete, making transportation easier, while also using less energy. The construction process of timber buildings also saves time and money since pieces can be assembled in a factory ahead of time, then placed into position at the construction site. Rotting isn’t seen as a major issue with wooden skyscrapers since some of the world’s most beautiful, iconic buildings have been built with wood and have held up for 600-700 years.
New York City is often on the forefront of architectural design concepts, but many of these trends can be expected to pop up in other U.S. cities.
From the way city sidewalks are paved to the way parks and buildings are laid out, sustainability projects have changed the way New York City spaces are designed, built, and managed. Parks, in particular, are integral to the New York City landscape and strengthen the social fabric of our city. Established by the City Parks Department in 2010, the New York City Sustainable Parks Task Force is working to advance green initiatives involving 21st century park design and construction.
According to its mission statement, the City’s Sustainable Parks initiative aims to reduce the agency’s carbon footprint as well as “enhance the current and future livability of New York City.” Let’s take a closer look at three New York City parks which are beneficiaries of sustainable projects, some sponsored by the City Parks Department and others in the mold of work the department has accomplished.
Also, check out Natural Area Conservancy’s interactive map of New York City parkland.
The area between 30th and 34th Street overlooking the Hudson river is preparing to become a new landmark in NYC’s sustainable urban landscape with the $20 billion Hudson Yards Project emerging in Chelsea. Not only will the Hudson Yards be a huge project resulting in a complex of open spaces and modern buildings, it will also be a milestone in sustainable building in New York City.
Hudson Yards’ Sustainable Highlights:
→ “Daylight Harvesting” – The installation of automatic dimming technology ensures that artificial lighting in the park complements natural sunlight levels. This not only saves energy, but also creates a more natural lighting environment overall.
→ Occupancy sensors and timers turn off lights in the park whenever and wherever lighting is unnecessary.
→ Smart Energy Conversion allows Hudson Yards to utilize its existing resources more efficiently; eventually, buildings in the park will include elevators powered by permanent magnet motors, which can capture energy expended for braking before regenerating that energy back into the building’s electrical system.
Hunts Point Riverside Park
Hunts Point Riverside Park, a 1.4-acre speck in the South Bronx, opened a few years ago on what had been a filthy, weedy street end. Hunts Point Riverside Park exemplifies how community activism, supportive partners in local government, and thoughtful landscape design can positively transform a neighborhood. Hunts Point, whose development was spearheaded by Sustainable South Bronx, features the city’s only freshwater river in a neighborhood that has historically lacked parks and green space.
Bryant Park was recently cited as a prime example of urban sustainability by The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). Over a century old, Bryant Park began deteriorating as early as the 1900s; further renovation attempts in the 1930s and 1940s failed to bring lasting change. Then, in 1979, the main branch of the New York Public Library (which is adjacent to Bryant Park) announced plans for a significant expansion which would include a renovation of the park. Thanks to this project, Bryant Park became an urban oasis once again. Notably, the park functions as the roof for an underground storage area for the NYPL. The park acts as a green roof, reducing energy costs and greenhouse emissions for the building below.
Bryant Park’s Sustainable Highlights:
→ Durable, natural and recycled materials are utilized throughout Bryant Park’s entire design.
→ Paths in the park are paved with salvaged stones. Statues in the park were constructed with salvaged, sustainable, and recycled materials.
→ The park uses two 300-foot-long planters with perennials and evergreens. In addition to adding aesthetic value to Bryant Park, the botanicals function as natural insulation for the New York Public Library’s underground storage facility which sits beneath the park.
Like the Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting or Radio City Rockettes, New York City’s impressive window displays are a vital part of the holiday experience. Here in the city, the holiday season doesn’t officially begin until the city’s biggest retailers unveil their annual displays. Since Macy’s debuted the tradition in 1883, the department store window setups have become more intricate and spectacular in their technical design.
In recent years, more retailers have taken advantage of innovative technologies to power their window displays. In 2015, for instance, Barneys New York featured live ice-carving inside their windows, and other high-end retailers have upped their game, too, like when Swarovski used LED technology to mimic diamond jewelry adorning storefront mannequins in2015.
Considering how these displays have evolved into elaborately-planned technological feats, it is especially fitting that the history of department store holiday windows stretches back to the days of the Industrial Revolution. It was then, during the late-1800s, when plate glass became widely available, that store owners were motivated to build large floor-to-ceiling style windows spanning the lengths of their shops.
As a tribute to this New York City tradition and in anticipation of the most wonderful time of the year, let’s take a closer look at famous window displays from New York’s past.
By 1914, Saks Fifth Avenue stirs public intrigue at their flagship location by staging ‘unveiling events’ for their holiday display window. Displays at this time incorporated hydraulic lifts beneath the windows, which allowed teams of artisans to work on new designs out of public view.In 1938, Lord & Taylor eschewed the traditional method of presenting store merchandise in favor of a purely decorative display. The department store hangs gilded bells that swing in sync with recorded sounds of sleigh bells.
In 2015, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology debut a new kind of transparent display technology, which they developed by embedding nanoparticles in glass screens. If the product is marketed to retailers, New Yorkers can expect to see a new class of spectacular display windows in the years to come.
As a nexus of commerce, history, and culture, New York City has no shortage of sites worth visiting. Though they aren’t iconic like the Statue of Liberty, and less traveled-by and touristy than the Freedom Tower, among NYC landmarks, these destinations are among the most underrated.
MoMath – The Museum of Mathematics
The Museum of Mathematics provides a rich sensory experience, showcasing the creative aspects of math as a discipline. MoMath opened in 2012, following the closure of the Long Island Goudreau Museum of Mathematics. The interactive museum is dedicated to a subject that is often discussed, though rarely represented via visual display. Instead of boring visitors with complex formulas and algebraic mumbo-jumbo, MoMath offers a sensory experience of what mathematical abstractions look like in real life. The space is as intellectually stimulating as it is visually mesmerizing.
Frick Bowling Alley
Who knew the Frick had a hidden bowling alley? Built in 1914, the bowling alley is closed off to public because it only has one exit (which is against city fire codes). This gem of NYC features mahogany paneled walls, maple and pine bowling lanes, and a gravity-driven ball return system that is reminiscent of a marble run.
New York Academy of Medicine Rare Book Library
This hidden library of everything physiological contains centuries worth of knowledge about the human body. Created during the mid-1800s as a centralized resource base for NYC doctors, most of the items in the Library’s sprawling catalogue date back to the 15th – 18th centuries. Among the rich leather volumes and brittle papers are rare works by Sigmund Freud, historic works on disease and obstetrics, and famously, a pair of prototype dentures made of real teeth.
Fort Greene Park
Fort Greene Park is considered to be Brooklyn’s First Park. Located at the edge of Downtown Brooklyn, the history of the lush, 30-acre park dates back to its use as a Continental Army post during the Revolutionary War. As both the formal burial site of nearly 12,000 American soldiers and a bustling green space for residents of surrounding neighborhoods, Fort Greene Park may be the closest thing to “sacred space” among the chaos of New York City.
New York Botanical Garden
Incorporated by New York State legislature over 100 years ago, The New York Botanical Garden is a major horticultural institution. Founded in 1891, the garden is home to the only freshwater river in the city (the Bronx River), the largest pressed plant herbarium collection in the western hemisphere, and a renowned botanical research center.
City Hall Station, which first opened for public use on October 27, 1904, was New York City’s first subway station. Although subway service to this historic station was discontinued in 1945, interested visitors can still lose themselves in the fine architectural details and glossy aesthetic which adorn the City Hall station. Although the City has stopped offering tours of the historic station due to budget constraints, 6-train riders can still catch a glimpse in passing of the grand tunnel and elegant chandeliers.