Will Long Island Build the U.S.’ First Battery-Powered Commuter Trains?

Will Long Island Build the U.S.’ First Battery-Powered Commuter Trains?

Around the world, high-speed rail has become a major asset in improving transportation standards, commuting efficiency, green energy consumption, and more. In the United States, limitations such as property boundaries and challenging topography have prevented the development of similar rails, but the future may still hold potential for the integration of advanced train systems.

The Long Island Rail Road has recently begun testing battery-operated trains, the first to do so in the United States. In Europe, battery-powered trains are the standard, and by taking this initiative to identify whether similar models will function optimally on U.S. railroads, the Long Island Rail Road could help inspire widespread change in standards of locomotion.

Unique Advantages of Electric and Battery-Operated Trains

One of the most prominent advantages of battery-operated trains is a drastic decrease in both fuel consumption and harmful emissions. Already, trains that use a blend of diesel fuel and electricity have reported fuel savings of 10 to 15 percent. Equipping trains with rechargeable batteries to replace fuel dependency would increase fuel savings, making for a more cost-effective and environmentally sound system.

A Danish study from 2019 found that the air quality on trains is drastically altered depending on what the locomotive uses for energy. Researchers found that diesel trains may expose passengers to up to six times the amount of black carbon and 35 times more ultrafine particles than electric trains. Not only do battery-powered trains reduce carbon emissions, but they are also presumed to be healthier and safer for passengers.

Another significant benefit to battery-powered trains is efficiency and expediency. Diesel-fueled trains have a limited ability to travel due to the recurring need to stop and refuel. Trains equipped with rechargeable batteries may be able to travel greater distances before needing to stop and recharge; by charging the batteries on electric lines and using battery power on non-electrified tracks, trains can prolong the amount of time between full charges and increase the distance they can cover in a single trip. What this means for passengers is a decreased need to switch trains due to refueling needs, more efficient transportation, and reduced pain points for travel.

What the Long Island Rail Road’s Initial Test Could Mean for the Future of Transportation

In testing battery-operated trains on the Long Island Rail Road, researchers are striving to identify whether battery and electric power is a practical alternative to diesel fuel. Researchers are investigating the actual amount of time and distance a train can run on battery power, how long it takes for the batteries to recharge, where the batteries could be located for optimal performance, how much power trains need to cover long distances or scale hills, and more.

Learning about these aspects will help researchers and transportation experts make educated decisions about locomotive systems and standards. Improving the efficiency and emissions of trains could also lead to the development of high-speed rail lines that are better suited to the geography of the United States by accounting for energy conservation and innovative solutions.

The Long Island Rail Road is taking a great stride toward a future of efficient, economical, and environmentally-conscious commuter transportation. In order to acquire and assess sufficient data, this trial period may last several years, but gathering essential information to make the best decisions is just part of the process. By tackling big questions and taking these initial steps to identify whether battery-powered trains are an appropriate alternative to diesel-fueled trains, the Long Island Rail Road may pave the path for other railroads and locomotive designers, and manufacturers, encouraging further development and broader integration of similar models.

Amid the Pandemic, New Growth for NYC Food Nonprofits

Amid the Pandemic, New Growth for NYC Food Nonprofits

The community quilt that we call New York is finally unfolding, and we’re more than ready to welcome her back — particularly so we can eat at our favorite restaurants again.

Though COVID-19’s true impact on New York city dining remains unknown, some optimism is returning as restaurants begin turning on their lights (and grills and brick ovens) for indoor service once again. But even through their struggles, restaurants and community organizations still turned their efforts toward another vital enterprise, one that helped the city tackle a food-insecurity situation exacerbated by the pandemic.

All across New York, restaurants large and small partnered with non-profit organizations, or developed their own creative plans, to source, cook and deliver food to those who need it most. According to City Harvest, the organization that began New York’s food-rescue movement, food insecurity increased among New York residents by 38 percent in 2020. One in four children lacked access to food, City Harvest reported.

Further, Food Bank NYC saw a 91 percent increase in visits to its Community Kitchen in Harlem at the pandemic’s height. Leslie Gordon, Food Bank NYC’s president and CEO, said that “this is need unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”

Food Bank NYC responded by delivering a record 100 million meals in New York during 2020. That included 23 million pounds of fresh produce. Because community kitchens and pantries also closed during the pandemic, Food Bank NYC established a series of partnerships at locations where the need was most urgent. Food Bank NYC reported that these partnerships helped deliver three times more food than in 2019 — and will continue to grow.

Many New York non-profits raced to develop their own action plans. City Harvest helped to open 29 emergency food sites across the city. The organization located some of the sites near hospitals to feed frontline healthcare workers.

In April of 2020, Rethink Food, which repurposes excess food from New York restaurants into nutritious meals, launched a unique program that serves two purposes. Rethink Certified helps feed underserved communities while supporting restaurants during the shutdowns.

Restaurants opened their kitchens and welcomed back staff to prepare meals for donation, and Rethink Food provided them grants to support operations costs and pay staff. According to Rethink Food, the program invested more than $10 million into New York restaurants and served 2.5 million meals.

Elsewhere, Citymeals on Wheels met its annual goal of delivering more than 24,000 meals at Christmas to elderly New Yorkers, some of whom found themselves even more disconnected during the pandemic. Welcome to Chinatown adopted a series of pandemic-related initiatives; their “Greens for Good” program sourced nearly 8,000 pounds of fresh produce, and a dumpling drive fed hundreds. The organization also introduced a self-guided walking tour that led foodies on a Chinatown exploration within COVID-19 guidelines.

Hundreds of restaurants contributed to the cause, even while shuttered or operating at drastically reduced scales. For instance, Eleven Madison Park extended its partnership with Rethink Food by launching a food truck that will serve about 400 meals per day in communities of need. Diners will help fund the project by eating at the Michelin-starred restaurant.

Eleven Madison Park began its pandemic-response program in 2020. Restaurant co-owner Daniel Humm, who co-founded Rethink Food, transformed his closed restaurant into a kitchen that produced 3,000 meals per day for frontline workers and those facing food insecurity.

Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, which includes more than a dozen New York restaurants, last summer converted three of its venues into community kitchens to prepare meals in the South Bronx. 

The Thai restaurant Wayla launched “Lunchboxes 4 Neighbors,” turning diners into donors by asking them to give $5 to fund a lunchbox. At Red Rooster in Harlem, a weekday lunch program distributed free meals in the community.

Junzi, which has several New York locations, introduced “Share a Meal,” which gives diners ordering takeout a chance to provide meals for frontline healthcare workers. And in April 2020, Tacombi, a popular New York taco chain, launched the Tacombi Community Kitchen to produce healthy meals in several communities. Tacombi says the program has served more than 100,000 meals.

These restaurants weren’t alone in opening their hearts during this trying time. Countless New Yorkers across the city lent them support by making a donation, ordering takeout, or dining on-site. So many people and organizations in New York are doing good by making sure everyone can access fresh, nutritious food. 

If you want to learn more, and perhaps pitch in, check out the Hunter College Food Policy Center list of organizations that could use our help and its neighborhood resource guide for those in need.

Let’s eat again, New York — and let’s continue to be good neighbors as well.

Bennat Berger, Co-Founder of Novel Property Ventures

Bennat Berger, Co-Founder of Novel Property Ventures

Bennat Berger is the co-founder and CEO for Novel Property Ventures, a top-tier property management firm based in New York City. Under Berger’s guidance, Novel has grown into a thriving, full-service organization. The firm capitalizes on the high demand and limited supply of NYC’s real estate market by cultivating a standout portfolio of residential and mixed-use properties. But Novel Property Ventures doesn’t just acquire listings — it revitalizes its assets to ensure that they always exceed expectations.

Bennat Berger knows that buildings alone don’t usher in success; people do. From day one, the entrepreneur has applied a thoughtful, person-first approach to Novel Property Ventures’ leadership and hiring efforts. As such, the Novel team is staffed with professionals who have extensive backgrounds in property management, finance, and development. All take a proactive, ethical approach to management, and all are dedicated to ensuring that Novel’s investors and residents are satisfied with their experience.

Novel Property Ventures isn’t Bennat Berger’s only entrepreneurial success. Berger is also the founding partner for Novel Private Equity, a PE firm that specializes in helping promising tech-centric startups scale to success. The investing firm’s interests are eclectic; to date, Novel Private Equity has invested in businesses related to entertainment, experiential retail, and supermarket tech.

Outside of his business efforts, Berger is a prolific writer on matters relating to the often-disruptive impact that innovative tech has on culture and business. His work has been featured in publications including Entrepreneur, Fortune, and TechCrunch.

When he isn’t providing business direction at Novel Property Ventures or penning industry analyses, Bennat Berger enjoys spending time with his friends and family in New York City.

At Novel Property Ventures, a Thoughtful Culture Ensures Achievement Despite Uncertainty

Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic prompted a mass migration out of our offices, corporate leaders have scrambled to find ways to preserve their company culture across digital channels. We’ve so long assumed that centralized spaces were necessary to ensure productivity and connectivity that, once those hubs were removed, many executives found themselves at a loss.

But Bennat Berger, the CEO and co-founder of Novel Property Ventures, was not one of them.

“None of our underlying cultural principles changed,” Berger asserts. “It didn’t matter if our team members were in the office or scattered across the city — we were a team. And that was a culture we curated from day one.”

As the CEO explains, his perspectives on corporate culture were well-set even before he founded his business. He knew that he wanted to build a positive environment that would facilitate constructive, kind, and communicative collaboration.

“Everything is shared,” Berger said. “When we close a high-profile deal, our entire team celebrates the victory. If a project falters or fails, we all come together to address the fallout. Most importantly, when we don’t succeed, no one points fingers or assigns blame.”

It’s fair to say that Berger’s pro-team approach has worked well for his firm. In the years since its founding, Novel Property Ventures has grown into a thriving full-service property management firm. The New-York-based business capitalizes on its home city’s high residential demand and limited housing supply by curating a diverse portfolio of residential and mixed-use properties. But its greatest strength, according to Berger, is its elite team.

“We have good people,” the entrepreneur says. “It’s in our best interest to take care of them, regardless of whether we’re in the office or apart.”

It’s worth noting that this people-based philosophy doesn’t just allow for greater adaptability during a crisis — it also cultivates greater business growth overall. One study conducted by management researchers at Berkeley in 2014 found that firms with stronger cultures tended to be more adaptable and demonstrate better performance than those with weaker ones.

Other research efforts further indicate that positive workplace environments facilitate better employee relationships, increase creativity, and empower workers to overcome professional challenges. Caring for colleagues, providing support and compassion, avoiding blame, and treating everyone in an organization with respect is the only way to maximize team performance and well-being.

The results of taking such a tack very nearly speak for themselves. As Bennat Berger shares of Novel Property Ventures’ team status, “The average employee at Novel has been with us for about five years. We rarely lose key team members, and we often promote from within. There is tremendous continuity amongst our team that, I feel, leads to a respectful work environment that is free of unnecessary politics.”

Now more than ever, teams must come together to help their businesses thrive through uncertain times. Covid-19 has hit everyone hard. But if leaders approach their workforce with compassion and kindness, they can, like Novel Property Ventures, pull through even stronger.

Permanent “Streeteries” Take Off in NYC

Permanent “Streeteries” Take Off in NYC

When the Covid-19 pandemic restricted indoor dining, New York City restaurants took to the streets — literally. 

“Streeteries” — temporary outdoor seating areas that extend into street parking spaces and sidewalks — have become vibrant staples on NYC streets. At the start of the pandemic, these structures were rudimentary, their boundaries defined by beer kegs and makeshift seating. But as months passed, some restaurants have leaned into the outdoor dining norm to make spaces that feel more permanent and welcoming. 

Today, many outdoor areas are enclosed by inexpensive but aesthetically-pleasing features such as wooden fencing, planters, and greenery. These spaces typically include seating and bike racks but can also encompass tables, games, and artwork. 

In July of 2020, Curbed’s Diana Budds took a bike tour around Brooklyn and found a kaleidoscope of unique decorating styles and creative arrangements. She described her findings for the magazine, writing: 

On Smith Street in Cobble Hill, a block of adjacent restaurants all appeared to have worked with the same builder — all of them had trellises topped with a few potted plants which made their outdoor spaces feel like gardens. Brooklyn Pizza Market made their barriers unique by repurposing tomato cans into planters. Xochitl Taqueria painted their plywood enclosure a buttery yellow. On Fifth Avenue, one restaurant painted its barriers white and decorated them with cascading flowers and vines — cottagecore in the wild. I also really enjoyed the Barragan-esque bright pink Cubana Cafe used for their outdoor area. Café Grumpy, a coffee shop on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, used shipping pallets to enclose their seating area.

Of her explorations, she concluded: “These improvised spaces offer refreshing breaks from the relentless blandmarks (sic) and towering luxury condos that have defined the city’s new architecture for the past few years.” 

These features seem like a silver lining amid the pandemic — an opportunity to refresh New York’s urban landscape with greater vibrancy and architectural flair. They also appear to be entrenching into greater permanency; according to another Curbed report, at least one construction company in the city has pivoted to focus almost exclusively on building streeteries once the demand for office construction all but disappeared. 

Of course, one could argue that these temporary outdoor havens are by nature temporary and will disappear once the need for social distancing has passed. Eating outdoors in cold weather, after all, isn’t most customers’ preferred dining experience. However, it’s difficult to believe that these structures will disappear entirely now that restaurant owners have had the opportunity to recognize their potential as attractive gathering-spaces. 

“The beauty of streeteries lies in the fact that they are flexible; they can be permanent, semi-permanent, or seasonal,” Evan Goldin explained for the National Association of Realtors. “They can work in spaces of any shape and size. In addition, they can feature moveable furniture and planters that can be easily removed or replaced. It is precisely this adaptability […] that makes them so popular.”

Streeteries have been necessary, yes — but they also created welcoming atmospheres for countless restaurants under stress and provided vibrancy and cheer in a time when New Yorkers needed both the most. These structures may have started as temporary fixes, but it’s certainly worth hoping that the brightness they provide will remain on a more permanent basis.  


Here’s Why Major Tech Companies Are Investing Big in New York Real Estate

Here’s Why Major Tech Companies Are Investing Big in New York Real Estate

After Amazon’s caustic breakup with New York City came to pass on Valentine’s Day 2019, even the most optimistic tech enthusiasts had to doubt that the e-retail giant would ever return to New York City in force. 

Why would it, when its much-negotiated plans in the city had fallen through? Amazon’s dreams of having a four-million square foot campus on the East River had crashed and burned, and any return it did attempt would lack the nearly $3 billion in public funds it had negotiated for during H2Q negotiations. 

Given the acrimony of the split and the volume of perks lost, a reasonable person might think that Amazon would storm out of New York and seek the support it wanted elsewhere. But now, shockingly, Amazon is back in town — and it won’t be leaving anytime soon. 

In early March, Amazon paid $1.15 billion to acquire the iconic Lord & Taylor building on Fifth Avenue, which it intends to staff by 2023. Company press releases further indicate that the e-retailer plans to recruit a whopping 2,000 employees from New York City. 

But how does this about-face make sense? Wasn’t the whole point of Amazon’s split with NYC that the city couldn’t offer what the company needed? Well, yes — and no. 

Amazon might not be getting $3 billion in public support anymore, but New York is still one of America’s foremost business hubs. Over the last decade, New York has become the East Coast equivalent of Silicon Valley, offering a welcoming home to established tech giants and nascent startups alike. 

“We know that talent attracts talent, and we believe that the creative energy of cities like New York will continue to attract diverse professionals from around the world,” Ardina Williams, Amazon’s vice president of workforce development, shared in a release on Amazon’s office acquisition. 

Other major companies seem to share this sentiment. Before the pandemic took off in March, Google added over 1.7 million square feet of commercial real estate towards its developing campus in Manhattan. Apple, Amazon, and Facebook have purchased more than 1.6 million square feet of office space since the start of 2020. 

But New York doesn’t just offer an exceptional business location — it also provides top-tier talent. NYC currently encompasses over 120 universities and is ranked first globally for the number of STEM-field graduates produced annually. A full tenth of the nation’s developers live in New York City, and, according to a recent HR&A report, tech firms in the city have the fastest average hiring time for engineers across all US tech hubs. Major player statistics underpin New York’s talent advantage; collectively, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple have hired over 2,600 employees in New York since the start of 2020. 

Worth noting, too, is that Startup Genome ranked NYC first globally in terms of funding availability and quality. The metro region alone received an incredible $13 billion in funding in 2018. New York’s wealth of available talent, preexisting tech presence, and deep funding pools cement NYC as a go-to place for tech interests. 

Moreover, tech sector optimism continues to run high despite the uncertainties of COVID-19. As one writer for the New York Times recently reported: “Executives at the companies said their investments even during one of the city’s darkest periods reflect their belief that the features that set New York apart — its diversity, culture, regional transportation network and numerous colleges and universities — will keep luring people after the pandemic.”

Of course Amazon has returned to the city; its acrimonious exit was a $3 billion bluff. It would be a mistake to view the city as being any less than it is: one of America’s foremost tech hubs.

Street Smart? NYC Schools Launching Outdoor Learning Spaces

Street Smart? NYC Schools Launching Outdoor Learning Spaces

Any other year, an outdoor lesson might have felt like a walk in the park — literally. But now, having a chance to participate in school activities against a backdrop of changing leaves feels less like an autumn picnic and more like a chilling necessity. 

As of early September, around 800 New York City schools had obtained approval to hold part of the school day in recess yards, closed-off streets, or city parks as per the city’s newly-minted outdoor learning program. This much-lobbied program gives approved schools the option to hold art, music, and gym lessons outdoors if they so choose. Academic classes can also take place outside, provided that the school has enough space to support them in addition to other outdoor activities.  

The vast majority of schools that applied to the Education Department for program approval received it, with only a handful of declines due to safety concerns. However, education officials prioritized their considerations based on need — the schools that have been hit more severely by COVID-19 and those without dedicated schoolyards took precedence. 

Countless parents, faculty, and administrators successfully lobbied local government officials to uphold outdoor learning; now, their implemented program enjoys widespread support. 

“A new outdoor learning plan that is going to open up a lot of new, wonderful possibilities for our kids and for our educators,” Mayor Bill de Blasio commented during a press conference on the matter. “We heard those voices that said, ‘Could we do something different under these circumstances?’ The answer is: yes. This will apply to our public schools, our charter schools, private/religious schools, Learning Bridges schools. You name it. One standard for all.”

The idea behind the program is simple: by moving classes outdoors, schools can better allow for learning while limiting the risk of COVID-19 spread. Public health authorities have firmly established that outdoor environments tend to be safer due to their increased air circulation. 

As one writer for the Mayo Clinic explains: “When you’re indoors, you’re more likely to inhale these droplets from an infected person, especially if you’re in close contact, because you’re sharing more air than you do outdoors. Poor building ventilation can cause droplets to hang in the air for a longer period of time, adding to the potential for infection. When you’re outside, fresh air is constantly moving, dispersing these droplets. So, you’re less likely to breathe in enough of the respiratory droplets containing the virus that causes COVID-19 to become infected.”

It is worth noting that there is a precedent for outdoor learning, too. In the early 1900s, several New York City schools attempted to minimize tuberculosis spread by moving students to outdoor classrooms on rooftops and, in one case, an abandoned ferry. 

Holding open-air classes is an excellent idea in theory — but in practice, a few flaws remain. 

Since the plan’s debut in late August, several educators have raised concerns that it would unfairly benefit privileged city schools while leaving poorer institutions out in the proverbial (if not literal) cold. Their concerns are warranted; after all, outdoor learning isn’t feasible for schools located in areas with high levels of violence or those near noisy roadways. Schools in wealthier neighborhoods often have the advantage of being within walking distance of parks or having green space on-campus. 

Moreover, the bill for outdoor learning can be difficult for poorer schools to foot. As one reporter for the New York Daily News recently pointed out, “Schools are responsible for raising their own funds to purchase tents for shade and weather cover, and must provide their own barriers and staffing to close off adjacent streets — leaving schools with wealthy parents in a better position.”

Some argue that this gap reflects a lack of adequate planning from the city. Indeed, comments from city leadership on the economic barriers faced by less-privileged schools seem to convey some passing of the buck. 

“If a PTA has done their fundraising and they’ve raised more than enough for their school, let’s identify another school that doesn’t have that fundraising capacity,” Chancellor Richard Carranza suggested during a news conference

Administrators and education lobbyists weren’t entirely satisfied with that response. 

“Relying on PTA fundraising to fund this effort only exacerbates inequity,” Mark Treyger, the chairman of the City Council’s Education Committee, pointed out on Twitter after the conference. 

Outdoor learning has a great deal of potential. However, we need to continue to workshop the idea even as we implement it and find ways to give less-privileged schools the resources they need to hold open-air classes with as much ease as their wealthy counterparts. Children should have the chance to learn and gather in safety — now, it’s up to educators and the city of New York to turn a great idea into a fair and effective solution.