Since its founding in 1936, Perkins+Will has been dedicated to the philosophy that design has the power to improve society overall. In keeping with this philosophy, we take a triple bottom line approach to our business, and we include social and economic impact (in addition to environmental impact) in our view of sustainability. Achieving success across all of these areas is no simple feat, but fortunately our teams are up for a challenge whether they are in a design charette for a pro bono project or cleaning a chicken coop as part of an afternoon of volunteering.
Yes, you read that correctly. In September of 2011, about a dozen employees from our New York office set out to help with gardening and maintenance for a rooftop farm in Queens, which included tidying up the chickens’ coop and yard. The main goals of this particular urban farming organization, named Brooklyn Grange, are to improve local access to high quality vegetables and eggs, to connect city dwellers more closely to the process of food production, and to demonstrate how urban farming can still be a viable enterprise and source of livelihood. To achieve their goals, Brooklyn Grange incorporates the local community in multiple aspects of their operations: they collect neighborhood waste for composting, run a non-profit educational program for children, and partner with other non-profits such as the Refugee Immigrant Fund Asylum Help Center and the Fortune Society, which respectively assist refugees and formerly incarcerated adults build new careers. Luckily for us, Brooklyn Grange also welcomes volunteers of all kinds.
The environmental impact of rooftop farming in urban areas is extremely positive, with contributions ranging from stormwater management to decreasing the demand on buildings’ HVAC systems. While our firm’s volunteer group learned a significant amount about these benefits during their visit, there is also a growing collection of outside research on the topic. For example, Columbia University’s Urban Design Lab at the Earth Institute recently published findings that outline New York City’s vast potential for urban agriculture. “Urban agriculture can play a critical role as productive green urban infrastructure… [and] in community development” states the study. Five Borough Farm, an initiative of the Design Trust for Public Space, is also a continual source of information on how “urban agriculture can contribute to social, health, economic, and ecological benefits,” specifically in New York City.
While the strategic link between farming and interdisciplinary design may not seem crystal clear, forming partnerships with organizations that share your values is an obvious advantage for any business. There are also benefits on an individual level; when you know that your work is supporting positive nutritional, educational, economic, and environmental impact, that work becomes more personally valuable and generally enjoyable…even if you’re the one cleaning the chicken coop.
The post was written by Gisela Garrett.