Sustainable Living: Under city lights, urban camping takes root

Posted on August 12, 2013 | green living, New York, San Fran, sustainable living
Summer begins with a lot of good intentions, plans to get back into nature and reconnect with our roots.  But, if your camping ambitions have yet to materialize, don’t despair: a night under the stars might be closer than you think!

City governments and urban entrepreneurs across the world are now paying increased attention to providing camping options within city limits.  Sound like an oxymoron?  Well it is, which is why urban camping is blossoming into an outdoor experience unto itself: not quite rural romping not quite city hustling.

One fascinating example is taking root in Amsterdam where architects Oscar Rommens and Joris Van Reuseldrew drew inspiration from the skyscraper but gave it a campy twist.  Their creation is a small-scale, mobile, urban camping facility.  The unit is a literal and figurative platform for city explorers to  stay overnight (avoid exorbitant hotel prices), connect with other travelers and rediscover urbanity in a totally new way.

While vertical camping catalyzes innovative new designs, it also creates room for the bare-boned traditionalists.  Spearheading this approach are the folks at Bivouac, a summer rooftop art instillation that doubles as 15-person campsite. The project is currently running in New York, Boston and across the pond in London.
The campers here aren’t typically travelers, Bivouac is more an experiment in day-to-day life in the high-tech city jungle. Guests are encouraged to live their normal daily lives, taking the subway and working as usual, before retreating to their low-fi oasis at night (without showers, internet or electricity). Interested in setting up camp? Check it out here.

In the Midwest, urban camping has a unique iteration that’s more nature-focused.  North Face has teamed up with the Chicago parks department to create the Camping 101 Program, giving novice campers and their families the chance to have a slumber-party in select public parks.  The initiative is so well-loved that North Face is teaming up with other state park agencies in California, Idaho, Massachusetts, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Oregon.

The consensus when it comes to easily-accessible camping is clearly more, more, more! Have you pitched a tent in an urban jungle? 

We’d love to hear about your adventures.

Green Living: The Surprising Truth About Urban Trees

Most city-dwellers operate under the assumption that, like binoculars and snow tires, the United States Park Service is simply irrelevant to their urban existence.  But, as it turns out, the Forest Service has been hard at work pounding the pavement of America’s major city centers to bring us the surprising truth about city trees: they’re saving our lives, quite literally.

In the first of two recently published studies, director Geoffrey Donovan and his team revealed a direct and dramatic correlation between loss of trees and loss of human life in city centers. According to the study, as deforestation of urban areas spread across the country there was an increase in mortality related to cardiovascular and lower-respiratory-tract illness: 6,113 related lower respiratory system-related deaths and 15,080 cardiovascular-related deaths.

According to Donovan, the research warrants a value shift in popular opinion; rather than equating trees with recreation/decoration we need to think of them as pillars in the infrastructure of public health. We need to starting taking trees very seriously.

The second study surveyed the tree populations of 10 major cities (Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Syracuse) to determine how effectively they were filtering out air pollutants.  And guess what? They’re doing a phenomenal job, so much so that urban trees and forests are saving an average of one life per year per city. That means in New York City alone, trees save an average of eight lives annually.

We hope that this newly reveled super power will inspire city residents to get involved planting more trees in their communities.

If you’re looking for ways to get involved, there are dozens of non-profits looking for volunteers.  Friends of the Urban Forest in San Francisco for instance has planted more than 47,000 trees since 1981.  They have also earned bragging rights by planting 43% of the city’s street tree canopy, and now, as it turns out, saving some lives along the way!

Sandy and Sustainability: Defining Resilience

Summertime at the boardwalk: melting Popsicles, sea salt in the air, freckled shoulders, and long, sun-drenched days stretching into nights illuminated by arcade lights and the crack of a firework across the sky.

There a few scenes as quintessentially American, as East Coast, as New York.

The shore is a beloved piece of our identity and one of the reasons that the devastation caused by super storm Sandy was so painful.  The now iconic image of the Seaside Heights’ Star Jet roller coaster in washed out into the grey waters of the Atlantic perhaps best encapsulates the loss of joy and innocence Sandy inflicted: that which was sacred, larger-than-life, reduced to driftwood and debris.

The recovery process has been an arduous one for private citizens and communities alike.  For those on the shore the summer’s opening weekend, Memorial Day, was the goal everyone was striving towards, the light on the horizon. With summer now upon us, all their herculean rebuilding efforts finally on display! 

One of these most interesting acts of resilience has been the redesign of the system of lifeguard stands that dotted the New York coastline and were nearly all destroyed. City architects took this challenge as an opportunity to reimaging the stands and go above and beyond when it comes to sustainability as well as functionality.

A regular overhaul of this scope would take up to two years but this was an eight -month challenge from design to unveiling. The units were built in modules and each includes an office, public washroom and ample office space. Sustainability and flood resistance were at the center of the design. Therefore, the structures rely on solar heat, photovoltaics, and skylight ventilators, boast a net zero energy system and are elevated above FEMA’s most recent storm surge number. Nineteen new stations are now up and running.

Perhaps the most moving detail is the city architects’ use of boardwalk planks that were salvaged from Sandy’s destruction. In a seamless integration of reuse and remembrance, the summers on the shore will always carry with them a piece of their essence and a token resilience.

Sustainable Living: A Bumpy Road For The Citi Bike Share

Posted on April 29, 2013 | green innovation, New York, sustainable living
There’s no place like New York. There’s also no debating the fact that the city leads the world in many arenas. However, when it comes to bike culture, New York lags behind other global metropolises like Paris, Toronto, Barcelona, London and Berlin. But this is all about to change: the Big Apple is kicking its bike presence into high gear with the May launch of Citi Bike, the long-awaited public bike sharing program.
It has been an uphill battle for the program to gain approval with members of the public, with residents protesting everything from safety concerns to the defacement of historical streets by bank adverts. Disgruntled Fort Greeners took to plastering the bike kiosks with protest stickers that read, “Residential landmark blocks are not for advertising or commercial activity.”  Others have expressed fears that the bikes infringe on parking spaces.  The most recent critics of NYC bike sharing program came just this weekend from local street venders, those who have been forced out of their regular corners by the racks. One of the protesters told CBS New York, “Many vendors are already crunched for space in the city.”
But the program has prevailed, and soon the bikes will be unveiled. 600 bike kiosks are now in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene and Clinton Hill neighborhoods alone.  The program will run as a pilot in Brooklyn, but Manhattan expansions are well underway (as you can see in the proposal map below):

The Citi Bike program offers annual memberships as well as twenty four hour ($9.95) or seven ($25.00) day options ($95.00).  So, ExchangeMyPhone readers, will you be buying a pass or taking a pass on the Citi bike sharing program?  Share your thoughts!

ExchangeMyPhone Holiday Gift Guide: From Our Staff, With Love

At ExchangeMyPhone we know when it comes to gift giving it can be a jungle out there!  Which is why we have been busy putting our heads together to make things a little easier and take some of the guess work out of gift giving.  Whether you are shopping for the entrepreneur, the environmentalist, the creator or the tech type on your list, our gift guide is EMP-employee-certified to bring smiles all round.

Jeremy’s Pick
Jeremy - the Lean Startup

A few business books stand out as actually changing the way that we do things at ExchangeMyPhone. The Lean Startup was one of the books that I turned to again and again (it still takes pride of place on the shelf next to my desk). Eric Ries’ tome was given to me as a Christmas present years ago and I have always been so grateful for my family’s insight in giving it.

The book is a great gift for any budding entrepreneur and, even better, it could be given in combo with one of the business classes taught by those who have been in the trenches, or are still there. Skillshare is one of our favorite places to take and teach classes and we think Rafael Balbi’s class on Lean Startup style entrepreneurship would make an incredibly thoughtful gift to anyone on your list who has dreams of launching and developing a business in 2013.

Katherine’s Pick
Katherine - Brook's Green Silences sneakers

We are passionate about keeping toxic materials out of the landfill and we’re always excited to come across other companies who share our commitment. With New Year’s resolutions creeping up on us, we know a few people on our holiday list who would love a new pair of running shoes to kick off a healthy 2013. Problem is, running shoes are typically built of tenacious materials. So we did our research and found an amazing biodegradable alternative: meet the Brooks Green Silence sneakers.

Made with roughly half as many parts as comparable shoes, each piece of these performance racing flats has a sustainable element. In fact, their biodegradable components degrade 50 times faster than standard shoes in anaerobic conditions and are predicted to save 29.9 million pounds of landfill waste in roughly 20 to 25 years. All in all, these sneakers make the perfect sustainable gift for anyone who is trying to start a great new habit in 2013.

Maggie’s Pick
Maggie - Brooklyn makers

At ExchangeMyPhone we love our Brooklyn community. Though none of us are Brooklyn natives, it is definitely what we mean when we say home. From biking to our favorite pizza spots in Bushwick to townhouse admiring in Carroll Gardens to getting lost in Prospect Park, we are grateful to live and work in a beautiful place full of so many interesting people doing interesting things.

Brooklyn Makers by blogger, photographer and breakfast aficionado Jennifer Causey is a celebration of Brooklyn’s unique creativity and takes you inside the workshops of 30 of the borough’s artisans. From chocolate making to metal work to pottery and whiskey distilling there is something for everyone! Plus, each profile is complete with beautiful photographs and an in-depth Q and A. This homage to handcrafts is perfect for any maker on your list, not to mention the Brooklynites or those you are convincing to come for a visit!

Seth’s Pick
Seth - AR.Drone2.0

Tech gadgets make great gifts during the holidays and at ExchangeMyPhone we are definitely into technology. One of the coolest devices we’ve come across is the AR.Drone2.0. The AR.Drone2.0 is a drone quadcopter (a helicopter with four blades) that can be controlled remotely by your iPhone or Android device. The drone has an HD camera and can do some impressive aerial maneuvering.

However, what makes the AR.Drone2.0 so interesting is that users can reprogram the device to fly by itself. Controlling a helicopter with your iPad is cool- but programing a helicopter to fly circles around the cat is *awesome*.

The AD.Drone2.0 is the perfect gift for someone who is interested in hacking or a parent who wants to give their children a really exciting technical opportunity.

Phone recycling: New York’s ExchangeMy(Pay)Phone

Posted on November 26, 2012 | Amazing tech, eco-economy, iPad, mobile, New York, phone, Re-use, Recycling, tablet

At ExchangeMyPhone sometimes we feel like we are the only ones who love to “geek out” about phone recycling but as it turns out we have company…a lot! In fact, the City of New York shares our niche passion but only when it comes to a very specific type of phone: the pay phone. Remember those? Yes they still exist, actually there are 1,500 pay phones in Manhattan alone. But in a town where even some toddlers are iPhone clad, most of the pay phones sit idle collecting soot and taking up space.

pay phone recycling

So what’s the solution?  The city government has teamed up with developer City24x7 to launch a pilot program to turn 250 pay phone booths into free information kiosks in all five boroughs.  But wait, there’s more. These kiosks are interactive, touch screen devices that connect users to all kinds of vital information: from where the nearest Pinkberry is located, to live transit updates and evacuation routes in the event of a natural disaster.  The development of this new communal software leverages the neighborhood watch philosophy by putting “vital messaging onto our streets and into our hands; providing everyone with access to urban communication when and where they may be.”


The cornerstone of  City24x7′s Smart Screens is the the democratization and proliferation of mobile media, or as they put it, “built with access for all.”  The devices provide geo-specific content on a high contrast screen for the visually impaired, they have a Wayfinder key-fob access point for the blind, headphone jacks/induction loops for the hearing-impaired and are wheelchair accessible as well as multilingual.

The 32-inch touch-screens are made from ATM strength glass so defacement is not a top concern.  Really the only possible buzz kill could be the potential germ swapping, which, if you live in New York you are already well aware of.  But according to City24x7 they’ll be more sanitary than an ATM. “They’re built to be cleaned with a jet hose,” said CEO Tom Touchet, the former executive producer of the “Today” show. “They’re waterproof and dust-proof.”

re-imagined pay phones for New Yorkers

So not only are these re-imagined pay phones good for New Yorkers, they are good for the city budget.  The installation and operation runs at no costs NYC but, after the pilot program, 36% of revenue will go to fund other city programs.  Furthermore, with the information kiosks as a platform, local government will be able to remind citizens about bike-shares, free events and even how to get their tax refund.  Now what payphone can do that?