What's Popping at Brooklyn Ecopolis?

Boerum Hill Cafe and Sustainability Center wins Chamber of Commerce Award and opens Pop-Up Cafe.

Brooklyn Ecopolis has that "Brooklyn-ness" that so many businesses are striving for these days. Just ask the Chamber of Commerce.

Brooklyn Ecopolis was one of 13 honorees at the Building Brooklyn Awards ceremony presented by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce on July 14. The annual event recognizes recently completed renovation and construction projects that “enrich Brooklyn’s neighborhoods and economy.”

Architects and various developers who made up the panel of judges based which nominees would receive awards on a range of criteria including: Design Excellence, Innovation, Urban Design/Context, Sustainability, Economic Impact, Community Building and “Brooklyn-ness,” a category with no formal definition.

“We know it when we see it,” said Lori Raphael, the Director of Real Estate and Development at the Chamber.

Unlike other recipients, Brooklyn Ecopolis, which opened in April 2010, is a small-scale family endeavor and received the Mixed Use award for its residential, commercial and completely eco-friendly building.

“We like to award a mix of projects that might be really large scale and other projects that relate to the enhancement of the neighborhood in subtle ways and Brooklyn Ecopolis felt that way to the judges,” said Raphael.

Brooklyn Ecopolis is an architecturally stunning, 5-story building on Smith Street. Its design shows how sustainable and innovative technologies, from soy-based insulation to energy-efficient systems like solar thermal tubing, can be integrated into local projects.

Ecopolis is a non-profit, community-based resource center that revolves around the mission of promoting access to information, resources and events on sustainable products, materials and programs.

“Ecopolis means building urban sustainability,” said Patricia Simino Boyce, co-owner of Brooklyn Ecopolis.

Another major element is the Ecopolis Café, located on the ground level of the building, which serves as an anchor for the site and plays an active role in supporting the mission of Brooklyn Ecopolis. The Café serves high-quality sustainable food from local vendors like City Bakery, coffee and espresso from PT’s Coffee Roastery and organic tea from Rishi Tea.

“Everything in the Café is locally produced, and even reclaimed, recycled and reused,” said Boyce.

The Café also uses high efficiency systems and biodegradable and recycled paper supplies, and focuses on recycling and composting. The bar of the Café is even made from salvaged materials.

“We really kind of walk the talk,” said Boyce. “Our mission is to be a model of a building that has good community use and that sources everything locally,” said Boyce. 

Another unique initiative at Ecopolis is the newly opened “pop-up café." The first in the borough, the cafe is part of a pilot program launched by the Department of Transportation that began last summer in Manhattan.

The pop-up café officially opened last week and is literally built into Warren Street, on the side of Brooklyn Ecopolis. It replaces one metered parking space with four bright red bistro tables, chairs and planters.

Boyce's brother, Harry R. Simino, of the locally based Simino Architects, designed and built the pop-up café and used reclaimed wood as the flooring.

“We heard about the program and thought it was the perfect opportunity for Brooklyn Ecopolis to extend the mission onto the street by creating access to public seating,” said Boyce.

In order to turn the urban sustainable oasis into a reality, Boyce worked with her husband and Simino, who designed and renovated the building, for more than five years.

“This is a family-project and we’re all committed to it – it’s just the way we are,” said Boyce.

The family element helped Brooklyn Ecopolis win the Chamber award, too.

“Brooklyn Ecopolis has a major family and community component, which made the project attractive in the way it related to the neighborhood,” said Raphael.

Boyce and her husband conveniently live in the building, too.

“We thought [that] was terrific in terms of commitment to the neighborhood – they built something that was good and fine enough for them to live in,” said Raphael.

Boyce is currently working on securing funding that will support the Ecopolis Resource Center and its programming. That aspect of Ecopolis is not fully open for public use yet, but the café and pop-up café can be visited at any time.

Anthony July 19, 2011 at 11:02 PM
Let's just look more like Manhattan. Why don't we install our version of Times Square on First Place and Court?
maria pagano July 20, 2011 at 12:01 PM
Congratulations, Patty! Love your ideas and the execution- so refreshing and welcoming. Altho I think I'll wait till it cools off before I try your pop-up cafe, just remember I do have an umbrella I can loan you. Best of luck, Maria Pagano
Danielle July 20, 2011 at 08:25 PM
What is it about this lovely pop-up cafe that makes you so negative and angry? You don't like eating outside?
Anthony July 21, 2011 at 11:20 AM
@ Danielle. It's more of an eyesore than "lovely." Secondly, having it jut out into the street makes it look so much like Manhattan near Bryant Park and Times Square. Brooklyn has already transformed so much to look more like Manhattan that I would hate to see it look even more like it. I was born in Manhattan near the South Street Seaport. I hated it! I was so glad my dad moved back to Brooklyn (where he was born and raised) because Brooklyn, at least then, was nothing like Manhattan. But now, there are certain parts of Brooklyn that have become Manhattan-like. I know, I know. This is where the yuppies will say "but change is inevitable. Get over it." This is not about change as it is about Brooklyn losing what made it stand out from Manhattan.
Michael Brown July 21, 2011 at 01:33 PM
What makes it an eyesore? Is it poorly designed, poorly landscaped or something else? And what makes Brooklyn Brooklyn? Is it more space for cars?
maria pagano July 21, 2011 at 01:40 PM
Anthony, I appreciate your taking the time to expand the discussion. I certainly respect the identity issues; I don't want our area to turn into a cut-and-paste architectural junkpile either. I was surprised to hear, some years back, from some neighborhood activists in the West Village- how much they admired what we were doing in CG. They warned us that we could loose the neighborhood, the character in the same way that they did. So, how to provide amenities while acknowledging our archi environment? Do we want sidewalk cafes? Are the cafes even the issue? Maria
Anthony July 22, 2011 at 01:29 AM
It's poorly designed and it's only a matter of time till some animal with a license crashes into it.And if you don't know what makes Brooklyn Brooklyn, then why are you still living here? Maria, sidewalk cafes are not an issue. The design of the cafe is an exact replica of what Mahattan: setting up seating areas that jut into streets. They just started it about 1-2 years ago and here comes Brooklyn doing the same exact thing. The idea is fine, sidewalk cafes have been around for decades. it's hardly not new. The execution is poor in this case. It's a copy and paste out of what Mahattan is doing. Sidewalks cafes are cool. I'm not one to run to them, but I understand why people like them. Lord knows the yuppies love them. I mean where else can they have a meal, a drink and bring their poor, overheating dog in the 95 degree weather.
Michael Brown July 22, 2011 at 05:27 PM
I've lived in Brooklyn my whole life, and will continue to do so. You seem to be adept at critiquing a project (although your only criticism is that it is the same design as the street cafes in Manhattan), but not at suggestions for improvements. Perhaps the color scheme offends? WHY is the "execution poor"? Also, you seem to be implying that because Brooklyn drivers are worse than those in Manhattan (really?) that there should be no changes/improvements to the streetscape because drivers are too bad? Huh?
Giacomo July 23, 2011 at 08:54 PM
These pop up cafe's are insane. Why do we need to cause more congestion by constantly narrowing the thoroughfares and creating gauntlets? More of Sadik Kahn's dangerous anti traffic experimentation. "Lets build it and see what happens." ..... KAAAAAHN!!!!
Anthony July 24, 2011 at 04:10 PM
You want suggestions for improvements? Don't have it jut into the street! That's why the execution is poor. Is there a need for it to jut into the street? Please answer this: What are you losing by having these tables moved closer to the cafe and off the street? As for the Manhattan sidewalk seating, it is actually safer than what we have here in Brooklyn. The tables in the street next to Bryant Park are much further away from the traffic. As for the tables in Times Square, same deal. They're also further away from oncoming traffic and the streets are shut down near the sidewalk cafes. Big difference then what we have here.
Tony July 24, 2011 at 08:40 PM
So I don't get your points, one time you say "The design of the cafe is an exact replica of what Mahattan" and further you say after describing the Manhattan design: "Big difference then what we have here", you loose credibility by writing such non sense. And yes, new york city is about change, get over it. And god, you were not born here, and then you always critize the yuppies, check the definition of the word.
Anthony July 24, 2011 at 11:17 PM
The only difference between the Brooklyn and Manhattan cafes is their distance to traffic. I don't get what is so appealing about this. A table with 2 chairs and we will call it a "sidewalk cafe? WOW! Please.
Michael Brown July 24, 2011 at 11:45 PM
You seem to fundamentally misunderstand the traffic equation. By narrowing thoroughfares and reducing the travel speeds of traffic, congestion will actually be alleviated, not exacerbated. It is not experimentation; this has proven to be true the world over, and in the limited applications here in NY.
Michael Brown July 24, 2011 at 11:45 PM
The whole point is the have it jut into the street! The point is not just to have a cafe, it is to reclaim privatized public space!
Anthony July 25, 2011 at 12:59 AM
Reclaim privatized space? In essence are you saying that this cafe is jutting into the street to reclaim what was once privatized space? If so, I would like a sidewalk cafe to jut into a bike lane.
Giacomo July 25, 2011 at 01:25 AM
Wait...a public street is privatized space? And it was stolen from whom?
Michael Brown July 25, 2011 at 01:35 PM
No, you're missing the point. The space is free parking for private cars; in essence, every time I park my car on the street (every day, for me at least), I get ~160 square feet of space that is subsidized by everyone else (even those who do not own a car, which in Brooklyn, is the majority of residents) for my private use. My use of that space does not convey benefits upon anyone but myself. Conversely, a cafe is semi-public, in that anyone who wants to sit there can, if they're willing to buy food or coffee or whatever, and a bike lane is almost completely public space in that it conveys benefits to all road users and the majority of the public.
Michael Brown July 25, 2011 at 01:37 PM
See above. It is privatized when it is only for car owners to park on. I never used the word steal, but to use your word, yes, every time I park my car on a public street I am in essence "stealing" (in space, tax dollars, convenience, etc...) from those who choose to not own a car.
Giacomo July 25, 2011 at 01:44 PM
Your missing (or misrepresenting) the point. When I park on a street such as Smith, there is a benefit to both he city and the local merchants, There is usually a fee involved in the form of parking meters and / or ticket revebue to the city when meters expire. The local business and their employes benefit from this parking in that it enables cutomers to visit and spend money at said business. It's a STEET, not a park. A street is for the flow of traffic and commerce, how are cars "stealing" this space from the public. Cafe seating is usally "restricted" to those who can afford to pay for food/beverages at the establishment. They don't encourage the "public" to just sit here and not spend money. And finally a bike lane does not convey benefits to all road users and the general public. A bike lane benefits only those bikers that use it. A car is stealing space by using a lane , but a bike lane magically benefits the entire public? Come on Michael....
Michael Brown July 25, 2011 at 02:16 PM
Last point first: Yes, a bike lane benefits (nearly) all street users; not only does it benefit bikers, as you point out, but it slows down traffic speeds, reducing traffic accidents and deaths, creates more alert drivers, benefiting pedestrians, and helps merchants by introducing new users to the street and diversifying their client base. The revenue generated by parking meters is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things; in fact, the city's meter rate policy in the busiest areas is to set rates as high as possible not as a means of making money, but as a means of turning over the spaces, keeping them as active and constantly flowing as possible. The seating is clearly for all users, whether or not you buy anything from an adjacent business, and signage indicates as such. I guess on the rest, we're just of different minds. You feel that streets are for the flow of traffic and commerce; I feel that like everything in the public realm, they should be enhanced to maximize benefits of all users, not just the minority (again, I will point out that car owners in Brooklyn are a minority) of those who own a car and/or operate a business.


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