Big Green Apple
We generally think of ecotourism as travel that takes us out of the urban and into the rural. Trekking through Costa Rican rainforests, feasting with villagers in the Andes, or biking through the Outback. But New York City?
Well … yes.
For one thing, it’s close enough to Toronto to get to via car, bus or train – all friendlier travel choices (to the Earth and the wallet) than air. And though skyscrapers and end-to-end cabs don’t exactly constitute nature, as cities go, it’s greener than most.
Wendy Brawer of Green Maps enterprise is one New Yorker who confirms her city’s eco-offerings – such things as amazing bike trails (and plenty of places offering rentals, such as Bike Central Park, which offers two-wheels by the hour or day), the biomass-powered Liberty Island, community gardens and progressive initiatives such as Sustainable South Bronx.
You’ll find eco-offerings – and much more – on New York City’s Green Map (you can preview the first of the “open maps” by visiting www.opengreenmap.org/en/greenmap/nycs-green-apple-map#).Such as? A ride – day or night – on the Staten Island Ferry, says Brawer.
You’ll see a working harbour and both ends have “green” terminal buildings – buildings that subscribe to sustainable building principles. What’s more, the ferry is free.
If you get to Staten Island, visit Everything Goes, a collection of four thrift shops on the North Shore. It’s owned and operated by a group that lives and works together – sharing in the proceeds and offering up goods that are recycled, restored or reclaimed.
Peter Greenberg, NBC Today Show travel editor and author of Tough Times, Great Travels: The Travel Detective’s Guide to Hidden Deals, Unadvertised Bargains and Great Experiences, is a native New Yorker and another cheerleader for New York’s eco-initiatives.
“New York City has been making great strides in the environmental movement,” Greenberg says, “particularly in the travel sector. For starters, New York is so easy to get around in on foot and by public transportation that you can literally spend a week there without ever hailing a cab.”
If you do fly into New York, Greenberg points out that you can hire an Ozocar, an airport shuttle that uses only hybrid vehicles, and its prices are comparable to a regular taxi. And if you do find yourself flagging down a cab, the city is ripe with hybrid offerings.
And new regulations introduced in October 2008 will have greened the entire fleet by 2012. The city has also put 850 hybrid-electric buses on the streets.
But it’s boating that Greenberg particularly loves, particularly kayaking on the Hudson River. (www.downtownboathouse.org/programs.html). “There are three piers along the Hudson from which you can set out,” he explains, “and best of all, it’s entirely free.”
The waterfront is often overlooked by visitors to the city, yet it’s bustling with plenty of activity. Depending on the time of year, you can choose from movies on the pier, concerts, community picnics or shore cleanups – or simply enjoy New York’s beaches. “They’re not the most pristine,” Brawer admits, “but they’re much-loved.”
To find out more about waterfront events, click on waterwire.net and look up its calendar of events.
If Coney Island beach is on your to-do list, make sure you check out the New York Aquarium. While the fuel cells that power the aquarium aren’t too exciting to watch, the creatures inside – including Kulu and her son, known as “Brooklyn’s biggest baby” – will fascinate.
New York is also famous for its restaurants – more and more of which are greening their ways. While it’s fairly easy to find local and organic offerings, Brooklyn-based Habana Outpost, offering Mexican cuisine with a Cuban flair, has taken green to the extreme.
The indoor-outdoor establishment, which is open from Earth Day through Halloween, boasts solar panels (the first restaurant in NYC to be solar-powered), a kitchen that was formerly a U.S. postal truck, recycled picnic tables (they used to be plastic bottles) and a “green gutter” for rainwater reclamation. “We’re very community-based,” says Leslie Meenan, who, with her brother Sean, owns Habana Outpost and its sister restaurant in Manhattan, Café Habana.
Children are invited to join in at workshops, getting dirty in the gardens, learning about composting and meeting local resident John the Bee Man, who teaches kids about his beehive.
If you’re childless, you might be lured to either location by promises of organic frozen mojitos.
But be prepared to wait.
“It’s first-come, first-served,” says Meenan, who notes that restaurants operate on a conviction that no one guest is better than another.
Even Tom Hanks had to wait an hour for a table.
“He was so lovely about it,” says Meenan.
To burn off those eco-calories, try a walk to Battery Park (those seeking out Ground Zero will be at the north end of the park) and Battery Park City.
Travellers will discover an area that has no pesticides, all native plants, site-specific artwork and solar buildings.
Even those who choose the concrete jungle can appreciate its greener side. More than 11,000 traffic lights and “walk” signals have been switched to light-emitting diodes that use 90 per cent less energy than conventional lights.
And, at day’s end, rest your head in a “green” hotel, such as The Benjamin in Manhattan, New York’s only ECOTEL-certified hotel.
Or consider one of Greenberg’s favourites, Kimpton’s 70 Park Avenue, which converts its kitchen oil into biodiesel and has an “eco-concierge” on staff to help your stay be as green as possible.
Whether you take a big bite of the green apple or just a nibble, you’ll undoubtedly taste a different side of the city that never sleeps.
By Leslie Garrett
The Toronto Star