Gowanus Lounge: Serving Brooklyn

Urban Environmentalist NYC: R & E Brooklyn

August 1st, 2008 · No Comments

Here’s one of our weekly features from the Center for the Urban Environment (CUE). This week’s interiew is with R & E Brooklyn owners Rolf Grimsted and Emily Fisher, who were found through the Sustainable Business Network NYC, a network of businesses dedicated to building a vibrant, diverse and responsible local living economy in New York City. For more information on SBNYC check out www.sbnnyc.org.

Q: Where are you from originally?

Rolf: I grew up in Washington DC.

Emily: I’m a native New Yorker and grew up in Manhattan, as well as stints in Sao Paulo, Brazil; Rome, Italy; and high school and college years in New England.

Q: All of these are major global cites with unique styles—do any of them resonate powerfully in your current design work?

Rolf: They all do in different ways. The trick is to make sure that ideas from far away are looked at through the local lens. What is right for this site, this zoning, this community.

Q: What lead you to sustainable development?

Emily: A sense of conscience.

Rolf: We were trying to approach development for inside our community. We wanted to create an approach that was of benefit to that community based on our experience of living in a nineteenth century brownstone in the urban environment. We wanted to celebrate what was good and be forward thinking about what could be better.

Q: How did you choose the location of your business?

Rolf: We wanted to restore to use buildings in our neighborhood.

Emily: It’s easier to spot opportunities and understand how buildings fit into the context when it’s the context you live in.

Q: It sounds like the local serves as a kind of muse to you both…

Rolf: I’m very attracted to the historical and current nuances of what went before it builds my interest and informs the decisions.

Q: What do you like best about your neighborhood/customer base/community?

Rolf: Boerum Hill has a strong sense of community, a longstanding interest in greening the blocks with plants and trees, and there’s a very family friendly attitude. I think buyers of the homes we’ve created are people that would have in the past moved to the suburbs once they started having families. Now they seem to want the benefits and efficiency of urban living.

Q: If you got together with other small business owners in your community what would the hot topics be?

Rolf: My number one topic is ways to retrofit and green the existing housing stock. I also have an idea about using tax incentives for building green. If the 421-a tax incentive and 421-b incentives were used for green building, the city would encourage new green building and the greening of existing homes, and we’d reduce our city’s energy consumption.

Emily: The ongoing boom in new development is a big topic, including the discussions on what’s going to happen to the Atlantic Yards site and how can that development potentially benefit our community and businesses?

Q What are the salient challenges that face your business?

Emily: The credit crisis. Mortgages are harder to come by for home buyers; construction loans are harder to come by for developers. Also the increased costs of construction and construction materials, which is related in part to fuel costs.

Rolf: Its not easy being a pioneer and the economics and pressures of development are not inherently set up to benefit innovation.

Q: Talk to me about responsible development—in your mind, what would be its bottom-line, its standard?

Rolf: There is no clear bottom line. I wish it were that easy. It is about process and input. Looking at the whole picture and acting responsibly within it.

Q: What are the rewards of your business?

Rolf: Community response, market response and education opportunities that build respect for sustainable development.

Emily: Walking by a building that we have restored to use is profoundly satisfying.

Q: If you could pass a law tomorrow that would help small businesses locally, what would it look like?

Emily: Atlantic Avenue has so many established and new stores and restaurants, thanks to creative, hardworking local business people. To make Atlantic as pedestrian and shopper friendly as possible, the city should first of all create foot bridges, enforce speed limits, and find other ways to make intersections safe and strollable, and also lift the ban on parking in the late afternoon. I’d also like the city to find another location for the House of Detention—this is not a great place to situate a jail.

Rolf: Anything that increases the benefit of adopting sustainable practices- tax incentives for home owners and businesses to reduce energy consumption for instance. I would also like see more of our industrial property used for green economic development—for instance businesses that produce healthy and sustainable construction materials, which would also boost jobs.

Interview conducted by Rebeccah Welch, Associate Director of Public Affairs at the Center for the Urban Environment. As a guide to a more sustainable New York City, the Center is dedicated to educating individuals about the built and natural environments. For more about our work visit www.bcue.org.

Tags: CUE