Thursday, April 2, 2009

Brooklyn Loses Beloved Environmental Organization

This week, the Brooklyn-based Center for the Urban Environment (CUE) closed its doors after 30 years of service to the borough and the rest of the city.

A nonprofit that gave urban tours in all five boroughs and had programs in over 300 schools throughout the city, CUE’s funding had recently been cut. It was reported in the Eagle in February that New York State’s Zoos, Botanical Gardens and Aquariums Grant Program (ZBGA) was to be eliminated, resulting in a $62,000 loss for the center.

Founded by John Muir in 1978, the organization was originally knows as the Prospect Park Environmental Center, then the Brooklyn Center for the Urban Environment. It operated out of the Prospect Park Tennis House until last year, when it moved to its last location in the LEED Gold-certified building on Seventh St. in Gowanus.

Sources say that one reason CUE went under was the debt generated from renovating the building. State-of-the-art green technologies were installed, such as a “walk-off grate” was installed on the floor just inside the doorway, a lighting system that will adjust to the amount of natural light coming into the building and the most energy-efficient desktop computers on the market.

Speculation has arisen that the current economic climate may have also played a factor in CUE’s decline, causing funding to dwindle and fundraising to become difficult. Representatives at the center were either unavailable or unable to comment.

Whatever the cause, there have been indications for several weeks that something was amiss at CUE. There were reports of employee layoffs, and Executive Director Sandi Franklin abruptly resigned.

Franklin took over as executive director in 2002 from Muir, who had held the position since he founded the organization. Upon Franklin’s resignation, the board of directors appointed Patricia Synan, first vice chair of the board and a retired school superintendent, to serve as interim executive director.

“A lot of nonprofits are going through a hard time right now,” Aisha Glover, director of public affairs at CUE, told the Eagle in March. “But everybody is really hopeful about moving forward... we’re actually okay.”

But hope, apparently, wasn’t enough. “Effective immediately, the Center for the Urban Environment is closed,” is Glover’s current voicemail message.

What will happen to the green building is unknown, as developer David Sweeney, from whom CUE leased the space, did not return calls by press time.

Remembering CUE

There’s no doubt that the Center for the Urban Environment will be missed. Eagle managing editor Raanan Geberer recalled not only the urban tours he took through the center, but also the ones he gave.

“I was always interested in local history, and wanted people to know more about it,” he said. As for the organization’s impact, “They made people aware of places or aspects of the city that they wouldn’t have been aware of otherwise.

“I’m very surprised it closed because it’s been around for so long,” he added. “It seemed to me that it was actually expanding.”

Brooklyn Brewery owner Steve Hindy, a friend of Franklin’s, said, “The Center for the Urban Environment was doing very important environmental programs in many public schools in Brooklyn. I think it’s a shame that their efforts are no longer continuing.”

No comments: