Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Center for the Urban Environment: What Happened?

I recently received the following press release from the former staff at the Center for the Urban Environment, which abruptly closed its doors last week:

The staff of the Center for the Urban Environment is saddened and shocked by the recent events surrounding CUE’s closing this passed week. The 30-year old nonprofit, based in Brooklyn, was one of New York City’s leading providers of environmental education and was always at the cusp of innovative programs and tours, along with its recently launched Sustainable Business Network.

“We understand it was a difficult decision that was made by the Board of Directors. We had all hoped that a restructuring of the organization would’ve addressed some of the immediate financial concerns—where options of merging or retiring some of our programs could have sustained the organization's life. Corporations file for bankruptcy and maintain operations all the time. It’s such a shame to have abruptly ceased our programs to tens of thousands of school children, teachers, businesses, residents, and tourists alike,” said Aisha Glover, former Director of Public Affairs at the Center for the Urban Environment.

“CUE’s best assets have always been its staff and the knowledge and expertise they maintain. Ideally, we’d find a home for this expertise and our programs would be able to live on. We are educators, urban planners, tour guides, community liaisons, and artists with knowledge about an array of topics on the sustainability spectrum. From concepts as complex as energy efficiency and green building design for high school students or adults to activities that use puppetry and hand-crafted board games to teach pre-schoolers about recycling and conservation. There’s really an enormous amount of talent that existed at CUE and still exists through its staff,” says Michelle Piano, former Manager of Early Childhood Programs.

The Center for the Urban Environment provided hands-on educational programs and tours throughout New York City, making a concerted effort to address the great disparity between communities that need this information and communities that actually access it through programs such as its Family Literacy Initiative. CUE used its 30 year history of educating New Yorkers from all walks of life about how to live, create, and promote a more sustainable future. Through urban tours, school programs, a sustainable business network, and events and workshops for the public, CUE served nearly 100,000 New Yorkers each year.

Despite this statement, questions still remain. As for why the center closed, some sources say it's because of funding cuts and drops, others maintain funding wasn't the reason.

Former members of the staff are reluctant to address these issues, though they do emphasize the tragedy that now over 40 people are unemployed.

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