Grist is proud to present the Change Gang — profiles of people who are leading change on the ground toward a more sustainable society and a greener planet. Some we’ve written about before; some are new to our pages. Some you’ll have heard of; most you probably won’t. Know someone we should add to the Change Gang? Tell us why.
In 2012, this is how Brooklyn rolls: On an early spring evening in March, 60-70 people gathered at the Brooklyn Brewery to hear a talk about what to do about sewage overflow into the notoriously polluted Newtown Creek. Urban planner Kate Zidar, the executive director of the Newtown Creek Alliance, recalled the meeting as the "nerdiest event you can imagine."
"The first speaker went through reams of water quality data," says Zidar, "and then there was me talking about a really obscure planning process. And it was packed."
These days, it seems like you can hardly go one subway stop on the F train without slamming into yet another Brooklyn activist determined to turn one of the most metropolitan regions in the world into a clean, green, ecologically sustainable wonderland. Kate Zidar is a perfect example.
A one-time biologist, Zidar had an epiphany in Ecuador a decade ago while studying carabid beetles, a carnivorous rain forest insect.
"The typical conservation biology story is that you seek out these wild spaces and study them with this idea of needing to save them -- save the rainforest or save the whales or whatever," says Zidar. "But I found myself more observant of the fact that in these wild spaces there were humans who were struggling with their basic needs like food, shelter and employment, and how that impacted the ecosystem. And that's how I got interested in urban planning."
Zidar moved to New York, got a master's degree in urban planning from the Pratt Institute, and speedily coined a new term in the title of her master's thesis: "The Citizen's Guide to the Sewershed."