Throughout the pandemic, nothing has stopped her from going into the office every single day (with fresh flowers).
The first round of funding for the year totals $24 million and will support 225 projects across the country.
Prof. Carl Hart saw drugs as destroyers of communities. Then he saw the positive side. “We have miseducated the public,” he said.
There is a connection between people’s ability to pay rent each month and their mental health.
Retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient and better at withstanding climate change induced extreme weather is going to be a big, multi-billion dollar business. But it’s one that’s been hard for low-income communities to tap, thanks to obstacles ranging faulty incentive structures to an inability to adequately plan for which upgrades will be most effective in which buildings.
Enter BlocPower, a New York-based startup founded by a longtime advocate for energy efficiency and the job creation that comes with it, which has a novel solution for identifying, developing and profiting off of building upgrades in low income communities — all while supporting high-paying jobs for workers in the communities the company hopes to serve.
The company also has managed to raise $63 million in equity and debt financing to support its mission. That money is split between an $8 million investment from some of the country’s top venture firms and a $55 million debt facility structured in part by Goldman Sachs to finance the redevelopment projects that BlocPower is creating.
These capital commitments aren’t charity. Government dollars are coming for the industry and private companies from healthcare providers, to utility companies, to real estate developers and property managers all have a vested interest in seeing this market succeed.
There’s going to be over $1 billion carved out for weatherization and building upgrades in the stimulus package that’s still making its way through Congress
For BlocPower’s founder, Donnel Baird, the issue of seeing buildings revitalized and good high-paying jobs coming into local communities isn’t academic. Baird was born in Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood and witnessed firsthand the violence and joblessness that was ripping the fabric of that rich and vibrant community apart during the crack epidemic and economic decline of the 1980s and early 90s.
Seeing that violence firsthand, including a shooting on his way to school, instilled in Baird a desire to “create jobs for disconnected Black and brown people” so they would never feel the hopelessness and lack of opportunity that fosters cycles of violence.
Some time after the shooting, Baird’s family relocated from Brooklyn to Stone Mountain, Georgia, and after graduating from Duke University, Baird became a climate activist and community organizer, with a focus on green jobs. That led to a role in the presidential campaign for Barack Obama and an offer to work in Washington on Obama’s staff.
Baird declined the opportunity, but did take on a role reaching out to communities and unions to help implement the first stimulus package that Obama and Biden put together to promote green jobs.
And it was while watching the benefits of that stimulus collapse under the weight of a fragmented building industry that Baird came up with the idea for BlocPower.
“It was all about the implementation challenges that we ran into,” Baird said. “If you have ten buildings on a block in Oakland and they were all built by the same developer at the same time. If you rebuild those buildings and you retrofit all of those buildings, in five of those buildings you’re going to trap carbon monoxide in and kill everybody and in the other five buildings you’re going to have a reduction in emissions and energy savings.”
Before conducting any retrofits to capture energy savings (and health savings, but more on that later), Baird says developers need to figure out the potential for asbestos contamination in the building; understand the current heating, ventilation, and cooling systems that the building uses; and get an assessment of what actually needs to be done.
That’s the core problem that Baird says BlocPower solves. The company has developed software to analyze a building’s construction by creating a virtual twin based on blueprints and public records. Using that digital twin the company can identify what upgrades a building needs. Then the company taps lines of credit to work with building owners to manage the retrofits and capture the value of the energy savings and carbon offsets associated with the building upgrades.
For BlocPower to work, the financing piece is just as important as the software. Without getting banks to sign off on loans to make the upgrades, all of those dollars from the federal government remain locked up. “That’s why the $7 billion earmarked for investment in green buildings did not work,” Baird said. “At BlocPower our view is that we could build software to simulate using government records… we could simulate enough about the mechanicals, electrical, and plumbing across buildings in NYC so that we could avoid that cost.”
Along with co-founder Morris Cox, Baird built BlocPower while at Columbia University’s business school so that he could solve the technical problems and overcome the hurdles for community financing of renewable retrofit projects.
Right before his graduation, in 2014, the company had applied for a contract to do energy efficiency retrofits and was set to receive financing from the Department of Energy. The finalists had to go down to the White House and pitch the President. That pitch was scheduled for the same day as a key final exam for one of Baird’s Columbia classes, which the professor said was mandatory. Baird skipped the test and won the pitch, but failed the class.
After that it was off to Silicon Valley to pitch the business. Baird met with 200 or more investors who rejected his pitch. Many of these investors had been burned in the first cleantech bubble or had witnessed the fiery conflagrations that engulfed firms that did back cleantech businesses and swore they’d never make the same mistakes.
That was the initial position at Andreessen Horowitz when Baird pitched them, he said. “When I went to Andreessen Horowitz, they said ‘Our policy is no cleantech whatsoever. You need to figure out how software is going to eat up this energy efficiency market’,” Baird recalled.
Working with Mitch Kapor, an investor and advisor, Baird worked on the pitch and got Kapor to talk to Ben Horowitz. Both men agreed to invest and BlocPower was off to the races.
The company has completed retrofits in over 1,000 buildings since its launch, Baird said, mainly to prove out its thesis. Now, with the revolving credit facility in hand, BlocPower can take bigger bites out of the market. That includes a contract with utility companies in New York that will pay $30 million if the company can complete its retrofits and verify the energy savings from that work.
There are also early projects underway in Oakland and Chicago, Baird said.
Building retrofits do more than just provide energy savings, as Goldman Sachs managing director Margaret Anadu noted in a statement.
“BlocPower is proving that it is possible to have commercial solutions that improve public health in underserved communities, create quality jobs and lower carbon emissions,” Anadu said. “We are so proud to have supported Donnel and his team…through both equity and debt capital to further expand their reach.”
These benefits also have potential additional revenue streams associated with them that BlocPower can also capture, according to investor and director, Mitch Kapor.
“There are significant linkages that are known between buildings and pollution that are a public health issue. In a number of geographies community hospitals are under a mandate to improve health outcomes and BlocPower can get paid from health outcomes associated with the reduction in carbon. That could be a new revenue stream and a financing mechanism,” Kapor said. “There’s a lot of work to be done in essentially taking the value creation engine they have and figuring out where to bring it and which other engines they need to have to have the maximum social impact.”
Social impact is something that both Kapor and Baird talk about extensively and Baird sees the creation of green jobs as an engine for social justice — and one that can reunite a lot of working class voters whose alliances were fractured by the previous administration. Baird also believes that putting people to work is the best argument for climate change policies that have met with resistance among many union workers.
“We will not be able to pass shit unless workers and people of color are on board to force the U.S. senate to pass climate change policy,” Baird said. “We have to pass the legislation that’s going to facilitate green infrastructure in a massive way.”
He pointed to the project in Oakland as an example of how climate policies can create jobs and incentivize political action.
“In Oakland we’re doing a pilot project in 12 low income buildings in oakland. I sent them $20K to train these workers from local people of color in Oakland… they are being put to work in Oakland,” Baird said. “That’s the model for how this gets built. So now we need them to call Chuck Shumer to push him to the left on green building legislation.”
An education program is immersing underprivileged students in Ivy League classes, and the students’ success has raised questions about how elite university gatekeepers determine college prospects.
Analysis of a trove of data extracted from the Chicago Police Department has revealed major differences between how black and white officers, as well as male and female ones, actually enforce the law. This rare apples-to-apples comparison supports the idea that improving diversity in law enforcement may also improve the quality of policing.
Historically hard data from police departments has been extremely hard to come by, for a variety of reasons. As the authors put it in the paper:
Rigorous evaluation of the effects of police diversity has been stymied by a lack of sufficiently fine-grained data on officer deployment and behavior that makes it difficult or impossible to ensure that officers being compared are facing common circumstances while on duty.
…At present, a patchwork of nonstandard record-keeping and disclosure practices across roughly 18,000 U.S. police agencies has severely impeded broader policy evaluation.
This study by B.A. Ba et al., however, is based on highly detailed CPD records resulting from requests made to the department over a period of three years. It’s a collaboration between researchers from UC Irvine, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Columbia, and was published today in Science (access is free).
The records include millions of shifts and patrols from 2012 through 2015, which the team carefully sorted and pruned until it had a set that would allow the kind of analysis they hoped to do: comparing police work that is similar in all respects except the demographics of the officers doing it.
If on a Monday in March, in the same district at the same time of day, no serious differences could be found between Black officers and white officers, then race could be tentatively ruled out as a major contributor to how police do their work. On the other hand, if there were serious differences found, then that might indicate — as a topic for further study — the possibility of systemic bias of some kind.
As you might expect, the analysis found that there are indeed serious differences that, having isolated all the other variables, only correlate with the race of the officer. This may seem obvious to some and controversial to others, but the point of this work is not to assume or confirm assumptions, but to show plainly with data that there are disparities associated with race that need investigation and explanation.
Some of the specific findings can be summarized as follows:
- Minority officers (black and Hispanic, self-identified) “receive vastly different patrol assignments,” something that had to be controlled for in order to provide effective comparisons for the other findings.
- Black officers use force 35 percent less than white officers on average, with most of the difference coming from force used against black civilians.
- Black officers perform far fewer “discretionary stops” for “suspicious behavior.”
- Hispanic officers showed similar, but smaller reductions.
- Female officers use force considerably less often than male ones, again especially when it comes to black civilians.
- Much of the disparity in stops, arrests, and use of force results from differences in pursuing low-level offenses, especially in majority-black neighborhoods.
The data show (as a sort of inverse image of the above list) that white male officers stop, arrest, and use force more often, especially on people of color, and frequently as a result of minor crimes or “discretionary stops” with vague justifications.
The researchers are careful to point out that as conclusive as the patterns may appear to be, it’s important to understand that there is no causal mechanism studied or suggested. In fact they expressly point out that the data could be interpreted in two directions:
One explanation for these disparities centers on racial bias, i.e., white officers are more likely than Black officers to harass Black civilians. Technically, it is also possible that Black officers respond more leniently when observing crimes in progress.
More study is required, but they point out that one explanation — leniency by Black officers on minor offenses — has very little effect on public safety (violent crimes are addressed largely the same regardless of race and gender). The other — systemic racism — is significantly more harmful. Though they are “observationally equivalent” in the context of this data specifically, they are not equivalent in consequence. (Nor in likelihood — nor are they entirely incompatible with each other.)
In a valuable commentary on the paper and its implications, Yale’s Philip Atiba Goff notes that its findings are rich in implications that we ignore at our peril:
The magnitude of the differences provides strong evidence that — at least in some cities — the number of officers who identify with vulnerable groups can matter quite a bit in predicting police behavior. Although this does not settle the matter, the work stands alone in its ability to make apples-to-apples comparisons across officers – regardless of how many may be bad apples.
Given that Ba et al. find negligible demographic differences in officers’ responses to community violence, such a large difference in discretionary stops compels a reader to ask: Are any of those excess stops by white officers necessary? Should a department even be making them, given the demonstrated risk for abuse so evident in vulnerable communities?
Are any of those excess use of force incidents by white officers necessary? And if the excess force is not necessary for public safety, why does the department target Black communities for so much physical coercion? These questions are difficult to answer outside a broader engagement with the purpose of policing — and its limitations.
In other words, while it may require further study to get at the core of these issues, police departments may look at them and find that their resources are not necessarily being used to best effect. Indeed they may have to face the possibility — if only to refute it — that much of what officers do has little, no, or even negative value to the community. As Goff concludes:
With violence trending downward the past three decades, mostly troubling small geographic areas, and possibly occupying a small portion of police activity, what should the role of police be? Failing to take seriously the possibility that the answer should be “much less” may end up frustrating both researchers and a public that has been asking the question for far longer than most scientists.
This revealing study was only possible because the authors and legal authorities in Chicago compelled the police there to release this data. As noted above it can be difficult, if it is even possible, to collect large-scale data from any department, let alone from many departments for analysis at a national scale. The authors freely admit that their findings, in their specificity to Chicago, may not apply equally in other cities.
But that’s meant to be a call to action; if when finally given access to real data, researchers find problems of this magnitude, every department in the country should be weighing the benefits and risks of continued obfuscation with those of openness and collaboration.
The university restored the diploma of the accused man, but stands by its initial findings against him.
Administrators and young graduate students have been inoculated at leading research hospitals, contrary to state and federal guidelines.
The Newark native has long been lauded for his brilliant abstractions. Lately he’s writing about something more concrete — and producing his most powerful music yet.
Over a third of young people in foster care in New York City identify as L.G.B.T.Q. and are struggling to find the support they need, according to a new survey.
He was one of the most accomplished foreign correspondents of his generation and a newsroom leader under the renowned executive editor A.M. Rosenthal.
Two new studies show the effect of the emergency $2 trillion package known as the Cares Act and what happened when the money ran out.
The bones are among the hardest to replace in the body. A trial of the new technique in humans is about to begin.
As they memorialize a past tragedy, New Yorkers face another profound and deadly crisis that is not yet over.
The New York-based scientist overcame sexism and personal tragedy to make major contributions to the field, for which she received recognition this year.
Samuel Bard was George Washington’s doctor and delivered Alexander Hamilton’s first son. He was also a “pretty significant slave owner.”
Thousands of Covid-19 patients have been treated with blood plasma outside of rigorous clinical trials — hampering research that would have shown whether the therapy worked.
Thousands of Covid-19 patients have been treated with blood plasma outside of rigorous clinical trials — hampering research that would have showed whether the therapy worked.
Getting medication long meant seeing a licensed provider. Now a strategy for evading Covid-19 makes treatment available via the web.
A Columbia grad student, new to the city, lost his lease. So he organized the perfect send-off.
Injured and unusable lungs were restored with respirators and pig blood. The procedure one day may increase the supply of organs for transplant.
But researchers caution this does not mean low-income families are escaping hardship. And they warn that when the aid expires next month, families could again be vulnerable.
The lawsuit, brought by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, the Brennan Center for Justice, and law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, seeks to undo both the State Department’s requirement that visa applicants must disclose their social media handles prior to obtaining a U.S. visa, as well as related rules over the retention and dissemination of those records.
Last year, the State Department began asking visa applicants for their current and former social media usernames, a move that affects millions non-citizens applying to travel to the United States each year. The rule change was part of the Trump administration’s effort to expand its “enhanced” screening protocols. At the time, it was reported that the information would be used if the State Department determines that “such information is required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting.”
In a filing supporting the lawsuit, both Twitter and Reddit said the social media policies “unquestionably chill a vast quantity of speech” and that the rules violate the First Amendment rights “to speak anonymously and associate privately.”
Twitter and Reddit, which collectively have more than 560 million users, said their users — many of which don’t use their real names on their platforms — are forced to “surrender their anonymity in order to travel to the United States,” which “violates the First Amendment rights to speak anonymously and associate privately.”
“Twitter and Reddit vigorously guard the right to speak anonymously for people on their platforms, and anonymous individuals correspondingly communicate on these platforms with the expectation that their identities will not be revealed without a specific showing of compelling need,” the brief said.
“That expectation allows the free exchange of ideas to flourish on these platforms.”
Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, Twitter’s policy chief for the Americas, said the social media rule “infringes both of those rights and we are proud to lend our support on these critical legal issues.” Reddit’s general counsel Ben Lee called the rule a “intrusive overreach” by the government.
It’s not known how many, if any, visa applicants have been denied a visa because of their social media content. But since the social media rule went into effect, cases emerged of approved visa holders denied entry to the U.S. for other people’s social media postings. Ismail Ajjawi, a then 17-year-old freshman at Harvard University, was turned away at Boston Logan International Airport after U.S. border officials searched his phone after taking issue with social media postings of Ajjawi’s friends — and not his own.
Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told TechCrunch at the time that Ajjawi’s case was not isolated. A week later, TechCrunch learned of another man who was denied entry to the U.S. because of a WhatsApp message sent by a distant acquaintance.
A spokesperson for the State Department did not immediately comment on news of the amicus brief.
The borough has the city’s highest rates of virus cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Could more have been done?
Some programs are planning on testing, disinfecting and social distancing to protect children from the virus. Others say camp can’t be safe this year.
How do you get discovered in a teetering art world? Graduating students organize shows with peers, team up with dealers — and lobby for relief funds. Will they bring change?
After her campus closed, a college senior took a job as a temporary morgue worker on the front lines of the pandemic.
Craig McFarland, the valedictorian of his high school in Jacksonville, Fla., received acceptance letters from 17 colleges and universities in all.
The good news is that the pandemic shows “science works.” The bad news? Global warming may be far more dangerous than a pandemic.
The drought that has gripped the American Southwest since 2000 is as bad as or worse than droughts in the region over the past 1,200 years, a new study finds.
With a looming shortage of equipment for coronavirus patients in New York City, doctors say they may soon need to make difficult choices.
One after the other, like dominoes, colleges announced that because of coronavirus fears, they were suspending classes and asking students to pack up and go.