R.I.P. (Brooklyn) Center for the Urban Environment


To the shock and dismay of the environmental community, Center for the Urban Environment (formerly known as Brooklyn Center for the Urban Environment) has abruptly shut down operations.

Many questions still remain, but here is their press release which answers at least a few:


Contact: Aisha Glover at formerCUEstaff@gmail.com

April 6, 2009- 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 concernswhere 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.

To contact the group directly, please feel free to email CUE staff spokesperson Aisha Glover at FormerCUEStaff@gmail.com.

13 thoughts on “R.I.P. (Brooklyn) Center for the Urban Environment”

  • What was the board doing? What were they doing that led to this? The board of trustees job is to ensure the organization moves into the future. I saw an interview of one member of the board on the internet, what a lame, weak answer he gave as to why this happened. Where was the board and what were they doing?

  • The “job” of the Board of Trustees is not a job, it is a volunteer position, which is, in my mind, one of the fundamental flaws of the nonprofit sector. Corporate directors are paid, and they receive stock in the company, therefore, they have a personal stake in the survival of the company. It is difficult to hold volunteers accountable.

  • Simply put: The board turned a blind eye to an out of control senior manager. They’ll be lucky they aren’t investigated for fraudulent use of donated and city funding.

    How do you explain an organization of less than 30 staff being over $200K in the hole to a single computer retailer? Even if you bought brand new computers, servers and printers at retail prices, you’d have to work hard to reach that amount! What did all that extra spending go towards? Who knows what other massive debts were being incurred with other companies and services. And this is BEFORE moving out of Prospect Park and spending all that money on a new facility. Disgraceful!

    I just feel bad for the staff members that gave their hearts and souls to BCUE/CUE. Franklinly, the board members and senior manager should step up and take responsibility for driving a great community service with significant global impact in the Sandi murky ground. Happy Earth Day! 🙁

  • The board (though “volunteers”) is fiscally responsible (and liable) for a nonprofit. Something to consider before anyone decides to join a board.

    They, to their surprise, may be held accountable for all of CUE’s debt, which exceeds its total annual budget!

  • They still owe 1.5 million from the construction debt they incurred. Sandi kept adding more and more even after they knew they were in trouble.

  • This is truly a loss for Brooklyn and environmental educators around the Nation. I got my first “real” job a BCUE which launched my environmental career. I now work as a scientist at the EPA and have BCUE to thank for getting my feet wet (pun intended). I wish the Board and staff could have communicated the financial stress the organization was under, maybe some of its alumni could have helped. I stayed in contact with the organization via emailed newsletters but after not receiving one for a couple of months I went to see what was new on their website, only to see that the site was down. After a quick google search I see THIS. Very sad indeed. No more, afterschool science programs, hands-on school programs, urban tours (John Muir and I started the Gowanus Canal Boat Tours).

    BCUE you will surely be missed

  • I had the pleasure of visisting BCUE in late Dec 2008 as I represented the interests of the Australian based Community Environment Network (CEN). The centre operates from north of Sydney on the Central Coast (covering Gosford City, Wyong Shire and Lake Macquarie City). I was well received by the BCUE’s education officer and exchanged notes on programs. CEN (11th year) http://www.cen.org.au (welcome to look at its web) operates an annual budget of $3/4m with a volunteer board and on average 10 staff. The CEN programs very much paralleled those of BCUE.

    CEN is most saddened that BCUE could so suddenly cease operations, for whatever the reasons. If CEN can assist in any way to see BCUE active again please let us know. There are many models of environment centres around the world using different tried financial structures.

    I would welcome any email responses at ray.r@idl.net.au

    Can I also note the BCEU has been most helpful to our Bushwick: Past, Present and Future book project through the Academy of Urban Planning (Bushwick HS). The AUP has relied extensively I understand on BCUE offering educational training of staff from the Academy.

    Ray Rauscher
    CEN Executive Member
    Central Coast

  • I was saddened to find out about the demise of BCUE. My family and I had enjoyed the walking tours and cruises. I met John Muir a number of times, especially when he accompanied groups of kids to Gateway National Park in the summer. He and the wonderful teachers and guides exemplified the true spirit of environmentalism. This organization has opened the eyes of adults and children to the wonder and beauty of nature in NYC. I hope that this spirit can be rekindled somehow.

  • So sad….We were hoping to hold an event at the gorgeous, green new office space… and to partner in other wasy. RIP for now, but hoping you rebuild yourselves in the future in Brooklyn/NYC.

  • I worked at BCUE for a short time. The Executive Director was a slacker who often didn’t show up to work and like too many nonprofit executives tried to run the organization by being a hard-ass rather than a perfessional of perfessional demeanor.

  • I was the architect for the BCUE headquarters in the Tennis House, which we completed in 1995. There was not much room for expansion even when we finished so I can understand the desire after a number of years to move on. But the leadership (John Muir) was first class as well as the highly motivated staff at that time so I am a bit shocked to hear about all this now. BCUE was my first real break as a solo practitioner and I have very fond memories of those fun times.

  • This is sad news indeed – I had no idea! I was an instructor at BCUE, and now am the executive director of the Railyard Stewards in Santa Fe, NM. I was hoping to learn from BCUE about how to build a robust program and use the curriculum as a template for our own park. Alas, it may be too late! BCUE was hard work, but really interesting and rich – it will be missed.

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