Norfolk entrepreneurs face a changing tide

The Facebook post says that the Vibrant Spaces application review team has pushed back the announcement date to the end of August. They need more time to review the submissions because there were so many of them. The excited hopefuls and hundreds, if not thousands, of Norfolk residents are in limbo a bit longer as they wait for Drew and the rest of the team to make decisions.

George Arbogust

George Arbogust

The post was found on a fast growing Facebook page created by George Arbogust, an entrepreneur competing for one of the empty spaces scattered throughout Norfolk. George hopes to transform 810 Granby St, or if he doesn’t win, some other vacant space, into an Architectural Salvage and Upcycling center. The vision is to create a community resource where artists, contractors, collectors, or anyone from any background can come together to explore a graveyard of discarded, but rare, valuable and usable items as well as a gallery of thoughtfully upcycled art, furniture, and decor. He wants it to be a hub for many of Hampton Roads’ local artists to find materials for upcycling and repurposing projects and even a place where artists’ finished upcycled pieces can be sold.

Community Resource

“I want to be a resource for helping others learn about sustainability. I don’t have delusions of saving the planet, but I think if you can change one or a few minds and get people to try something new, you’ll start to see change happen,” says George one hot summer afternoon at 757 Maker’s Space where we chatted while he worked on his Pilot Art Outside the Box submission.

Photo credit: George Arbogust

Photo credit: George Arbogust

“The whole upcycling thing is new to me,” he says. “I’m mostly using things I’ve found on the curb. I find things someone has already thrown away and see if I can do something with it.” He’s done a few projects with old plastic outdoor chairs, created a rain barrel system, and transformed a chest of drawers into a workbench. He recently converted an old Pilot Newspaper stand, with the help of Lauren Consoli (driftwood lights) and John Wharton (succulents), into an urban driftwood garden and solar powered phone charging station for the Pilot Art Outside the Box contest, which is going on now.

George has been focused on practicing and promoting a sustainable lifestyle for some time now. One of his first entrepreneurial ventures, Domestic Good, is an online store selling eco-friendly American made household products, like organic cotton reusable napkins. He hopes the Salvage and Upcycle center will be a resource for promoting and inspiring others to live, build and create more sustainably.

It's not just a buzz word

Photo credit: George Arbogust - recent rain barrel repurpose project

Photo credit: George Arbogust - recent rain barrel repurpose project

Sustainability is a hot topic right now as the debate about our planet’s changing climate lingers. What does it really mean and why should Norfolk residents, and all residents of every city, care? A recent study finds that about 62% of Americans believe that climate change (global warming) is happening and that it’s being amplified by human activities (carbon dioxide output).

While carbon dioxide (CO2) has always existed in the atmosphere, and there have been many cycles of intense, and often catastrophic, climate change on Earth millions and billions of years ago, there has never been as much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in our recorded history as there is today. That fact alone is reason enough for us to care about sustainability. Adopting sustainable habits will slow the output of carbon into our atmosphere, and hopefully lessen the negative effects of climate change for future generations. Additionally, our planet's resources are not infinite and sustainable practices, like upcycling and repurposing, can help us reduce our consumption of these resources.

So what are we doing about it?

It’s great that so many people finally understand that weather and climate are two different things, but where does that leave us? The same study indicates that only small percentages of individuals make changes to live more sustainably or efficiently, like installing solar panels or investing in energy efficient appliances. When it’s obvious that’s there’s something wrong, why don’t people take action? A study by Yale indicates we don’t think it will affect us personally. Respondents said they know it’s a risk to future generations, but we’d rather have our “governments and utilities take care of it for us.”

Norfolk strives for sustainability

Photo credit: Lauren Consoli 

Photo credit: Lauren Consoli 

Fortunately, Norfolk does care about sustainability and what a changing climate, and rising sea level, means for the city. In June, Norfolk hosted The Dutch Dialogues where U.S experts teamed with Dutch technical experts to learn about the Dutch perspective of “living with water.” Other initiatives such as Grow Norfolk aim to “foster new community gardens and coordinate with already established community gardens throughout the city.” Keep Norfolk Beautiful is also a key player for green living and sustainability events in Norfolk. The Sustainable Living Fair takes place annually. The Lafayette Wetlands Partnership protects a wetland at 46th St and Colley Ave, and educates volunteers about the importance of these wetlands for the coastal city. Lauren, and other upcycle artists, craft beautiful, functional pieces from recovered items long tossed or washed up.

It’s critical that Norfolk government, businesses and citizens care about sustainability and how to adapt to a changing climate. It seems like some distant bridge that we’ll cross when we get there, but every day edges us closer, and every Small Act counts. Adopting new habits doesn’t have to be painful, and starting small makes the transition more seamless. I think it will begin to affect us more personally than we might be comfortable with before too long.

What can we do now?

One of the biggest drivers of carbon pollution are utility plants, so save electricity, but another option to reduce your carbon footprint is walking or biking. Is walking Norfolk actually feasible? Some parts of it, yes. Downtown is great for walking. Ghent is do able. Chelsea is the up and coming hip West Ghent spot that’s getting more foot traffic. Just like any city, there is a limit to how far you’re willing to walk, and let’s face it, there are some parts of Norfolk you don’t want to walk through if you’re not a part of the neighborhood.

Be a community champion

Some are working to change that, like George and John. Some want to break the barriers and build gardens in the rough part of town or create an indoor architectural pick and pull where everyone is welcome. Some want to cover the walls with fabulous displays of color and shape; to tell stories with paint. I think these, and other, community building champions will inspire citizens to learn and practice the Small Acts that will help the port city adapt to the changing tides.

In Norfolk, do you walk to run errands? *
In Norfolk, do you walk for leisure or exercise? *
In what areas of Norfolk do you walk at least once a week? *
Walking to and from a destination or as an activity (i.e. to Cogans or walking the dog, not from your front door to your mailbox).

This story was produced as a Small Act Feature by Small Acts Count