Two topics that I’ve written about in the past, sustainable Dutch design and Governors Island — a 172-acre island in New York’s Upper Harbor that boasts huge swaths of green, stunning city views, and a smattering of historic military buildings in 92-acre National Historic Landmark District — merrily collided the past two weekends as part of Pioneers of Change, a Dutch design, fashion, and architecture exhibition conceived and curated by Renny Ramakers, director of Amsterdam-based design house Droog.

Pioneers of Change is part of a citywide series of events and celebrations called NY400 Week / Holland on the Hudson that commemorate the 400th anniversary of when explorer Henry Hudson (British by birth but employed by the Dutch) sailed into what is now New York City which led to the establishment of the New Amsterdam and New Netherland colonies.

I didn’t attend any of the non-Governors Island NY400 Week events, but Pioneers of Change was an absolute delight. The combination of Droog’s eco-minded exhibitions set in historic officer's houses (the island served as an army base from 1783 to 1966 and then a massive Coast Guard base until 1996), the festive but relaxed atmosphere, and flawless weather made for a magical day. Along with a couple of friends, I spent a very photo-happy afternoon on Governors Island checking out Pioneers of Change and The New Island Festival, an art- and Heineken-fueled Dutch culture extravaganza. Although I was seriously jonesing for nowhere-to-be-found stroopwafels, here’s what I did encounter:

In the Staten Island/Staten Eylandt House, a pop-up retail shop, "100 Dollars or Less," featured affordable homegoods and accessories from Droog and other contemporary Dutch designers. Many of the items were green in design including De Paperbag from Goods. Available in various sizes, Paperbags are made from upcycled billboard posters and can be used as wastepaper baskets, storage units and more. The flat Paperbags are packed with rubber bands made from recycled car tires.  
The Harlem/Haarlem House hosted Platform 21's fantastic Repair exhibition. In four different rooms of the house, different repair stations offered creative ideas on how to repair instead of recycle around the home including covering up peeling paint with brightly colored duct tape and old wallpaper scraps. I've written about Platform 21's anti-throwaway agenda before and I totally dig it. Check out this article on Lotte Dekker's plate repair workshop. 
The Hempstead/Heemstede House featured the workshop of Christien Meindertsma, a knitwear and interiors designer who is knitting a giant woolen carpet using six foot long sewing needles. The focus here (aside from the crazy giant balls of yarn) is on working with locally sourced, natural materials. Next door in the Bushwick/Boswijck House, a series of educational videos on urban farming played in a loop. 
The highlight of Pioneers of Change for me wasn't a design exhibit but was the "Go Slow Cafe" in the Bloomingdale/Bloemendaal House. A collaboration between Droog,, Marije Vogelzang, and Hansje van Halem, the cafe centered around the founded-in-Italy anti-fast food movement called Slow Food. Adding to the unhurried ambience at the Go Slow Cafe was the staff of cheerful and chatty elderly folks from Manhattan's Stein Senior Center. 
The menu consisted of an array of delicious nibbles presented on hand-etched wooden boards that listed the distance each item had traveled to reach Governors Island. Only the mustard greens were local (from Rooftop Farms in Brooklyn) but being able to see that the hickory ham had traveled 500 miles from Kentucky, the cheddar had come 100 miles from Tennessee, and the malso butter had traveled 500,000 miles from Russia was absolutely fascinating. My favorite item was the hami nutmelon from China.
There were a couple of other Pioneers of Change venues that I didn't make it in to including 2012Architecten's Harvest Map exhibit in the Flushing/Vlissingen House and Atelier NL's ceramics display in the Gravesend/'s Gravesande House. This is mostly because after my delicious lunch at the Go Slow Cafe, I took a leisurely stroll (after a photo-op with this itchy bovine) down to the island's waterfront to take in this not-too-shabby view: 
I wish New York and The Netherlands would party like this every year.
For more on the history and future of Governors Island, the Governors Island Preservation & Education maintains an insightful website. For more on the plans in the works for the non-historic, 82-acre southern section of the island filled with derelict warehouses and barracks, check out my post on the Governors Island eco-park
Photos: Matt and Megamay

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

The Dutch are coming!
Sustainable design, slow food and senior citizens invade NYC's Governors Island for the Droog-produced Pioneers of Change exhibition.