It is New York City in 1992. Unaware of the heartbreak he will encounter, the veteran environmentalist Allen Hershkowitz proposes developing a major recycled-paper mill in the city. He's tired of being outgunned too often by industry lobbyists in legislative battles and wants to develop an environmentally friendly and profitable business that will bring jobs to one of the city's poorest neighborhoods. What's more, the project could become a national model.
But Hershkowitz quickly finds himself pitted against surprising forces. To the idealist's surprise, neighborhood activists fiercely resist outsiders, and he must confront byzantine politics and powerful industry hostility. The project may be outstanding environmentally and socially, but often that's not what matters. From beginning to end, Tilting at Mills reveals what can occur in attempted alliances between big business and environmentalists and is filled with shocking stories of what really happens behind the scenes in major deal-making.
In this insightful though slim volume, Harris (Holy Days) documents the rise and fall of a major New York City recycling plant. After suffering a defeat in Washington in 1992, environmental lobbyist Allen Hershkowitz began to think that working to develop green-friendly business might be a more successful means of achieving his idealistic ends. With the support of his nonprofit employer, he embarked on an eight-year odyssey to build a technologically advanced paper mill in the South Bronx that would be responsive to the surrounding community. The reasons for the plant's ultimate demise are too numerous to list they touch on technology, market forces, politics and personality. Harris, to her credit, doesn't try to scapegoat one culprit. Based on interviews with many but not all of the important players, the book hews to the point of view of Hershkowitz, who takes only a light drubbing for being too smart, na ve and enthusiastic. Harris essentially fleshes out and follows up on the story she first reported in the New Yorker in 1995, and the book retains the flow and skilled writing associated with the magazine. However, due to the number of players and the complexity of the issues involved, Harris raises many more questions than she is able to address in a book of this length and style. Still, this deservedly will be popular among environmentalists and should be required reading for politicians and businesspeople who claim to support innovation.