Six years ago, Seth Brown co-founded Next American City, a not-for-profit organization, and national magazine, dedicated to improving America's cities. These days you can find him on one of two construction sites in Brooklyn: an affordable green condo project in Prospect Heights/Crown Heights and a 21st century brownstone-from-scratch (more on that one later). Sterling Green will be an eight-unit, five-story building of alcove studios and one-bedrooms from 552 to 1,071 square feet, offering green amenities like tankless hot water heaters, wind power, bamboo flooring and bike storage. We asked Seth a few questions about his vocational and philosophical journey and his plans to put his stamp on Brooklyn real estate.
You’re a co-founder of Next American City, a magazine about improving cities. How does your work as a real estate developer fit with that mission?
I guess what you’re asking is, “Can one be a real estate developer and yet not be evil?” I certainly think so. I co-founded Next American City at the same time I got my first job in real estate development, almost seven years ago. All of us who started the magazine worked on the ground in urban fields – affordable housing, community organizing, education, law, etc. – and had new ideas about how to improve cities. I worked in real estate development. So I really see my real estate development work and my efforts to create a new magazine about improving cities to be intrinsically connected.
Of course, they’re also different in some key ways. Next American City is a non-profit, and all we care about is improving cities. In my real estate development work at Aspen Equities, I care about improving cities and neighborhoods, but my investors also expect a profit. That’s why I try to take on projects where it’s possible to both make a profit and do something good.