Building Resiliency Task Force, Green Codes, Greening Codes, Removing Barriers, NYC Local Laws

Get Your Scorecard Here

No Comments Posted on 07 February 2014 by Cecil Scheib

OK, it’s not exactly the Olympics. But for those of you keeping score at home, the New York League of Conservation Voters recently released a scorecard that tracks the votes of NYC Council members on 17 environmental bills from 2012-2013.

Five of those bills* were recommendations of the NYC Green Codes and Building Resiliency Task Forces. While of course I’m incredibly proud of the work of the hundreds of experts and community members who worked on giving strong legislative proposals to the Mayor and Speaker, let’s also give credit where credit is due: all five were enacted unanimously by the Council, a performance worthy of a gold medal.

It’s an encouraging reminder of the widespread support enjoyed by green building and resiliency. And there’s more good news – many of the bills’ sponsors and supporters remain on the Council. We look forward to helping them run up the score.

* Called Recycling, Biodiversity, Green Zoning, Emergency Plans, and Toxic Materials.

Building Resiliency Task Force, Energy

Money Flowing to Keep Gas Stations Open During Blackouts

No Comments Posted on 29 January 2014 by Cecil Scheib

In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, “far too many gas stations had plenty of gas, but had no power to pump it out,” says Senator Charles E. Schumer. That’s why the NYC Building Resiliency Task Force recommended gas stations install generators or be pre-wired to accept temporary ones, in order to stay operational during a blackout. Now, New York Senators Schumer and Gillibrand have announced $5.1 million in federal funds to help gas stations install backup power generators.

But Senator Gillibrand says it’s not enough: “As we learn the lessons of the storm, we must develop a national, storm-resilient strategy to ensure that communities from the Rockaways to Long Beach are armed with innovative practices to protect New York from future disasters.” Since buildings can’t store enough heating fuel to stay warm during an extended blackout – and since gas and oil heating systems probably won’t work during a blackout anyway – a good start would be making building envelopes more resilient with better windows, insulation, and air-sealing.

It’s encouraging to see federal money being put towards this use, as well as the support it’s getting from New York’s top pols. Only one thing has been left out of the state law that requires gas stations to be prepared for blackouts. The Task Force proposal recommended that onsite emergency generators be fueled by one of the motor fuels dispensed by the station, whereas the state law would allow a diesel generator to be installed at a gas station that doesn’t pump diesel. Oops! Hopefully gas station owners will avoid this obvious pitfall while complying with the law.

Building Resiliency Task Force, Water

Toxic Soup: A Holiday Recipe You’ll Want to Avoid

No Comments Posted on 19 December 2013 by Cecil Scheib

Across New York City, hazardous chemicals and other materials are stored in spaces that aren’t floodproof – even if the building is in the flood zone. When a surge like Superstorm Sandy’s inundates storage areas, the result is “toxic soup”: contaminated floodwater that can poison both people and the environment. New buildings built to code in flood zones must address this issue, but existing buildings may still be storing hazardous materials without adequate floodproofing.

Minutes ago, the New York City Council passed Intro 1102-A to help safeguard toxic materials stored in flood zones. Under the law, based on a recommendation of the Building Resiliency Task Force that Urban Green Council managed for the city, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will:

  • Have rules in place by January 1, 2015 for the proper siting and storage of hazardous substances, including taking into consideration floods and storm surges;
  • Require annual reports from buildings storing significant amounts of hazardous chemicals, showing their flood zone, evacuation zone, and a description of how their storage takes into account potential flooding;
  • Require that these buildings take into account extreme weather events, including potential flooding from storm surges, in their risk management plans.

While we may never see another Sandy, NYC will face some future disaster, and our buildings need to be prepared. This law recognizes that it’s hard enough to rebuild after floods without have to wade through a contaminated mess to do it.

Since the release of the Task Force report in June, the City Council has passed 14 of its recommendations (get full details on our Tracker). In all, 16 of 33 report proposals have been implemented. We look forward to working with Mayor-Elect de Blasio and a new administration to continue to advance building resiliency, but NYC has already taken a huge step forward. So happy holidays – and lay off the toxic soup!

Building Resiliency Task Force, Resiliency, Water

Surviving the Next Mega-Blackout with Emergency Drinking Water

No Comments Posted on 14 November 2013 by Russell Unger

If you could only bring one survival tool into the wilderness, what would it be?

Whether you thought of a canteen or a solar-powered water purifier, you likely came up with a solution to a fundamental problem – access to water. We can survive up to a month without food, but not more than a week without water.

Back in the urban jungle, if toilets can’t flush, buildings will quickly become uninhabitable.

That’s why a bill passed minutes ago by the City Council is so important. Introduction 1094-A requires that within six years, every multi-family residential building in NYC that uses an electric pump for its water supply must install emergency drinking water fixtures. There must be one fixture per 100 building occupants and they must be located in a common area, supplied only by water pressure from the public water main (meaning no pumps or electricity are required). The City Council also passed three other bills that implement recommendations of the NYC Building Resiliency Task Force, which Urban Green convened and managed for the city:

  • BRTF 5 – Remove Barriers to Sidewalk Flood Protection (Intro 1093-A)
  • BRTF 17 – Remove Barriers to Backup & Natural Gas Generators (Intro 1101-A)
  • BRTF 20 – Add Hookups for Temporary Generators & Boilers (Intro 1092-A)

You can see the latest status on the Task Force recommendations and read summaries of new laws on our tracker.

Many New Yorkers lived through the reality of downed water pumps in the aftermath of Sandy, whether it was the absence of drinking water or toilets that couldn’t be flushed. That’s why Supply Drinking Water Without Power was one of the central recommendations of the Task Force.

New York is blessed with a gravity-fed distribution system that brings water from reservoirs in Upstate New York down to the city, and up to the fourth or fifthfloors of buildings just from pressure in the water mains. But the electric water pumps needed to send water higher can’t run without power, and during blackouts, some pumps can even block water from being available on lower floors.

The Task Force was very reluctant to recommend retroactive requirements for existing buildings. We made an exception for this proposal because of how much is at stake. With a working water supply, people can stay in their buildings much more safely. The proposal attempts to mitigate costs by allowing a six-year lead time for installation and by permitting faucets to be divided with splitters.

Within the next two decades, it’s near certain there will be another big power failure. If that happens, New Yorkers will turn en masse to these emergency water stations. When water starts flowing from some near-forgotten corner of the building, those of us who lived here during Superstorm Sandy will remember what we learned and how we adapted in its aftermath.

Building Resiliency Task Force, Making Buildings Resilient, Planning

City Tells Agencies & Owners to Get Ready For Next Emergency

No Comments Posted on 30 October 2013 by Cecil Scheib

Do we know when the next hurricane, flood, or heat wave will occur? No. Do we know that one will happen eventually? Yes. Despite this certainty, it’s all too easy to continue thinking “it can’t happen to me” and remain in a state of blissful denial. Yet, experience has shown that emergency planning is a low-cost way to prevent a natural disaster from turning into a citywide emergency. By having a plan to take quick action before and after an event, the people who operate buildings (as well as the people who live and work in them) can protect the building from wind and flood damage, prevent mold, get the power back on, and even save lives.

Recognizing this need, the City Council passed Introduction 1085-A minutes ago. This bill requires the Office of Emergency Management to coordinate with other agencies (including Department of Buildings, Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and the Fire Department) to develop guidelines for residential and commercial buildings to prepare for weather emergencies and extended utility outages. These recommendations can then be used by building owners and residents to get ready for events that are unfortunate but inevitable.

The bill doesn’t stop there. It also directs residential building owners to post temporary signs in common areas with emergency preparedness information, including hurricane zones, important government and building contacts, and what services will be provided during an extended power outage. The signs can follow a template the city will publish, and will be posted before the expected arrival of a storm, or after the owner is informed of a utility outage that is expected to last over 24 hours.

The City Council also passed three other bills that implement recommendations of the NYC Building Resiliency Task Force, which Urban Green convened and managed for the city:

BRTF 3 – Relocate & Protect Building Systems (Int. 1096-A)
BRTF 4 – Remove Barriers to Elevating Buildings & Building Systems (Int. 1089-A)
BRTF 11 – Prevent Wind Damage to Existing Buildings (Int. 1099-A)

During and after Superstorm Sandy, inexpensive preparations like stacking sandbags and removing furniture from rooftops and balconies during high winds kept some buildings operating while others were forced to close. But emergency planning is not hard to do, and so its benefits should be enjoyed by all.

You can read more about Urban Green’s past event on Emergency Operating Procedures on our blog, and see the latest status on the Task Force recommendations and read summaries of new laws on our tracker.

Building Resiliency Task Force, Green Codes, Membership, Resiliency

A Round of Applause for our 2013 Service Award Winners!

No Comments Posted on 15 October 2013 by Cecil Scheib

2013 Service Award Winners

When someone asks how many people work at Urban Green, the stock answer is “fifteen…and about 500.” That’s because our full-time staff are just the tip of the iceberg of an incredible team of volunteers that incalculably boosts our impact on green building in New York.

And actually, we can calculate some of the effect, because we know that in the last year  volunteers working on the Building Resiliency Task Force and Green Codes contributed pro bono time worth  over $1.1 million. On October 9, Urban Green honored those individuals who went well beyond the call of duty at our 2013 Service Awards.

Marianna Vaidman Stone, who kept the dream of Green Codes alive after Hurricane Sandy threatened to snatch it away, said, “It’s an honor to work with such a great group of like-minded wonks.” We’re going to choose to take that as a compliment!

It was particularly gratifying to hear Jack Bailey, representing the Electrical and IT Working Group of the Building Resiliency Task Force, tell the crowd that “I help on these task forces because I know my work will have a real impact. When I talk to my friends in other cities about green building policy, they are green with envy about what we get done in NYC.”

Scott Frank, on behalf of the HVACR, Plumbing, and Fire Protection Working Group, commented that “many people in the industry were surprised when we were tasked with convening the Task Force; I think it’s safe to say we wowed them.” That’s a real compliment for everyone who helped improve our city’s resiliency by serving on the Task Force! And the Structure, Facades, and Interiors’ Aine Brazil liked the process as well as the product, noting that “During a normal code cycle, it takes years to get things done – very deliberately. The hallmark of the Building Resiliency Task Force is that it was fast.”

Les Bluestone explained how the Homes Committee met the Task Force deadlines Aine mentioned, thanking everyone for “putting up with the endless emails and requests for additional help.” He also apologized for sometimes having to “play the bad guy” to get things done, but no need to say you’re sorry, Les. Now that it’s over, we only have happy memories of the Task Force!

We were thrilled to have a packed house on hand to pay due respect to all the Service Award recipients. If you missed the event, you can see photos here.

Our 2013 Service Award Winners are:

Jack Bailey
, OneLux
Greg Bauso, Monadnock Construction
Les Bluestone, Blue Sea Development Co.
Daniel Bower, Goldman, Sachs & Co.
Aine M. Brazil, Thornton Tomasetti
James Colgate, New York City Department of Buildings
Susanne DesRoches, Port Authority of NY & NJ
Dan Eschenasy, New York City Department of Buildings
Scott Frank, Jaros, Baum & Bolles
Chris Garvin, Terrapin Bright Green, COOKFOX Architects
Ramon Gilsanz, Gilsanz Murray Steficek LLP
Patricia Harris, Zetlin & De Chiara LLP
Nico Kienzl, Atelier Ten
Arthur Klock, UA Local 1
Richard A. Leentjes, FM Global – New York Operations
Maureen McGeary Mahle, Steven Winter Associates
Walter J. Mehl, Jaros, Baum & Bolles
Gita Nandan, Thread Collective, LLC
Signe Nielsen, Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects
Philip F. Parisi, Jr., Jaros, Baum & Bolles
Stephen Rizzo, RizzoGroup
Grant Salmon, Steven Winter Associates
Jon Weiskopf, Steven Winter Associates
Phillip White, Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates PC
Marc Zuluaga, Steven Winter Associates

Marianna Vaidman Stone
, Green Codes Fellow, Urban Green Council

Building Resiliency Task Force, Climate Change, Making Buildings Resilient, Resiliency

Conference Wrap-up: The Role of Resilience in Sustainability – We’re Just Getting Started

No Comments Posted on 09 October 2013 by Tiffany Broyles Yost

Last week a record-breaking 200 people gathered at our Sea Change conference to hear about the shifting relationship between sustainability and resilience. Live blogs touched on some of the highlights of the day.

Since then, we at Urban Green have thought more broadly about the questions posed and the threads that ran through the discussions. Major weather events bring the threat of climate change (or at the very least the need for resilience) to the forefront.  The resilience of a city in disaster is indicative of the sustainability of that city beyond the environmental performance of its buildings.

A sustainable and resilient city encompasses more than the “built environment.” It’s not just green infrastructure and high-performance buildings.  We heard that several factors have a significant impact on a city’s susceptibility to disaster and ability to recover from it: the way government functions, how communities work together, and the ability of non-governmental organizations to mobilize in response.

The speakers agreed that the need for resilience, as made evident by Katrina, Sandy and other disasters, encouraged more long-term planning by government and the building industry.  Still I wonder when faced with practical concerns about budgets and feasibility, will city officials and developers opt for the strategies that quickly get us back to status quo, or actually try to improve the current situation? To put it another way, will we be so inclined to continue solutions that help mitigate climate change if we’re more focused on adapting to it?

I’m not sure. Seth Pinsky, who led the NYC Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency, argues that we have no choice but to do both. Government and the market must work to prevent disaster but plan for the worst. I think he’s right.

I’m anxious to see what sustainable and resilient cities and buildings actually look like too. The Rising Currents exhibit at MoMA is an often-sited example of vivid imagery of one potential future. Claire Weisz and WXY Studio offer others.  If we take the lessons learned from Sea Change and the Building Resiliency Task Force and combine them with the performance characteristics we argue are necessary to combat climate change, what kind of building do we have?  Over the next year we will think a lot about this question and work with New York’s green building experts to come up with some answers, so stay tuned.  We’re just getting started.

Building Resiliency Task Force, Construction, Making Buildings Resilient, Resiliency

Sea Change: “The water went where we never expected it to go”

No Comments Posted on 30 September 2013 by Cecil Scheib

Janno Lieber, Urban Green Council 2013 Fall Conference "Sea Change"

Janno Lieber

This post was live-blogged from Urban Green Council’s 2013 Fall Conference, Sea Change. See previous event posts on the Cities Panel and the Keynote Address.

It may be a long time before NYC sees a storm surge as high as that brought by Superstorm Sandy, whereas the next storm may bring stronger winds than those yet seen, says Aine Brazil of Thornton Tomasetti. But Janno Lieber of World Trade Center Properties says insurers are still reacting to the last event instead of looking forward. How can NYC realistically prepare its buildings for future risks without losing sight of fighting climate change?

For Brazil, Sandy was a wake-up call: “The water went where we never expected it to go.” She was heavily involved in the Building Resiliency Task Force that invited stakeholders to consider the minimum standard city buildings must meet to be resilient. The challenge, she says, is to incorporate “things that are financial benefits for developers and not just mandates by government,” and perhaps a rating system akin to LEED for resiliency might help.

Lieber agreed that the private sector is key in making buildings more resilient, but we don’t have enough experience to create a meaningful rating system for resiliency, he said. Instead, there needs to be incentives for developers to do things like moving systems out of harm’s way. With the right tools, he believes the private sector can be very responsive – and perhaps easier to change than the public power infrastructure, which he calls our “mega-vulnerability”.

Lieber says there is not a conflict between the resiliency of our buildings and infrastructure and their sustainability. In fact, they must go together: “The essence of sustainability in our city is the buildings on top of mass transit.” Claire Weisz, WXY Architecture + Urban Design, agreed. “It’s become clear that both sustainability and resiliency are about systems that go beyond buildings.” Vulnerable areas at the shore have the potential to protect infrastructure and serve sustainability functions to boot.

Weisz raised the example of the vulnerable Con Ed East River transformer facility that failed spectacularly during Sandy. It’s also the site of a notorious “pinch point” for pedestrians and cyclists on the East River Greenway. Both of these problems could be fixed at the same time with a levee that protects the site while acting as a path for sustainable, human-powered transit to “fly over” the site, said Weisz.

Alan Brake of The Architect’s Newspaper and panel moderator queried Weisz as to whether this was realistic. It can be, says Weisz, if city policymakers and residents both understand on a “visceral level” that we all share a limited amount of air, water and land resources. Lieber’s slide of the Hudson pouring into construction sites on West Street during Sandy brought this point home. After the terrible effects of Sandy, everyone got a step closer to this understanding.


Building Resiliency Task Force, Making Buildings Resilient, Resiliency

Sea Change: One Square Mile of Wetlands = One Foot of Storm Surge

No Comments Posted on 30 September 2013 by Cecil Scheib

Kristin Gisleson Palmer at the Urban Green Council Fall 2013 Conference "Sea Change"

Kristin Gisleson Palmer

This post was live-blogged from Urban Green Council’s 2013 Fall Conference, Sea Change. Next up: the Buildings Panel.

A resilient approach to design must be baked in early to have the full effect on rebuilding and preparation. But the role of government versus the private and nonprofit sectors in planning and recovery will vary based upon how well the local government functions, said panelists in the Cities Panel of the “Sea Change” conference today.

New York City is proud of Citibike, its first new transport infrastructure investment in decades. Lykke Leonardsen, City of Copenhagen Strategic Planning Department Head, explained that Copenhagen has its own brand-new blue infrastructure – a citywide water catchment plan. This breathtaking, government-led plan, designed to save the city from heavy floods caused by rain, contains innovative elements including whole parks that turn into lakes during thunderstorms to capture water. As Architecture for Humanity’s Cameron Sinclair pointed out in the conference keynote, climate change can be an opportunity – in this case for Danish businesses working on implementing the plan. Disasters are motivational, Leonardsen said: “millions of gallons of water gushing through your streets makes a much more vivid image for engineers!”

Kristin Gisleson Palmer, City of New Orleans Councilmember, said that when Hurricane Katrina hit eight years ago, her city was “possibly the worst place for a crisis to occur”. It suffered from poverty, lack of infrastructure, limited planning, and a shrinking population that affected its ability to build green and improve local governments. And starting a rebuilding process when 80% of the city was destroyed created an immediate need that government struggled to keep up with. Eight years after Katrina, New Orleans is spending billions to rebuild – but also doing things like updating building codes so that the reconstruction is greener. And New Orleans has learned that for its location, one square mile of wetlands around the city absorbing coastal flooding can translate into one foot of reduction in the storm surge from a hurricane.

Seth Pinsky, RXR Realty (and previous head of the NYC Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency), was clear that our city is “vulnerable, and must start planning today” for future resiliency, facing a potential 2.5 foot sea level rise by mid-century. The good news is that the city’s $20 billion plan is already half funded. Rebuilding of areas at risks of coastal flooding will occur, Pinsky says, but better than before – once again, an opportunity as well as a challenge. “Ironically, given what we’re seeing in Washington, only government has the magnitude of resources necessary to take action on this scale”, Pinsky said. But beware of burdens on the private sector, which must play a key role: “governments think they can solve problems by shifting the responsibility to someone else,” whether or not they can afford it.

Nancy Kete, Managing Director at the Rockefeller Foundation, moderated the panel. She has been involved in resiliency and rebuilding efforts for multiple cities; for New York, one issue she worked with was the discussion about whether to defend against rising sea levels with one “hard” level of defense – sea gates and storm barriers – or multiple levels of “soft” defense. She spoke passionately for an integrated approach that doesn’t leave people outside of a protected area.


Building Resiliency Task Force, Making Buildings Resilient, Resiliency

Council Passes 5 BRTF Recommendations!

No Comments Posted on 24 September 2013 by Marianna Vaidman Stone

The hard work of the Building Resiliency Task Force is beginning to pay off. This afternoon, the New York City Council passed the first batch of laws based on the Task Force’s recommendations. Each of these five laws is an important piece of NYC’s resiliency planning, making us better prepared for hurricanes and other extreme weather.

Superstorm Sandy highlighted the need to protect New Yorkers against floods and high winds, and the Task Force recommended that the city undertake more in-depth analyses of the protections we will need. One of the laws passed today directs the DOT and the DEP to study creating permeable roadways and sidewalks, which can absorb water to limit flooding. A second law requires a study of the effects of high winds on existing New York buildings, including buildings under construction.

The next two laws deal with sanitation in emergency situations. Bathrooms will now be required to have at least one faucet and toilet that can work without external electrical power – that is, at least one faucet and toilet must work either mechanically, or on battery power. And buildings in flood-prone areas will have to install devices to prevent backflow of sewage into homes and offices when the system is overwhelmed by floodwaters.

The last of the five laws will require the DOB to create a manual that clarifies flood protection requirements that apply to new construction and renovations. City regulations already include many flood-protection measures for flood zones, but the requirements are not always clear. The new manual will help people understand what the law requires.

These laws enact the following Task Force proposals:

BRTF 8 – Prevent Sewage Backflow
BRTF 10 – Clarify Construction Requirements in Flood Zones
BRTF 12 – Analyze Wind Risks
BRTF 13 – Capture Stormwater to Prevent Flooding
BRTF 24 – Ensure Toilets and Sinks Work Without Power

You can follow the status of the remaining Task Force proposals on our Proposal Tracker.

Urban Green is continuing to work with the City Council on other Task Force recommendations, and we expect to report more progress in the coming weeks.

© 2013 Urban Green Blog.