Westchester County showed off its green chops on Thursday at the inaugural event planned by the newly formed Westchester and Rockland Programs Committee. New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson welcomed the packed house. He encouraged the architects, engineers, developers, and others in the room to keep working to improve the sustainability of buildings because they play a significant role in the health of our cities. He noted GreeNR, New Rochelle’s Sustainability Plan as one way the city is trying to improve infrastructure and reduce carbon emissions.
Deborah Newborn (Sustainability Coordinator, Office of the Mayor, City of New Rochelle) spoke next to share the planning process and strategies used in GreeNR. Deborah noted the key steps in creating a sustainability plan:
- Know your current status – determine your carbon emissions so you can set goals.
- Identify common goals – you must set clear goals.
- Engage local citizens – talk to residents and businesses.
- Be specific – determine methods and metrics to measure progress.
- Stay flexible – make sure your plan can adapt and adjust as needed.
These steps were followed in the Hastings on Hudson plan described by Christina Griffin (Principal, Christina Griffin Architect P.C.) as well but Christina went on to talk about specific buildings capitalizing on this new plan. Her firm has been working on several “net-zero” home additions. By following the new energy code and providing much needed insulation to historic buildings, they’ve been able to add significant square footage to homes without increasing the overall energy consumption (which also saves money!). She also showed a LEED Platinum home and other high performance projects.
These projects are in good company as we heard from Steve Abbattista (Principal, OLA Consulting Engineers) who provided an overview of more than ten LEED certified projects in the area. These projects ranged from an aviation center to commercial office space and residences. Steve noted that most clients are asking for ways to limit upfront costs while saving on long-term operations. Energy and water efficiency along with simple thoughtful approaches, like massive ceiling fans in the airplane hanger and simple air sealing of windows and doors, goes a long way to providing short paybacks.
From what we saw on Thursday, it’s clear there are a lot of green policy shifts and projects happening north of New York City. Residents are taking an active role in the greening of Westchester and Rockland Counties and it’s great to see that enthusiasm emanate throughout the room at our kickoff event. I can’t wait to see what the Westchester and Rockland Programs Committee plans next.
Gas lamps flickered in the twilight. A brass quintet played cheerful tunes. And a City Hall Park fountain burst to life with Catskills rainfall as the newest segment of New York City Water Tunnel No. 3 was ceremonially opened today.
The tunnel will provide redundancy in the Bronx and Manhattan, allowing Water Tunnel No. 1 (leaking millions of gallons of water daily) to be shut down for repairs. Since that tunnel was completed almost 100 years ago, in 1917, and is impossible to fully repair while in service, this work is long overdue.
Deputy Mayor for Operations Cas Holloway said that the existence of Tunnel No. 3 was a testament to long-term planning – similar to the bold, 1901 vision for the water system that resulted in the tunnels we’ve used until now. Moreover, Holloway compared the planning and execution of the tunnel (which has been in progress in some form since 1954) with the city’s response to Superstorm Sandy. “The parallels are striking,” Holloway said. “There’s a water crisis and a pressing need for strong action. After Sandy, in just seven months, we produced a plan to combat climate change and sea level rise, and to improve the resiliency of our city. We can and will carry through on the recommendations of that plan.”
The plan he refers to is the reports of SIRR and the Building Resiliency Task Force that will prepare the city for long-term risks from climate change. More immediately, until now, the Bronx and Manhattan have been at risk for a tunnel failure that could leave large portions of the city without water. There just was not sufficient redundancy to maintain service for everyone in case of a problem. (Don’t worry, Brooklyn and Queens – you’ll have your part of Water Tunnel No. 3 by 2021!)
We’ve reported in the past that from 2015-2019, NYC will have to function with 50% of its water supply turned off, due to construction of an 8-mile bypass tunnel around leaks downstream of the Delaware Aqueduct. Note that Water Tunnel No. 3 doesn’t fix this problem, as the new tunnel starts at the Westchester-Bronx border. So while this worthy investment will save water and provide resiliency for the water supply within the city, we still face challenges to come.
It may be news to you that we’ll be getting a new state energy code, predicted to improve new building energy efficiency by 10-20%. If so, here’s double news: it will be delayed beyond October 18, 2013, the date by which federal law says New York State must update its commercial energy code*. However, the state can’t move forward until it gets back the results of a study by the US Department of Energy (DOE) – so the state is requesting an extension of the deadline.
New York State has been working on this energy code update since at least May 2012. It’s a time-consuming, detail-oriented process, ably managed by the NYS Department of State. In addition to various legal requirements**, a technical subcommittee supplies recommendations for state modifications to national model codes, passing these on to the state Code Council. After the state issues draft code, there will be a public comment period before adoption of the new code. But the Department of State is being held up right now by a missing federal report that it must have for review before publicly releasing the draft rule on the new code.
Ironically, the state is applying for an extension from the DOE, the same folks that have not yet released the study New York is waiting on to move forward. It’s sort of like those traffic cops during rush hour who stop your car, even though you’ve got a green light.
The state hopes to get its extension approved soon, which will probably last six or nine months. No one knows for sure what would happen if the needed report still isn’t available in time, but state officials are in direct communication with DOE about it.
Once the state process is complete, New York City will also update its commercial energy code, since city code in turn must be at least as stringent as the state version. New York State is endeavoring to move things forward as quickly as possible, and hopefully the new code will come sooner than later so it can do the most good.
And what about the residential portions of the energy code? The Department of State is currently working on the proposed text along with the required impact statements. We’ll keep you posted, so stay tuned.
* Some background for code heads: Current state commercial energy code is based on ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1-2007 and the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code. But under the Energy Conservation and Production Act (42 U.S.C. 6833), within 12 months of the publication of a revised version of ASHRAE 90.1, the Secretary of Energy must issue a determination whether it will improve energy efficiency in commercial buildings (this includes all buildings over three stories, even if they are residential). Upon publication of an affirmative finding by the Secretary, which occurred on October 19, 2011 for ASHRAE 90.1-2010, states then have two years to update their commercial building code to “meet or exceed” the new ASHRAE 90.1. That explains next week’s deadline and why the new code’s commercial provisions will need to be at least as stringent as ASHRAE 90.1-2010.
** NY State law only allows energy code modifications only “provided that the code remains cost effective with respect to building construction”, among other statutory requirements.
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:
BUILDING RESILIENCY TASK FORCE
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
Plumbing magnate Herbert Kohler cast his bread upon the waters when he funded a LEED Platinum environmental center at his boarding school alma mater. Choate has made the most of this opportunity, building a combined dorm, dining hall, and laboratory that teaches about the environment in more ways than one. The audience at Urban Green’s sold-out When Buildings Teach got the inside scoop from the project team on October 3.
The Kohler Environmental Center is exemplary in its use of a low-cost, low-capital input approach adopted long before construction began. Choate sat down with the design team to carefully consider – and influence – occupant behavior and target comfort levels. When planning for a net-zero building, a single degree of extra summer cooling can mean tens of thousands of dollars of solar panels. Preventing this unneeded capital expenditure required long discussions about details normally considered too small for the architect, engineer, and energy modeler to get involved with. This included whether students could cope with 78F instead of 77F temperatures during the summer, how often faculty members would use clothes dryers in their apartments, and if students could reasonably be persuaded to forgo plasma TVs in favor of laptops.
Most building designs assume the worst of future occupants, and design HVAC, lighting, and electric services to match this dystopian (though perhaps realistic) consumption scenario. By setting more modest goals for occupant comfort, the designers were able to downsize equipment – and that meant fewer solar panels. While Choate benefits from knowing more about its future student and faculty “tenants” that a typical residential developer, the design team did two key replicable things:
The building incorporates some traditional (and expensive) green features – ground source heat pumps and acres of solar panels to serve the goal of a net zero building; high tech showerheads (more about those in a bit); and sugar maple wood paneling where you can see where holes were drilled for taps. More importantly, onsite Choate faculty member Joe Scanio is committed to seeing the 31,325 square foot facility meet its goals, semi-obsessively checking its 400+ sensors to ensure it is operating according to plan. By doing so, Scanio fills a common gap in green building – verifying environmental performance after occupancy.
Audience discussion was lively, possibly sparked by the presenters’ refreshing openness about challenges they faced during design. Emilie Hagen (Atelier Ten), Kevin Smith (RAMSA), Craig Razza (Kohler Ronan), and Scanio spoke of Choate’s ambivalence about building on a greenfield (in an area where farmland is scarce), before deciding that the academic benefits of doing so outweighed the environmental costs. I’m sure the student residents who watched from their windows as a hawk captured a rabbit would agree! Razza also brought up the challenges the team faced in maintaining a research-grade greenhouse without combustion; in the end, a biodiesel boiler was supplied.
But what about those high-tech showerheads? Funding from a fixture manufacturer has its distinct benefits. After polling design team members and client representatives about their shower habits, Herbert Kohler realized that while most people can live with a very low-flow showerhead, they do need occasional blasts of higher volume flow (for instance, to rinse thick hair). According to the panelists, Kohler directed his engineers to invent a new showerhead on the spot – in this case, a low flow unit with a high-flow override that can temporarily provide more water flow while a button is held down. They are installed and working at Choate, where users report satisfaction from the chance to briefly enjoy more water, while using it only a small fraction of the time. If these hit the market in the future, we’ll thank RAMSA, Atelier Ten, Kohler Ronan, and Choate for being willing to go outside the box in terms of tenant education and engagement.
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.
We have long followed the work of Anthony Leiserowitz, Executive Director of the Yale Center for Climate Change Communication (YCCC), and used the Center’s research to inform our approach to construction education in our GPRO courses. I was excited to hear Mr. Leiserowitz speak last night at Climate Change in the American Mind, the kick-off event for the Architectural League NY’s Five Thousand Pound Life a combination of initiatives about reducing America’s per capita carbon emissions to 5,000 pounds per year.
Rosalie Genevro, Executive Director of the Architectural League, opened the event by saying how exasperated she was by the lack of popular reaction to the release of the recent IPCC Report, which further confirmed that human activities are the main cause of climate change and endorsed a trillion-ton carbon budget for all of humanity. She gently accused architects of being “enablers” of excessive growth and unlimited development. She called for the design community to use the power of their imaginations to help them be stewards of the environment, and to draw upon the variety of their perspectives to envision how we might change our current trajectory.
If you attended Urban Green’s 2012 conference, Cooling on Climate Change. You may remember Lisa Fernandez’s theory of the “Six Americas.” This research project divided the American population into six categories, from the alarmed and concerned through the cautious and disengaged to the doubtful and dismissive. It turns out that the factor that most determines how much someone will agree with the statement “I believe that climate change is real, that human activity caused it and that there are workable solutions” is where you fall on the continuum between egalitarianism to individualism. Those who believe that we should all work together are much more likely to agree that we can solve huge global issues like climate change, and those who run towards self-reliance dismiss the issue because it clearly can’t be solved by individuals alone.
Anthony Leiserowitz and the YCCC have been researching how Americans understand and misunderstand causes, solutions and risks related to global warming. He presented his most recent data that showed that naysayers are dramatically more prevalent than they were 10 years ago. Alternatively, since many Americans were affected by environmental disasters in 2012 (think Sandy, Snowmageddon, and Snowpocalypse and that’s just the East Coast), the number of people who are interested in finding solutions to climate change are starting to trend upward.
I am cheered by his optimism. He compares Americans’ current attitudes about global warming with attitudes in the 1970s towards smoking. It took changes in culture, behavior and regulations to create this 180-degree turnaround. When was the last time you saw someone smoke inside a building?
Most Americans don’t know how bad the situation really is, and global warming seems so far away, both geographically (North Pole) and chronologically (50 years from now).The invisibility and intangibility of the problem makes it particularly hard to get people engaged. Adding to the problem is that the small percentage of naysayers have seized far more media attention.
But the good news is that people who are not yet engaged are far more likely to take action if asked by a person they like and respect. Talking to friends, neighbors and family members about shared values is extremely effective. In fact, Mr. Leiserowitz said that one of their next projects is to promote conversation starters that will help to draw out common values among people with different perspectives. He also emphasized that in order to be most effective, the discussion needs to move from a global perspective to a community one.
One of the most interesting findings from last night is that there is not so much daylight between the most committed environmentalist and the most individualist tea partier. In fact, these two groups collaborated in Georgia to form the Green Tea Coalition whose mission to battle monopolies on electric generation and allow individual solar panel installations is gaining traction.
There was a not-so-gentle indictment of the environmental community for doing a far better job of explaining the coming dystopia than showing a clear achievable path. I would argue that Urban Green is well on the way to path-making with our recent 90 by 50 Report and the pragmatic recommendations of the Building Resilency Task Force.
The takeaway is that while the naysaying American public is loud and have so far dominated the public square, we environmentalists have immense potential to organize and spread the word. For much too long, we have formed a circle and have been only speaking to each other. Now is the time for each of us to widen the circle and bring in everyone who will help us achieve our goals of achieving energy independence, creating good jobs and positioning us well for the low carbon economy of the future.
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.
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.
This post was live-blogged from Urban Green Council’s 2013 Fall Conference, Sea Change.
Architecture for Humanity has been named a 100 Resilient City partner by the Clinton Global Initiative. Stay tuned to hear more from Nancy Kete, from the Rockfeller Foundation, about 100 Resilient Cities.
Commuting on PATH, Cameron Sinclair saw that the post-Sandy New Jersey seacoast looked like Ground Zero for climate change. But as an architect (and until April 2014, chief CEO – “chief eternal optimist’) for Architecture for Humanity, he saw possibility, not despair. In his view, these natural disasters can be a chance to focus on opportunity, rather than responsibility, when it comes to climate issues.
Architecture for Humanity is based in San Francisco, but born in New York, and is historically the “last responder” after a crisis. With reconstruction experience in New York/New Jersey, New Orleans, Haiti, Japan, and elsewhere, Sinclair said there is a strict timeline responders must conform to in order to be effective after a disaster. Nonprofits who want to help have:
Sinclair made it clear that timelines are tight after disasters, and that being pre-emptive can be a better approach than being reactive. But when nonprofits aid in rebuilding and reconstruction efforts after a crises, these rules will help.
© 2013 Urban Green Blog.