June 8, 2011
by Lisa Delgado

Event: PlaNYC Update: Next Steps to a Greener, Greater New York
Location: Center for Architecture, 05.26.11
Speakers: David Bragdon — Director, Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability; Mark Ginsberg, FAIA, LEED AP — President, Citizens Housing and Planning Council & Founding Partner & Principal, Curtis + Ginsberg Architects; Tricia Martin — President, NYASLA; Celeste Layne — Co-Chair, Transportation Committee of the APANY Metro Chapter
Introduction: Ernie Hutton, Assoc. AIA, FAICP — Co-Chair, New York New Visions & Principal, Hutton Associates; Margaret O’Donoghue Castillo, AIA, LEED AP — 2011 AIANY President & Principal, Helpern Architects
Organizers: New York New Visions; AIANY; APANY Metro Chapter; ASLA NY Chapter; Citizens Housing and Planning Council

Courtesy PlaNYC 2030.

New Yorkers are used to PlaNYC being a hot topic, but it has also drawn the attention of the international architecture community, remarked Margaret O’Donoghue Castillo, AIA, LEED AP, 2011 AIANY president. “Having the Center for Architecture here with so many international travelers, I hear over and over again how remarkable this plan is,” she said. It’s an ambitious plan, but now — four years after its release — how much has it lived up to its promise of creating a greener NYC? The plan was recently updated, making this a logical time to reexamine it. David Bragdon, director of the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability (OLTPS), gave a talk that dissected some of the plan’s successes and disappointments so far.

There’s no doubt that NYC is greener now — literally. In the past four years, more than 430,000 trees have been planted, so we’re well on our way to the goal of a million new trees by 2030. And thanks to the city’s new investments in parks and public spaces, there are now “250,000 New Yorkers who live within 10 minutes walk of a park who did not… five years ago,” Bragdon noted.

By contrast, transportation has been a source of some frustration, he said. The state legislature’s failure to approve congestion pricing was a disappointment for the Bloomberg Administration. The city has made progress on other projects, such as creating faster, more frequent bus service and moving ahead on construction of the Second Avenue subway. The city is also planning to launch a bike-share system in the coming months, Bragdon said.

Though PlaNYC sets the goal for New York to have the cleanest air of any big city in America, the city still has far to go in improving its air quality. The updated plan emphasizes reducing pollution caused by buildings using heating oil Number 4 and 6, two of the dirtiest heating oils. Number 6 heating oil is the worst contributor of particulate matter to the air over NYC, creating “more particulate matter than all the cars and trucks in the city combined,” Bragdon alleged. Timed to coincide with the release of the update in April, the Bloomberg Administration issued a new rule phasing out the use of Number 6 oil by 2015 and Number 4 oil by 2030.

Often it’s best to offer both regulation and incentives for sustainable practices (the stick-and-carrot idea), according to Bragdon. In addition to enacting legislation such as the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, the city has been pursuing ways to make green retrofits easier and more profitable. A corporation is being created that will provide financing for people to make efficiency-related improvements. In addition, the OLTPS helped create a “green lease” meant to obviate the “split incentive” problem for landlords; the lease ensures that both landlords and tenants receive financial profits resulting from energy retrofits, Bragdon explained.

Though PlaNYC has drawn international attention, it’s important for our city to keep looking elsewhere for inspiration, too. “We can learn from Melbourne, Australia, about urban forestry, and we can learn from Philadelphia about green infrastructure. We can learn from La Paz about bus rapid transit,” Bragdon said. “New York, though, increasingly has more and more to teach, as well.”

Lisa Delgado is a freelance journalist who has written for OCULUS, The Architect’s Newspaper, Architectural Record, Blueprint, and Wired, among other publications.

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