NYC's 'Green New Deal'

John Hill
24. April 2019
The glassy towers of Hudson Yards (Photo: John Hill/World-Architects)

Timed to Earth Day on April 22, New York City has passed the Climate Mobilization Act, what's being called the city's Green New Deal in reference to the Democratic Congress's current attempts to cut carbon emissions and transition to clean energy in the United States.

Although NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio's Green New Deal — laid out in "OneNYC 2050: Building a Strong and Fair City" — addresses everything from carbon neutrality and improving air quality to ending the opioid epidemic and protecting tenants from displacement, most of the media attention is focused on how the plan will impact the built environment. The plan spells out a few points that should be of particular interest to architects:

  • Committing to carbon neutrality by 2050, and 100% clean electricity. The City will pursue steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from buildings and source 100% clean electricity, while creating green jobs and holding polluters responsible for climate-related costs. 
  • Requiring buildings cut their emissions – a global first. With the passage of the building mandates law, New York City is the first city in the world to require all large existing buildings of 25,000 square feet or more, of which there are 50,000 citywide, to make efficiency upgrades that lower their energy usage and emissions – or face steep penalties. 
  • Banning new inefficient glass-walled buildings. The City will no longer allow all-glass facades in new construction unless they meet strict performance guidelines, making inefficient glass-heavy building designs a thing of the past.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announces New York City's Green New Deal at Hunter's Point South Park on Monday, April 22, 2019. (Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography)

These three points clearly put the onus for cutting greenhouse gas emissions on buildings (the OneNYC report asserts that buildings are responsible for 2/3 of GHG emissions) — large ones in particular. Though tactics are not explicit in the report, efficiency upgrades to some 50,000 buildings around the city and a banning of glass facades should reshape the city's streets and skylines. But if building owners opt to pay the "steep penalties" instead and their architects design towers that meet the "strict performance guidelines," the NYC Green New Deal might just fail to make a noticeable impact on a cityscape that is increasingly taller, denser, and glassier.

John H. Banks, President of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), the industry's main lobbyist in NYC, preemptively addressed the plan before the City Council approved it on April 18, taking exception to how it "exempts more than 50 percent of New York’s built environment from its requirements" (those under 25,000 sf) and "discourages density and will reward periodically-occupied vacation homes over co-ops and rental housing."

Yet one area so far immune from criticism is the requirement for green roofs on city buildings, commercial and manufacturing buildings, and smaller residential buildings. An increased property tax abatement would aid in the installation of green roofs, which provide many practical benefits (reducing storm water runoff, reducing the heat island effect, increasing biodiversity) while increasing the amount of planted surfaces in a city much in need of them.

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