Climate Central

Changes in weather or global averages in sea levels and temperature from year to year are popular tangents for discussion but only as useful as a local sports talk show. The real news is how improvements in energy generation demanded by the dense urban environment are now responsible for most GHG emission reductions. However, the motivation to change urban conditions in response to climate change remains weak, but envisioning tools by Climate Central that show logical sea rise levels is a step foward.

RLC

The threat alone is not enough. The word “climate” is also used to define a human relations condition of importance in community development. For example, New York City produced 48.02 million tons from all energy sources to reflect a 19% reduction from 2004 to 2013 in three main categories. The main GHG producers are buildings plus street lighting, transportation of all kinds, GHGs connected to urban wastewater treatment, city landfills, and solid waste removal out of the city categorized as fugitive.

climate

Solutions come from the urbanization of energy.

Cities are effective at measuring and then decreasing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) into the atmosphere. The urban focus on energy varies by economic sector and social choice. The choice of fuels that reduce carbon intensity remains economic. However, the lack of choice in controlling external factors is the most problematic. External factors that control the amount of energy needed are population growth by location and the weather in “degree days.” Still, the distinctions between energy and its users are diminishing rapidly for the first time in human history.  Energy use includes the ability to visualize a set of futures based on fact.  The presentation below is not sophisticated climate science. The elevation above sea level is “a,” and the sea-level rise or a storm surge is “b” a long list of coastal cities will have seawater as predicted.

The political readiness for the advent of a new ocean/human/earth “oneness.” is the most disconcerting due to the “fear itself” effect.  The extreme sea level via a vision reveals more than the risks. It exhibits the lack of capacity for a public decision-making process in a privately-held world.  The hidden data involves changes in value. The effect can go one of two ways.  It can push every investor of every square foot into climate change denial for the lack of any other plan, or it can draw every investor into a plan with the capacity to confront the paralysis embedded in such projections.

Given these conditions, the demand for an evidence-based, performance-measured, and outcome-driven protocol that can reach the local need for global effect is now an indispensable policy requirement. People can understand basic units for analysis such as building floor area and total population and apply a per unit/per capita analysis to provide a reliable basis for trend and regression analysis. Energy coefficients established during study periods help determine the change in carbon intensity for each energy source in each sector to yield the percentage of each source contributing to the GHG inventory.

While dense urban cities are the largest producers overall, they offer the best environment for protocol analysis and comparison among all other resilience/mitigation measures that may have an impact on global conditions. Three “get started” sources are here:

  1. GPC – Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  2. LGOP – Local Government Operations Protocol
  3. Climate Central – Download the free Surging Seas CRS Guide

Van der Ryn and Cowan

Challenging smart-growth-talk has seemed impotent until recently. Perhaps this is why it might change.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Ecological-Design.png

A decade ago, Sim Van der Ryn and Stuart Cowan contrasted sustainability defined technologically and ecologically in their book Ecological Design. They pointed to the hubris embedded in the tech-solution approach unless it was fully tethered by how David W. Orr describes the higher priority of ecological principles. (See one through four below.) Technology is zero-sum +(but not net-zero) when placed in a priority higher than these four principles of real change.

  • First, people are finite and fallible. The human ability to comprehend and manage scale and complexity has limits. Thinking too big can make our human limitations a liability rather than an asset. (Citicorp, AIG, and the rest…)
  • Second, a sustainable world can be redesigned and rebuilt most successfully from the bottom up. Locally self-reliant and self-organized communities are the building blocks for change. (something that every small successful business knows well)
  • Third, traditional knowledge that co-evolves out of culture and place is a critical asset. It needs to be preserved, restored, and used. (duh, the 2008 election)
  • Fourth, the true harvest of evolution is encoded in nature’s design. Nature is more than a bank of resources to draw on: it is the best model we have for all the design problems we face. (climate change is as more message as measure)

Technology is zero-sum when placed in a priority higher than these four principles of real change. The position of Sustainable America by John Dernbach (et. al) is direct: Sustainable development will make the US livable, healthy, secure, and prosperous. The book runs through 28 areas of human behavior that need to change using 100 actions taken within five to ten years and thematically summarized as follows:

The position of Sustainable America by John Dernbach (et al.) is direct: Sustainable development will make the US livable, healthy, secure, and prosperous.  It was published on January 12, 2009. One can order from Island Press here. For more information, See Dernbach’s website. See “Booksand papers for lists.

The book runs through 28 areas of human behavior that need to change using 100 actions taken within five to ten years and thematically summarized as follows:

  1. Ecological footprint system integration
  2. Greenhouse gas reduction programs
  3. Stimulate employment for unskilled persons in environmental protection and restoration
  4. Stimulate NGOs to play a major role
  5. Organize government initiatives using sustainability principles to prioritize
  6. Expand options for sustainable living choices to consumers
  7. The advancement of public and formal education to higher levels
  8. Strengthen environmental and natural resources law
  9. Lead international efforts on behalf of sustainable development
  10. Systematically improve access to data for decision making

Planning Together: Part III

carbon dioxide equivalent in metric tons per square foot, per year

Two forces are at work in the continuing creation of NYC.  First-force is energy aimed toward “centers.” Second-force moves outward and away from its centers.  Implementing the Climate Mobilization Act (CMA) is an interesting example using a comprehensive urban planning perspective of both. The centers are locations where there are buildings with more than 25,000 square feet in NYC.  The force is generated by a global condition demanding a reduction in GHGs. The focus is on large urban centers within large metropolitan cities.

RLC-OCCUPY

xxx

The CMA requires building owners to contribute to meeting the 80/50 goal.

By 2050 NYC will reduce GHG’s to 80% of current levels.


First-Force

If the legislation passes, the first milestone in the ten-year LTCP will be the City Report’s Conditions (COC). The narrative will draw on the ongoing objective, measurable data that City agencies generate every year over the last five years and punch it into the COC. The COC focus on long-term issues as embedded in the data concerning long-term planning and sustainability will have to face the Climate Mobilization Act’s impact.

Suddenly the Climate Mobilization Act marches into the room from 2021 to 2024 with compliance requirements through 2029. If there were anything like a 1,300-pound Grizzly in community planning, it would be every building owner in the community with square footage over 25,000 square feet yelling, “the investment in energy efficiency, for the reduction of GHGs, will cost the community jobs and displace residents.”

The law says tenants will be protected, but we are in a buyer beware world. The following was set from “deepdive

“When the act originally passed last year, owners of buildings where rent-regulated units make up less than 35% of the total were given an alternate path to compliance due to what officials called “outdated” rent laws in New York State. That path allowed landlords to pass the cost of building upgrades to tenants by charging for major capital improvements through higher rents.”

“Then in July, the state-level Housing Stability and Tenant Protections Act of 2019 altered how such improvements can be imposed by only allowing rent increases for rent-stabilized units if they make up 35% or more of the units in a building. While this adjustment saves tenants from having the costs of capital improvements and retrofits passed on to them, some councilmembers worried about landlords’ ability to absorb those costs themselves.”

Elected officials said while more established landlords can likely take on the costs for improvements like HVAC and lighting upgrades. Still, those who manage smaller buildings may not be able to, especially as the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has affected their rental incomes.”

Residential building owners will see it as a perfect opportunity to displace tenants through major capital improvements with added harassment efforts. Major Capital Improvement (MCI) and careless rule enforcement allow building owners to raise rents on the unsuspecting. Documented abuses in monthly MCI rent hikes over $800 per apartment are well-known and feared.

Is it possible to imagine that the plan that eliminates jobs doesn’t matter because the people who have them will be displaced anyway? A counter-measure is available if the focus on the green economy is on jobs. The data is available in jobs from the production of a net-zero supply-chain to the production of well-educated people in the universities NYC has to offer. (See list)

Whether that ridiculous scenario occurs or is more likely in some neighborhoods than others, the Climate Change crisis is that Grizzly in the long term. It has the capacity to push aside all the other issues, education, transportation, public health, arts and culture, economic development, zoning, and land use.

Set by climate policy, the Climate Mobilization Act’s implementation priority will focus on projects that involve about 50,000 buildings in this category, about 2,500 have a million square feet or more. NYC’s Open Data portal has an example Building Footprints to illustrate that the city can be super-square-foot smart on a building by building basis.

The GHG reduction goal is a force applied from the outside toward these locations. The impact on sales and acquisitions in real estate markets for all land uses old, new, and proposed will be significant. The buildings are known and mapped. This is where defining the second-force comes into play.

An old example of a first-force, “center-inward,” and a second-force “center-outward” impact was global thermal nuclear war and auto-technology.  The policy was to spread out urban life, leaving energy-efficient public transit systems behind and in decay. The priority was to produce the massive growth promised in an auto-driven economy.  Hey, it looked great for a long time, but now hundreds of articles available from the GBC and elsewhere talk about the lack of balance in this policy.

Second-Force

The building owners and communities involved and informed by the Climate Mobilization Act will be encouraged to understand its requirements. These reactions to a problem will occur outwardly from the lawmakers who know stuff to ordinary people who haven’t been told and may never know.

The conduct required involves analyzing existing energy use, building condition, and capacity for financing implementation. Depending on the community, facility projects will either fail or comply with their carbon emissions reduction to 26% by 2024 – 2029.  The Green Building Council (GBC) here provides details.  The structures involved are organized by space classification, and fines and penalties for non-compliance may not be significant.  A good example is the Empire State Building will have to pay $1.25 million as a fine for failure.  See story, The New York Times

SEED

Poorly defined second-forces can include the displacement of low- and moderate-income households in rapidly complying and gentrifying NYC neighborhoods due to the well-known impact of “major capital improvements.”. A well-funded outreach and community planning process is needed to get beyond the dubious effect of fines. Assured compliance with Social, Economic, and Environmental Design (SEED) and the LEED nod to this issue is essential. The SEED Evaluator and certification framework establishes social, economic, and environmental goals for building projects to measure success. Buildings are the major contributor to global warming. Still, the people of dense cities such as NYC are the low per capita energy users.  The people in the buildings (residents and workers) should have a higher value than the buildings.

The lessons of displacement are throughout the United States.
I urge you to hear Colette Pichon Battle. What she knows now, we need to know.

The Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy and Colette Pichon Battle’s work raises awareness on equitable disaster recovery, migration, economic development, climate justice, and energy democracy. Climate change is not the problem. It is a symptom of a more significant system problem the American people must address. TED presentation (here).

The NYC Zoning Resolution is now open for business as a negotiating tool.  Mandated inclusion to subsidize rental housing is the most recent example.  A mandated subsidy drawn from the energy savings produced could be used to prevent displacement and sustain affordability.  A therm saved is one earned. The thing is, there is no negotiation with a rising ocean, only the duty to protect all people from all the forms of displacement it will cause.

Exposure to all the wiggle room (cash savings for wealth owners) could help line up social justice and equity goals with needed compliance. For example, Local Law 84  mandates benchmarking and disclosure of energy use.  However, it exempts buildings with 10%+ (really, seriously) floor space devoted to data centers, trading floors, or broadcast studios.  No Energy Star score is required because disclosing a terrible energy use intensity (EUI) is awful PR. Example abound in this arena of the wiggle.

LEED

Carbon offsets are allowed. Purchasing unlimited renewable energy credits (RECs), also known, can reduce reported emissions for electricity.  A citywide emissions trading scheme (ETS) focused on greenhouse gas emissions will come up in 2021 and so on.  Every dime should turn into an anti-displacement dollar for one reason — the law outlines “guidelines” most of the specifics have yet to be reconciled. And, in addition to Local Law 97, the Climate Mobilization Act includes other laws:

Local Laws 92 & 94 – Green Roofs & Solar PV: Requiring green roofs solar PV systems on specific new construction and renovation projects.

Local Law 95 – Building Labeling: Adjusting metrics used for letter grades assessing building energy performance.

Local Law 96 – PACE: Establishing clean energy financing tools for building owners

Local Law 98 – Wind Energy: Obliging the Department of Buildings to include wind energy generation in its toolbox of renewable energy technologies.

Thankfully, there are resources to help building owners navigate this evolving regulatory landscape. The NYC Retrofit Accelerator supports building owners’ efforts to improve their buildings’ energy efficiency. (calculator) At the state level, NYSERDA has several programs geared towards putting buildings on the path to energy efficiency.

Voluntary nonprofits are gaining traction to assist institutions with the measurement tasks for a price. A good example is CRIS — The Climate Registry’s greenhouse gas (GHG) measurement, reporting, and verification platform, accessible at https://www.cris4.org. This tool is used by The Climate Registry (TCR) reporting members, TCR-recognized Verification Bodies, and the general public to measure and/or communicate the carbon impacts of organizations of all sizes across all sectors.

Part IV

It applies to a neighborhood in New York City and available: here

Housing

Tweets from housing advocacy groups warned of the 2008 Recession for five years (here). They see another housing crisis forming in America caused by raising public awareness. It is about how equity was kept away from people by Americans against themselves. It is an issue defined by the nation’s 400 hundred-year heritage of enslavement, cold, racist terrorism, and bigotry. These facts also describe the world’s history, but it is the U.S. Constitution that had some ideas about how moral people could change immoral societies.

RLC – OCCUPY

Every problem is a housing problem.

Problems that hurt people and go undefined and unanswered creates a climate for authoritarian solutions. The often-told solution is an old retort of hard work, healthy homes, communities, and families. The response is correct but blind to the history of privileges extended to white America as it became the United States. For centuries rights and freedoms were extended to all people. Policymakers made the denial of pathways to equity without a moment’s reflection. The crime of bias barred the accumulation of wealth from property to succeeding generations. The quiet yet insidious reduction and denials of opportunity from education are proven. The lack of equity is significant.

Over a half-century has passed since the idea of forming nonprofit housing development corporations was established by concerned residents and city officials. In Brooklyn and throughout New York City, this emergent network of housing rights advocates works as nonprofit partners with housing developers drawing on various financial mechanisms to defend low- and moderate-income households from the myth of “market rate” access to housing. Formed in the early 1970s, the Association of Neighborhood Housing Developers (ANHD) initially sought to bring equity to families by acquiring publicly owned (in rem) housing and converting it to various local ownership structures. The idea began during the great wave of housing vacancy and abandonment that began in the 1950s that destroyed entire neighborhoods. The pathway to equity remains narrow, easily recognized in the subtle name change of ANHD from developer to advocate. It is now the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development (here).

A public map listing of Brooklyn organizations is offered (here). One question is posed. Can equity be created for low- and moderate-income households? Brooklyn’s housing rights and development organizations will soon be struggling with the pandemic-stimulated crisis in rental housing and torn between the logical interests of those who hold equity in rental property, have bills to pay of their own, and thousands of tenants that are without the resources to do participate. In this crisis, there is an opportunity to create new partnerships toward equity in housing because the issue is straight forward as this heading states:

Access to work from the ordinary trades to the most highly skilled professions is proven with painful references to people of color such as “they are not ready,” or the best work suited “for them” is agricultural service. These actions still rip the opportunity for equity with an intense generational impact on people of color. In the centuries that led to the rise of American hegemony, no one, not one person, not W.E.B. DuBois or even Martin Luther King, has been able to fully articulate what this loss of equity has meant to African-Americans and extended without delay to all people of color in America. The voice of Ta-Nehisi Coates is the most current (here). He stands on firm ground because the U.S. has participated in reparations six times. The seventh time should take a long hard look at housing as linked to the displacement challenges posed by climate change.

Ending the Wherever Movement

After WWII, localities have kept their hand on the tail of the revenue bull, blind to the rest of the beast. In the last century, millions of households benefited from federal housing policies with only one location principle – housing wherever you want. In this new century reducing the mortgage interest subsidy on the demand side and weakening a long list of development incentives on the supply side has severely weakened federal leadership in housing preservation and development to continue the “build wherever” policy.

A new housing crisis is in the air for reasons other than systemic racism in America. Every issue connects to a housing problem. For some time, the equity crisis re-establishes classicism under headings such as “culture wars,” but the results change little. The metaphor is weak. The facts on the structure of every “next disaster” can be different using resilience principles. Technology offers opportunities to build a broader coalition on equity with justice that includes race by correcting past wrongs, yet moves forward to circumvent long-established rules of “divide to conquer.”

The surge of affordable single-family housing in America continues in the hot wetlands of the south with sporadic drought and the flat drylands of the southwest with asymmetrical flash floods and fire. The onset of climate change will drown the wetlands, scorch and burn the drylands, and cause enormous disruptions in every region of the United States.

Denying the annual recurrence of this possibility is a repudiation of science and a political endorsement of catastrophic resolution. I will not be surprised if we experience a bout of biblical pestilence in the narrative of the resistance to this long term, permanent threat. Long before the direct links to climate change formed, the impacts of disasterous choices in land use development are righly defined as “environmental racism” by pointing directly at the disproportionate number of low-and-moderate-income people losing equity. The damage and despair reveal a broad swath of painful historic bigotry, but now the dangers are thrown at all people.

The opportunity to bring national policies back with conditions that mitigate the impact of regional climate change by region makes it possible to re-establish national housing development policies as the leading edge of a new strategy. It will be re-focused by climate protection that builds restoration with resilience. It will create sustainable equity in communities despite storms of enormous ferocity. It will be designed to survive the hatred, bigotry, far to easily injected in to the threat of high water, drought, and fire.

Two Centuries Out

In the following summary of Tweets from the Housing Advocacy People (HAP) of July 2019, it may be possible to find threads of principle and elements of novelty in current policy efforts that will alter the pervasive opinion that the purpose of the national government has not lost its way. It will be possible to forge new policy from environmental protection as a national defense strategy forced by the bright light of survival and a far more serious focus on the big picture. I offer one example.

The ocean’s tide is once again destined to flow up and into the Great Appalachian Valley from Maine’s ports to South Carolina’s shores over the next few centuries. The ancient geological record proves it has been there before. Given a long term view, getting ready should be a top priority. Preparation for this kind of “sea change” in all its meanings is the most important action of this century (the original map as shown below is here). Issues like this are just the beginning:

Hundreds of more practical definitions of why establishing policies governing housing equity and location can be surmised with a moment reviewing location and percentage of elderly households as a coastal population as provided by a Climate Central study.

Climate Central

Take your pick of issues for building a constituency on housing development and location. If the Gulf of Mexico’s fate is to be an alga thickened swamp, we need ideas to be prepared for what that means. If the Pacific Ocean’s vast torrents alter the Gulf Stream and El Niño yields unservivable surface heat or hundreds of tornadoes and hurricanes. Not being ready is a super bad idea. Whether friendly or with horrible force, from the sky or the sea, heed the words, “the water will come.” The plan seems different when time itself became for sale, and that is not a surprise if you know how non-fungible tokens (NFT) and blockchains began to change all financial transactions. A true distraction, for all the world, is lost to the stage that will not honor trade that does not move from hand to hand.

Policy People

Please enjoy a look at the national Tweet-O-Rama organizations focused on housing (here). With those thoughts in mind, it is logical to look at politics as a sport and as a practice that is now very different from the role of leadership that it implies. A growing number of elected national representatives now complain of a system of government that appears to ignore the will of the people.

Climate Design

The Planning and Design Problems of Climate Change
Measures to Consider

The book “Climate Design,” discussed (here) needs to be re-read by more people. Coastal wind and advanced flood plain envelopes will become integral to a building, and land use policy as light and air standards are today. Traditional electric power grid (coal/oil/gas) systems will go to a 24/7/365 pricing structure to spread demand.  Waterproof everything 14ft above MHT will be standard for 75% of the new housing units and expand to 30% of the land area.  Rain harvesting will be a component of buildings, and “complete streets” make room for vehicles other than cars.   Power storage locations and systems will take top priority.  New route designs will accommodate a vastly broader range of personal vehicles (type, size).  So-called “intermodal nodes” will become high-value zones.

Buildings and Energy

  • Improve energy incentives in buildings by centralizing incentives. Update the State Energy Code swiftly and expedite “climate-friendly” projects. Prioritize energy efficiency initiatives for affordable housing.
  • The Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) should be raised from 25% to 30%.
  • The Public Service Commission should be permitted to require time-of-use pricing, which allows the price of electricity to more closely track the actual cost of producing it on an hour-by-hour basis.
  • Provide incentives for installing a “smart meter” to allow for data exchange between the electricity provider and the customer’s electric meter.
  • Sub-metering should be required in all buildings to allow building owners to bill tenants for individual electric usage.
  • The State Energy Code should be amended to cover more building renovations; currently, only renovations that involve the replacement of 50% or more of a building’s subsystem must comply with the Code.
  • All new or substantially renovated school buildings should be required to meet green building standards.
  • Water and wastewater treatment plants should be required to adopt energy conservation requirements.
  • Reinstate the State Energy Planning Board

Land Use

  • The State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) regulations should be amended such that GHG emissions are considered for projects that are subject to it.
  • GHG emissions should be factored into local comprehensive plans.
  • Wind projects, including those offshore, should be encouraged and New York should adopt a statewide wind energy goal as part of its RPS requirement.

Vehicles and Transportation

  • Continue to strive for a 10% reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) below business as usual within 10 years; to this end, New York should initiate a VMT Task Force.
  • Consider imposing feebates on the purchase of new vehicles with low fuel economy and offer rebates on the purchase of vehicles with high fuel economy.
  • Encourage the purchase of alternative fuel vehicles.
  • Include Energy-saving vehicle maintenance techniques as part of the vehicle registration process.

Additional recommendations

  • Encourage the expansion of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) by promoting the adoption of an economy-wide cap on GHGs; in addition, consider lowering the existing cap.
  • Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology should be pursued provided that adequate federal funding is available.
  • Green workforce development should be promoted by enhancing educational and job training programs throughout the state.
  • Encourage the Interagency Committee on Sustainability and Green Procurement to be aggressive in setting green specifications for certain goods that are purchased by State agencies.
  • Promote methane capture by requiring or encouraging it in all municipal solid waste (MSW) landfills.
  • Improve its floodplain mapping system by taking into account future sea level rise.

New York State Bar Association Task Force on Global Warming reviewed New York’s existing laws and programs, including existing and pending federal laws regarding climate change.  The Task Force is chaired by Professor Michael Gerrard, Director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University School of Law.  (Jan. 2009.)  The proposals are organized into four categories: buildings and energy, land use, transportation, and others.  The following was edited from the Executive Summary excerpted in the Law of the Land blog.

Embed Density

highwater

We live in a culture that embeds information and where the most important things tend to go unsaid. All of us put information into machines that will retrieve data on practically anything imaginable, from an alarm clock to an AI for more complex decision-making. Perhaps this will release the unsaid portions about the vital function of cities in human life.

A recent Rolling Stone article by Jeff Goodell (Flooded City) does not make this point directly but exhibits its results with great clarity. Goodell talks about flooding in New York involving high or low ground impacts with storm surge or microburst variables. The unsaid stuff defines a vast combination of intellectual and architectural ramparts outlined as plans in various locations throughout New York City.

A talking head presentation at the New America Civic Hall (9.15.16) proved to be very un-civic but managed to remain polite. All New Yorkers will look at a sea rise map, make a quick am “I in or out” assessment and log that in for a personal assessment of risk. Unfortunately, many of the people attending were either outside the lines. Those who were wet on the map had an obvious self-interest with the prospect of land poverty but could not express them over all the talk of the new walls, ramparts, bounded rationality, and cognitive dissonance presentation about investments in resilience.

Promises

I suggest how to escape the Chicken Little problems the “flooded city” approach creates. The last half of the American century has offered two promises (maybe three). The first is the promise to eliminate disadvantage as discovered by the individual, the family, community, and nation. The American vocabulary, literature, art, law, and architecture present an exquisite language born of the poetry and forums of each for change and communication. The framers of the Constitution strengthen us. We have been given the tools, created the space, and found ways to speak truth to power. We are skilled in dialogue. We remain encouraged by each battle for social justice and civil society. We are routinely encouraged to confront the world’s history in ways that will keep that promise alive.

While not as refined, the second promise adds powerful new energy to the promise of eliminating disadvantage.  It is the promise of sustainability. From the Club of Rome to its reflective twenty-five-year reunion at the Smithsonian, a more accurate word, Resilience, now communicates the correct challenge and implies a variety of post-trauma conditions. We now deploy resilience officers throughout the world, but their task is not to look at high water and low land. The resilience mission is different – find ways to draw a line in the sand. It matters far less about where there will be high water until we know how to draw that line in the sand. There is no crystal ball. Pointing to facts is all that scientists can do. Describe where a part of the sky has fallen. Right now, that is more useful than why to avoid tragedy.

rollingstonegoodell

Historically, there is the “duck and cover” hedge and the old MAD way to a resilience challenge. The worldview of mutually assured destruction is also composed of private investors who are very active in their demand for public dollars to drive down risk. We need a much broader outline of ways to invest publically in resilience that may come down to clearly explaining the difference between the circle and the grid in urban design as we see it in the national highway system and the urban crisis.

The content embedded in the promises leading to eliminating disadvantage through fairness and sustainability can help define the architecture presented as walls and ramparts that encircle something. In this design, there is an inside and an outside. Without injecting these two promises into the process, the design of the walls and ramparts will damage more than any violent fire or storm.

Future articles and public discussions should take a lesson from Elizabeth Kolbert. Her extraordinary review of the science of global change over the last half-billion years defines our entry into the Anthropocene epoch, the knowledge of which might save us all.

Elizabeth Kolbert is author of Pulitzer Prize-winning, The Sixth Extinction


The Isle de-Jean Charles

It is time to get dangerously practical about the local impact of global problems. I would apply the Isle de-Jean Charles Climate Change Refugees (video here) to a New York City example: The action taken in Louisiana occurred when they were down to the last two percent of their land. (get the untold story on the 98%). Can New York or any other city afford to set that standard or hedge that bet that way?

Un-rough the math here,  $100 million in relocation funds for 20 households applied to the 35,000 families in, let’s say, Canarsie, a neighborhood in Brooklyn. The bill would come to $175 billion. Resettlement at 20HH/year would take a millennium. At 500 HH/year, the cost would be $2.5 billion/year, and it would take 70 years. So buy the property, strip it of its toxins, wait for the ocean to come and you have an artificial reef over the foundations, counter the acidity and make seafood.

An investment of this kind protects the future. It would prevent the “land poverty” plan currently in play to reflect the ramparts’ tragedy, not the ocean’s. For a place like Canarsie, or the Rockaways (the natural rampart), the test should be whether a quid pro quo is in place, or just another caveat emptor slap in the face, aimed at people of color.

Truth to power, you cannot get that pitiful amount today for a place like Canarsie. The policy for change remains in the MAD world of catastrophic resolution. The Chicken Little approach does not have a chance unless you do one simple thing. Put that line in the sand and be a little scary.  Draw the wall, present its ramparts across the landscape of NYC or any other place on the planet, and have the courage to ask and answer two questions.  

Who’s In? Who’s out? Straight up, without weapons, humans are not built to kill, with no claws or fangs. Still, when one group of humans is forced to say to another group facing a life-threatening condition, “you are not selected” now or even in the evolutionary sense, I do not know which group is worse off.

Rex L. Curry

A third promise awaits development given an implementation plan.  The positive side of the formation of ramparts and walls is the opportunity to recognize a dense, contained urban life offering new forms of growth. The challenge is to put a stop to the grid humans have drawn on the earth.  The grid is a symbol of the infinite. The sphere or circle is limited. The fuel of unlimited growth within this circle (ramparts and all) is to develop methods for all that enters the encircled urban world will leave in a non-toxic form. Today over 80% of what flows out is toxic.

Today the planners, engineers, architects, and climate scientists assess the impact of the sea rise, storm surges, and microbursts pounding down the Hudson River Valley on the city’s property. The Flooded City article points out the big picture these professionals paint for owners and policymakers.

For example, a rise in sea level far less than a meter places 71,500 buildings and $100 billion of property in NYC’s high-risk flood zones. Sea rise is not a complex assessment. Remote earth sensing devices can measure elevation to less than a meter. Some devices calculate small fluctuations in gravitational forces, and for any area in question, they can do so in time. The ramparts and walls encircling vulnerable properties using these tools also exhibit various wrongheaded priorities of great value for reforms and the discussion of fairness.

The below-ground world of tunnels and conduits (vehicles, gas, power, clean, gray, and black water) of New York City is not climate-proof. Yet, given the positives of the walls and ramparts, the capacity to fragment infrastructure systems to function independently is implied. Still, the policy is dishonest unless the question “who is in and out” is answered.

Global processes are geologically instantaneous events in the context of the last half-billion years. They occur daily but remain well outside of human experience. We are unlikely to “duck and cover” or step back from the waves of an unobservable rise of the ocean at the base of a massive river basin. Creating the incentives to do so is the challenge of our time.

Nevertheless, insisting on acquiring and removing toxins from NYC’s waterfront and flood-prone zones may be the best plan of action for no other reason than it will take a century to accomplish. The planning work as it stands today favors protecting property in the short term. It emanates from the boardrooms and public conferences in the old way.  It is about producing jobs through relatively high yield, short-term investments under the heading of resiliency. The discussion of the chemical, biological, and most importantly, financial toxins encircled by these old ways requires a sharper focus by its critics.

Zoning GHG

New York City’s newest set of proposed zoning changes will re-write rules to remove impediments to constructing and retrofitting buildings in every land use. The objective: reduce urban energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) production. The bottom line is the $15 billion/year spent on heat and power in buildings representing 80 percent of the city’s carbon emissions.

Reduction in consumption improves well being.

Can zoning regulations reduce the urban carbon footprint and lower energy costs? For example, assuring buildings have a good air barrier and insulation on the exterior will yield energy performance. So why is encouraging a good air/insulation barrier (four to eight inches) a zoning issue?

The added bulk to get energy efficiency is counted under existing regulations.  This reduces the usable space within the building and ends up in a cost/income trade-off, and it tends to build in a substandard “triple net” energy cost transfer from the developer to the leaseholder or owner. The new regulations will exempt the added bulk concerning floor area limits (FAR) and open space regulations (OSR).

Will this reduce the TDC/ROI energy trade off? (total development cost to return on investment ratio)

Solar panels, rooftop greenhouses will also be exempt from FAR and height limits in some cases, as long as the greenhouse is on top of a building that does not include house residences. The result of these changes will be slightly bulkier, somewhat taller buildings that are more energy-efficient.

A number regarding the discount from $15 billion in today’s energy cost and the reduction of GHGs also requires an estimate. The cost of confirming compliance is yet another public responsibility. This requires a factor that is sufficiently offset by penalties that are equal to the obvious incentives.

The City Planning Commission process began December 19, 2011, with the new regulations’ submission to the five borough presidents and the city’s 59 community boards. The goal is to formalize the new regulations by Spring 2012.