Search results for "benchmarking"

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Planning from Plaza to Plate
Mayor Bloomberg surveys the Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Edward Reed

Mayor Bloomberg’s administration has taken a famously fine-grained approach to transforming the city, from infrastructure and streetscapes to the super-sized soda and smoking bans. Despite the naysayers and complainers—and his administration’s occasionally tin-eared tone—these changes have been overwhelmingly positive for the city. Many of the city’s sustainability and public health goals dovetail. Promoting welcoming public space, an active populace, multimodal transportation, and access to healthy foods mean a more resilient, vibrant, and attractive city for residents, visitors, and businesses.

New York’s greenmarkets have long played a role in boosting the city’s green and health agendas. While the markets continue to grow and expand into new neighborhoods and organizers work to attract buyers beyond affluent foodies, most of these markets remain somewhat rag-tag, once a week affairs.

New York is a vast and largely rural state, and much of upstate is struggling economically. Agriculture, however, is an expanding sector, however modestly. Small farms are returning to the Hudson Valley, the Catskills, and regions to the north. According to the Times, the most recent agricultural census shows a small increase in the overall number of farms, the first such increase in 80 years. Agriculture itself is no economic savior, but as a part of a larger system of upstate tourism and downstate dining dollars, it is one that should be taken seriously and invested in with public and private funds.

The next mayor and Governor Cuomo should work to craft a statewide plan linking upstate farms with downstate markets (as well as urban markets upstate). Adopting the best aspects of Bloombergian benchmarking, the plan should be followed by implementation and results should be tabulated according to a legible timeline. Comprehensive land-use and infrastructure planning, as well as architecture and urban design, have a central role to play. Regional processing plants for meat, dairy, and produce—perhaps developed through co-op models or in public/private partnerships—would allow growers to create value added goods available all year. Statewide land-use planning should support open space conservation, and transportation planning should help growers bring their goods to market efficiently.

Here in the city, we need a brick and mortar (or glass and steel) year-round regional food market/hall. Several groups have been promoting such ideas during Bloomberg’s terms, such as the New Amsterdam Market, as well as a development plan for a year-round market in the Battery Maritime Building. The New Amsterdam Market is working to reuse the empty Fulton Fish Market building in the South Street Seaport for just such a use. That is a worthy effort that deserves support. But in a city of nine million, that doesn’t seem to be nearly enough. Each borough could certainly sustain its own market (as well as upper Manhattan). These should be well-designed, gracious public spaces worthy of New York’s world-class food culture, and reflective of our leadership in public health innovation and sustainable urbanism.

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Numbers Crunch
asterix611 / Flickr

Last month, one of the major measuring devices of the master plan PlaNYC yielded its first set of data. The Local Law 84 benchmarking ordinance was pegged to a suite of laws operating under the catchier banner of the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan (GGBP). The ordinance required all New York City buildings over 50,000 square feet to report energy consumption. With more than 75 percent compliance, the first report was able to cull information from more than 1.7 billion square feet, making it the largest data collection of its kind for a single jurisdiction.

2010 New York Citywide Co2e Emissions by Sector.
Courtesy City of New York

While a single year’s worth of information isn’t enough to track trends, it does provide a few surprising revelations. For example, one particular finding showed that early 20th-century buildings tend to be more efficient than later generations. The report gives the credit to smaller floor plates, efficient envelopes, and smaller ventilation systems. But the report was careful to make the pro-development observation that the energy “measurement per square foot does not necessarily reflect efficiency in terms of energy per unit of economic activity happening in buildings.”

Despite the very positive participation numbers, there are a few kinks that have yet to be ironed out. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Portfolio Manager, the benchmarking tool used to collect the data, should be able to flag obvious mistakes, like a building square footage entry of zero, but it can’t. Also, building owners often entered square footage based on information they gave to the Department of Finance, meaning they entered square footage for space that had taxable revenue and left out the square footage for space that wasn’t rented.

Nevertheless, spotting mistakes will help fine tune the process for the years to come when the data becomes even richer, and not just because there will be several years of benchmarking under the city’s belt. Other laws in the suite mandate audits and require retrofits. Information from auditors will add detail, such as whether a building has punched windows or a curtain wall. “Within two to three years we’re going to have a really nuanced data set,” said Laurie Kerr, a senior policy advisor to the mayor. “We’ll be able to see if buildings are changing.”

Projected impacts of New York's greenhouse gas reduction strategies.
Courtesy NYC Mayor's Office / M.J. Beck Consulting

The U.S. Department of Energy is also working with the city to incorporate the information into a national database. Austin, Seattle, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. have all recently adopted benchmarking laws. The data will allow decision makers to compare policy and results.

Buildings that are less than 50,000 square feet may also find their way into the mix. Though Kerr acknowledged that smaller building owners might not have the resources to track data, the city is looking at a less demanding program, perhaps a point-of-sale ordinance rather than an annual requirement.

Though some of the GGBP laws dictate specific retrofits, the main thrust of the suite is to provide building owners with information—as well as tax incentives—to make their buildings more energy efficient, which in the long run will save money. “Information drives change,” Kerr said, repeating a Bloomberg mantra. “Providing building owners with information should cause them to make the right decisions.”

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Countdown to Building Benchmarking: Energy & Water Use Reports Due August 1
Well, you can't say we didn't warn you. As AN reported back in May there would be a three month grace period before penalties would be slapped on non-compliers of the new energy and water use benchmarking laws for properties over 50,000 square feet. That means time's almost up, folks--building owners must file reports by August 1.  This may not effect the architecture profession directly (as much as the property owners), but by now architects should certainly be familar with the law and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Portfolio Manager Tool. Also, another clock is ticking for energy calculations on all architectural drawings. In September the State will start conducting hard audits to make sure the numbers are there to back up the reporting.
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New York Building Benchmarks
Energy Star offers energy saving tips on its web site.
Courtesy Energy Star

As of May 1, New York City building owners with more than 50,000 square feet must report energy and water use through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Portfolio Manager Tool. Owners will get a benchmarking grade of 1 to 100, with 50 being average. The grade is not unlike miles per hour for cars—complete with fines—but the national program adjusts to reflect regional differences in fuel consumption. To arrive at the grade, building managers must input several variables into the program, including energy use, floor area ratios, number of occupants, and definition of space use. Within a year, potential buyers and renters could check on a building’s efficiency by going to the Department of Building’s website.

DOB spokesperson Jennifer Gilbert said property owners are ultimately responsible, but building managers will likely be the one’s plugging in the data. Non-compliance will result in a quarterly fine of $500 or $2,000 annually. The DOB will issue and collect fines. Owners will need to obtain energy use information from their tenants, but as privacy issues may hinder that effort, DOB will provide formulas to calculate information withheld.

In the weeks leading up to the public hearing, AIANY Chapter President Margaret O’Donoghue Castillo held a benchmarking seminar at the Center for Architecture to get out the word. Castillo said that as architects’ clients begin to understand how well their buildings are performing, the market would eventually shift toward efficient, high-performing buildings. She added that the new law has the potential to create more work for architects as they will be called upon to improve building envelopes, mechanical systems, and lighting. On the state level, the Center has received a grant from NYSERDA to develop a lecture series on the subject. She added that energy calculations are already required on all architectural drawings, and by September of this year the State will be conducting hard audits to make sure the numbers are there. Castillo noted that the local benchmark law fits in with the bigger picture. “This is something an architect should know how to do, whether they do it or not,” she said. “This is coming from the law, but it’s also what the AIA believes in. Our goal is to have zero emissions by 2030.”

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Greener Apple
A New Yorker holds up a sign during a rally Monday in support of green buildings legislation that passed the City Council yesterday.
William Alatriste

Yesterday, the City Council passed landmark legislation aimed at greening the five borough’s existing building stock, with the goal of creating jobs, reducing the city’s carbon footprint, and setting an example for the rest of the country. “Most of us do not look at a skyscraper and see a polluter, but unfortunately, that is the case, and they account for 80 percent of pollution in this city,” City Council member Daniel Garodnick declared from the council chambers last night, before the bills passed with overwhelming support.

The package of four bills, which were unveiled on Earth Day, had recently been criticized for no longer requiring mandatory retrofits of buildings over 50,000 square feet that do not pass decennial audits. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn insisted the legislation still came close to reaching the council’s initial benchmarks. “Our goal was to get as close to our original goal of 5 percent reduction in carbon as possible,” Quinn said. “We’ve achieved about four-and-three-quarters percent, about as close as we can get.”

Quinn said that, based on studies by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, voluntary retrofits would work almost as well as mandatory ones, given that when most building owners see the potential savings revealed by the required audits, they would make the upgrades anyway. Under the previous legislation, any building system that failed to meet current standards would have to be upgraded.

Landlords and tenant groups had resisted the requirements, fearing the cost of retrofitting buildings and the subsequent rent increases that would accompany them, especially in the midst of such a severe economic downturn. Quinn said the changes created a bill that was fair to all parties and a burden to none. City-owned buildings and small buildings will not be exempted from the required retrofits.

The other three pieces of legislation create a new city energy code that is considerably more progressive than the state code to which buildings have been bound, including a requirement for commercial building owners to upgrade their lighting systems and provide sub-metering so tenants can monitor and modify their energy usage, and annual benchmarking of building systems to ensure they are working to optimum efficiency.

The legislation is expected to create nearly 18,000 jobs and help the city reach its goal of reducing energy consumption by 30 percent by 2030. That did not keep five members from voting against the auditing bill, two of whom also voted against the lighting bill. Representative Simcha Felder, who falls into the latter group, explained his vote as opposition to burdening city residents and companies. “I care deeply about the environment, but I opposed unfunded mandates,” he said. “If the city wants to encourage people on these items, that’s a good thing, but they should incentivize them first.”

Even with the last minute changes, most environmentalists continued to rally behind the legislation, including Russell Unger, executive director of the Urban Green Council, the local chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. “If you took any one of the elements you’re passing today and just passed it, it would be an incredible accomplishment,” Unger said. “The fact is, when you have so many happening at once, it truly is groundbreaking.”

“This is akin to the New York City smoking ban,” he added, “in terms of how it could change the operation of existing buildings around the country.”

The council also approved the FRESH program, which gives developers in underserved communities a density bonus if they include a fresh produce store in their project.

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How Green Is It?
Coming out of City Hall today, we stumbled upon a press conference reaffirming the groundbreaking green-ness of the new green buildings measures first unveiled on Earth Day and due to pass the council this week. Measures that include a new energy code and more efficient lighting, energy benchmarking and training for building operators. But one measure no longer included, according to a rather damning story in the Times this weekend, is mandatory decennial energy audits for commercial buildings over 50,000 square feet, which would be required to replace inefficient building systems if they are not up to current standards. The main culprit, as with many things these days, is the recession:
“It’s another unfunded mandate, and this is just not the time for it,” said Stuart Saft, chairman of the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums, an opponent of the plan. “Come back in five years when we’re past this recession. At this point it’s just a slap in the face.”
Hence the press conference today, though it was not being hosted by the building owners and operators opposed to the bill but half-a-dozen environmental groups in favor of it—big ones at that, such as the Environmental Defense Fund, NRDC, and the Urban Green Council (aka USGBC NY)—along with as many council members, who will be voting on the green building legislation Wednesday. This group was not there fighting for the reinstatement of the missing measure but instead bowing to its removal while arguing the package of bills would still set New York on a historic path. "This is fair and responsible," James Gennaro, chair of the Environmental Protection Committee, said. "We'll get to 30 percent one way or another." Let's hope so.

Greened Out

When city officials unveiled a plan on April 22 to transform the city’s building stock into some of the greenest on the planet, the environment was seen as a major benefactor, as was the local economy. “Everyone’s been talking about green jobs, but this is the program that will actually do it,” said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, noting that the plan is expected to create 19,000 jobs as it cuts the city’s carbon footprint by five percent over the next two decades.

But many out-of-work architects are wondering: Jobs for whom? “My understanding—and I’m not an engineer or architect—is that it’s work that will principally involve engineers, auditors, building staff, and trades, but not architects,” said Russell Unger, executive director of the U.S. Green Building Council, New York chapter, in an interview.

The first major piece of the program calls for benchmarking standards to track the annual energy usage of buildings of 50,000 square feet or more. Another initiative calls for renovations of buildings over 50,000 square feet to include the modernization of lighting systems, while a third will close a loophole so that minor renovations must also now comply with the energy code. “There’s some work there, but I’m not sure how much,” said Chris Garvin, a partner at Terrapin Bright Green, a strategic consulting firm affiliated with Cook + Fox.

Even the most promising—and controversial—piece of the plan, a decennial audit that would require upgrades, might not mean work for architects, because only systems proven to pay for themselves over the course of five years would be required. Then again, Garvin pointed out that with 12,000 buildings in the city falling into this program, there will not be enough qualified auditors to oversee the work, and many architects are prepared to fill the void.

Garvin’s colleague, Bob Fox, finds even greater promise in the program. “If all we’re doing is changing light bulbs, then we’ve totally missed the point,” he said. Fox believes that once benchmarking takes place, building owners will see just how much they can actually save if they undertake a major retrofit. “There’s no quick fix for these buildings,” Fox said. “One needs to develop a plan for the long-term, holistic rehabilitation of them, and that’s a job for architects.”

The downside is that much of the plan does not go into effect until 2013. But Rick Bell, executive director of the AIA New York chapter, believes cheap labor and special incentives now under consideration by the city will prompt many developers to act at their own discretion. “These changes can’t wait,” Bell said. “We—architects and developers—have to make it happen now.”