With buildings responsible for about 47 percent of electricity usage in the U.S., making buildings more efficient should be a top priority in combatting climate change. New York City has already pledged to retrofit its older buildings and slash CO2 emissions by 80 percent by 2050, but with the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, such action has been left to cities and states to undertake voluntarily. At the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco this September, businesses, investors, and local and state leaders from across the country will convene to discuss ways to decarbonize the economy and reach a carbon neutral U.S. by 2050. The AIA has announced that it will be sending a delegation headed by President Carl Elefante, FAIA, to represent architects at the summit and come back with a set of scalable best design practices. The AIA members attending will be part of the organization’s sustainability-oriented Committee on the Environment (COTE) and other climate change-related groups. The AIA will also be sponsoring two public events during the summit: Carbon Smart Building Day on September 11 and Climate Heritage Mobilization on September 12 and 13. The summit is meant to in part build momentum for COP24 in December, the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Still, even if radical decarbonization guidelines are agreed upon at the summit and adopted by the AIA and business leaders in attendance, such a shift likely wouldn’t be enough to reach the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s target of limiting global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celcius. The Paris Agreement and temperature targets are only reachable if the world were to produce negative emissions and sequester CO2 on a massive scale, a technology that’s still several years away. Still, the AIA has pledged to continue pursuing its sustainability and environmental health goals, as seen in its recent call for a blanket ban on asbestos in building products after the fracas last week.
Posts tagged with "Climate Change":
The nonprofit, nonpartisan Regional Plan Association (RPA) released its Fourth Regional Plan back in 2017, a 400-page prescription for a variety of problems facing the Tri-State New York metropolitan area. Now through November 3, visitors to the Center for Architecture can explore the RPA’s plans for increasing housing affordability, improving the region’s overburdened public transit, and addressing climate change by 2040. The Future of the New York Metropolitan Region: The Fourth Regional Plan exhibition at the Center breaks down The Fourth Regional Plan into four typologies: core urban areas, suburbs, local downtowns, and regional green spaces. Each section is further broken down to address affordability issues, the failure of policymakers to address problems in those regions, how climate change will impact each area, and how to best improve mass transportation. Both the problems themselves, as well as the RPA’s proposed solutions, are on display. The Four Corridors, an RPA-commissioned initiative that tasked four different architectural firms with reimagining different “corridors” throughout the region, is also on display at The Fourth Regional Plan. Rafi A+U + DLANDstudio proposed a “landscape economic zone” to protect the area’s coastal regions from flooding—a softer, living take on the traditional seawall; Only If + One Architecture proposed creating the Triboro Corridor, an accessible route from Brooklyn to Queens to the Bronx; WORKac wants to turn the Tri-State suburbs into denser, greener versions of themselves and create easy access between smaller towns; and PORT + Range proposed reinvigorating the area’s highlands into ecological buffers with varied natural ecosystems. “RPA’s Fourth Plan is a blueprint for creating a healthier, more sustainable, more equitable region, one with more affordable housing, better and expanded public transit, and a closer connection with nature," said RPA Executive Vice President Juliette Michaelson. "This exhibit provides an opportunity for New Yorkers and regional visitors to explore the Fourth Plan and imagine what our future could look like if we are bold enough to reach for it." Other than the show itself, the Center will host two accompanying programs. Creating More Housing without New Construction will take place on September 14 from 8:00 AM to 10:00 AM, and Designing the Future of the Tri-State Region will be held on October 29 from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM.
The Continuous City: Fourteen Essays on Architecture and Urbanization Lars Lerup Park Books, 2017 $39.00 Lars Lerup, the Swedish-American designer and writer, has published a new book. The Continuous City (Park Books, 2017) presents his latest thoughts on architecture, cities, and the people who inhabit them by way of 14 disparate but interconnected essays. The handsome volume is bound in a matte cover featuring René Magritte’s painting Panorama Populaire (1926), which depicts buildings, a forest, and a seashore stacked atop each other, the ground plane of each upper level sawed away to reveal the strata beneath. The picture turns out to be a perfect signpost for what lies within, as its suggestion that these (and other) seemingly discrete realms are inextricably linked is precisely the crux of Lerup’s otherwise episodic inquiry. Lerup’s two previous titles—One Million Acres & No Zoning (Architectural Association Publications, 2011) and After the City (MIT Press, 2001)—took on the postindustrial car city as a subject of serious study. They look beyond the European-oriented urbanist’s dismissal of such environments as merely “sprawl” to find and examine the often-surreal juxtapositions embedded within that type of built fabric. Both books show Lerup’s fascination with Houston, where he first moved in 1993 from Berkeley, California, to take the job of dean at the Rice School of Architecture, a position he held until 2009. He is currently a professor there. Houston was to architecture in the 1980s what Dubai is to the field today—a petro-capital spending big money on ambitious development projects without paying much attention to the rules. Lerup’s championing of this subject matter in architectural academia (his has been one voice—there are others) has done much to save the discipline from self-inflicted obsolescence, an observation driven home by the fact that approximately 80 percent of currently existing global urban environments are designed and constructed around the automobile. His leadership also supported and propelled other academics who have done important work in this area, including Rice colleague Albert Pope, whose seminal volume, Ladders (Princeton Architectural Press, 1996), laid the groundwork for serious consideration of the postwar American city, and former Rice assistant professor Keith Krumwiede, whose latest book, Atlas of Another America: An Architectural Fiction (Park Books, 2016), explores speculative futures of suburbia. Another of Lerup’s preoccupations is subjectivity. In the 1970s, during a sabbatical from UC Berkeley, Peter Eisenman invited him to the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York (Rem Koolhaas was writing Delirious New York just down the hall). Lerup’s design work exhibits ties to that lineage of formal exploration and defamiliarization, but where Eisenman seeks to liberate architecture from the user, Lerup’s ambition has been to explore the problems of the urban inhabitant. For example, he did several years of research with the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C., on how people in nursing homes panic and escape buildings that are on fire. The result was a series of publications compiled into Learning from Fire: A Fire Protection Primer for Architects, composed of a series of hand-drawn comic strips that depict nurses and patients reacting to infernos. In Continuous City, Lerup says hello to the Anthropocene. Quoting from the introduction: “The Anthropocene brings with it the realization that we live in a new (catastrophic) geological era of our own making. This is no longer a squabble between liberty or community, but a need to avert disaster. Lacking easy answers, we now seek opportunities for change, skirting the dark side of the new city, which the earlier books dealt with, to find in architecture a device for positive movement forward.” He argues that conceptual distinctions between urban and suburban, or urban and rural, are no longer productive. “The urban,” he writes, “is inescapable. The city is everywhere.” Lerup’s hunt for constructive examples takes the reader on a journey that spans the globe and delves into the history of human settlement. He establishes links between the plan of Teotihuacán and OMA’s Seattle library, investigates the coexistence of natural and built environments in the work of Roberto Burle Marx, considers the synergies of Herzog & de Meuron’s Miami garage, and worries the uneasy relationship between users’ topological experience and the planner’s topographic approach. His findings are as revelatory as they are perturbing. If humankind is to survive the era of global warming (the Anthropocene’s most threatening result), there remains much more work to be done.
This summer, visitors to Times Square can take in an underwater virtual reality experience, courtesy of the North Carolina-based conceptual artist Mel Chin and technology giant Microsoft. The site-specific mixed-reality public art installation titled Unmoored will come to life from July 11 through September 5. Chin tackles the topic of climate change, imagining a future where melting ice caps cause the city to go underwater. As visitors look through VR goggles, they can see a 'nautical traffic jam' of 3-D modeled ships, each with their own unique identification number and name. Ships move slowly in the city, bumping into each other and buildings, creating waves rendered by realistic animation and sound effects. Visitors can also view Wake, another public artwork by Chin, which “evokes the hull of a shipwreck crossed with the skeletal remains of marine mammals,” beside a sculpture of the 19th century opera singer Jenny Lind. Chin chose New York City as the site for the word because it represents the center of trade, entertainment, and capitalism for the country. Its history is loaded with topics that resonate today, like guns and slavery. The USS Nightingale, which was historically involved with the shipping of slaves, is digitally recreated in the Unmoored experience. The installations are part of an exhibition titled Mel Chin: All Over the Place, presented with the Queens Museum of Art and NYC-based, nonprofit arts organization No Longer Empty in various sites around New York. Times Square visitors can view the show through mobile devices via Unmoored’s mobile app, which is now available for download and use. Check this link for more details.
Architects, planners, and policymakers all gathered for a June 20th dinner at the Architectural League of New York, where they conferred this year’s President’s Medal on Christiana Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The President’s Medal is the League’s highest honor and was awarded to Figueres for her role in negotiating the 2015 Paris Agreement; the multi-country accord created voluntary emission limits that were designed to keep global temperature rise under two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Medal recipients are selected by the League’s President and Board of Directors and recognize those who have had an outsized impact in art, architecture, the environment, urbanism, and design. Ecologist and Manahatta author Eric Sanderson, landscape architect and educator Kate Orff, architect Anna Dyson, Architectural League Executive Director Rosalie Genevro, and League President Billie Tsien were on hand to laud Figueres. “As architects, designers, and builders,” said Tsien as she presented Figueres with the award, “we honor her for offering us a model of action based on moral commitment and hope, and for demonstrating how to act with urgency and boldness to take on the encompassing challenge of our era, and in doing so, to imagine the possibility of a better world.” All of the speakers touched on Figueres’ role in bridging environmental concerns with the built environment, and the League’s role in advocating around climate issues. “Moreover, it’s an incredible moment for the League,” said Kate Orff, “a treasured cultural organization that over the years has laureled artists, architects, planners, and patrons of the city, to pivot to a broader context and honor a champion of the planet itself.” Figueres herself echoed the same sentiment in her acceptance speech. “I happen to think that urban spaces are where the new relationship between nature and society will germinate and thrive. And I also happen to think that this is where a lot of […] societal healing is going to take place.” After stepping down from her UNFCCC role in the summer of 2016, Figueres now works as the Vice-Chair of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, a coalition of cities and local governments that are combatting climate change through local action. Figueres is also the convener of Mission2020, an initiative to drastically reduce worldwide CO2 emissions, and long-term climate damage, by 2020.
Smart Cities New York (SCNY) is North America’s leading global conference exploring the emerging influence of cities in shaping the future. With the global smart city market expected to grow to $1.6 trillion within the next three years, Smart Cities New York is guided by the idea that smart cities are truly "Powered by People". The conference brings together thought leaders from public and private sectors, academia and NGOs to discuss investments in physical and digital infrastructure, health, education, sustainability, security, mobility, workforce development, and more, to ensure cities are central to advancing and improving urban life in the 21st century and beyond.
The New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman once asked, “Do you know what my favorite renewable fuel is? An ecosystem for innovation.” If you pose the same question to Pavegen founder and CEO Laurence Kemball-Cook, his answer would most likely be: foot traffic. That’s because Kemball-Cook, who is passionate about climate change, believes “technology alone won’t make cities perform more efficiently. It’s about changing behaviors.” To that end, he spent time developing renewable energy solutions in built-up urban environments and ultimately landed on the idea of capturing ambient energy from people and footfall. After testing a series of prototypes, Kemball-Cook jumped in feet first and launched Pavegen, a company that harvests energy and data from foot traffic. Building a complex technological product that operates reliably in all physical conditions isn’t easy, however. City streets are constantly undergoing challenges, from extreme temperature variations to a wide range of forces and impacts, Kemball-Cook explained. “Engineering this versatility into our system has been a big challenge, and it has been a highly iterative process to get to where our design is today,” he said.
How it worksAt its core, Pavegen technology is a multi-functional, custom flooring system that transforms foot traffic into off-grid electricity. As pedestrians walk across the system, the weight from their steps creates a vertical movement in the top surface between 5 and 10 millimeters. Electromagnetic generators below the surface compress, creating a rotary motion which produces 2 to 4 joules of energy per step, or roughly 5 watts of continuous power which can be stored in batteries or deployed locally to power applications such as lighting, sensors, and data transmission. Pavegen’s latest model, the V3, features a unique, triangular configuration that enables the tiles’ connected surface to move as a whole. As a result, Kemball-Cook says the formation enables a generator to be placed under each point of the tiles, which translates into greater energy converted per square foot than previous models—200 times more than initial prototypes, in fact. Further, the size of the triangles and the amount of resistance in the flywheels have been modeled using data on the length, speed, and force of human steps. “We use this information to maximize efficiency, and capture most of the available energy from footfall to produce a steady stream of off-grid energy and data.” Additionally, the Pavegen system is able to connect to a range of mobile devices and building management systems. “As well as energy, our systems also provide data on energy output and can connect to users’ smartphones via low-power Bluetooth beacons,” Kemball-Cook said. “We have an app where people can see how much electrical energy they are generating and convert this into rewards, which also generates valuable relationship data.” Ultimately, strengthening the relationship between people and the environment is what Pavegen is all about. “Our technology enables people to directly engage with clean energy, to increase their understanding of sustainability issues, and to generate useful off-grid energy,” he said. “Pavegen’s combination of physical interactivity and rich data is helping to bring smart cities to life. Forget the Internet of Things, we’re building the Internet of Beings.” [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sby4GR0sD8]
Taking environmental stresses into account when designing a building is typical, but rising tides, heat waves, extreme winds and other climate change-driven conditions present new challenges to building envelopes. Ahead of the upcoming Facades+ conference in New York City on April 19 and 20, AN sat down with Yan Chu of Adamson Associates Architects to discuss what can be done differently. Chu will be presenting as part of a 2:30 PM symposium panel on April 19 titled “Re-evaluating Metrics: Thermal Performance of Building Enclosures and Future Climate Change.” Chu will be joined by Nico Kienzl of Atelier Ten, Ken Kunkel of NC STATE, and Elizabeth Tomlinson of TKDA. Architect’s Newspaper: As climate change becomes more of a factor, how does facade performance need to change? Yan Chu: We design our facades and mechanical systems based on certain climatic data for that region. For New York City, it’s 11 degrees Fahrenheit, 17-mile-per-hour [winds], this is data all of us use every day and know by heart. These numbers have changed very slightly over time. I wonder if there’s a more fundamental rethinking of these basic design functions that we need to make to attack climate change from multiple fronts, beyond just increasing insulation value and decreasing air leakage rate. The data is all based on historical weather data. Every fourth-year cycle when this weather design data comes out, it’s based on the last 20 years, and that’s how [The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers] ASHRAE derives their design position that you and I and all of the engineers use. If we know that climate change is going to take us to a whole new level of weather conditions, why aren’t we using projected data? What are we actually using as our design basis? There is a whole sector of the design community trying to address resiliency and survivability. We need to find a way to fold that into the design process, and something we need to consider to holistically address climate change in terms of the building envelope. The idea of this panel is to talk about those issues. AN: Are there any big picture things that architects, engineers and designers can do? Chu: The passive house strategy is brilliant because it addresses the performance of the building together with the occupant’s comfort holistically. It really is a holistic way of thinking of design, and moving forward, it’s the kind of mentality we need to adopt. Whether we’re talking about glazed façades or more opaque facade elements, I think the challenge is to get owner incentives to adopt some of these holistic strategies into a larger scale. If we design a building today with the 2014 or 2016 energy code, I know for a fact it’s already not sufficient for when the next code comes. So I think the biggest challenge for us is, how do we incentivize buildings owners, occupants, and designers to address climate change without depending on the building code telling them to do so? The nice thing is that in Europe, the passive house movement is really being brought by the private sector. How can we bring that mentality to the U.S.? Especially for very large projects? AN: What will the impact of climate change be on envelopes? Chu: It depends on the climate and depends on what extreme events we’re being challenged with. On one hand, we have to re-evaluate the average condition; in some parts of the world, the temperature will increase, but in some locations, temperatures will actually decrease. The interesting thing is that certain wall systems have certain advantages in one climate region over another. That idea is limited because design is about flexibility, and you don’t want to prescribe a system that an architect has to design to. The idea of designing to what is the ‘norm’, and what extreme events are, that’s a huge question. Citing one example, flood resistance at storefronts at the ground level. That’s something new that all the architects in New York City are working on, not only specifying how this system works and what test criteria it conforms to, but also, how does it function in a normal day? We’re way in the beginning stage of understanding what that even is. It’s such a new thing that we know we’ll have to go on to full-on testing for this wall system to know what it can accommodate. Whether or not we end up with a standard IGU or something thicker is still something we’re working through. And how does that affect the interior conditions? It’s a big question mark, and it’s only one thing that we’re dealing with. Are we designing for a 50-year building, a 100-year building? The idea of durability has to come into play. That determines what extreme events we’re designing for, and results in a vastly different building. Facades+ in New York City will run from April 19 until April 20, 2018. Registration is still open and available at this link.
Coastal flooding, heatwaves, snow storms, droughts, wildfires and hurricanes; all of these natural disasters are being exacerbated by the effects of climate change, and architects and planners will need to learn to plan for the future. Through building structures and facets of the urban landscape that resist or incorporate flood waters, that manage stormwater runoff or create “wind corridors” to blow pollution out of city centers, designing for the impacts of climate change often means designing for health. With a wealth of sophisticated modeling tools and techniques at our disposal, it’s easier than ever to look towards the future and harden projects for what might be coming next. Below is a list of books that AN considers as helpful guides for thinking about and designing for climate change. Toward an Urban Ecology The Monacelli Press Kate Orff $34.00 Towards an Urban Ecology may feature a number of projects by New York’s SCAPE, but the overall message extends beyond a simple firm retrospective. Throughout the book, Kate Orff (now co-chair of the new climate resiliency center at Columbia’s GSAPP) dissects how designers can integrate environmental concerns with urban ones, and create a more resilient built environment. Landscape architecture can play an integral role in mitigating the effects of climate change, and often acts as the first line of defense in protecting buildings from disasters. Blue Dunes: Climate Change by Design Columbia Books on Architecture and the City Jesse Keenan & Claire Weisz $17.15 Hurricane Sandy in 2012 was a watershed moment in designing for climate resilience, as the reality of a “once-in-a-hundred-year” storm hit architects and planners along the eastern seaboard close to home. Blue Dunes follows a plan to place wave-blocking barrier islands off the Mid-Atlantic coast, and the research (and cost concerns) uncovered in the multidisciplinary quest serves as a valuable lesson for designers who want to pursue the same path. Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change Verso Ashley Dawson $21.41 The world’s cities will both be hit hardest by climate change and have the largest impact on it. How can cities cut their carbon emissions while simultaneously hardening their defenses and creating resilient systems? In Extreme Cities, Dawson argues that seawalls and hard infrastructure aren’t enough, and that the successful cities of the future will survive through fostering new social movements and ways of integrating climate change into design and planning. Adaptive Ecologies/ Correlated Systems of Living Architectural Association Publications Theodore Spyropoulos, John Frazer & Patrik Schumacher $49.11 Though it might seem better suited to our technology book roundup, Adaptive Ecologies confronts the twin challenges of harsher environments and tighter resource restrictions that buildings will face in the future. The abundance of modeling programs available to architects and planners, whether it be daylighting, planning for high-performance facades, or computational design, can be combined with active data intake from an array of sensors. As a result, new typologies, artificial ecologies and unimaginable city planning-schemes might one day reign supreme as we become more and more able to optimize building design. Climates: Architecture and the Planetary Imaginary The Avery Review: Columbia Books on Architecture and the City James Graham, Caitlin Blachfield, Alissa Anderson, Jordan Carver & Jacob Moore $36.99 A collection of essays and sample projects from Columbia University’s Avery Review, Climates examines the intersection of architecture and climate change. What precedents already exist in dealing with such an existential threat? How can architects and their work render climate change knowable while also combatting it? What kind of shifts would be required to bring awareness to the field about designing for resilience and sustainability? Far from providing concrete answers, Climates seeks more to stimulate discussion and speculation about a topic that can be hard to conceptualize. BIG, HOT TO COLD: An Odyssey of Architectural Adaptation TASCHEN Bjarke Ingels $45.30 Whatever one may think of the work being done by Bjarke Ingles Group (BIG), it would be hard to argue that the firm isn’t prolific. In Hot to Cold, architects can find 60 case studies for designing in extreme environments in conjunction with BIG’s projects all over the world, and innovative ways of dealing with extreme heat, cold, and everything in between are put on display. Designing for water is given significant weight in the book’s middle section, as BIG breaks down the master plan for their lower Manhattan-encompassing seawall system, the Dryline. How can the extreme environments of the present give designers an idea of what may be to come? New York 2140 Orbit Kim Stanley Robinson $13.65 2140 may be the only fiction book on the list, but even far-flung speculation has its uses in inspiring architects. While New York (or any city for that matter) might not be inundated with 50 feet of water anytime soon, Robinson’s work speaks to a future where adaptive reuse and clean energy are the norm, not the exception. Most importantly, 2140 presents a worst-case scenario ostensibly overcome by design, and serves as a reminder that no solution should be ruled out as too imaginative. Every book on this list was selected independently by AN‘s team of editors. If you buy something via the embedded links, AN will earn a commission.
Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (Columbia GSAPP) and the Rockefeller Foundation have teamed up to found the Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes at GSAPP. The newly created center will unite science and cultural considerations with design and planning, and Columbia has announced that landscape architect Kate Orff of SCAPE Landscape Architecture and urban designer Thaddeus Pawlowski will helm the project. Drawing from the university’s climate science and design expertise, the Center will collaborate with partners across Columbia to improve, accelerate and implement resilience projects for cities. This interdisciplinary model will involve partners from Columbia’s Earth Institute Climate Adaptation Initiative, and bring a holistic approach to resilience that will combine academic work with the Center’s existing external partners. “Design and planning methods are rapidly changing to face issues of climate dynamics and the need for resilient, flexible, and equitable urban landscapes,” said Columbia GSAPP Dean Amale Andraos in a press release. “Working jointly with natural and built systems is of critical importance – it offers a way forward for communities to adapt and prepare for the future.” The Center’s first project will be the launch of a Resilience Accelerator, funded by a $3.7 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, a joint effort between GSAPP and the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) nonprofit. The accelerator will take projects for its first cohort from 100RC partner cities starting this spring, and two finalists will work with the Center every academic semester. Over the next two years, eight cities in total will work with GSAPP students, groups from the private sector, and other resources across Columbia and 100RC to run workshops, seminars and design studios to bring their ideas to fruition. “What we are looking to do is to combine design thinking, the creative, iterative design process, together with the related disciplines, particularly law, policy, climate science and engineering,” Orff told AN. “We’ve only just begun, and the goal is to bring resilient thinking as a cross-cutting initiative across the university.” Orff, a 2017 MacArthur genius grant recipient, is no stranger to thinking about the future threatened by climate change. Orff and SCAPE regularly incorporate flooding or resiliency considerations into their designs, whether it’s with plans for a living breakwater, or at conferences meant to address the impact of a changing clime on the built environment.
Picture New York, 2040: Buses replace the subway at night, but when they’re open, subways are quieter, wheelchair-accessible, and clean. Everyone’s ditched tiny apartments for cozy mother-in-law units, built into single- family suburban homes. Working in the Bronx and living in Brooklyn isn’t a two-hour slog anymore, because there is rail service from Co-op City to Sunset Park. Craving fresh air? The national park in the New Jersey Meadowlands is a one-train ride from Queens, or there’s a long-haul hike from the Catskills to the Pinelands. This is a sliver of the tristate future envisioned by the Regional Plan Association (RPA), a nonpartisan, nonprofit Manhattan-based organization that periodically analyzes the region from exurbs to downtowns to generate recommendations for a thriving future. When all 782 towns and cities in the tri-state area do their own planning and zoning, true regional planning seems daunting. The almost 400-page doorstopper of a plan, the RPA’s fourth since 1922, contains recommendations on a range of issues, from closing health disparities to fairer school redistricting and property tax reform, to making it easier to reverse-commute or travel from suburb to suburb without a car. The New York-New Jersey–Connecticut area is home to 23 million people, and only a third of them live in New York City proper. With that distribution in mind, the RPA identified four top priorities that affect everyone’s life. The group believes that, for the next 25 years, a thriving region depends on fixing the MTA, constructing more affordable housing to prevent displacement, building equity in one of the most unequal regions in the area, and adapting to rising sea levels. “Our plans carry zero weight of law, but they are very influential,” RPA President Tom Wright told reporters at a November briefing. It’s not possible to analyze all of the plan’s 61 prescriptions here, but there are key takeaways for architects, planners, and policymakers who live and practice in the region. The idea that the subway needs a total overhaul is a no-brainer to anyone who has been late due to massive train delays. To improve the system, the group wants to reconsider around-the-clock subway service. Surface transit would replace trains between 12:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. on weeknights, as only 1.5 percent of daily riders use the service during these four and a half hours, almost 20 percent of the day. Ending 24/7 service, the RPA argues, would allow the beleaguered MTA to make needed repairs faster, now that there are more riders than ever. New Yorkers didn’t take kindly to the idea. Commuters took to Twitter to denounce “the worst idea ever,” and even Mayor Bill de Blasio weighed in, calling full service a “birthright.” If current trends continue, the city’s growth rate from 2015– 2040 will be half of its 1990–2015 rate, but NYC officials say the city doesn’t have enough infrastructure to support more than nine million residents, even though the RPA believes the region (including NYC) could accommodate four million more people and add two million jobs. The organization argues that more and better transit options— and more affordable housing— will prevent the region from turning into California’s Bay Area and make it easier to grow inclusively. Packed trains and sky-high rents reflect many people’s desire to live in the New York City area, but unchecked housing costs could put a damper on growth. Adding more units—two million more— would alleviate the real estate crunch over 25 years. To meet demand, the RPA estimates that changing zoning near train stations could allow 250,000 homes to be created just on surface parking near rail lines while maintaining the neighborhood balance of schools and social spaces. Reforming zoning restrictions could also encourage homeowners to create accessory dwellings units (mother-in-law apartments) within the existing building envelope, while NYC’s 12 FAR cap could be lifted to build up density. Value capture from real estate development, especially those that benefit from big-ticket projects, could fund affordable housing near transit. All housing construction will be in vain, however, if the region doesn’t step up to address the immediate and terrifying effects of climate change. The RPA wants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions via a California-style cap-and-trade plan, and convene a regional commission to help local governments adapt to extreme weather and rising seas. But, according to the RPA, the carbon pricing system we have isn’t comprehensive enough; the region should switch to California’s model, which does more to reduce emissions by covering those from buildings, transportation, power production, and industry. One million people from Connecticut to New Jersey live in areas likely to flood, and municipalities are gearing up to fight Hurricane Sandy-like storm surges. There is less emphasis, though, on the everyday flooding that’s likely to result from sea-level rise in the near future; the RPA says areas that can’t be protected should be gradually transitioned to higher ground. A tristate regional coastal commission would help communities plan for sea-level rise, and a small surcharge on property insurance would be used to fund resiliency measures like buyouts and coastal hardening. The retreat from vulnerable areas is painful for people who have built lives there, but there are opportunities in the changes. A national park in the marshy, industrial Meadowlands would provide recreation space and educate visitors on climate change mitigation. Denser Meadowlands towns like Secaucus, New Jersey, would be protected from sea-level rise, while the Teterboro Airport and surrounding communities would retreat, and nature would take over. To illustrate these recommendations more richly, the RPA applies its thinking to nine sites, imagining what they could be in 2040. In that year, Jamaica, Queens, has capitalized on its rich transit connections and proximity to JFK Airport to become a destination in its own right, while retaining its income and ethnic diversity. Further east, Long Island’s central Nassau County is a “model suburb” thanks to regionally integrated schools and a new North Shore–South Shore rail link that’s made it easier to access job centers in Hempstead and Garden City. “Nothing is off the table,” Wright said.
Recognizing how vulnerable southern Florida is in the face of climate change, the Van Alen Institute has launched Keeping Current: A Sea-Level Rise Challenge for Greater Miami. Targeting the Greater Miami Area, Keeping Current is a multi-disciplinary design challenge that is not only looking for answers about how to build a more resilient coastal city, but also offers sites ready to turn the winning plans into reality, with an $850,000 budget to implement them. Hurricane Irma’s near-miss this past summer only served to underscore just how vulnerable Miami really is, in a city already under threat from rising sea levels, where saltwater bubbles up through the porous limestone bedrock below. Recognizing the problem’s urgency, Van Alen has teamed up with the Greater Miami Area municipalities’ resilience, procurement, and budget teams to evaluate resilient infrastructure projects that both adapt to climate change as well as safeguard the investment that local municipalities will put into the project. The contest itself is spread out over three challenges across two sites, scheduled for the winter, spring and fall of 2018. Working with local elected officials, stakeholders, academics and business leaders, design teams will propose resilient solutions for a variety of sites facing different climate change-related problems. Winning entries will focus on addressing “economy, ecology and equity” or balancing budget concerns with community input, and will be given a total of $850,000 to realize their designs in real life. Ultimately, the goal is that the winning designs be scalable and replicable across all of Florida. Keeping Current is about more than safeguarding existing infrastructure. What Van Alen and the municipalities want from this contest is to turn Miami into a leader in urban coastal resilience, while encouraging growth in an area that would be devastated by only a three-foot rise in sea levels. With everything from drinking water, to agriculture, to billions of dollars’ worth of residential and commercial buildings at risk, interdisciplanary solutions are needed now more than ever. Keeping Current is sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, The Miami Foundation, and Target. The full design and community engagement guides will be made available by the Van Alen Institute in February of 2018.