The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is partnering with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to expand the city’s already extensive Green Infrastructure Program. The City is working under a Clean Water Act consent order to manage the first inch of rainwater on 10 percent of the city’s impervious surfaces by 2030. In order to meet those goals, the DEP is realizing the importance of broadening their scope and finding opportunities on both private and public land. Stormwater management is key to maintaining the health of New York’s waterways, as heavy rains can overburden city sewers and lead to overflows that pollute the city’s canals and rivers. Eliminating overflows is a key step in maintaining the stipulations of the Clean Water Act, which was introduced in 1972 to curb pollution. The program has already been responsible for the installation of more than 1,000 curbside rain gardens (also known as bioswales) throughout Brooklyn and Queens, which have helped to reduce sewage overflows into Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal.On public property the benefits of green infrastructure is obvious. In addition to reducing flooding and sewer overflows, the installation of rain gardens and green roofs improves air quality for residents and beautifies streetscapes. Now, they’re setting their sights on private property in order to manage rainfall that lands places other than city streets. The DEP is collaborating with the NRDC to find the right incentives that will convince private property owners to install green roofs or porous pavements, which means establishing an economic benefit to managing stormwater.“We know [the DEP] can source green infrastructure on private property, and that many of those opportunities are lower-cost than comparable stormwater capture on public land,” says Valderrama. “The puzzle for us is how to structure the program so that it’s a win for private property owners and vendors so that those low-cost retrofit opportunities are brought to the table.” This will be especially important on areas being used for commercial and industrial purposes. “It all comes down to the program structure,” said Alisa Valderrama, senior policy analyst at the NRDC. “What we’re trying to do here is create a market where there is none.” The NRDC has also worked with the cities of Seattle and Philadelphia on green infrastructure programs for managing stormwater. In the case of Philadelphia, the city builds the cost of treating stormwater into residents’ water bill based on the amount of impervious surfaces on the property. In this way, porous pavements and rain gardens provide an immediate economic benefit in the form of a greatly reduced fee. Collected stormwater can be used for green facades and urban farming, providing an additional benefit to reducing stress on water treatment systems. As technology improves and cities like New York establish a market for green infrastructure on private property, initiatives like this will likely continue to evolve and grow with benefit to both residents and the environment.
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A three-year battle to protect the pristine Palisades cliffs from the development of a towering headquarters for LG Electronics USA in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, has at last been resolved, in favor of conservation groups. LG has agreed to revise its initial HOK-designed proposal and reduce the building's height by a little more than half, from 143 feet to 69 feet, thus preserving the unspoiled vistas of the historic park from both sides of the Hudson River. Maybe it was LG chairman Bon-Moo Koo's passion for bird-watching and bird safety that helped sway the South Korean company to rethink its plan, as reported by the New York Times, or perhaps it was the immense support from environmental groups, four former governors, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and four former US ambassadors to South Korea that finally clinched the deal? Either way, it's a watershed moment for the coalition partners—including Scenic Hudson, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, and the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference—who feared that if this building were erected, it would be the first of many to soar above the tree-line north of the George Washington Bridge. The New York Times pointed out that the redesigned headquarters would still be twice the height of its neighboring buildings. Even so, former critics are pleased with LG's new plans, which will likely bring the top floor or roof flush with the treetops. HOK has reworked the design, expanding the length of the building to include a 5-story north wing and a 3-story south wing. The firm is seeking LEED Platinum certification for the complex, and has also pledged to employ special lighting to safeguard migratory birds and other design features to "reduce the visual impact while retaining the scale of the complex as home for LG’s growing US business," said HOK in a statement. “The new design integrates LG’s aspirations to build a world-class, sustainable headquarters in a park-like setting below the tree line of the historic Palisades,” said Ken Drucker, design principal at HOK’s New York office. “The viewshed from the Hudson River and New York will not be impacted and the surrounding area of the 27-acre site will be reforested.” While this first battle has been won, the NRDC will now focus its efforts now on state legislation "to limit development in towns along the New Jersey portion of the Hudson River Palisades to low-rise buildings," explained Mark Izeman, director and senior attorney at NRDC, in a post on the organization's website. "If enacted, this bill would put in more permanent protection for the Palisades and help prevent the type of local zoning battle that took place in Englewood Cliff," said Izeman.
With a “living” skin of bimetallic strips, four HOK architects have won a Chicago Living Building Challenge competition to design an addition for a school on Chicago’s Southwest Side. The 2014 School Annex Design Competition, organized by the Living Building Challenge Collaborative: Chicago (LBCCC), asked entrants to design a new building for overcrowded Eli Whitney Elementary School while meeting the strict environmental standards of the Living Building Challenge, which include omitting a long list of banned building materials. HOK team members Lindy McAra, Justin Warner, Meredith McBride, Olia Miho and Farid Pour fashioned an addition for the school in Little Village (South Lawndale), a predominantly Latino neighborhood on Chicago’s Southwest Side. Architects +Space are working on a master plan for public magnet school under the Green Schoolyards for Healthy Students program. From the winning team’s press release:
An active, “living” exterior skin acts as a shading device and learning tool by changing shape based on the outside temperature. This strategy draws on the principle of bimetallic strips. When the exterior temperature rises, the panels of aluminum and oxidized copper close, thus acting as a shading device. Once the temperature cools, the panels open, which increases the quantity of light coming into the building.Recently the Midwest Offices of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) became the first project in Chicago to attain Living Building Challenge Petal Certification. See all 14 entries on Living Building Challenge Collaborative: Chicago's website.
A team of mayors and nonprofit foundations said Wednesday that they’ll spend enough retrofitting major U.S. cities to save more than $1 billion per year in energy costs. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s philanthropy, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and the Kresge Foundation pledged $3 million each year for three years to provide technical advisers for 10 cities across the country: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Orlando, Philadelphia and Salt Lake City. The City Energy Project, as it’s called, is intended to cut 5 to 7 million tons of carbon emissions annually, or roughly the amount of electricity used by 700,000 to 1 million U.S. homes each year. The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Institute for Market Transformation will help the cities draft plans to reduce waste and improve energy efficiency—a process the group said should not take more than one year. Chicago’s participation could lower energy bills by as much as $134 million annually and could cut about 1.3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, according to the mayor’s office. In a prepared statement, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the investment would create jobs: “More energy efficiency means new jobs and continued economic growth, and a more sustainable City,” Emanuel said, “which will lead to a further increase in the quality of life for the people of Chicago.” Last year Illinois tightened its building code and Chicago ordered large buildings to disclose their energy use. In Chicago, like many of the nation’s older cities, large buildings eat up much of the city’s energy—together the buildings sector accounts for 40 percent of primary energy consumption in the U.S. While energy efficiency has long been recognized for its financial opportunity, major banks have only recently begun to invest. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he hopes City Energy Project will connect building owners and private financiers, bringing more money to large-scale efficiency initiatives.
Studio Gang has long partnered with nonprofits and community groups to realize their unconventional designs. For her recent Harvard GSD studio, principal Jeanne Gang partnered with one of the nation’s largest environmental groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), to tackle an issue with repercussions across the northern Midwest: separating the South Branch of Chicago River to prevent invasive Asian carp from decimating the Great Lakes. “NRDC told us they were tired of just being against things,” Gang said, in a recent talk at Cooper Union in New York. “They want to be for things.” Gang and her GSD studio investigated the possibilities of returning the river to its natural course, the findings of which have been compiled into a book called Reverse Effect: Renewing Chicago’s Waterways (available from Amazon's and Studio Gang's website beginning November 7). With images as compelling as the one above, it’s easy to see why NRDC thinks partnering with designers is a smart advocacy strategy. For Gang and her students, a region-wide threat called for neighborhood-scale intervention. Such strategic thinking makes architects central players in addressing urgent societal and ecological problems. It never hurts to be essential. A reception for the book will take place tomorrow night at Architectural Artifacts, 4325 North Ravenswood Avenue, Chicago.