Posts tagged with "The Economy":

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.

New York Presses Its Green Collars

If there is one thing the recession has taught New York, it's not to put all the eggs in one basket. While Wall Street may not have collapsed as much as everyone feared—just look at those Goldman Sachs bonuses—the Bloomberg administration has been determined to diversify and strengthen the city's economy in industries beyond FIRE. Programs in media and fashion have been unveiled recently, and yesterday, green collar jobs took center stage as the mayor announced 30 initiatives to create a foundation for sustainability jobs in the city. The mayor has already taken steps in this direction with the well-known PlaNYC and the April announcement aimed at greening the building code. Now the city's Economic Development Corporation will offer a range of incentives [full list, PDF], from tax credits to training programs to green business incubators, many of them targeted at the city's building stock. There are tax abatements for green tech, "Solar Zones" where permitting will be easier, a wind turbine demo program, and educational opportunities for designers, contractors, amd building operators to create, install, and run such installations. The most visible of these 30 initiatives is a massive solar array that the EDC will build atop the Brooklyn Army Terminal, a 4 million square foot industrial building on the Sunset Park waterfront. When completed, the 500 kilowatt will generate 750,000 kilowatts per year, according to the EDC, enough to power 150 homes and save the city $120,000 on energy costs in its Sunset Park buildings. But the real hope is that it will prove the viability of PVCs to the private sector so they will begin to proliferate across the city. An RFP for the project is expected in December.

Stalling Out

Last week, the Times reported on efforts by the city to address the wave of stalled projects plaguing the city. It was a surprising story, but not because of the news of the program--mind you, we were well ahead of the Gray Lady on that. No, what took us aback was the huge jump in the number of stalled buildings the Department of Buildings had recorded between the time our story ran on June 11 and theirs on June 19, with the total number of stalled buildings more than doubling from 138 to 362. We immediately called the DOB to find out more but, well, this being summer, we just heard back today. Turns out the five-man team that makes up the stalled building task force has been hard at work, with the current count for stalled buildings standing at 395. We learned this from the new weekly updates the department is now posting on its website--complete with such useful information as borough, address, and bin number--that DOB spokesman Tony Sclafani helpfully pointed us to this afternoon. So how fast does the task force work? How many buildings can they process in a given week or day? Sclafani couldn't say, except to note that the program had its soft-launch in February, when five existing inspectors were reassigned, with their colleagues helping to call in prospective buildings and answering public complaints. There has been no additional money allocated for the task force at this time, either. Judging by the data on the DOB website, the task force really got to work at the end of March, when a few buildings were filed on the 31st, followed by dozens on April 2nd in Brooklyn and Manhattan. (Those could also simply be the days preceding fieldwork was filed in the computer, as there were similar explosions in the database in early and mid-June in Brooklyn and Queens, respectively--ground zero for most of the stalled, and foreclosed, projects in the city--and another burst of activity in Queens on July 14. There were also smaller numbers of filings scattered throughout the past four months.) Whether this is just the beginning or the end of the task force's work also remains to be seen, or, as we put it to Scalfani, Are we looking at 400 to 500 projects or 4,000 to 5,000? "In terms of identifying where the trend is, I couldn't say," he replied. "Obviously the numbers have gone up, but it's a little too early to say." Furthermore, they're in flux. Prior to this week's database entry, dated July 26, there's one before it, from July 21. In it, 398 buildings were listed as stalled, meaning three came off the list between last week and this week. Whether that's a trend or a fluke remains to be seen, but be sure to check back next week, when we'll take a look and see where this is headed.

GSA Now Hiring

With the prospects for architectural work tilting downward once again, we can imagine you might be uncertain about the future. Not to worry, though, as a friend sends along the message that the GSA is hiring in its New York office, among many others. And best of all, things are looking up at the agency, as you could go to work, at least in some capacity, for the new director of the Design Excellence program, which is getting a much-needed shot in the arm. Best of luck.

Suburban Dreams

In the wake of the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, global warming, rising energy costs, and constant gridlock, you'd think the model of Suburbia isn't faring to well. Well, you're not alone.   Dwell and Inhabitat are sponsoring a competition called Reburbia, dedicated to re-envisioning the suburbs. They're asking entrants to design "future-proof" spaces, from small scale retrofits to large-scale restorations, to replace current types and systems like McMansions, cul-de sacs, big box stores, strip malls and car-centric communities. Ideas, they suggest, could come in the form of bicycle transportation hubs, energy generating freeway paving systems, and new housing prototypes (including a "McMansion farm rehab", whatever that is). Enter here. And hurry, because entries are due on August 1! Winners will be announced on August 19 (Grand prize: $1,000).

Everybody Wants a Bailout

With the news today, reported by The Observer, that Larry Silverstein has begun legal proceedings against the Port Authority to end the gridlock at Ground Zero, as well as the developments two weeks prior at Atlantic Yards, it seems obvious to us what's going on here. Having witnessed the financial titans across town receive hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout money, these developers now want theirs. Granted, so did Larry Flint and the porn industry, but the comparison bears consideration. To begin with, the market has failed for both finance and real estate--to say nothing of every other industry--leaving "free market" options closed. Where the bankers have turned to the Treasury and the federal government, Silverstein and Bruce Ratner, in one form or another, have turned to local pols. At Ground Zero, Silverstein is having difficulty finding financing for Towers 2 and 3, so he wants the Port Authority to provide it, or at least back it, on those projects. The story at Atlantic Yards has been much the same, with Ratner unable to afford the full amount for the Vanderbilt Yards nor go through a complete public review process for a new general project plan to ensure there is time to qualify for already dubious tax-exempt bonds. In both cases, public agencies that are already hard up for cash have been asked to foot the bill or undersign considerable amounts of risk to ensure projects with uncertain futures go forward. In the case of Atlantic Yards, the MTA and ESDC have already rolled over. It remains to be seen whether the Port Authority will cave to the abiding political and now legal pressures surrounding the Ground Zero deal. It would not be surprising if the authority did, though, given the examples set in Brooklyn and Washington.

Shovels in the Ground

Yesterday, President Obama made a visit to the Department of Transportation to applaud them and the rest of the nation for their work spending those stimulus dollars, marking the occasion of the 2,000th infrastructure project to be approved for Federal stimulus money. In his speech, the president joked that something unusual had happened at DOT and throughout the land: "We can utter a sentence rarely heard in recent years: This government effort is coming in ahead of schedule and under budget."
Now, some may have thought it would take months to get to this point. But in part because of the hard work and commitment of the people in this department, we approved these 2,000 projects in just 41 days.
However, what is most impressive--or depressing, depending on your perspective--is just how little contractors are willing to charge for such work:
And that's why I'm pleased to hear that in state after state across America, competition for these projects is so fierce, and contractors are doing such a good job cutting costs, that projects are consistently coming in under budget. The final bid for one road project in Connecticut was $8.4 million less than the state budgeted for. Another one in Louisiana was $4.7 million less. A project at BWI Airport will be completed for $8 million less than expected. Bids for projects in North Carolina have been 19 percent under budget. Colorado is reporting bids up to 30 percent less than they expected. And the officials in California have seen bids that are close to half as much as they had projected. And because these projects are proceeding so efficiently, we now have more recovery dollars to go around. And that means we can fund more projects, revitalize more of our infrastructure, put more people back to work, and ensure that taxpayers get more value for their dollars. [Emphasis added]
The big question to our minds, though, was where, how, and, most importantly, for what will that surplus stimulus be allocated? For example, does California, through its thrifty bidding processes, get to build twice as much as expected? Or does that money go back to the Feds to be reallocated? Neither Governor Schwarzenegger's office nor the Times knew the answer to this question, and the Obama press office did not return calls seeking comment. Still, more money and more work is always a good thing. Now we can only hope its the kind of aspirational work planners and architects have been clamoring for and not just more repairs and repaving. Not that that's a bad thing. The renderings just aren't as sexy.

Stimulus, Coming to a Street Near You

First Recovery.gov, now the NYC Stimulus Tracker. Yesterday, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled the $1.1 billion in new infrastructure spending resulting from the city's cut of the federal stimulus bill, he also announced the creation of a special website to lend transparency to the process, not unlike the model set out by our dear mayor. (Judging by WNYC and ProPublica's Shovelwatch map, though, everyone's getting in on the act, with all but five states and numerous municipalities launching such sites.) There are six projects receiving direct stimulus funding, including $47 million for the repair of the Brooklyn Bridge, $175 million for rehabilition of the St. George Ferry ramps in Staten Island, and the $9.7 million repairs of a dozen roads throughout the five boroughs. The mayor also announced 25 projects that will receive funds allocated at the state level, also known as displaced funds. Below is a list, but for more on both, see the mayor's release. As a whole, he said the projects will create or preserve 32,000 jobs. But to be sure, check the Stimulus Tracker. Individual projects by borough, with amount of stimulus money recieved and expected completion:
    BRONX
  • Improvements to Hunts Point, $22 million, Fall 2012
  • Reconstruction of Paulding Avenue (Bronxwood), $21 million, Fall 2014
  • Reconstruction of the Claremont Parkway Bridge (Bathgate), $7.0 million, Summer 2012
  • Reconstruction of the Decatur Ave Retaining Wall (Bedford Park), $7 million, Fall 2011
  • Improvements to Hugh Grant Circle (Parkchester), $3.5 million, Summer 2011
    BROOKLYN
  • Improvements to Brooklyn Navy Yard, $4.7 million, Summer 2011
  • Streetscape Improvements to Flatbush Avenue (Flatbush), $3.5 million, June 2011
  • Reconstruction of Nassau Avenue and Monitor Street (Greenpoint), $12.9 million, Fall 2011
  • Reconstruction of Coney Island Boardwalk, $15 million, Spring 2011
  • Reconstruction of Shore (Belt) Parkway East 8th Street Access Ramp (Bath Beach), $14 million, Spring 2011
  • Reconstruction of Eastern Parkway (Prospect Heights), $6 million, Spring 2012
  • Improvements to Bedford Stuyvesant Gateway Business District, $7.1 million, Winter 2011
  • Replacement of Protective Coating on Steel Structure of Six Belt/Shore Parkway Bridges, $6.8 million, Fall 2011
    MANHATTAN
  • Reconstruction of West 125th Street, $1.9 million, Fall 2014
  • Reconstruction of East Houston Street, $23.5 million, Fall 2011
    QUEENS
  • Improvements to Long Island City Queens Plaza – Phase I, $22 million, Spring 2011
  • Improvements to Long Island City Queens Plaza – Phase II, $15 million, Spring 2011
  • Reconstruction of Rockaway Boardwalk, $15 million, Spring 2011
  • Reconstruction of College Point / 32nd Avenue, $12 million, Fall 2011
  • Replacement of Hillside Avenue Sidewalk (Jamaica), $10 million, Fall 2010
  • Extension of 132nd Street / Linden Place Extension, $7 million, Winter 2014
    STATEN ISLAND
  • Rehabilitation of 11 Staten Island Railway Bridges, $8.2 million, Summer 2010
  • Completion of the St. George Ferry Terminal Retail Area, $6 million, Fall 2009

Detroit Pick Me Up

The collapse of Detroit has been a subject of fascination for artists, architects, and urbanists. In the current economic environment, the symbolism of the city's decline threatens to overshadow the human and physical realities of the place. And while few would argue that the city will ever return to its height, it is nice to be able to show a project that disrupts the city-in-free-fall narrative, such as the new Mercury Coffee Bar, designed by Andrew Zago. No architect has been more closely associated with working on and thinking about contemporary Detroit's plight than Zago. In his latest project, he's created a bright, cheerful refuge in the city's desolate landscape. Zago characterizes Mercury Coffee as a "third wave" coffee shop, with diners representing "first wave" and Starbucks as "second wave." Mercury specializes in fine, gourmet coffee, with each cup treated with the care of a glass of fine wine (think Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago). The shop was opened by Todd Wickstrom, a veteran of the Slow Food Movement. "Knowing that the second wave typically used the coffee-shop-as-living-room model for its design (vestiges of which still inform Starbucks) we sought a different atmosphere. It would be difficult to give a single phrase explaining our model, but I suppose a coffee shop as showroom is the closest. Our approach resulted in a sharp contrast to the exterior and certainly the surrounding area, but the intention was more to avoid reflecting on Detroit's troubled physical state," Zago wrote in an email. The vivid interior eschews the coziness of favored by Starbucks in favor of something much more contemporary, and unique in Detroit. "The colors, taken from CMYK printing, make entering the space a palpably different experience from the rest of the city," he wrote. Zago doesn't think the bar will cause anyone to forget Detroit's condition--it's hard to ignore the scenes out the window, after all--but he hopes to offer something other than nostalgia and the romance of ruins. According to Wickstrom and Zago, the place has proven wildly popular. A wine bar is planned in the lower level. Detroit residents, like the rest of us, could use some cheer and a good cup of coffee.

Real Estate Without Us (+Rendering)

There have been countless symbols for the end of the real estate boom, both literal--the collapse of Countrywide, the Fannie & Freddie takeover, the unfinished tract homes and decaying "For Sale" signs--and figurative--the Eastside crane accidents, the TVCC Fire. But we think this back-to-nature scene spotted over the weekend in Williamsburg takes the, uh, mortgage. Perhaps the only thing more amazing than a Red-Tailed Hawk alighting upon an I-Beam of a half-finished condo a few blocks from the Graham Avenue L-stop is the scene it induced: two Italian women straight out of Scorsese and two bike-hipsters straight out of Quicksilver, all gawking at the same raptor. It even stopped traffic on Manhattan Avenue. The perfect tableau of a neighborhood that never was and never will be again. The project is 123 Skillman Avenue, designed by Robert Scarano Architects. It had lain dormant for years--becoming affectionately known as Skillman Ave. Pool of Death--but city records show the site very much back in action after a million dollar sale in August. Combined with the fact that red-tailed hawks are a rather common sight in the city, what seemed like a Weismanian dream on a brisk, sunny Sunday turns out to be just another Brooklyn condo project plugging along come windy, fluorescent Monday. Still, it was pretty badass when he swooped down into the pit and nabbed a rodent snack. UPDATE: Robert Scarano kindly sent along the following rendering of the building planned for the site. He also joked that the hawk was his and meant to keep meddlesome bloggers away.

The Stimulus, Uploaded for Your Pleasure

There has been a great deal of criticism that the Obama administration has failed to uphold a number of its campaign promises, such as shirking lobbyists and business-as-usual, and reaching across the aisle to craft bipartisan public policy. One thing that has not changed, however, is the commitment to open and transparent governance, particularly through the use of the World Wide Web. And so, today, Recovery.gov was launched, the better to help America keep tabs on the stimulus bill. The site is chock-full of useful information, like where the money is meant to go and when, as well as ways for users to track its use and help play watchdog in the process. As the president puts it in the above video, "When money is spent to build new schools and create new jobs, you'll be able to see how, when, and where it was spent." And for the real wonks among you, there's links to source documents, like the bill itself. There's even a nifty map with state-by-state breakdowns of estimated job creation. So how does it all work? As far as we can tell, the venture--granted like most of Obama's--looks promising. The experts over at Pro Publica, a non-profit investigative journalism site, give Recovery.gov a generally favorable review, though they also note that a handful of news outlets--theirs included--have provided more thorough breakdowns of the numbers. They also point out that this is familiar territory for the president:
So what will Recovery 2.0 look like? One guide is USASpending.gov, a 2-year-old government Web site that compiles data on all federal contracts. The site was created by a bill President Obama sponsored (with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.) when he was in the Senate.
We'll let you know what we find. And vice versa.

On the Right Track?

Yesterday afternoon in Denver, Colorado, President Obama signed the stimulus bill into law. The process of doling out the spoils begins, as we wait, and hope, for the desired economic recovery. One piece of good news for urbanites and green transportation advocates, the bill includes $8 billion for high-speed rail, according to Politico. Additional funding is expected at $1 billion annually for the next five years, through the normal budgetary stream. This represents a major increase in high speed rail funding. Last year, President Bush authorized $1.5 billion in high speed rail funding through 2013. Reportedly, Transportation Secretary Lahood has 60 days to plan how and where the funds will be spent. The rail funding is a special priority for President Obama, according to Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. “I put it in there for the president,” Emanuel told Politico. “The president wanted to have a signature issue in the bill, his commitment for the future.” The rail-heavy Northeast and the planned California high-speed corridor seem like obvious recipients. Doubtless some in Chicago, and the down state Illinois district Lahood previously represented, will push for a Midwest hub and spoke-shaped system centered in Chicago. While architects do not typically design rail corridors, they do design stations, like this Calatrava-designed TGV station in Lyon, and transit oriented developments. Wouldn't it be nice to buy your Acela tickets in surroundings like this? UPDATE: The Huffington Post has a link to a 2002 Federal Railroad Administration map showing possible high-speed corridors. Which lines will make the cut?