Building codes and pollution control

For all of your NYC plumbing needs, contact Franco Belli Plumbing & Heating & Sons – the best Brooklyn plumber there is. Call us at (917) 410-4233 or contact us using the form to the right

Raising energy efficiency is the easiest way for the country to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and improve its air quality

The whole world is looking for ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserve energy. The most powerful strategy is to find solutions that handle both problems at once. For example, if new buildings are built with modern, energy-efficient technologies, they will drastically cut energy waste, and thus carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas. At the same time, they will cut their demand for electricity, cooling, and heat, which will minimize the use of power plants and heating boilers.

I mention buildings because world-class building codes, properly enforced over time, can cut their energy consumption by up to 80 percent. We know this because California has now achieved it in new buildings compared to those constructed before the present code was introduced. New York City’s mayor has calculated that three-fourths of his city’s energy is consumed in buildings, so he is launching a new initiative to make them more efficient. China, too, can ensure its new buildings are efficient and built to last.

Energy efficiency has much more potential than most people realize. The pattern holds in industry, transportation, and other areas. Slash energy waste and you reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution.

What are the implications for China? It means that, in drafting the next five-year plan, there are terrific opportunities to win both the air quality and pollution battles, and help combat climate change. International experience suggests that carefully designed standards and pollution control strategies, if properly enforced, can make an enormous difference to air pollution and help with climate change.

China has some excellent experience on this front. China’s energy efficiency standards for refrigerators, for example, will save around a billion tons of carbon pollution, even as they cut air pollution – sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides – by millions of tons each. Fuel use in cars can be cut by 40 percent because of fuel efficiency standards.


Wary Optimism Greets De Blasio’s Brooklyn Redevelopment Plans

For all of your NYC plumbing needs, contact Franco Belli Plumbing & Heating & Sons – the best Brooklyn plumber there is. Call us at (917) 410-4233 or contact us using the form to the right

When the subject of Brooklyn’s hottest neighborhoods comes up, Broadway Junction seldom enters the conversation. Named for the tangle of J and L train tracks that pass overhead, Broadway Junction is less a neighborhood than the absence of one: a smattering of warehouses and auto repair shops, some NYPD parking lots, and little else, all crammed into the no man’s land at the intersection of Bushwick, Ocean Hill, Crown Heights, Brownsville, and East New York. Walk more than a block in any direction from the disgorged subway passengers waiting to transfer to the B83 bus to Spring Creek Towers, and foot traffic is all but nonexistent.

This unlikely location, however, is firmly in the crosshairs of the Department of City Planning to become the hub of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s vision for remaking New York City. As laid out in a 150-page report issued by the Department of City Planning in June, the junction could ultimately become the site of a college campus, or possibly a mall. Immediately to the east, meanwhile, the three main East New York shopping streets of Fulton, Atlantic, and Pitkin Avenues would be transformed by new, higher zoning allowances that would allow for more residential buildings; city renderings of Atlantic Avenue show the wide avenue, currently home mostly to auto supply stores, sprouting 12-story apartment towers reminiscent of Park Slope’s recently rezoned 4th Avenue.

The city’s nascent plan for Broadway Junction and East New York is one of two rezoning proposals — the other would target the commercial strip along Broadway in Bushwick — that could determine what the next stage in Brooklyn’s transformation looks like. As part of his announced plan to build or maintain 200,000 units of affordable housing, the mayor has said he wants to encourage new construction wherever possible, while using the carrot of building higher than zoning normally allows — so-called “inclusionary zoning” — to incentivize developers to add more affordable units.

It’s a move that’s faced resistance, with lingering distrust for city agencies like DCP that, under Mayor Bloomberg, seemed more interested in greasing the skids for developers than in how redevelopment affects current residents. (New city planning chief Carl Weisbrod’s pedigree as the architect of the redeveloped Times Square and deputy mayor Alicia Glen’s history as a Goldman Sachs housing investor haven’t helped.) De Blasio has so far steered a middle ground, resisting calls to increase the percentage of affordable units per building, while indicating that he’ll redirect city money away from tax breaks and toward other affordable projects.

“The city has said a lot of the right things: ‘We’re not the Bloomberg organization, this is going to be done with the people in the neighborhood, with the local organizations,'” says Michelle Neugebauer, director of the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, which has taken the lead in both planning for the future redevelopment of East New York and warning of its potential pitfalls. “This is where we’re going to see if it’s for real.”

A template in East New York

East New York, first settled in the mid-19th century, sunk into poverty and disrepair following an early subprime mortgage scandal in the late 1960s. Today, though still beset by high crime rates, it’s home to a diverse group of residents. To the north, up against the glacial bluffs of Highland Park, is the sub-neighborhood of Cypress Hills, mostly tidy two-family homes occupied by Dominicans and more recent arrivals from Honduras, Mexico and other Latin American nations. South of Atlantic Avenue, East New York proper is more of a home to African- and Caribbean-Americans, and more downscale: On Pitkin Avenue, where the A train runs, only a handful of small stores enliven a streetscape of largely dilapidated buildings.

It’s this combination of low (or at least low-income) usage and high transit access that has gotten the attention of city officials eager to find places to squeeze in more affordable housing development. In July, Weisbrod singled out his agency’s East New York plan — initially funded under Bloomberg via the federal Sustainable Communities initiative — as “a template” for achieving the mayor’s housing goals; the Urban Land Institute (which counts Weisbrod and Glen as members) followed up with a study that lauded the “untapped potential” of the neighborhoods adjacent to Broadway Junction, and suggesting it be targeted for rezoning and redevelopment.

In fact, says Neugebauer, her organization had already begun surveying local residents back in 2011 under a grant from New York state’s Brownfield Opportunity Areas program, well before the DCP launched its own “visioning” process. By asking people who live or work in East New York and Cypress Hills about their priorities in such varied areas as manufacturing, food and urban agriculture, and public health, she says, the Cypress Hills LDC was able to draw a picture of what residents themselves would like to see from any city-led overhaul.

“The biggest needs in the neighborhood are affordable housing and a safe place for young people and their families to go for education, recreation, entertainment, and green and open space,” Neugebauer says.

It’s something that the de Blasio administration is prepared to address, according to Winston Von Engel, the city planning department’s newly appointed Brooklyn director. “This administration recognizes that zoning doesn’t build new schools or build new parks or improve the streetscape,” he says. “The idea is by the time the zoning proposal comes into the official public review process, we’ll have a comprehensive plan to address the needs of both existing and future residents.”

As for the community’s housing needs, says Neugebauer, rents are already on the rise, if still low by Brooklyn standards, with many families resorting to doubling up. “People are open to increased density — as long as the housing that is built is affordable to them.”

That’s the catch. When talk turns to rezoning in Brooklyn, the image is invariably of the city’s 2005 plan for the Williamsburg waterfront, where developers received both tax breaks and inclusionary zoning bonuses for designating 20 percent of the new apartments as subsidized units. The result was relatively few affordable apartments, and acceleration of a once-diverse community’s conversion into a monoculture of wealth. Already, there are reports that speculators have responded to the city’s interest in East New York by grabbing up property at inflated prices, raising fears that the mere mention of rezoning could precipitate a land rush.

Today’s East New York, admittedly, is a far cry from the Williamsburg of a decade ago. “But the fear is there,” says Neugebauer, noting that rapidly gentrifying Bushwick lies just to the northwest, across the fire break of Broadway Junction. “Everybody is really, really concerned about gentrification.”

Those concerns were on full display at a DCP “visioning session” on September 20, where city officials had to repeatedly reassure local residents that they would have a say in the future shape of their neighborhood. As residents perused city renderings of their familiar streets lined with new buildings and pedestrian-friendly sidewalk “neckdowns,” several wondered aloud: It all looks nice, but who does the city intend to have living there? There were calls for the city to require any private development to provide far more than the typical 80/20 split of market vs. subsidized apartments — an innovation that the citywide Real Affordability for All Campaign wants imposed on all subsidized developments — and for more units to be set aside for current neighborhood residents.

“I’m against the high-rises, because once you start building, you’re taking away from the integrity of the neighborhood,” said Joyce Scott-Brayboy, a member of Community Board 5, after peppering DCP officials with tough questions about who would have access to any affordable housing. Already, she said, it’s difficult for young people with entry-level jobs to remain in the neighborhood. “The likelihood of them finding a job and being able to live in this community — it’s not going to happen.”

Build, baby. Build?

Fears of new development are even more heated in Bushwick, the other neighborhood that could soon be targeted for a separate city upzoning push. On the Broadway commercial strip, the remaining empty storefronts left over from the 1977 blackout looting and fires have been mostly filled in by new businesses over the past few years: Town of Bargains furniture (“financing and layaway available”) now coexists with the Living Gallery art space and Manhattan’s relocated East Village Shoe Repair, and most of the remaining vacant lots are already sprouting construction cranes.

If Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has his way, Broadway will soon be transformed again, with mid-rise apartment buildings rising high above the J train. Adams has been a staunch advocate of new housing construction — standing by the mayor at his May 1 announcement of the housing plan, he exclaimed, “Build, baby, build,” and declared that “the jackhammer should be heard throughout this entire city.” And in particular, Adams wanted those jackhammers along Broadway, accompanied by a city rezoning to ensure that any new housing includes an affordable component.

Adams calls the Broadway corridor “an excellent location” for upzoning, thanks to its proximity to transit, with the J and M lines running down its length and Broadway Junction at its eastern end. “We don’t want to see what has taken place downtown, where people are trying to do thousand-foot towers,” he says, but estimates that Broadway could handle construction up to ten stories. Adams says he endorses a 50/30/20 model — where 20 percent of units are designated “low-income” and 30 percent “moderate-income” — so that “we can have the teacher, the accountant, the middle-income Brooklynites able to say in the community.”

Adams insists that this plan shouldn’t be seen as akin to Bloomberg-era rezonings. “The last 12 years it was about just building, not about protection of tenants,” says Adams. With the new administration, he says, “The beauty of this is everyone is on the same page, talking about keeping these communities affordable.”

Though perhaps not entirely on the same page. “I don’t think the community has ever seen it as a ‘Build, baby, build’ mantra,” says Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, who last winter took over the council seat of his old boss, Diana Reyna. (Reyna, ironically, is now deputy borough president under Adams.) “You can build, but you’ve got to respect the history.”

Bushwick has already been the site of one recent bitter dispute over rezoning: When developers Read Property proposed last year to convert the vacant Rheingold brewery site at the neighborhood’s west end to market-rate apartment towers, old and new residents banded together to form the Northwest Bushwick Community Group to demand that locals be included in the planning process. Group organizer Brigette Blood says she worries that for the city to now upzone Broadway would lead to “a lot of market forces coming. That whole corridor is a low-income neighborhood.” She worries that even with an affordable housing component, new construction could end up only accelerating the rising rents that are already driving even the area’s first wave of artist arrivals to relocate to neighboring Ridgewood.

Reynoso is currently trying to pursue an alternate, more bottom-up plan for the future of Broadway, based on community town halls akin to what DCP is in the process of conducting in East New York. (The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for October 28.) He says he’d like to see a process more along the lines of what took place in Bedford-Stuyvesant in a pair of rezonings in 2007 and 2012, but with even more protections for current residents.

“So far in the community meetings, no one’s scared of building,” says Reynoso. “But everyone wants to make sure there’s an effort being made to preserve the character of he neighborhood physically, and in regards to its long-term residents.”

Doubts about zoning scheme

Building new housing and amenities without displacing the people who already live in a neighborhood is the holy grail of urban redevelopment, but it’s far easier said than done. So far de Blasio has placed his chips firmly on inclusionary zoning — though he’d make it mandatory, requiring developers to build higher and include affordable units if they want to build at all.

Yet inclusionary zoning, says the Pratt Institute’s Ronald Shiffman, who first proposed the policy back in 1983 along with the late planning advocate Paul Davidoff, “is not a low-income housing program.” It’s proven effective, he says, at ensuring that New Yorkers of different levels can live side-by-side — albeit some with poor doors. But the impact of the small percentage of low-income apartments created ends up being swamped by the larger effects of new market-rate units. “We used it primarily as an integration tool. Inclusionary zoning works for that. It doesn’t really work as a way of meeting the affordability crisis that New York has.”

Shiffman, who is part of a group of city planning experts currently leading a group of graduate students in investigating how rezoning could change Bushwick, is blunt about his criticisms of the current administration’s affordable-housing push. “Quite frankly, I’m very concerned about the de Blasio strategy,” he says. While adding some rent-restricted units may be a plus for locals seeking affordable housing, he says, the massive influx of market-rate units can lead to the cascade effect known as “secondary displacement”: luxury apartments drawing in new residents, then new amenities to serve the new residents — think Thai restaurants — which in turn attract new people to the surrounding blocks, where they quickly price out existing renters.

Von Engel acknowledges the displacement problem, but notes that it’s hardly unique to rezoned neighborhoods. “In East New York, as the neighborhood has rebounded, there’s been a large number of market-rate small homes with one or two rental units,” he notes. While they’re affordable today, there’s no limits on how much these private landlords could charge in the future — one reason why the city wants to lock in affordable units on the avenues currently zoned commercial-only.

Difficult math

There are some areas of broad agreement between the de Blasio administration and its affordable-housing skeptics. All sides, for example, stress the need for more effective anti-harassment laws to stop landlords from pushing out existing tenants in hopes of raising rents. (The City Council recently doubled the top fine for tenant harassment, though there’s some skepticism whether this will deter landlords who smell the chance for huge rent increases if current tenants can be booted out.)

Broader examples of more neighborhood-friendly redevelopment, though, are hard to come by. Blood suggests turning over vacant land to community land trusts, as was done on a small scale with the Rheingold project after agitation from local residents. Pratt Center policy director Joan Byron points to Melrose Commons, the Bronx project that rebuilt an entire neighborhood under a plan created by community members, as the rare example of redevelopment that didn’t displace existing residents.

But Shiffman, who as a city planning commissioner in 1993 helped advocate for the community-led Melrose Commons plan, says that times — and the housing market — have changed too much for those methods to work anymore. In particular, he notes, the Bronx development was made possible in part by homeless housing funds that have since been eliminated.

“Unless you increase the pot of money, you’re not going to get a dramatic increase in the amount of affordable housing,” agrees Grant Lindsay of East Brooklyn Congregations, the community group that built the well-regarded Nehemiah Houses in East New York and Brownsville, which used city subsidies to bring homeownership within the reach of existing local residents.

“You can tinker around the edges with zoning requirements and tax credits, which may in isolated cases make a big impact. But unless the pool of money dramatically increases — I’m talking hundreds of millions of dollars, not $5 million — then there’s no way you can do the math that dramatically increases the amount of affordable housing being built. A lot of people seem to know that, and we’re waiting for the mayor to show where he’s going to come up with a substantial new source of money.”

Where to get that money is the quandary on which many housing plans have foundered. A pied-à-terre tax on high-end apartments owned by nonresident foreigners — first proposed by the progressive Fiscal Policy Institute last month, and currently the subject of legislation being introduced by state senator Brad Hoylman — would be “terrific,” suggests, if the resulting money were then funneled into affordable housing. FPI estimates that a tax on apartments worth more than $5 million could generate $665 million in annual revenue — more than double the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s entire 2014 capital budget for new housing.

Neugebauer says her agency’s position is that whatever the city ultimately does to rezone eastern Brooklyn, it needs to “implement new and innovative anti-discplacement policies, whether that’s tax policies or new programs to try to lock in affordability on small homes and the rentals in those small homes.” Philadelphia, she notes, offers a Longtime Owner Occupants Program that cuts property taxes for residents who’ve been in place at least ten years, in an attempt to increase neighborhood stability and reduce quick flipping of property; the city could also increase set-asides for current residents, and move to legalize currently off-the-books basement apartments.

“Whatever they can try, this is the time to try it,” says Neugebauer. “Before the wave comes.”


NY Gov. Cuomo signs law extending tax breaks for solar

For all of your NYC plumbing needs, contact Franco Belli Plumbing & Heating & Sons – the best Brooklyn plumber there is. Call us at (917) 410-4233 or contact us using the form to the right

Dive Brief:

  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation that will extend real property tax credits for solar panels installed on buildings in New York City.
  • The law, which extends the credit to Jan. 1, 2017, also doubles the size of the tax credit to 5% of eligible costs generally related to labor, materials, installation and engineering.
  • The law covers solar panels that would be installed on a range of buildings including commercial and industrial properties, as well as homes, co-ops and rental buildings.


Dive Insight:

The law went into effect Sept. 23 and is aimed at easing the relatively high cost of installing solar generation in New York City. Renewables Energy Outlook quoted Kit Kennedy, clean energy counsel at the Natural Resources Defense Council, who noted that “in just three years, New York has gone from a couple hundred rooftops with solar panels statewide to cracking the top ten states in solar installations nationwide.”

The state does have an increased interest in solar. On Oct. 15 Cuomo also announced Monolith Solar, which designs and installs solar energy modules for residential, commercial and non-profit customers, is expanding its operations and will build its new headquarters, and research and development and manufacturing facility in the Vista Technology Campus in Slingerlands, N.Y.

In addition, Monolith will install a solar farm adjacent to its new facility, producing enough electricity to power the majority of the tech park.

Recommended Reading

Renewable Energy Outlook: Gov. Cuomo Signs Law Extending Real Property Tax Abatement for Solar Power Installation


JPMorgan Chase Seeks Incentives to Build New Headquarters in Manhattan

For all of your NYC plumbing needs, contact Franco Belli Plumbing & Heating & Sons – the best Brooklyn plumber there is. Call us at (917) 410-4233 or contact us using the form to the right

City and state officials are negotiating with JPMorgan Chase over a potential deal in which the nation’s largest bank would build a vast $6.5 billion corporate campus with two high-rise towers in the new commercial district on the Far West Side of Manhattan.

The talks, which involve one of the largest real estate complexes for a single company in New York City history and a large package of incentives for Chase, have reached a feverish state after nearly falling apart this week.

The negotiations are so delicate that few people are willing to discuss them publicly for fear of alienating one side or another.

But a deal with the bank poses political risks for both the state and the city. Chase had initially sought, by one account, more than $1 billion in concessions from the city and the state while it continues to pare its payroll in the city. According to executives and officials, Chase wants to build the two towers — whose total space would be the equivalent of about two Empire State Buildings — at Hudson Yards on the north side of 33rd Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues. They would become home to 16,000 employees.

The bank’s move to the West Side would accelerate the transformation of a neighborhood once dominated by warehouses, factories and tenements into a gleaming forest of glass towers.

For Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, offering generous subsidies and special incentives would provide more fodder to critics who say he has been too eager to please corporate and real estate interests that represent important sources of financial support for his re-election campaign.

And for Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat, who has railed against corporate subsidies, supporting the project would represent a significant departure that could be difficult to justify to his supporters on the left. At the same time, if the mayor opposes the project, it could leave him open to criticism that he is indifferent to the needs of the city’s largest employers.

The bank, however, has insisted that the benefits from the proposed deal would outweigh the value of any concessions or subsidies, especially since Chase would have to buy development rights from the city and make certain annual payments in order to erect the towers.

The bank’s “wish list” of concessions, however, has shrunk significantly in recent days. And the talks have picked up momentum, although a deal is far from assured. State officials are creating a counteroffer.

“There’s no way that the city would entertain a demand for a billion dollars in additional incentives at Hudson Yards,” said Alicia Glen, the deputy mayor for economic development. “We have always been willing to engage with them in a dialogue about how we could be helpful in making a move more feasible.”

Related Companies, one of the city’s most prolific developers, is building two office towers on the adjoining railyards that will be home to Time Warner and Coach, as well as several residential towers. The buildings are part of Related’s $15 billion development at the yards, which has picked up steam in the last two years.

But Chase must also come to terms with Related, which owns the two sites where the bank hopes to build. The bank wants to buy the property but it does not necessarily want Related to build its new headquarters. Related recently suggested that Chase build one of the towers and occupy half of the Time Warner building, a plan that the bank is likely to reject.

Chase first approached city and state officials in June with the idea of building on the West Side property. Under the proposal, Chase would build a 62-story tower and a 40-story tower, for a total of nearly four million square feet.

“We don’t have a deal yet,” Related’s chairman, Stephen M. Ross, said on Thursday. “I don’t know if we can make one. A lot depends upon the city and the state.”

As is often the case in these kinds of deals, the bank drew up a lengthy list of possible concessions. Chase wanted to cut the mortgage recording tax, the transfer tax and sales taxes on construction materials. It also sought job-training grants, low-cost power from the state, an underground passageway between the two buildings that would require alterations to the newly built No. 7 subway station and financial help with reinforcing the foundation.

The neighborhood, formerly part of Hell’s Kitchen, was rezoned eight years ago for high-rise development by then-Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. The rezoning included tax breaks and other incentives intended to encourage new construction.

City officials, who estimated that there are already $600 million in tax breaks and other incentives associated with the two sites, have been reluctant to sweeten the deal for Chase.

The Bloomberg administration issued $3 billion in bonds to pay for parks, a new tree-lined boulevard and an extension of the No. 7 subway line from Times Square to the spot where Chase wants to build the new towers.

Officials at the time had assured skeptics that development fees and payments in lieu of taxes from new towers would cover the debt payments. But development has been slower than anticipated, prompting the city to take more than $130 million from the city budget to make the annual debt payments.

Proponents of the Chase deal have argued that the city would no longer have to make those debt payments if the bank were allowed to build.

But there are many new residential towers in the neighborhoods, and Related has lured companies to the new commercial district. City and state officials also understand that Chase’s payroll is unlikely to grow as it relocates lower-level employees to other states.

Chase’s current corporate home is spread primarily over two buildings, at 270 Park Avenue and 383 Madison Avenue, which the bank could sell for a premium in the current real estate market. The bank has about 20,000 corporate employees in the city, not including executives and clerks at its 758 branch offices. Another 10,000 employees work upstate in cities like Buffalo and Syracuse.

A year ago, Chase sold Chase Manhattan Plaza, a 60-story building, for $725 million. The tower had been built in the early 1960s by David Rockefeller, then the bank’s chairman, as an expression of its commitment to the financial district.

Chase has been eager to reduce its costs in New York and move technical and operational employees to lower-cost locations in Delaware, New Jersey and elsewhere. In May, the bank announced plans to expand its technology and operations hub in Jersey City by 1,000 jobs after the bank was granted significant tax breaks by New Jersey, which has offered subsidies to companies willing to relocate from New York.

“For high-end jobs, New York City is the place to be,” said Kathryn S. Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, a business group. “But the midlevel jobs are at risk.”


Developer, city finalize lease to turn vacant Kingsbridge Armory into ice center

For all of your NYC plumbing needs, contact Franco Belli Plumbing & Heating & Sons – the best Brooklyn plumber there is. Call us at (917) 410-4233 or contact us using the form to the right

The developer of the Kingsbridge National Ice Center announced Thursday that it had finalized a 99-year lease with the city to transform the Armory into a nine-rink ice palace.

The development team will pay five percent of the ice center’s revenue plus an annual payment in lieu of taxes on the city-owned structure, said a city Economic Development Corp. spokeswoman, though she could not estimate the lease’s annual value to the city.

The center, which will be developmed by former Deutsche Bank executive Kevin Parker and run by NHL great Mark Messier, will invest roughly $350 million in private funds into the redevelopment of the 750,000-square-foot site on W. Kingsbridge Road, which has been vacant since 1996.

The City Council approved the ice center in December 2013, but the project was stalled since then, as three former members of the development team sued Parker in a bid to get an ownership stake.

Jonathan Richter, Jeff Spiritos and Marcos Wignell claimed that Parker squeezed them out, after they helped steer the project through the city review process.

But a Bronx judge tossed the embittered trio’s claims in an ruling earlier this month — clearing the way for the ink to dry on the lease.

The former army barracks has not had a consistent tenant since 1996.RICHARD HARBUS/RICHARD HARBUS FOR NEWSThe former army barracks has not had a consistent tenant since 1996.

“Reaching this juncture caps a monumental effort from community partners, elected officials and local residents who joined us in dreaming big – in supporting our vision,” Parker said in a statement released Thursday.

Still, skaters shouldn’t start lacing their skates just yet.

The blueprints are still being drafted and construction is not expected to start until at least 2016, said a source familiar with the plans.

The finalized lease does activate the landmark Community Benefits Agreement crucial to the project’s approval by the city.

Developers promised to pay workers a living wage, provide free ice time for area residents and set aside 50,000 square feet in the renovated building for community use.


New York Times “Living City” Explores New York Water Supply

For all of your NYC plumbing needs, contact Franco Belli Plumbing & Heating & Sons – the best Brooklyn plumber there is. Call us at (917) 410-4233 or contact us using the form to the right

Up here in the Catskills, in the heart of New York City’s vast rural watershed, it’s impossible to forget that one lives in the middle of the city’s water supply. The city’s huge reservoirs dominate the landscape. Watershed affairs dominate local politics. New York City’s watershed police patrol along sleepy back roads a hundred miles from Manhattan.

For most downstate New Yorkers, though, water is just a thing that comes out of the tap. This week, the New York Times introduced its readers to their astonishing water system in “Living City,” a video series that explores some of the wonders of urban engineering that make life in our nation’s largest city possible.

The video (embedded above) features New York historian Gerard Koeppel, New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) deputy commissioner Paul Rush along with a few other DEP staffers, and local sport shop owner Lloyd Hornbeck.

For Hornbeck, like many who live in the watershed, the beauty of the city’s reservoirs is bittersweet. A lifelong local resident, Hornbeck remembers the town of Cannonsville, seized and destroyed to build the Cannonsville Reservoir, which was put into service in 1964.

“God, I’d like the old days back, but let’s face it — we’ve got what we’ve got, and we’ve got to enjoy what it is now,” Hornbeck tells the camera from his seat in a rowboat on the Cannonsville. “I mean, you look at it, you’d never know there was a town under here.”

In the video, Koeppel, the author of “Water For Gotham: A History,” reminds New Yorkers not to take what they have for granted:

“I think it’s important for all New Yorkers to be aware of their water system, to not take for granted the water that comes out of your tap seemingly so effortlessly,” Koeppel says. “Many generations of work have gone into creating this incredible water supply, which is the gold standard for urban water supplies, copied by other cities around the world.”


Building for the Next Big Storm

For all of your NYC plumbing needs, contact Franco Belli Plumbing & Heating & Sons – the best Brooklyn plumber there is. Call us at (917) 410-4233 or contact us using the form to the right

“All of this was hit pretty hard,” said Kai-Uwe Bergmann, sweeping his arm from the East River toward the looming sprawl of the Baruch Houses, a public housing complex that sits along the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive on the Lower East Side. “If another storm hits here in the future, it will be just as bad, probably worse.”

Mr. Bergmann’s job is to ensure that it doesn’t happen. As a partner at the Bjarke Ingels Group, a Danish architecture firm, he is one in a cast of hundreds trying to fortify New York against another storm like Hurricane Sandy, which ripped through the region two years ago this week. In the storm’s aftermath, there were calls for a single big fix, like sea gates that would close off New York Harbor to swells of rising water. But the solutions being tried out now are more widespread, and humbler, including stone revetments on Coney Island Creek to prevent “backdoor” flooding, and solar-powered streetlights on the East 12th Road boardwalk in Broad Channel, Queens, which is often flooded, even by lesser storms.


Volunteers planting sea grass on a dune built to protect Breezy Point, Queens, on the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. CreditAdrees Latif/Reuters

While only a few of the smallest projects have been finished, the vast constellation of proposals — backed by what one official called a “strange polyamorous relationship” of the city, state and federal governments — will most likely take years and billions of dollars to complete, if indeed that is ever achieved. If there is one guiding principle at work, it is the notion that the city, which has thumbed its nose at the water for 300 years, can no longer keep the sea at bay, but must by necessity invite it in.

“We didn’t want to just build barriers; we wanted to build an ecosystem,” said Henk Ovink, a Dutch water-management expert who now serves as a senior adviser to the Presidential Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, a group within the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has earmarked billions for the program. “For that to happen, we have to live with the water, to understand it, while still understanding our vulnerabilities.”

In the next four decades, scholars say, sea levels are expected to rise by as much as 30 inches, and if the worst projections come to pass, about 800,000 city residents could find themselves living with the threat of being swamped. According to an insurance report commissioned by the city, if New York suffers another storm like Sandy in the early 2050s, when ocean levels and the population are likely to be higher, it could cause $90 billion in damage — almost five times the cost of the initial storm.

Mr. Ovink described the effort to rethink New York as “the love child of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses,” meaning that it merges the granular approach of Ms. Jacobs, an advocate of small, vibrant neighborhoods, and the sweeping vision of Mr. Moses, an urban planner of Pharaonic scale and scope.

It is, if nothing else, enormous, comprising the construction of sea walls and bulkheads, beach replenishment, the creation of parks as buffer zones, the retrofitting of apartment buildings, commercial structures and single-family homes, and the redesign of power stations, subway tunnels, sewage treatment plants, hospitals, utility poles and even ordinary streets.

“In terms of size,” said Daniel Zarrilli, the director of the 8-month-old Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency, “you’d have to look back to the rebuilding after the San Francisco earthquake for any real comparison,” referring to the 1906 disaster.

New York has been here before. In the 1960s, after Hurricanes Carol and Donna, the Army Corps of Engineers proposed building barriers at Throgs Neck in the Bronx and at the Narrows. In later years, there were plans for a giant swinging gate at the mouth of Jamaica Bay and a 15-foot, steel-and-concrete wall to run the length of Coney Island. None of these projects was ever undertaken, because of environmental concerns and a lack of financing. But this time, some of the money has already been set aside, suggesting that things might finally be different.

While the state and federal governments have their own plans, the city’s blueprint, the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency report, released last year by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, set forth 257 projects to be finished in a decade. In April, the new administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio updated the so-called SIRR report, announcing that while most of the projects were “in progress,” the city had in the intervening months completed efforts like reinforcing beaches in the Rockaways and had reached an agreement with Consolidated Edison under which the utility would flood-proof its equipment without increasing rates.


Part of a proposed eight-mile series of coastline defenses, called the Big U, that would wrap the bottom of Manhattan with 10-foot-tall berms meant to guard the edges of the island, while blending into a newly imagined string of waterfront parks. CreditRebuild by Design

The abiding question, of course, is whether the city will really be prepared next time. “The short answer is, we’re getting there in an impressive fashion,” said Richard T. Anderson, president of the New York Building Congress, a construction trade group, which, like many private organizations, issued its own plan on how to make the city more resilient. “Agencies at the federal, state and city levels are all responding, but the deeper issue is how much further we still have to go.”

The Big U

Seven months after Hurricane Sandy, Shaun Donovan, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, asked Mr. Ovink to oversee an international design competition meant to elicit innovative plans to protect New York against the next big hurricane. What resulted was Rebuild by Design, which this spring awarded money to government officials to implement six plans from architects and engineers chosen from a pool of 148 proposals. Among their proposals: a network of levees, a waterfront greenway and a new power plant to protect the Hunts Point food market in the Bronx, and the planting of oyster beds and reefs off Staten Island’s shore to mitigate the destructive force of oncoming waves.

But the most ambitious of the plans is the one put forth by Mr. Bergmann’s firm, which proposed constructing an eight-mile series of linked defenses wrapped like a chin strap around the coastline of Manhattan from West 57th Street south to the Battery and up the East Side to 42nd Street. Called the Big U, the project relies mainly on 10-foot-tall slurry-filled, earth-topped berms meant to guard the edges of the island, acting as a barrier to water while blending into a newly imagined string of waterfront parks.

“The idea was to create a public amenity that also had a protective element,” Mr. Bergmann said. “We could have built walls, but walls are only used .01 percent of the time, during crises. We wanted something that was aesthetically pleasing, well designed and was useful all the time.”

In Battery Park, for instance, the plan calls for a series of “upland knolls” where people could sunbathe, garden or even farm most of the time. During a storm, the built-up landscape would fend off the sea.

Could it actually be built? The Big U’s first so-called compartment, running along the East River from 23rd Street to Montgomery Street on the Lower East Side, is expected to break ground in 2017 and be finished three years later. The federal government has given the city $335 million to implement the first section of the BIG U that will serve as a test case for the still-unfunded portions of the project on the West Side and in Lower Manhattan.

90,000 Buildings at Risk


Flood waters at West and Cortlandt Streets in Lower Manhattan in September 1960.CreditAllyn Baum/The New York Times

From seaside bungalows in Staten Island to Wall Street offices with harbor views, nearly 70,000 buildings in New York sit within the 100-year floodplain, meaning that in any given year they have a 1 percent chance of being swamped. According to the city, that total could increase in the next 10 years, because of rising seas, to almost 90,000 buildings, an area encompassing 660 million square feet (almost 24 square miles) and housing more than 440,000 people.

To protect this population, the city late last year introduced 21 changes to the zoning and building codes, 16 of which have been adopted. (Local Law 99, for instance, makes it easier to elevate fuel-storage tanks and telecommunications systems.) Then this month, the City Planning Department published a 57-page guide, “Retrofitting Buildings for Flood Risk,” with instructional case studies on various building types: bungalows, attached two-family homes with garages, mixed-use mid-rise walk-ups.

“The mayor and the City Council have been very serious about protecting New York’s building stock,” said Russell Unger, executive director of theUrban Green Council, an advocacy group for sustainable building, which last year helped convene the 200-member Building Resiliency Task Force. “You’d be hard-pressed find any other city responding so quickly to a disaster like this.”

In June 2013, Mr. Unger’s task force issued a report with 33 recommendations to make the city’s buildings more robust against an event like Hurricane Sandy, including a plan to redesign tall, exposed structures to better handle wind, and proposed legislation to require sinks and toilets in commercial and residential buildings to work without power. Of the 33 suggestions, the city has carried out half. “It’s an extraordinary record,” Mr. Unger said.

In September, Mayor de Blasio announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had given the city $108 million to install backup generators, elevated boilers and new flood-barrier systems at the Coney Island Houses, a five-building public housing project that was inundated during the storm, leaving its 1,400 residents without heat or power for 22 days. The work in Coney Island is meant to serve as the model for a continuing collaboration between FEMA and the New York City Housing Authority to reinforce 15 other public housing projects damaged by the storm.

Plugging the Holes

After Hurricane Sandy dumped untold tons of water into the Montague Tunnel, a subway tube connecting Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan, engineers at New York City Transit faced a daunting problem: how to redesign a subterranean system in a coastal city and keep the water out.

The answer, said John O’Grady, vice president for infrastructure and facilities at the transportation agency, was to plug the system’s holes: vent bays, manholes, station entrances, access hatches and emergency exits. At South Ferry alone, Mr. O’Grady said, the agency was forced to design — and will eventually install — coverings for more than 500 openings: from simple sliding panels to custom-made collapsible metal traps.


An Army Corps of Engineers proposal in 1972 for a sea wall.

All told, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the parent agency, plans to spend nearly $1 billion on resiliency improvements, a rough equivalent of what Con Edison has earmarked to fortify its own equipment over the next four years.

“We had to make some changes,” said Matt Sniffen, the utility’s chief engineer for electrical distribution. Among those changes are plans to build higher walls and flood-proof concrete barriers at its 14th Street-East River substation, which exploded during Sandy; to install submersible equipment in areas prone to floods; to build new utility poles able to withstand winds of up to 110 miles per hour; and to bury more than 30 miles of overhead power lines in the five boroughs and in Westchester County by 2016.

Like Con Ed, the city’s hospitals — both public and private — have undertaken a collage of resiliency efforts. At NYU Langone Medical Center, which suffered nearly $1 billion in damage from the storm, engineers have already raised the electrical systems out of the reach of floods and plan to protect their underground fuel-oil storage tanks with pumps and waterproofing, said Paul Schwabacher, the senior vice president for facilities management. They are also working on a new emergency generator plant for the hospital’s main building, expected to be ready by 2016.

In July, the hospital announced that it would receive $1.13 billion in recovery aid from FEMA, the second-largest award for a single project ever granted by the agency. With some of that money, NYU Langone, whose employees evacuated patients on stretchers during the storm, will soon conduct an executive-level hurricane drill.

Teaching Resiliency

While most of the resiliency projects have focused on hardware — sea walls, bulkheads and the like — officials have not lost sight of the fact that people, too, need help in preparing for the future. A few months after Hurricane Sandy, the state created the New York Rising program, which called on leaders in hard-hit communities to come up with plans to assist their own residents.

So far, 15 communities have been chosen to receive more than $200 million in federal money through New York Rising, in grants of between $3 million and $25 million each. In the adjoining Brooklyn neighborhoods of Brighton Beach, Coney Island, Manhattan Beach and Sea Gate, for example, community leaders have proposed the creation of a vocational high school that would teach students resiliency, sustainability and emergency preparedness skills. In Howard Beach, Queens, near Kennedy Airport, leaders have recommended creating a public education program to help homeowners and business people get technical training and counseling on how to make their property more resilient.

After determining that nearly all of the businesses affected by Hurricane Sandy were enterprises of 50 employees or fewer, the city gave out $23 million in loans and grants, and nearly $3 million in tax breaks to 650 small businesses across the five boroughs. It is now in the final stages of preparing a centralized effort for small commercial ventures: the Business Resiliency Investment Program, a $110 million plan to help small businesses invest in improvements that could include flood-proofing warehouses, creating emergency plans or devising computerized systems to back up crucial data.


A briefing by Bloomberg administration officials, including Daniel Zarrilli, last October on reconstruction. CreditRichard Perry/The New York Times

The Next Disaster

Have all these projects truly made New Yorkers safer? Will the city be better able now to withstand a big storm than it was two years ago? The consensus among architects, engineers, academics and urban planners is a qualified yes.

“We will do better against the next storm,” said Judith Rodin, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, which helped to finance the Rebuild by Design competition. “The problem is that the next disaster may be nothing like Hurricane Sandy. It could be an awful heat wave, for example, in which case what we’ve done will do little to protect us.”

Instead of separate, interlocking efforts by city, state and federal officials, Dr. Rodin recommended a single plan that would take advantage of the untapped powers of the city’s business community and capital markets. In San Francisco, she said, municipal officials have developed a broad-based plan against mudslides, drought and earthquakes, involving traditional corporations like Comcast and Pacific Gas and Electric, as well as those from the local sharing economy like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb.

“We haven’t sufficiently engaged the private sector yet, which is a huge piece of the puzzle,” Dr. Rodin said. “As for the markets, there’s a lot of money sitting on the sidelines that could be brought into building resilient infrastructure.”

To other experts, the key to making the city more resilient is not more money, but the understanding that disasters like Hurricane Sandy are not caused by nature alone, but by human beings, too.

In the introduction to its “Post-Sandy Initiative” report, the American Institute of Architects noted that damage from the storm was worsened by “centuries of misguided development policies.” The report contends: “We must recognize that much of the problem lies in our own culpability as a client society — the way we have helped over the years to create a susceptible built environment.”

At the center of this culpability is what Ted Steinberg, a professor of history and law at Case Western University and the author of “Gotham Unbound: the Ecological History of Greater New York,” calls the “growth imperative” — the misbegotten notion that the city can endlessly expand without repercussion.

“The driving force behind New York has always been limitless growth,” Professor Steinberg said. “But the unpleasant truth is that for all its wealth and development, New York is still vulnerable.”

During the Bloomberg era, Professor Steinberg said, almost 40 percent of the city was rezoned for population growth, much of it along the waterfront. Even now, there are ambitious plans afoot to continue building in low-lying areas. The Hudson Yards project, on the Far West Side of Manhattan, has been designed within the 100-year floodplain. And the Two Trees apartment complex in the old Domino Sugar factory in Brooklyn sits directly on the banks of the East River. While city officials say building on the water can be accomplished safely through the use of new technologies and stringent building codes, Professor Steinberg argued that projects such as these evinced a kind of “environmental machismo.”

“We need to retreat, especially intellectually,” he said, “from the idea that we can keep on building anywhere we want. New Yorkers are tough. They can take whatever nature throws their way. But you just can’t grow forever at the expense of the sea.”

Correction: November 2, 2014 
An article last Sunday about New York’s plans for coastal defenses because of Hurricane Sandy described incorrectly the funding for six proposals chosen through Rebuild by Design, an international contest soliciting ways to protect the city. The money for the proposals, including one called the Big U, came from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and was given to government officials. It did not come from Rebuild by Design, and it was not given to the teams behind the winning plans.