When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled PlaNYC in April, the press focused on just one of its 127 proposals for helping the city grow in an environmentally sustainable manner: a “congestion charge” applied to motorists in Manhattan’s key business districts. Bloomberg made headlines again this week when he called for replacing the city’s entire taxicab fleet with hybrid vehicles that pollute less. But there’s a lot more to PlaNYC than automobiles.
“It’s the other 126 proposals that are going to have an effect on all of the design professions,” observes Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association and a member of the mayor’s sustainability advisory board. The effect could in fact be huge. Buildings account for the lion’s share of New York’s current carbon output, 79 percent, according to a recent city audit. PlaNYC sets a goal of cutting the city’s carbon emissions 30 percent by the year 2030.
According to Yaro, 85 percent of the structures that will exist 23 years from now in New York are already standing today. This means that the biggest opportunity for architects, engineers, and construction firms lies in retrofitting the existing building stock. Robert Fox, AIA, a principal of Cook + Fox Architects who served on the advisory board with Yaro, adds that an estimated 400 million square feet of space may need to be renovated.
But there will be plenty of other opportunities in addition to retrofits. PlaNYC calls for creating 265,000 new housing units to accommodate an anticipated 1 million new residents. Since most of the city’s land is already developed, Yaro notes, the plan advocates reclaiming underutilized waterfront spaces, covering over railyards, and adapting abandoned schools and warehouses for residential use.
Among the anticipated projects is the development of air space above railroad tracks on Midtown Manhattan’s far west side, and the redevelopment of the area surrounding Madison Square Garden. Fox says that the latter project, whose heart will be a rebuilt Penn Station, “will yield tremendous opportunities” and Yaro compares its potential impact on the city to the construction of Rockefeller Center in the 1930s.