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Snapshot Columns Repository

Ken Levenson, A.I.A.

Passive House Emerges in New York: Effective and Affordable

March 10, 2016

By: Ken Levenson, A.I.A.

At long last climate science, public policy and effective remedial actions are coming into growing alignment and Passive House is amassing real-world validation as a powerful tool to achieve needed results. Here's what's been happening.

The science of climate change is now strong enough to alarm even the normally complacent. As Justin Gillis reported in The New York Times recently, scientists now believe runaway global warming could likely require the abandonment of our coastal cities in the 22nd Century and beyond. The constituent horrors of such prospects are simply magnitudes beyond anything humanity has faced in history.

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Richard C. Yancey

Actively Passive

January 13, 2016

By: Richard C. Yancey

Passive House startled me. Despite working for the nonprofit Building Energy Exchange, preaching the virtues of energy efficiency to New York City's real estate community, my first experience of a Passive House was indelible. Heading home from a walk in Prospect Park on an August evening, tired and hot, I somewhat begrudgingly agreed to stop by my wife's recently completed green roof project. It was a new installation and the young plants needed water to take hold and thrive. Leaving behind the leafy green of the park, we made our way through the steaming streets of Park Slope to the recently renovated brownstone, and its magical interior. It was summer in the city: hot, gritty, sweaty, noisy, smelly. We passed the ripe, pungent garbage, at the curb, the roar of the garbage truck, and the hot, loud blasts from window air conditioners, like small jet engines. A muggy afternoon, the car horns and exhaust hung in the air malevolently.

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Shravya Jain

NYC 2030 District: A Living Lab Of Sustainability Efforts And Innovation

November 11, 2015

By: Shravya Jain

The verdict is in: 2015 is on track to be the warmest year on record. Fortunately, 2015 also promises to be the year when nations sign a climate agreement that will alter the course of history. Understanding that national ambitions to combat climate change need bottom-up support, the United Nations sponsored the Compact of Mayors — a global coalition of city leaders pledging to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and head towards sustainability and New York City is one of those leaders. Consecutive mayors have made greenhouse gas emissions reduction as well as enhancing the resiliency of our built environment a priority. At present, the cities spew more than 51 million tons of greenhouse gases per year — a majority of which is building-related, so there is much to be done to meet Mayor de Blasio's goal of cutting our carbon emissions 80% by 2050.

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Lauren Kurtz

Climate Scientists in the Crosshairs

September 01, 2015

By: Lauren Kurtz

The scientific method is based on the belief that research results should be subjected to the utmost scrutiny. But this principle can be turned on its head and scientists operating in politically controversial areas, particularly climate science, have been attacked by ideologically motivated groups trying any means possible to discredit, distract, and intimidate. Such tactics have included hate mail, death threats and even an anthrax scare. Less violently but no less noxiously, attacks via the legal system are an increasingly common way for self-styled "skeptics" to go after climate scientists with whom they disagree.

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Victoria Anstead

Do Tourists Care?

August 04, 2015

By: Victoria Anstead

This question provoked passionate — and divided — responses from participants at a recent Innovators Think Tank on the effects of climate change on travel in the Caribbean and other coastal areas. Held in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, it was sponsored by the Washington, DC based Center for Responsible Travel (CREST).

I was there with the aim of expanding the dialogue associated with climate change from one of dueling dire predictions and dramatic uncertainty to one that factored in the intellectual and emotional effects of the unprecedented situation we find ourselves in, individually and collectively.

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Constantine E. Kontokosta, Ph.D., PE

Data and the City: The Promise and Perils of Urban Informatics

July 07, 2015

By: Constantine E. Kontokosta, Ph.D., PE

While the marketing rhetoric around Smart Cities is replete with unfulfilled promises and the persistent use (and mis-use) of the term "big data" has generated confusion and distrust around potential applications, the reality remains that disruptive shifts in ubiquitous data collection — including mobile devices, GPS, social media, and synoptic video — and the ability to store, manage, and analyze massive datasets require the next generation of practitioners of urban policy and planning to have new capabilities that respond to these innovations. For students in the emerging fields of Urban Informatics and Civic Analytics, core competencies cross traditional boundaries of computer and data science, public policy and urban planning, and business and technology management. This results in requirements for both technical and non-technical (or non-computing) skills, as well as breadth and depth across informatics disciplines and domain applications. These include knowledge of programming (Python, R, etc.), data mining and management (Hadoop, MapReduce), applied mathematics and statistics, machine learning, and visualization (CartoDB, D3).

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Marcia Bystryn

How New York City Can Deliver On Its Zero Waste Goal

May 06, 2015

By: Marcia Bystryn

On Earth Day, Mayor de Blasio presented a bold vision for a New York City that sends zero waste to landfills. This ambitious goal figured prominently into the sustainability section of his OneNYC plan. I believe we can get there, but it will require a great deal of focus and innovation.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announces the release of “One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City,” a comprehensive plan for a sustainable and resilient city for all New Yorkers

New York City currently sends four million tons of waste to landfills every year. Landfills are notorious emitters of methane, a harmful greenhouse gas. Sending waste to out-of-state landfills is expensive too — in 2012, it cost the City over $85 million. Removing organic material from landfills not only reduces methane in the atmosphere and carbon emissions from collection and long-haul carting trucks, it also presents an opportunity to harness its positive value as a potential clean energy source or compost input. The City knows this export option is not sustainable over time.

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Wendy E. Brawer

Mapping The Way To A Brooklyn Passive House

March 11, 2015

By: Wendy E. Brawer

Given the opportunity to do something with the potential to be world changing, would you take that chance?

Our story begins in 1992, when the original Green Map of NYC debuted. The creative outcome of my 'light bulb' moment — enriched by a group process — provided people with a surprising perspective on a familiar place. That place-based visual catalyst has sparked a global sustainability mapping movement, and today, in 65 countries, locally made Green Maps generate meaningful action as they bring resources for sustainable living into view. Each edition is a powerful tool for finding our way and finding that we're not alone.

Here's how energy moved to the forefront. Green Mapmaking had already spread to every continent when the Great Northeast Blackout of 2003 struck. Coming so soon after 9/11, it propelled me to consider the security crisis of our dependence on fossil fuel, and before the lights came back on, the Powerful Green Map of NYC began taking shape. It was exciting to assess our city's progress as our nonprofit highlighted everyday efficiency and renewable investments in the five boroughs along with the dark side of our energy choices. See this map's genesis since 2006.

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Chris Benedict, R.A. & Henry Gifford

The Perfect Energy Code

January 20, 2015

By: Chris Benedict, R.A. & Henry Gifford

A building is a complex system, set within a larger complex system. Systems can work elegantly or poorly.

Acknowledgement of senseless waste, and the desire to be kinder to the life on our planet have spurred the creation of energy codes for our buildings. It is imperative that a code devised to intervene into a poorly performing system be as elegant as its desired outcome in order to be effective.

On 25 November 2014, as guests of the Building Enclosure Council of New York (BECNY), Henry Gifford and I performed a play entitled, The Perfect Energy Code, at the Center for Architecture in NYC. In the play we dramatized an Architect's visit to the NYC Department of Buildings and her pursuit of energy code approval for her building design.

Please take a look:

Or read on...

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Rory Christian

Amid Global Efforts, NY Plants Seed For Energy Reform in 2014 That Will Bloom In 2015

December 26, 2014

By: Rory Christian

In the future, when we look back on 2014, I believe it will be remembered as the tipping point for climate action. In the Northeast, we'll remember the devastating early-season snowstorm that caused over a dozen deaths. In the Southwest, many will remember the third-straight year of a drought that seems without end. And, nationally, many will remember 2014 as one of the hottest years in recorded history — the hottest since 2010 and the 11th time the record for hottest year has been set since 1998.

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Llewellyn Wells

Resiliency. Sustainability. Equity.

November 04, 2014

By: Llewellyn Wells

There are those who say resiliency, sustainability and equity are at odds with one another. They are wrong. We can have all three — and we must. Like the old saw, "You can have two of these things, but never all three: Fast, Cheap and Good", we are told that equity, resiliency and sustainability can't be achieved concurrently. But I am convinced of the opposite: it is not possible to develop any of these things within a 21st Century city without developing all three of them equally. Inequality is not sustainable, and it most surely isn't resilient. If a place isn't resilient, how can it be sustainable? And what matter sustainability if there isn't social equity and long-term resilience built into the fabric of a community? You see what I'm driving toward and now I want to show you we have pathways to get there.

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Pat Sapinsley

Energy Efficiency: Markets or Mandates?

September 01, 2014

By: Pat Sapinsley

Implementation of Energy Efficiency* in the US Building Sector
The implementation of energy efficiency savings in the US has been more difficult than its advocates might have hoped. Americans are relying on a patchwork system to achieve energy savings. That patchwork is derived from local, state and federal government regulations and from market forces. On the local front, there are as many as five actors: local governments, local utilities, local energy service providers, local financing programs and a panoply of local building codes. At the national level, the federal government uses frequently changing tax code provisions and various user standards. Market forces include confusing utility pricing regimes, Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) and a variety of financing mechanisms. The result is that there is enormous confusion in the marketplace about how and where to stimulate more widespread adoption of energy efficiency. Other countries have eliminated such confusion by relying more heavily on unified regulation, with far better results.

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Fulton Center transit hub oculus