Not waiting around: New York state seizes green building opportunity
Have you ever thought about what Billy Joel meant by “A New York State of Mind”? Sometimes I think he meant not sitting around and waiting for others to act — like Ithaca, Yonkers, Hastings-on-Hudson, Buffalo and New York City have done this spring to advance green building in their communities. I suspect that these are only a few of thousands of examples of our cities taking on green goals and not waiting for state or federal action. “New York is overflowing with market-moving green building policy ideas and action,” said Jeremy Sigmon, USGBC technical policy director.
I also hope that we start stumbling over each other to set the standards and goals higher, and that eventually, people will just give up calculating the reductions in waste, toxins, and energy and water use. Instead, we’ll start realizing increases in durability, health, quality of life, building usefulness, and in the creation of buildings that regenerate our cities and that clean our air just by being built. In the meantime, kudos to these five New York cities, each one varying in size, location and personality.
Tompkins County (which includes Ithaca, well-known for the knowledge capital housed at Cornell University and Ithaca College) announced in May that its revised comprehensive plan includes a green building standard calling for county buildings to be designed and built to at least LEED Silver or equivalent. In addition, the state assemblywoman from that district, Barbara Lifton, is a great supporter of climate planning and green building strategies. She has introduced a bill to tie a proposed homebuyer’s tax credit to the purchase of energy efficient homes or retrofitted homes with more than 50 percent energy use reduction.
In the west, Buffalo is rewriting its zoning codes, addressing walkability, abandoned properties, etc. This is the first zoning rework since the 1950s. There is a huge amount of public support for this effort, as this new zoning plan supports the unique attributes of Buffalo’s neighborhoods. The work has been informed by sustainable growth principles and LEED for Neighborhood Development.
Downstate, in May, Yonkers adopted the Yonkers Green Building Ordinance for all municipal and school buildings in the city. It also recently daylighted some of the Saw Mill River, meaning it took away the underground, piped transportation of the water and exposed the river to view in a natural way that beautifies the area while healing the natural water system. The city has created its own standard (including guidelines and a checklist) based on several existing tools in New York state, including the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s New Construction Program and the state’s stormwater guidelines. Yonkers’ tool is based on Enterprise Green Communities.
In an interesting twist, Yonkers will not require this process of developers or private owners. The city has found that many developers want to build in the city, and they seek to “hit it out of the park.” These developers bring strong, competitive goals with them and use tools such as LEED or the new city guidelines to stand out from the pack. Smart developers make any city happy.
Hastings-on-Hudson, too, is working hard on a green building code. While not yet complete, Mayor Peter Swiderski’s initiative has deeply engaged the community in an important conversation about what the hamlet on the steep banks of the Hudson River can do to lessen its footprint while reaping the many benefits of better, greener buildings and infrastructure.
And, of course, the Big Apple is proving more and more that it’s actually a bright green Granny Smith. Building on a solid foundation in PlaNYC, the city has a leading benchmarking law and many local ordinances intended to reduce energy use. It is also looking at the big picture; our friends at Urban Green Council convened a leading industry group this spring to help define the green building roadmap for the city’s next mayor.
From my perspective, USGBC and the LEED rating system came at a perfect time for the Empire State. Our cities and towns were ready for it. Green building demonstrates time and time again that our built and natural environments are deeply linked, and that what we build, where we build and how we build make a difference. LEED has inspired creative thought among New Yorkers and catalyzed action by our elected leaders. Thanks to some good old New York go-getter attitude, green building is happening here in a wide variety of transformational ways.
What’s your state’s green building state of mind? Is your economy working toward doing actual good, instead of just doing less bad? Check out newly released, state-by-state green building market activity reports here.