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

By: Shravya Jain

November 11, 2015

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.

What would an effective bottom-up approach entail? Imagine neighborhood-level collaborations aimed at helping achieve the City's goal; sustainability districts could do just that. By starting with just one neighborhood, the district could focus on efforts shared business to business and peer-to-peer to embrace and enhance the area's climate-friendliness and resilience. The benefit of such a place-based program is that it enables a range of stakeholders from residents to businesses, environmental and civic organizations, utilities and municipal offices to find collective solutions and combine resources.

What are 2030 Districts and how can they benefit New York City?
2030 Districts are a public-private partnership. Led by the private sector, their goal is to achieve significant energy, water, and emissions reductions by leveraging financing and shared resources. The Districts' agendas are driven by the "Architecture 2030 Challenge" that calls for phased reductions in fossil fuel consumption of 50% in existing buildings and full carbon neutrality in new buildings and major alterations, with lower transportation emissions and water consumption, by the year 2030.

Snapshot NYC 2030 District

Today there are 2030 Districts in ten major North American cities — Seattle, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Denver, Stamford, San Francisco, Dallas, Toronto and Albuquerque — encompassing 241 million square feet of committed commercial real estate. There are several more districts in the "Prospective" and "Inquiring" stages, eager to become part of a forum for sharing information and resources that is 2030 Districts Network

Joyce Lee, FAIA, LEED Fellow, astutely calls 2030 Districts "a Movement". And New York City could be ready to join.

How? I'm glad you asked.
A NYC 2030 District would work towards addressing the sustainable energy, resilience, community and economic development challenges of its adopted neighborhood. At present, there are several existing programs aimed at reaching the city's sustainability goal such as NYC Retrofit Accelerator, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection Green Infrastructure Program and New York State's Reforming the Energy Vision.

The NYC 2030 District could speed the work of these existing programs and allow for the synthesis of multiple programs because of their closely aligned goals and the impact of property owners committing to the "Architecture 2030 Challenge". Due to its hard targets and active participation of the private sector, especially building industry leaders, the District will be able to provide greater cooperation and accelerate sustainability efforts. As has been observed in other 2030 Districts, by bringing property owners, government entities and other stakeholders to a common forum, the District can aid in leveraging financing, public support and collaborative action. For example, by pooling information on similar interests, small properties property owners will be able to access financing available to bigger properties and streamline the paperwork. They will also be able to share resources to conduct energy assessments, benchmarking, training, and general guidance. And importantly, the workshops and meetings held by the Districts will become a platform to share knowledge, discuss success stories, caution against certain measures and see how one's effort is making a tangible difference in reaching the overarching goal. The 2030 District in Seattle has seen energy use reduction of 7% from its inception in 2011 to 2014, with shared buildings, those with multiple owners, witnessing reductions of an impressive 19%.

Adoption of Architecture 2030's tangible targets will also spur innovation, enabling the District to becoming an incubator for the adoption of new technologies. As Haym Gross, founding member of the NYC 2030 District says, "With more access to financing and information, stakeholders get a greater capacity to achieve innovative solutions." Furthermore, the NYC 2030 District will also provide the opportunity to find solutions tailored specifically for the particular neighborhood. For example, business-dominated lower Manhattan has different requirements/solutions than a residential core such as East Harlem.

Architecture 2030 NYC is currently evaluating the possibility of engaging the area often referred to as the Brooklyn Tech Triangle as the first NYC 2030 District. It includes Downtown Brooklyn, DUMBO and the Brooklyn Navy Yard and consists of a broad diversity of land uses including a Central Business District, low-and-high rise buildings, single-and-multi-family residential areas, a civic center, an industrial park, university campuses, cultural institutions as well as parks, waterfront, and transportation and utility facilities. The district includes existing buildings, some dating back to the Civil War, as well as a significant number of new and proposed buildings. There is potential for aggregated, community-based networks and district-scale projects as well resilience projects in the low-lying areas that were flooded during Superstorm Sandy.

A living lab. That in essence is what the NYC 2030 District will become. A lab that will spur innovation and become a hotbed of success stories that soon will be replicated in other parts of New York and the rest of the world.


Shravya Jain is working with the NYC Districts team to establish sustainability districts in NYC. She recently graduated from Columbia University and has previously served as a journalist in India. Connect with her on Twitter at @Shravya_Jain.

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