"May you live in interesting times," a venerable Chinese curse, might be a blessing for us now. What makes for interesting times is that things are unsettled and the future uncertain. The Sallan Foundation, which opened its doors in New York City in January 2005, shares with everyone the fate of living in interesting times in the opening years of the 21st Century. Its mission is to improve the urban environment by advancing useful knowledge for greener, high performance cities. Sallan situates the need for high performance building and clean, renewable energy at the top of its agenda.
Today, there is a the sense of urgency about making cities, those centers of people, power, capital and creativity, into working models for living on our crowded and contested planet. Where we live, work and amuse ourselves must be pleasant and livable places to be, or those of us who can, will leave. 21st Century buildings that employ 19th and 20th Century carbon based power and technologies to light, heat, cool and sustain our ubiquitous computer-driven lives don't make sense and we will not enhance our economy, our environment and our quality of life by pointing to a mere handful of innovations.
The economic engine of capital cities like New York has been powered by real estate development, the financial industry and the City's role as a global magnet for creativity. Evidence of this powerful engine is most abundant in Manhattan, but the other boroughs are intrinsic to making the City work. Just look where its power plants are sited or its remaining factories. Now we have arrived at a crossroad, a place where Sallan sees the potential for a sustainable and equitable metropolis.
Sallan's web site will incubate and broadcast emerging ideas and practices for creating high performance cities. Good ideas are necessary for making cities into models for how to use the natural and human resources available to us in ways that are sustainable, replicable and equitable. Good ideas provide the energy for creating urban alliances, some of them surprising. Good ideas must be popular too, because ideas are not good enough if they are never tested in practice.
The web site will focus in on Sallan's high performance building and renewable energy agenda. "Torchlight" aims to provoke discussion by looking into what is new, contested and feasible in order to formulate knowledge that is there to be used. "Snapshots", a companion website column, will offer brief, focused think pieces by guest writers who share in the sense of urgency about our interesting times. Readers' comments will be posted, of course. Sallan will have carried out its mission if it becomes a purveyor of ideas that matter because they can be put into practice, and, over time, become the "new normal".
Creating the impetus to advance toward this new normal means that individual investment and development decisions must be analyzed both in the context of new technologies and larger development strategies as well as for their pertinent political and economic contexts. It is clear that the resources to foster the new normal are missing from current planning efforts in areas like the Hudson Yards, the Atlantic Terminal and Williamsburg. Absent high performance building standards for such projects or incentives to encourage green design, there is no common baseline for making such architectural and engineering commitments, commitments that may be shunned as more costly or complex than doing things by the old rulebooks. What the City's rezoning and redevelopment plans need is a template for high performance building that would produce structures which use less heat and power while adding to their value.
Reduced building energy demand means lower operating expenses, a direct way to keep down owners' and occupants' monthly bills year after year. Reduced demand paves the way for reducing the need for new power plants and easing the peak demands on the power supply system on hot summer days. These system goals can only be met if energy efficiency becomes the new normal. In addition, clean indoor air and increased access to natural light will add value by enhancing building marketability
Put simply, only innovative public policy in concert with private sector dynamism can make sustainable practices into New York's new normal. This new normal would mean more affordable buildings and cleaner air; it would act as an incentive to the City's green design, finance and manufacturing sectors. This new normal can be the high road to durable urban sustainability. What an achievement for these interesting times.