Tag Archives: New York City

Housing in New York City: Updating the History

A design for a low-rise “perimeter block” of apartments in Brooklyn. Image from the “History of Housing in New York City” and architects Cooper Robertson & Partners.

(First published on Oct. 17, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

More than a quarter century ago, Richard Plunz, director of the Urban Design Lab, wrote a detailed history of housing in New York City—from the first Dutch settlers through the rapid expansion that replaced farms, fields and streams with the modern Manhattan grid. Now he has updated the book to provide some perspective on recent decades, which have witnessed significant changes in the structure and distribution of the city’s housing—gentrification, loss of affordable housing stock, an explosion of luxury high rises and a shift from population loss to growth.

With the average apartment sale price at $1.87 million as of 2015, the impact on low-income residents and newcomers of the high-end trend is a key issue for Plunz, a professor in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University.

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Study Warns of Surge in Heat-Related Deaths in New York City

Looking across the Ed Koch (Queensborough) Bridge, June 6, 2011. Photo: Chris Goldberg / Creative Commons

(First published on June 29, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

A new study projects that as many as 3,331 people a year could be dying from the heat during New York City summers by 2080 as a result of the warming climate. That compares to 638 heat-related deaths on average between 2000 and 2006.

Efforts to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling a hotter climate could substantially reduce the toll. So would efforts to help people adapt, such as more widespread use of air conditioning and the creation of public “cooling centers.” Broader efforts to cool the city, such as planting more trees and installing reflective roofs that absorb less heat, would also help.

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How to Rethink Urban Transit, and Pay for It, Too

New York subway construction in the beginning of the 20th century. Aging infrastructure hampers the system’s efficiency. Photo: NY Public Library Digital Collections

(First published on April 19, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

Cities around the world are growing, creating pressure to provide adequate transportation systems to get people to and from their work and homes. In New York City, the population is growing again after decades of suburban flight, which focused much of public and private transportation spending on accommodating people traveling in cars.

Public transit systems around New York face increasing pressure from both an aging infrastructure and the need to carry more and more people. According to PlaNYC, subway ridership is the highest it’s been in over 60 years; 43 percent of New Yorkers travel to work by subway and commuter rail; more than 4,000 public buses carry more than 650 million riders throughout New York City each year.

A key question is how will we pay for these systems—both to fix the deteriorating infrastructure, and to pay for ongoing operations. This is a familiar topic for Elliott Sclar, professor of urban planning at the Columbia School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and the director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at the Earth Institute.

In a new book, Improving Urban Access: New Approaches to Funding Transport Investment,” Sclar and other researchers lay out the issues facing cities and offer new ways to think about who pays for public transportation, and how and why this can be changed. The new book continues lines of thinking from an earlier volume, Urban Access for the 21st Century.

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Why Do We Run Hot and Cold on Climate Change?

Credit: Climate Central

Credit: Climate Central

(First posted on State of the Planet Jan. 12, 2014.)

How cold was it last Tuesday? Cold enough to convince a lot of people global warming isn’t happening. Or at least confirm their belief that it isn’t.

But wait a minute: When the temperature hit 71 degrees in New York City on Dec, 22, that got a lot of people thinking that global warming IS happening.

Studies have shown that today’s temperature—our direct sensory experience—can affect our beliefs about climate. Poll numbers of those who believe in manmade global warming tend to shift upward when it gets hot, and downward when it gets cold.  Climate really is all about long-term trends—lots of data, some of it pretty messy. Neither the individual extremely warm day, nor the extremely cold day, are especially significant.

Nonetheless, people’s views on climate seem easily swayed, or in some cases manipulated, by daily weather. The onslaught of snarky, “I told you so” comments in the media and the blogosphere after last week’s deep freeze—from Rush Limbaugh ranting about a “polar vortex” conspiracy to Donald Trump calling climate change a hoax on the Fox News Channel—seem to confirm this.

In a study out today in Nature Climate Change, researchers from the Earth Institute’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions drilled into what goes on in people’s minds when they respond to these smaller-scale stimuli. In a series of surveys, they found that people tend to latch onto the most accessible and immediate information—temperature or otherwise—that they are presented with, and this often trumps deeper knowledge.

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Join the Earth Institute for Climate Week NYC 2014

STATUE IN WATER SIMPLIFIED(First posted on State of the Planet Sept. 15, 2014.)

From heads of state to ordinary citizens, thousands of people will gather for more than 100 events during Climate Week NYC. They’ll be talking and debating the rights of nature, corporate leadership, the threat from rising seas, innovations for social good and innumerable other topics. The activities in and around Climate Week — officially Sept. 22-28 — are meant to engage people in tackling the problems posed by worldwide climate change, and to encourage leaders to take concrete steps toward finding solutions.

Two major events will punctuate all the days of panel discussions, screenings, art exhibits and educational activities: a “People’s Climate March” on Sunday, Sept. 21, and the United Nations Summit on Climate on Sept. 23 (more on these below).

The Earth Institute and its centers will be engaged in several events:

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‘This is a wake-up call – don’t hit the snooze button’

Superstorm Sandy, New York City

Adam Sobel: “I was inside all day Monday, watching the tide gauge data at the Battery along with all the other observations. At 10:30 p.m., I couldn’t stand it anymore and went down to the Hudson, down by Fairway, to see the historic storm surge, just a couple hours after high tide.” This is his photo, looking under the elevated Riverside drive towards the river.

This story was first posted on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on Nov. 2, 2012

We have to stop thinking in terms of ‘100-year events.’ It’s not going to be another 100 years before we see another extreme storm such as Sandy.”
Art Lerner-Lam, deputy director, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

For years before Hurricane Sandy charged ashore on Monday, researchers from the Earth Institute knew what was coming. In a rapidly urbanizing world, where hundreds of millions of people now live in low-lying coastal areas, those scientists have been urging policymakers to appreciate the threats posed by such natural disasters and find ways to make our cities more resilient.

As the region struggles to recover from this “superstorm,” we asked several experts from the Earth Institute to consider the lessons we can learn as we move forward.

Art Lerner-Lam

Art Lerner-Lam

Art Lerner-Lam watched the storm surge lap at the front door of his apartment building in Hell’s Kitchen on Monday, at the boundary of the evacuation zone. Lerner-Lam serves as deputy director of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and also directs the Earth Institute’s Center for Hazards and Risk Research.

“We have to stop thinking in terms of ‘100-year events.’ It’s not going to be another 100 years before we see another extreme storm such as Sandy,” he said. “The statements by Gov. Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg affirming the need to address the long-term trends in storm severity are welcome and politically courageous; but the true test will be whether we can muster the popular will to do something about it. …

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Power Play: an Energy Map of New York City

First posted Feb. 13, 2012 on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog.

New York City, energy map, energy usage

Midtown Manhattan is red hot; Greenpoint a cool yellow and beige. It’s all a matter of energy: A new interactive, color-coded map created by a team at Columbia’s engineering school allows viewers to pinpoint and compare estimated energy usage, building lot by building lot, throughout New York City.

The researchers, working under Professor Vijay Modi of the Earth Engineering Center, a center of the Earth Institute, hope the new map will encourage city planners and building owners to seek more efficient ways to produce and use energy by using cogeneration, conservation and alternative energy systems. The map was created by the Modi Research Group.

“The simplest thing we learned [from the map] was that there are possibilities for doing lots of things which are hard to see when you don’t look at the big picture,” Modi said. For instance, neighboring buildings with large energy demands could team up to install cogeneration systems, which use heat generated from electricity to heat the buildings, cutting energy use.

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Opening the Door to More Rooftop Farming?

First posted Feb. 3, 2012 on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog.

Urban Design Lab, green roofs, New York City

Suitable rooftops (blue and yellow) could provide some 3,200 acres. (Graphic: Urban Design Lab)

The New York City Department of City Planning has proposed changes in zoning rules to make it easier to construct and retrofit buildings for energy efficiency – including a provision on rooftop greenhouses.

The zoning law amendments propose a number of new rules to encourage more energy efficient building practices. These include exemptions to building size and height restrictions, with limits, to allow:

= Building rooftop greenhouses on non-residential buildings, up to 25 feet in height.

= Installing wind turbines, both on roofs up to 55 feet above the rooftop, and freestanding ones in commercial and manufacturing areas on waterfront blocks.

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