Crisis or Not, Sticking to the PlaNYC

I think it’s more a concern about priorities—like ‘How can you be spending money on this, when people still can’t afford to eat?’

Oh, well, at the end of the day, sustainability is not a veneer. It is, in fact, the solution. And so if you think about the things over the long term that can help people get jobs, help people save money, lower the cost of living here, it is about more efficient energy consumption. If we can make our power plants cleaner and more efficient, they will be cheaper to operate, and the price of electricity will be lower. If we can make our cars more efficient, then New York City’s total spending on gas will go down. And the $13 billion worth of time that New Yorkers waste in traffic. Think about the economic drag of that.

 
We were talking about developers earlier. What kind of impact did they have on the evolution of PlaNYC?

First of all, we’ve got the Real Estate Board, and Dan Tishman of Tishman Construction, and Bob Fox, the architect of the Bank of America tower, all on our sustainability advisory council. So they were all, on the real estate side, integrally involved in the development of the plan. The plan actually started out as a real estate plan. I mentioned this realization that New York City had grown, even when the first Bloomberg administration had really been focused on stabilizing the city after 9/11 and making sure that we didn’t have a decline in the quality of life, that we didn’t go bankrupt again. With the midpoint census numbers that came out in late 2005, the mayor basically turned to Dan Doctoroff and said, ‘Holy cow, we’ve grown in spite of the last few years. What does that mean for the trajectory of population?’ It was a result of that that City Planning did its projections seeing the city reaching 9.1 million people—we’re going to have a million more people, where are they gonna live? Efficiency is the answer.

I think [developers] helped us think through the areas where green design really can be cost-effective. They helped us think through what kinds of trade-offs we’d really have to make. For example, there are things you can just require that cost money; there are processes that you can impose and the process costs money. Delays in a construction project literally cost money. So I think we took a much more sophisticated view of how to do green building goals and how to do energy efficiency because of their input. One example of that, I think, is that other cities have tried to do green building simply by requiring all privately owned buildings to be LEED. Now, that is one way to do it; it is not necessarily the best way to do it. And even the U.S. Green Building Council doesn’t necessarily think it’s the best way to do it.

So one of the things in the plan is a thorough review of all the building-related codes in the city to identify what are areas where either we can clear away obstacles to green design or we can impose cost-effective, hard-headed, doable requirements that improve energy efficiency. And I think this is a much more sophisticated approach, and I think we took that approach because we learned from a variety of perspectives within the development community what it means to do LEED and where it helps and what its shortcomings are.

 
So, about that third Bloomberg term. Has that changed your thinking about how PlaNYC continues?

The answer is yes and no. No, in the sense that we have been working to get done as much as we can. That doesn’t change. We have been working to put in place the practices and the tools that will make it easier for subsequent administrations to do sustainability planning, so things like the set of sustainability indicators that we are working on that we hope to have up and running in the next few months. That’s critical. That we want to do whether it’s a third Bloomberg administration or some other mayor in 2010 or 2014. So it doesn’t really change what we do on a regular basis. It does get us thinking if the mayor does win a reelection campaign, if he does ask us to stay around, then the idea of writing the next generation of the plan is kind of exciting.

ldepillis@observer.com