Author Archives: Nicholas MacDonald

About Nicholas MacDonald

Writer and urban planner who lives in Brooklyn. @Nicholascity

Fifty Years of Landmarks

Above: 88th Precinct Station House at DeKalb and Classon Avenues in Brooklyn,1929, which received landmark designation January, 2014; constructed 1889-90, architect George Ingram; photo NYPL.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Landmarks Law. Since its passage, the Landmarks Preservation Commission has designated 33,000 buildings and sites, and by doing so it has given them protection against haphazard demolition. Real estate developers may bemoan the constraints upon their industry, but landmarking is an exercise in thoughtfulness that protects the future of New York City, and not for cultural value alone.

In order for a building or district to receive landmark designation it must have an architectural, historical, or culturally significant feature and be over 30 years old. Not all buildings came from the hand of a relevant architect, nor are there that many houses of a certain great Dutch land baron, but as New York City continues to grow, the value is in a process that considers all buildings. Buildings themselves contribute to the future; older buildings not only contain culture but also the embodied energy and materials of previous generations. 

Preserving a building is recycling on the largest scale.

The first step to sustainability is preservation. As we step forward into the age of megacities, issues of inclusion, sustainability, and efficiency come to the front of the conversation about the future of growth.

A study from the University of Toronto recently compared the resource use of global megacities, and the findings confirmed the common premise that density increases efficiency. But New York City proved to be the exception; with more electricity used than Tokyo (12 million more population), more water used than Guangzhou (80% of world textile production), and three times more solid waste than Mexico City or Tokyo produced in 2011. In fact, according to the study New York City is so inefficient that it offers no advantages over living in a smaller city.

[Editors note: New York’s measurements in the megacity study were taken at a wider scope than many other cities — Los Angeles, for example, apparently measured only LA County, while New York’s data included the city’s entire commuter-radius, far beyond the five boroughs and deep into suburban counties. City Atlas partner CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities provided New York’s data, and has been doing follow-up comparisons for better metrics and apples-to-apples matches between cities. Toyko’s efficiency advantage does seem to be consistent; it’s a vast city, but has lower car use and smaller apartments and homes.]

Preserving a building is recycling on the largest scale humans can achieve. A historic designation is, in a sense, a recycling of culture. The reuse or retrofitting of an old building is the recycling of energy. When you consider the amount of energy and materials it takes to build a new building, even a “green” building, it is almost always less efficient than retrofitting an older building. This depends on the building but many older buildings are constructed of denser materials. These brick and stone buildings are excellent at storing heat, which in the right climate leads to cooler days and warmer nights. The right climate tends to be on the warmer side, which if everything goes as predicted with climate change should be a large proportion of the USA. In these circumstances retrofitting makes sense.

New construction is a source of emissions, so attention shifts towards the carbon cost of buildings over their lifetimes.
Furthermore, building a new energy-efficient building can take from 10 to 80 years to offset the energy used in construction. If we are to reach the goal of only a two degree rise in global temperatures then to reduce our short term carbon emissions is essential. We cannot wait eighty years to “pay off” the carbon production of too many new buildings. With this in mind the Green Buildings Council recently revised LEED standards to more properly weight building reuse. The mindset is shifting towards looking at lifecycles.

If only it were so simple, to regard each pre-existing building as the best choice for the future. Since buildings represent such a large portion of carbon emissions the mandate would be clear, that we need to build less and rehabilitate what we have. Currently 61% of all building projects are retrofits in the US. This is for several reasons, foremost being the cost savings of high-efficiency equipment, which make retrofitting too good a deal to miss out on.

That leaves 39% of the market in new building construction. It is estimated that 40-48% of new commercial building construction is “green”. It’s interesting to note that in commercial construction valued over $50 million that number climbs to 71%. Whereas if you look at residential construction the numbers become a bit murky with 62% of firms reporting at least 15% of their housing projects to be green. It’s a bit difficult to get a clear sense of what that means.

Consider that in New York City, quite a few of these green residential units are luxury condos. Despite being LEED-certified, their energy usage may be higher than many older buildings around them. All of the technology and gadgets don’t make up for high ceilings when it comes to energy efficiency. The NYT noted this discrepancy with regard to several LEED buildings receiving failing Energy Star ratings (Energy Star is a much simpler analysis it looks at energy usage per square foot). This is partly to do with how LEED certification has changed over the years. Initially energy usage wasn’t figured into the model as heavily as it is now, but once a certification is given it stays for the life of the building. What is true of any building is that energy usage is tied to how tenants operate the building, and even a highly-rated building can suffer if the lights are left on all night.

Building reuse could be one of the many tools used to bring NYC in line with other megacities as paragons of efficiency necessary to sustain a vibrant society. In one case study building reuse met 15% of a region’s carbon reduction goals. Currently the only mandate for building reuse comes from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Last year there were 13,000 applications for landmark designation. In total four percent of the city is currently designated. It should be encouraged to use old buildings when appropriate. While real estate would most likely enjoy a less regulated market, it is necessary to curtail the influence money can have if we are to meet the goal of a sustainable NYC.

For an interesting look at the history of landmarks over the past fifty years visit Saving Place at the Museum of the City of New York.

Financing an equitable and resilient future

New York City Bar conference on how to finance an equitable, and resilient, future. (Photo: N. MacDonald)

New York City Bar conference on how to finance an equitable, and resilient, future. (Photo: N. MacDonald)

The New York City Bar recently hosted a conference focused on Recovery, Adaptation, Mitigation, and Planning, or RAMP, one of the many urban planning ideas developed in response to Hurricane Sandy’s impact on the city. RAMP is an initiative of the Pratt Institute, which is focusing on public programs to address the issues of a changing climate. The City Bar conference panels grappled with the anticipated problems of social inclusion, finance, housing, infrastructure, and equity, and made clear the challenge of financing an equitable future, both for large scale infrastructure investments and for adding resiliency to individual buildings.

How can society finance and rebuild a coastal city facing climate change? How can risk be measured in detail, and improvements assessed fairly? Can the market force of insurance be brought into play in an equitable way?

Farmers facing an uncertain weather future now have the Climate Corporation, a predictive firm built by two ex-Google engineers, which combines big data with climate models for future warming and provides more precise and useful crop insurance against extreme weather events. The Climate Corporation was just bought by Monsanto in a sign that corporate agriculture now recognizes the risks, and potential business models, in a rapidly shifting climate system. After the billions of dollars of damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, property insurance has a similar push to improve its methods and technology.

How can society finance and rebuild a coastal city facing climate change?
There are obstacles to acquiring funding for adaptation upgrades, because loans favor a short return on investment. A project investing in resilience for climate change has a timetable further into the life of a building. Compounding the challenge, the insurance industry lacks a model that details the “certainty of benefits” for the various potential improvements. This gap in measurement takes time to resolve, as the insurance industry updates its models with data on property damage from past weather events to form a more accurate picture of future risk and the benefits of resilient infrastructure.

Another possibility for financing investments in resilience is the return of Limited Dividend Corporations (LDC), an idea from the 1930’s, meaning a private company that takes on specific development responsibilities and limitations in exchange for certain benefits.

In the 1970’s Massachusetts created a new version of the LDC statute, renamed as an Urban Redevelopment Corporation (URC). The difference between LDCs and URCs is that the scope of eligible activities is widened beyond the original objective of low income housing. This statute gained attention from developers in Massachusetts, and the model could provide incentive for private capital to invest in New York City resiliency projects.

Farmers now have a high tech tool to guide their investments; should developers in cities?
Not all projects can be funded by private capital. Building equitably and resiliently is not supported by many of the current funding mechanisms, which may need an overhaul to meet the investment demands of the future.

Other major sources of funding are general obligation bonds, highly rated but politically difficult to approve since they come as a tax guarantee, and Community Development Block grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which cover disaster recovery assistance as well as community housing for low to moderate income housing, but are not unlimited.

Public-private partnerships the most logical are with nonprofits who are able to get funding through programs such as the Social Innovation fund. These programs offer funding mechanisms with rigorous criteria, which is good, however in times of crisis they don’t offer enough flexibility. Lastly for-profit companies are strange bedfellows for the government since profit and public good are often vastly different goals. To counter this problem paradigm shifts such as LDCs or other incentives must be carefully tailored and evaluated to insure that they benefit the public good.

The largest problems noted during the conference came from the difficulty in measuring the benefits of resilient and equitable projects. The obsession with measuring outcomes is nothing new, but in the case of non-financial benefits there exists a strong incentive to sacrifice some of the bottom line. This is the first conference from the City Bar’s task force on legal issues of climate adaptation, chaired by Stephan L. Kass. Their goal, as stated by President Carey R. Dunne, is to look at the “financing mechanisms and legal reforms necessary to help cities and nations undertake the investments needed…” Both the City Bar and Pratt are seeking public input on how to finance an equitable and resilient future: join the conversation on Twitter via #rampfinancingnyc.

Notable also is that the City Bar, founded in 1870 in part to clean up a corrupt judicial system in the era of Boss Tweed, shows an active interest in the City’s future as New York faces the peril of climate change. From the Bar’s President’s letter of June, 2013, on the organization’s recommendations for the new Mayor:

Several of the City Bar’s recommendations underscore the importance of New York’s policies in setting an example for the nation and even the world. Climate change is one such area, with the report providing ways for the incoming Mayor to encourage and incentivize City residents and commuters to reduce their carbon footprint. The report also asks the Mayor to support energy efficiency and renewable energy, accelerate the work of the Green Codes Task Force, and affirm his or her commitment to long-term PlaNYC goals. A focus on environmental justice would help mitigate Superstorm Sandy’s disproportionate impacts on disadvantaged communities, while taking steps to enforce mandatory evacuations and implement “reverse 911 calls” would help prevent casualties in the next storm.











New York leads global cities in adopting LED bulbs

By 2017, the spectral glow of New York City metal halide and sodium vapor streetlights will be replaced by the clean, bright white light of LED bulbs. The approximately 250,000 lights represent the largest retrofit in the nation and are predicted to save the city $14 million per year. In addition to providing a significant cost reduction to the city’s energy costs, the lights also contribute to the administration’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent from government operations.

The city has already replaced lights along Roosevelt Drive, Eastern Parkway, and in areas of Central Park through pilot programs that demonstrate the immediacy of cost savings and reliability of the lights. The outcome of those retrofits established LED bulbs as a win-win solution that is politically feasible due to the quick return on investment through savings. Similar projects in London, Toronto, Hong Kong, Sydney, and many others have yet to spur governments to widely adopt LED bulbs. The feasibility for New York came from the steadily decreasing cost of LED bulbs, which may also encourage other cities to follow in the years ahead.

The project is the first funded through the newly created Accelerated Conservation and Efficiency initiative (ACE), which was created by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services to finance sustainability projects. “The ACE Program overall is expected to contribute 5 percent of the City governments overall 30 percent reduction by 2017,” said DCAS commissioner Edna Wells-Handy, or 16.6 percent of the total goal. This is one of the many programs that came from the PlaNYC initiative that has encouraged major steps towards a more sustainable New York.


Who can explain the 5000 pound life?

Seaport City, a concept proposed for housing atop a sea wall in southern Manhattan. (Image: SIRR)

Seaport City, a concept proposed for housing atop a protective sea wall in southern Manhattan. (Image: SIRR)

A year after Hurricane Sandy and months after the release of the city’s comprehensive plan for the future (the SIRR) much discussion continues on the need for building “resilience” in the face of a predicted increase in extreme weather. But is a public conversation focused on resilience too narrow?

Behind climate change are our CO2 emissions, and our CO2 emissions are a product of our lifestyles, our economies, and our existing energy infrastructure. In September the UN panel on climate, the IPCC, included a carbon budget as part of their latest report; this is the “trillion tonne” estimate of the total amount of carbon that can be added to the atmosphere while keeping temperatures likely within the 2° C “safe range” in warming.

The global ‘limit’ on CO2 emissions, for the climate to stay in the 2° C range, will be reached within decades at our current rate of burning fossil fuel (coal, oil and natural gas). Some experts are converting this limit into terms we can recognize in our personal lives.

Physicist Klaus Lackner describes the safe share of fossil fuel energy allotted to us each as a single tanker truck of gasoline to be spent over a lifetime (with some to spare for one’s children, if needed).

Inventor and engineer Saul Griffith changed every tally of energy use in his life into one unit, watts, to better compare the energy he used in ways as different as air travel and his consumption of newspapers. Then Griffith pared his life down from a constant use of 17,000 watts to 2500 watts, which is a number that could be sustainable for everyone on the planet. (His brilliant and thorough overview can be seen here.) More energy can ultimately come from solar, wind, or nuclear — but we need a full national commitment for decades to build the new infrastructure to replace our enormous demand on fossil fuels.

Meteorologist Eric Holthaus, who covered Sandy for the Wall Street Journal and who now writes for Quartz, read the latest IPCC report and made a public vow to quit flying

Economist Nicholas Stern chose the number of pounds of emissions as his baseline: by his calculation, when fairly divided across the world’s population, we might each get to emit 5000 lbs of CO2 per year. Stern’s figure provides the framework for the Architectural League’s new lecture series, “The 5000 Pound Life.” To quote from the League’s introduction:

“Change seems impossible, yet change is essential. Where do we go from here?”

The opening lecture, here described by Nicholas MacDonald, centered on the first step for a sustainable future: the challenge of informing the public.

What would life be like for a New Yorker if over a year, each one of us were allowed only to produce 5000 pounds of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide? Burning one gallon of gasoline produces twenty pounds of CO2; 5000 lbs then works out to an annual budget for fossil fuel that can roughly be gauged by the energy stored in 250 gallons of gasoline. Out of that 250 gallons, we’d each have to accomplish the entire sum of annual driving, flying (probably not much), cooking, and electric generation that we currently derive from CO2 emitting fossil fuel. (Presumably, one could consume as much solar or wind power as one could pay for.) And we’d need to cover our fractional share of agricultural uses and government, including fuel for police cars and jet fighters, out of the same resource.

The transformation of society to achieve these goals is enormous; for instance, not mentioned in the SIRR is New York City’s dependence on international tourism by air — which is problematic, at least until most other global emission sources, like coal powerplants, can be taken offline.

This is the subject which drives the Architectural League’s ambitious new series of talks, “The 5000 Pound Life.” How will climate change affect New York, and how do we build a new economy that is sustainable?

The first of the talks, “Climate Change in the American Mind,” focused on what the speaker Anthony Leiserowitz calls the “public relations problem.” Leiserowitz is the director of the Yale Project on Global Climate Change Communications; since 2009 his project has provided benchmark research on public opinion on the subject. His core insights are shared in the talk, which is worth watching in full to comprehend the real story of New York City and everywhere else vulnerable to the perplexing challenge of climate change:

The Five Thousand Pound Life: Climate Change in the American Mind | Anthony Leiserowitz | Recorded October 2, 2013 | Running time: 17:14

The conversation in the United States still stumbles on the question “Is global climate change occurring?” On this, public opinion lags expert opinion by a huge amount; even understanding of what experts themselves think lags reality. As Leiserowitz puts it, “Only about four in ten of Americans understand that most scientists think climate change is happening.”

Only 4 in 10 Americans understand that scientists think climate change is happening.

The majority of the world accepts that central premise, but the United States belongs to a small group of English-speaking nations (the others being Canada, Australia and to some extent the UK) that have become politically polarized on the topic, blocking a national consensus that could lead to changing views and to action.

Leiserowitz attributes public indifference or lack of awareness in the U.S. to several causes: our faltering economy, declining media coverage, the polarization of the political parties, variable weather, and an effective denial campaign, including the trumped-up attack on the science during ‘Climate-gate.’ A coordinated denial campaign is nothing new, Leiserowitz notes, as the tactic was employed by the tobacco industry even while medical research steadily pointed to a link with lung cancer.

Despite the inertia in public opinion nationally, in the case of post-Sandy New York and the 13 other areas in the United States affected by local climate change opinion is shifting more rapidly.

In an effort to break down the statistics Professor Leiserowitz divides the “American public”–an entity that never really exists in this politically and socially fragmented country–into six different groups, or “Six Americas.”

Opinion on climate can be visualized in six groups, as shown here. Via:

The range of opinion on climate can be divided into six groups. Via:

The spectrum is something familiar to anyone in market research, a range that includes the audiences ready to take action, those dismissive of climate change, and those in between. The key, he proposes, to putting more people in the groups ready to take action is to talk about it. And to give the groups that want something to do a plan of action.

To shift core beliefs requires con­ver­sa­tions between peo­ple that trust one another.

The problem and solution is that to achieve a shift in these core beliefs requires conversations between people that trust one another. This information can’t come directly from the news, or a stranger. It needs to be someone they believe in.

Soon after the “5000 Pound Life” talk, we came across another Yale professor who looks at forces that shape public opinion in a different way. Gregory Huber is one of the authors of a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. His study raises a very interesting question: what if people are lying to pollsters to feel good about their “team”? The researchers found that when you pay people to answer a question more accurately, or to admit if they are not sure of the answer, the opinion gap between Republicans and Democrats narrows by half.

Huber’s hypothesis for this effect is that people may often use surveys “not as a chance to tell you what they really think, but as a chance to cheerlead for their partisan team.” This leads to distortion, and to the appearance of even greater polarization. Huber recently discussed his findings on the NPR show “On the Media.”

Considering the partisan nature of climate change it matters greatly what respondents’ motives are while being polled. Huber’s work suggests that the true understanding of Americans may not be as different as it seems across the “Six Americas.” Climate arguments in America may be as much about maintaining status and identity among one’s peers as in understanding the scientific information itself. Huber’s work might support the idea that a trusted messenger can get around the partisan game-playing that seems to amplify differences in opinion polls.

Similar conclusions come from Dan Kahan at Yale Law School, where his Cultural Cognition Project studies how people’s cultural identities shape their beliefs about scientific subjects. And research from the University of Toronto finds that often people don’t even like activists, which would mean the people who most want to be communicators could be the least successful. This research meshes with Leiserowitz and Kahan, who both suggest that familiar, trusted faces are the best communicators on volatile subjects. [Leading by one’s own actions, as Saul Griffith and Eric Holthaus have, may also be an effective way to win trust across partisan lines, and may be the first, necessary step to true communications in a democracy.]

Even the idea of pursuing ‘transparency in government,’ cited as an unalloyed good by progressive groups, may in fact be counterproductive to breakthroughs when facing a polarized public. The startling second segment of an episode of “This American Life,” from May, 2013, features former conservative Republican congressman Bob Inglis, who broke with his party on climate and lost his next primary.

The radio show includes off-the-record interviews with House staffers that indicate there could already be enough Republican votes in the House of Representatives to pass a carbon tax this year, if only the vote could be taken anonymously. Under the scrutiny of rightwing media, reprisals in the form of primary challenges (as Inglis experienced) prevent any breakthroughs otherwise.

Leiserowitz’s data also offers insight for ways around partisan barriers. Americans all like renewable energy; on that it doesn’t matter which of the “Six Americas” groups you belong to. The majority of people don’t mind reducing fossil fuel consumption and they don’t mind removing subsidies to oil and coal.

Likewise, a majority opposes a reduction in subsidies meant for renewable energy. The idea of achieving independence via renewable energy strikes a chord with all groups; conservatives view even a tax to pay for energy independence a necessary evil. While many established conservative economists have pushed a carbon tax, that solution is still a steep climb for the public. Yet a revenue neutral version is something which has widely been discussed as the most viable and least regressive tax option for recovering the external costs of fossil fuel consumption.

Despite the public’s feelings on a carbon tax, according to a recent Deloitte study the majority of businesses believe a carbon tax is coming. Furthermore, besides believing it is coming, 79% of businesses think that the cost of carbon should be figured into the use of electricity. A strong majority from what could be characterized as an area often unconsidered by business. The caveat to this belief is the majority also agree that the cost of carbon is difficult to measure. A value held by the public as well.

This vital conversation continues through the Architectural League on 10.29.13, with political scientist Melissa Lane discussing Sustainable Citizenship, and on 12.10.13, with philosopher Steven Gardiner discussing the The Perfect Moral Storm of our collective role in climate change.


Can it get any hotter in New York City?

From black to white

From black to white

In New York City, and larger cities in general, summers for many have become an expensive and uncomfortable burden. Situated comfortably above Tom’s Restaurant of Seinfeld fame resides NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), one of the many organizations that contributed to PlaNYC, the city’s sustainability plan. They have a few answers to the growing heat problem in cities, which is also known as the ‘urban heat island’ effect, and which amplifies urban heat beyond even that caused by the background effect of climate change.

The NYC°CoolRoofs program was born to implement part of the solution suggested by GISS. You see the problem is us, and this time it’s not just CO2 emissions, it’s our predilection towards dark roofs and other surfaces that we inherited from Northern European influences. As a result the surface area of NYC has a low reflectivity of light radiation. Dark roofs love to soak up the sun, generating very high temperatures.

Albedo is the degree of light absorption and reflected radiation and it contributes to the ~7.2 degrees of additional heat generated during the summer months in the city. In recent years the additional heat generated has contributed to brownouts, deaths, and economic hardship during increasingly frequent heat waves. The conditions of heat waves, lingering high temperature over days or weeks, further amplify the heat island effects, as urban structures retain the heat and radiate it back out.

As a result of PlaNYC and Mayor Bloomberg’s NYC Services program, the 2008 construction codes were updated to require highly reflective roofs on new buildings. In April 2011 the city expanded the code to include retrofits of new buildings. So in time, all buildings in NYC will have reflective roofs.

The problem was what to do with existing buildings. The NYC°CoolRoofs program came out of that need. Wendy Dessy, the executive director, she describes the goal as simply turning roofs from black to white, but the amount of work required to do so is deceptive. The program exists as a partnership with the Department of Buildings, Community Environmental Center and Sustainable South Bronx, as well as corporate partners for funding, permits, volunteers and all the other minutia necessary to ensure that the program is successful. As of September 2013 they have coated 4,187,133 square feet of rooftops across 490 buildings, and engaged 5,095 volunteers in the work. Organizing all of the various vendors, talking with the many different building owners and finding the funding requires dedication.

Volunteers from Deutsche Bank painting

Volunteers from Deutsche Bank painting

The Cool Roof team makes the process for getting a cool roof simple. On staff is Loretta Tapia, who does site inspections and discusses with the building owner the options since a variety of choices are available from the basic paint, which comes at no cost to the owner, to higher end products where the owner pays the difference. The end result is the transformation from a black roof to a white roof and by doing so a reduction in heat absorption by the building. This translates to cost savings to the occupants of the building and a reduction in heat to the area surrounding the building.

On average a dark roof is 70-90 degrees hotter than the surrounding air temperature. With enough white roofs the USEPA reports that the urban heat island effect created by the abundance of dark surfaces in cities could be reversed if used on combination with other methods. This is especially true in Manhattan where 40% of the total area is rooftops. In a study by GISS, if light colored roofs replaced dark roofs in Mid-Manhattan West, the local air temperature would decrease by 1.4 degrees. If other strategies suggested such as green plantings, livings roofs, and light surfaces were adopted the city the results would be even more dramatic.

Painting roofs white is likely the cheapest strategy to cool neighborhoods. Planting trees, installing green roofs, and changing other surfaces around the city would require more significant investment. But it has been suggested by Brian Stone Jr., a professor of urban environmental planning at Georgia Institute of Technology, that this investment would yield long term economic savings in energy and pollution costs that would far exceed the investment.

I was fortunate to visit a project in the Bronx, an area which GISS identified as one of the hotter areas in NYC. The view from the rooftop gives a clear view of a sea of older housing stock with black roofs. On this particular day Deutsche Bank was the corporate partner. In addition to funding 50% of the cost to transform the roof, they gave their employees a chance to take the day off from banking. The event is part of Deutsche Bank’s corporate social responsibility philosophy of community development. About the partnership, Janet Wong, Vice President at Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation, said: “Deutsche Bank’s involvement in NYC CoolRoofs has been a terrific complement to its commitment to community development, sustainability and employee engagement. It has been especially meaningful to ‘connect the dots’ in neighborhoods in Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx where the Bank has been involved for many years. Many employee volunteers still talk about their coating days weeks and even months later and several come back year after year.”

There was plenty of excitement from volunteers on how nice it felt to do something tangible in the community. Everyone gives to charities but you seldom have a chance to see where the money is going. On the roof, they know that by the end of the day people will be spending less on electricity the next month, and for years to come.

By design the program will eliminate itself, and if the science is correct, result in a cooler, cleaner New York City. There are, according to the Dept. of Buildings and City Planning, more than 579 million square feet of roof surface in NYC, covering 226,525 buildings that would be prime candidates for white roof application. At the current rate of approximately 1.2 million square feet per year Cool Roofs still has a lot of work to do. (And could use plenty more partners.)

What is unique is that unlike other cool roofs programs being implemented across the United States NYC uses a substantial volunteer component. Many of the other cities are only now catching on to the volunteer possibilities. It is a simple job to paint a roof, especially with a team, and Sustainable South Bronx makes it even easier on the volunteers by preparing the roof and supplies so that all one has to do is apply the paint. Corporate partners like Deutsche Bank provide leads on buildings that could be painted. Individuals make the time to come up on the roof and do the job.

If you would like to do your part, but don’t happen to enjoy painting, then why not plant a tree with Million Trees NYC, another project that came out of PlaNYC that will eliminate itself with a job well done and bring us all some relief from the heat next summer.

(Photos: Nicholas MacDonald)