Greening The City’s Future

by Don Friedman on June 10, 2016

I greatly enjoyed this essay by Michael Sorkin on a greener future for New York. He discusses the extreme case of making New York – over eight and half million people in roughly 300 square miles – ecologically self-sufficient. That case is obviously unlikely to happen, as Sorkin himself states, but it serves as a goal and as a way to discuss what changes are feasible.

The prevalence of mass transit and apartment houses already make New York more energy efficient than most American cities. So the next question is: what more can be done? Engineers and architects will inevitably look at the huge acreage of empty roofs and think about using them. Right now, the typical NYC building has a roof consisting of nothing but waterproofing and some small area of mechanical equipment. Rainwater on the roof may be impounded to prevent overloading the sewers, but is ultimately flushed away; the sunlight and space are wasted. If we look at one building in isolation, it may not make economic sense for the owner to put photovoltaic cells on that roof, or a green roof, or some other non-traditional use. But if we consider the city as a whole, turning that asphalt and gravel top into productive space is greatly appealing.

On a side note, my blog posts are just my opinion and so I’ve spent little time thinking about disclaimers, but I should probably mention that Michael taught a class I took as an undergrad. It was called “Housing and Cities” and was quite far from the general run of engineering classes I had at Rensselaer. He made me think back then (the spring of 1986), and his teaching has influenced me ever since.

Previous post:

Next post: