The Big Picture with Erin Brereton: Prepare For A Greener, Cleaner American City

Last week, sales began at the first green development in New York City’s Murray Hill neighborhood. The 128-unit project, being built by Toll Brothers Inc. and The Kibel Companies, has been designed for LEED certification and features water-saving fixtures, bike storage and reduced parking rates for residents with energy-efficient or hybrid cars.

Construction is expected to be complete in the summer of 2009, by which time New York will be just six years away from its big greenhouse gas emission reduction goal—and likely even more invested in green building.

The Big Apple isn’t alone in its sustainable thinking. Across the U.S., large cities are buying in to building green in a big way. We thought we’d take a look at three green-friendly urban areas to see where they were, where they are—and where they’re headed.

–New York

Where it wants to be: Governor David Paterson’s “15 x 15” plan to reduce energy use by 15 percent from anticipated levels by the year 2015 involves new energy-efficiency programs intended to cut greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollution and encourage green building.

What it’s done: The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority offers a new construction and existing structure Multifamily Performance Program.

Existing multifamily buildings may be eligible for incentives if energy-saving measures are implemented.
For new construction projects, NYSERDA will work with the design team to identify and incorporate energy efficiency options.

And New York recently moved up from sixth to fifth place on the SustainLane list of America’s Most Sustainable Cities. The national survey measures the largest 50 U.S. cities’ ability to maintain healthy air, water, parks and public transit systems and use of green building programs, renewable energy and alternative fuel.

Projects include: Verdesian, the 26-story New York rental building that became the first multi-family, residential high-rise in the U.S. to receive Platinum LEED status.

The future: Governor David Paterson signed legislation this summer to encourage green standards for new home construction and existing home renovation that includes financial incentives for homeowners. The grant amounts will be based the size and type of the residential structure, among other factors. As part of the program, the state will develop qualification procedures for builders and technicians.


Where it wants to be: Mayor Richard M. Daley reportedly wants to make Chicago one of—if not the—greenest city in America.

What it’s done: Chicago helped pioneer the green roof movement—its foliage-topped buildings include City Hall, Millennium Park and the Michigan Avenue Apple Store. And in 2007, Chicago announced the "Chicago Green Homes" program for builders and developers during its Green Building Month.

The Green Homes program gives points to builders and developers who are constructing new residential units or renovating existing units in the Chicago area for using sustainable techniques and materials.
Green Homes includes a bonus for builders: Any projects submitted to the program—which is mandatory for any builders or developers using city financing or land—may qualify for an expedited green permit process.

And the Chicago Department of Environment award a Green Homes Certificate with a 1-, 2-, or 3-star rating to builders at the project’s completion based on how many points they earned.
Projects include: Emerald Chicago, an eco-friendly condo building in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood that includes green touches like bamboo flooring, energy-efficient windows and low-VOC paint. As of March, the project was 80 percent sold.

The future: Chicago is now focusing on buildings and greenhouse gas. In mid-September, Daley announced a plan to cut greenhouse gases to three-fourths of 1990 levels by 2020 and to one-fifth of 1990 levels by 2050.

The plan involves making buildings more energy efficient; finding clean, renewable energy sources; and reducing industrial pollution.

–San Francisco

Where it wants to be: The city’s Resource Efficient Building (Green Building) Task Force has been working to make San Francisco greener for years. Which includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions: From 1990 to 2005, San Francisco reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent. It plans to reduce emissions by 20 percent by 2012.

What it’s done: San Francisco multifamily developers and builders can get rebates for energy efficiency via the California Multifamily New Homes (CMFNH) program, sponsored by Pacific Gas & Electric, which encourages energy-efficient design in multifamily housing by giving design help and cash incentives.
The program offers financial and design incentives for new construction multifamily developments that include the chance to qualify for additional funding, appliance incentives and design assistance that includes payback analysis for cost-effective energy saving measures.

Projects include: Arterra, which contains apartments and townhomes and was designed to be San Francisco’s first LEED™-certified* green high-rise community.

The future: San Francisco is carving out space as one of the greenest cities around. Starting in November, part of the San Francisco Building Code will require new buildings to meet green building standards—such as water-efficient landscaping—that were developed by the Green Building Task Force.

It’s clear green building is a priority for many U.S. cities.

Green building offers a number of advantages—long-term energy reduction and savings; a lower environmental impact; even trendiness—but not all builders and developers are on board. The up-front costs can be higher, and citywide mandates can necessitate project redesigns or other issues.
Is green building an admirable goal we should be working toward—or something cities should leave up to the individual developer or builder on private projects? What do you think?