True Green Cities / Celebrating Five Years – Climate Change & COP21

Celebrating 5 Years - Climate Change & COP21
The Eiffel Tower seen from the Architecture Center.

The Eiffel Tower seen from the Architecture Center, the location of the recent Climate meetings.

It’s been five years since I launched Barbara A. Campagna/Architecture + Planning, PLLC and while many things have changed, my goal to work on “greening what’s already here” continues to be met, often in places I never expected. Many people are finding new ways to integrate historic preservation and green building practices, which makes my venture a delightful and intellectually inspiring one. This is blog ONE of my 5th anniversary week. I was interviewed for an article in Architect Magazine about COP21 by Kim O'Connell, which got me thinking about how far the new Paris Climate agreement goes. That seems to be a good place to start my week of celebration blogs - as this could impact everything I do, and all architects do. What is your general response, as an architect and a sustainability leader, to the Paris Climate Agreement? Did it go far enough?
The United Nations from Long Island City. Is the Secretariat still the Secretariat even though its curtain wall has been replaced?

The United Nations from Long Island City. The Secretariat's curtain wall was replaced with a more efficient one.

In some respects the Paris Climate Agreement is the most exciting thing to happen to sustainability since the 1987 Brundtland Commission’s release of “Our Common Future.” In other respects, it could barely take us beyond the status quo.  But what I find really significant about the agreement is that there WAS an agreement between all 196 countries including the US and China.  There was discussion.  It’s carnival atmosphere captured the attention of the whole world.  The agreement which basically provides the framework to keep world-wide warming to two degrees and if possible to 1.5 degrees sends a signal to the world and to corporations.  It says that this is serious; we need to pay attention.  It should spur re-investment in renewables.  It provides recommendations to create guidelines in capacity building and transparency.  Politically, we have till 2018 and 2023 to make this all happen, but will enough countries actually ratify it? Will the US ratify it?  It will all depend on the fall presidential election. Architects have already committed to the 2030 carbon neutrality challenge. Is this a sufficient goal in light of the Paris Agreement? Are enough architects doing their part?
Manhattan from the 54th floor of 54 Leonard, the new Herzog & DeMeuron residential tower in TriBeCa.

Manhattan from the 54th floor of 54 Leonard, the new Herzog & DeMeuron residential tower in TriBeCa.

While Architecture 2030 has lofty goals and well-detailed recommendations, it is primarily being adopted by large cities, large firms, large agencies.  As someone who works in both big cities and medium/small cities, the disparity between sustainability efforts is huge. Few architects and owners apply real, meaningful sustainability efforts to projects unless they are required by the client or the jurisdiction.  Building and zoning codes that require LEED for example (such as Chicago, Washington, DC, Washington State) are far more effective in ensuring at least a base level of sustainable approaches. While New York State and New York City do not currently have legislation that requires LEED, the new benchmarking laws for all buildings over 50,000 square feet are making a big impact. Does the 2030 Commitment have enough “weight” and exposure in terms of galvanizing architects and the general public to greater awareness? I do  not believe that a “commitment” that is basically primarily focused on architects can promote greater public awareness.  It needs to be retooled in a way that the average person, who may not even know an architect, but cares about recycling or saving energy costs, can readily understand it and feel like it impacts their life.  Tax credits for solar – that impacts public awareness.  Signing up to meet the 2030 Challenge – that does not impact public awareness. How will COP21 affect what the profession is doing? What more can it do to promote energy efficiency and sustainability?
The former Niagara Machine and Tool Company factory complex at 683 Northland Avenue on the East Side of Buffalo is set to be adapted into a net zero mixed use property.

The former Niagara Machine and Tool Company factory complex at 683 Northland Avenue on the East Side of Buffalo is set to be adapted into a net zero mixed use property.

COP21 will have to affect the architectural profession.  Since almost 50% of all greenhouse gas emissions can be traced to construction activities, in order to meet the goals of limiting warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees, every building activity will matter.  We can only meet these goals (which still may not be rigorous enough) if the leaders in the architecture and construction fields are integral to developing these approaches. And if you’d like to “subscribe” or follow my blog, True Green Cities please sign up through the “Subscribe” button at the bottom left of this page. You’ll receive a daily recap when new blogs are posted. Or Sign up for the Feed.

True Green Cities / Reflecting on the Highlights of 2015

The FIT Sustainable Interior Environments graduate program celebrated its 5th anniversary in November.

The FIT Sustainable Interior Environments graduate program celebrated its 5th anniversary in November.

Last year was a challenging year on many fronts. There have been successes and losses, for me and the country. I would say from a global perspective terrorism, our crazy presidential campaign, refugees and climate change (at the Paris Climate Change conference) had the most impact. While locally, I have been involved in some big wins (and one huge loss) – the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy Gala, the fifth year anniversary of my graduate school program at FIT, the opening of the 500 Block of Main Street in downtown Buffalo, the active work on the opening of the new Buffalo Architecture Center and sadly the demolition of five of the Shoreline Apartments (by Paul Rudolph) on Buffalo’s waterfront. While I think a lot about these world issues, the only one I really have any personal concern for is climate change.  I don't worry about terrorism. I don't quite see what the point is. Maybe because I lived through the 1993 World Trade Center bombings and 9/11 in New York City? Maybe because if someone really wants to kill me and it's my time there isn't much I can do? I don't see myself as a fatalist, I see myself as a realist.
Paul Rudolph's Shoreline Apartments frame Buffalo's City Hall.

Paul Rudolph's Shoreline Apartments frame Buffalo's City Hall.

Here is what I do worry about. I worry about climate change. I worry about the grand mal seizure my kitten Percy just had.  I worry that my luggage will get lost on my weekly flights between NYC and Buffalo (oh and I don't worry about the plane crashing).  I worry about the check engine light on my 12 year old Subaru. I worry that I haven't written a blog since August. I worry about racism and xenophobia. With that said, despite these overwhelming international concerns, I start 2016 with great hope and a positive approach. And a plan to return to my regular blogging! A Park is A Work of Art
A view of the Silent Auction tent at the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy Gala in Riverside Park, with a piece of equipment in the forefront that funds raised would help to purchase.

A view of the Silent Auction tent at the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy Gala in Riverside Park, with a piece of equipment in the forefront that funds raised would help to purchase.

My sister Joanne serves on the Board of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy. She and I chaired the annual Gala this year and were proud to support the Olmsted-designed parks in Buffalo with a theme of “A Park is a Work of Art.” For the Conservancy it was a year of rebuilding, rebranding and rebooting at the Conservancy, and we are happy we could help with this with the support of so many friends and colleagues who made this Gala one of the best and most original at Riverside Park. The funds both the Gala and the Gift Gathering Happy Hour raised will help maintain Olmsted and Vaux’s vision from 1868, which includes caring for 6 parks, 7 parkways and 8 landscaped circles that total 850 acres. While 40% of their funding comes from the City of Buffalo, the remaining 60% comes from members, donors, corporate sponsors, a wide variety of foundations and organizations, and 1,000+ volunteers. The Revival of the 500 Block of Main Street
My Forester has a new parking lot on the newly opened Main Street in downtown Buffalo.

My Forester has a new parking spot on the newly opened Main Street in downtown Buffalo.

Finally, after two years of construction, the construction equipment outside my window is gone, my block is open to traffic after 30 years, restaurants and shops are opening and I can park in front of my door to unload groceries! We have trees again and parking spots, bollards that light up at night. What was a desolate embarrassment to Buffalo for decades, is the hottest new block in the city. I wasn’t quite sure I would make it through the two years of construction and now I find myself in the midst of a downtown truly being reactivated when I just may need to make a decision about moving to New York City. But as a friend would say, those are first world problems and 2016 will make it all clearer. In the meantime the cats and I enjoy suddenly find ourselves being back in a true urban environment. And if you’d like to “subscribe” or follow my blog, True Green Cities please sign up through the “Subscribe” button at the bottom left of this page. You’ll receive a daily recap when new blogs are posted. Or Sign up for the Feed.

True Green Cities / Chalk, Sidewalks and Restaurants

Chalk Makes a Downtown Block Come Alive
Chalkfest on the 500 Block of Main Street.

Chalkfest on the 500 Block of Main Street.

An annual festival called Chalkfest was held on my block this past weekend. With construction almost complete finally, hundreds of artists and families descended on the 500 Block of Main Street - showing what activity on our street could look like. This is Chalkfest's fourth year, although last year it had to be held on a different street because of the construction. Having our block alive and active from noon-6PM on a Saturday and Sunday reminded me what a real urban neighborhood can be.  A DJ provided music and talk; vendors sold food and crafts; local restaurants opened on the weekend when they're normally closed.  People who rarely come downtown, ventured down and spent the day with their family.  Residents had something to look at and even my cats sat by the windows both days enamored with the activity.  And we residents had something to participate in and walk to.
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A professional artist puts the finishing touches on his rendition of The Avengers with Thor and Loki outside my building.

The best thing I heard, when I asked a woman and her two children settled in front of my door drawing with chalk, if they could move aside so I could open my door, "People live here?" "Yes," I said.  "Look at kids, this is a residence! the mom said, "People actually live downtown!" Yes, we do! Reactivating Downtown If you have read my blogs over the past few years you will recall that being an urban pioneer in a downtown under construction has not been the easiest thing at this point in my life/career. Having done this in SoHo in the early 90s, I was not quite prepared to do it again.  But as the reconstruction of Main Street and the lightrail is almost complete, excitement about the restaurants and retail that will soon open is almost palpable.  Restaurants and retail are needed. But so are services like dry cleaners, safe pharmacies and of course, a real grocery store.  Proposals were recently received for a new building with a grocery store about two blocks from me. Granted it will be at least two years before that would open, but it does give us hope.
D'Avolio's, a new restaurant, is expected to open across the street from me next week.

D'Avolio's, a new restaurant, is expected to open across the street from me next week.

In the past year about ten restaurants have opened or will open within a three block radius of Buffalo's infamous 500 Block (where I live).  A new brewery has opened. Several new high end hotels have opened.  For decades, this block, which used to be the center of Buffalo's wonderful downtown, has been pointed to as an example of urban blight and urban flight.  I chose to live here because I was able to get a brand new  work/live loft in a century-old building.  I knew it would be years before it was active again, but I didn't really realize what that would mean for actually living here until I was living here.  Now that I've braved two years of construction beneath my windows, I feel committed to trying to stay and enjoy the rewards.
Big Ditch Brewery opened in reused warehouse two blocks from me.

Big Ditch Brewing Company opened in a reused warehouse two blocks from me.

But, life can't be a festival all the time. I was walking around downtown from 5:30-6:30 on Sunday night.  Chalkfest ended at 6.  By 6:10, downtown was a desert again. Beside the Hyatt, only one other restaurant was open. Not even the new brewery was open.  I did a loop around downtown and I must say I did not feel comfortable.  Festivals and new restaurants are a start for sure.  So I keep my fingers crossed that once the construction equipment is gone, restaurants will stay open past 3PM and on weekends, and more people beyond me will be roaming around downtown. If you would like to see more photos of Chalkfest and the art, please click here for Chalkfest. And if you’d like to “subscribe” or follow my blog, True Green Cities, please sign up through the “Subscribe” button at the bottom left of this page. You’ll receive a daily recap when new blogs are posted. Or Sign up for the Feed.
© Copyright Barbara Campagna – True Green Cities - 2011-2013