It’s the future. With the largest number of high-rise buildings – over 6,000 – and with the most skyscrapers (243), New York City has become the largest solar energy producer in the world.

There are solar panels on roofs and the sides of buildings as well as in glass, in sheets over regular glass, in electricity-producing coatings over glass. New buildings incorporate solar storage into architectural plans. Older ones have done so through a retrofit. All buildings are storing energy for rainy, cloud-filled days. Government storage has generated enough energy to allow the city to function off the grid. Carbon emissions have been greatly reduced and a net zero carbon foot print has been met.

Yes, it’s the future. And yes, it’s New York City’s future. But rather than some sort of Buck Rogers’s scenario, this is the foreseeable future of the world’s greatest city.

The impact on expense profiles and operating incomes could be huge – and the impact on property values significant.
High-rises are notorious energy hogs. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, about 40% of total U.S. energy is consumed in residential and commercial buildings. All that height and density produces an Urban Heat Island Effect which makes hot temperatures higher and generates greater need for A/C power.

Enter what could be called the perfect storm. A state and city government committed to lowering gas emissions, decreasing the carbon footprint, becoming sustainable and being able to operate outside the grid and providing many incentives for businesses to do so. In New York where mammoth wind turbines in Central Park are not an option, the best and cleanest solution is solar.

Just last month, new long-term goals were created for energy storage and solar capacity. The city plans to build 11-MWh of storage capacity by 2020 and 1,000 MW of solar capacity by 2030.

Add world climate change to the above, and we also have a new sense of urgency for sustainability. Mid-year, NASA stated that 2016 has been the hottest year and July 2016 the hottest month ever recorded on earth since modern climate reports began in 1880.

In an article by Chelsea Harvey in The Washington Post earlier this year, “With an increasing global migration into the world’s urban areas, which are expected to support at least two-thirds of the total human population by 2050, experts have argued that cities have no choice but to transition toward low-carbon systems if they’re going to remain sustainable.”

Thus, we have incentive and urgency. The final piece of the equation is viability and not only that of installing a solar photovoltaic (PV) system. Rooftop solar PV panels do greatly reduce electricity consumption from the grid and carbon emissions. But even with prices going down, they can be expensive to install and high-rise and skyscraper rooftops may not be able to accommodate enough panels to reap the desired return on investment.

Solar PV panels will remain a primary source of solar energy but it is swiftly-moving solar technologies that are working to provide an easier, more cost-efficient solution.

SolarWindow Technologies, Inc. announced last month that it has begun work on transparent electricity-generating veneers that can be applied onto existing windows. The coatings would have a layer which would absorb light and convert it to energy; and another layer from which the energy could be extracted.

If the company succeeds in developing the process, they claim it will generate 50 times the energy of a PV panel and have a ROI of only one year. Whether it will become reality should be known within the next few years.
But there are other options including solar glass. To date, one of the problems with solar glass has been a lack of clarity and transparency. But scientists at Michigan State University have developed a fully transparent solar concentrator that can turn any ordinary window or piece of glass (such as your Smartphone screen) into the equivalent of a PV panel.

Research is also being undertaken by technology companies as well as academia scientists on how to create silicon-based solar cells that can be cost effectively produced on a large, commercial scale. Currently, silicon needs to be much thicker than solar cells, making it too costly for widespread use. Research includes using more unrefined or “dirty” silicon and/or combining it with other substances to produce a cost-feasible product.

Silicon also plays a role in the development of innovative storage. According to ScienceDaily, “A novel system has been created that allows the storage of energy in molten silicon which is the most abundant element in Earth’s crust.”

Compelling incentives. Urgency in the form of climate change. Technology seeking new ways to harness solar power more easily and less expensively. Before we know it, solar in the city will be commonplace, an extraordinary advancement in clean energy. The impact on expense profiles and operating incomes could be huge – and the impact on property values significant.


Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

Prices for solar are going down as quality is going up. Predictions are that solar energy will be the least expensive form of generating energy by the year 2020. Solar also makes an outstanding contribution, via reduction of emissions, to making New York a healthier, greener city. And government is doing its part in encouraging the solar movement.

What could have been, if not the doom, but certainly a huge setbackin the growth of solar was circumvented in December 2015 when the federal 30% corporate Investment Tax Credit (ITC) was extended through the end of 2019.

Closer to home, solar in New York State grew 575% between 2011-2014. Invested, literally and figuratively, in supporting solar installation, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority has integrated all of its solar programs under one umbrella: NY-Sun. A commitment of $1 billion was made to propel and motivate the marketplace with an abundance of incentives, including financial support for public and private building installations. (NY-SUN.NY.GOV)

New York City has deferred to the state with regard to providing detailed information and incentives for installing solar in the city.

The City University of New York has, however, taken up a leadership position with its Sustainable CUNY program. Having launched its NYC Solar Map back in 2011, last month at the NY Solar Summit, they announced the design/build of a “comprehensive interactive website” ( that provides in-depth technical and financial feasibility information statewide.

Put in your address and the site will show you solar system size, payback period, yearly energy savings, total cost and net cost after incentives and taxes. You can “Get a Quote” or download a report. Can we say brilliant? Sustainable CUNY was supported by both the aforementioned NY-Sun program as well as the DOE’s SunShot Initiative, a nationwide collaborative effort with the goal of reducing the cost of solar electricity. The Solarmap even outlines opportunities for renters, investors and those without a roof that can sustain solar installation.

We do a lot of research for these articles and early on in doing so for this one, we came across a New York Times’ article from January 2008 entitled “(Solar) Power to the People Is Not So Easily Achieved.” It’s a wonderfully and amusingly written piece about the trials and tribulations of installing solar in a Washington Heights apartment building. Written only 8 years ago, it seems almost quaint based on the tremendous strides of the solar industry.

We believe there’s a solar installation heading your way. And with the help of government, institutions and your solar installation company/consultant, we also believe you’re going to be surprised about how much easier and less costly it’s going to be.
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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

When last I wrote about solar, it was to shed some light on why solar energy has lagged behind other energy savings, green and sustainability initiatives in New York City.

There are so many benefits to be realized from solar power. It’s clean, cost efficient, energy saving, relieves pressure on the traditional power grid and is even attractive. But its growth has been stunted by two huge obstacles – affordability and achievability.

Solar isn’t just about long-term energy savings, although, understandably, reduced costs are a priority for property owners. It’s also about good corporate citizenship and making a contribution to a healthier city. According to CleanTechnica, “maximizing New York City’s solar potential with 410 MW of solar would reduce emissions by 1.78 million metric tons, 3.7% of the city’s total emissions.”

The good news is that costs are going down for solar which, along with many incentives, will greatly improve ROI.

Costs have decreased as solar technology advanced and solar panel manufacturers became more efficient. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), “The cost to install solar has dropped by more than 70% over the last 10 years.” The SEIA also reports that average price for a commercial PV (photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight to electricity) project “has dropped by nearly 30% in the past 3 years alone.”

Deutsch Bank, which installed the largest solar PV system in Manhattan and currently has the highest elevated solar PV flat panel array in the world at its 60 Wall Street Americas headquarters, issued a report that said, “…we expect solar electricity to become competitive with retail electricity in an increasing number of markets globally due to declining solar panel costs as well as improving financing and customer acquisition costs.”

Numerous top tier publications have predicted solar energy will become the least expensive form of energy generation by 2020.

Next we’ll explore what government is doing to support solar installations with incentives and technical help.
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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

The lyrics go “Hot town, summer in the city…” and New York certainly is. Soaring temps are further intensified by the Urban Heat Island Effect which makes NYC hotter than rural areas due to population density. Then come the astronomical power bills as the A/C cranks to keep a building comfortably livable and workable. Between the heat, power usage and summertime peak demand, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions also increase exponentially.

Though New York City’s uber urban landscape is, in many ways, a near utopian model for a sustainable lifestyle, one major technology slow in being adopted here is solar power. Solar is smart. It’s environmentally sound. It ultimately saves significant money. It reduces pressure on the traditional power grid. It’s even attractive. Why then has it not taken off in New York City?

The answer is cost. And more cost. You have to be able to afford it or qualify for a loan. Then there’s red tape. And more red tape. The permitting and approval process can be onerous in New York City. And feasibility. Your building is very tall. You imagine all the sunlight that can be used to heat and air¬ condition the building. But is the roof large enough? Is it in good condition? Does it get enough sun to generate enough energy to make the project worthwhile?

Then think of getting all that cable up whatever number of stories and the feasibility studies. One solar panel is about 10 square feet. Can you fit enough on your roof to justify the project and expense even after rebates and incentives? What about the time it will take to get permits, applications and approvals from various entities including Con Ed for interconnectivity and the Department of Buildings? You’ll also have to do all of the paperwork to benefit from incentives and subsidies.

If the project is a condominium or cooperative, you may face challenges in obtaining shareholder support and possibly need a special assessment.

If it’s a commercial building, the cost may be prohibitive. Then there is the question of whether solar is even possible as a retrofit.

In a suburban house, solar panels will generate enough energy for a family of four. But when you have a multi¬story commercial or residential tower, the equation/ratio of what and how many solar panels can be installed vs. how much energy is generated and the length of the ROI is significantly more complex.
In 2012, Deutsche Bank answered the feasibility question about commercial building viability with a solar retrofit when it installed a 122.4 kW solar photovoltaic (PV) system on the roof of its 50-¬story American headquarters at 60 Wall Street. The building was originally built between 1987-¬1989 for J.P. Morgan & Co., making it, if not modern, at least of more recent vintage than many of the city’s aging stock of skyscrapers.

The system is the largest solar PV array in Manhattan and currently the highest elevated solar PV flat panel array in the world. It will reduce electricity consumption from the grid and decrease carbon emissions by 100 metric tons per year.

Deutsche Bank did not release the cost of the retrofit, but as a global company, the bank has a comprehensive corporate commitment to sound environmental activities and also provides debt and equity capital for renewable energy. Thus, 60 Wall Street is an admirable, monolithic symbol for the bank worldwide.

But, unlike a headquarters building, the majority of landlords are dealing with multiple tenants of varying SF leases at varying cost with no shared environmental policies.
All that being said, this article is meant to be informational, not disheartening, because there is a lot of good news for landlords interested in installing solar. Many of the aforementioned issues have become simpler and less costly.

New York State has made a huge commitment to advancing solar power. The federal solar Investment Tax Credit can significantly lower project cost. As for feasibility and red tape, a solar consultant or installer can handle all of that on your behalf. Lastly, indications are that costs are coming down.
As the only LEED¬ AP BD +C commercial real estate appraiser in New York City, I am constantly seeking out ways for property owners to build value with energy savings and sustainable practices. I can say with certainty that, when done correctly, solar power will increase the value of your property as a result of energy cost savings, and enhanced green positioning with regard to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution that will certainly accrue to the bottom line.

Thus I encourage exploring installing solar power. What incentives, credits, guidelines and which buildings are viable is the topic of the next article in this series covering the past, present and future of solar in New York City.

Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

We New Yorkers take it completely for granted. It’s the pure, sweet, good-tasting water we drink, cook with, shower, bathe and wash our hair in. It is, according to every resource we found, the best drinking water in the country.

The “champagne of drinking water”, as recently called in The New York Times, comes from a protected and pristine source, the Catskill/Delaware Watershed and, less so, the Croton Watershed.
Amazingly, it travels to NYC via a 100-year-old Catskill Aqueduct that runs more than 1,000 feet below the Hudson River. Along the way, it is monitored, treated to prevent lead pipe corrosion and with chlorine, subject to ultraviolet radiation to limit the harmful by-products of chlorine, and tested on a daily basis.

Living may be hard in New York City, but the water is soft. With low amounts of calcium and magnesium, it is less likely to dry out your skin and can feel almost silken when you bathe in it. Then again, our soft water doesn’t lather like in those TV commercials of gorgeous women washing their hair in tropical waterfalls.

Hard water, on the other hand, will lather profusely but then dry out your hair and skin. That would account for why when you’re on vacation in a hard water area like, let’s say, California, it’s not the sun, sand or surf that’s making your hair dull and styling difficult.

In another blog piece, “New York City: The Unlikely Green Utopia”, we summarized the many green qualities of the city that contribute to a very high environmental profile. One of those qualities was its drinking water, “world-renowned for its quality, each day more than 1 billion gallons is delivered…to the taps of 9 million customers.”

Compare that to Las Vegas where residents get hernias manhandling cases of bottled water because their tap water, rated among the nation’s worst, includes two types of radium, arsenic and lead (but doesn’t exceed legal limits for contaminants).

The quality of a city’s drinking water, except in extreme cases like Flint, Michigan, would not be a factor in any company’s decision to locate in a city or buy a building there. Yet New York City’s water quality is part of our mythology. You know how that goes. King of the hill. Top of the heap. A Number One.

No article about NYC drinking water can be written without discussing…bagels. Do we have the best? Yes. Ask why and most people and The New York Times will say it’s our water. But, foodies, and even the Culinary Institute of America, beg to differ. They say it’s not the water but New York City bagel bakers’ practice of fermenting the dough overnight and then boiling it before baking that makes our bagels soft, light and chewy with a delightfully thin crust. Got cream cheese?

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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

Do you find it hard to believe green urban renewal is going on amid the congestion, noise, concrete, steel and sharp edges of New York City?

Look up my friends, and you might just see the mostly hidden but growing (pardon the pun) trend of rooftop gardens. Not just green roofs, but farms where you get dirt under your fingernails and grow food in the midst of our manicured, designer martini world.

It’s a movement being led by 21st Century hipsters, urban pioneers who are growing produce in up and coming neighborhoods, for both the community and restaurants that follow migrating, trendsetting populations.

As a commercial real estate appraiser, and the only one with a LEED-AP, BD + C designation in New York City, our property valuations consider the measureable worth of green spaces in and around a building. Landscaping adds approximately 7 percent to the average rental rate for office buildings, according to the National Resources Defense Council.

But the property value benefits of urban farming, both rooftop and ground level, have little to no empirical data. Obviously, parks and green spaces enhance the appeal and health of a city. But in a city as densely populated as New York, competition for available land is so intense that community gardens make no financial sense in many neighborhoods.

That’s why the value of ground level community gardens is significantly greater as a contributing factor to improving disadvantaged neighborhoods. As one example, in Detroit’s inner city where many buildings have been abandoned, the Michigan Urban Farming initiative is giving new life to those neighborhoods.

Here, GrowNYC’s program “builds and sustains community gardens, urban farms, school gardens and rainwater harvesting systems..” If you want a community garden, ask them for help ( It’s also a superb resource to find a community garden near you.

As for rooftop farms, roofs, unlike ground level spaces, are not sellable assets. A green or garden roof is an outstanding way to build value – if not actual revenue – from underutilized space. Though the city is not swimming in urban rooftop farms, growing season – May to October – is the time to ferret them out.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard Farm run by the Brooklyn Grange covers an extraordinary 68,0000 square feet. It’s the largest urban farm in the world and holds Wednesday tours. Brooklyn Grange also operates a one-acre rooftop farm on top of the 6-story Standard Motor Products Building in Long Island City.

At the Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, you can shop for veggies from the on-site market every last Sunday of the month and even help with planting and harvesting. Gotham Greens at Whole Foods Market in Brooklyn also offers monthly tours of its large-scale rooftop greenhouse.

In The Bronx, Arbor House, a recent development of affordable multi-family green housing, includes a fully integrated rooftop farm. Using water harvested from the roof, it provides fresh vegetables to building residents and the community. As does another Bronx development, Via Verde, with its 5,000 square foot rooftop farm. Bronx Borough President Reuben Diaz Jr.’s office has financed more than 13 green roofs in the borough. And, if the Hunts Point rooftop garden ever gets off the ground (proposals were first submitted in 2012), it will dwarf the Brooklyn Navy Yard with its 10 acres and 200,000 square feet.

On the chicer side – no getting your hands dirty here – the Westin New York Grand Central Garden offers chef-led tours of its 41st floor private garden where organic everything (right down to the eco-friendly ladybugs) is grown for their own food & beverage use.

Today’s urban gardens give an entirely new twist to the mid-19th Century advice of “Go west, young man”. Perhaps the 21st Century urban version of Manifest Destiny is to “Look up young man – or woman.” Not to mention, “If you build it, they will come.” And plant. And harvest. And shop. And eat.
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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

Though much quoted and imitated, Jimmy Cagney never said “You dirty rats.” He did say “…you dirty yellow-bellied rat…” in the 1932 film “Taxi”, but I digress, as the point is not the correctness of Cagney’s quote, but that rats truly are, um, dirty filled with viruses, pathogens, fleas and ticks.

You live here, you’ve seen a rat. If you haven’t seen one, you’re not looking close enough. Sewers. Subways. Streets. Sidewalks. Tree notches. Large swaths of greenery and bushes. They’re there. Like the huge one a friend of mine who, in her kindness and naivety, once shared a tuna fish sandwich with in full daylight at the entrance to Central Park near The Plaza Hotel. She thought it was a cat until it turned around and she saw the long pink tail. She also said it was very well behaved. Maybe it was the quality of the neighborhood.

New York City is indeed the place millions of rats call home. A recent study by a Ph.D candidate in the statistics department at Columbia University concluded there are no more than two million rats to 8 million humans. Compare that to Paris which has the reverse statistic of 8 million rats to 2 million humans which can really destroy the romantic vision of strolling hand-in-hand along the Seine.

Rats don’t live long, but they live large. They can have a new litter every few months. Squeeze through a gap the size of a quarter. Tread water for 3 days. Leap about 4 feet and survive a five-story fall. The rats we see in the City are brown Norway rats. We used to have black, or ship rats, but in a rodent version of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (“Two men enter; one man leaves”), the brown rats trapped and killed them. Which gives us pause for thought that rats have been better at rat extermination than humans are.

Named one of the “Top 10 Worst Rat Cities in the World” by the TV station Animal Planet, New York is in good company along with Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Baltimore, New Orleans, London and Paris. What all the cities have in common are older infrastructures and buildings and population density. Sanitation also plays a big role in attracting or controlling rats.

Regardless of the difficulty of eradicating rats from the city, numerous mayors have made the noble and, to date, futile attempt to do so. We say futile because rats have been here since Colonial times and have shown no signs of leaving in the ensuing 400 years.

Last year, Mayor de Blasio targeted the rodents with $2.9 million in rat control money in the city budget. He joins other recent mayors including Koch, Giuliani and Bloomberg in the fight against rats. Hope may spring eternal, but so far, the rats have lost some battles, but are still winning the war.

“There have been 109 mayors of New York and, it seems, nearly as many mayoral plans to snuff out the scourge. Their collective record is approximately 0-108,” said an article in The New York Times when Mayor de Blasio announced his rat attack plan. With luck, planning and commitment, perhaps the record will be 1-108.

P.S. Lest you were wondering about the popularity of this topic, there is a book entitled “Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants” by Robert Sullivan. It was a New York Times bestseller.

Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C
President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

Considering we used incandescent and fluorescent lighting for the last century and that a mere few years ago LED lighting was considered not yet ready for prime time, LED technology is now moving at warp speed.

I personally consider it a great bandwagon to get on. Its benefits are numerous: lower maintenance; long life; heat loss reduction; immediate bright light; nothing toxic (we’re talking mercury); cooler in both the literal and figurative senses; and, most of all, huge energy savings.

There are some negatives including high cost, which has to be put into the perspective of LEDs very long life and that prices are going down almost daily; quality, depending on what bulbs you buy and where they were manufactured; and that LED light is more focused, perfect for recessed lights, not so much for lighting your entire living room with the wonderful warm glow that incandescent bulbs provided.

With incandescent bulbs no longer an option (they were banned from manufacture and import in 2007), that leaves compact fluorescent lighting or CFLs as the other contender to LEDs. There are pros and cons to both types of lighting but the consensus is that CFLs will be overrun by LED lighting and can be viewed as an intermezzo before moving into LEDs.

As the future is lighting is here, the next big question for commercial property owners is do I dive head first and deep into a full lighting replacement or do the retrofit equivalent of dipping in a big toe?

The answer is it depends. CFLs will illuminate a large area with bright light, unlike LEDs. They are more familiar and less expensive. They will last a long time but not as long as LED lighting. They cost less, but LED lighting is decreasing in price rapidly and, because they last longer, eventually cost less than CFLs.

There are a lot of technicalities that are best left to lighting experts to explain and for building managers to analyze. LED, for example, comes in two options: luminaires with LED boards and luminaires with tubular shaped modular LED engines. CDLs are less expensive but they cannot be put on a dimmer switch and contain mercury.

If the full building, dive-in approach isn’t right for your building or feasible for your budget, phase in new lighting on a one by one decision basis. Cost savings can also be realized with a drop-in LED retrofit kit.

LED lighting continues to become more efficient. Today, energy savings of over 30% can be realized. With that kind of savings, buildings can recoup their LED investment in a few short years. There are also rebates available depending on the lighting products you buy and install.

LED lighting products have now reached a point in price, efficiency and energy savings that they are of value to everyone from the CFO whose budget had to take a hit to install them to facilities managers who are seeing much less lighting maintenance to tenants who may well be seeing an increase in productivity. LEDs have gone from leading the way to a lighting revolution to being the way to light now and well into the future.

Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C
President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

Energy savings is a large, important topic in conservation. We use and waste a lot of light in this country, from home to highway to office, from restaurant to theatre, malls, schools and hospitals. We can’t control much about our offices or other structures, but we can control home lighting.

For apartment dwellers, it’s not that big a topic. We are a city known for small spaces. Not as small as Japan, of course, but small enough to have newcomers to the city become dazed in shock and awe over what passes for a bedroom.

Apartment lighting consists of lamp light bulbs and perhaps some overheads. And now we have to bid, except for whatever is left in dusty store bins, a fond farewell to the incandescent light bulb that has been with us since childhood. While a blog in Scientific American called it “The Overly Dramatic Demise of the Light Bulb”, we’re not so sure as, according to CNN, there are about 10 billion light sockets in the country and we’ve been using incandescent bulbs for over 100 years.

When the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 established new efficiency standards for lighting that required bulbs to use at least 25% less energy, it sealed the doom of incandescents. They may provide warm, cozy, far-reaching light and are cheap and predictable but they use and lose too much energy and are now not legal to manufacture or import. No longer will you hear the familiar tinkling sound of a dead incandescent bulb’s wire filaments inside the glass as you cart it to the trash.

No one is going to come and arrest you for using them, but you will be hard put to find them any longer. The 40 and 60 watt bulbs started being phased out a few years ago. You currently have a choice of halogen, CFL and LED light bulbs. All have pros and cons from cost to their look to energy savings and bulb life. But none create warm light like an incandescent.

Leave it, however, to MIT to be working on a “nanophotonic comeback for incandescent bulbs.” According to Wikipedia, “Nanophotonics or Nano-optics is the study of the behavior of light on the nanometer scale, and of the interaction of nanometer-scale objects with light. It is a branch of optics, optical engineering, electrical engineering, and nanotechnology.” (We had to look this up for you. All right, we had to look this up for me.)

According to MIT News, researchers at MIT and Purdue University (without going into all of the dense scientific processes) seemed to have found a way to combine the traditional warmth of incandescent bulbs with modern technology that results in much greater energy efficiency.

Today, incandescent bulbs are wending their way into becoming quaint history. Tomorrow, they may return in new form and be the next big thing.

Stay tuned.

Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C
President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

Architectural marvel. Magnificent buildings. Stunning skyscrapers. Electric. Eclectic. Exhilarating. Energetic. Exhausting. We could go on with New York City descriptions but the one you don’t often see is Environmentally Cutting Edge. Then again, unless you’re in a field where green, sustainability, climate control, energy and such are your focus, New York City’s leadership in progressive environmental policies may not ping on your radar screen.

“Anyplace that has such tall buildings and heavy traffic is obviously an environmental disaster – except that it isn’t,” said John Holtzclaw, a transportation consultant for the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, in an article entitled “Green Manhattan”, published in The New Yorker over a decade ago. His opinion still holds up to scrutiny though you may not think so in rush hour traffic when you’re being splashed with dirty water while inhaling exhaust fumes. Your vision of a perfect environmental landscape is more like verdant valleys, majestic mountains and meandering streams. But reality is that the density, towering buildings and limited green space of Manhattan create a sound environmental model.

Covering every why and whereof on the subject would require a book which is why we’re going to touch base on a short list of the good, the bad and works in progress.

New Yorkers experience pollution because building, street and population density concentrates pollutants which sadly lead to the city having a high childhood asthma rate and high cancer risk from airborne chemicals.

But all the news is far from all bad. According to the book The Big Green Apple: Your Guide to Eco-Friendly Living in New York City, “gasoline consumption in the city is at the rate the national average was in 1920.” To put that into perspective, in 1920 there were 7.5 million cars and trucks in the U.S.; In 2014, there were 256 million (and yes, it does seem like they all want to go through the Lincoln Tunnel at the same time). The city also has one of the largest fleets of hybrid busses in the country, as well as the most hybrid taxis to help alleviate the concentrated pollution.
Busses and taxis aside, because we are a mass transportation-based city, greenhouse gas emissions are already well below the national average but, realizing the threat climate change can mean, Mayor Bill de Blasio has set a goal of reducing citywide greenhouse gas emissions 80% below 2005 levels by 2050. This also includes reduction of energy usage and legal requirements for energy efficiency in buildings. At the same time, apartment and commercial office buildings are extremely energy-efficient structures.

New York City is a leader in green. LEED certification, the goal of many buildings, has become a driving force in setting green standards. The Solaire, a residential building in downtown Manhattan, was the first green residential building in the U.S. Many others have since followed its lead.

Prominent commercial buildings that broke new ground in green and sustainability include Conde Nast Tower in Times Square, 1 World Trade Center, Bank of America at One Bryant Park, Hearst Tower, The (new) New York Times Building and The Empire State Building. Although they are very difficult to realize, Net Zero or Zero Energy buildings are on the rise in the city, as are installations of solar panels.

And then there’s New York City’s famous water, a result of the purity of filtering in upstate protected areas. According to, “Each day, more than 1 billion gallons of fresh, clean water is delivered from large upstate reservoirs—some more than 125 miles from the City—to the taps of nine million customers.” To reduce waste, the city has also installed sprinkler caps on hydrants that provide city children with a refreshing outdoor summer shower.

And let’s not forget the city’s Greenmarkets, over 100 in the five boroughs, where farmers bring fresh produce to residents and restaurateurs on public spaces.

We live in a city of where government, companies, developers, residents and activists have come together with a mutual goal of creating one the world’s most livable, environmental progressive and healthy cities. With a nod to former Mayor Ed Koch’s trademark quote, ask me “How’re we doin’?” and I’d say “damn good.”

Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C
President, Metropolitan Valuation Services