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Definition of Sustainable Building Must Encompass Urban Infrastructure

Yesterday’s rush hour chaos in Midtown was an explosive reminder that twenty-first century sustainable building practices are meaningless in the absence of reliable infrastructure able to support a dense urban environment. While Con Edison is spending $20 million this year to maintain New York City’s steam pipes, much of Gotham’s infrastructure- from utilities to mass transit- was built well over a century ago. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that an incredible $1.6 trillion would be necessary to upgrade U.S. roads, bridges, and water systems to an acceptable condition. Cities like New York are sustainable because of their incredible density. While modernizing our utility and mass transit systems is not as sexy a story as the next LEED Platinum office tower or residential green roof, green building proponents must make these efforts a priority. Otherwise, they’ll risk seeing the backbone of urban environments they hope to make even more sustainable suffer the type of damage- or worse- that Midtown witnessed on Wednesday.

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3 Responses to Definition of Sustainable Building Must Encompass Urban Infrastructure

  1. John Biggs July 23, 2007 at 9:27 am #

    Timely example of the lifecycle costs of infrastructure, and the “hidden” underground aspects of building and development. Definitely something to think about for growing cities.

  2. Stephen July 25, 2007 at 3:50 pm #

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting, John- I couldn’t agree more.

  3. Dan July 30, 2007 at 8:10 pm #

    This issue is critical in upstate NY, where some of the more progressive leaders are trying to steer development back into existing villages and cities. But those same historic urban centers are built on sewage pipes and other infrastructure that is a century or more old in many cases. These are totally unsexy issues that are easy for politicians to cut (Bush Administration several times tried to ax the low interest loan program that communities use to upgrade water and sewer infrastructure) but they are critical, as you point out, for longterm sustainability.

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