March 21, 2008

MTA to G Train Riders: No

Today's Observer has an article about proponents of the G train who want the MTA to shift cars from the (relatively underused) V line to the (generally overcrowded) G line. The MTA says this is an engineering impossibility.

As Brooklyn booms, the G train is becoming more and more popular. Yet the MTA continues to cut back on service, resulting in shorter, overcrowded trains running shorter routes and serving fewer people.

More here.

Parking Permits

DOT Commissioner Jeanette Sadik-Khan has an op-ed in the Greenpoint Star about residential parking permits. For Williamsburg and Greenpoint, residential parking permits would be a significant part of the Mayor's congestion pricing plan. As it is, many people drive to Williamsburg and get on the L train. If congestion pricing goes into effect and it costs to drive to Manhattan, we can expect our neighborhoods to become even more of a park-and-ride lot. Residential permits would address this problem, while still allowing transient parking during the day.

The congestion pricing plan is an important issue for sustainability in New York City. The plan needs work in order to make it more equitable. But the concept itself is a good one, and it should not be scrapped to appease suburban drivers who contribute nothing to the City's infrastructure.

March 25, 2008

Congestion Pricing at the City Council

Gotham Gazette has a three-part rundown (here, here and here, with background here and here) on the City Council's congestion pricing hearings, which started today. As we've said before, congestion pricing is generally a good thing, though the current plan certainly needs some equity tweaks.

Herewith, some excerpts and commentary:

Can you trust City Hall? The state? The Metropolitan Transportation Authority?

In the case of the MTA, no.

[Most] members wondered more about funding for projects in their individual districts. [Tish] James, for example, suggested a study to determine the feasibility of linking the G train to the IRT.

We'll be parochial and say "Thanks, Tish".

[If congestion pricing goes through,] there will be “more bus lines and new ferries and commuter train access.” But he [CM John Liu of Queens] said the MTA and the city must stick to the timelines for improving transit. “The big problem people have is they don’t trust the MTA and even city government for following through and using the money effectively.”

Right on both counts.

Regarding the "Jersey Inequity":

Because the congestion pricing proposal before the legislature subtracts tolls from the congestion fee — and sets the maximum that someone would pay to enter Manhattan at $8 a day — many people who cross the Hudson River will essentially get a free ride.

Its not clear if this applies only to the Jersey crossings directly into the congestion zone, or if it also affects other crossings from LI, Westchester, etc. But if the goal is to reduce the number of cars entering midtown, you need to raise the price of admission for everyone. That's the whole point of a disincentive - to change behavior. Charging toll-paying drivers the same amount they are paying now does not create much of a disincentive.

And contrary to what a commenter says, Jersey drivers have not been paying a "congestion" toll for decades. They have been paying a usage toll for the use and upkeep of the bridges and tunnels (and whatever else the PA chooses to use the money for). City bridges (though not tunnels) are free, but we pay for them via taxes.

Regarding E-ZPass:

But whatever the merits of the E-ZPass, the preferential treatment given those who have them raises concerns about equity. To get an E-ZPass, a person needs to have a credit card or bank account, keeping it out of the reach of some poor New Yorkers.

You also need a car, and to drive a car, you need insurance. You need gas too. None of those are cheap. So its not clear how many poor New Yorkers we are really talking about here. On the other hand, a lot of people (poorer and otherwise) use the free bridges and as a result don't use E-ZPass now, or use it infrequently. Under the congestion system, drivers will rack up $120 in charges per month - that's a lot of E-ZPass refills hitting your credit card (or bank account). No doubt the fee itself is regressive, but the preference for E-ZPass is the least of that problem.

Street Trees

The City Planning Commission has approved a zoning resolution that would require one new street tree for every 25' of street frontage on new developments and large rehabs. CPC estimates that this measure will result in 10,000 new trees being planted. Williamsburg and (ironically) Greenpoint have among the lowest levels of street trees (or any trees, for that matter) per capita, so hopefully at least half those new trees are headed here.

Street Trees Are No Longer an Optional Accessory [NYT]

April 1, 2008

Council Approves Congestion Pricing

By a vote of 30 to 20, the Council today approved Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan. This sets the stage for a state approval, hopefully within the next six days.

Locally, CM Yassky voted in favor; CM Reyna against.

April 7, 2008

Thanks, Assembly

Great news - the NY State Assembly has refused to hold a vote on congestion pricing. This guarantees that congestion pricing will not be coming to a congested downtown near you anytime soon. So we can all go back to sitting in traffic, wasting time and money and energy. Our deliveries will continue to take that much longer (and cost that much more). Our bus rides through midtown will continue to be slower than the average walking pace. Our city, which has the greatest public transportation system in the world, will retain its car-centric transportation policies. Its in the constitution, or something.

Oh, and all that money that was going to go toward improving our transportation system? Hello, Peoria:

After Mr. Silver announced the plan’s demise, a statement was released by Mary E. Peters, the federal transportation secretary, indicating that her department would now seek to distribute those funds ($354 million) to traffic-fighting proposals in other cities.

The Mayor is not pleased (we share his displeasure):

It takes a special type of cowardice for elected officials to refuse to stand up and vote their conscience on an issue that has been debated, and amended significantly to resolve many outstanding issues, for more than a year. Every New Yorker has a right to know if the person they send to Albany was for or against better transit and cleaner air.

April 8, 2008

Greenway Vote Tonight

Proposed view of Flushing Avenue, with Greenway installed.

Community Board #1 will be voting this evening on a proposal to put a Greenway along Kent Avenue and West Street in Williamsburg and Greenpoint. This plan, part of the larger Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, would establish a protected bike and walking path along these streets, providing easy access to the planned waterfront esplanades and parks along the East River. To the south, much of the Greenway would run along the waterfront.

As Teresa Toro, a strong advocate for the plan (and sane transportation policy in general) points out, this more than just a bike lane:

...a greenway is not the same as a bike lane, although it has a bike lane element... The greenway will provide a safe, designated walking lane for people who wish to take a nice walk; it will provide critical traffic calming along Kent Avenue, which is also a truck route (and will also provide critical air quality mitigation -- also important because of the truck route). It is more of a linear park, than a bike lane; and the green/planting and walking elements make it all a genuine benefit to the community.

The Greenway will also bring hundreds of new trees to the neighborhood. And we will not lose parking spaces as a result - the car parking that would be displaced by the greenway plan has been replaced elsewhere, and DOT is moving right now to make those parking spaces available now.

When: 8 April 2008, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Swingin' 60's Senior Center, 211 Ainslie Street (corner of Manhattan)

April 9, 2008

Greenway Update

An update on CB 1's Greenway Initiative vote this evening - APPROVED!. Congratulations and thanks to all of the people who came out tonight (and over the past two months) to support this project.

April 16, 2008

Go Green Greenpoint

Town Square is putting on a Go Green! Greenpoint! Earth Day event this SAturday at McCarren Park. The day features "enviro-friendly vendors, food, music, art contests, recycling stations and much more", with schools, companies, government agencies and community groups showcasing educational displays. There will also be live music throughout the day, wellness classes and chess stations.

(Town Square is also looking for volunteers - if you are interested in helping out, contact

April 21, 2008

ExxonMobil in Greenpoint

Newtown Creek
Photo: GowanusLounge

Last week we posted a notice about the Go Green Greenpoint Earth Day event, which was held in McCarren Park this past Saturday. At the time we posted, we were not aware that the events sponsors included ExxonMobil (among other corporate sponsors). As it turns out, no one knew about this sponsorship - word somehow leaked out Friday evening, and in response a group of local activists staged an impromptu protest.

As reported here, there was some back and forth between organizers of the event and organizers of the protestors. From what we say, the event itself was well attended, and by all appearances a great success. And the protest was theatrical, effective and respectful of the larger event (if not the event's sponsor).

And the protests did not stop ExxonMobil from handing out glossy folders full of "fact sheets" extolling their great work in ridding Greenpoint of the largest oil spill in American history (they're a third of the way there, and its only been 30 years!). The glossy flyers even imply that the spill itself was not entirely ExxonMobil's fault (so we're lucky that they are cleaning it up at all). Its nice to see that ExxonMobil is sponsoring worthy local causes (there is a word for this: greenwash). It would be a lot nicer if they put a little more time and effort into cleaning up our environment.

Preserve Locally

Restored interior of the Eldridge Street Synagogue
Photo: AllWaysNY

This month's issue of Metropolis has an excellent article on the economic and sustainable benefits of historic preservation. Written by Roberta Brandes Gratz (herself a NYC Landmarks commissioner), the article takes as its example the recent restoration of the Eldridge Street Synagogue on the Lower East Side. As Gratz points out, the restoration was a largely local effort, using local talent and local materials. This benefits both the local economy and the earth:

For those who think of localism as a basic tenet of green design, consider this: three firms—the Gil Studio, of Brooklyn; Bill Butt, of Staten Island; and Mel Greenland, of Manhattan—restored the 66 stained-glass windows and the multipane Rose Window in the 1887 Eldridge Street Synagogue, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Aurora Lampworks, a historic lighting and replication company in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with about a dozen local employees, worked on the 237 intricately detailed brass fixtures and the 75-bulb chandelier...

Gratz goes on to talk about the pressures that development have put on local artisans like Aurora - which "has shrunk both the supply of industrial space and housing opportunities for the skilled workforce these companies depend on".

Unfortunately, the sustainability community (including both LEED and PlaNYC) have yet to embrace preservation as a viable part of sustainable growth. Which is surprising when you consider that both preservation and environmentalism came out of fundamentally aligned movements. Even more surprising if, as we do, you subscribe to Carl Elefante's dictum that "the greenest building is one that is already built". Gratz says it better than we can:

Preservation is fundamentally sustain­able. Given the impor­tance green-building experts place on “embodied energy,” it’s curious that the industry standard barely acknowledges preservation. LEED for Existing Buildings emphasizes main­ten­ance and upgrade but not restoration; LEED for New Construction awards just three points out of 69 for “building reuse,” with all sorts of caveats attached. In contrast, providing bike racks and access to public transit earns one point for each. No penalties accrue for demolishing a viable structure and sending it to a landfill. You even get points for recycling elements from that lost building.

April 25, 2008

Kent Ave. BRT Plant Back in the News

Historic drawing of the Kent Avenue BRT plant.
Courtsey of INSIJS

Today's issue of the Brooklyn Papers has some more information on the impending demolition of the Kent Avenue BRT power plant. As we learned last week, Con Edison (who now owns the former plant) has finally admitted that they intend to demolish the structure. But they still won't say what they will do with the site. Will it be residential (the odds-on favorite), or go some other use?

As with many older buildings, the opportunities for adaptive use here are many. But without an idea of what is planned for the site, its much harder to make that case. And surely, Con Ed knows this. Surely, too, Con Ed will cite all sort of factors as to why the building cannot be saved. But most of these are likely to be red herrings. Take the most obvious - environmental remediation. Con Ed will say "well, the building is full of toxins, we have to take it down". But whatever toxins are in the building (asbestos, PCBs) can be removed with the building in place. The incremental cost of remediation is not likely to be significantly higher, and either way, the toxins within the structure will have to be removed and safely disposed of.

From a sustainability point of view, it makes far more sense to leave the building in place and adapt it for a new use. Throwing away the whole building is a waste of the resources and energy that went into the construction of the building in the first place. In the past few years, there have been at least two local projects that have proposed the reuse of large shell structures such as this. One is the Domino refinery, where CPC resources is proposing a building-within-a-building solution. The second is the Powerhouse condos in Long Island City. There, a former LIRR power station (a building with a very similar history to the BRT power station) is in the final stages of conversion to housing. The sensitivity of the conversion from a historic preservation point of view leaves much to be desired (to put it gently), but its not a total tear down.

Put very simply, under just about any development scenario, this building could be cleaned up and reused. The building could be adapted for housing (luxury, affordable or otherwise). It could also be adapted for industrial use and incorporated into the Brooklyn Navy Yard (which has clearly sghown that there is a demand for good industrial space). The only development scenario that would not be feasible with the building in place is if the site is turned into a waterfront park. But that is the only development scenario that "requires" that the building be removed.

[Updated with links.]

May 4, 2008

BRT in the NYT

The Times' City Section had a piece today on the impending demolition of the Kent Avenue BRT power plant. In the article, a Con Ed rep admits that they company has no idea what they are doing with the site. They're not even sure if they are going to sell it. Given the lack of clarity on the site's future, we'll reiterate our position that its premature and wasteful to tear down a building that could be an excellent candidate for reuse. Doing environmental abatement does not necessarily require demolition.

Unless Con Ed is proposing to turn the site into a pubic park, there is no reason to tear down the building right now. Unless, of course, Con Ed isn't telling us something about their plans.

June 25, 2008

Inside the BRT Powerhouse


Turbine Hall, BRT Powerhouse
Photo: Nate Kensinger (via Gothamist)


Turbine Hall, BRT Powerhouse (1931)

Via Gothamist, Nate Kensinger has photos from inside the BRT Powerhouse at 500 Kent Avenue. As shown in the first photo above, Con Ed has pulled most of the stuff from out of the building, leaving just the shell. It is the shell, of course, that is most architecturally significant. It is also the shell that is least likely to contain hazardous materials.* So maybe Con Ed could stop here, and put the building to good use rather than putting it into a landfill.

As the historic photo above shows, the Turbine Hall was always a large clear-span space. The only change is the removal of the turbines themselves and the loss of decorative details such as light fixtures. Even open to the elements, the grand space is largely intact and eminently salvageable. (For a view of the Turbine Hall before demolition, take a look here.)

* Copies of environmental reports obtained by WPA make no mention of any remediation needed to the structure itself, beyond the typical asbestos encased piping and lead paint that one would find in any building of this vintage - industrial, commercial or residential. All of the hazardous material was located in machinery within the building (which has clearly been removed), or in the ground outside the building. The most significant environmental at this site actually appears to come from the next door site to the south, which was at one time a manufactured gas plant belong to Brooklyn Union Gas. There is (was) also hazardous materials in an ash pit located at the northwest corner of the site (adjacent to 470 Kent), also outside the historic structure.

July 16, 2008

Sayonara Kent Avenue Powerhouse

Photo: Brownstoner.

Brownstoner has the latest pictures of the demolition of the BRT power house at 500 Kent Avenue. The building above doesn't look much from this side, but from the water side, it matches the Beaux Arts details of the main section of the building (which is still mostly intact).

As Brownstoner points out, Con Ed still has not said why they are demolishing the building or what the future plans for the site are. They continue their shortsighted race to demolish a building with no idea if it even can be reused.

September 29, 2008

NAG Town Hall

nag town hall2.jpg

NAG (Neighbors Allied for Good Growth), a community organizing group in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, is having a Town Hall Meeting on 10/2 to mobilize the community on issues facing Greenpoint & Williamsburg. Longtimers will remember NAG as one of the leading voices against waste transfer stations on the waterfront, against Radiac, and for intelligent rezoning that protects jobs and housing. As NAG looks to the future, it is holding this meeting to take the pulse of the community and to identify the issues the community will organize around in the coming years.

The Town Hall will take place at the Holy Ghost Hall, 159 North 5th St (between Bedford and Driggs) on Thursday, 2 October at 7:00.

October 20, 2008

Upcoming: Recycling New York's Industrial Past


MAS is holding a panel discussion titled "Recycling New York’s Industrial Past: Inspiration From Home and Abroad". Here are the details:

New York City was once the nation’s power house for manufacturing, and many of the buildings and factories that fueled that industry remain. Preserving these buildings and using them to foster green-collar industries or adapting them to new housing, cultural, and retail uses is the most sustainable action New York could take.

This program will explore two approaches to preserving industrial buildings: keeping them for manufacturing uses (which also means retaining good-paying jobs) or adapting these buildings to new uses.

The panel will be introduced by WPA's Ward Dennis and moderated by Mary Habstritt of the Society for Industrial Archaeology and WPA. Panelists include Andrew Kimball of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Bob Powers, preservation consultant for the restoration of the Austin, Nichols & Co. Warehouse (184 Kent) and Lisa Kersavage of MAS (a long-time WPA supporter).

When: Wednesday, October 22, 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m., reception to follow.
Where: The Municipal Art Society, 457 Madison Avenue, at East 51st St.
Cost: $15, $12 MAS members/students. Purchase tickets online or call 212-935-2075.

December 3, 2008

NAG Organizing Meeting


Tomorrow evening, NAG will be holding a working meeting to further develop their organizing agenda for 2009. Based on ideas generated by the community at the Oct 2, 2008 Town Hall Organizing Meeting and on feedback from a survey completed by community members, the working meeting will start to develop the following issues as NAG's priority organizing issues for 2009:

Preserving Affordable Housing Options for Residents
Improving Open Space and Access to the Waterfront
Offering Safe and Quick Transportation Options For the Neighborhood
Improving our Quality of Life and Preserving Community Character

This is an opportunity for folks to help develop the priorities for the coming year(s) for this important neighborhood advocacy group.

What: Kicking off NAG's 2009 Organizing Agenda

When: Thursday December 4, 2008 at 7pm

Where: Holy Ghost Church Hall Basement, 160 North 5th Street (between Bedford and Driggs)

February 9, 2009

Building Brooklyn

Every year, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce sponsors a Building Brooklyn Award for the best architecture of the borough. And every year, Bushwick, Greenpoint and Williamsnburg come up short. Since the nominations are due on Thursday, we'd thought we'd throw out a few of the projects that we think are award worthy (and a few that are clearly not worthy).

First, their rules. To be eligible, a project must be completed and have received a CO or TCO in calendar 2008. Now our rules. We're looking at projects in North Brooklyn only. The BB categories are a little bit wacky (do we really need two categories for residential buildings under 5 families - that's so 20th-century Brooklyn?). So we've added a few of our own.

1. Adaptive Use and Historic Preservation

Photo: Brownstoner

The Mill Building (85 - 101 North 3rd Street)
Fifield Piaker Elman Architects

A luxury loft in Williamsburg that is actually a loft. Not everything here is to the highest preservation standards, but the conversion of this former factory at North 3rd and Wythe has celebrated the historic architecture and the history of the neighborhood. And it looks great.

The building itself was constructed for the Hinds & Ketcham lithography company in two parts. The mid-block portion was completed before 1898, the corner piece (directly across from Relish) after 1898.

Photo: Brownstoner

Not nominated:
118 Greenpoint Avenue
Scarano Architect

This one was designed to the highest preservation standards - those of the NYC Landmarks Commission - but the results are underwhelming to say the least. None of it rises to the level of the unregulated Mill Building. This project would have passed unnoticed, though, were it not for the cornice, which looks like someone installed a crown molding on the face of a factory.


Special liars award:
Brooklyn Rapid Transit Power Plant
500 Kent Avenue
Con Edison, owner

The building is pretty much gone by now, but less than a year ago it was an intact structure. At that time, local blogger INSIJS did an in-depth article on the fate of the building. Everyone, including workers on site, said the building was coming down. When asked it that was true, a Con Ed spokesperson said that they were only doing some "spring cleaning". Spring cleaning that clearly required removing every brick and sending it very far away to be cleaned.

Landmarks looked at this property in 2007, but refused to hold a hearing to designate. This despite the fact that that the community had identified the building as a significant resource over a decade ago. The State Historic Preservation Office did determine that the building is (or was) eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

As for the future, Con Ed has no plans for the site. Or at least that's what they say.

Have buildings that you think should be included (or excluded) in the BB awards? Email us at wpa [at]

February 11, 2009

Building Brooklyn Green

Photo: Propeller Group

We mentioned that the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce's Building Brooklyn award categories are a bit out of date. On way in which they are not keeping up with the times is in not explicitly recognizing green design. We thought that we'd fix that by creating our own Build Brooklyn Green award category, for which we'd nominate the Greenbelt project at 361 Manhattan Avenue. The project is Brooklyn's first LEED-certified residential development, and according to DOB's website received its first TCO in 2008, so it seemed a natural for a Building Brooklyn award. Its also a nice looking building.

It seems that the Chamber of Commerce is ahead of us. When we checked their website for past winners, we learned that Greenbelt has already won an award in 2008 - for Mixed-Use Development.

Since they're (still) eligible, and the only game in town in terms of completed LEED-certified developments, we'll nominate Greenbelt for another Build Brooklyn Award, this time in the category of green design.

Maybe they can go for the three-peat in 2010.

March 19, 2009

Guerilla Gardening


In an effort to beautify the growing developer blight in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, NAG's Open Space working group is starting a Guerilla Gardening campaign. On Saturday the Open Space working group will hold a workshop to create seed balls, a land reclamation strategy for derelict, neglected and abandoned land. Volunteers are invited to help the group construct the seed balls on Saturday, March 21st. The following Saturday, March 28th, the seed balls will be distributed and cast into abandoned lots and neglected patches of land all over North Brooklyn at the participants discretion.

Date: Saturday, March 21, 2009
Time: 3:00pm - 6:00pm
Location: NAG Office
Street: 101 Kent Street at North 8th
Contact: openspace [at]

Eberhard Faber