Rebuilding New York Summit shows the way toward a decarbonized future

Climate goals, Local Law 97 and repurposing office space were discussed at City & State’s all-day event.

City & State panelists talk about New York’s building industry at the Rebuilding New York Summit.

City & State panelists talk about New York’s building industry at the Rebuilding New York Summit. Phenix Kim

New York City appears poised to address its ambitious climate goals, steadily decarbonizing infrastructure while adjusting payment systems to suit the modern customer. At City & State’s Rebuilding New York Summit held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, industry leaders discussed the city’s roadmap towards electrification and the repurposing of existing commercial spaces.

Keynote speaker Jessie Lazarus, senior director for commercial strategy at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, led the conference by highlighting the implementation of its digital payment system, OMNY. Showing a 10% increase in overall market share in the past year, 76% of riders are choosing contactless payment with an 85% customer satisfaction rate. The authority plans to ride this momentum by expanding contactless payments to additional bus and railroad systems, while also trying to reach more customers relying on reduced fare options (about 40% of total ridership).

“For reduced fare customers, there are over a million customers we need to reach who are eligible for a half fare discount based on their age or limited mobility,” Lazarus said. “Fair Fares is a program the city of New York administers to make it as easy as possible for those folks to tap with their own bank card and unlock … their discount. With students, we are working with CUNY and New York City public schools to get over a million students tapping this fall. And one segment that has been particularly challenging is the pre-tax transit benefit providers, that is the segment in which we sell 60% of our 30-day MetroCards.”

Additionally, the MTA aims to continue to invest in its in-house app TrainTime, relying on integrating subway and bus fare options with commuter railroads.

“There are three important takeaways: First, supplier diversity matters. We now have that. Instead of one original vendor to deliver on the MTA, we have three. Second, we have a more refined and precise scope: That’s putting our customers first. And finally is modular technical architecture and a new contract structure that helps us preserve options to evolve with customers in the future,” Lazarus said.

In terms of decarbonization, speakers talked about the effects of Local Law 97, which aims to reduce emissions from buildings, on both commercial and residential buildings. Key electrification measures aim to target the heating and cooling systems of existing buildings to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

“Part of the solutions that we’ve been looking at – we recover the heat that we are generating within the building … generated from people’s lights, equipment, computers, and we can capture that heat and transfer it to the perimeter. So we’re just kind of moving that heat with this new technology. And it makes a huge difference,” said John Bredehorst, executive vice president of WSP USA Inc.

Panelist Emily Rubenstein, who is the deputy commissioner for resiliency and sustainability at the state Office of General Services, shared updates to the state’s building code as a result of Local Law 97.

“By next year, all new construction means fossil fuel-free, with some exceptions in there. So that’s a really exciting development. Within the Office of General Services, we’re looking at our portfolio in a holistic way that looks at the key pieces of decarbonization. … For the past decade, we’ve been working with our partners across all of our buildings to look at the low-hanging fruit,” Rubenstein said.

As the city struggles with vacancies in commercial buildings, the New York City Economic Development Corp.’s Manhattan Community Revitalization project aims to provide financial incentives to help address the problem.

“We’re providing incentives for up to 10 million square feet of older high vacancy office buildings to upgrade their space to modernize and hopefully become competitive on the leasing market to try to lower vacancy and spur more economic activity that will filter down across lower Manhattan into midtown Manhattan,” said Noah Schumer, assistant vice president in the organization’s strategic investments group.

According to the Schumer, while a third of the 100 million square feet of vacant spaces may be converted to residential, most will remain as office space. In order to initiate these projects, panelists stressed the importance of improving procurement processes.

“I think that trying to support the integration of decarbonization goals and really working across disciplines is so critical,” Rubenstein said. “The other piece of this is continuing to be a stakeholder supporting the development of new procurement tools. (This) is how we get things done.”