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Skyscrapers to Submarines: the Impact of Climate Change on New York’s Real Estate

Real Estate Developments, Real Estate Legality, Real Property

Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus existed in the 7th century BC and acted as centers for trade for the Mediterranean, specifically Egypt and Greece. Due to a series ofnatural phenomena and the rising sea level, the cities sank 32 feet under water. Thonis-Heracleion vanished for 1,000 years. Could New York City have the same fate as the ancient Egyptian business hub now after the U.S. pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord?

NASA issued a report in 2015 projecting that sea levels in New York would rise up to 21 inches by 2050.  Rising sea levels and temperatures place real estate developments directly at risk.  Yet, a majority of real estate firms that took party in a survey by the the Real Deal said they would not take part in the action to fight against climate change. Michael Mann, an atmospheric science professor at Pennsylvania State University, explained that for real estate firms to not take the issue seriously is problematic “since the real estate industry may be among the hardest hit by climate change.”

What can be done to slow down the imminent sea level rise? Real estate developers, along with residents, need to cut their fossil fuel use dramatically. Integrating technology should be utilized to adapt new and old buildings to be more environmentally responsible, economically efficient, and sustainable for the future, producing more energy than they consume. Some real estate developers have already implemented environmentally friendly technology and devices. L&M Development inserted wind turbines on the top of luxury apartment buildings. Synapse Development Group successfully built New York’s first passive-house rental apartment building, which is structurally designed with an energy recovery ventilator to regulate temperatures, and uses a staggering 70 to 90 percent less energy than other buildings.

The New York City Council has also recently emphasized the importance of sustainability through Local Laws 31 and 32, passed in 2016, which require New York City-owned buildings to be constructed and designed as low energy intensity buildings to meet sustainability requirements. Buildings will have to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards so that they use less energy. The Urban Green Council stated:

“We commend the City Council for passing a bill that brings the law up to date and puts NYC on the leading edge … New York designers and builders will need to create a new generation of hyper-efficient buildings that will ultimately advance building practice in the city’s private sector as well, and have worldwide implication given the international reach of many NYC firms.”

New York Local laws have already made a significant impact in the fight against climate change by regulating the amount of energy used by both city-owned buildings and buildings over 50,000 square feet. It is key for co-op and condo owners and apartment renters to be aware of the energy use in their buildings. Although initially implementing technology to create sustainable buildings comes at an extra cost, it is offset by lower utility bills and will help prevent what seems like Manhattan’s inevitable descent and transformation into Atlantis.

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