Bringing Building Code up to Code (continued)

Other panelists voiced the development, environmentalist, public health, and labor perspectives on the proposed changes. Ashok Gupta, director of the Air and Energy Program at USGBC-NY, pushed for less friction in the array of incentives that developers and builders face; Nancy Clark, assistant commissioner for environmental disease prevention at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, warned against unintended consequences like the “tight building syndrome” of poor ventilation and increased respiratory disorders that marked the energy-policy choices of the 1970s. William Rudin, president of Rudin Management, offered 3 Times Square as an example of design that commits to options despite a bleak economy. His firm decided the current payback on installing photovoltaics was insufficient, but prewired the building to allow such features later if the numbers change.

The evolving code will need a full range of stakeholders’ input. Edward Ott, executive director of the Central Labor Council, stressed that negotiations about standards should include workers and their communities. Resistance to new practices in the building trades, he said, was not automatic — “retrofitting, frankly, for us,” he noted, “is 100 years of good work” — and the early perception that green building was “a red flag” for labor, in his view, was fading with the recognition that high-performance building and post-petroleum-dependence technologies jibe with workers’ values. “Working-class people tend to resist change because of a history of it being done at their expense,” Ott maintained, adding that just treatment of workers’ interests includes the siting of NIMBY-provoking infrastructure (power plants, e.g.) so that poorer neighborhoods don’t always end up with the most noxious burdens. As NYC edges toward sustainability — and figures out just whose interests its physical environment is designed to sustain — this reminder of the city’s intertwined layers of class was both timely and refreshingly urgent.