Infrastructure, Architecture & Climate Change 

 How New York City is Reacting to Climate Change

The architectural community has a massive opportunity to make an impact and put New York City at the forefront of the fight to combat climate change

By Riona Kukaj

New York City, mostly known as being a concrete jungle, an environmental mess, when in reality, New York City could also be called a green metropolis. While there are many environmental harms and disasters that affect the city, there are also many factors, both architecturally and construction, that make New York City one of the most sustainable cities in America. Ranging from its transportation systems to its buildings, to the way of living, New York City can provide great examples for the rest of the country. Being so, there are still many problems that need solutions if New York City was to maintain its sustainability.

What an optimally self-sufficient N.Y.C. might look like. Courtesy Terreform
Sustainability in NYC   

The architecture and construction of New York City makes it sustainable because of the way the buildings are designed, which are very close together. This makes for densely populated areas where people live closer to each other and to things, meaning they drive less, reducing the amount of air pollution that comes from driving. Further, the buildings are also designed to utilize maximum space and have as many units as possible, resulting in less space in the apartments. This results in people naturally having less things because it will not fit in their apartment, reducing needless consumerism and eventual landfill. Densely populated areas reduce pollution and are naturally more sustainable, making this way of architecture a probable solution for most cities.  

In addition to the architecture and construction that allows New York City to naturally be more sustainable, there have been new innovations that are steps forward to being more environmentally friendly. The first is the green spaces throughout the city. One of the main causes of pollution in the city is sewer overflows, which occurs when wastewater is discharged into the environment, usually the nearest body of water, instead of being processed at a wastewater treatment plant. In order to address this issue, New York City has developed ‘green spaces’ which are areas with plants or soil that capture the stormwater runoff and prevent sewer overflows. This is a great example of innovative architecture and construction and can open up the conversation of investing in new architecture that can stop the problem at the root. In this case, that would be developing actual wastewater treatment plans where wastewater can be discharged.

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The Energy Star Scale & LEED Buildings

The Energy Star Scale, rated from 1 to 100 with 100 being the best, provides a comprehensive snapshot of your buildings energy performance. A famous new luxury residential tower in Tribeca, often known as the Jenga building, was rated a 3. Meanwhile, a building that is 116 years old in New York City was rated 80. That is a massive difference and proves that New York City was initially built to be efficient and sustainable but overtime, it became a city that invested in architectures that are creating designs without the thought of efficiency. 

Further, the city is trying to make efforts to combat these issues. The idea of LEED buildings began to emerge in New York City. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is a type of certification given to buildings by the city if they meet all requirements of being eco-friendly and sustainable. LEED is for all building types and all building phases including new construction, interior fit outs, operations and maintenance and core and shell. LEED helps investors implement management practices to prioritize building efficiency, decrease operational costs, increase asset value and ensure productivity, comfort, health and wellbeing for occupants. Further, LEED provides a framework for healthy, efficient, carbon and cost-saving green buildings. Introducing the LEED certification is a great way to ensure a more sustainable and eco-friendly approach to architecture and infrastructure and should become the new norm for the way all infrastructure is created. A solution to this can be introducing similar certifications to different cities with monitoring systems that ensure construction is being done in a sustainable way.


Many lessons are to be learned from the architecture and construction in New York City through some general themes; live closer together, drive less, have less, and continue to invest in new ways to make architecture and construction more sustainable and eco-friendly. While there are many great innovations and aspects to what New York City is doing, there is, as always, room for improvement and better solutions. The future of architecture and construction should always keep sustainability at the forefront of priorities.


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Shtainer, V. (2018, January 18). LEED Certification: Sustainable Developments Building the Future — Manhattan Luxury Real Estate. The Victoria Shtainer Team at Compass. Retrieved July 3, 2022, from

What are Sewer Overflows? (n.d.). Metro Vancouver. Retrieved July 3, 2022, from

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