Tax incentive to remove concrete on urban yards

We haven’t given up!  We are working with Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal and Community Board 7 member Jay Adolf to get legislation passed to incentivize the removal of concrete in NYC’s residential yards.  This legislation, passed last session by both the House and Senate, but not adopted, would give the building owner $4.50 a square foot to remove concrete and replace with permeable surfaces, thereby reducing storm water runoff and easing the burden on our water treatment facilities. Send us a letter of support or email me with any questions.

Overlooked Environmental Assets in NYC–Article Published in Local Environment

There is a dearth of research focusing on the role that urban residential open space plays in climate change adaptation, despite evidence suggesting that environmental benefits accrue when even small pockets of open space are made permeable and vegetated. In densely built New York City, there are 53,000 acres of such land. One city block with adjoining contiguous open space was investigated to quantify its existing environmental value and also its potential to provide enhanced services through redesign. The study block’s open space was found to be 35% permeable and planted with 96 trees, storing 100,000 lb of carbon. Simulations conducted using the United States Environmental Protection Agency Stormwater Management Model contrasting normal, light, and heavy precipitation years suggested that increases in annual precipitation could be fully mitigated by reducing impervious surface cover by 25%. The preservation of the existing vegetated residential urban open space and the conversion of paved surfaces to a pervious condition both appear to be effective strategies for enhancing the city’s ability to adapt to and mitigate for climate change.  To read the published article, click The overlooked role of New York City urban yards in mitigating and adapting to climate change

Building Performance and Midtown Rezoning–an (Un)Modern Proposal

The recently released Terrapin Bright Green Midcentury (Un)Modern study (Terrapin study) contrasts the costs and benefits of retrofitting single-glazed post-modern NYC buildings against demolition and replacement with new, ultra-energy efficient buildings makes for compelling reading for anyone interested in urban planning, real estate development, building performance or historic preservation.   At first glance, the study conclusions seem to support Department of City Planning’s (DCP) mid-town east rezoning proposal, but careful reading indicates that the study’s conclusions do not align with or constitute an underlying rationale to support rezoning.  The Terrapin study relates solely to the energy efficiency of a narrow band of Midtown Manhattan’s buildings—fewer than 107 single-glazed office buildings constructed between 1958 and 1974 – and not the 300 “older” buildings that the City wishes to phase out through changed zoning.

Do not fall prey to misinterpretations of the Terrapin report that suggest that wholesale demolition of “older” buildings can be justified on the basis of energy performance. We might just well end up being like Singapore and pay a price in quality of life, a reduction in diversity of richness of building stock and an increased carbon footprint. Read On…

Write a Letter of Support for Tax Abatement bill # A2194

A draft letter to support this tax abatement which offers an incentive of $4.50 sf for the removal of hardscape in urban yards if replaced by vegetation and permeable surfaces. To see the bill, please click here.

Your letterhead

Please email this letter to Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal
and email or fax a copy of the letter below to: or fax to 212 724 8999


Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal
District Office
230 West 72nd Street, Suite 2F
New York, NY 10023

Fax: (212) 873-6520

Re: Hardscape Removal Tax Abatement NYS A-2194

Dear Assemblymember Rosenthal:

I strongly support the tax abatement A 2194 which incentivizes the removal of impermeable surfaces from residential urban yards if they are subsequently replaced with soil and vegetation.

There are more than 53,000 acres of private yardspace in NYC but much of these areas are covered by hard, impermeable surface cover, contributing to combined sewer overflow events. Every year, our water treatment system is overwhelmed by increasingly heavy rain events, such that more than 27 billion gallons of untreated sewer water is directed into our waterways. By removing some of this hardscape, we can improve our environment while enhancing the beauty and functionality of even small pockets of open space tucked behind rowhouses, multi-family buildings and other residential building types.

It’s simple–the less hardscape that covers our land, the cleaner our air and the healthier our environment—vegetation absorbs and stores carbon and other pollutants and soil filters and cleans water; reducing hardscape can even lower summertime urban temperatures, since concrete and other dark surface cover radiates heat.

Please support this important incentive that will improve our environment and reduce our burden on the City’s water treatment system.

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A Tax Abatement to Incentivize the Removal of Concrete

Over the last 25 years or so, we have paved over more than 9000 acres of our city land, adding buildings, parking lots, sidewalks and roads.  Of course, this is part and parcel of a growing metropolis; however, largely undetected are the small-scale pavings of backyards, front and side areaways, which cumulatively degrade our environment.

A tax abatement to incentivize the removal of hardscape in New York City will be introduced in the next legislative session in January, 2013.  It is modeled on the green roof tax abatement and would encourage building owners to remove concrete and asphalt in their backyards, thereby reducing stormwater runoff and having a beneficial impact on the urban heat island effect of dark surfaces which absorb heat during the summer months. We believe that a $4.50 incentive would be enough to offset some of the cost of the removal and planting of vegetation, while being a realistic figure to pass legislative muster.

If you are interested in learning more about this initiative, or helping to garner support for it, please email me at


Hurricane Sandy Hit us Hard

Hurricane Sandy wrought havoc on our lives, a very scary pre-Halloween event that brings home the reality that climate change is upon us.  It is evidenced by the increasing occurance of epochal storms, droughts and temperature extremes. The lives lost and the suffering and hardship endured by New Yorkers begs the question: why do we, as a society, turn our backs on the science which tells us that climate change is here?  We must take our jobs as stewards of our environment more seriously and do our utmost to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

As we strive to rebound and reestablish our balance in the coming days and weeks, we need to rebuild assuming that the Irenes and Sandys of the recent past will reinvent themselves increasingly often.  After all, a 100-year storm may not occur every 100 years–the term technically means a storm of that magnitude has a 1% change of occuring in any given year; studies indicate that these significant storms are likely to hit our shores much more often, thanks to climate change, even as often as every 3-4 years by the year 2080.





How Green Is the Big Apple?

In Newsweek Magazine

Greener than you’d think—potentially. Fully one fifth of Manhattan is yard space, according to a new study from the City University of New York, and that doesn’t include parks and cemeteries.

Greener than you’d think—potentially. Fully one fifth of Manhattan is yard space, according to a new study from the City University of New York, and that doesn’t include parks and cemeteries. The land is in small pieces all over the island, mostly behind apartment buildings and straddling alleys, but it adds up—and if dug up and grassed over, New York’s hidden yards-in-waiting could yield enormous environmental benefits. Here’s how:

27 BILLION GALLONS of water flow through New York’s sewage system every year. But most of it is clean rainwater. If more were absorbed naturally through Gotham’s 52,236 acres of yards, the 120-year-old water-treatment system could save billions in operating costs over time.

7 DEGREES is how much hotter Manhattan is on average than surrounding suburban areas. The heat-island effect, as it’s known, could be reduced by as much as two degrees during the summer if enough paved yards turn grassy. (Green rooftops would help, too.)

1 PERCENT of America’s greenhouse gases are emitted in New York City. Extra vegetation cleans the air, of course—and if urbanites turn their yards to gardens, they’ll find that Manhattan’s dense cityscape provides long periods of heavy shade, perfect for spinach, broccoli, and brussels sprouts.

68 SPECIES of birds are commonly found in the city’s five boroughs, strangely low for an area this size. With more gardens, helpful insects like dragonflies, crickets, and bees would have a place to thrive, too. New Yorkers could look forward to a commute shared with hummingbirds and mourning doves—not rats.

SOURCES: Evan Mason, Sustainable Yards · CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities · NYSERDA · NYC Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability · NYC Audubon