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John Hennessy III,

Greening Harlem

Posted by Content Coordinator on Tuesday, April 5th, 2016


Executive Summary


Harlem, NY is a neighborhood that has many opportunities: it is vibrant, historic, rich in art and culture, and located in the nation’s financial and cultural capital. At the same time, poverty, unemployment, displacement, and a lack of green space are all challenges that need to be met.

Greening Harlem, The CitiesAlive Harlem Legacy Project, conducted by Crauderueff & Associates and the Green Infrastructure Foundation for Canaan Baptist Church, seeks to leverage these opportunities in order to improve the quality of life of local residents using green infrastructure and renewable technologies, including green roofs, urban forests, bioswales, solar PV, and urban agriculture. These technologies have many benefits, including improved air and water quality, reduced non-renewable energy use, reduced flooding risk, improved health and well-being, and increased local employment.

The project engaged local community leaders to raise awareness of green infrastructure and renewable technologies and leveraged outside expertise to explore the application of these technologies. This report provided a compelling vision that includes images and financial analysis, working with community leaders and policy makers to move towards implementation, with a focus on generating local employment and improving the quality of life of Harlem residents.

In October 2015, in conjunction with the 13th annual CitiesAlive Green Roof & Wall Conference, a design charrette was hosted by the Canaan Baptist Church. After a tour of the neighborhood and an introduction to green infrastructure and renewable technologies, design professionals and community leaders were divided into three groups to collaborate on and develop neighborhood design improvements. Each group considered the following nineteen types of green infrastructure and renewable technologies to their study areas:

  • Extensive green roof Intensive green roof
  • Green facade Living wall – interior
  • Living wall – exterior Rain garden
  • Bioswale Porous pavers
  • Street tree – small Street tree – medium
  • Street tree – large Wetlands
  • Planting beds Turf – active
  • Turf – naturalized Solar Thermal
  • Solar photovoltaic (PV) Urban farming – aeroponics
  • Urban farming – green roof

Through the Charrette, each group developed a greening strategy, with goals and design concepts to guide the use of green infrastructure and renewable technologies. Highlights of each study area are presented below:

Charrette Redesign Concepts

Living Surfaces/Thriving Harlem (study area: W 121st St. to W 125th St., between Frederick Douglass Blvd. and Malcolm X Blvd.)

  • A framework for achieving a ‘social deep green’ rooted in community participation and enhancement, cultural celebration, aggressive environmental enhancement, and economic vitality.
  • Performance-based goals in several areas: environmental performance; arts, culture & identity; education & employment; and human & ecosystem health & well-being.
  • Design concepts began with a property ownership outreach strategy prioritizing potential early adopters: high profile partners; institutional partners; commercial/retail partners; and mixed-use residential partners.
  • While the rooftop spaces are the most prominent of the design prototypes, participants incorporated a greenway / ribbon park, PV sheltered bus stops, and a farm-to-dining outdoor eating experience into the design scheme.

New Harlem Lane Redesign Concept

New Harlem Lane 2020 (study area: W 115th St. to 121st St. and Frederick Douglass Blvd. and Malcolm X Blvd.)

  • Converting St Nicholas Ave. from W 121st Street to W 116th Street into a parkway only open to pedestrians and bicyclists, along with broader greening efforts.
  • The Canaan Baptist Church properties located at W 116th St. and W 115th St. will serve as a focal point for broader community-wide greening within this study area.
  • Utilizing a broad mix of environmental infrastructure throughout the area, including intensive green roofs, bioswales, permeable paving and a mix of small and large trees.

The Greening of Canaan (Five properties along W 115th St. and W 116th St. between Adam Clayton Powell & Malcolm X Blvds.)

  • A master plan for five contiguous Canaan properties. Participants sought to develop an inter-generational initiative that would provide opportunities for activities and socializing among churchgoers, youth from the charter school, and seniors from the housing complex. Proposed designs are typologies that could be adapted to community roofs citywide and beyond. Highlights of the plan include:
  • Canaan Beacon: An iconic glass house crowning the senior center at 160 W 116th Street is the top layer of a compelling architecture to draw together the neighborhood around Canaan Baptist Church of Christ. The glass house is lined on two sides with 16ft high towers of aeroponic plantings, a forest of greens and herbs that hold an elevated event space with a grid and glass floor. Beneath the grid flooring is an extensive green roof of income-producing food crops.
  • Church Event Space: An intensive green roof and amenity garden surrounds an open floor, porcelain-paved event space for weddings, celebrations.
  • Charter School Roof: An outdoor classroom, urban farm and performance space includes raised bed food plantings that face a 40ft x 20ft glass house classroom. Citrus trees in boxes are rolled into the house in winter; on the south side of the roof, a cantilevered umbrella shades a second seating area. This will serve as a room for intergenerational mentoring and interpretive education.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

After the Charrette was completed, an aggregate cost-benefit analysis of the green infrastructure elements employed was conducted using the Green Infrastructure Cost-Benefit Matrix. The values ($/ft2) used in the cost-benefit analysis were customized to reflect the uniqueness of New York City where possible. In all three cases it is estimated that the green infrastructure investments will pay for themselves in terms of public benefits within twenty-five years or less.

Living Surfaces/Thriving Harlem

4.1 million ft2 of green infrastructure, would cost an estimated $57.7 million for construction and $1.3 million annually for maintenance. This would lead to a one-time capital benefit of $37.5 million (mostly property value increases realized in 5-10 years upon green infrastructure maturity), as well as an annual benefit of $3.68 million, in areas like stormwater management, reduced energy use, improved air quality, and more. The plan would also create an estimated 980 one-time FTE construction positions, as well as 42 annual maintenance FTE positions.

New Harlem Lane

1.64 million ft2 of green infrastructure, with an estimated $10.1 million in construction costs and $335,000 in annual maintenance costs. This would lead to a one-time capital benefit of $14.1 million, as well as $1.2 million in annual benefits. This plan would also create 171 one-time FTE construction positions, as well as 7 FTE positions in annual maintenance.

The Greening of Canaan

131,000 ft2 of green infrastructure, with a construction cost of $991,000, and an annual maintenance cost of $33,500, in addition to $788,000 for 1500 aeroponic tower gardens. $60,000 in annual benefits, in addition to $316,000 in revenue from aeroponic urban farming. This would create 17 one time FTE positions, as well as 0.57 annual maintenance positions, with the potential for several more in urban agriculture.

It is important to note these savings do not include avoided infrastructure costs (i.e. deep tunnels or other forms of grey stormwater infrastructure) that may accrue through widespread implementation of green infrastructure, benefits which can result in major cost savings. Also note that this analysis does not include solar PV or thermal technologies, both of which can be expected to generate revenue.

Additional Analysis

Crauderueff & Associates’ analysis of Canaan’s building portfolio concluded that two sites and three roofs are presently green roof-ready. Additionally, one site is also solar PV or thermal-ready. While the Canaan Baptist Church may wish to pursue the broader vision laid out by the project team, these sites are the most shovel-ready.

Download full version (PDF): Greening Harlem

About the Green Infrastructure Foundation
The Green Infrastructure Foundation (GIF) was founded in 2007 to respond to the need for greater awareness and resources to promote the design, installation, and maintenance of green infrastructure in local communities. GIFis a tax-exempt, charitable 501(c)(3) organization affiliated with Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC), a membership based industry association and the leading entity for promoting the Green Roof and Wall industry in the U.S. and Canada.

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