There are a lot of very interesting green buildings in Manhattan and Brooklyn — and also in the Hamptons and Jersey and anywhere else that feels left out — and we don’t mean to make it seem like there aren’t. But if it seems like we’ve been covering the South Bronx a lot at gbNYC recently, that’s because… well, because we have, but also because exciting new green things keep popping up in the Boogie Down, from the South Bronx Greenway to the LEED Platinum-hopeful Haven Academy School to, today, the opening of The Brook, Common Ground’s new, LEED-certified affordable housing development at Brook Avenue and 148th Street. The Brook’s opening is good news for green building heads because The Brook, which was designed by Alexander Gorlin Architects, offers an impressive suite of green design elements, from a green roof to a high-efficiency boiler. But it’s especially heartening, for all New Yorkers, because true affordable housing has become increasingly difficult to find in New York City. The Brook is certainly affordable housing in its classic sense — as opposed to mandated-by-the-city-if-you-want-to-build-that-luxury-condo — with 120 of the 190 units in the building tabbed for formerly homeless families and the remaining 70 slated for low-income South Bronx singles. But as impressive as The Brook’s marriage of green building form and socially responsible function is — and it’s impressive — the building’s arrival on the scene at this moment in time is perhaps the biggest story, here.
As the price gap closes between building green and building brown, there’s increasingly no reason why a project like The Brook, which was funded (in part) by taxpayer dollars, shouldn’t be built green. But… okay, detour here, but I kind of got into it in the comments section of this Real Deal post on The Brook with a trollish why-are-my-tax-dollars-coddling-these-lucky-homeless-people goof. Which is stupid of me, obviously, because that is literally never worth it, but which was animated by something more than my natural animus towards hate-the-poor paleocon types. Because a structure like The Brook is built to last, there’s no reason in the world why it shouldn’t have every green building efficiency measure built into it that’s possible. That it doesn’t cost appreciably more to build green than not is good news for those of us who care about the future of green building in New York City and elsewhere, and makes the decision to build green that much easier. But if the poor are always to be with us, as someone who cared a lot about this sort of thing once said, then it makes sense to build low-income housing that will be with us for a long time as well. In short, it’s not an extravagance for Common Ground to spend taxpayer dollars on green low-income housing — it’s a totally justifiable and logical efficiency measure that, along with all the other cost benefits of Common Ground-style “supportive housing” over basic homeless shelters, will be paying dividends for decades to come. That is, dividends both for the families living at The Brook and for all New Yorkers with consciences, and both in terms of money saved and in terms of all the other, more important things inherent in any conversation about this sort of thing.
Those other things are what I’m always keenest to talk about, in my bleeding heart of hearts, but this probably isn’t the venue for that. But as fascinating as green building advances and the ebbs and flows of high-end Manhattan green real estate can be — and they are, at least to me — the failure of the Bloomberg administration to include a better-targeted and more effective approach to rent control and affordable housing is doubly damning given the Mayor’s admirable focus on making New York City a more efficient and sustainable place. Showcase green buildings are great, and not only because they give us something to write about here at gbNYC, but when only 10 percent of New Yorkers making $35,000 or below have housing that qualifies as affordable — that is, equal to 30 percent or less of their income — it kind of puts the green roof tax credit (which we obviously care about a lot!) in bleak perspective. Even the more sophisticated and intelligent opinion leaders in New York City have a tough time having a serious, sensible conversation about affordable housing, and a less-sophisticated portion of our nation is currently in the throes of some sort of backwards crypto-libertarian revolution against the very idea of the modern state. This isn’t a great time to be trying to build something beautiful and functional for marginalized humans, even in the South Bronx, even when it’s easy to marshal arguments that a green affordable housing development will offer better value for the taxpayer dollar than a slapdash one. There may not be such a thing as a “good time” in which to do that. All the more reason, then, to applaud Common Ground, Alexander Gorlin Architects, and The Brook for doing it.