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On the Sunnyside Yard, Part 7: Sustainability and OneNYC 2050

Aug 06 2019

As the City of New York and Amtrak continue a master planning process to explore the future of Sunnyside Yard in Western Queens, learn about the Master Plan’s role in a sustainable NYC.

The Sunnyside Yard master planning process presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine the future of Western Queens—and planning for the future means planning for a changing climate. Recent heat waves, flooding, and power outages have made the day-to-day impacts of climate change ever-more tangible for New Yorkers. Comprehensive planning for sustainable and resilient neighborhoods is critical to addressing the increasing risk of extreme heat and cold events, sea-level rise, critical infrastructure vulnerability, and more.

This past April, Mayor de Blasio announced the City’s most ambitious plan yet to ensure a secure future for all New Yorkers: OneNYC 2050. The plan outlines bold commitments across sectors. Major scientific reports have warned about the catastrophic human and economic impacts that will face the city (and the world) without urgent climate action within the next 11 years1,2,3. One of those actions is focused on a particularly pressing deadline: complete carbon neutrality by 2050.

Sunnyside Yard is an opportunity to integrate these concepts into a neighborhood from the beginning—helping build a sustainable and resilient future for New York City in the process. Some key areas where Sunnyside Yard can contribute to proactive solutions include:

Mitigate physical risks by building on high ground Mitigate physical risks by building on high ground

As the city continues to grow, it will need to seize opportunities to build jobs and housing away from shorelines. The Sunnyside Yard master planning process examines what could be built over the existing inland railyard, on an elevated platform away from coastal flood zones. Sunnyside Yard’s uniquely large size, central location, and access to regional transit networks present an opportunity to establish a new gravitational center out of flood risk—making our urban systems more resilient in the process.

Invest in a carbon-neutral and climate-resilient future

Sunnyside Yard master plan presents a unique opportunity to build resilient infrastructure from the beginning in ways that offer redundancy to existing systems. We can avoid the need to retroactively retrofit buildings to include solar panels and efficient windows and instead showcase cutting-edge resilient design by implementing NYC’s Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines, for example, in every building from the beginning.

Promote sustainable transportation options

As the City explores more efficient, green mobility technologies, like expanded electric vehicle infrastructure and shared bicycles and scooters for last-mile transport, Sunnyside Yard may be an opportune site to focus new initiatives. The master planning team is exploring the future of street design and transportation, including ways to reduce dependency on fossil fuel-powered vehicles and strategies to use its central location in the transportation network to expand regional connectivity. Physically connecting the neighborhoods of Western Queens through public spaces and shared streets will also crucially enhance walkability.

Ensure 100 percent renewable electricity sources

The Sunnyside Yard master planning process can lay the foundation to ensure that infrastructure plans accommodate the spatial needs of renewable electricity infrastructure. The team is exploring ways to guide future projects to use renewable energy, such as solar rooftops and façades. The team is also exploring how to integrate sustainable and resilient infrastructure that can service the energy needs of the City.

Adopt zero-waste management strategies

Our waste system is both dependent on fossil fuel transport and drives four percent4 of the city's total climate emissions. Sunnyside Yard is an opportunity to rethink waste infrastructure. Building from scratch allows us to test designs and technologies that will incentivize recycling, composting, and diverted organics for renewable natural gas. It also may facilitate waste collection systems that take trash off the street, thus improving public health and quality of life, particularly as climate change brings on hotter and wetter weather.

Empower New Yorkers to take climate-smart adaptation measures

A long-term project at Sunnyside Yard also presents the opportunity to bring much-needed connectivity to Western Queens, enabling both social and physical cohesion. It has the potential to serve as a hub for surrounding communities in times of emergencies, house climate refugees, and spur green economic and job growth.

Support every New Yorker in the shift to a more sustainable lifestyle

While the extent of the challenge requires solutions to climate change to be systemic in nature, we as individuals also need to make sustainable choices in order to be good stewards of the earth. From the way we travel, to the way we eat, to what we choose to consume (or not consume)—Sunnyside Yard can be a model for designs and technologies that move us toward more sustainable lifestyles.

Given the strong interest in this topic throughout the process, the team continues to explore these issues in close collaboration with community members. The team hosted a public workshop on Sustainability & Green Infrastructure on April 30. The team also convened a group of sustainability and design experts and community leaders from the Sunnyside Yard Steering Committee and beyond on July 25 to further ideate innovative solutions to issues such as energy and circular material flows. With the ongoing master planning analysis and public engagement process, the team continues to refine the work to get to a sustainable, resilient plan for Sunnyside Yard.

1. IPCC, 2018: Global Warming of 1.5°C.An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, H.-O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J.B.R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M.I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, and T. Waterfield (eds.)]. In Press.
2. NPCC, 2019: New York City Panel on Climate Change 2019 Report [Rosenzweig, Solecki, et al]. N.Y. Acad. Sci., 1439: Issue 1. doi:10.1111/nyas.14006
3. Fourth National Climate Assessment: Dupigny-Giroux, L.A., et al, 2018: Northeast. In Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II[Reidmiller, D.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, pp. 669–742. doi: 10.7930/NCA4.2018.CH18
4. The City of New York (2017). Inventory of New York City Greenhouse Gas Emissions in 2016.