The Urban Land Institute’s New York District Council (ULI New York) and the ULI Urban Resilience Program engaged the academic research group at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), together with the Urban Climate Change Research Network (UCCRN) – a global consortium of climate experts – to conduct an Urban Design Climate Workshop (UDCW) for Gowanus, a mixed-use, industrial neighborhood in Brooklyn. The UDCW is a hands-on,
capacity-building exercise that engages the local community, real estate and land use professionals, and government officials as they confront 21st century climate challenges in their neighborhoods and cities. These workshops also demonstrate how rezoning or other redevelopment initiatives should incorporate climate projections to better understand likely climate impacts and opportunities for mitigation. In this instance, Gowanus is scheduled to be
rezoned, which is likely to impact resident quality of life as well as urban heat stress adaptation, flood resilience, and greenhouse gas emission mitigation.
The Gowanus UDCW emerged as follow-up to a Technical Assistance Panel (TAP) conducted in the Spring of 2017 at the request of the Fifth Avenue Committee, a leading Brooklyn-based non-profit and advocacy organization. The TAP explored specific strategies for the Gowanus rezoning, with proposals for key tools and investments to address the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect, with the goal of positively impacting the health and quality of life of Gowanus residents, particularly low-income residents and communities of color, who are most at risk from extreme heat and have been historically marginalized in planning and land use processes. In follow up conversations with the Fifth Avenue Committee and the New York City Department of City Planning, it became clear to us that there was both an opportunity and a need to develop additional, science-based UHI resources that would add support to the TAP recommendations and strengthen advocacy efforts already underway for climate and environmental justice in Gowanus as part of the rezoning.
Unlike the ULI TAP process, where a final report reflects the recommendations of multidisciplinary ULI member experts, the Gowanus UDCW was planned, designed, and executed by graduate urban design students in the Architecture, Urban & Regional Design master’s degree program at NYIT’s School of Architecture and Design, under the supervision of faculty and in coordination with a local ULI taskforce. The goal of the students’ work was to examine
the local microclimates and, based on the best available data, to propose regulatory strategies that could be implemented in a complex environment like New York City. In doing so, the students sought to demonstrate the value of evidence-based, climate driven urban design strategies.
It is our hope that the proposed mitigations and intervention strategies offered in this report, as well as the overall approach for incorporating climate modeling into a rezoning proposal, may serve as a source of new and innovative ideas for ULI member practitioners, policy makers, and community leaders in addressing climate issues and advancing public health and resilience.
We are grateful to the New York Community Trust for contributing funding to this effort. We would also like to thank our project partners and participants who made the Gowanus UDCW possible – including the NYIT faculty and graduate students, the UCCRN, the local project partners at the Fifth Avenue Committee and the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, and local ULI members. With this support, ULI New York was able to advance its mission and the goals of ULI’s Urban Resilience program, which seeks to ensure that resilience efforts strengthen cities, reduce vulnerability to climate impact, and enhance environmental performance, economic opportunity, and social equity.
Felix Ciampa (Executive Director, ULI New York) and Katharine Burgess (Vice President, ULI Urban Resilience)