Thursday, October 28, 2010

Support Park Avenue Historic Designation

Join CIVITAS and sign the petition supporting a New York City historic district on Park Avenue from 79th-96th Streets (Click Here)


August 3, 2010

Hon. Robert Tierney
New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
One Centre Street
New York, NY 10007

Dear Chair Tierney,

CIVITAS supports the nomination of Park Avenue between 79th and 96th Street to be designated a New York City historic district

Park Avenue is one of the world’s most famous thoroughfares and is well regarded for its central median, lined by stately apartment buildings, low-rise nineteenth century buildings and houses of worship. Yet almost half of the avenue on the Upper East Side is not protected by New York City landmark status. Except for a few blocks of Park Avenue located in the Carnegie Hill Historic District, most of this corridor between 79th and 96th Street does not fall within a New York City historic district.

Park Avenue is best known as a twentieth century streetscape as it rose to prominence in the 1910s and 1920s. Yet it has a significant nineteenth century layer as well, including several buildings that pre-date “Park Avenue” itself and were constructed when this thoroughfare was known as Fourth Avenue, before the railroad tracks were covered. The avenue’s predominant scale – 12-17 story apartment buildings that follow a uniform street wall—is mostly protected under the Special Park Improvement zoning district. But this offers no protection to the nineteenth century layer, which is increasingly threatened. At least two of these structures have been demolished in recent years.

The architectural character of Park Avenue is not just about scale. The architects who designed many of the proposed district’s greatest buildings—George and Edward Blum, Rosario Candela, J.E.R. Carpenter, and others—followed a relatively uniform bulk in designing the luxury apartment houses. Much of the designers’ individual expression is articulated through architectural details, such as windows, decorative medallions and door surrounds. The structures present a wonderfully eclectic face to the avenue, evoking Renaissance Revival, Art Deco and Georgian references. Designation of Park Avenue as a New York City historic district will protect those details for future generations to enjoy.

As part of our support, CIVITAS raises the following issues for consideration by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

First is the historical condition of the Park Avenue median. When the railroad tracks were covered in the 1880s and the landscaped median was created in the 1910s, it was a wide park with seating and meandering paths located in the middle of the avenue. Over the course of the twentieth century, the median has been whittled down to its current width, a “park” meant to be looked at but not entered and enjoyed. As the current movement in New York City continues to reclaim green space and public space in previously overlooked spaces, we would like to see additional thought given to restoring Park Avenue to its historical plan and configuration with a public park in its center. Designation on as a New York City landmark district should call special attention to the avenue’s original plan and not act as an impediment to possible restoration of the median.

Further, there is much discussion on the local and national level devoted to incorporating energy efficient components into historic structures. Preserving the “embedded energy” expended in constructing the historic buildings on Park Avenue represents the greenest a pproach there is, but we would like to see continued dialogue between the preservation and environmental communities to support eco-friendly upgrades that respect the aesthetics and historic integrity of Park Avenue’s buildings.

We encourage the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to move quickly in designating the Park Avenue corridor between 79th and 96th Street.


Hunter F. Armstrong

Executive Director


Hon. Carolyn Maloney, U.S. Congresswoman
Hon. Scott M. Stringer, Manhattan Borough President
Hon. Liz Krueger, NYS Senator
Hon. Jonathan Bing, NYS Assemblymember
Hon. Daniel R. Garodnick, NYC Councilmember
Manhattan Community Board 8
Michele Birnbaum, Historic Park Avenue
Lo van der valk, Carnegie Hill Neighbors

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Clearing the Air on the Upper East Side: No.6 Heating Oil Pollutes East Side Air

By Sharon E. Pope

Prepared for the CIVITAS Fall 2010 Newsletter

In an effort to improve air quality on the Upper East Side and East Harlem, CIVITAS launched an initiative to educate building owners, managers and residents about the air quality dangers of burning “dirty” fuel oil No. 4 and No. 6, and the benefits of converting to either No. 2 fuel oil, natural gas, or steam. Recent studies have documented how burning No. 4 and No. 6 heating oil adversely impacts New York’s air quality, contributing more to soot air pollution than all the combined cars and trucks on city roads. Although buildings burning No. 4 and No. 6 heating oil are scattered throughout the five boroughs, the Upper East Side is home to the highest concentration of sludge burning (No. 4 and No. 6) buildings. Burning “dirty” heating oil releases soot, heavy metals (such as nickel) and other particulate matter into the air. The Upper East Side has earned the troubling distinction of having the worst air quality in New York City.

To proactively address these concerns, CIVITAS organized “Clearing the Air on the Upper East Side,” a panel discussion targeted to co-op board officers and building managers. During his opening remarks, Hunter Armstrong, CIVITAS Executive Director, outlined a specific two-fold framework for the discussion: to present relevant and timely information; and to enable those who want to convert from No. 4 or No. 6 to meet and discuss the experiences of those who have already converted. The evening’s panelists included: Isabelle Silverman, Attorney, Environmental Defense Fund; Lewis M. Kwit, President, Energy Investment Systems, Inc.; Sean Wade, Certified Multi-Family Building Operator and Analyst; and Kizzy Charles-Guzman, Policy Advisor on Air Quality, Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability.

Panelist Isabelle Silverman led the discussion as she displayed a vial in each hand. One vial contained No. 2 heating oil, an amber, almost transparent oil. In contrast, the other vial contained No. 6 heating oil, or “residual fuel.” The No. 6 heating oil was dark, dense and seemingly impenetrable and comprised of the dregs of the refining process. Silverman, referring to the recent EDF report and the New York City Community Air Survey, noted that 1% of New York City’s buildings produce approximately 85% of the city’s heating oil soot air pollution. In particular, the Upper East Side 10021 zip code contains the most buildings burning “dirty” heating oil, No. 4 or No. 6. These “dirty” buildings contribute to unhealthy air quality by producing “air pollutants such as particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and sulfur oxides.”

As Silverman stated, the recent EDF report on the issue outlines the strategy including: policy recommendations to the city for banning heating oil, guidance for converting buildings to cleaner fuels and guidelines for proper maintenance and efficiency measures to help reduce heating fuel expenses.

With extensive experience converting boilers from No. 4 and No. 6 heating oil, Lewis M. Kwit addressed the practical issues and cost of boiler conversions. He discussed the importance of obtaining a building-wide energy audit which must include roofs, windows, lighting, electrical services, and elevators. When considering a boiler conversion Kwit recommends starting with hiring an energy consultant. To take advantage of price fluctuations, he advises utilizing a dual boiler system capable of burning No. 2 heating oil and natural gas. He notes that natural gas is domestically produced, lower in cost (at this time), has a lower carbon footprint and also has lower levels of pollutants.

“Energy, we all need it. We use it. You can never eliminate it,” Sean Wade said as he began his presentation. Wade expertly walked through a detailed step-by-step cost analysis of various fuels, including electricity, natural gas and No. 2 and No. 6 heating oil. He used BTUs (a method of measuring heat) as a benchmark to average out and compare each energy options. He debunked the widely-held rationale that using No. 6 heating oil was less costly. Wade provided analysis showing that No. 6 heating oil was not cheaper to burn and required on-going maintenance. Additionally, burning No. 6 produced more carbon dioxide than natural gas or No. 2. Wade noted that many Upper East Side buildings are cooled using cooling towers which burn more No. 6 oil during the summer than the winter. Not only is No. 6 burned for heating, more is burned for cooling. He encouraged everyone to “insulate it tight, ventilate right” noting that fifty percent of energy is wasted within the distribution process.

Kizzy Charles-Guzman observed that the City bears the burden of poor air quality. “Every kid, elderly person, every vulnerable population, in the City shoulders” this problem imposed on us by 1% of NYC buildings. The Mayor’s Office of Sustainability has embarked on a comprehensive energy strategy that includes utilizing biodiesel, lowering the sulfur level of No. 4 heating oil, gradually phasing out No. 4 and No. 6 fuel oil and increasing use of No. 2 heating oil. NYC Housing Authority buildings have converted to No. 2 and report fuel savings and efficiency gains.

Addressing the problem will take a multi-year effort and coordinated approach of community-based organizations like CIVITAS, legislators and homeowners. We look forward to working with neighborhood partners to educate the community and with elected officials to push for additional strong legislation.

Photo by Isabelle Silverman, Environmental Defense Fund



Do you live in a

dirty building?

Almost 8,000 buildings in New York City burn No. 4 or No. 6 heating oil. To read EDF’s report The Bottom of the Barrel: How the Dirtiest Heating Oil Pollutes Our Air and Harms Our Health, and see if your building is on the “dirty buildings” list, visit:

For additional resources and details from the July 21 forum visit the “Clearing the Air on the Upper East Side” event page:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

TURN IT OFF - Idling in New York City is illegal

By Marcia Fowle

According to New York City laws that have been in place since 1971, it is illegal to idle a vehicle for more than three minutes while parking, standing, or stopping. Since 2009, it is illegal in a school zone (streets that border both public and private schools) to idle for more than one minute. Agencies that can issue tickets for violations include NYPD Traffic Enforcement, NYC Department of Sanitation, and NYC Department of Parks & Recreation. Fines range from $100 to thousands of dollars for repeat offenders.

Idling an engine for more than 10-15 seconds uses more fuel and causes more wear and tear than turning off the engine and restarting it.

Each year in New York City, idling vehicles produce tons of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, soot, and carbon monoxide according to the Environmental Defense Fund. These pollutants cause asthma, contribute to ozone depletion, and play a part in climate change.

Community Board 11 has worked on the problem of idling MTA buses in East Harlem with Manhattan Borough President Stringer’s Go Green initiative, which is aimed breaking the pattern of hazardous environmental condition. East Harlem is home to a multiple bus garages and bus route turn-arounds where vehicles are sometimes put in a “sleep” or idling mode.

Here’s what to do:

-Report offenders—trucks, buses, and cars—to 311, Mayor Bloomberg’s hotline
-Do not hesitate to rap on the window of an idling car and inform the driver of NYC’s idling laws
-Turn your own car’s motor off when sitting for more than a minute or two

With a simple switch off of the ignition, you can improve New York City’s air quality.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bus Rapid Transit on the East Side to Start Fall 2010

A radically improved form of bus service is scheduled for the notoriously slow M15 route (down Second Avenue and up First Avenue) as soon as Fall 2010. For CIVITAS, a strong advocate of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) for a decade, it has been a long time coming. The M15 is the city’s busiest route with 57,000 riders every weekday and also one of the slowest, averaging below 10 miles per hour.

The goal of BRT is to cut travel time for long distance riders by a combination of four techniques.

1) Distinct branding: MTA has designated its BRT routes as Select Bus Service (SBS). Buses – the standard articulated model – will be painted in a distinctive pattern with flashing lights that are easy to spot at a distance. They will replace the LIMITED bus.

2) Wide spacing of bus stops: This will result in slightly fewer than the LIMITED now makes.

3) Pre-boarding fare collection: Passengers will swipe metrocards at outdoor ticketing machines that issue time-stamped receipts. When the SBS bus arrives, passengers debark and board through all doors without involving the driver. MTA agents will conduct random inspections for bus passes and issue summonses with a heavy penalty.

4) Improvements to street design: Using the success of the West Side Highway as a model for bicycle, bus, and pedestrian coexistence, MTA has presented design scenarios including offset or curbside bus lanes and bicycle lane upgrades depending on the traffic needs in the corridor. Using an interior lane and pulling up to the “bus bulb”, the SBS avoids the necessity of pulling in and out from the curb to accommodate passengers. Experience shows that police presence and enforcement are required during the inaugural phase of a dedicated bus lane. MTA hopes to use bus-mounted cameras to record lane violations.

As with any transit reform there are good news and bad news. The good news is that an SBS route has already been launched in the Bronx on Fordham Road with instant success. Travel times have been reduced by more than 20% and customer satisfaction with the improved service is an astonishing 89%. Thanks to pre-boarding ticketing, Bronx SBS buses rarely take more than 30 seconds to discharge and pick up riders.

The bad news for some uptown portions of the M15 SBS route is that there will be disruption for several years due to Second Ave. Subway construction. However, the SBS route on First Ave. should show an immediate drop in travel time.

MTA has expressed its desire to engage the public as it proceeds to bring BRT to Manhattan’s East Side. It has scheduled open houses as well as regular meetings of a community advisory committee. Make plans to attend.

By Gorman Reilly