World Habitat Day: U.S. Mission promotes Sustainable Building with UNECE

Peter Mulrean Deputy Permanent Representative at the U.S. Mission to the UN in Geneva
Deputy Permanent Representative Peter Mulrean

Remarks delivered by Peter Mulrean
Deputy Permanent Representative at the United States Mission to the UN in Geneva.

Geneva
October 1, 2012

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Director General Tokayev, your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.

We applaud UNECE for organizing this event to mark World Habitat Day and the U.S. Mission is thrilled to participate.

The U.S. has seen a great deal of growth nationally in the field of sustainable building over the last few decades as priorities for development decisions have shifted to increasingly focus on energy efficient projects and usable spaces for communities.  From the California Academy of Sciences with its living roof and cutting edge energy and water saving technologies, to the sustainability retrofit of the Empire State Building, green buildings are sprouting across the American landscape.

So when we were approached by UNECE to contribute a photo for the “Building the Future We Want” exhibition, we fortunately had many green buildings to choose from.  In the end, we chose to highlight a unique development in New York City: “The High Line.”

The High Line is a public park built upon a historic elevated rail bed that brings nature into public spaces as it snakes a 2.4 km long trail, 9 meters above Manhattan’s West Side. While serving as a model for adaptive reuse and sustainable practices for parks and planning projects, it is also an example of how community residents can transform a former industrial structure.

The renovated High Line combines the functionality of a “green roof” by reducing storm-water runoff and mediating the “Heat Island” effect along its footprint; with sustainability, through the use of recycled and sustainable building materials.  All done with an eye toward conservation by using native plantings that create shade, oxygen, and habitat for insects and birds.  The design team even incorporated the original disused state of the rail line to create a self-seeded landscape reflecting the original “micro-climates” found along the track.  For example, sheltered spots retain water and have deep soil and thick vegetation while tough, drought-resistant grasses and wildflowers flourish where the High Line is exposed to winds off the Hudson River.

As mentioned, the High Line is just one of many examples of how we in the United States are integrating sustainability into construction.   We see sustainable development as a key element of the green economy.  In fact, according to a study commissioned by the U.S. Green Building Council, green construction will generate an additional $554 billion in GDP from 2009-2013, supporting 7.9 million jobs.  The green building industry is one of those places where you can do well, by doing good.

So what can governments do to foster green construction?  We can start by creating an enabling environment in which all facets of the green economy can take hold and thrive.  In order to foster innovation and entrepreneurship – critical drivers of green growth – in 2011 the United States put into place a national innovation policy to promote research and development, improve access to finance for entrepreneurs, reduce barriers to entry for new business, and cut the backlog of patent applications.

But a sustainable future involves and needs everyone – more than government alone.  It starts with a foundation of transparent, inclusive, and accountable governance.  It requires commitment and action from all sectors and members of society.

The High Line itself is a model of citizens partnering with their local government.  Determined to save the rail bed from demolition, local residents established the “Friends of the High Line” in 1999 and built broad community support for preserving the structure and transforming it into an elevated park.  And today the Friends of the High Line maintain the park and raise private funds to support more than 90 percent of the park’s annual operating budget.  And one cannot underestimate the positive impact such a green space has on its community.  The High Line has been transformed from abandoned, outdated urban infrastructure to a place where the local community gathers to enjoy the natural beauty, and to enjoy being with each other.  We believe it can serve as a model for other urban renewal projects around the world.

In closing, as we also just marked World Tourism Day on September 27, I’d like to take this chance to invite you to visit New York, which Ambassador King would say if she were able to join us today, is truly the best city in the world.

Thank you again for allowing us to participate in this exhibit.