Is the Condo Always Greener on the Other Side?

The condo war in New York is heating up and turning green. (Photo: stockelements/Shutterstock)

There’s a war afoot in New York City. The weapons? Solar panels, water purification systems, rooftop gardens, and a host of luxury amenities. The battleground? Battery Park City. According to November’s New York Construction, this 92 acre planned community in Lower Manhattan is home to more eco-friendly residential high-rises -- a total of five LEED-certified towers are completed or under construction -- than anywhere else in the world.

As these new luxury developments are erected and inhabited at a steady pace, each one apparently more green than its predecessor, it’s hard not to imagine the greening of Battery Park City as a competition... a race to achieve eco-building perfection. Do the residents of neighboring high-rises partake in heated tete-a-tete while taking their dogs for morning strolls along one of the nabe’s riverside esplanades:

“I'll you have you know that my building is LEED Gold!”

“Well, mine is striving towards LEED Platinum certification and has an in-house organic bakery and photovoltaic tracking louvers!”


Battery Park City’s green-building spree started in 2003 after the completion of the Solaire, a 293-unit LEED Gold building that has bragging rights as the first eco-friendly residential high-rise in America. The project was developed by the Albanese Organization, a formidable player in BPC's transformation into an eco-enclave.

One impressive new kid on the block is Riverhouse, a 264-unit luxury condo tower boasting interiors by the Rockwell Group, a branch of the New York Public Library, and a pool area with a Hockney-esque tile mosaic. And, of course, there’s a myriad of green features (Riverhouse, which I've covered for IdealBite, exceeds LEED Gold rating) gracing each nook and cranny in this feat of sustainable building.

Not to be outdone, there’s the Visionaire, a Pelli-designed, Albanese-developed tower where an opening celebration is planned for next week. The 251-unit tower is designed to be “America’s greenest residential high-rise,” and, like its neighbors, the LEED Platinum Visionaire offers a heaping dose of healthy living amongst luxurious trappings.

Unlike many of its neighbors, "New York's Most Environmental Rental," Tribeca Green, (right) does not offer condominium units. However the LEED Gold, Robert A.M. Stern-designed tower is tricked-out from the doorman/concierge services on the ground floor, to the ENERGY STAR appliances and and high performances windows in the 274 units, to the solar panels on the roof.

So what is driving the growth of BPC’s supremely green housing scene? It turns out that the Battery Park City Authority, the public-benefit corporation that owns and manages the neighborhood, requires new residential and commercial developments to adhere to strict environmental guidelines. In other words, building a non-green structure is verboten within the limits of BPC. If you don’t plan on offering water treatment systems and solar cells, than you better think about building elsewhere. There is no backwards movement when it comes to green building technology in BPC: with each new tower, developers must push the envelope just a bit further.

Battery Park City didn’t start out this way. In fact, the neighborhood didn’t start to take shape until the late 70s when the area -- once a collection of decaying piers -- was created with sand dredged from the New York Harbor and fill taken from the construction of the nearby World Trade Center. Humble beginnings aside, the district's recent transformation into an urban greentopia is nothing short of dramatic. I can’t help but wonder how quickly this housing trend will catch on elsewhere. Will LEED certification become du rigeur in other dense residential areas across the US? Will "green" and "luxury" continue to walk hand-in-hand or will eco-friendly residential developments sans the bells and whistles be a reality? Time will tell but in the meantime, residents of BPC will probably be left wondering, “is the condo always greener on the other side.”

Check out the US Green Building Council's LEED Project Directory to find a LEED-certified dream home near you.