Ennead partner and AIANY past president Tomas Rossant looks to New Deal electrification and President Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System as precedents for a transformative investment in public utilities, namely universal broadband. “Certainly, that immediately takes care of certain social-equity and social-justice issues,” Rossant said, by extending the advantages of work-from-home-or-from-anywhere logistics to more of the population—a pandemic adaptation that may prove enduring. Consequent changes in proportions of commercial and residential demand, in cities needing more affordable housing and facing an office-space glut, may drive rezoning to accommodate more flexible live/work spaces, replacing the 20th-century single-use zoning that inflicted daily commutes on much of the workforce and excessive vehicle emissions on the planet.
Such changes will call for imagination on the part of architects, planners, and owners. “What an apartment building is probably has to be rethought,” Rossant said. One measure sometimes bruited as a response to shifting demands, office-to-home conversion, is difficult when commercial leases within a building expire on different terms. Instead, he argues, “the change in legislation should be hybridized” to incentivize adaptations so that “simultaneously they update their building systems and the thermal resistance of the building envelopes to become sustainable.” This transition should address rents as well, he added. “New York City two years ago made a Mandatory Inclusionary Housing act, so every time a developer now makes a building, they really have to have affordable apartments in it. I think it’s time the Biden administration federalizes that…. Like the federal ADA [Americans With Disabilities Act], I have to include 30 percent affordable housing; in exchange for this revenue, [such a law would] help me convert office towers to apartments as well as make them green.”
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