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Stuy Town: Innovations in Solar & Grass that Cities Can Embrace

By George Harvey

In the 1840s, a new source of energy was being employed in Manhattan. It was coal gas, a product created by heating coal with insufficient oxygen to burn it. Coal gas included hydrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide, all of which burn. It fueled street lights and was piped directly into people’s homes for lighting and cooking. It was stored in large tanks along the East River, in an area called the Gas House District.

A Stuy Town Park. Image: Wikipedia.

The Gas House District was not a great place to live, but in time, the gas tanks were removed. Just after the Second World War, the area, now two neighborhoods called Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, was turned into a single large development called Stuy Town by its residents.

Lawn between high rise buildings before planting of Pearl’s Premium Grass Seed. Photo by Jackson Madnick.

Stuy Town is one of the largest urban developments in the country. It stretches from 14th Street to 23rd Street, and from Avenue C to First Avenue. Its 110 buildings occupy 80 acres of land, and about 25,000 people live in its 11,250 apartments.

In 2015, Stuy Town was sold to Blackstone Group LP and Ivanhoé Cambridge, the real estate arm of pension-fund giant, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, for about $5.3 billion. The new owner decided to put $10 million into a 3.8 megawatt (DC) solar array on 22 acres of the roofs of the buildings. When it is finished, it will provide enough power to cover the needs of about 1,000 apartments.

The generating capacity of the new solar array will be just about double what the entire Borough of Manhattan had when work began. The owners of the array say it is the largest multifamily residential rooftop solar project in the United States.

Stuy Town’s previous owners had already started work on efficiency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. LED lighting had been installed, special louvers were built for elevator shafts to reduce heat loss, high efficiency water heaters were installed, and new heating management systems were put into use. Along with other measures, these efficiencies had reduced the greenhouse gas emissions from the complex by 10%.

Just as the rooftops of the Stuy Town buildings are getting a new photovoltaic system, its grounds are also being improved. Stuy Town is the home to a complex of city parks. They are comfortable, but they have some of the same problems that can be seen in many urban neighborhoods. With the tall buildings, there is not enough sunshine for many plants to grow well. In many shady areas in cities, most strains of lawn grass will not grow, and without care, the ground will be bare.

Readers of Green Energy Times may remember the August 2017 article, “Plant a Great Lawn and Save the Planet!” (). Some of the benefits of really great grass are listed in that article, and among them are some of special importance in urban environments such as Stuy Town. And Pearls Premium Ultra Low Maintenance Lawn Seed, featured in that article, was chosen for the lawns at Stuy Town.

Pearl’s Premium Grass Seed is especially suited to growing in areas where the ground is constantly in the shade. It can also grow without any toxic chemical fertilizers or pesticides, only requiring a small amount of organic fertilizer; this makes it especially suitable for areas where children will play. Also, the Pearl’s Premium grass develops four foot deep roots, reducing the amount of water that is needed by 75% and sequestering eight times the carbon as traditional grass to lessen climate change. This grass seed qualifies for LEED credits.

There are many aspects to efficiency. We talk often about reducing electric demand and eliminating fossil fuels. But it may be good to think more often about plants that grow in low-light areas, effortlessly absorbing carbon from the air.

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