Battery Park City is in one of Manhattan’s most vulnerable flood zones. How did Hurricane Sandy turn a neighborhood expected to wash away into a model for safe waterfront living?

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The Solaire, at 20 River Terrace in Battery Park City, was the first LEED Gold Certified residential building in the United States.

On the evening of Monday, October 29, 2012, CNN’s Erin Burnett stood knee-deep in the nearly 14-foot tidal surge that breached the Promenade at Battery Park City and described the record-breaking flood waters encroaching on the neighborhood to viewers.

“You’ve got the Hudson River right here, behind me,” Burnett said with a sweep of her left arm, “and then now the highway on the other side behind where all these buildings are is also completely flooded. It’s up to eight or nine feet.”

Burnett was just one of a raft of rain-slickered reporters who logged hours of footage from the River Walk that runs along the neighborhood’s western boundary leading up to and during Hurricane Sandy’s assault on Lower Manhattan.

Media predictions for wind and flood-related damage to Battery Park City were uniformly grim. But just two days after the historic storm that battered parts of New York City into total submission, the neighborhood perched precariously on the southwestern edge of the island was up and running, due in large part to sustainable “green” buildings—the first among their kind—that met the inaugural challenge of this magnitude head on.

“Battery Park City is one of the least impacted areas, in an iconic way,” said Battery Park City Authority spokesman Matthew Monahan. In the weeks since the hurricane, he’s become fond of referring people to a New York magazine aerial cover shot of the island shrouded in darkness, with the exception of the glittering nugget in the lower left quadrant.

“Because the lights stayed on,” Monahan said, “it was an inconvenience for certain, but the degree of impact would be less than other parts of the city.”

Modern planned communities and Walt Whitman may seem unlikely associates, but the excerpt from Whitman’s “City of Ships,” scattered letter by metal-block-letter across a railing near North Cove Marina in Battery Park City provides an apt description of the Lower Manhattan neighborhood.

“City of wharves and stores–city of tall facades of marble and iron!”

Standing at the railing, as strollers roll among suit-wearing financiers headed to nearby offices on Saturday morning and the lawns are designated “dog-free,” examples of all three pieces of infrastructure, as described by the poet, are within view.

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Battery Park City has been, from its inception, a place ordained by deliberate decisions. Nestled between West Street and the Hudson River, the neighborhood was built in the 1980s and atop land reclaimed during the construction of the World Trade Center the previous decade, and named for nearby Battery Park.

The Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) owns the land on which the luxury residential high-rises, hotels, and commercial properties by which it is characterized rest. The BPCA leases the land to private developers, and requires adherence to strict construction guidelines.

Despite the community’s waterfront location, disaster preparedness has not been something that leasing agents have, to this point, emphasized about residential properties. Rather, green buildings erected over the past decade in the so-called “North Residential Neighborhood” of Battery Park City such as Liberty Green, the Verdesian, the Visionaire, and the Solaire attracted residents not only with sweeping views of the Hudson River and proximity to offices in the Financial District, but by promising a convenient urban lifestyle with a reduced impact on the environment.

The Solaire, at 20 River Terrace, was the first residential building in the U.S. to achieve LEED Gold certification when it opened in 2003. The tower earned at least 80 out of 100 points on the scale designed by the U.S. Green Building Council to measure factors including a building’s energy and water efficiency and use of materials. The twenty-seven story edifice cost approximately $114 million to construct.

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Six years later the Visionaire opened at 7 Little West Street. Boasting a thermal well-powered climate system, on-site water treatment and reclamation process, and one-hundred percent recycled glass and terra cotta façade, it was granted LEED Platinum status.

According to a representative of the Albanese Organization, which built the Solaire, Verdesian, and Visionare, units have been in high demand since the buildings opened. The Visionaire, where two bedroom condominiums are currently listed online for $1,600,000, is near-completely occupied, while potential tenants wait for over a year for units in the Solaire and Verdesian to become available.

But on October 29 as “Frankenstorm” traveled up the Atlantic Seaboard, the benefits of living in residences like the Visionaire that went beyond simple amenities became as clear as the building’s continuously filtered air: with innovative power and water management systems, green buildings are fortified against major weather events by virtue of their design.

Unlike buildings across lower Manhattan whose subterranean sources of electricity were wiped out by storm surges, the green buildings of Battery Park City are powered from above. The canoe-shaped stories atopthe Visionaire contain microturbines, which generate the building’s electricity. Additional heat given off during this process is used for hot water. Several floors below, four thousand square feet of photovoltaic arrays—solar panels—yield an additional 45 kilowatts of power.

While elevated power sources remained protected and functional during the hurricane, features of green roof design prevented heavy rains from contributing to overwhelming flooding. On a normal day, rooftop storm water collection systems capture water for filtration and reuse, supplying nearly 60 percent of water used in building toilets and cooling systems each day. During the torrential rains of Hurricane Sandy, the process slowed the rush of storm water enough to significantly reduce flooding.

As the hours wore on Monday night and Hurricane Sandy pummeled the island, lights across lower Manhattan flickered and went out, water poured through the streets, and a line from Whitman’s poem further down the railing—“City whose gleeful tides continually rush or recede, whirling in and out with eddies and foam!”—rang eerily appropriate.

But Battery Park City glowed in the dark.

“As long as I live in Manhattan, I’ll never live anywhere else,” said Ryan McDuffy, 37. “I would never have said that five years ago.”

Storm preparedness was not on the list of priorities that McDuffy and his wife, Kristen, originally sought in a waterfront residence, but it is now on the list of pluses he suspects will keep them in Battery Park City for the long-term.

He likened the neighborhood to a suburb where his wife, a bond analyst, walks to her Goldman Sachs office each day and still has time to see their two young children.

The McDuffys were among those who left on Sunday during the mandatory evacuation of Zone A, which included all of Battery Park City. Along with their children and Kristen’s parents, who live down the street, the couple left their Liberty Green apartment at 300 North End Avenue and headed to SoHo, where they own a condo that is currently for sale.

“It was a lot with two kids in a staged apartment,” said McDuffy, a bond trader.

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The family returned to Liberty Green, a twenty-two story LEED certified condominium building where they have lived since July 2011, Monday before the storm, pleased to discover working electricity and a fully functioning building.

“My DirecTV didn’t even flicker,” McDuffy said. “It was a little spastic evacuating, but once the storm started and we hunkered down, it was fine. We got really lucky.”

Friends without electricity visited the couple’s home throughout the week to take hot showers and charge mobile devices, while the SoHo apartment to which the family had evacuated the weekend before lost power.

Later in the week, a friend in the National Guard called McDuffy to describe rescue missions he had participated in at Long Beach and Breezy Point.

“He was saying it was a disaster and I looked around here and didn’t believe him. We just got really lucky.”

To say that Battery Park City was unscathed by Hurricane Sandy would be false. Members of the Battery Park City Committee of Manhattan Community Board 1 met during the first week of December to discuss extensive flood damage to community athletic facilities, the financial toll of which won’t be fully assessed until later in the month.

But while other parts of New York City shoulder extensive repairs and reconstruction, Battery Park City is poised to become a model for other waterfront developments that prioritize safety alongside sustainability.

Derek Lee is co-founder of LG Fairmont Group, a real estate brokerage that handles leasing and sales throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. In a cab on the West Side Highway the week after Sandy, he took note of the fact that Battery Park City’s streetlights were on and he could see people walking around in fully lit apartments.

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A week after the hurricane, Lee said, his phone was ringing just as often as usual, if not more. Many of the inquiries were about the neighborhood that just days earlier reporters predicted would be swept away, and those buildings by the river where the lights never went out.

“By Sunday it felt like business as usual. Even after that it felt like things were more active,” Lee said. “[People] are asking what happened in specific buildings, because Battery Park City was the one place in Lower Manhattan that maintained power.”

Across one of the chilly metal railings near North Cove Marina in Battery Park City, Manhattan, is an excerpt from Walt Whitman’s poem, “City of Ships.” The boldness of Whitman’s words–mettlesome, mad, extravagant city!–seems particularly appropriate in a neighborhood where I profiled buildings so towering and technical they withstood a catastrophic weather event.

Below is a collection of images capturing a damp post-Hurricane week in Battery Park City, accompanied by the words that adorn its railings.

Some months ago (has it really been that long?) viral marketing firm Oddcast CEO Gil Sideman gave me some advice: if you want something to go viral, make it personal.

“It has to be personal. People are more likely to share content that they have personalized. Music that they created, an image that they customized, a message that they helped put together, a video with their face in it.”

Sideman’s advice has rung awfully true today at The Germ, with traffic generated by this morning’s post, “Start-up thinks you could ‘prollie’ be doing more with social media,” breaking this blog’s  previous highest traffic record more than three times over.

Before today, the highest traffic had been generated by a post I wrote in September, “For international shoppers, brands matter as much as prices.” The Germ received a record hundreds of hits when that post went live on September 25–the vast majority Facebook referrals from Poland! (It took me longer than I’d like to admit to recall that I had given the URL to the extremely friendly Polish tourists who were nice enough to let me interview them one evening in SoHo. For a few weeks, The Germ was a relative international hit!)

Sideman’s advice couldn’t have been truer, though for The Germ I might change it ever so slightly: “If you want something to go (relatively) viral, write it about a popular guy who’s a social media whiz.”

Or Polish tourists.

“None of it comes together. Nothing works the way it should. Nothing is easy to find, be it Young Jeezy or your neighbor.”

Gizmodo’s Sam Biddle doesn’t mince words in “The New MySpace Review: Just Die Already,” his scathing take on the newest incarnation of the pre-Facebook social network that hasn’t so much “pivoted” as “darted around like a rabid mid-identity crisis squirrel for a while.”
Biddle’s review is rife with verbal gems and you get the sense he’s genuinely in the throes of visceral disgust with the “chintzy web carnival” for “trashy teens” that’s “like looking into the wrong end of a telescope.” His thorough walk-through highlights the site’s strengths, confined primarily to aesthetics, while identifying some of its more fundamental usability issues.

It’s beyond worth reading, both for actual informational value and because, like brother-site Deadspin’s The Hater’s Guide to Notre Dame, there are few things quite as satisfying as a well-conceived rant.

I only wonder, however, if Biddle’s seemingly rock-steady assessments could be wobbled a bit by something expressed in the comments section that seems to cut to the heart of the unlikely factors that contribute to any social media platform becoming a success.

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According to Biddle MySpace is a corpse–but does she look cool enough that people might stay at the funeral a while longer?

Mike&Red prollie imageCo-founder of prollie.com  Mike Fabbri and I went to Boston College together, where we both went by nicknames and, in case our parents are reading, studied very, very hard. Mike will tell you himself that he also spent a disproportionate part of his four years on Facebook.

As it turns out, it was time well spent.

Read on for my chat with the entrepreneur who can now refer to our favorite undergraduate procrastination as “research and development.”

Give me your elevator speech. What is prollie.com?
We’re creating a social search platform for you to connect with other people based on your passions. The point is that if you have an interest or a passion, there’s someone out there talking about it. You love gluten free recipes? There’s someone tweeting about the best ones.  You love new music that hasn’t even been released yet? There’s someone with a tumblr blog for that. You love cheap travel to the Caribbean? There’s someone posting about the best deals.

Right now, there’s no easy way to find them.  With prollie, all it takes is a simple search and you can find the most qualified people who want to be found based on your passions. People are looking to be heard or looking for an audience based on what they love.On social media right now, it’s all about having “influence” and a large follower account, quantitative metrics that somehow define your effectiveness.  To us, that isn’t a measure of how important you are on social media.  It doesn’t matter if you have 100,000 followers or 10, it’s about the passion you put into it and what you love.  Even if you’re not influential…you have something to say, can use it well, and contribute to the conversation.

Where did the idea come from?
My love for social media itself came from being one of the first people on Facebook. And I had been working at advertising agency doing media planning and social media for Ray Ban. So then when I had the idea, it was kind of just like something I was doing for work and something I loved. I was constantly thinking about ways of optimizing it for my personal and profession life.

 I woke up in the middle of the night and jotted it down about two years ago, and then in March 2011 I left my job.

 Who are you working with?
My brother Red and I are co-founders together. He left his job at NBC Universal, where he had been doing social media outreach and video production. We have a team of six–two programmers, a chief investment officer, chief financial officer, Red, and me. We work wherever we have our computers.

What’s it like building a business with your older brother?
We always joke about how different our tastes and styles are and how we may have not have always seen eye to eye, but we work very well as a team.  From our childhood building robots out of cardboard boxes in our driveway to now building a social networking platform, we’ve always trusted and brought out the most creative sides in each other

What’s your favorite thing about working for yourself?
Having a stake in what you’re doing. It turns any kind of work that you’re doing into something you care so much about. In my old job I worked hard, but there’s always some kind of distance between what you’re doing and the broader vision. When the idea is yours you’re your own biggest critic and you don’t want to let yourself down. It’s just an extension of my passions and my love for what I do.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned so far?
It’s really about managing expectations. There’s a lot that goes into managing a timeline and what people expect from you, and it’s so important to be upfront and clear with everyone.
That and finding who to trust. If you’re building something you need to do your due diligence.

What’s your goal for prollie.com in 2013?
Our goal is we want prollie to be the go-to user discovery engine. I want to make social media more about conversations about what are passionate about instead of just stalking old friends from highschool and seeing who got fat. We want to create a place you can trust where you can have a passion for a second or a lifetime, from windsurfing to sushi, and find a conversation with people you trust.  It’s about bringing people together to find greater conversations and elevating the level of communication.

In November, Kira M. Newman wrote about a report published by Startup Genome comparing the world’s top start-up environments with the percentage of female entrepreneurs.

It turns out the glass ceiling in the start-up world is lower than some may have thought–Santiago, Chile, the #20 start-up ecosystem has the highest percentage of female entrepreneurs, with a not-at-all-high 20 percent. New York and Toronto are tied for second with Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, Boston, London, and Tel Aviv staggering behind.

Female entrepreneurs were quick to point out that these numbers are low to the point of unacceptable, but when asked how the number of women entrepreneurs in an ecosystem contributes to its success, Startup Genome founder Bjoern Herrmann said, “It doesn’t make a difference – neither good or bad.”

There is much conversation to be had around Hermann’s point, which seems to be that the gender makeup of an ecosystem is unrelated to its existence as a nurturing environment for new ventures.

But somehow, trying to see these numbers in a way that’s anything other than disappointing seems unnatural. It’s fine that there aren’t a lot of female entrepreneurs because it doesn’t affect the environment one way or another? Is it?

For those of us still scratching our heads, Sarah Granger’s piece last week for Harvard Business Review, “A Wave of Angel Investing Organizations Focuses on Women” on increased numbers of female angel investors helps us sort ourselves out.

Granger writes:

“While women excel at building networks, they generally find it easier to enter the networks of other women. People invest in what they know, where their comfort lies. Most investors invest within their existing networks, evidenced by men primarily investing in companies run by men. This chicken-egg cycle can be circumvented, but it requires significant effort in building women’s networks.”

Additionally:

“According to the Kauffman Foundation, venture funds with women on their teams invest in women founders 70% of the time. In short, the more women investors at the table, the more women run companies are funded, and the pipeline of women run companies grows.”

The percentage of female entrepreneurs might not sway a start-up ecosystem friendly or hostile, but low numbers of women founders now will only ensure more of the same.

“Behind these perfectly imperfect facades, there is often mold on the cheese, wrinkles in the chinos.”

Is the Gray Lady becoming that friend that only wants to talk about relationships?

The tags on “When Couples Divorce But Still Run the Business Together” in Wednesday’s New York Times are “Small Businesses,” “Entrepreneurs,” and “Divorce, Separations and Annulments.” The article appears in the Small Business section, and features a wary-looking couple standing over a desk (they built a law firm together, then divorced.)

In September, “And the Boutique Makes Three” appeared in the Fashion & Style section, and profiled husband and wife entrepreneur teams in Brooklyn. The tags are “Small Businesses,” “Baking and Bakeries,” “Shopping and Retail,” and “Brooklyn.” A couple shot in warm light gaze at each other behind a glass bakery display case.

They are the same article.

Except for one discrepancy. Business partners who are divorced work on their relationship for the benefit of their business. Business partners are are marred work on their business to the detriment of their relationship.

Ultimately, both articles tap into the psychology of being a small business owner, even if neither says anything terribly useful. (Oh look! Another quote about how all they ever talk about anymore is the business! Guess which article it’s from!) The article about divorced co-founders does include some useful advice for entrepreneurs, like creating a formalized partnership agreement whether you’re married or divorced–whatever your situation, get it written down. And ultimately both stress the same fundamentals of business ownership: get ready to sign over your life to making this venture work.

Because however you feel about your partner, you better be truly in love with the business.

 

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