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Hudson Yards’ Smart City Initiatives Could Provide Glimpse Of NYC’s Future

The largest private real estate development in US history will also be one of the smartest. 

Hudson Yards rendering
Rendering of Hudson Yards in Manhattan

With the gargantuan 28-acre Hudson Yards project just two short years away from completion, the impact and importance of its “smart city” initiatives is beginning to come into focus.

At the project’s outset, developers Related Cos and Oxford Properties took the opportunity they gave themselves—basically creating an entire neighborhood from scratch—to bake in several high-tech features that will put the finished project in a league of its own.

These include a CoGen plant in one of the development’s six buildings that will be able to provide roughly 70% or more of the project’s energy needs, depending on the time of year, as well as elaborate sustainability measures like a composting program and rainwater recycling.

Hudson Yards’ Smart City Initiatives Could Provide Glimpse Of NYC’s Future

Michael Samuelian, a VP at Related (snapped above, left, with Empire State Realty Trust's Tom Durels and H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture's Hugh Hardy), says those programs will significantly cut down on the development’s carbon footprint when everything is said and done.

They’ll also make it more resilient—in the event of another Sandy-type storm, Hudson Yards won’t be dependent on ConEd’s aging grid for power.

The most interesting part of what makes the development “smart,” however, is a system of sensors and apps—developed in partnership with NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress—that will provide an unprecedented flow of data for CUSP’s researchers and Related’s analysts to pore over.

“I think it will be a game changer for the city,” Michael says. “With this project we’ve gone full bore into the 21st Century and I think it’s a microcosm of how the entire city will one day operate.”

There are plenty of practical applications for this array of sensors and interconnected objects.

Related will be able to cut electricity costs by only sending AC to specific sections of buildings that need it, for example. Michael also says employees or residents might also be able to check in real time the availability of equipment at the gym or the status of a train.

Retailers might receive a notification if the development’s “culture shed” is having an event that night and decide to stay open later.

Hudson Yards’ Smart City Initiatives Could Provide Glimpse Of NYC’s Future

The windfall of data from the project will also be used to ask, and hopefully answer, more theoretical questions.

“Ultimately we think the data from Hudson Yards will allow us to investigate all sorts of fundamental questions that’ve been persistent in urban planning for decades,” around areas like health, activity and productivity, says CUSP professor Constantine E. Kontokosta, who serves as Head of the Quantified Community initiative.

Constantine says, for example, the development’s data-gathering capabilities could allow CUSP to measure the air quality in different areas and compare that to rates of hospitalization for asthma nearby.

At this point, it’s still hard to say exactly which direction the research will take, and Constantine says he’s both excited and somewhat daunted by the opportunities the finished project will present.

“We haven’t seen this type of comprehensive data effort in an urban development before,” he says. “There will be a lot of challenges dealing with the fire hose of data this is going to unleash, but we’re hoping this will eventually become a model for how cities think about this type of informatics infrastructure going forward.”

Constantine also stresses that many of the programs the project hopes to gather data from will be voluntary, and the transparency of the data collected and its use will be a core aspect of the research activity at Hudson Yards.

Hudson Yards is one of three projects that comprise CUSP’s “Quantified Community” research initiative, alongside its work with the Downtown Alliance in Manhattan and a community organization in Red Hook.

Robert Bell, a co-founder of the think tank Intelligent Community Forum, says that while similar projects have been carried out internationally in the past, Hudson Yards is one of the first developments in the country—and certainly New York—to provide this level of data generation.

“I’m not aware of another project that really brings all those different aspects and capabilities together,” he says. “For New York, it’s very advanced.”

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