The Neighborly Substation: Electricity, Zoning, and Urban Design

Publication Date: December 2008

Publisher: Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. Center for Rethinking Development

Author(s): Hope Cohen

Research Area: Energy; Social conditions

Keywords: zoning; new york city; substations; electricity

Type: Report

Coverage: New York


As Hope Cohen lucidly discusses in this very important paper, New York can have it all - the power it needs to remain the most vibrant city on the planet, delivered ubiquitously, silently, and invisibly through substations harmoniously integrated into the cityscape. Designed by architects and incorporating modern technology, electrical substations can now have more in common with a telephone exchange or a Web server farm than with a conventional factory or power plant. New York is unusual in having a zoning code so out of touch with the modern realities of electricity. Developers and Con Edison should be allowed to work together to integrate electrical infrastructure into new industrial, commercial, and residential projects. And as other cities have already done, New York should explore possibilities for deploying substations beneath public open spaces.

Such policies would lead to much more efficient, profitable use of immensely valuable land - while maintaining supplies of secure, reliable power, provided by an electrical infrastructure that continues to recede from public sight. Ms. Cohen has it exactly right: "People don't like ugly, scary substations near them. But substations don't have to be ugly and scary. And they do need to be nearby." This paper explains how to turn those three, indubitable facts into practical public policy. New York will grow richer, brighter, and more beautiful when it does.

Peter W. Huber
December 2008