A little more than a year ago, Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched his pathbreaking "PlaNYC 2030" urban sustainability plan. According to the city’s own progress report on the plan’s first year:
In a recently released report, The New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund (NYLCVEF) assessed progress made on PlaNYC over the past year. The report evaluated the administration’s response to eight main areas: air and energy, water, sustainable agriculture, transportation, green jobs, green procurement, solid waste and land use.
The New York League was positive about the plan’s progress in improving air quality, curbing carbon emissions and reducing energy consumption. It supported the mayor’s approach to reducing 30 percent of the city’s emissions by 2030 through transportation, energy and land use strategies. According to the report, “This groundbreaking law, the first of its kind at the municipal level, will go a long way toward making New York a truly sustainable city.”
The League of Conservation Voters also applauded PlaNYC’s progress on green procurement. “In FY2007, the city made 50,586 procurements totaling $15.7 billion. Using this economic power is one important way that the city can help create a sustainable future.”
The report approved of the plan’s program to plant one million trees throughout the city over the next decade.
However, it was critical of the mayor’s lack of progress on the revitalization of the city’s waterfront, “one of the city’s last great underdeveloped resources,” as well as its attempts to reform New York’s brownfield program and improve regional parks.
The biggest disappointment came from the mayor’s handling of solid waste: “Of all the areas outlined in our 2007 Sustainability Agenda, the Bloomberg administration’s performance is weakest in the field of solid waste.”
The League criticized the mayor for not supporting broad enough recycling measures and for overreliance on congestion pricing revenue to improve mass transit. With congestion pricing now stuck in permanent Albany gridlock, the League suggested a variable-price parking program “to increase the rate for street parking in the Manhattan Central Business District during working hours.”
Dan Hendrick, the New York League of Conservation Voters Communications Director thought the congestion pricing battle had a positive impact. Hendrick observed that “…the debate over congestion pricing has really raised the bar…It helped people see the link between mass transit and congestion. Now they are looking to their legislators for solutions and action.”
Council Member James Gennaro of Queens, chairman of the Environmental Protection Committee, expressed concern over the long-term institutionalization of the PlaNYC initiatives. He would like to see the goals and programs in the plan codified into law.
“There’s about 20 months left, and we have to move these bills forward," Mr. Gennaro told The New York Sun in a recent interview. "My experience has been that the mayor’s vision is very bold, and his staff has been cautious regarding getting the concepts in PlaNYC crystallized into legislation.”
I think PlaNYC is an important first step. The Mayor provided strong and visible leadership, and put sustainability on the city’s political agenda.
Still, Councilman Gennaro is correct: We should use the remainder of the Mayor’s term to hardwire these initiatives and put some of them into law. The public should ask the candidates for Mayor next year to tell us where they stand on sustainability issues. Local initiatives, like New York City’s sustainability plan are necessary but not sufficient solutions to the problems caused by short-sighted economic development. We need to get our act together and build sustainability in our homes, communities and cities.
In the end though, there are limits to what can be done at the local level. For the past seven years environmental groups have been avoiding Washington D.C. because nothing like sustainable development is anywhere on the Bush-Cheney priority list.
National standards and policies are needed for everything from electronic waste to Carbon Dioxide emissions. These are national and international problems that cannot be solved at the local level.
We need massive investment in research and development to transform our economy from a fossil-fuel based throw away economy to one that relies on renewable energy and reusable resources.
We need leadership in Washington that encourages sustainability and we need better technology to ensure that the economic growth is not accomplished at the expense of our childrens’ well being.
Mayor Bloomberg deserves praise for brining environmental sustainability into the poltical mainstream.
I am grateful for the research assistance of Sara Schonhardt, Master of International Affairs student, Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs.