When you think of “New York City”, what do you think of? Many would call the urban jungle an epicenter of culture, a pioneer for the global marketplace, and a champion of culinary achievement. But would any of us call New York City a leader in sustainability?
Think of the congestion of traffic at rush hour, the over-saturation of trash on the city streets, and the dearth of recycling initiatives. Compared to a more sustainable city like Tokyo (recently named the “Greenest City in Asia”), New York certainly has ground to cover before it’s considered eco-friendly.
At the same time, New York has launched and is launching a slew of initiatives to try to catch up. Let’s take a look at what is on the horizon for New York’s environmental movement, and how these programs are faring.
As New York resident, I’ve had the opportunity to experience several sustainable efforts NYC. Recently, I’ve been enjoying frequent school field trips to the Botanical Gardens, the Bronx Zoo, and even learned all there is about The River Project this past October.
Sustainable efforts are being taken all over the city. Just last November, the Hotel Association of New York City awarded seven NYC hotels for promoting and practicing sustainable hospitality initiatives. The NYC Department of Education not only talks the talk but walks the walk, aiming for zero waste by 2030 as well as promoting education awareness and management to schools.
It’s also on the forefront of the political scene. Achieving the status of “sustainable” has been on the agenda of government officials in New York for the last decade. Between former Mayor Bloomberg’s roll out of PlaNYC in 2007, Mayor de Blasio’s announcement of OneNYC in 2015, and recently Governor Cuomo’s host of the regional sustainable development conference this past September, we’ve seen a concerted effort from our governmental bodies.
But how are these efforts holding up? Let’s examine two of the biggest initiatives, PlaNYC and OneNYC.
Bloomberg’s plan to implement PlaNYC began in 2007, and focused on 10 areas of interest. Each area aimed to help environmentally sustain NYC for the projected surge of 1 million new residents by the year 2030.
Here are the 10 areas of interest:
- Housing and Neighborhoods
- Parks and Public Space
- Water Supply
- Air Quality
- Solid Waste
- Climate Change
The plan also called to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030.
Several successful initiatives have come out of the plan. According to a 2011 PlaNYC update, 97% of the 127 proposed initiatives were accomplished in the first year, making it wildly successful in its execution.
One successful initiative, the renovation of Freshkills Park, the world’s former largest landfall in Staten Island, is projected to be three times the size of Central Park.
Eight years after the original PlaNYC, New York City Mayor de Blasio’s updated proposal, OneNYC encompasses four ‘visions’, one of them called “Our Sustainable City”. There are five main components with 30 initiatives in de Blasio’s sustainability vision:
- 80 x 50 (Greenhouse gas emissions from the city will be reduced 80% by 2050)
- Zero waste (sent to landfills by 2030)
- Air Quality
- Brownfields (putting to beneficial use vacant lots that are majority in low-income areas)
- Water Management
- Park & Natural Resources
De Blasio’s plan is more demanding than Bloomberg’s PlaNYC, but so far, it has been generally well received. That being said, it’s still in its early stages, so it’s still too early in the year to check up into the progress. However, according to nyc.gov: “Over the last year, the City has made significant progress toward OneNYC’s goals. In fact, over 95 percent of OneNYC’s 202 initiatives are already underway.”
It’s always good to see politicians successfully delivering on promises, but it hasn’t been all smooth sailing.
Not all of efforts made through Bloomberg’s PlaNYC were without criticism. In April 2008, Bloomberg submitted a costly proposal of congestion pricing, creating an $8 charge on cars entering the busiest part of Manhattan during peak hours. This was in an effort to discourage New Yorkers from contributing to car exhaust, but it was struck down in Albany. The overwhelming opposition came from a majority of NYC politicians calling those benefiting from the plan “elitists”. It’s unfortunate, as funds collected from congestion pricing would have gone towards supporting public transit availability and efficiency.
Many of the criticisms of de Blasio’s OneNYC focus on the program’s lack of executables. Critics wonder how he is going to achieve his lofty ambitions in a city as complex as New York. Environmental justice groups, such as New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, support the vision, but they also note that it “lacks a genuine engagement of community involvement” and needs more actionable details.
NYC’s future for sustainability
While New York might not be a paradigm of sustainability yet, these initiatives prove there is progress on the horizon. Support from government agencies, the Department of Education, and local businesses has put the city on the right track.
But, as the Environmental Justice Alliance points out, community involvement is always at the heart of these movements. It will take support from all New Yorkers in order to make a green NYC a reality.