CITIES: New York’s future is green, city’s planners say (11/04/2008)
Saqib Rahim, ClimateWire reporter
While Washington pundits haggle over cap-and-trade policy, effects on industry and energy costs for regular Americans, New York City is taking its climate policy in a different direction: making its green city as alluring as possible.
New York is projected to add a million residents by 2030, a figure that worries city officials who know New York can’t sprawl out like other metropolises.
So some are praising Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “PlaNYC 2030” plan as a blockbuster — a plan that can reduce the city’s emissions just as it cleans the air, that promotes green space and that gives new residents an attractive, transit-friendly place to live.
“How are we going to add a million people and still make New York City a place people want to live?” is how Andy Wiley-Schwartz, assistant commissioner in the city’s transportation department, described the city’s focus.
Speaking on a panel last week, Wiley-Schwartz and others envisioned a city where no one lives more than 10 minutes from a park, where people look forward to walking down their street, and where even old buildings can become energy-efficient.
“This plan is actually the evidence of a major paradigm shift,” Alex Washburn, chief urban designer in the city’s planning department, said. “Green is the new civic virtue.”
Building on a transit-friendly base
New York is already considered the most transit-friendly of all American cities, with an extensive, low-cost subway and dense development that makes driving unattractive. But Washburn said New York is poised to demote cars even further.
“Pedestrians come first. Bikes come second, and cars only come third,” he said. He described a housing project that would have sacrificed a crosswalk to make it easier for cars to make right turns. Washburn rejected the plan, saying it had the wrong priorities. “The city will work for the pedestrian, first and foremost.”
The city is still debating how to deal with its vulnerability to rising sea levels, panelists said. The city’s environmental agency has said that metro-area sea levels have risen a foot since 1990, leading officials to respond. Wiley-Schwartz said the transportation department has looked into more porous materials for roads and parking lots, as well as new curb designs that can better channel water through the city.
But some of the larger solutions have been harder to deliver. For example, Washburn said it would be politically difficult to build a large storm wall or other costly adaptation project. It’s difficult to know exactly where future floods will strike, he said, and city leaders must weigh solutions carefully.
Panelists said the state of the U.S. housing market has driven greater interest in building efficiency. Buildings are New York’s largest emissions source. Charlotte Matthews, a sustainability executive at the Related Companies, a real-estate developer, said city incentives — such as utility incentives, rebates and grants — have helped her company make “greening” investments on existing properties in the city.
Financing remains the biggest challenge for developers, she said, and her company is looking for ways to convince banks that their building investments will actually save money.