New York City's sustainability plan: A bold 'greenprint' for the city's future

Andy Darrell, today’s guest, is director of Environmental Defense’s Living Cities program, and a member of the advisory board that helped the mayor develop the plan.

For the past eight months I’ve been honored to be a part of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s advisory council to develop a city plan for sustainability. The team has been meeting to hammer out ideas for making New York a world model of a “green” megacity.

Frankly, when I joined the Advisory Board, I didn’t know where it would end up. With my colleagues at Environmental Defense, I put forward big ideas for healthy air, less traffic, green buildings and energy efficiency, more trees and parks and cleaned-up waterways. In December 2006, the mayor announced 10 bold goals, including achieving the cleanest air of any big city in the country, cutting greenhouse gases 30 percent from today’s levels by 2030 and making sure that every New Yorker can walk to a park within ten minutes.

Great goals — but could they be made real?

Yesterday, the mayor announced the details of a bold, practical plan, called plaNYC, for creating a healthier city and leading the way toward a low-carbon, climate-friendly economy. As an advocate, it’s rare to see a political leader step up in such a big way. Mayor Bloomberg has proposed congestion pricing, energy reform and many other steps in one visionary framework.

Most important, Bloomberg is promising to “fight like heck” to make it happen. This is a guy who brought a smoking ban to NYC, tackled failing schools and got trans-fats out of city restaurants. Frankly, I believe him. And Environmental Defense will be there every step of the way, fighting like heck for a greener city.

It was truly satisfying to hear him lay out the plan at the American Museum of Natural History yesterday, knowing all the months of work and thought that went into it. I am thrilled that we have this opportunity to make New York an environmental world capital. What, exactly, will that mean?

I was born in NYC and now my wife and I are raising two kids here. As I walk with them through the streets of Manhattan I often wonder what the city will hold for them in 20 years. Will my kids breathe clean air, have parks to play in, be able to enjoy the sidewalks without the black diesel soot that sometimes coats their skin?

New York is already a cultural capital, drawing people and ideas from around the world. It’s a financial capital, too, with Wall Street a powerful engine of growth. But can it become the world leader in how to green a megacity? And can it compete with London, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo and other megacities if it does not solve these challenges?

We’re already a good way there, with a great transit system and magnificent parks. But our roads and subways are getting old. Our streets are clogged with traffic (quick – what’s faster, walking across midtown or riding a bus?). Our apartment and office buildings are far from models of energy efficiency (how many of us open windows in winter when there’s too much heat?). And our air doesn’t meet healthy air standards. It’s time to change all that.

New York’s population is projected to swell by nearly a million people by 2030 – that’s like adding most of Boston and Denver to the five boroughs. Green building technology and energy efficiency are keys to making the city more livable even with all the new New Yorkers. How we handle that growth will set an example for other cities around the world.

And one of the best things we can do to improve our quality of life, even as we grow, is to cut traffic congestion. It’s not just about being stuck in gridlock. Traffic is also one of the fastest-growing sources of the pollution that causes global warming. One third of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. comes from transportation.

And traffic is killing us, as our new ad campaign says. Living near a heavily-trafficked roadway, as more than 2 million city dwellers do, increases risks of asthma, cancer, lung and heart disease.

One key to fighting traffic is congestion pricing. Environmental Defense has been a proponent of congestion pricing for decades. In fact, when the Nobel-prize winning economist Bill Vickrey — the “father” of congestion pricing — died ten years ago, my colleague Jim Tripp wrote in our newsletter that “EDF [as we were known back then] intends to honor his memory by aggressively pursuing transportation congestion pricing proposals both in New York and in California.”

Ten years later, here we are – and it’s great to be part of the team. I’m thrilled that New York is the first American city to make pricing part of its plan. Places like London have used a pricing system to encourage less driving in the city at peak times, and achieved drops in both traffic delays and pollution. (See more on congestion pricing and the results in other cities.)

With a bold “greenprint” for the city’s future, I’m proud that my kids and I will be part of the vibrant, cleaner, greener city of the future.

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One Comment

  1. Posted April 25, 2007 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    “As an advocate, it’s rare to see a political leader step up in such a big way. Mayor Bloomberg has proposed congestion pricing, energy reform and many other steps in one visionary framework, ” you say above.

    These were very much my thoughts when I wrote on PLANYC at the Foreign Policy Association’s blog on Climate Change.

    You can see the whole item, “Mike Bloomberg’s Earth Day,” at

    Great work, Environmental Defense. I’ve been following your superb work for 20 years going back to when I had the privilege of working on acid rain with Mike Oppenheimer.